Stalinism’s failure to fight fascism

by Vashti Fox • Published 26 August 2022


Russian revolutionary novelist Victor Serge described the period of Stalinist and fascist counter-revolution as “the midnight of the century”.[1] And so it was. The experience of the black jackboot of fascist power and the silent snowy prisons of the Soviet gulags should not be forgotten. Fascist regimes were responsible for some of the most unimaginable barbarisms. Fascism rounded up millions; shaved their heads, starved them, beat them, poisoned them, humiliated them, raped them, marched them into death camps and made them watch their children, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends and lovers die. Fascism was a social force that broke bones, bodies and hearts. Stalinism was responsible for other horrors. The Soviet regime murdered the brightest lights of the revolutionary working-class movement. It had, in the words of Serge, “lowered [Lenin’s companions and friends] into graves [and] shot them in the back of their necks”.[2] Soviet Russia starved its population and cowed them into submission. It shaped a society where fear whispered its way into every skull. Where repression was manifest in every government knock on every door. Where famine and want reigned.

When these regimes clashed militarily, as they did in the Second World War, the conflict almost brought the planet to the brink of destruction. One lasting myth of the left, in the Western world at least, is that the USSR and the global Stalinist movement played the key role in defeating fascism. As with many myths, this narrative holds a half-truth. In military terms the Red Army did play a very important part in the broader Allied fight against the fascist states of the Axis powers. Between 1943 and 1945 the USSR deployed superior numbers across key fronts in the war which resulted in the ultimate defeat of the Axis militaries. In doing so, they helped conclude the war on the European stage. For many, these facts are enough to prove that Stalinism defeated fascism.

This article will argue however that there were many points prior to 1943 where fascism could have been defeated and wasn’t. Indeed, far from being the key force to challenge fascism in the twentieth century, Stalinist politics both enabled and, on occasion, collaborated with fascist movements, parties and states. Furthermore, in country after country throughout the 1930s and 1940s the Communist Parties undermined revolutionary working-class anti-fascism – the only kind of politics that was capable of smashing the far right for good.


Any serious discussion of this topic must start by defining the nature of the interwar fascist movements. This article draws on the writings of several Marxists whose work remains vital in understanding classical fascism, the most important of whom are Leon Trotsky, Antonio Gramsci, Clara Zetkin and Erich Fromm.[3] These revolutionary activists, all writing as the fascist menace bore down upon them, argued that fascism emerged from within the contradictions of capitalism, not from outside it, as if from some alien force. Specifically, they argued that the fascist movements were a response to the deep capitalist crises of the interwar period. Fascism emerged at a moment of social and economic breakdown. The previous decades in Italy, Germany, France and Spain had seen revolutionary working-class upheaval. The Russian Revolution loomed large, as an inspiration to the left and a mortal enemy for the right. Thwarted ruling class imperial ambition and extreme economic distress created a situation of intense social crisis. Trotsky describes the atmosphere in Germany as one “brought to white heat by war, defeat, reparations, inflation, occupation of the Ruhr, crisis, need and despair”.[4]

For Trotsky, the crisis was not merely economic. There were important socio-political factors involved. He emphasised both the inability of the ruling class to stabilise society through their existing institutions and the inability of the working class to overthrow capitalism. Gramsci expressed this as a crisis of ruling class hegemony, which opened a space for fascist ideology to take hold among various social classes. This analysis holds true for all the fascist movements that emerged in the interwar years.

Fascism was different from other conservative or reactionary movements in that it was a mass phenomenon. This mass base was organised into extra parliamentary forces, such as the “squadristi” in Italy and the Brownshirts in Germany. There grassroots organisations gave fascism greater social roots and capacity for terror, and allowed them relative autonomy from the state. Although in Italy the fascist organisations often worked hand in glove with the police and army, Gramsci states: “Fascism is a movement which the bourgeoisie thought should be a simple ‘instrument’ of reaction in its hands, but once called up and unleashed is worse than the devil, no longer allowing itself to be controlled”.[5] Another Italian Marxist, Ignazio Silone, put it this way:

The entire institutions of the established constitutional state (the army, police, judiciary, educational institutions) find themselves naturally driven to take part in the struggle for the fascist reorganisation of the state. But the character of fascist reorganisation is such that its basic features cannot be supplied by any of the institutions of the established constitutional state. Otherwise fascism would be superfluous, and superfluous also the subversion of the whole existing party system and the civil war that is long, hard, bloody and of uncertain outcome.[6]

In other words, there was a contradiction inherent to the mass fascist movements of the interwar years. They were an expression of capitalist society but not reducible to the simple interests of the capitalist class. They would ultimately reinforce the worst elements of capitalism, including racism and anti-Semitism, while appealing to a certain hostility to capitalism.

This meant that fascist ideology was contradictory and incoherent. Fascists claimed to represent the “little person” – the marginalised and oppressed against the elites and the state – and drew on an eclectic range of populist ideas to give themselves broad appeal. Yet their goal was to uphold key institutions of capital. This explains why, despite its radical veneer, fascism was fundamentally counter-revolutionary, animated by a violent hostility to working-class organisation and democratic rights. Indeed, they were frantic in their desire to “[raze] to their foundations all the institutions of proletarian democracy”, political parties, trade unions and other more informal associations.[7]

Where and when fascist movements came to state power the ambiguities of their positions were resolved. The state they ran prioritised imperialism and the interests of big capital, not the mass base of the fascist movement. So, for instance, the autonomy of the mass movement was crushed after the fascists came to power in Italy when, in 1925, Mussolini turned on his fascist squads and dissolved them. In Germany the situation was less clear, but certainly in 1934 Hitler turned on and murdered many of the leaders and key activists in the fascist mass organisations during “the night of the long knives”. It was also when the fascists came to state power that they were capable of unleashing the most unimaginable horror: the imperial violence of the Axis powers during the war and the industrial barbarism of the Holocaust.

Fascism, in the interwar years, found its most fanatical supporters among sections of the middle class. Across Europe, fascism particularly appealed to and organised the urban small traders and state officials, managers and clerks as well as the impoverished rural petty bourgeoisie, an urban underclass, demobilised soldiers, university students and sections of the unemployed, especially those from middle-class backgrounds. A survey conducted by Fromm in 1929 of the German population and their social and political attitudes revealed starkly that while the bulk of the working class were resigned to fascism, the political psychology of the lower middle class predisposed them, in situations of social breakdown, to take up the ideology of Nazism with gusto. He describes the following features of their social psychology as predisposing them to support for Nazism:

…their love of the strong, hatred of the weak, their pettiness, hostility, thriftiness with feelings as well as with money, and essentially their asceticism. Their outlook on life was narrow, they suspected and hated the stranger and they were curious and envious of their acquaintances, rationalising their envy as moral indignation; their whole life was based on the principle of scarcity – economically as well as psychologically.[8]

The tactics of fascist organisations, including their violence and street mobilisations, were a reflection of this class’s limited social power. “Not every exasperated petty bourgeois could have become Hitler, but a particle of Hitler is lodged in every exasperated petty bourgeois”, wrote Trotsky in 1933.

It is important to note that none of the Marxist theorists I have referred to denied that there was ever any working-class support for fascism. In seeing the interwar fascisms as emerging from a particular political climate, they acknowledge the political factors that may have led some workers into supporting fascism. Importantly here they include the failures of the working-class upsurges and revolutions in both Italy and Germany, as well as the complicity of the social democratic parties in capitalist rule. This allowed some space (small though it was) for the fury of a minority of workers to be turned towards extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism. Fromm and Gramsci break down the sociological composition of workers who might have been drawn to fascism: unemployed workers, recently demobilised soldiers and some sections of the white-collar workforce. In other words, sections of the class who had been both dislodged from a stable working-class environment and those who had not been traditionally well organised by working class organisations were more likely to join or support fascist organisations. Fundamentally however, these Marxists maintain that the core activists, the most fervent supporters of fascism, are drawn from the middle classes.

Germany and Spain

For those who wish to extol the virtues of the Red Army in World War II, it is politically expedient to stay quiet about the pre-war fascist movements. It is as though history begins only once the Soviet Union enters the war in 1941 and ends after the death of Hitler. But for those who are serious about combating the threat of fascism, it is vital to consider how they came to power in the first place.[9] It is here that the question of the anti-fascist politics of the Stalinised Communist Parties comes into play, particularly in Germany and Spain. In both countries the Communist Parties played a disastrous role in directing the anti-fascist movements. This is not to impugn the many sincere and dedicated communist militants who fought bravely, but it is to insist that the politics of anti-fascism matters.

Of course, the fascists first came to power in Italy in 1922, preceding the rise of Stalin by some years. Here the problems were a capitulation by reformists and an ultra-left refusal to defend democracy on the part of the communists. By mid-1921 the reformist socialists were beginning to cave in in the face of fascist violence, before eventually signing a pact with the fascists in the hope that they could avoid conflict. So they pulled back from supporting the Arditi del Popolo (ADP) – the armed anti-fascist fighting force – and ordered their members to put their trust in the laws of the state and the parliamentary process. This argument effectively led Italian workers to the slaughterhouse.

Tragically, the Italian Communist Party (PCI), led by Amadeo Bordiga, also argued for communists to withdraw from the ADP. This conservative policy was coated with revolutionary rhetoric and bombast about the need to establish exclusively “communist” squads. This approach was challenged inside the party by rank-and-file communists and by the Comintern (which was not as yet Stalinised), both of whom could see the disastrous consequences of such an approach. Despite this, the communist militants withdrew from the coordinated militias and vowed instead to fight in their own cells run by the PCI. This sectarian approach failed to fight fascism and offered no strategy to win over more reformist workers to a revolutionary worldview by uniting with them in struggle.[10]

This disastrous defeat was a product of terrible mistakes, but they were the mistakes of an inexperienced revolutionary organisation still finding its footing. By the time the fascists were challenging for power in Germany and Spain, however, the local Communist Parties had been thoroughly Stalinised.

The Stalinist bureaucracy in charge of the USSR from the late 1920s was a barbaric, dictatorial state that came to power by crushing the revolutionary movement that had triumphed in 1917. The new Russian ruling class not only liquidated all political opposition but organised a social system that was violently and brutally exploitative of its working class. It was a system that ruled through terror on a vast scale.

Having consolidated its power domestically by 1928, the Stalinist bureaucracy sought next to expand its power and control across the world system. It was a key player in world imperialism through to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the 1990s.

Throughout this period, the USSR consciously traded off the reputation of the Russian Revolution, and so embodied the hopes and dreams of the global working class even as it trashed them in reality. This methodology, of using the language of Marxism in the service of pragmatic and entirely pro-capitalist purposes, was then spread throughout the international communist movement by the Comintern. Communism came to mean a highly centralised, state-run economy with none of the basic freedoms necessary for working-class democracy. It meant submitting to party diktats, and unquestioningly following every twist and turn of the line coming from Moscow.

Nevertheless, Communist Parties across the world organised workers and this brought with it many contradictions. In order to maintain and expand their memberships the CPs found ways to connect to the daily concerns of workers, playing an important part in union and industrial struggles, and were opposed by some bosses and some governments. This reality, the history of the Russian Revolution, as well as the illusion that Stalin was a genuine fighter against fascism, could give the parties the appearance of genuine radicalism. In many countries the CPs managed to draw into their ranks some of the best fighters and most determined working-class militants. This contradiction is one of the biggest tragedies of the twentieth century; that so many working-class fighters had their energy, passion, devotion and determination squandered in the interests of this monstrous state.

So, despite their rhetoric, the Communist Parties were ultimately organised to advance the national interests of the USSR, and that in turn meant orienting to the stabilisation of the global capitalist order. These dynamics became particularly clear throughout the course of World War II.

From 1928 Stalin developed a new political strategy designed to justify an internal offensive against his domestic opposition and a purging of the Communist Parties overseas. This perspective, known as the “third period”, declared that capitalism would soon be convulsed by intense crisis. Imperialist war was imminent and revolution was on the agenda. Social democratic parties suddenly became the primary enemy, often with barely a distinction made between the leadership of these parties and their rank-and-file working-class membership. The reformist parties were declared to be “social fascists” and were, more often than not, the primary target of the communists’ rage.

When some communists resisted this shift, they were purged. Anyone who opposed these unprecedented arguments was labelled a traitor to the cause and was driven out of the movement. This left Communist Party leaderships with a self-selecting group of supine bureaucrats who would obey the line from Russia without question.

On the surface, and particularly after 1929, the third period line could seem to have merit. The Great Depression was immiserating workers across the world, and it was the reformist leaders who were responsible for betraying the working class on the most dramatic scale. Nevertheless, the third period line was not a mistaken response to these developments, but an artificial and counter-revolutionary policy developed in the service of the Soviet bureaucracy. It led the international communist movement to adopt an ultra-sectarian approach which would ultimately result in the defeat of the German working class by the Nazis.

To put this into context, the German working class had some of the most militant and radical political traditions in the world. A revolutionary upsurge following World War I saw soviets emerge across the country, as workers began arming themselves against proto-fascist militias and the German bourgeoisie. This rebellion was successfully contained by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and by the late 1920s, a fascist movement, organised primarily in the Nazi party, was gaining ground. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of militants remained in the left wing of the SPD or in the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), and were impelled into anti-fascist action. For example, the KPD had 300,000 members by 1932. Historian Dave Renton also argues that the

organisation could, in addition, call on the support of red unions, organisations of school and university association, fellow travellers involved in red sports clubs and in KPD-dominated anti-Nazi networks such as Anti-faschistiche Aktion or Kampfbund gegen den Faschismus (the latter claimed 100,000 members in summer 1932).[11]

In other words, this was an organisation that could have had a decisive effect on the dynamics of the struggle.

Between 1929, the beginning of the economic collapse, and Hitler’s coming to power in 1933, thousands of communist workers across Germany fought the Nazis in their workplaces and on the streets. These battles cost hundreds of KPD members their lives, but the general strategy of the party was disastrous. The main enemy, according to the party leadership and the Comintern, were the “social fascists” of the SPD. Indeed, the KPD newspaper regularly declared that fascism was already in power, under governments led by the SPD and then the Centre Party. In several instances this led to unholy alliances between the Nazis and the KPD as they united against the SPD. So for instance, when, in 1931 the Nazis campaigned for a referendum to dismiss the Social Democratic regional government in Prussia, the KPD backed it, claiming that their participation turned this reactionary fascist attack on social democracy into a “Red Referendum”.

It was patently obvious to any thinking German worker that the “Red Referendum” argument was utterly hollow. The KPD never seized the initiative during the campaign. Nor did the party succeed, as they claimed, in “exposing” the hypocrisy of the Nazis, thus winning influence among the misled fascist following. The opposite was true; all indications suggest that the KPD rank and file were confused and disillusioned by the decision to work with the Nazis. Moreover, there is evidence that the communists, far from using the referendum as part of some new ideological initiative against the Nazis, actually sought to limit competition with them in an attempt to ensure the success of the referendum.[12]

This appalling sectarian approach not only mistook the enemy, it also undermined the capacity for unified working-class anti-fascist activity. This would prove disastrous in the face of a fascist force that saw little difference between reformist and revolutionary workers. German revolutionary Clara Zetkin had rightly argued that

proletarian struggle and self-defense against fascism requires a proletarian united front. Fascism does not ask if the worker in the factory has a soul painted in the white and blue colors of Bavaria; or is inspired by the black, red, and gold colors of the bourgeois republic; or by the red banner with a hammer and sickle. All that matters to fascism is that they encounter a class-conscious proletarian, and then they club him to the ground. That is why workers must come together for struggle without distinctions of party or trade-union affiliation.[13]

By 1932 the Nazis were growing steadily as broader bourgeois forces were in disarray and their supporters going over to the Nazis. In 1933 Hitler was installed in power by the arch-conservative German Chancellor von Hindenburg. Hitler moved quickly to outlaw all opposition parties, purge the state of any dissenting voices and begin a reign of terror over the population.

In the afternoon that Hitler’s victory was declared the KPD Central Committee issued a leaflet demanding “Strikes; Mass Strikes; General Strikes”. Unfortunately, this was a totally empty cry. Nothing had been done to build this mass action beforehand. Confusion reigned. For far too long the party had been declaring the SPD the main fascist threat. And while many in the rank and file of the KPD (and SPD) could see the truth of the situation, it was too late. Their resistance was simply too sporadic and disorganised. The KPD’s failure to play a decisive role in developing united, serious and radical working-class anti-fascist resistance led to disaster. Nearly every third KPD member went to prison under Nazi rule, and thousands were murdered.[14] Put more poetically and more devastatingly is this description from Georg Glaser, a Communist and artist who was in Berlin after Hitler came to power:

Dead men were found in the surrounding forests, and no one dared to know anything about them. People disappeared without a sound, and their best friends did not have the courage to ask where they had gone. Only very rarely did a scream, a gruesome rumour…make itself heard; they were paid less notice than everyday traffic accidents. The New Age came silently and invisibly. The only thing one could feel was the emptiness that each of its footsteps left behind, like the emptiness of a bookshelf from which all the books have suddenly disappeared.[15]

The Spanish Revolution

After the ascension of Mussolini and then Hitler to power, fascist movements across the world gained great confidence. While the consolidation of fascism in Italy and Germany represented a serious blow to the workers’ movements, there were still parts of the world where workers remained powerful. Spain was the scene for the last major pre-war battle against fascism. While the German experience could be written off as a mistake, the Spanish Revolution revealed most starkly the political impact of a consolidated Stalinist rule in Russia.

Just one year after the Nazis came to power, the Russian ruling class changed tack. As with the previous turn, there was nothing in the objective situation that necessitated such a dramatic change; rather it was prompted by the requirements of the Stalinist ruling class.[16] By 1934 Stalin had definitely defeated his rival Nikolai Bukharin and set out to smash any further real or potential opposition. Inside the USSR, brutal purges of the state bureaucracy were accompanied by high-profile show trials of former leading Bolsheviks. The most prominent former Bolshevik who came under fire was Leon Trotsky, who had been driven out of the country in 1928 and was organising anti-Stalinist opposition. Internal political considerations were only part of the picture, however. The inter-imperial power plays were Stalin’s prime consideration. Hitler’s policies had made it clear that Germany was preparing for war and that the USSR would be a target. Although Stalin had no in principle objection to an alliance with Nazi Germany, he had to look elsewhere for diplomatic and military support. His only alternatives were Britain and France.

These intersecting dynamics provoked a new political turn designed to reorient the Comintern parties. This turn, announced at the Seventh Comintern Congress, denounced the “ultra-leftism” of the earlier phase. Alliances with social democratic parties and even openly capitalist forces were now mandated. This had big implications for their approach to fighting fascism, which a speech by Georgi Dimitrov set out:

German fascism is acting as the spearhead of international counter-revolution, as the chief instigator of imperialist war, as the initiator of a crusade against the Soviet Union, the great fatherland of the working people of the whole world.[17]

Dimitrov acknowledged the failure of the Communist Party in Germany to halt the march of the Nazis. Unity became the new catchcry and would come in a variety of forms. Unity firstly meant alliances between the USSR and other capitalist nation states prepared to develop pacts of collective security. This would be achieved under the auspices of the imperialist alliance, the League of Nations.[18] Thus fighting fascism was now primarily understood in the framework of international diplomacy and imperial alignments. Secondly, this unity referred to the need for communists to develop relationships with the previously maligned “social fascists” (the Social Democrats), with peasants and middle classes, and eventually even with right-wing parties. This supposedly anti-fascist policy became known as the “popular front”.[19] In Spain this policy was revealed to be thoroughly counter-revolutionary.

Spain had been the site of intense class struggles for much of the early twentieth century. Its political institutions were particularly weak. It was ruled by a constitutional monarchy based narrowly on the Castilian ruling class in Madrid, backed up by the Catholic Church, which resisted both Republicanism and the universal right to vote. This conservative ruling elite faced opposition both from workers’ and peasants’ revolts and from restless bourgeois and semi-aristocratic forces based in the surrounding provinces, which had long raised separatist slogans. After years of revolutions and counter-revolutions, failed risings and mass strikes, a centre-left government was elected in 1936. At first the Communist Party played a relatively minor part, supporting the bourgeois Republicans and their allies in the social-democratic Socialist Party (PSOE).

Faced with this unprecedented governmental alliance, the right wing took a stand and backed General Franco in an attempted military coup. This attempt to overthrow the Spanish Republic prompted an immediate, instinctive rising across much of Spain. Workers and peasants led the revolt, and organised some of the most beautiful, creative, determined and at times violent displays of revolutionary action, that managed to hold off Franco’s far-right forces. Alongside the physical fighting, the rising initiated a process of social revolution, as workers utilised their bravery and social weight, and seized weapons to fight the fascists. But this revolutionary initiative was not universally welcomed by all Republican forces. After all, it threatened to not only hold back the fascists but to totally disrupt all capitalist power relations.

Between July 1936 and May of 1937, in what would become known as the Republican zone, there developed something like dual power. On one side there was the nominally anti-fascist bourgeois Republican government which had little real power. On the other side, mainly in the industrial state of Catalonia, there were vast networks of workers and peasants who controlled the economy, justice, transport and education sectors. One eyewitness to the events, Franz Borkenau, offered the following description:

The amount of expropriation in the few days since 19th July is almost incredible. The largest hotels, with one or two exceptions, have all been requisitioned by working class organisations… So were most of the larger stores. Many of the banks are closed, the others bear inscriptions declaring them under the control of the Generalitat [the Catalonian provincial government]. Practically all the factory owners, we were told, had either fled or been killed, and their factories taken over by the workers. Everywhere large posters at the front of impressive buildings proclaimed the fact of expropriation, explaining either that the management is now in the hands of the CNT [the anarcho-syndicalist union federation], or that a particular organisation has appropriated this building for its organising work.[20]

This was the power that could defeat fascism – militarily, socially and politically.

The fascist and military forces, now united under General Franco, were determined to oust any oppositional power and they began to seek and obtained military backing from Italy and Germany. Spain’s civil war thus took on global proportions.

The other imperialist powers – France and Britain – attempted to wash their hands of Spain by signing a “non-intervention pact”. Their ruling classes had no interest in helping the Spanish working class defeat fascism, when such a struggle threatened capitalism as a whole. The same was true of the USSR. Stalin’s primary goal was to get France and Britain to agree to an alliance with the USSR against Germany. A successful workers’ revolution in Spain would disrupt these negotiations, while also casting doubt on Russia’s claim to be an outpost of workers’ power. The Comintern therefore did everything possible to end the revolution in Spain, demanding that the Spanish communists subordinate the working-class movement to the Republican “shadow bourgeoisie”.[21] The Spanish CP took up this argument with gusto.

“It is absolutely false”, declared Jésus Hernández, editor of Mundo Obrero (August 6, 1936), “that the present workers’ movement has for its object the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship after the war has terminated. It cannot be said we have a social motive for our participation in the war. We communists are the first to repudiate this supposition. We are motivated exclusively by a desire to defend the democratic republic”.[22]

In other words, the battle in Spain was not to be one between socialism and fascism but rather between “capitalist democracy” and fascism. This line was adopted by Communist Parties across the world. They argued that workers needed to greatly limit their expectations and demands in order to avoid pushing the capitalist class into the arms of the Nazis. In an echo of the Menshevik argument in Russia, communists now insisted that all that could be won during this period was capitalist democracy. What this argument meant in practice was the smashing of revolutionary working-class democracy in the interests of bourgeois rule. In a number of cases, including Spain, this led directly to a fascist or proto-fascist victory.

As the civil war dragged on, the Soviet Union poured advisors and agents into Spain. Their main goal was to direct a counter-revolutionary offensive against the anarchists and independent communists who were involved in leading the working-class agitation. They used their control over guns and funds sent by the USSR to reverse a number of gains. For instance, they abolished both democracy and women’s participation in the militias in order to turn them into a more traditional army. But it was in May of 1937 that tensions came to a head in Barcelona. Workers, seeing that the vestiges of their revolutionary power were at stake, began to move. They set up barricades to defend the parts of the city under workers’ control. It was here that the Spanish Stalinists, with weapons provided by the Soviet Union, began their most decisive counter-revolutionary battle. Trotskyist historian Felix Morrow describes the Spanish CP members as:

ex-members of the Fascist CEDA, Cuban gangsters, brothel-racketeers, passport forgers, sadists. Spawned by the petty-bourgeois composition of the Communist party, nurtured by its counter-revolutionary programme, these organized bands of the Spanish GPU exhibited toward the workers the ferocity of Hitler’s bloodhounds, for like them, they were trained to exterminate revolution.[23]

Hundreds of independent communists, anarchists and working-class militants were tortured and murdered by the Spanish Stalinists. Part of this intervention into Spain was also devoted to extinguishing any forces or individuals sympathetic to Trotskyism. Thus Alexander Orlov, the Comintern agent appointed by Stalin, ordered the arrest of Andres Nin, the leader of the independent Communists of the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification). Nin was tortured for several days. Jésus Hernández, the Communist minister of education in the Popular Front government, later admitted:

Nin was not giving in. He was resisting until he fainted. His inquisitors were getting impatient. They decided to abandon the dry method. Then the blood flowed, the skin peeled off, muscles torn, physical suffering pushed to the limits of human endurance. Nin resisted the cruel pain of the most refined tortures. In a few days his face was a shapeless mass of flesh.[24]

Andres Nin was executed on 20 June 1937. This was the reality of the Stalinists’ “anti-fascism” in Spain. Enforcing their popular front with the imperialist bourgeoisie of France and Britain necessitated the extinguishing of the revolutionary hopes raised by the Spanish Civil War, drowned in blood not by fascists but by the Stalinists.

Now, the Spanish Civil War was turned from a revolutionary war against fascism into a conventional military struggle. On one side were the degraded remnants of bourgeois democracy, led by the reactionary Communist Party of Spain. Confronting them were the fascist and Catholic forces of Spain, backed by the fascist states of Italy and Germany. The Spanish Republican forces were totally outgunned. Fearful of pushing Britain and France away, the USSR invested just enough to keep the fighting going, but not enough to decisively win the battle. In the end, the Republican and Stalinist forces were defeated, and it was clear that world war was on the horizon.

This was not the final horror and indignity that Spanish anti-fascists were to face. Those who were able to fled fascist terror and crossed the Pyrenees hoping for protection in Republican France, where a Communist- and Socialist-backed Popular Front government was in office. Their hopes were smashed upon arrival as the anti-fascist refugees were herded into concentration camps. María Luisa Fernández, who, at the age of two, was held at one of these camps along with her mother and father, recalled:

When we crossed the French border, families were separated. My father was sent to Argelès-sur-Mer where there was no protection from the elements except wire fences to stop them escaping. My mother and I were herded into cattle trucks for a whole month, along with the elderly and injured, until we were dumped in a field in Magnac-Laval. There we were given just straw to sleep on whilst we were “guarded” by the gendarme [French police].[25]

It is estimated that around ten thousand Spanish refugees died in these Popular Front-sponsored camps.

World War II

The following years saw more dizzying twists and turns in Stalinist anti-fascist policy. From 1936 to 1939, the Comintern shifted their rhetorical focus; German and Italian fascism were the main threat to world peace. There were now fascist nations (the enemy) and sympathetic, supposedly democratic peace-loving nations (the Allied powers). Only once fascism was broken could the class struggle be picked up again. This rhetorical emphasis meant limiting the anti-fascist struggles, developing cross-class alliances, squashing class struggle and in many instances subsuming domestic anti-fascist struggles into Russia’s military requirements.

In 1939, having failed to pressure France or Britain into a collective security agreement, Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. As American socialist Joel Geier argues:

This collaboration was grotesquely conveyed when swastika flags graced Moscow streets to welcome the Nazi negotiators for the Hitler-Stalin Pact – and Russian foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov proclaimed at the Pact’s signing: “Fascism is a matter of taste”, while Stalin toasted Hitler: “I know how much the German nation loves its Fuehrer”.[26]

The agreement sent shockwaves through the international communist movement. It caused confusion and heartbreak. In Australia, the Communist Party’s paper Workers’ Weekly of 23 August 1939 demanded: “No compromise with the fascist warmakers!” Yet on the very same day,

the news arrived of Stalin’s non-aggression pact with the Nazis – the CP leaders hailed the compromise they’d always opposed as “one of the greatest victories of the Soviet Union’s long struggle to save the world from a second imperialist war”.[27]

The Hitler-Stalin pact was justified as a “tactic” designed to save the Soviet state from fascist aggression. Rather than being a dirty deal with the mass-murdering Hitler, this was the Soviet power “boxing clever”. In turn, Britain, France and the US, the forces that only yesterday had been “peace loving democracies”, now became “imperialist robber barons”.

This appalling pact continues to be justified by some left commentators today. In 2019 Counterpunch published a full-throated defence of the agreement by historian Jacques Pauwels, in which he declared that without the Hitler-Stalin pact, “Today, on the continent, the second language would not be English, but German, and in Paris the fashionistas would promenade up and down the Champs Elysees in Lederhosen”.[28]

Defenders of the notion that Stalin was an anti-fascist maintain that the “non-aggression pact” was a peace pact. Nothing could be further from the truth. A useful response to Pauwel’s piece by Louis Proyect and Paweł Szelegieniec appeared in Counterpunch shortly after. They argued that:

The Ribbentrop-Molotov Non-Aggression Pact [was a] pact that divided Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and Stalinist USSR. The secret agreements not only decided how Poland had to be divided, but also Romania, in which the Bessarabia region was united with the Soviet state, and likewise the Baltic states. Concerning Poland, the secret Nazi-Soviet agreement defined the borders between the two states in a fashion similar to the “scramble for Africa” of the 19th and early 20th century left that continent divvied up.[29]

Around the signing of the pact there were several top-secret conferences between the Gestapo and Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD. One of their main joint goals was to combat the Polish underground that was now fighting simultaneously against both the Russian state and the Nazis. The NKVD agreed to combat all anti-Nazi Polish propaganda in the Soviet-controlled areas of the former Polish Republic. This involved dissolving the Communist Party of Poland in 1938, which understandably led to significant demoralisation and confusion among Polish communists. Indeed Proyect and Szelegieniec describe an incident where after the 1939 invasion the Nazis started to purge the communists.

The rhetoric of an alliance “against Anglo-French imperialism” enticed Polish Communists to accept an invitation to meet and greet the Nazis. When some Communists, without a clear class understanding of the situation, agreed to come to such a meeting with the Nazi party activists, they were arrested and then shot dead.[30]

As part of these negotiations, Stalin also agreed to transfer German communists who had escaped Hitler back to the Third Reich. This decision reveals the reality of the Stalinist regime. It wasn’t socialist, it wasn’t even anti-fascist.

Research from the now open files of the USSR has revealed that between 1935 and 1941 around one thousand people were deported from the USSR to Germany. Three hundred of these deportees were communists, Jews and anti-fascists. Some of these were people who had been anti-fascist activists in Germany, who had fought the rise of Hitler until they had no other choice but to flee. They made their way to the USSR hoping for some safety, but the Stalinists could only see them as pawns in their global imperial game. Historian Bini Adamczak writes powerfully of these deportations:

As inconceivable, almost as inconceivable, as the deportations themselves, the expulsion of communists by communists, a gift to the Nazis from the hands of the Nazis’ mortal enemies. So inconceivable that not even the Gestapo can believe it, and takes a large proportion of the anti-fascists, people who had often been jailed on the charge of fascist espionage, to be agents of the GPU, the Soviet Secret Service. Even more so, because the Germans expressly oppose many of the deportees’ repatriation and refuse to accept them numerous times, at least until 1939. The German Embassy and the Foreign Ministry want Germans, not anti-Germans, not enemies of Germany. They want Volksdeutsche, the people with German roots, not Jews, the expatriates, anti-fascists. And yet they get them, to the Gestapo’s great delight. Eighty anti-fascists before the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact, more than 200 (out of 350 deportees) afterward. Only now do the Germans press for deportations, stressing the mutual friendly relations between the German Reich and the USSR. There is no evidence of other pressure or of any “reciprocation” to follow. The Nazis give the numbers, the Soviets supply the names. The anti-fascists are sacrificed not according to some overarching principle of political calculus nor as currency in an exchange but rather as a kind of gift.[31]

After the pact, the Comintern declared that the coming war was transformed. It was no longer a supportable anti-fascist war of defence against Hitler and Mussolini. Now it was reframed as an imperialist war which Communist Parties across the world would vehemently oppose.[32] This supposedly anti-war stance was in reality effectively a pro-German stance. From 1939 until 1941 much of the Comintern’s anti-fascist rhetoric was replaced with condemnations of the imperial designs of the Anglo-French alliance. Australian playwright and former member of the CPA, Oriel Gray, describes this transformation thus:

After the signing of the German Soviet pact, all references to Hitler and fascism vanished from the pages of the Tribune [the CPA paper]… Attacks on the reactionary governments of Britain and France intensified… We all became ardent pacifists – and we would fight anyone to prove it.[33]

This was not to be the last of the dramatic about-turns. Hitler invaded the USSR just a year and a half later. Now the Soviet Union entered the war with gusto, and the Comintern changed its line again. It threw its support behind the Allies, so that Communist Party anti-fascism became almost indistinguishable from the broader Allied war effort. Indeed, the levels of enthusiasm for the war met, and in some instances even exceeded, those in the rest of society. In Australia, the war had “changed form” according to CPA leader Ralph Gibson; “anti-fascist unity” meant Australian workers should now throw themselves into the war effort.[34] The communist general secretary of the Federated Ironworkers Association, Ernie Thornton, in June 1942 declared:

[W]e decided that we have a new attitude to the war and a new attitude towards production. So on our management committee we decided to campaign for increased production and this campaign was not without result. We campaigned to avoid strikes, with the result that it has been surprisingly successful.[35]

Party events would now play God Save the King before the Internationale. To be a communist was to be anti-fascist and to be anti-fascist during the war was to be a patriotic Australian. This anti-fascism was very far from the anti-capitalist, class-war anti-fascism encouraged by the Comintern in the early 1920s. It instead laid the basis for a deepening and consolidation of nationalism across the international communist movement; a nationalism that was to play a decisive and disastrous role in many places.

Partisan resistance

World War II was a contradictory beast. For the Allied powers, the war was a straight-up imperial battle. They wanted the war fought through formal national military structures which they could politically and socially contain. In several countries, however, the war was more than a simple imperial conflict. Countries that were occupied by the fascist forces, such as Poland, Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Albania and the Netherlands saw the proliferation of significant partisan and local resistance movements. This contradiction is well expressed by the British socialist Donny Gluckstein:

The Allies fought for imperialism – their imperialism against a rival imperialism. The masses fought against imperialism (of the Axis variety). They frequently discovered that this brought them into conflict with Allied imperialism too. The notion of wars running along parallel lines (but simultaneously intersecting) may not sit well with Euclidean geometry, but it rips apart the circle…the common view that Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Franklin D Roosevelt and the ordinary people were “all in it together”.[36]

These partisan movements were mixed socially and politically but, in many countries, the workers and peasants played a decisive role in the defeat of fascist forces. The active mobilisation of the population, from the factory floor to the streets of their suburbs to their villages, often transformed these struggles. Many felt they were fighting not just for their country, as their rulers would want it, but for a post-war society they could have some say over. For large numbers, a socialist society was their goal. In this sense, anti-fascism became a dynamic part of the struggle for a better world: a world not just better than fascism, but a world better than what capitalist democracy could offer.

Tragically, the CPs were incapable of supporting and expanding this kind of anti-fascism. Although communist networks organised many tens of thousands of bold, brave and self-sacrificing militants, the politics of Stalinism ensured disastrous defeats for the working-class movements and the left. It is beyond the capacity of this article to detail the specific dynamics of each partisan movement but the Italian example is emblematic.[37]


By the outbreak of World War II, Italy had been under fascist rule for almost two decades. Mussolini’s deeply repressive state had successfully crushed much working-class resistance. The Communist Party (PCI) had gone underground, and while they continued to organise where they could, their efforts were patchy and largely unsuccessful. This changed in 1943, when Italy’s military fortunes began to flag and workers in the north of the country, increasingly frustrated by the privations of war, began to stir. By mid-March over 200,000 workers were on strike and the PCI emerged from the underground. This was an extremely significant event and, despite widespread repression, signalled a fundamental shift in the dynamics of the war.

Later that year the Allies invaded the south of the country and cut a deal with the former friends of Mussolini, the Italian king and military Field Marshal Pietro Badoglio. This move signified an internal collapse of Italian ruling class coherence and strength. As Dante Puzzo so eloquently puts it, “Italy was like a body whose skeletal frame had suddenly liquefied”, collapsing under its own weight.[38] In response to this Allied offensive, Nazi Germany invaded the north of Italy and marched southward to try and shore up Mussolini’s rule. The bulk of the country was effectively occupied by German forces. It quickly became clear that any serious anti-fascist struggle could not rely on the Italian elites for aid, given they had so recently backed Mussolini. If the Nazis and their local collaborators were to be defeated, resistance would have to be mounted by ordinary people themselves. This resulted in some of the most magnificent and determined moments of resistance of the twentieth century.

In some form or another up to 700,000 Italians were involved in the resistance. Partisan bands were organised in small rural villages and urban industrial centres. In the countryside they fought the German military and engaged in sabotage; they “blew up bridges, ripped up railways, attacked ammunition dumps, sabotaged power lines and communications and ambushed German soldiers, seizing their weapons”.[39] In the cities partisans engaged in lightning raids on both the occupying and collaborationist forces. They also, importantly, took strike action. This was a particularly important anti-fascist action in the war industries. Historian of the Italian resistance Tom Behan offers this description of events in Genoa in late 1943:

A major strike wave was preceded by a tram drivers’ strike at the end of November, an action that was obviously noticed in all areas of the city, but the more generalised movement was soon nicknamed “the olive oil strike”, since one of the main demands was an increase in the ration. Perhaps due to the relative success obtained in Turin and Milan, workers in Genoa went a stage further and marched out of their factories, to be immediately joined by a significant number of local people. The authorities responded by shooting three workers on the third day. The Resistance answered by declaring public mourning across the city. In the areas where the workers lived everything was closed down and there were pickets outside the major theatres and cinemas. When work was due to resume on the Monday morning, a political strike was called against the executions. The movement had now extended beyond factory workers and involved bakers, street cleaners and hospital workers.[40]

The bravery of such action cannot be underestimated. To strike in the face of, not only the displeasure of your boss, but also the violent fury of the Wehrmacht, required an unmatched degree of determination. These anti-fascist workers saw their friends, lovers, family and comrades murdered. They knew the price of failure was torture or death and yet they persisted. This type of incredible social mobilisation resulted in the defeat of six of the 25 German divisions in northern Italy.

There is no debate among historians that it was the partisans that liberated Naples, Florence and Milan. In 1945 a general strike was called by the Resistance in the North and, even before the Allied forces arrived, workers seized factories and fought hand-to-hand battles against the fascists. Mussolini, when discovered, was hung in a public square by the partisans. In the South, whole villages and towns were overtaken by locals who began running them along democratic lines as production was collectivised.

Behan makes the important point that what fired many Italians’ determination was not a desire for tepid parliamentary democracy. They dreamed of and fought for a fundamentally different kind of post-war society where their lives, needs and desires were not mere playthings for those at the top of society. What’s more, they certainly did not want a post-war agreement that saw the return of the very same fascists and collaborators that they had fought so hard to defeat. This desire was contradicted however by the politics of the PCI which was, despite the insurgent spirit of much of the partisan resistance, committed to the popular front. Stalin’s man in Italy, Palmiro Togliatti (who had previously overseen the execution of dissident communists in Spain) was explicit that the goal of the PCI was to engender national cross-class unity; socialism was not on the agenda. He declared that “the insurrection we want does not have the goal of imposing social or political changes in a socialist or communist sense”.[41]

The PCI was numerically dominant in the broader Resistance coalition known as the National Liberation Committee (CLN), particularly among industrial workers. Inside the PCI there was a significant left wing – separated from the day-to-day directives of the Stalinist leadership, but unable to cohere itself, partly because it lacked an understanding of Stalinism both in the USSR and globally. With the backing of the Comintern, Togliatti and the other bureaucrats were able to assert themselves.

For these figures, the partisan movement was simply a means to an end. It was a movement that could, if victorious, consolidate PCI involvement in a parliamentary deal which could then enable the USSR to maintain a stronger position in post-war geopolitics.

Indeed, as Italian workers and peasants were fighting and dying in October of 1944, Stalin was in the process of negotiating an imperial carve-up of the world. Historian Joseph Siracusa describes his meeting with Churchill in Moscow, when these two ageing leaders divided Europe into spheres of influence and control. Churchill made the following proposal to Stalin:

Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans… Your armies are in Rumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions, and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety percent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety percent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?[42]

Churchill’s memoirs reveal the staggering cynicism with which the fate of millions of people’s lives was decided. While his suggestion to Stalin was being translated,

I wrote out on a half-sheet of paper: Rumania: Russia 90% – the others 10%, Greece: Great Britain (in accord with USA) 90% – Russia 10%, Yugoslavia: 50-50%, Hungary: 50-50%, Bulgaria: Russia 75% – the others 25%.[43]

Stalin happily signed off on these proposals, and left the meeting determined to impose the agreement on the relevant Communist leaders. This and other deals between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt had profound implications for the anti-fascist partisan struggles. In Italy, the decision propelled what became known as the Salerno turn; a compromise between anti-fascist parties, the monarchy and the prime minister. This allowed the former fascist, Pietro Badoglio, to set up a government of national unity and ensured the postponement of radical social transformation. David Broder explains how the mass action of workers and peasants liberated much of the country but that the PCI traded off these achievements in return for positions in the post-war settlement:

The party had thus used mass mobilization to secure itself a place in institutional life, but without antagonizing other democratic forces. Indeed, the PCI press of 1943–45 (and later party mythology) cast even the most evidently class-war aspects of the resistance – mass strikes, land occupations, draft resistance – in “patriotic” terms, a mass working-class contribution to a progressive national movement more than an assertion of workers’ anticapitalist class interests.[44]

In doing so, the opportunities to overturn both the fascist regime and capitalist injustice were squandered. Indeed, many former fascist officials retained their places in the state. Togliatti, who had been appointed justice minister in the post-war settlement, issued an amnesty to known fascists. Some partisans themselves became the target of political trials pursued by ex-fascist judges and police.

The Italian experience was not an outlier. Indeed, in country after country Stalinism was responsible for containing the revolutionary dynamics of anti-fascist struggle during the war. As well, the deals they made allowed fascists and Nazis to retain their roles in society even as workers and the left were suppressed.[45]


Fascism was not purely a military or wartime phenomenon. Rather, fascism in the 1930s was a mass counter-revolutionary middle-class movement that could have been defeated by significant united working-class action. In many instances the political will was there from workers, but what was lacking was a strategy, ultimately committed to working-class revolution and fundamental social transformation.

By the 1930s the leaders of the Stalinised Communist Parties were almost entirely concerned with meeting the geopolitical needs of the capitalist USSR. This informed every aspect of their politics and had disastrous consequences for the working class. Indeed, as this article has argued, it facilitated fascist counter-revolution.

Unfortunately, however, the ideas of the Comintern did not disappear with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. The politics of the popular front have left a legacy. In the United Kingdom prominent journalist and former socialist Paul Mason has for the last few years been campaigning to resurrect the popular front for today’s conditions. Indeed, his latest book, How to Stop Fascism: History, Ideology, Resistance, devotes a whole chapter to extolling the virtues of the popular front governments in France and Spain.[46] Mason argues these were the gold standard of how to develop a mass popular, anti-fascist culture. He goes further than offering his own dubious take on the history though, by suggesting that in the absence of a strong working-class movement, the radical left needs to pursue alliances with liberal capitalists and their institutions. In doing so, workers will need to forgo their own demands.

Such arguments are disastrous. History has demonstrated that, even when confronted with a mortal threat, liberal institutions of capitalism are unwilling and incapable of resisting any fascist threat. To orient an anti-fascist movement, regardless of its size, in this direction is merely to disarm it.

Although we are not confronted today with the same conditions as we faced in the 1930s or 1940s, the history offered above is vital. We face unprecedented capitalist crises on multiple fronts, which are feeding the growth of the far right in a number of countries. At the same time, we are witnessing something of a revival of interest in Stalinism in the English-speaking world. This current presents itself as radical and uncompromising, an alternative to years of failed social-democratic experiments. We must ensure that a left is built that rejects this bankrupt tradition and its legacy of gulags and gas chambers.


Adamczak, Bini 2021, “The Nazi-Soviet Pact: A Betrayal of Communists by Communists”, in Yesterday’s Tomorrow: On the Loneliness of Communist Specters and the Reconstruction of the Future, MIT Press.

Beetham, David (ed.) 2019, Marxists in the face of fascism: Writings by Marxists on fascism from the inter-war period, Haymarket.

Behan, Tom 2003, The Resistible Rise of Benito Mussolini, Bookmarks.

Behan, Tom 2009, The Italian Resistance: Fascists, Guerrillas and the Allies, Bookmarks.

Bloodworth, Sandra 2020, “From revolutionary possibility to fascist defeat: The French Popular Front of 1936–38”, Marxist Left Review, 19, Summer.

Borkenau, Franz 1932, The Spanish Cockpit, Pluto Press.

Bramble Tom, and Mick Armstrong 2021, The Fight for Workers’ Power. Revolution and counter-revolution in the 20th century, Interventions.

Broder, David 2016, “The Lost Partisans”, Jacobin, 25 April.

Carr, EH 1982, Twilight of the Comintern: 1930–35, Pantheon Books.

Daycock, Davis William 1980, “The KPD and the NSDAP: A study of the relationship between political extremes in Weimar Germany 1930–1933”, PhD thesis, University of London.

Dimitrov, Georgi 1935, “The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism”, speech at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, 2 August.

Eudes, Dominique 1972, The Kapetanios: Partisans and Civil War in Greece 1943–1949 (trans. John Howe), NLB.

Fromm, Erich 1942, The fear of freedom, Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Geier, Joel 2022, “Trotskyism confronts World War II: The origins of the International Socialists”, Marxist Left Review, 23, Summer.

Gibson, Ralph 1966, My Years in the Communist Party, International Bookshop, Melbourne.

Gluckstein, Donny 1994, The Tragedy of Bukharin, Pluto Press.

Gluckstein, Donny 2012, A People’s History of the Second World War Book: Resistance Versus Empire, Pluto Press.

Gluckstein, Donny 2013, “Socialism and the Second World War: A response to Leandros Bolaris”, International Socialism, 140, Autumn.

Gollan, Robin 1975. Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism and the Australian Labour Movement 1920–1955, Australian National University Press.

Gramsci, Antonio 1921, “The two fascisms”, Ordino Nuovo, 25 August.

Gray, Oriel 1985, Exit Left: Memoirs of a Scarlet Woman, Penguin.

Mason, Paul 2021, How to Stop Fascism: History, Ideology, Resistance, Penguin.

Mead, Nick 2022, “Fleeing Franco: Spain’s Civil War Refugees”, Metropolitan, 27 March.

Morrow, Felix 1938, Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Spain.

Pauwels, Jacques 2019, “The Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 23, 1939: Myth and Reality”, 26 August, Counterpunch.

Proyect, Louis and Paweł Szelegieniec 2019, “The Hitler-Stalin Pact, Reconsidered”. Counterpunch, 30 August.

Puzzo, Dante 1992, The Partisans and the War in Italy, Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Renton, David 2020, Fascism. History and Theory, Pluto Press.

Serge, Victor 1938, The Hangman’s Year.

Serge, Victor 2015, Midnight of the Century, New York Review of Books.

Short, Susanna 1992, Laurie Short: A Political Life, Allen and Unwin.

Simkin, John 2020 [1997], “Andres Nin”, Spartacus Educational.

Siracusa, Joseph M 1981, “The Night Stalin and Churchill Divided Europe: The View from Washington”, The Review of Politics, 43 (3), pp.381–409.

Sparrow, Jeff 2007, Communism: A Love Story, Melbourne University Press.

Trotsky, Leon 1933, What is national socialism?, 10 June.,their%20university%20sons%20without%20posts

Trotsky, Leon 1971, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, Pathfinder.

Trotsky, Leon 2005, Fascism: What it is and how to fight it, Aakar Books.

Vassiley, Alexis 2022, “Italian Resistance to Fascism”, Red Flag, 3 February.

Wilde, Florian 2013, “Divided They Fell: The German Left and the Rise of Hitler”, International Socialism, 137, Winter.

Zetkin, Clara 2017, John Riddell and Mike Taber (eds), Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win, Haymarket. (One article from this book, “The Struggle Against Fascism”, is available at

[1] Serge 2015.

[2] Serge 1938.

[3] Trotsky 2005, Gramsci 1921, Zetkin 2017 and Fromm 1942. A useful collection of Marxist writing on fascism is Beetham 2019.

[4] Trotsky 1933.

[5] Gramsci, cited in Beetham 2019, Introduction, p.9.

[6] Silone 1934, cited in Beetham, pp.239–40.

[7] Trotsky 1971, p.159.

[8] Fromm 1942, p.182.

[9] It is also useful here to consider places where mass fascist movements were pushed back for a period, for example the initial struggles against the far right in France that led to the election of the Popular Front government in 1936; see Bloodworth 2020.

[10] See Behan 2003.

[11] Renton 2020, p.103.

[12] Daycock 1980, p.253.

[13] From Zetkin’s report to the Executive Committee of the Comintern, 20 June 1923, in Zetkin 2017.

[14] Wilde 2013.

[15] Cited in Renton 2020, p.104.

[16] Gluckstein 1994.

[17] Dimitrov 1935.

[18] Gollan 1975, p.43.

[19] Carr 1982.

[20] Borkenau 1932, p.71.

[21] These were the liberal capitalist forces that had not gone over to Franco.

[22] Quoted in Morrow 1938, Chapter 5.

[23] Morrow 1938, Chapter 8.

[24] Quoted in Simkin 2020.

[25] Quoted in Mead 2022. For more on the betrayals of the French Popular Front, see Bloodworth 2020.

[26] Geier 2022, p.224.

[27] Sparrow 2007, pp.242–43.

[28] Pauwels 2019.

[29] Proyect and Szelegieniec 2019.

[30] Proyect and Szelegieniec 2019.

[31] Adamczak 2021, pp.7–8.

[32] Gollan, p.84.

[33] Gray 1985, p.50.

[34] Gibson 1966, p.91.

[35] Quoted in Short 1992, p.58.

[36] Gluckstein 2013.

[37] For more on the Greek partisan movements see the relevant chapter in Bramble and Armstrong 2021, or Eudes 1972. For accounts of other partisan movements see Gluckstein 2012.

[38] Puzzo 1992, quoted in Behan 2009, p.74.

[39] Bramble and Armstrong 2021, p.333.

[40] Behan 2009, p.82.

[41] Quoted in Vassiley 2022.

[42] Quoted in Siracusa 1981.

[43] Quoted in Siracusa 1981.

[44] Broder 2016.

[45] For more detail see Bramble and Armstrong, 2021.

[46] Mason 2021.

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