For United Front Action Against Fascism!

Hail the Heroic Warsaw Ghetto Uprising!

Fifty years ago today, on 19 April 1943, a bright ray of hope pierced the gloom of Nazi-occupied Europe. The uprising of the Jewish workers of the Warsaw Ghetto dealt a severe blow to Hitler’s Third Reich. Facing almost certain death at the concentration camp in Treblinka, leftist Jews (communists, Bundists [Jewish socialists] and left Zionists) agreed in October 1942 to unite their military efforts against the Nazis.

The formation of the Jewish Resistance Organization (Zydowska Organizacja Bajowa [ZOB]) was long overdue. By September 1942 two-thirds of the ghetto’s residents had already been removed. Only then were the various political organizations prepared to set aside their mutual suspicions and rivalries and work together. The Bund and the Communist Party (which were extremely critical of each other) both strongly disagreed with the Zionist policies of Hechalutz and Hashomer. Yet all of the groups were eventually forced to recognize that together they could strike much more effective blows against their common enemy.

The ZOB’s organizational structure allowed unity in action, while recognizing the political diversity of its components. Paragraph two of its statutes stipulated: "Political matters shall be settled by each party in accordance with its world outlook." The ZOB quickly won respect in the ghetto by eliminating a couple of high-profile collaborators, and for the first time offered the possibility of effective, organized resistance to the Nazis.

The ghetto uprising demonstrated to all of Poland that the Nazi "supermen" were not invincible. The ZOB fighters faced impossible odds. They had little food and water, very few firearms and a single machine gun smuggled in by the Polish resistance, but by the end of their uprising, on 10 May, they had killed more than a thousand police and troops, including hundreds of Hitler’s elite SS guards. The hopelessly outgunned Jewish partisans fought to the bitter end. Their example inspired smaller uprisings throughout the area, even in the Treblinka death camp. In the midst of the uprising Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels, writing in his diary, was forced to concede:

"The Jews have actually succeeded in making a defensive position of the Ghetto. Heavy engagements are being shows what is to be expected of the Jews when they are in possession of arms."
—quoted in The Ghetto Fights, Marek Edelman

The Lessons of Germany 1933

The desperate heroism of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising serves as an inspiration to anti-fascist fighters today, yet it also had a tragic quality. It was launched in the most unfavorable circumstances conceivable, a decade after the Nazis had taken power in Germany and crushed the unions and leftist organizations.

The fascist holocaust did not have to happen. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the vast majority of German workers, organized in either the Communist or Socialist parties, opposed the brownshirts. Yet the leaders of these two parties refused to cooperate to defeat the Nazis. The Socialist Party (SPD) leaders preached reliance on the state and rejected the whole idea of extra-parliamentary struggle to interdict the fascists. Like the Zionist leadership of the German Jewish community, they relied on the capitalist government to police Hitler’s brownshirts.

While the SPD relied on the police to save them from Hitler, the Stalinized Communist Party (KPD), engaged in idiot sectarian denunciations of the SPD as "social fascists." The KPD leaders were so obsessed by their political rivalry with the SPD that they refused to consider any sort of collaboration against the growing Nazi danger. They hoped that if the Hitlerites did not go away on their own, a Nazi victory might somehow smooth the path to power for the KPD. This was the origin of the criminally stupid slogan: "After Hitler, us."

In the absence of serious, organized resistance from their intended victims, the Nazis began to recruit rapidly from the layers of the lower-middle classes which had been economically ruined by the depression. Leon Trotsky, the great Russian revolutionary, agitated insistently for a united front of the SPD and KPD, which could rally all the potential victims of fascism and crush the Nazis before they could take power. But the leaders of the SPD and KPD remained blind to the dangers and, in the absence of revolutionary hope, many victims of the capitalist depression were so gripped by counterrevolutionary despair that they turned to the fascists.

No Platform for Fascism!

The success of the united-front tactic in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and the failure of impotent legalism and sectarian isolation in Germany in the early 1930s, are two very important lessons for anti-fascist fighters today. The capitalist system is once again in the throes of a crippling depression which has thrown hundreds of thousands of people out of work in Canada alone. The fascists are once again attempting to exploit human misery, using "white rights" as a slogan to channel the anger and despair of plebeian white youth into terrorist attacks on blacks, Asians, gays, immigrants and leftists.

In downtown Toronto on 27 March, over 100 Nazis rallied in front of a Jewish meeting chanting "Hail the Order!" In the past month the Heritage Front has appeared several times at the University of Toronto: once as "guest lecturers" in a political science class, again as "guests" on a campus radio (CIUT) show, and finally to intimidate an anti-racist protest on 31 March.

U of T’s kingpin, Robert Pritchard, has proclaimed that the fascists have the right to lecture on campus, citing the supposed principle of "free speech." The fascists, of course, have picked up on these kinds of arguments and grotesquely posture as advocates of free speech. The right to free speech is a very important principle and one which socialists defend, but it is a principle which is not absolute. It does not apply to those who scream "fire" in a crowded movie theatre. Nor does it apply to fascists who use "free speech" as a shield to organize racist terrorism.

ARA: An Important Initiative

On 25 January some 500 mainly young people responded to an appeal by the anarchist-led Anti-Racist Action (ARA) to "Smash the Nazis" and participated in a militant action aimed at blocking a Heritage Front demonstration. When mounted cops attacked the anti-fascists to clear a path for the Nazis, the crowd did not scatter, but, under the tactical leadership of ARA, tried to hold its ground.

The seriousness of this action and the courage of the marshals and the rest of the demonstrators grabbed attention across the city. ARA won recognition as a group that is serious about militantly confronting the Nazis and that can mobilize enough support to actually do something about it. ARA’s heightened credibility presents an opportunity for it to reach out beyond the largely punk/anarchist youth milieu which constitutes its base to initiate actions involving organizations of visible minorities and, most importantly, trade unions.

For United Front Action—Not Political Exclusions

An anti-fascist demonstration initiated by ARA at this point could have a real possibility of actively involving other organizations (e.g., the Black Action Defense Committee, feminist organizations, Jewish groups, and union locals, particularly the postal workers, CUPE, OPSEU and other unions where anti-fascists have some influence). Broadening the leadership of anti-fascist actions in this way could draw in many people outside the milieu that ARA has been able to mobilize on its own. A demonstration of thousands, as opposed to hundreds, particularly one involving significant participation from the union movement, could hand the Heritage Front a crushing defeat.

To build such a united action does not require endorsing the policies of the other participants. In fact each of the components should be free to maintain its own separate political identity, and to make dear its differences with its allies, within the framework of the common objective. It was exactly this tactical approach, that of the united front, which enabled the heroic Warsaw Ghetto fighters to put up such a magnificent struggle against the Nazis.

ARA, unfortunately, appears at this point to be moving away from a united-front perspective. In the ARA general meeting of 28 March, the International Socialists (IS) were kicked out, on the grounds that they could not be "trusted" because they had been known to caucus prior to ARA meetings. Why shouldn’t IS members discuss the issues prior to attending the meetings—everyone else does, including the anarchists who constitute the semi-official leadership of ARA. The IS was also charged with obstructing general meetings by "blocking consensus." This was a reference to one occasion when the ARA leadership was defeated in a vote at a general meeting after a discussion in which the IS argued against their proposal for holding a demonstration.

It seems that some ultra-democratic anarchists want to ensure that "consensus" is not blocked in the future by excluding those, like the IS, who might disagree. This is roughly how trade-union bureaucrats, Stalinists and NDP hacks ensure "unity" in their organizations. It is unfortunate, that even as ARA celebrates the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, it ignores the lessons of that struggle: that a united front is the most flexible and effective means of fighting the fascists.

All components of a united front must be free to have their say (and even free to raise criticisms of each other) within the overall context of forging a fighting unity against the Nazis. Political differences are nothing to be afraid of and, in any case, cannot be done away with through administrative measures. We cannot wait until everyone agrees on everything—we have to unite, right now, in action to sweep the fascists off the streets. One of the costs of bringing together a spectrum of groups for an important common objective is that you cannot always insist on getting your own way on every secondary question.

At the 28 March ARA meeting the Bolshevik Tendency (BT), along with Socialist Challenge, the Trotskyist League and some anarchist youth opposed the motion excluding the IS. At the time we noted that the IS itself has a record of excluding its leftist rivals from supposedly "public" events. We did not have to wait long for a repetition of this political cowardice. On 7 April, in response to the rise of fascist activity at U of T, the IS called for anti-fascists on campus to:

"Come to a meeting to discuss the possibilities of organizing against the Neo-Nazi Heritage Front. This meeting will discuss strategies concerning how to fight fascism and institutionalized racism."

But when members of the BT (and the Trotskyist League) turned up to participate, they were not permitted to attend. Apparently the IS feels most comfortable discussing "strategy" when there is no one there to offer another point of view.

ARA Drifting Toward ‘Respectability’?

The ARA leadership’s exclusionism is perhaps related to its drift in the direction of bourgeois "respectability." This has been evident for some time in the reluctance of the anarchist leadership to criticize the passivity and legalism of the conservative leadership of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC). After ARA’s 25 January demonstration against the Heritage Front, the CJC tops made a point of publicly denouncing the anti-fascist militants rather than the cops who attacked them.

ARA chose to ignore the CJC attacks. There are tens of thousands of Jewish youth in Toronto who know that the Nazis are their enemy and could be won to the perspective of actively resisting the growth of the Heritage Front. But they cannot be mobilized if we are afraid to openly criticize those "leaders" who counsel reliance on the cops and courts.

The demands of ARA’s 2 April demonstration against Paul Fromm (a prominent fascist who works as a teacher in Mississauga) provide a further indication of a rightward drift. The main headline on the leaflet, "Nazis Shouldn’t Teach in Our Schools!" was quite appropriate. But the question is how to get rid of them: through appeals to the authorities or through mass action? In this case ARA demanded that the Ministry of Education fire Fromm. The ARA demo also demanded that Fromm’s teaching certificate be revoked, that the ministry investigate other teachers for neo-Nazi links, and that the government make a priority of anti-racist education.

The willingness of ARA to demand that the state deal with the fascists may seem like a smart tactic to appeal to naive high school students who still have liberal illusions. But it can only disorient politically those young militants who look to ARA for a lead. The Canadian state has a long history as an instrument of racial and national oppression—from the head-tax on Chinese workers who built the railroads, to the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, to the routine whitewashing of the murderous cops who regularly gun down black youth in Toronto.

Contrary to civics class lectures, the capitalist state is not a neutral instrument that responds to the wishes of the majority of citizens—it is an instrument of violence against the oppressed wielded by their oppressors. This is why revolutionaries call for overturning the rule of the privileged capitalist minority and reorganizing society on an egalitarian socialist basis under the rule of a workers’ state.

The ‘Ban the Man’ strategy is a losing one. The social democrats in Weimar Germany placed their faith in the courts, cops and parliamentary ministries and ended up in the concentration camps. The hate laws in the criminal code have only managed to provide a public relations bonanza for fascists like Ernst Zundel and Jim Keegstra who seize the opportunity to spread their filthy lies through the mass media. And inevitably such laws, as well as any new ones giving the government the right to investigate the political suitability of teachers and other civil servants, will be used far more aggressively to harass the labor movement and the left than they are ever used against the fascists.

For United Front Action to Smash Fascism!

We salute the militant initiatives ARA has taken in the past. We hope to see them broadened out to include the active participation of trade unions, native groups, black and Asian organizations, gay and lesbian groups as well as leftist organizations.

Toronto is a city full of immigrants, trade unionists and racial and ethnic minorities. Literally hundreds of thousands of people in this town already recognize the Nazi Heritage Front as a deadly danger which must be smashed. We should be seeking to establish a common front against fascist activity, in which all points of view can be represented and all voices can be heard, in proportion to actual participation in the struggle against the Nazis. The organizing principle of the united front must be: "March separately, strike together!" The best way to deal with fascists is to mobilize as many of their potential victims as possible and forcefully demonstrate that joining the Heritage Front is extremely hazardous to your health.

Honor the heroic anti-Nazi fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto!

Fascists have no right to speak!

For militant united-front action to smash the Heritage Front!

19 April 1993

Posted: 12 December 2004