top of page
  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Historical conclusions from the tactics of the anti-fascist fronts: The contemporary struggle of communists against fascism

Dear Comrades:

Historical background to the struggle against fascism

A proper study of the struggle against fascism requires a correct analysis of the nature of this phenomenon. There are many and varied attempts to trace its origins and development with repeated efforts by the forces of the bourgeoisie and social democracy to confine the concept of “fascism” to a form of extremist authoritarianism against “democratic political values”, an aberration within “normal” capitalist society. The EU’s purported solution to the resurgence of far-right nationalism in Europe is “European policies of inclusion, solidarity and equality” but which ignores the real reasons for exclusion, discord and inequality fostered and sustained by those very policies and “values”.

Fascism is an outcome of the profound crisis of capitalism. It is inextricably linked with the capitalist system. It became a significant force in Italy and Germany during the deep, economic, social and political crises which followed the First World War but it spread across Europe to the extent that virtually every European country had at least one fascist movement at the time.

In 1917 capitalism was overthrown in Russia and the world witnessed the birth of the first state and society in which the working class came to power. This created a society that provided for fundamental needs such as health, education, transportation and housing for all, equal rights for women, including reproductive rights, great achievements in arts, culture, science, technology and sport. It offered a vision for progress.

The growth of fascism in Ireland

Ireland, post-independence, shifted from the revolutionary class politics of 1913 to nationalism. Post-1916 Sinn Fein commenced to create a new nationalist mythology largely devoid of social content. Gripped by a nationalist purism, it was at pains to illustrate that it was no threat to the social order and ignored the economic system and social relationships.

While some republicans argued for the primacy of class over nation, they were minority voices. The radical vision of James Connolly and his comrades was deliberately displaced by bourgeois Catholic nationalism. A new myth was created which promoted the cult of romantic nationalism and submerged the political, social and economic demands of revolutionary socialism.

The subsequent creation of a parliamentary political system based on two parties arising out of the civil war, both committed to the preservation of the capitalist system of exploitation and the power of the Catholic Church, ensured the development of a deeply unequal and conservative society divorced from the needs of the working class. A weak and reformist Labour Party, prepared to ally itself with the bourgeois class, failed to weaken the grip of the Church and capitalist state and betrayed the hopes of the working class. The line of march, dictated by the ruling class, was inequality, exploitation and oppression.

In June 1923 German Communist, Clara Zetkin, in her Report to the Comintern Executive, set out the deadly nature of the threat posed by fascism and its link to the crisis of capitalism.

In the years immediately after the Civil War in Ireland the Roman Catholic bishops condemned “the inherited sinfulness of the people and the need for constant vigilance against threatening influences.” Anti-communist rhetoric was widespread. The October Revolution which had been greeted enthusiastically by workers in Dublin created fear of social revolution in an already conservative and reactionary society anxious to stamp out any possibility of transformative political, social and economic change.

By the 1920s leaders of the Irish Farmers’ Union were proposing a Farmers’ Freedom Force to suppress strikes and act against “Labour, Socialism and Bolshevism”.

In the 1930s, the emergence of the “Blueshirt” movement led by a former army officer and police commissioner, General Eoin O’Duffy, with a strong ambition to be part of European fascism, linked its fascist and corporatist ideas to the Catholic conservatism that exerted such a profound influence in Ireland at the time.

The idea of corporatism was proclaimed as a third way between capitalism and socialism but, in fact, the forces proclaiming this wanted to smash organised labour and advance the interests of the capitalist class.

The Spanish Civil War and European fascism

By the time Cumann na nGaedheal ( the predecessor of the current coalition party, Fine Gael) merged with the Blueshirts in 1933, right-wing authoritarian movements had swept to power in Hungary (1920), Italy (1922), Spain (1923–30), Portugal (1926), Poland (1926), Albania (1929), Yugoslavia (1929), Germany (1933) and Austria (1933), and analogous movements would soon succeed in Estonia (1934), Latvia (1934), Bulgaria (1934), Lithuania (1936), Greece (1936) and Romania (1938).

The war to save the Spanish Republic against Franco’s fascist rebellion came at a time when Irish revolutionaries were at a low ebb, facing intense hostility from the forces of both the governments of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) and from the media and the entire political and economic establishments. They were also regularly vilified by the clergy across Ireland’s sectarian divide, but especially by the Catholic church, which was immensely powerful in the Irish Free State.

Like the Catholic church internationally, the reactionary Irish Catholic leadership welcomed Franco’s war to overturn the secular and progressive policies of the Second Republic and the Popular Front. Ireland, north and south, was a deeply religious country, and the churches, especially the Catholic church, were very powerful. They had control over much of life in Ireland, ranging from education to healthcare, and they had the ear of the governments of the day.

Many people, therefore, believed the clergy, politicians, and newspapers when they repeated fascist propaganda about the dangers to religion represented by the Second Republic. O’Duffy, backed by the head of the Catholic church in Ireland, Cardinal MacRory, and with Franco’s personal approval, had raised 700 volunteers to fight for the Nationalists. He called his campaign “the Irish Crusade against Communism”. However, once they arrived, they spent a lot of their time drunk, were very poor fighters, and proved such an embarrassment that Franco quickly sent them home. Brendan Behan, the famous Irish playwright, said that they had achieved “the remarkable military feat of returning home with more men than they went out with”.

In contrast, the Irish volunteers in the International Brigades acquitted themselves heroically in the battle to defend Republican Spain. Another Irish playwright, Sean O’Casey, in an article entitled “The Black Flag of Fascism” wrote “We must strike it down by every means in our power …”

As the first anti-fascist Irish contingent left for Spain Frank Ryan, the most senior officer in the Irish unit in Spain, described this action as “a reply to the intervention of Irish Fascism in the war against the Spanish Republic, which, if unchallenged, would remain a disgrace on our own people … Our fight is the fight of the Spanish people …”

By the end of the 1930s, the Blueshirts had been absorbed into the Fine Gael party which remained one of the two dominant bourgeois parties in Ireland throughout the 20th century and which remains a government party to this day.

The world war unleashed by imperialism and its fascist forces led to many millions of deaths, wounded and traumatised, and untold suffering and destruction across the world.

In 1945 it was the Soviet Union, its revolutionary party and its people that played a decisive role in the defeat of fascism, Nazism and Japanese imperialism. The Red Army and the communist partisans and resistance fighters of Europe were instrumental in securing that defeat.

Critical analysis of the historical experiences of the struggle against fascism and contemporary experiences of the struggle against fascism

Throughout history fascism has had its militant opponents. These have included communists, socialists, trade unionists, social democrats and liberals and broad anti-fascist fronts have often arisen. While the ambition to unite workers in a coalition against fascism was attractive, from the beginning it has had its difficulties. One immediate difficulty is the inevitable attempt of anti-communist and social-democratic forces to define fascism in such a manner as to reduce it to a form of extremist, racist and violent activity entirely divorced from a proper analysis of the real nature of the problem, its roots in the capitalist social order and the steps necessary to overcome it.

These difficulties have been aggravated by the line adopted by the European Union and its member states which together with the Council of Europe falsely attempts to equate fascism with communism and has, in fact, through a campaign of anti-communist disinformation encouraged the banning of communist parties, symbols and monuments and facilitated the growth of neo-Nazism and fascism.

The poison of nationalism

The poisonous nature of nationalism exposed in Ireland and Britain, through its emphasis on national identity and “patriotism” rather than class, provides fertile ground for the current rise in far-right, fascist, racist, anti-refugee, anti-migrant and “anti-foreigner” politics. While the mainstream bourgeois political parties seek to blame the hate crimes, riots and burning of hostels on extremist elements, it is these same forces which have created the propaganda and conditions which sustain these groups. The hysteria generated surrounding migration into Ireland whereby those motivated by far-right conspiracy theories and so-called culture war fixated on refugees, migrants, housing, public services, crime and other issues facilitated rightist forces gain a foothold and mobilise a worrying level of support.

Bourgeois political parties in Ireland and elsewhere play to the racist gallery, seeking to co-opt them to bolster their own support. The social democratic and pseudo-left parties in speaking about "legitimate concerns" embolden the far-right. It is delusional to imagine that by co-opting far-right talking points those who support them can be won to socialist politics. What actually happens is that in the pursuit of this illusionary goal, the poison of reactionary nationalism spreads into the workers’ movement and among socialists to their cost. Division is spread among the working class, class consciousness is weakened, and far-right forces are presented with an opportunity to grow.

The re-emergence of fascism

Fascism is re-emerging across Europe and beyond. There are many examples in our countries. Fascism and imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, are inextricably interrelated and framed within the world capitalist system.

The victims of wars, imperialist interventions and reactionary regimes have the right to seek a safer life. The problems of homelessness, unaffordable rents and homes, public services in crisis and poverty are not the fault of migrants. They are the inevitable consequence of the capitalist system. The solution can only be found in a struggle to overthrow the system that creates wars, poverty and refugees. Communists, as internationalists, must openly expose and challenge fascism in all its manifestations but must at all times be aware of the opportunist nature of other forces, including those forces with sham revolutionary programmes, seeking to proclaim the mantle of anti-fascism.

In relation to the situation in Ukraine our Party has repeatedly made clear that the developments in Ukraine occur within the context of a particular social and political framework. We recognised the character of the 2014 coup and subsequent Ukrainian regimes; we deplored its xenophobia, its attacks on political parties, including the communists, on trade unions and workers’ rights, on cultural and language rights; its encouragement and support for neo-Nazi militias such as the Azov Battalion and its provocative espousal of NATO and nuclear weapons; and its murderous campaigns against the Donbass. We also condemned the provocative stance by the US and EU of encircling Russia and relentlessly expanding NATO to the East.

However, we must assess the situation in the context of our ideological position based on the principles of Marxism-Leninism and accordingly on our understanding of the nature of imperialism as defined by Lenin. While we are in no doubt of the fascist forces which exist in Ukraine, this is not an anti-fascist war. Russia and Ukraine are today capitalist countries. Our parties recognise the class character of these regimes which each serve the interests of the capitalist class. Each side actively encourages and utilises openly neo-Nazi groups. This war is the outcome of escalating inter-imperialist rivalries in the region.

Ivan Aleksandrovich Ilyin (1883–1954) who advocated the use of violence against Bolshevism and the Soviet state and who regarded fascism as a national-patriotic idea is today admired by many on the US and European far-right and in the current Russian state leadership.

Exposing the nature of fascism and the struggle to end it

Fascism is a symptom of the political and structural crisis of capitalism although it falsely often adopts anti-capitalist veneer to appeal to exploited workers. It is, in fact, one manifestation of capitalist power and it always unmasks itself as serving the interests of monopoly capital. It always defends capitalist ownership of the means of production, capitalist exploitation and imperialist war. We recognise that fascism will exist so long as capitalism exists.

In the struggle against fascism, communists must take into account the concrete historical conditions and the relationship of the class forces in each country under these conditions at each historical stage. We must learn from history and the strength of our ideology. Fascism will only be defeated by a revolutionary working class. The struggle against fascism will only be concluded by the overthrow of capitalism, the establishment of workers’ power and socialism.


bottom of page