5. Fascism and anti-fascism

The question of antifascism is very important and controversial. People like us, with a strong critique of antifascist ideology and reality, are often confronted with reproaches like: we would sabotage the antifascist work, we would make Nazi horrors relative because we denounce and fight democratic horrors and the whole of the capitalist mode of production (from primitive accumulation and colonisation to today's wars, destruction of nature, and plastic daily life), and so on. What do you think of these reproaches and what are your experiences ?

Some Bordigists say that antifascism is the worst product of fascism. What is your point of view concerning this statement?

Verbal traps are dangerous, but even more so when a faulty word happens to take its meaning from another faulty word. Democracy and fascism have been used for eighty years as the opposed poles of a couple that has come to define itself by this opposition. Since both terms are flawed, there's no understanding of their relationship unless we question them both.

Calling modern parliamentary representation democracy, or autonomous and self-government procedures direct democracy, is verbal nonsense. In ancient Greece, democracy was born as a solution to organise the running of a specific society by the means of the rule of a specific demos, whose members were defined in a special and limiting way, and where each citizen (in principle and often in practice) governed and was governed. Using the same word for 19th or 21st century Western representative system is as relevant as calling Athens 500 B.C. a capitalist city. But this delusion has historical reasons. If the rising bourgeoisie looked for political models in ancient Greece (where the word "democracy" was not as frequent and obvious as is usually believed), it's because the bourgeois needed that reference. If the word and notion have stood out for a couple of centuries, and are still alive and well, including in workers' organisations and social movements in general, here again it's because they expressed and express some prevailing reality. A forthcoming text will try and sort out these contradictions. For the moment, let's just point this out:

Nobody can seriously equate democracy and dictatorship, nor democracy and fascism.

The point made by communists, from 1918 onwards, is not that dropping a ballot paper in the box (an act which is indeed a dispossession of oneself) would be the same as being sent to Dachau. The point made by Bordiga and Pannekoek alike is that the most open election system, with lots of debates, meetings, street demos, etc., has never prevented and will never prevent the creation of concentration camps. Every democratic country has had and can have its Dachaus in one form or other. Supporting democracy in order to avoid dictatorship just doesn't work. It never has and never will. Here lies the essential. To prove this essential, there is no need to relativise, minimise or deny the all too real horrors of fascism. In some (not all, of course) crises, democracy voluntarily commits "suicide" because it prefers law and order, however harsh and murderous, to disorder. Any good history book gives evidence of this process, which happened in 1922 as well as 1933.

Like "democracy", the word fascism is a hotbed of confusions.

Nazism was born out of the frustrations of parts of the petit-bourgeoisie, and grew into a mass movement through a trans-class posturing which mixed the most blatant demagoguery with the promise of solving everything thanks to the elimination of the Jews and the Marxists. These two targets were closely linked. The Nazis did not speak of the "Marxists" because of a special concern for the author of Das Kapital: that notion was necessary to include moderate socialists, Stalinists, genuine communists and union activists, in other words all brands of worker militancy. Hitler differed from Mussolini, but in both countries fascism-Nazism could not have existed if there had not been a workers' movement, reformist but active and perceived as a threat by the bourgeois. In 1933, the remnants of the German Left interpreted Hitler's coming to power as the last stage of the counter-revolution of 1919-21: fascism did not crush the proletarian wave, it finally confirmed its defeat.

On the one hand, Hitler's enemy was the working class : it's in the workers' districts that the Nazis unleashed their destructive energy before 1933 and immediately after they took power. Hitler only became useful and legitimate to the ruling class by his ruthless determination to eradicate workers' organisations, and by his ability to do it in the streets before January 1933 wherever the SAs were strong enough. On the other hand, as soon as it could, and as long as it could, including when it was losing the war, as late as Summer 1944, Nazism relentlessly killed all the Jews it managed to lay its hands on, with such method and coherence that it is absurd not to perceive this killing as an essential part of its programme. National-socialism can only be understood if we take into account those two complementary aspects, the conjunction of which caused its success and its genocidal evolution.

What is antifascism ? It doesn't just mean being against fascism. It means a particular way of fighting fascism, by giving this fight absolute priority, particularly over the fight against other political forms of bourgeois rule, and first of all the democratic forms. (Similarly, "anti-imperialism" does not mean fighting imperialism, but supporting national liberation movements against dominant imperialist countries.) Antifascism supports democracy in order to get rid of fascism. This support will often be partial, critical and provisional, and think of itself as anti-State. In Spain, 1936, quite a few people thought they were practising a "revolutionary" antifascism: they believed the armed proletarians could afford to neglect the democratic State for the moment and simply take the anti-Franco struggle into their own hands without bothering about a bourgeois police and army made powerless by the workers' insurrection. This was the position of many anarchists, Trotskysts and members of German and Italian left communist groups that went to Spain after the Summer of 1936 to join the anarchist or POUM militia. When the (mainly Italian but Brussels-based) Bilan group told these comrades that they were in fact fighting Franco alongside the Spanish Republican army, and that no anti-Franco combat could be achieved without also combating the Republican State, because bourgeois democrats can't and won't give themselves the means to defeat fascist bourgeois, Bilan's stand appeared dogmatic, absurd, even close to desertion. In the light of what followed, the forced integration of the militia into the regular army, the demise and crushing of proletarian autonomy, May 37, the destruction of worker and peasant collectivities, only to result in the inability of the Republican government to defeat Franco, this sequence of events rather points out to the opposite: by and large, Bilan was right. It was even proved right by the fact that many of the communists who'd been to Spain to take part in what they thought was a revolutionary process left the country within a year.

Sixty-eight years have passed since the end of the Spanish Republic, and sixty-two years have elapsed since the fall of the Third Reich. Fascism belongs to the past as much as Stalinism, and antifascism has only a political value as a slogan.

The 21st century antifascist is an orphan: a world without fascism leaves him just with a role, a part he plays as he can, and with difficulty. It's easy to smile at a cartoon of Le Pen costumed in a mock SA uniform, but no one turns up at an anti-Le Pen demo dressed like a Rote Front member. Contemporary antifascism is period acting without the costume.

Antifascism is the politics of lesser evilism. It subordinates everything to the annihilation of an enemy that makes all other enemies look acceptable, even those hitherto deemed the most unacceptable. To get rid of Hitler, the most powerful weapons are welcome : the FBI, Stalin or the atom bomb.

Unfortunately for the antifascist, there's now an overload of lesser evils. What was simple in 1943 became fuzzy as soon as the war ended. Nazi Germany was the obvious super-evil. After 1945, what was to be targeted : those that napalmed Vietnamese villagers, or those that sent trainloads of people to Siberian concentration camps ? Logically, absolute evil has to be unique. When "fascism" is incarnated in a succession of bad guys and regimes, with figureheads changing according to political surprises and reversing alliances, when fascism takes on the form of De Gaulle in 1947 and later in 1958, of South African apartheid, of Greek colonels, of Argentinian torturers, of Serbian ethnic cleansers, of Swiss and Austrian "Alpine" populists, "fascism" loses its content. In 1948, millions of Stalinism-influenced workers throughout the world probably genuinely believed that Tito was a fascist in the pay of Hitler and then Truman. The antifascist's problem is not the lack but the profusion of (less and less credible) arch-enemies. Heider's party presence in the Austrian government was compared to January 30, 1933, but ended in the split of that party. Le Pen's electoral feats have not provided him with a position of strength in the street or in political life. The far right currently well entrenched in Northern Europe is no more than that : the extreme of the parliamentary right, and not a public and popular violent mass movement aiming at the restoration of State authority by giving it dictatorial means.

In the early 21st century, in spite of social uncertainties and troubles, no European country is blocked by the coexistence of an organised working class perceived as a threat and a bourgeoisie divided between itself. It's this deadlock that gave Mussolini and Hitler the opportunity to become heads of State, because both set out to smash this block. Nothing lasts forever, but democracy now acts as a powerful solvent upon the alleged fascist menace. The French National Front is about as fascist as the French CP now is Stalinist.

In the worst of cases, as in France in 2002 when Le Pen scored more votes than the socialist candidate in the presidential election, contemporary antifascism is no more than sloganeering and false consciousness.

In the best of cases, it mystifies the indispensable resistance (by violent methods if needs be) to groups that specialise in anti-proletarian activity, especially against the most vulnerable proletarians, foreigners and migrant workers in particular, and that proclaim and practise oppressive attitudes and values. Reactionary principles and deeds are to be opposed as much as reformist ones. Those chauvinists, skinheads, white suprematists and self-proclaimed neo-Nazis that exist in Germany, in Italy, in Scandinavia, in Russia and in the US, and dream of themselves as the seeds of a future NSDAP, are to be fought. But fighting them implies treating them for what they are. There's no reason to imitate them in ideology, nor to respect their self-image. Let's situate them in their real time, our time, not in some imaginary 1932. Confronting a group that is called or calls itself neo-Nazi in 2007 is not combating the SAs of a reborn Hitlerism, but an activity comparable to the struggle against the Pinkertons in the US a hundred years ago, bourgeois reactionary sport clubs in Buenos-Aires in 1919, the Shanghai Green Gang in the 1920s, Latin American pistoleros, strike-breaking hired thugs, or any of the many (sometimes paramilitary) squads that spring to life when the ruling classes are threatened, and act parallel to the official police. Here are issues we have to address. Today's anti-fascism is fighting the past.