“Only one thing could have broken our movement – if our enemies had understood its principle and from the first day had smashed the nucleus of our movement with extreme brutality.”
(Adolf Hitler, 1933)
“If the enemy had known how weak we were, it would probably have reduced us to jelly. It would have crushed in blood the very beginning of our work.”
(J Goebbels, 1934)
These statements from the leaders of the Nazi party give us a clear insight into how the Nazis could have been defeated. Their opponents, the working class, should have crushed them right from the start.
But what is fascism? As even Adolf Hitler recognised, in order to smash fascism its enemies need to understand what makes it tick.
Some people use the term fascist like an insult to describe anyone that they don’t like. Others use it to describe anyone who is racist, or who hates democracy. But for revolutionaries, the word fascism has a particular meaning.
We live in a capitalist society. All of the wealth that is produced is in the hands of a tiny elite who run the biggest banks and businesses. The capitalists run industry in order to make a profit.
All of this wealth is produced by the working class. For the capitalists to increase their profits they need to get the workers working longer hours, at a faster rate for as little wages as they can.
But the working class does not just accept this. It forms its own organisations, its parties and the trade unions to fight for its rights including the right to organise and the right to free speech.
And these organisations also fight for higher wages, a shorter working week and better working conditions, as well as for other improvements such as social security for unemployment and access to healthcare and education.
When capitalism goes into economic crisis the capitalists fight to claw back the workers’ gains. They cannot stand being forced to give up anything they have to the workers.
This attitude of the bosses is starkly shown by Krupp, a big arms manufacturer in Germany in the I920′s, “We want only loyal workers who are grateful from the bottom of their hearts for the bread which we let them earn.”
The rich capitalists have a variety of means at their disposal to attack the workers. They can rely on the leaders of the workers organisations to betray the fight of the workers and the fight for revolution or they will use state repression, the police or the army.
But when the rich decide they can no longer afford to allow the workers to organise or they are threatened by revolution they aim to destroy all of the organisations of the working class and deny them any rights.
Many times the capitalists have opted to use military dictatorships to do this. But they cannot always guarantee that the army and the police will be able to successfully do the job. This happened in Germany in 1920.
With Germany in a political crisis, the workers constantly striking and demonstrating for their demands and a lot of the working class fighting for the overthrow of capitalism an attempt was made by the army to introduce a dictatorship. But the military coup, known as the Kapp putsch, failed because the workers were too well organised. They launched a general strike and with many of the workers armed, were able to fight the army.
The German capitalists realised that to stop revolution or to destroy the workers organisations they would need an additional force to fight with them.
This is where fascism comes in. Fascism is different because it aims to build a mass movement. It seeks to build such a movement bringing into action those classes squeezed between the working class and the capitalists: These middle classes along with unorganised workers are also ruined by the crisis of the capitalist system and are looking for radical solutions to the problem.
If the working class is unable to show the revolutionary way out of the crisis the middle classes will listen to the radical solutions of the fascists. This is dangerous for the capitalists too as it can lead to greater instability and they would rather rely on the forces of the army and the police. That is why fascism is a last resort for the bosses. But the capitalists are much more afraid of the working class and revolution.
The years of revolutionary struggle and the failure of the Kapp putsch left its mark on the German industrialists and bosses, “During an entire year – 1918-1919 – I felt that Germany was going to sink into anarchy….It was then I realised the necessity…. of fighting all this radical agitation [of the left Socialists and the Communists]. The memory of those days did much to dispose me, later on, to offer my help to National Socialism [the Nazis]“
These words from art industrialist Thyssen sums up the reasons why the German capitalists began to fund the Nazis. The Nazi Party organised its army; the brown-shirted stormtroopers to attack offices, meetings and demonstrations of the workers. And when Hitler came to power in 1933 he finished the job for the bosses.
With the stormtroopers ranks swollen to 400,000 they began to smash the workers parties and their trade unions once and for all. The Communist and Socialist Parties were banned along with the trade unions. Members and organisers of these parties and unions were rounded up and put into concentration camps. Many of them were shot. Hitler’s regime of butchery and terror had began. It was a regime that went on to build death camps like Auschwitz.
Fascism is not just a racist, nationalist or extreme right wing movement. It can and does use these ideas to build its movement. Hitler and the Nazis used anti-semitism as a way of whipping up the anger of the middle classes, getting them to have someone to blame for the crisis in society and mobilising them on the streets. Today the English Defence League use Islamophobia to recruit to their organisation.
But Mussolini and the Italian Fascists did not use anti-semitism or racism to build their movement. Instead Mussolini talked of being for the “little man” and against the big trusts (companies). He also talked of a national revolution. What was common to both Germany and Italy was the fascists organised gangs to attack the workers movement, to terrorise it.
In Italy after the First World War the workers launched a revolutionary struggle. There were countless strikes and workers occupied their factories. The poor peasants also began to take land for themselves no longer recognising the right of the landowners to keep it. The capitalists haunted by their fear of revolution backed the beginnings of the fascist movement. The Fascists started to organise and to attack.
In Milan in 1919 a demonstration and march of Socialists was attacked by Fascists armed with daggers and hand grenades. On the same day Fascist gangs attacked the offices of the Socialist paper, Avanti. Later in that year as the Socialist deputies left the House of Parliament they were attacked and beaten up. The Fascists went from town to town beating up and murdering workers.
Once in power Italian Fascism set about its task to crush the trade unions and to give the bosses power to drive down wages and lower the workers standard of living. Workers were forbidden to go on strike. Socialists, Communists and trade unionists were imprisoned and their organisations banned.
The essential feature of fascism is that it works for the rich capitalists. That is why the working class must see it as a deadly enemy. And there was nothing special about the German or Italian bosses that made them use fascism. Any ruling class will be prepared to use it.
Winston Churchill, Britain’s prime minister during the Second World War was supposed to be a great anti-fascist and democratic leader. Speaking in Rome in 1927 he said to Mussolini, “If l had been an Italian I am sure that I should have been whole heartedly with you from the start to finish in your triumphant struggle . . . against Leninism (Lenin was a leader of the 1917 Russian revolution).”
Churchill did not give a damn about the terrible conditions of life under fascism and their murderous regimes. His priority, like all of the ruling class, was to save the capitalist system.
We should remember the words from the leaders of the Nazi Party and make sure whenever fascists organise we crush them from the very beginning.
But if we want to finish with fascism once and for all then we will have to get rid of the system that breeds it by a successful workers’ revolution.