The rise of fascism in Europe in the 1990's

One clear lesson that emerges from the pre-war period is that the fight against fascism cannot be won by the work of 'heroic militants' once fascism has received the backing of capitalism and the state. In Italy, Germany or Spain nothing short of a revolution would have defeated fascism. As in every other case, a successful revolution would have required that the working class as a whole mobilised against the state and the fascist gangs and collectively crushed them.

The fight against fascism...
yesterday and tomorrow

IN LYON, on February 15th, the 'Plume Noire' anarchist bookstore and regional headquarters of the French Federation Anarchiste (FA) was plastered with fascist stickers with the slogan 'FN (National Front) youth, the rebel wave, the Le Pen wave'. This had never happened before in the area, a bastion of the far-left and the next night the significance of the act became clear.

At around 5am the bookshop was completely destroyed in an obviously well orchestrated incendiary attack. The windows were smashed, cans of petrol were poured in and set alight, and the wooden interior, stacked with books, caught flame quickly.

The perpetrators also set fires in the only exit doorway to the residential block above the book shop. The fascists not only attempted to burn down the book shop but also attempted to murder the building's occupants (mostly immigrants).

The FA believe they were attacked because "the anarchists have been the front-line of the opposition to the racist and nationalistic politics of the FN. In the defence of abortion rights, divorce and especially illegal immigrants where the anarchists have been often deserted by the traditional left wing parties who insist on differentiating between 'good and bad illegals'. In refusing to accept any controls on freedom of movement the anarchists have formed the only political pole which has refused to entertain any of the FN's racist ideas."

The following Saturday some 3,000 people marched through Lyon to protest this attack. Federation Anarchiste - Lyon reported on the march as follows. "The FA banner followed immediately behind the banner of unity and led a cortege of well over 1,000 people carrying scores of black flags which were complemented nicely by the red and black of the CNT union leading a cortege of some 600.

The first target was the traditional heartland of the far right in Lyon... the Nazis got to see 3,000 militants walking right past their doorsteps. This was important for us insofar as it demonstrated the failure of their attempts to intimidate us as well as showing our willingness to confront them on their own territory.

There was a fair collection of disgruntled faces lining the streets, not least the policemen outside the commissariat who received massive choruses of 'Vigipirate,(the repressive security plan) Terrorisme d'Etat'. After passing through the quarter the march came to a halt outside the Museum of the Resistance ....while the various spokespeople read out their messages of solidarity then all rose to their feet, fists in the air, to the rendition of 'A Las Barricadas'."

Fascist electoral victory

This attack followed on from the French National Front's victory on February 9th in the Vitrolles municipal election. In the 1980's and early 1990's the French far-right was able to grow on the basis of the racist consensus created by all the major parties of the left and right that 'immigration was a problem'.

But for fascism to come to power it requires the backing of the bosses, it requires their money and the protection of their courts, their police and their army. The bosses will only offer fascism this backing when they are faced with a militant working class they cannot suppress by other means.

Since the December strike wave of 1995 however the working class has continued to assert itself in strikes and occupations, directed in particular at preventing the cuts in the social wage required by the Maastricht protocol. French anarchists have been to the fore of many of these struggles, and it is for this reason that the Fascists have targeted them in particular.

The French anarchist weekly paper, 'Le Monde Libertaire', is being sued by the National Front for libel. But in France as elsewhere, although the fascists are not slow to use the state against the left, they are also resorting to more direct methods.

In Spain today the anarchists have also come under attack. On March 5th an arson attack totally destroyed the CGT (anarcho-syndicalist union) offices in Segovia. All over Europe the fascists are trying to prove their usefulness to the bosses. By targeting anarchism they are trying to get rid of the bosses most effective opposition.

This growth of fascism in the 1990's is being fuelled by the nature of capitalism itself, in particular its need to drive down down working and living conditions in advance of European Union under the Maastricht treaty. As working class opposition to this mounts fascism can play two useful roles for the bosses: it seeks to distract a section of the working class from the real enemy by suggesting immigrants are responsible for declining conditions on the one hand, on the other it physically attacks those who are organising working class resistance.

A bit of history

The burning of meeting places was the first step of the fascists in Italy, after this came kidnappings and murders and, when the fascists came to power, arrests and prison against the continuing anarchist resistance. Many of those forced into exile in the early 1920's went on to fight the fascists in Germany and then in Spain.

When they were defeated in Spain this body of international anti-fascist fighters were interned by the French, but many escaped and went on to set up resistance groups. Others were forced into labour battalions by the Vichy government where they sabotaged production. One example is the case of the Barage de la Aigle Dam, where anarchists sabotaged roads and tunnels needed in its construction, and later formed the core of a 200 strong armed resistance group.

With the allied invasion these groups could emerge into the open, indeed the whole area south of the Loire and west of the Rhone was liberated by resistance groups. It's estimated that 6,000 Spanish guerrillas were involved in the liberation of Toulouse, much to De Gaulle's fear that they were"still imbued with the revolutionary spirit they had brought from beyond the Pyrenees"

Others joined the various allied armies where they stole and hid guns for resuming the struggle against the Franco dictatorship in Spain after the war. The liberation of Paris saw 4,000 Spaniards fighting in the Maquis and another 3,200 in the French 2nd armoured division, many of whom were veterans of the anarchist Durruti column/26th Division that fought Franco in Spain.

Indeed the anti-fascist struggle in Spain continued after the war into the 1950's, despite the fact that the allied intelligence agencies handed over their lists of Spanish agents to Franco, many of whom were then killed or imprisoned. And right up to Franco's death in 1976 there were sporadic attempts to assass-inate him by the anarchists who were still active.

A feature of this six decades long struggle against European fascism is that for most of this struggle the anarchists were alone. Anarchists recognised straight away that the state would not fight fascism but would support it. They recognised that in order to stop fascist violence, violence would have to be used against the fascists.

In 1920 in Italy, for instance, when the anti-fascist alliance Arditi del Popolo emerged to physically fight the fascists, anarchists were often its organisers. Many militant socialists and communists joined, but their party bureaucracies tried to sabotage the Arditi del Popolo with slanders. In August 1921 the Socialist Party agreed a 'Pact of Pacification' with the fascists that disarmed the workers movement materially and psychologically in the face of the growing violence of fascist gangs.

Not only were anarchist resistance groups denied arms by the 'Allies' during the war, but they were censored in the Allied controlled areas when the invasion happened, and those jailed before 1943 for fighting fascism were kept in jail after the war by the 'democratic' state.

One clear lesson that emerges from this period is that the fight against fascism cannot be won by the work of 'heroic militants' once fascism has received the backing of capitalism and the state. In Italy, Germany or Spain nothing short of a revolution would have defeated fascism. As in every other case, a successful revolution would have required that the working class as a whole mobilised against the state and the fascist gangs and collectively crushed them.

In Europe today we have not yet reached that stage, but if working class combativity continues it would seem inevitable that larger and larger sections of the boss class will look to fascism as an antidote. In recognition of this our struggle against fascism today, while uniting as broad a layer as possible, has to spread the need for revolutionary change throughout the working class as a whole.

First published in Workers Solidarity 51, 1996?

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


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