European socialists respond to fascism : the drive towards unity, radicalisation and strategic innovation in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Spain, 1933-1936 / by Gerd-Rainer Horn.
The rapid rise of the radical Right, symbolized by Hitler's legal rise to power in Germany, served as a powerful stimulus triggering a highly productive period of strategic reorientation for Europe's badly splintered Left. Emerging from fifteen years of profound internal dissension, social democrats, communists and others began to reassess traditional approaches to politics and engaged in a campaign to end the cycle of defeats and to regain offensive. Three novel strategies were tried and tested in this productive period: working class united fronts; radical planism, a variant of united fronts permitting easier access to the middle class; and multi-class popular fronts. While not adopted by all segments of the Left in all five states, these three novel strategies came to dominate the discourse of the Left in most of continental Europe. Given the extreme differences in social structures, political conditions and cultural traditions between the five states under review, the transnational dimension of this drive towards unity, radicalisation and strategic innovation is particularly noteworthy. The strategies of united and popular fronts were not adopted simultaneously. The initial shock of the German tragedy, compounded by the February 1934 Austrian Schutzbund rebellion, and given positive expression by the unitary response of the French Left to the Parisian February 1934 right wing emeute, served to prepare the terrain for social democratic radicalisation and working class united fronts. The lack of tangible successes of this strategy, symbolized by the defeat of the October 1934 Asturian Commune, combined with the increasingly ominous international political storm clouds, served to pave the way for the more moderate popular fronts. When, soon after their electoral victories in the first half of 1936, popular fronts began to disintegrate under the combined stresses of internal strains and right wing military rebellion (in Spain), no new strategies emerged to bolster the sagging fortunes of the Left, although all traditional strategies were failing as well. Given the importance of interwar socialism in the remaining democracies of continental Europe, their failure to stem the tide of expansionist fascism facilitated the outbreak of World War II.
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