The Communist International defined fascism as “the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.”
Fascism arose from capitalism’s need to solve the crises it itself created, at a time when the Soviet Union and the communist movement presented a real threat to the capitalist system’s existence. It was a replacement of state power by the moneyed interests that took to eliminating the communists and then the other working-class movements through the use of open terrorism, without the need for bourgeois legality.
Fascism was not just a European phenomenon: it has a presence wherever capitalism exists. In Latin America, “Operation Condor” was a US-sponsored scheme in the 1970s that propped up fascist dictatorships in the region, with the assassination of leftists in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and other countries, making it safe for American investment. More recently, fascist groups were used in Ukraine, Syria and Libya to carry out the work of imperialist interests.
If fascism has a clear class basis, it follows that anti-fascism must also.
If fascism is intent on representing the ruling class and imperialism and using racism etc., it follows that anti-fascism must align itself with the working class, with progressive sections of other classes in certain contexts and anti-imperialism, and stand by all those oppressed groups under threat.
With this in mind, we must ask certain questions. Is Donald Trump a fascist? Are Nigel Farage and Peter Casey fascists? Is the ethno-state of Israel fascist? Is the local man down the pub annoyed at immigration a fascist?
These questions can only be answered if they are approached in the correct way, not with a knee-jerk response.
Anti-fascism must be as constructive of an alternative as it is anything else. It should not become a convenient excuse for liberal play-acting in make-belief culture wars which the left seems intent on making worse. Some sections of the left almost seem, out of their ultra-leftist defeatism, to see working-class people as essentially prone to racism and chauvinistic attitudes, putting their belief instead in the liberal middle-class strata.
Where it is applied, fascism takes society backwards. In the areas of Europe that were occupied by the Nazis, slavery and feudalism made a return, for the first time in centuries. In Ireland, it is not unnoticed that the far right have usually been tied to British imperialism in one way or another, from the Blueshirts to their successors today.
Phil Piratin, a British communist MP in the 1940s, describes in his book Our Flag Stays Red some of the tactics used against fascists by communists in the 1930s. Communists would infiltrate themselves into British Union of Fascists circles and try to carry out propaganda work to sow disillusionment among their ranks. In some cases, when noted British fascists were facing eviction and, predictably, their movement gave them no support, communists would make a point of standing with them. Piratin describes how these former fascists would then rip up their British Union of Fascists membership card in disgust.
Could we imagine taking similar actions today, essentially calling the bluff of the far right that it represents working people’s interests? During the water charges movement we were engaging with all sorts of working-class activists. The CPI pressed the position that the struggle was about privatisation, giving the people’s anger a class grounding. This took the campaign from being, in its earlier stages, about tax to one centred on ownership and class power, in the process isolating the small number of confusers who wished to manipulate public anger for their own narrow interests.
The same can be said for the anger today at the housing crisis. Working people are justifiably angered by the state’s support for landlords and developers over that of the people, though this often expresses itself against immigrants and refugees. This is a deliberate policy. How else can we explain Leo Varadkar and others tweeting images of themselves welcoming Syrian refugees, as if they cared about their well-being? If they really cared about refugees they would stop the use of Shannon Airport by those who are creating the refugees in the first place.
The response of the left has been to try to fight a defensive battle, tackling the myths of immigrants and refugees getting houses and cars along with everything else. While of course this type of work is needed, to an extent, it does not on its own challenge fascism, or the ability of the far right to further sow division. There is a pressing need for the left to organise workers and, in the process, seeing what we can learn as much as what we can teach.
On the housing issue, for example, the winning of universal public housing for all workers will render the whole issue of racism moot, far more than any shouting of “racist” can do.