Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Antifascism and the Left in the Age of Fascism

by Joseph Fronczak

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 2023
ISBN: 978-0-300-25117-3
Publisher: Yale Univ.

Scholarly examination of the relationship between anti-fascism and fascism, each contingent on the other.

Princeton historian Fronczak points out that our consensus view of what the left constitutes largely hinges on convergences of the 1930s. “Antifascism was the central idea pulling the left together in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War,” he writes, “and then pushing leftists to go to Spain to fight together there.” There had been fascist movements in the decade before, including the 400 black shirts who marched in New York City in 1927, and opposition to them. While the face of fascism has changed—globalized, Fronczak writes, in its encounters with populist and nationalist movements around the world—its existence has served constantly to reenergize the left. It is hardly a novel idea that fascism is an overworked term defined variously from individual points of view, but the better part of this book is the author’s study of Spain as crucible. Fronczak corrects some points of Cold War ideology—e.g., that the Popular Front was a creation of the Comintern; it dates, he argues, to an earlier coalition on the French-German border “determined to win regional autonomy for the Alsatian people,” some of whose members were renegade Communists going against the party line. The author also highlights figures who have fallen into obscurity, such as the Black American fighter Oliver Law, who, born on a ranch in Texas, became a militant anti-fascist commander in Spain, where, despite official claims of equality, he was often tested on account of his race. “Right, left, fascism, and antifascism—these have all become once more words that people find worth fighting over,” Fronczak notes in closing. His book is a touch arid, but if nothing else, one hopes that it will send readers to wider accounts of the Spanish Civil War—by, for instance, Hugh Thomas or Antony Beevor—to deepen their knowledge.

The thesis is unremarkable, but Fronczak’s study of the Spanish Civil War has considerable merit.