Sunday, January 5, 2020

Review/notes: Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win by Clara Zetkin. Edited by John Riddell and Mike Taber (Haymarket Books 2017)

Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win by Clara Zetkin (Edited by John Riddell and Mike Taber; Haymarket 2017) is not the most cynical or panicky chicken-little book brought out by a petty-bourgeois left publisher after the gold-rush signalled for them by Trump's 2016 election. 

The worst that can be said of Zetkin's politics after Lenin's death and the consolidation of the Stalinist cop apparatus over the Comintern and Russian party was that, as she tacked and maneuvered, she seemed to move closer to what would later become the Popular Front line, as opposed to the united front resolutions of the fourth comintern congress.

In lieu of Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win, I recommend the following titles:

My underlinings are below.


....This short book, containing a report and resolution by Clara Zetkin at a 1923 leadership meeting of the Communist International, presents a far-reaching analysis of what was then something entirely new on the world scene.

....arose as a reaction to the rising movement of the proletariat, that is, the social class of those who depend on sale of their labor power for their means of subsistence.

....Italian Socialist Party and the main trade union federation under its influence refused to see this month-long revolutionary movement as anything more than a simple union struggle. With such a mindset, the union leadership eventually directed the workers to leave the factories in exchange for a package of enticing but empty promises by the capitalists—who by that time were willing to sign anything provided they could get their factories back. Italian working people, who had hoped and expected that the end of capitalist rule was near, abandoned the factories in dejection.

....Once in power, fascism proceeded to crush the unions entirely, along with all other independent workers' organizations.

....The Comintern had its first organized discussion of fascism at its Fourth Congress in November 1922. It was not particularly fruitful, however. A report by Italian Communist Amadeo Bordiga, while describing important aspects of Mussolini's movement in Italy, was less successful in uncovering fascism's nature, stressing instead the similarities between fascism and bourgeois democracy and predicting that Italian fascism would not last long. Neither Bordiga's report nor the discussion that followed paid much attention to the struggle against fascism.

•Fascism's emergence is inextricably tied to the economic crisis of capitalism and the decline of its institutions. This crisis is characterized by escalating attacks on the working class, and by middle layers of society being increasingly squeezed and driven down into the proletariat. "Fascism is rooted, indeed, in the dissolution of the capitalist economy and the bourgeois state…. The war shattered the capitalist economy down to its foundations. This is evident not only in the appalling impoverishment of the proletariat, but also in the proletarianization of very broad petty-bourgeois and middle-bourgeois masses...."

•The rise of fascism is based on the proletariat's failure to resolve capitalism's social crisis by taking power and beginning to reorganize society. This failure of working-class leadership breeds demoralization among workers and among the forces within society that had looked to the proletariat and socialism as a way out of the crisis....

•Fascism possesses a mass character, with a special appeal to petty-bourgeois layers threatened by the decline of the capitalist order....

•To win support from these layers, fascism makes use of anticapitalist demagogy. "Masses in their thousands streamed to fascism. It became an asylum for all the politically homeless, the socially uprooted, the destitute and disillusioned…. The petty-bourgeois and intermediate social forces at first vacillate indecisively between the powerful historical camps of the proletariat and bourgeoisie. They are induced to sympathize with the proletariat by their life's suffering and, in part, by their soul's noble longings and high ideals, so long as it is revolutionary in its conduct and seems to have prospects for victory. Under the pressure of the masses and their needs, and influenced by this situation, even the fascist leaders are forced to at least flirt with the revolutionary proletariat, even though they may not have any sympathy with it...."

•Fascist ideology elevates nation and state above all class contradictions and class interests....

•At a certain point, important sections of the capitalist class begin to support and finance the fascist movement, seeing it as a way to counter the threat of proletarian revolution....

•A major characteristic of fascism is the use of organized violence by anti-working-class shock troops, aiming to crush all independent proletarian activity....

• Once in power, fascism tends to become bureaucratized, and moves away from its earlier demagogic appeals, leading to a resurgence of class contradictions and class struggle....

....Zetkin's analysis also contrasts sharply with the analysis of fascism put forward subsequently by the Stalin-led Communist parties in the years and decades ahead. There were two main Stalinist approaches, both of which are counterposed to Zetkin's perspective: 

1. Social fascism. Adopted during the Comintern's ultraleft 'Third Period' of the late 1920s and early 1930s, the thrust of this view was to equate Social Democracy and fascism, thereby justifying the German Communist Party's refusal to seek a united front with the powerful Social Democratic Party in the fight against the Nazis. Had such a united front been organized, it would have had the support of the overwhelming majority of working people in Germany and would almost certainly have been powerful enough to counter the Nazis. The adamant refusal to do so by both the CP and SPD leaderships can rightly be said to have opened the door to Hitler's assumption of power. 

2. Popular frontism. This view was first fully presented in a report by Georgi Dimitrov to the Seventh Congress of the by-then fully Stalinized Comintern in 1935. Fascism, Dimitrov stated, was "the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital." It "acts in the interests of the extreme imperialists," which he characterized as "the most reactionary circles of the bourgeoisie...."

....Such movements recognize the social crisis, but they aim to shift the blame for it away from the capitalist system, looking instead for scapegoats: immigrants, Blacks, Jews, self-confident and independent women, LGBT people, Roma people, and others. Outlandish conspiracy theories are conjured up, designed to deflect attention away from the social and economic system responsible for the crisis.....
[Wrong! ....]

•Workers' self-defense is crucial in order to confront the fascist terror campaign. Above all, this includes organized workers' defense guards to combat fascist attacks.....

•In addition to combating fascism physically when necessary to defend itself, the working class needs to combat fascism's mass appeal politically, making special efforts among middle-class layers.....

•Combating fascism in this way means, above all, demonstrating the proletarian leadership's absolute determination to fight to take power out of the hands of the bourgeoisie in order to resolve capitalism's social crisis, and putting forward a program aimed at cementing the alliances necessary to do so....

....Such movements recognize the social crisis, but they aim to shift the blame for it away from the capitalist system, looking instead for scapegoats: immigrants, Blacks, Jews, self-confident and independent women, LGBT people, Roma people, and others. Outlandish conspiracy theories are conjured up, designed to deflect attention away from the social and economic system responsible for the crisis.

....can be found in The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International's Executive Committee, 1922–1923, edited by Mike Taber....

....Third Enlarged Plenum of the Communist International's Executive Committee in June 1923.


Clara Zetkin

....At first, the prevailing view was that fascism was nothing more than violent bourgeois terror, and its character and effects were thought to be similar to those of the Horthy regime in Hungary.1 Yet even though fascism and the Horthy regime employ the same bloody, terrorist methods, which bear down on the proletariat in the same way, the historical essence of the two phenomena is entirely different.

....In historical terms, viewed objectively, fascism arrives much more as punishment because the proletariat has not carried and driven forward the revolution that began in Russia. And the base of fascism lies not in a small caste but in broad social layers, broad masses, reaching even into the proletariat.

....fascism, for the reformists, is the consequence of the Russian Revolution—the proletariat's original sin in the Garden of Eden.

[Pace Otto Bauer]....there is nothing left for the proletariat but to step aside quietly and modestly, and not provoke the tigers and lions of bourgeois class rule through a struggle for its liberation and its own rule. In short, the proletariat is to renounce all that for the present and future, and patiently wait to see whether a tiny bit can be gained through the route of democracy and reform....

Failure of proletarian leadership 

      ....Fascism has another source. It is the blockage, the halting pace of world revolution resulting from betrayal by the reformist leaders of the workers' movement.

....Failure of proletarian leadership Fascism has another source. It is the blockage, the halting pace of world revolution resulting from betrayal by the reformist leaders of the workers' movement.

....Masses in their thousands streamed to fascism. It became an asylum for all the politically homeless, the socially uprooted, the destitute and disillusioned. And what they no longer hoped for from the revolutionary proletarian class and from socialism, they now hoped would be achieved by the most able, strong, determined, and bold elements of every social class. All these forces must come together in a community. And this community, for the fascists, is the nation. They wrongly imagine that the sincere will to create a new and better social reality is strong enough to overcome all class antagonisms....

....The petty-bourgeois and intermediate social forces at first vacillate indecisively between the powerful historical camps of the proletariat and bourgeoisie. They are induced to sympathize with the proletariat by their life's suffering and, in part, by their soul's noble longings and high ideals, so long as it is not only revolutionary in its conduct but also seems to have prospects for victory. Under the pressure of the masses and their needs and influenced by this situation, even the fascist leaders are forced to at least flirt with the revolutionary proletariat, even though they may not have any personal sympathy for it. But when it becomes clear that the proletariat itself has abandoned the goal of carrying the revolution further, that it is withdrawing from the battlefield under the influence of the reformist leaders, out of fear of revolution and respect for the capitalists—at this point the broad fascist masses find their way to the spot where most of their leaders were, consciously or unconsciously, from the very start: on the side of the bourgeoisie....

The bourgeoisie and fascism

....bourgeoisie can only conclude that over time, under such circumstances, even the mild and conciliatory sermons of the reform socialists will lose their dulling effect on the proletariat. It reckons that the proletariat can now be subjugated and exploited only through force. But the means of force available to the bourgeois state are beginning, in part, to break down. every country it has two essential features: a sham revolutionary program, which links up in extremely clever fashion with the moods, interests, and demands of broad social masses; and the use of brutal and violent terror.

Demoralization and terror

Soon fascism was able to draw nourishment and strength from a second major source. The objectively revolutionary situation led to the rise of a subjectively revolutionary mood in the Italian proletariat. The glorious example of the Russian workers and peasants had a strong influence here. In the summer of 1920, the metalworkers carried out the occupation of the factories.4 Here and there, reaching into southern Italy, agricultural proletarians, small peasants, and tenant farmers occupied estates or rebelled in other ways against the large landowners. But this great historic moment found the workers' leaders to be feeble in spirit. The reformist leaders of the Socialist Party drew back in fear from the revolutionary perspective of broadening the factory occupation into a struggle for power. They forced the workers' struggle into the narrow confines of a purely economic movement, whose leadership was the business of the trade unions....

....achieved victory politically and ideologically against a working class infected with reformism. In February 1921 there were about 1,000 fascists.

....Even though the workers' occupation of the factories ended in defeat, the bourgeoisie feared a future revival of proletarian power. In the municipal elections, the Socialists had won a third of the 8,000 councils. Preventive action was necessary. To be sure!

....Bands of "punishers," which here and there formed spontaneously, became permanent organizations of paid mercenaries, who carry out terror as a profession. The squadrons developed over time into a purely military force, one that carried out the coup and underpins Mussolini's dictatorial power. After the seizure of power and the establishment of the fascist state they were legalized as a "national militia," a part of the bourgeois state. They are committed, as was officially declared, "to the service of God, the nation, and the prime minister"—please note: not the king. There are various estimates of their strength. At the time of the fascist coup5 they numbered between 100,000 and 300,000; now they are half a million.

Fascist promises vs. performance

....When one compares the program of Italian fascism with its actual implementation, one thing becomes evident: the complete ideological bankruptcy of the movement. There is a blatant contradiction between what fascism promised and what it delivered to the masses. All the talk about how the fascist state will place the interests of the nation above everything, once exposed to the wind of reality, burst like a soap bubble. The "nation" revealed itself to be the bourgeoisie; the ideal fascist state revealed itself to be the vulgar, unscrupulous bourgeois class state. This ideological bankruptcy must lead sooner or later to political bankruptcy....

Fascism's contradictions

....Class contradictions are mightier than all the ideologies that deny their existence, and these contradictions find expression despite fascism, indeed thanks to fascism and against it.

....growing rebellion of small peasants and agricultural workers finds pointed expression precisely in the rural regions where fascism imagined its squadrons to have broken all resistance.

Proletarian awakening

....fascism is incapable of defending the workers' interests against the bourgeoisie, and incapable of keeping the promises that it made, particularly to the fascist trade unions.

....ideological bankruptcy leads to political bankruptcy, and that it will be the workers above all who will quickly begin thinking once again in terms of their class interests and responsibilities.

Who will topple fascism?

....Fascism is contradictory by nature, encompassing different conflicting forces that will lead it to internal decay and disintegration. We must take up the struggle more energetically not only for the souls of proletarians that have fallen to fascism but for those of small and medium bourgeois, small peasants, intellectuals—in a word, all the layers that are placed today, by their economic and social position, in increasingly sharp conflict with large-scale capitalism.

....fascism's military decay and collapse will come—it must come—but this may be a lengthy drawn-out process because of the inertia of the available instruments of power.

....fascism is surely condemned to decay internally and to fall apart. Only temporarily can it serve the bourgeoisie as a tool of class struggle; only temporarily can it reinforce, whether legally or illegally, the power of the bourgeois state against the proletariat. Still, it would be disastrous for us to fall into the role of clever and refined observers of this process of decay.

Combating fascism's appeal

....Let us not forget that violent fascist gangs are not composed entirely of ruffians of war, mercenaries by choice, and venal lumpens who take pleasure in acts of terror. We also find among them the most energetic forces of these social layers, those most capable of development. We must go to them with conviction and understanding for their condition and their fiery longing, work among them, and show them a solution that does not lead backward but rather forward to communism. The overriding grandeur of communism as a world outlook will win their sympathies for us.

To the masses!

....Communist Party of each country must now be not just a vanguard fighter for wageworkers in the narrow sense of the term, not only a tribune of the interests of proletarians engaged in manual labor, but also a champion of intellectual workers, a leader of all social layers whose vital interests and whose longing to attain a more advanced culture places them in growing contradiction to the capitalist order. all social layers in which fascism is recruiting a mass following that we Communists defend their interests through intense activity against bourgeois class rule.

....We cannot pour ourselves out broadly like a puddle dissolving into the masses. That would lead to damaging opportunism, and our efforts among the masses would collapse in humiliating defeat. If we make concessions to the masses' "lack of understanding"—and I mean both the old and the new masses—we then abandon our true vocation as a party.

....Mohammad has no choice but to go to the mountain. If the new masses that we must attract do not come to us, we must find them and talk to them in their own language, one corresponding to how they see things, without giving up the slightest bit of our Communist outlook.

Workers' self-defense and the united front

....the proletariat has urgent need for self-defense against fascism, and this self-protection against fascist terror must not be neglected for a single moment. At stake is the proletarians' personal safety and very existence; at stake is the survival of their organizations.

....Proletarian self-defense against fascism is one of the strongest forces driving to establish and strengthen the proletarian united front.

....we see the capitalist economy, the bourgeois state, and class rule at the end of their tether. Symptoms of fascist decay and disintegration in bourgeois society speak to us loudly and piercingly of coming victory, provided that the proletariat struggles with knowledge and will in a united front.


This resolution, authored by Zetkin, was adopted on June 23, 1923, by the Third Enlarged Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International....

....reformist parties and trade-union leaders betrayed the revolution, capitulated to capitalism, and formed a coalition with the bourgeoisie in order to restore class rule and class exploitation as of old.

....Lacking historical understanding and political education, the socially variegated and hastily assembled violent bands of fascism expect everything to be put right by a state that is their own creation and tool. Supposedly standing above class and party bourgeoisie was quick to recruit fascism to service and use in its struggle to beat down and permanently enslave the proletariat.

....The bourgeoisie needs to use aggressive force to defend itself against the working class. The old and seemingly "apolitical" repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state no longer provides it with sufficient security. The bourgeoisie moves to create special bands of class struggle against the proletariat. Fascism provides such troops.

....revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat cannot look on passively as fascism disintegrates.

....Workers' organizations therefore must display great energy, in their offensive against capitalism, in protecting the broad masses of producers against exploitation, oppression, and usury. In this way they will counterpose earnest organized mass struggle to the fake revolutionary and demagogic slogans of fascism.


An international conference against fascism and war took place in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on March 17–20, 1923. The conference was held in the wake of the January 1923 invasion and occupation of the Ruhr by French and Belgian troops....

....A prominent role was played at the conference by the Provisional International Committee for Combating Fascism. Formed on the Comintern's initiative in January 1923, this committee had issued a call to the world proletariat for united action against fascism. Along these lines, it appealed to the Second International, the social democratic World Federation of Trade Unions, and syndicalist unions to join in the effort. Zetkin was chair of the Provisional Committee, and, as such, she played a central role in the Frankfurt conference, giving the main report on the struggle against fascism.

....white terror in Hungary came as a consequence of the forceful and—it must be said—not inglorious attempt by the Hungarian proletarians to bring down capitalism through the construction of a council republic. After the revolution was crushed, a small stratum of Junkers and militarists established their tyranny in this primarily agrarian country. Fascism in the modern industrial states is completely different. It takes shape as a broad-based mass movement, composed not only of petty bourgeois and smallholding peasants, but also of unenlightened proletarian forces.

....swathes of the petty bourgeoisie and the intellectuals have lost their prewar conditions of life; they were not just proletarianized, they were pauperized.

....fascist slogans are gathering support among many who previously put their faith in socialist slogans, who without any clear insight felt instinctively opposed to big capital and hoped for improvements through the taming of capitalism on the road to democracy.

....fascist organizations are fashioning themselves into a refuge for the politically homeless.

....the first rule must be: self-defense of the workers, in order to confront force with force.

Resolution on the Struggle Against Fascism

....(c) Organization of self-defense among the working class by means of enrolling and arming self-defense troops.

....It is imperative to hammer into the minds of workers that the fate of the Italian working class will be their own fate, if they do not undertake energetic revolutionary struggle against the ruling class in order to prevent the less-class-conscious elements from being recruited to fascism.

John Riddell

Twelve months after the adoption of Clara Zetkin's report and resolution on fascism, this position was overturned by the Comintern's Fifth World Congress, held in June–July 1924.

During the next few years, as the International came increasingly under the domination of a bureaucratic apparatus headed by Joseph Stalin, its view on fascism and the united front shifted several times, without ever returning fully to its 1923 position. Then in 1928 the Comintern embraced a sectarian stance, opposed in principle to antifascist unity of any kind with Social Democratic and other non-Communist currents in the workers' movement, whom it labeled "social fascists...."

About-face on workers' unity 

In his opening report to the Fifth Comintern Congress in 1924, its president, Gregory Zinoviev, abandoned Zetkin's analysis of the nature and dynamics of fascism by claiming that Social Democracy was itself closely linked to this antiworker movement....

....Zetkin at the Fifth Congress Both Zetkin and Radek took the floor at the Fifth Congress to strongly oppose Zinoviev's proposals to reverse Comintern positions on the united front and other questions.

The basic precondition for united-front efforts, she explained, was the Communist Party's unity, independence, and close ties to the masses. In that framework, negotiations with Social Democratic leaders were sometimes appropriate—provided that we meet with them "not to do them honor" but to "increase the pressure on them toward action" and win "an even broader range of their supporters to our banner."

Defending unity in struggle

In October 1927, Zetkin sent the KPD Central Committee a powerful defense of the united-front policies she had helped develop in 1921–23. She called on the party to propose conditional support to a Social Democratic government in the German federal state of Hamburg, where the KPD and SPD together held a parliamentary majority, on the basis of an agreed program of measures in workers' interests. Zetkin's letter also defended the KPD's entry in 1923 into a short-lived SPD-KPD government in the German state of Saxony, which had been sharply attacked within the KPD and the International....

....Zetkin supported Bukharin and Stalin's harsh reprisals against the United Opposition, going so far as to endorse Trotsky's expulsion from the Communist Party in November 1927. She did not protest the mass arrests of oppositionists and their banishment to Siberia. She thereby gave encouragement to bureaucratic forces that were soon to turn against Bukharin and solidify Stalin's absolute rule.

Ultraleft turn

....Stalin made a rare appearance at an ECCI meeting in February 1928 to castigate the "right wing" of the KPD—that is, the forces led by Brandler and associated with Zetkin—as the main danger to the party. The meeting marked the effective end of united-front policy in the Comintern, blocking the road to a fighting antifascist alliance. A subsequent meeting of delegates from Germany and the Soviet Union to the ECCI, from which Zetkin was excluded, spelled out the transfer of power in the KPD to forces adhering to Stalin's new line.

....On July 3, 1929, the Moscow daily Pravda published an article by Zetkin that presented some central themes of her 1923 report on fascism. She submitted the article as a criticism of the draft program prepared for the Comintern congress the following month, whose main author was Bukharin. Criticizing the draft's schematic presentation of a "class against class" perspective, Zetkin stressed that the Comintern must unite "all working people and all oppressed classes and peoples."

....conflict in the KPD culminated in a historic session of the ECCI on December 19, 1928, where Zetkin confronted Stalin directly. Stalin's forces demanded expulsion of the KPD "right wing"; Zetkin called for postponement of any disciplinary action until the KPD held a democratic discussion and congress. During this session, Béla Kun, an architect of the ultraleft "March Action" disaster in Germany in 1921, charged Zetkin with "rightism" for opposing his course at that time. In response, Zetkin pointed out that she had joined with Lenin in rallying the world congress against Kun's ultraleft views. To no avail: the plenum decisions were in step with Kun's position. Expulsion of the KPD "right" was decided, against the votes of Zetkin, Jules Humbert-Droz, and Angelo Tasca; 6,000 dissidents were forced out of the German party.

....Zetkin's memorandum condemned the destructive role of the Soviet party, which, she said, no longer "leads" but merely "dictates" to the International. And for the first and only time, she challenged the Stalin leadership's policies within the Soviet Union by demanding "extensive documentary material" on developments in the Soviet party and state. Comintern member parties, she said, had the "duty and right to consult on the problems of the Soviet Union in fraternal solidarity with the Russian party."

Expressions of dissent

....While praising the Soviet Union's achievements, Zetkin did not join in the customary adulation of the Soviet dictator. She expressed her contempt for the Soviet ruler in a private note intended for Bukharin in Moscow, advising him not to let himself be pushed around by Stalin, whom she referred to, using the gendered language of that era, as a "mentally deranged woman who wears men's pants."

....She paid the price of maintaining her Communist Party membership, which was to speak only a fraction of what she believed.

Seizing an opportunity

The global depression that broke out in 1929 had hit Germany hard. With its workers' parties consumed by fratricidal struggle, Hitler's National Socialists—in eclipse since 1923—quickly grew to be Germany's largest party. The Nazi vote rose from 2.6 percent (1928) to 18.3 percent (1930) and 37.4 percent (1932). In the July 1932 vote, Zetkin was reelected to the Reichstag, having been a member since 1920. Seventy-four years old, she was the oldest member of Germany's parliament and as such had the right to formally open its first session....

....The final part of her talk reasserted the essence of her long-suppressed opinion on the urgency to forge unity against fascism.

5 January 2020

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