Resistance Primož Krašovec

“Resistance” is a term that stands for a special form of military and political resistance to fascism during the Second World War. Due to the rapid collapse and surrender of most European state armies at the beginning of the war and due to governmental collaboration with fascism, rebellion against fascism had to be organized without the involvement and assistance of either state apparatuses or their armies. This, unexpectedly, proved to be not a setback, but (similar to later anticolonial and anti-imperialist guerrilla warfare in the Third World) an opportunity to develop military and political forms that were not only an alternative to states and state armies, but a way of establishing new forms of emancipatory politics in permanent opposition to them.

This is what was inherently communist in the guerilla resistance against fascism during the Second World War—not so much its declared ideology or iconography (such as red stars on their uniforms), as its way of coping with the catastrophic historical situation and the methods it invented to combat fascism. The catastrophic nature of the situation so radically limited the political possibilities that there were only two options left: either capitulation and collaboration or uncompromising guerilla resistance—which was not solely defensive in character, since it was organized as an antistatist, antimilitaristic, and thus emancipatory form of struggle. Resistance fighters (partisans) were not only fighting against fascism and foreign occupation, but also against state violence, economic and social exploitation, gender inequality, militarist hierarchy, and other forms of political and social organization characteristic of the prewar order.

They did not constitute a state army, fighting to defend the people—they were the people themselves, who took up arms to combat fascism and emancipate themselves. The people were thus not the object, but the subject of their own liberation. This also meant abolishing forms of oppression and exploitation that were characteristic of the prewar order. Thus the main feature of the resistance was that it was a guerrilla struggle against both fascism and the capitalist prewar order in which the political dimension played a decisive role and had a great influence on military decisions and methods (which would not have been the case if the struggle in question had simply been a fight between two state armies for control of a territory, as had been the case with most modern wars). In this respect, it was both communist (again, what is more relevant than the explicit rhetoric of the partisans is their concrete practices. Even though partisan troops were composed of people with many different ideological and political backgrounds, some of them not even remotely close to what is nowadays called the “communist ideology,” they were all nevertheless communist in practice—i.e., through their participation in a political movement that was sweeping away old forms of domination and exploitation, since one became communist, in that historical context, by taking up arms and heading into the forests and mountains to fight against fascism, regardless of one’s moral or ideational background or any other idiosyncratic circumstances leading up to it, since the fight against fascism already involved fighting against the old order)—and revolutionary, since the partisan forms of political and tactical organization represented a radical break with the politics of the old and hence a radical political novelty.

Thus, both versions of contemporary revisionism concerned with the antifascist resistance during the Second World War—as, at least in academic circles, the dominant two ways of writing the history—are wrong. The hard, conservative version is wrong because it accuses the resistance of being an agent of “the other totalitarianism” (i.e., communism) and thus equally as bad as the totalitarian fascism it was fighting against—partisans were not endeavoring to found a bureaucratic police state during the war, but fighting for mass democratic political forms, such as establishing a web of local councils, organizing mass popular gatherings, and having discussions and meetings to determine military choices rather than relying solely on military discipline. None of these endeavors were shared by the Stalinist type of communism established in the USSR in the 1930s—not only because they were conceived in much different historical circumstances (during a war rather than during a restructuring of the state after a series of massive urban insurrections), but because they, in a way, ran counter to the classical Leninist project of taking over the state apparatus, mostly because the state apparatus had already collapsed and been taken over by the fascists. This forced the partisans to practice—in some cases even against their Leninist convictions—a nonstatist form of communism, a communism that aspired not to take over the state, but to establish political forms running parallel to, independent from, and opposed to the (in this case fascist) state. There could be nothing totalitarian in the partisan struggle, even though it was undoubtedly communist in character, since totalitarianism always involves a state; it is a specific type of state organization.

If the first, hard version of revisionism equates the antistatist communism of the partisans with the Stalinist project, the second version tries to downplay or, in some cases, deny their revolutionary character. According to this version, the struggle was a simple patriotic defense of the nation(s) against foreign occupiers. Benevolent, “leftist” revisionists want to purge the partisan struggle of its political charge—to them, it was a mere imitation of a state’s military defense in the absence of a regular state army. To portray the partisan struggle as a depoliticized defense of the nation (and territory), instead of as the deterritorialized antifascist revolutionary movement that it really was, one has to ignore crucial elements of the partisan struggle: that it was the armed people themselves, not conscripts or a professional army, that were fighting against fascism; that their supplies relied on donations from the local population; that they were mobile and were not fighting for land, but for freedom; that they had abolished previous forms of army organization and hierarchy and invented new forms of military organization that were deeply political in character—all of which were revolutionary acts. Soft revisionists might be right in their assessment of the prevalent emotional and ethical motivations (which were in most cases a desire to defend the country and the nation from foreign occupiers) people had for joining the resistance, but they fail to take into account the immense political novelty that the partisan struggle represented—beyond the manifest emotional drive of its participants. By reducing the partisan struggle to its declared intentions and by downplaying their actual practices, soft revisionism remains purely reactive with regard to the hard revisionism, merely defending the partisan struggle against accusations that it was communist and thus revolutionary by responding that it was actually neither. By doing so, a certain part of the postsocialist left remains within the ideological framework manufactured by hard revisionism, in which being revolutionary is something abhorrent, something to be avoided at all costs, instead of presenting and developing a new idea of revolution and its practice, as inspired by the partisan struggle.

What is interesting and important in the partisan struggle is precisely its radical political novelty, the previously inexistent forms of politics that it put into practice—much more so than the similarities it shared with other types of politics (such as 19th‑century nationalism or statist communism, which are the two types of politics most likely to be associated with the resistance—depending on which type of revisionism we are dealing with), which existed not so much in actual political practice as in certain elements of political rhetoric that the resistance shared with either nationalism or statist communism. The revisionist strategy consists of reducing resistance either to romantic nationalism or to statist communism, highlighting what was similar rhetorically and neglecting what was new in practice. Since resistance fighters came from many different ideational backgrounds and social milieus, “partisan ideology” was essentially a hodgepodge consisting of many of the progressive ideas of the day. This makes it easy for revisionists to document any of their claims about the partisans’ political allegiance with written material, since written historical documents left behind by partisans can easily support various interpretations—even mutually exclusive ones—of their political orientation. Isolated pieces of written evidence, selectively put together, can be used to reduce partisan politics to this or that preexisting political current—what one should do, however, is investigate the sheer disparateness of the material, its inner contradictions and ideological diversity, which prove that “partisan ideology” was not a homogeneous ideological system, imported into the resistance from without, but the articulation of the progressive ideas of the time in a concrete historical situation and in relation to the daily task of combating fascism. If the urgency of the tasks on the military front during the war left some of the theoretical issues and questions that arose during the resistance struggle unresolved, resolving them should be a primary task of the contemporary left—if it deserves that name at all.