Back in 1928, communist parties around the world were ordered to adopt a new strategy known as the “Third Period”. Its essence was extreme hostility to social democracy. The biggest enemy of progress was not the right, but the moderate left, which was in league with big business to defend the status quo at a time of deep economic depression and mass impoverishment.

Fair enough if the status quo was under threat from the left. But in Germany, the rising opposition was spearheaded by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party. Meanwhile, the huge German Communist Party, steeped in the ultra-left extremism of the Third Period, continued to focus its fire on the “opportunist traitors” of the timid left and the centre. In 1931, they explicitly argued that “Hitler could not make matters worse” than Heinrich Brüning, dubbed the “Hunger Chancellor” (the centre party leader in the mould of Angela Merkel). “Let Hitler take office – he will soon be bankrupt and then it will be our day,” declared one of the communist leaders in the Reichstag.

This was “pseudo-radical verbiage” and “political cowardice”, said the banished Soviet dissident Leon Trotsky, who called on the organisations of the working class to defend bourgeois democracy against National Socialism. He called it “the party of counter-revolutionary despair” which, he said, represented the smaller capitalists run amok, fired up by “hopes for the regeneration of the colonial empire, and dreams of a shut-in economy”.

Trotsky’s analysis was vindicated by history, while the Communist International, unable to understand the magnitude of the danger that lay ahead, became an unwitting accomplice in the catastrophic triumph of fascism. It should go without saying that we live in different times. The 1930s was a decade of deep depression. Jacob Rees-Mogg is not Adolf Hitler, Boris Johnson is not Hermann Goring and Nigel Farage is not Joseph Goebbels. But there are some common themes in history that can reappear in different forms under different conditions. And there are lessons to be learned from the defeats and failures of the past.

One reason why the 1930s communists turned their immediate fire on the wrong enemy was electoral expediency. They believed that to attack Hitler’s Nazis would make it more difficult to win over the discontented masses who had been failed by the political elites of the times. Their frenzied ultra-leftism was, as Trotsky put it, a form of political cowardice.

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Although I’ve never been a Labour voter, I welcomed the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. After Blair, Brown and Miliband he represented a blast of fresh air through UK Labour. But as Brexit has unfolded, he looks like man out of his depth, badly advised and lacking the courage to take a clear, unambiguous stand against a movement which is infested with racism and obsessed with the glory days of the British Empire.

Yes, the Brexiteers make some valid populist points against the elites of the European big business establishment. So, too, did Hitler. And Donald Trump in the USA.

And Viktor Orban, the semi-fascist leader of Hungary, who has plastered giant disparaging posters depicting the grinning face of the Budapest-born, billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros on billboards across the land, combining populist anti-elitism with thinly veiled anti-Semitism.

The National:

In this world we live in today, marching steadily rightwards to the drum beat of fascism, the left has a two-fold responsibility. First to offer a better alternative to those who have been left abandoned by the side of the road as the free market juggernaut thunders on. And secondly, to face down reactionary chauvinism, with no quarter given to racism and xenophobia.

On the first point, the Blairite New Labour Party failed abysmally, thus helping to pave the way for the rise of the populist far right in neglected working-class communities across England. On the second point, Corbynite Labour have failed to offer serious resistance to the point where they are handing victory on a plate to the Brexiteers.

That’s partly because of the party’s nostalgic attachment to a bygone era when Britain’s public services – the NHS, social security system, nationalised industries, workers’ rights and free trade unions – were the envy of much of Europe. It’s also, I’m afraid to say, because of the same political cowardice that led the German Communist Party to focus its fire on the wrong target at the wrong time.

The European Union is not the main obstacle standing in the way of a Labour government carrying out left-wing policies at Westminster. Yes, there are EU competition rules that can be used to obstruct some forms of public ownership. But these can be both challenged and circumvented. For example, the EU insists the management of railway infrastructure and services must be separated. The Netherlands and Spain got around by establishing two separate state-owned companies, one to deal with the track and the other to run the trains.

Hundreds of German cities and communities have established local, publicly-owned saving banks, while hundreds more have taken energy into public ownership over the past 20 years. In 2010, the city of Paris took its water supply out of the hands of two multinational companies and placed it under municipal ownership and control. The socialist-green coalition government that runs Luxembourg has just declared that use of its entire public transport system will be free of charge from 2019 onwards, There are many other examples of public ownership, progressive taxation and improvements in welfare benefits that demonstrate how a number of European Union counties are far in advance of the UK and USA when it comes to defying neoliberalism.

If Labour had real confidence it in its own ability to carry out sweeping socialist change across the UK, it would have no fear of the small print of EU restrictions. Instead, they would carry out their programme in full, with mass public support behind it, and throw the European Commission on to the back foot. But that’s not going to happen.

In their ambivalence and prevarication over Brexit, Labour have shown that it is too timid to even stand up decisively for the resounding majority of its own members and voters.

READ MORE: Scotland could lead the progressive transformation of Europe

In Scotland, we at least have a potential exit from Brexit. Nicola Sturgeon wisely ignored the impatient voices yelling for a referendum this autumn, and instead allowed the full chaotic shambles to play itself out. The credibility of Westminster is in tatters and the prestige of the UK has now plummeted to new depths.

As the mists begin to clear to reveal just how dysfunctional the UK has become, let’s look forward to a new year in which we can begin our journey towards a new independent future, with closer connections than ever before across the North Sea and the Irish Sea – and a more healthy cross-border relationship of equals with our friends in the south, even if they do choose to travel in a more insular direction.