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Book Review Timely history lesson in Zetkin's warning on 1920s fascist threat

Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win
by Clara Zetkin
(Haymarket Books, £10.99)

THIS republication of Clara Zetkin’s seminal 1923 report and resolution to the Communist International on the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany and the pressing need to fight it couldn’t be more timely.

The political foresight, clarity and discipline of Zetkin’s Marxist analysis strips fascism of its pretences and exposes the manipulative deceptions and political dishonesty at its core. Yet a consequence of the failure at that time to decisively act on Zetkin’s findings led 16 years later to the slaughter of millions during WWII.

Presciently, Zetkin identifies fascism as “an asylum for all the politically homeless, the socially uprooted, the destitute and disillusioned” and, crucially, sees it as an international phenomenon requiring a corresponding resistance if it is to be defeated.

“We must make efforts to address the social layers [groups] that are now lapsing into fascism and either incorporate them in our struggle or at least neutralise them in the struggle,” Zetkin urges — an all too pertinent appeal today given the rise of fascism in the EU, particularly on its periphery in the Ukraine and Hungary, and in the US.

Zetkin was 66 at the time of writing Fighting Fascism. A communist deputy in the German parliament, she was a seasoned and fearless political campaigner. In August 1932, she used her opening address as chairwoman of the parliament to deliver an impassioned call for workers to unite in the struggle against fascism.

Six months later, the nazis she warned against burned the parliament down and banned the German Communist Party.

Her unheeded warning was given historic poignancy in 1946 in a “mea culpa” speech by erstwhile nazi supporter pastor Martin Niemoller: “First they came for the communists, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

Like Zetkin's book, a warning from history if ever there was one.


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