Ernest Mandel remembers: fascism and the students
Source Jurriaan Bendien
Date 04/02/12/14:10

Ernest Mandel remembers: fascism and the students (excerpt from a lecture
given in Bonn, 29 January 1969)

The first advances which the fascists made, were mainly among student
movements and in student milieus. Hitler gained majority support at German
universities, many years before he actually had a significant proportion of
the German electorate behind him. The same applies to an even greater extent
to Italy and Spain. When the Popular Front battled at the polls in 1936, the
Latin quarter of Paris was, ironically, dominated - immediately before and
after the general strike of June 1936 - by the semi-fascist "Action
Francaise", i.e. by an organisation on the far-right of the French political


An important characteristic of fascist dictatorships, both in Italy, in
Hitler's Germany and in Spain, was the total atomisation of the working
class, and the smashing of workers organisations, which serves to disable
well-organised resistance of the working class right from the very start. So
long as broadly organised resistance persists, there can be no question of a
truly fascist dictatorship. The role and historic peculiarity of fascism was
precisely to smash this resistance, and realise the total atomisation of the
working class.

Dictatorships have emerged in the most diverse forms - the history of
capitalism is, in a certain sense, the history of all kinds of
dictatorships - but a "dictatorship" in and of itself is not yet "fascism".
Military dictatorships can be found, as in Greece, which by their very
nature are not in any position to atomise the worker's movement. In most
imperialist countries, the working classes comprise tens of millions of
people, and you cannot stop them from mobilising with 10,000 policemen or

Definitive of fascism is that, beyond the military and police apparatus, the
fascists have available mass organisations which can terrorise and repress,
which can keep the entire working class in a modern, industrialised country
"behind bars" so to speak. This fascist terror network has
practical-technical presuppositions. The state must have at least one spy in
every neighbourhood, in every office, factory and school, in each of its
departments, and often, even inside people's residences, which makes it
possible to crush even the most elementary forms of mass organisation and
mass resistance.


At the same time, there are psychological and socio-political reasons to do
with workingclass consciousness, that prevent an active, resolute
proletariat, aware of its historical and immediate political tasks, from
being atomised and leg-ironed in this way. A devastating political and
psychological defeat, the wholesale destruction of the political
self-confidence of the proletariat and their acquiescence, demoralisation or
resignation, must therefore precede any struggle and stabilisation of
fascist political power.

However, once this terrible situation has occurred, the organised resistance
by the working class becomes impossible for quite some time. This is proved
by the historical experience of classical fascist dictorships. Spanish
fascism eventually broke up through its internal development, and became a
decadent military dictatorship, which failed to prevent mass resistance by
the working class, and in fact does not prevent it.

In the three classical fascist dictatorships I mentioned (Germany, Italy,
and Spain until about 1953), there were to be sure thousands upon thousands
of resistance actions by communists, social democrats and revolutionary
socialists from all sorts of different currents. The point however was, that
they could agitate only as individual groups, as small islands in the broad
movement, but not as an organised workingclass movement.

So the resistance against fascist rule therefore by definition has this
atomised, relatively individualistic character. Yet, and this is the key
point, from the moment there is no longer any question of organised mass
resistance, but only of resistance by individuals, i.e. from the moment that
individual consciousness and even just pure moral outrage becomes a
prominent, immediate source of motivation for action, the intelligentsia is
without doubt much better equipped than other social strata to engage in it.

It was easier for the intellectuals to get worked up about genocides and
fight them, than for isolated workers lacking access to all the facts.
Through the effective atomisation of the workingclass wrought by a fascist
dictatorship, the subjective preconditions for individual revolt were
reached with much greater difficulty among workers, than among
intellectuals. That's why the intellectuals assumed such an important place,
when mass resistance against the consolidated power of fascism took off


In Italy, the first political organisation produced by the new resistance
movement was the Giustizia e Liberta group. This group didn't actually form
part of the old Communist Party or the social democrats; it consisted
exclusively of students and intellectuals. Later, it founded the so-called
"Action Party", which played an important role in the armed resistance
between 1943 and 1945. The role of small-size resistance groups of German
intellectuals and students after the outbreak of world war 2 is quite
well-known; the same applies to Spain, during the interval between 1946 and

In connection with my thesis, however, I ought to mention one other example,
which at first sight contradicts what I said, but in reality confirms it.
The only European country which, after world war 2, experienced an organic
socialist revolution, a revolution realised with active support from the
masses of the population, in the wake of popular resistance against fascism,
was Yugoslavia.

Only in the Yugoslav territories could the Communist Party organise the
whole student movement and bring it under its control before the outbreak of
war. The great majority of those who founded the Yugoslav partisan movement
in world war 2 likewise came from the intelligentsia. The workers only
joined in later, on a much bigger scale, with a more disciplined
organisation than the students had.

Most of the students, I regret to say, were actually killed, because they
usually lacked the organisatorial qualities, professionalism and the
self-discipline of the workers, indispensable for this kind of anti-fascist
campaign. Nevertheless, they were the first to throw themselves into battle,
and so, you have to give credit where credit is due. It was a similar story
in Cuba, after the Batista dictatorship was established.

- from: Ernest Mandel, "The role of the intellectuals in class struggles"
(1969), an unpublished English translation from the slightly revised
German/French/Dutch versions, by Jurriaan Bendien, May 1987.

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