Misquoting Dimitrov on Fascism

For several decades progressives and Marxists in English-speaking countries have been misquoting Dimitrov on the nature of Fascism. This is not a criticism of Dimitrov or his actual statement on the nature of fascism, but an attempt to give proper credit the the original author of the concept adopted and expanded by Dimitrov: Clara Zetkin. It was Zetkin’s 1923 analysis of fascism that was inorporated into the report of the Third Plenum.

This is due in part to:

  • The selective editing of print publication of what Dimitrov actually wrote for ideological reasons in the post-WWII Soviet Union.
  • The strategies of pro-Soviet communists in the period before WWII who supported the idea of “social fascism;” which denigrated the idea of a mass-based popular front.
  • A failure by many writers to read the underlying documents that reveal the errors.

The actual full quotation from Dimitrov reveals three key facts:

  • That the definition of fascism erroneously attributed to him is actual a definition from the Third Plenum based on the work of Clara Zetkin.
  • That the fragment frequently cited lacks the next six paragraphs that put the definition of fascism in two distinct categories requiring differrent forms of resistance:
    • Fascism as it is building a mass base.
    • Fascism after it has seized state power.
  • That the actual definition is drawn from the report written by Clara Zetkin and presented to the executive committee, not the full plenum. The plenum text is what Dimitrov is citing in his famous quote, which usually leaves off Dimitrov’s discussion of the need to use different strategies when fascism is a growing movement as opposed to after fascism seizes state power.

Clara Zetkin: “we view fascism as an expression of the decay and disintegration of the capitalist economy and as a symptom of the bourgeois state’s dissolution. We can combat fascism only if we grasp that it rouses and sweeps along broad social masses who have lost the earlier security of their existence and with it, often, their belief in social order.”


Clara Zetkin – 1923
Order from Haymarket Books (credits: Mike Taber, John Riddell)

Dimitrov in context

Under Construction


Fascism uses the Rhetoric of Right-Wing Populism

Fascism is the most militant form of Right-Wing Populism

Most Right-Wing Populist Movements do not become Fascist Movements

Most Fascist Movements do not Seize State Power