Leon Trotsky, writing before and after Hitler came to power, tried to warn the labour movement about the policies of the, then very strong, German Communist Party, policies which proved to be disastrous.
He advocated a policy of the “united front”. His writings have a lot to tell us about the nature of fascism and how to fight it.
For workers’ unity against the fascists
“No matter how true it is that the Social Democracy by its whole policy prepared the blossoming of fascism, it is no less true that fascism comes forward as a deadly threat primarily to that same Social Democracy, all of whose magnificence is inextricably bound with parliamentary-democratic-pacifist forms and methods of government…
“The policy of a united front of the workers against fascism flows from this situation. It opens up tremendous possibilities to the Communist Party.
“The social crisis will inevitably produce deep cleavages within Social Democracy. The radicalisation of the masses will affect the Social Democrats. We will inevitably have to make agreements with the various Social-Democratic organisations and factions against fascism, putting definite conditions in this connection to the leaders, before the eyes of the masses… We must return from empty official phrase about the united front to the policy of the united front as it was formulated by Lenin and always applied by the Bolsheviks in 1917.”
Leon Trotsky, The Turn in the Communist International and the German Situation, 1930
No to state bans!
“The struggle against fascism, the defence of the positions the working class has won within the framework of degenerating democracy, can become a powerful reality since it gives the working class the opportunity to prepare itself for the sharpest struggles and partially to arm itself… to mobilise the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie on the side of the revolution, the create a workers’ militia, etc. Anyone who does not take advantage of this situation, who calls on the ‘state’, i.e., the class enemy, to ‘act’, in effect sells the proletariat’s hide to the Bonapatist reaction.
“Therefore, we must vote against all measures that strengthen the capitalist-Bonapartist sate, even those measures which may for the moment cause temporary unpleasantness for the fascists.
“We have to take strong measures against the abstract ‘anti-fascist’ mode of thinking that finds entry even into our own ranks at times. ‘Anti-fascism’ is nothing, an empty concept used to cover up Stalinist skulduggery.”
Leon Trotsky, “Bourgeois Democracy and the Fight Against Fascism”, Writings 1935-6, p242.
“Bonapartist” here means dictatorial, authoritarian
The causes of
“The magnates of finance capital are unable by their force alone to cope with the proletariat. They need the support of the petty bourgeoisie. ‘For this purpose it must be whipped up, put on its feet, mobilised, armed. But this method has its dangers. While it makes use of fascism, the bourgeoisie nevertheless fears it.
“Under the conditions of capitalist disintegration and of the impasse in the economic situation, the petty bourgeoisie strives, seeks, attempts to tear itself loose from the fetters of the old masters and rulers of society. It is quite capable of linking up its fate with that of the proletariat.
“For that, only one thing is needed: the petty bourgeoisie must acquire faith in the ability of the proletariat to lead society onto a new road. The proletariat can inspire this faith only by its strength, by the firmness of its actions, by a skillful offensive against the enemy, by the success of its revolutionary policy.
“But, woe if the revolutionary party does not measure up to the height of the situation!
“If the revolutionary party, in spite of a class struggle becoming incessantly more accentuated, proves time and again to be incapable of uniting the working class about it, if it vacillates, becomes confused, contradicts itself, then the petty bourgeoisie loses patience and begins to look upon the revolutionary workers as those responsible for its own misery.
“All the bourgeois parties, including the Social Democracy, turn its thoughts in this very direction. When the social crisis takes on an intolerable acuteness, a particular party appears on the scene with the direct aim of agitating the petty bourgeoisie to a white heat and of directing its hatred and its despair against the proletariat.”
Leon Trotsky, The Only Road for Germany, September 1932.
Demonstrations are not enough
“To bar the road to fascism, to bar it once and for all, it does not suffice that workers oppose it physically at demonstrations; it does not suffice to denounce its infamies in Germany and Italy. Today we defend ourselves against the rise of reaction, but... to be efficacious this resistance must transform itself into a struggle for power.”
Leon Trotsky, “Conversation with a Dissident from Saint-Denis”, Writings 1933-4, p292.