Anti-fascism is opposition to fascist ideologies, groups and individuals. The anti-fascist movement began in a few European countries in the 1920s, and eventually spread to other countries around the world. It was at its most significant shortly before and during World War II, where the Axis powers were opposed by many countries forming the Allies of World War II and dozens of resistance movements worldwide. Anti-fascism has been an element of movements holding many different political positions, including social democratic, nationalist, liberal, conservative, communist, Marxist, trade unionist, anarchist, socialist, republicanist, pacifist and centrist viewpoints.
OriginsWith the development and spread of Italian Fascism, i.e. original fascism, the National Fascist Party's ideology was met with increasingly militant opposition by Italian communists and socialists. Organizations such as the Arditi del Popolo and the Italian Anarchist Union emerged between 1919–1921, to combat the nationalist and fascist surge of the post-World War I period.
In the words of historian Eric Hobsbawm, as fascism developed and spread, a "nationalism of the left" developed in those nations threatened by Italian irredentism. After the outbreak of World War II, the Albanian and Yugoslav resistances were instrumental in antifascist action and underground resistance. This combination of irreconcilable nationalisms and leftist partisans constitute the earliest roots of European anti-fascism. Less militant forms of anti-fascism arose later. For instance, during the 1930s in Britain, "Christians – especially the Church of England – provided both a language of opposition to fascism and inspired anti-fascist action".
Michael Seidman argues that traditionally anti-fascism was seen as the purview of the political left but that in recent years this has been questioned. Seidman identifies two types of anti-fascism - revolutionary and counterrevolutionary. Revolutionary anti-fascism was expressed amongst communists and anarchists, where it identified fascism and capitalism as its enemies and made little distinction between fascism and other forms of authoritarianism. It did not disappear after the Second World War but was used as an official ideology of the Soviet bloc, with the "fascist" West as the new enemy. Counterrevolutionary anti-fascism was much more conservative in nature, with Seidman arguing Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill represent examples of it and they tried to win the masses to their cause. Counterrevolutionary antifascists desired to the ensure the restoration or continuation of the prewar old regime and conservative antifascists disliked fascism's erasure of the distinction between the public and private spheres. Like its revolutionary counterpart, it would outlast fascism once the Second World War ended. Seidman argues that despite the differences between these two strands of anti-fascism, there were similarities. They would both come to regard violent expansion as intrinsic to the fascist project. They both rejected any claim that the Versailles Treaty was responsible for the rise of Nazism and instead viewed fascist dynamism as the cause of conflict. Unlike fascism, these two types of anti-fascism did not promise a quick victory but an extended struggle against a powerful enemy. During WW2, both anti-fascisms responded to fascist aggression by creating a cult of heroism which relegated victims to a secondary position. However, after the war, conflict arose between the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary anti-fascisms; the victory of the Western Allies allowed them to restore the old regimes of liberal democracy in Western Europe, while Soviet victory in Eastern Europe allowed to establish new revolutionary anti-fascist regimes there.
HistoryAnti-fascist movements emerged first in Italy, during the rise of Mussolini, but soon spread to other European countries and then globally. In the early period, Communist, socialist, anarchist and Christian workers and intellectuals were involved. Until 1928, the period of the United front, there was significant collaboration between the Communists and non-Communist anti-fascists. In 1928, the Comintern instituted its ultra-left "Third Period" policies, ending co-operation with other left groups, and denouncing social democrats as "social fascists". From 1934 until the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Communists pursued a Popular Front approach, of building broad-based coalitions with liberal and even conservative anti-fascists. As fascism consolidated its power, and especially during World War II, anti-fascism largely took the form of Partisan or Resistance movements.
Italy: against Fascism and MussoliniIn Italy, Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime used the term "anti-fascist" to describe its opponents. Mussolini's secret police was officially known as Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell'Antifascismo.
In the Kingdom of Italy in the 1920s, anti-fascists—many from the labor movement—fought against the violent Blackshirts and against the rise of fascist leader Benito Mussolini. After the Italian Socialist Party signed a pacification pact with Mussolini and his Fasces of Combat on 3 August 1921, and trade unions adopted a legalist and pacified strategy, members of the workers' movement who disagreed with this strategy formed the Arditi del popolo. The General Confederation of Labour and the PSI refused to officially recognize the anti-fascist militia, while the Communist Party of Italy ordered its members to quit the organization. The PCd'I organized some militant groups, but their actions were relatively minor, and the party maintained a non-violent, legalist strategy. The Italian anarchist Severino Di Giovanni, who exiled himself to Argentina following the 1922 March on Rome, organized several bombings against the Italian fascist community.
Italian liberal anti-fascist Benedetto Croce wrote Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals, which was published in 1925. Other notable Italian liberal anti-fascists around that time was Piero Gobetti and Carlo Rosselli.
Concentrazione Antifascista Italiana was an Italian coalition of Anti-Fascist groups which existed from 1927 to 1934. Founded in Nérac, France, by expatriate Italians, the CAI was an alliance of non-communist anti-fascist forces trying to promote and to coordinate expatriate actions to fight fascism in Italy, and published a propaganda paper, entitled La Libertà.
in Florence, 14 August 1944.
Between 1920 and 1943, several anti-fascist movements were active among the Slovenes and Croats in the territories annexed to Italy after World War I, known as the Julian March. The most influential was the militant insurgent organization TIGR, which carried out numerous sabotages, as well as attacks on representatives of the Fascist Party and the military. Most of the underground structure of the organization was discovered and dismantled by the Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism in 1940 and 1941, and after June 1941, most of its former activists joined the Slovene Partisans.
During World War II, many members of the Italian resistance left their homes and went to live in the mountainside, fighting against Italian fascists and German Nazi soldiers. Many cities in Italy, including Turin, Naples and Milan, were freed by anti-fascist uprisings.
Slovenians and Croats under ItalianizationThe anti-fascist resistance emerged within the Slovene minority in Italy, who the Fascists meant to deprive of their culture, language and ethnicity. The 1920 burning of the National Hall in Trieste, the Slovene center in the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Trieste by the Blackshirts, Benito Mussolini who, at the time, was yet to become Duce, praised as a being a "masterpiece of the Triestine fascism". Not only in multi-ethnic areas, but also in the areas where the population was exclusively Slovene, the use of Slovene language in public places, including churches, was forbidden. Children, if they spoke Slovene, were punished by Italian teachers who were brought by the Fascist State from Southern Italy. The Slovene teachers, writers, and clergy were sent to the other side of Italy.
The first anti-fascist organization, called TIGR, was formed by Slovenes and Croats in 1927 in order to fight Fascist violence. Its guerrilla fight continued into the late 1920s and 1930s when by the mid-1930s, already 70,000 Slovenes fled Italy mostly to Slovenia and South America.
The Slovene anti-fascist resistance in Yugoslavia during World War II was led by Liberation Front of the Slovenian People. The Province of Ljubljana, occupied by Italian Fascists, saw the deportation of 25,000 people, equaling 7.5% of the total population, filling up Rab concentration camp and Gonars concentration camp and other Italian concentration camps.
Germany: against the NSDAP and HitlerismIn Weimar Republic-era Germany the movement of National Socialism which grew ever more influential in the last years of the republic was opposed for different ideological reasons by a wide variety of groups, including groups which also opposed each other, such as social democrats, centrists, conservatives and communists. The SPD and centrists formed the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold in 1924 to defend liberal democracy against both the Nazi Party and the KPD, and their affiliated organizations. Later mainly SPD members formed the Iron Front which opposed the same groups.
The specific term anti-fascism was primarily used by the Communist Party of Germany, which held the view that it was the only anti-fascist party in Germany. The KPD formed several explicitly anti-fascist groups, such as the Roter Frontkämpferbund and the Kampfbund gegen den Faschismus. In 1932 the KPD established the Antifaschistische Aktion as a "red united front under the leadership of the only anti-fascist party, the KPD". Under the leadership of the committed Stalinist Ernst Thälmann, the KPD primarily viewed fascism as the final stage of capitalism rather than as a specific movement or group, and therefore applied the term broadly to its opponents, and in the name of anti-fascism the KPD focused in large part on attacking its main adversary, the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Germany, whom they referred to as social fascists and regarded as the "main pillar of the dictatorship of Capital."
The name and logo of Antifaschistische Aktion remain influential; its two-flag logo, designed by Max Keilson and Max Gebhard, is still widely used as a symbol of militant anti-fascists in Germany and globally, as is the Iron Front's Three arrows logo.
Spain: Civil War with the Nationalists"The Spanish civil war was both at the centre and on the margin of the era of anti-fascism. It was central, since it was immediately seen as a European war between fascism and anti-fascism, almost as the first battle in the coming world war, some of the characteristic aspects of which - for example, air raids against civilian populations - it anticipated"
In Spain, there were histories of popular uprisings in the late 19th century through the 1930's against the deep seated military Dictatorships
of General Prim and the Primo de la Rivieras These movements further coalesced into large-scale anti-fascist movements in the 1930s, many by the Basque Country, before and during the Spanish Civil War. The republican government and army, the Antifascist Worker and Peasant Militias linked to the Communist Party, the International Brigades, the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification, Spanish anarchist militias, such as the Iron Column and the autonomous governments of Catalonia and the Basque Country, fought the rise of Francisco Franco with military force. The Friends of Durruti, associated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, were a particularly militant group. Thousands of people from many countries went to Spain in support of the anti-fascist cause, joining units such as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the British Battalion, the Dabrowski Battalion, the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, the Naftali Botwin Company and the Thälmann Battalion, including Winston Churchill's nephew, Esmond Romilly. Notable anti-fascists who worked internationally against Franco included: George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, and radical journalist Martha Gellhorn.
Spanish anarchist guerrilla Francesc Sabaté Llopart fought against Franco's regime until the 1960s, from a base in France. The Spanish Maquis, linked to the PCE, also fought the Franco regime long after the Spanish Civil war had ended.
France: against Action Française and VichyIn the 1920s and 1930s in the French Third Republic, anti-fascists confronted aggressive far-right groups such as the Action Française movement in France, which dominated the Latin Quarter students' neighborhood. After fascism triumphed via invasion, the French Resistance or, more accurately, resistance movements fought against the Nazi German occupation and against the collaborationist Vichy régime. Résistance cells were small groups of armed men and women, who, in addition to their guerrilla warfare activities, were also publishers of underground newspapers and magazines such as Arbeiter und Soldat during World War 2, providers of first-hand intelligence information, and maintainers of escape networks.
United Kingdom: against Mosley's BUFThe rise of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists in the 1930s was challenged by the Communist Party of Great Britain, socialists in the Labour Party and Independent Labour Party, anarchists, Irish Catholic dockmen and working class Jews in London's east end. A high point in the struggle was the Battle of Cable Street, when thousands of eastenders and others turned out to stop the BUF from marching. Initially, the national Communist Party leadership wanted a mass demonstration at Hyde Park in solidarity with Republican Spain, instead of a mobilization against the BUF, but local party activists argued against this. Activists rallied support with the slogan They shall not pass, adopted from Republican Spain.
There were debates within the anti-fascist movement over tactics. While many east end ex-servicemen participated in violence against fascists, Communist Party leader Phil Piratin denounced these tactics and instead called for large demonstrations. In addition to the militant anti-fascist movement, there was a smaller current of liberal anti-fascism in Britain; Sir Ernest Barker, for example, was a notable English liberal anti-fascist in the 1930s.
United States, circa World War IIThere were fascist elements in the United States in the 1930s such as the Friends of New Germany, the German American Bund, the Ku Klux Klan, and Charles Coughlin.
During the Second Red Scare which occurred in the United States in the years that immediately followed the end of World War II, the term "premature anti-fascist" came into currency and it was used to describe Americans who had strongly agitated or worked against fascism, such as Americans who had fought for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, before fascism was seen as a proximate and existential threat to the United States. The implication was that such persons were either Communists or Communist sympathizers whose loyalty to the United States was suspect. However, historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have written that no documentary evidence has been found of the US government referring to American members of the International Brigades as "premature antifascists"; the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of Strategic Services, and United States Army records used terms such as "Communist", "Red", "subversive", and "radical" instead. Haynes and Klehr indicate that they have instead found many examples of members of the XV International Brigade and their supporters referring to themselves sardonically as "premature antifascists".
Anti-fascist Italian expatriates in the United States founded the Mazzini Society in Northampton, Massachusetts in September 1939 to work toward ending Fascist rule in Italy. Political refugees from Mussolini's regime, they disagreed among themselves whether to ally with Communists and anarchists or to exclude them. The Mazzini Society joined together with other anti-Fascist Italian expatriates in the Americas at a conference in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1942. They unsuccessfully promoted one of their members, Carlo Sforza, to become the post-Fascist leader of a republican Italy. The Mazzini Society dispersed after the overthrow of Mussolini as most of its members returned to Italy.