11.07.2016 Doc of the Day

Preface…By George Lavan Weissman

Liberals and even most of those who consider themselves Marxists are guilty of using the world fascist very loosely today{1993}. They fling it around as an epithet or political swearword against right-wing figures whom they particularly despise, or against reactionaries in general.

Since WWII, the fascist label has been applied to such figures and movements as Gerald L. K. Smith, Senator Joseph McCarthy, Senator Eastland, Barry Goldwater, the Minutemen, the John Birch Society, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Wallace.

Now, were all these fascist, or just some? If only some, then how does one tell which are and which aren’t?

Indiscriminate use of the term really reflects vagueness about its meaning. Asked to define fascism, the liberal replies in such terms as dictatorship, mass neurosis, anti-Semitism, the power of unscrupulous propaganda, the hypnotic effect of a mad-genius orator on the masses, etc. Impressionism and confusion on the part of liberals is not surprising. But Marxism’s superiority consists of its ability to analyze and differentiate among social and political phenomena. that so many of those calling themselves marxists cannot define fascism any more adequately than the liberals is not wholly their fault. Whether they are aware of it or not, much of their intellectual heritage comes from the social-democratic (reformist socialist) and Stalinist movements, which dominated the left in the 1930s when fascism was scoring victory after victory. These movements not only permitted Nazism to come to power in Germany without a shot being fired against it, but they failed abysmally in understanding the nature and dynamics of fascism and the way to fight it. After fascism’s triumphs, they had much to hide and so refrained from making a Marxist analysis which would, at least, have educated subsequent generations.

But there is a Marxist analysis of fascism. It was made by Leon Trotsky not as a postmortem, but during the rise of fascism. This was one of Trotsky’s great contributions to Marxism. He began the task after Mussolini’s victory in Italy in 1922 and brought it to a high point in the years preceding Hitler’s triumph in Germany in 1933.

In his attempts to awaken the German Communist Party and the Communist International (Comintern) to the mortal danger and to rally a united-front against Nazism, Trotsky made a point-by-point critique of the policies of the social-democratic and Stalinist parties. This constitutes a compendium of almost all the mistaken, ineffective, and suicidal positions that workers’ organizations can take regarding fascism, since the positions of the German parties ranged from opportunistic default and betrayal on the right (social democratic) to ultra-left abstentionism and betrayal (Stalinist).

The Communist movement was still on its ultra-left binge (the so-called Third Period) when the Nazi movement began to snowball. To the Stalinists, every capitalist party was automatically “fascist”. Even more catastrophic than this disorienting of the workers was Stalin’s famous dictum that, rather than being opposites, fascism and social democracy were “twins”. The socialists were thereupon dubbed “social fascists” and regarded as the main enemy. Of course, there could be no united front with social-fascist organizations, and those who, like Trotsky, urged such united fronts, were also labeled social fascists and treated accordingly.

How divorced from reality the Stalinist line was may be illustrated be recalling its translation into American terms. In the 1932 elections, American Stalinists denounced Franklin Roosevelt as the fascist candidate and Norman Thomas as the social-fascist candidate. What was ludicrous as applied to US politics was tragic in Germany and Austria.

(Recently [1969], the term social fascism had begun cropping up in articles by members of the new left. Do those using it imagine that they have invented the term? Or, if they are aware of its history, are they indifferent to its connotations?)

After the Nazis came to power, the Stalinists boasted that their line had been 100 per cent correct, that Hitler could only last a few months, and that a Soviet Germany would then emerge. The time limit for this miracle was extended from three, six, to nine months, and then the idle boasts dwindled into silence. The magnitude of the defeat suffered by the working class, the special character of fascism, distinguishing it from other reactionary regimes or dictatorships, became apparent to all, and the threat to the Soviet Union or a rearmed German imperialism began to take on reality. This brought about a change in Moscow’s line in 1935 and the Communist parties throughout the world thereupon zigzagged far to the right, to the right even of the social-democrats. This was their stance in the face of the spreading fascist danger in France and Spain.

The military ruin of German and Italian fascism in WWII convinced most people that fascism had been destroyed for good and was so utterly discredited that it could never again entice any followers. Events since then, particularly the emergence of new fascist groups and tendencies in almost every capitalist country, have dispelled such wishful thinking. The illusion that WWII was fought to make the world safe from fascism has gone the way of the earlier illusion that WWI was fought to make the world safe for democracy. The germ of fascism is endemic in capitalism; a crisis can raise it to epidemic proportions unless drastic countermeasures are applied.

Since forewarned is forearmed, we offer this new compilation — a small selection from Trotsky’s writings on the subject — as a weapon for the anti-fascist arsenal.

CC BY-SA by alpuerto
CC BY-SA by alpuerto


Extracts from a letter to an English comrade, November 15 1931;
printed in The Militant, January 16, 1932

* * *

What is fascism? The name originated in Italy. Were all the forms of counter-revolutionary dictatorship fascist or not (That is to say, prior to the advent of fascism in Italy)?

The former dictatorship in Spain of Primo de Rivera, 1923-30, is called a fascist dictatorship by the Comintern. Is this correct or not? We believe that it is incorrect.

The fascist movement in Italy was a spontaneous movement of large masses, with new leaders from the rank and file. It is a plebeian movement in origin, directed and financed by big capitalist powers. It issued forth from the petty bourgeoisie, the slum proletariat, and even to a certain extent from the proletarian masses; Mussolini, a former socialist, is a “self-made” man arising from this movement.

Primo de Rivera was an aristocrat. He occupied a high military and bureaucratic post and was chief governor of Catalonia. He accomplished his overthrow with the aid of state and military forces. The dictatorships of Spain and Italy are two totally different forms of dictatorship. It is necessary to distinguish between them. Mussolini had difficulty in reconciling many old military institutions with the fascist militia. This problem did not exist for Primo de Rivera.

The movement in Germany is analogous mostly to the Italian. It is a mass movement, with its leaders employing a great deal of socialist demagogy. This is necessary for the creation of the mass movement.

The genuine basis (for fascism) is the petty bourgeoisie. In Italy, it has a very large base — the petty bourgeoisie of the towns and cities, and the peasantry. In Germany, likewise, there is a large base for fascism….

It may be said, and this is true to a certain extent, that the new middle class, the functionaries of the state, the private administrators, etc., can constitute such a base. But this is a new question that must be analyzed….

In order to be capable of foreseeing anything with regard to fascism, it is necessary to have a definition of that idea. What is fascism? What are its base, its form, and its characteristics? How will its development take place? It is necessary to proceed in a scientific and Marxian manner.

Hitler & Mussolini - public domain
Hitler & Mussolini – public domain


From What Next? Vital Question for the German Proletariat, 1932

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At the moment that the “normal” police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium — the turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat — all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.

From fascism the bourgeoisie demands a thorough job; once it has resorted to methods of civil war, it insists on having peace for a period of years. And the fascist agency, by utilizing the petty bourgeoisie as a battering ram, by overwhelming all obstacles in its path, does a thorough job. After fascism is victorious, finance capital directly and immediately gathers into its hands, as in a vise of steel, all the organs and institutions of sovereignty, the executive administrative, and educational powers of the state: the entire state apparatus together with the army, the municipalities, the universities, the schools, the press, the trade unions, and the co-operatives. When a state turns fascist, it does not mean only that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance the patterns set by Mussolini — the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role — but it means first of all for the most part that the workers’ organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism….

* * *

National_Fascist_Party_logo.svgItalian fascism was the immediate outgrowth of the betrayal by the reformists of the uprising of the Italian proletariat. From the time the [first world] war ended, there was an upward trend in the revolutionary movement in Italy, and in September 1920 it resulted in the seizure of factories and industries by the workers. The dictatorship of the proletariat was an actual fact; all that was lacking was to organize it and draw from it all the necessary conclusions. The social democracy took fright and sprang back. After its bold and heroic exertions, the proletariat was left facing the void. The disruption of the revolutionary movement became the most important factor in the growth of fascism. In September, the revolutionary advance came to a standstill; and November already witnessed the first major demonstration of the fascists (the seizure of Bologna).

[NOTE: The fascist campaign of violence began in Bologna, November 21, 1920. When the social-democratic councilmen, victorious in the municipal elections, emerged from city hall to present the new mayor, they were met by gunfire in which 10 were killed and 100 wounded. The fascists followed up with “punitive expeditions” into the surrounding countryside, a stronghold of the “Red Leagues”. Blackshirt “action squadrons” in vehicles supplied by big landowners, took over villages in lightning raids, beating and killing leftist peasants and labor leaders, wrecking radical headquarters, and terrorizing the populace. Emboldened by their easy successes, the fascists then launched large-scale attacks in the big cities.]

True, the proletariat, even after the September catastrophe, was capable of waging defensive battles. But the social democracy was concerned with only one thing: to withdraw the workers from combat at the cost of one concession after another. The social democracy hoped that the docile conduct of the workers would restore the “public opinion” of the bourgeoisie against the fascists. Moreover, the reformists even banked strongly upon the help of King Victor Emmanuel. To the last hour, they restrained the workers with might and main from giving battle to Mussolini’s bands. It availed them nothing. The crown, along with the upper crust of the bourgeoisie, swung over to the side of fascism. Convinced at the last moment that fascism was not to be checked by obedience, the social democrats issued a call to the workers for a general strike. But their proclamation suffered a fiasco. The reformists had dampened the powder so long, in their fear lest it should explode, that when they finally with a trembling hand did apply a burning fuse to it, the powder did not catch.

Two years after its inception, fascism was in power. It entrenched itself thanks to the facts the first period of its overlordship coincided with a favorable economic conjuncture, which followed the depression of 1921-22. The fascists crushed the retreating proletariat by the onrushing forces of the petty bourgeoisie. But this was not achieved at a single blow. Even after he assumed power, Mussolini proceeded on his course with due caution: he lacked as yet ready-made models. During the first two years, not even the constitution was altered. The fascist government took on the character of a coalition. In the meantime, the fascist bands were busy at work with clubs, knives, and pistols. Only thus was the fascist government created slowly, which meant the complete strangulation of all independent mass organizations.

Mussolini attained this at the cost of bureaucratizing the fascist party itself. After utilizing the onrushing forces of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism strangled it within the vise of the bourgeois state. Mussolini could not have done otherwise, for the disillusionment of the masses he had united was precipitating itself into the most immediate danger ahead. Fascism, become bureaucratic, approaches very closely to other forms of military and police dictatorship. It no longer possesses its former social support. The chief reserve of fascism — the petty bourgeoisie — has been depicted. Only historical inertia enables the fascist government to keep the proletariat in a state of dispersion and helplessness….

In its politics as regards Hitler, the German social democracy has not been able to add a single word: all it does is repeat more ponderously whatever the Italian reformists in their own time performed with greater flights of temperament. The latter explained fascism as a postwar psychosis; the German social democracy sees in it a “Versailles” or crisis psychosis. In both instances, the reformists shut their eyes to the organic character of fascism as a mass movement growing out of the collapse of capitalism.

[NOTE: The Versailles Treaty, imposed on Germany after WWI; its most hated feature was the unending tribute to the victorious allies in the form of “reparations” for war damages and losses. The “crisis” referred to in the above paragraph was the economic depression that swept the capitalist world after the Wall Street crash of 1929.]

Fearful of the revolutionary mobilization of the workers, the Italian reformists banked all their hopes of the “state”. Their slogan was, “Help! Victor Emmanuel, exert pressure!” The German social democracy lacks such a democratic bulwark as a monarch loyal to the constitution. So they must be content with a president — “Help! Hindenburg, exert pressure!”

[NOTE: Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), Junker general who gained fame in World War I and later became president of the Weimar Republic. In 1932, the social democrats supported him for re-election as a “lesser evil” to the Nazis. He appointed Hitler chancellor in January 1933.]

While waging battle against Mussolini, that is, while retreating before him, Turati let loose his dazzling motto, “One must have the manhood to be a coward.” [Filippo Turati (1857-1937), leading reformist theoretician of the Italian Socialist Party.] The German reformists are less frisky with their slogans. They demand “Courage under unpopularity” (Mut zur Unpopularitaet) — which amounts to the same thing. One must not be afraid of the unpopularity which has been aroused by one’s own cowardly temporizing with the enemy.

Identical causes produce identical effects. Were the march of events dependent upon the social-democratic party leadership, Hitler’s career would be assured.

One must admit, however, that the German Communist Party has also learned little from the Italian experience.

The Italian Communist Party came into being almost simultaneously with fascism. But the same conditions of revolutionary ebb tide, which carried the fascists to power, served to deter the development of the Communist Party. It did not give itself an accounting as to the full sweep of the fascist danger; it lulled itself with revolutionary illusions; it was irreconcilably antagonistic to the policy of the united front; in short, it was stricken with all the infantile diseases. Small wonder! It was only two years old. In its eyes, fascism appeared to be only “capitalist reaction”. The particular traits of fascism which spring from the mobilization of the petty bourgeoisie against the proletariat, the Communist Party was unable to discern. Italian comrades inform me that, with the sole exception of Gramsci, the Communist Party would not even allow for the possibility of the fascists’ seizing power. Once the proletarian revolution had suffered defeat, once capitalism had held its ground and the counter-revolution had triumphed, how could there be any further kind of counter-revolutionary upheaval? How could the bourgeoisie rise up against itself! Such was the gist of the political orientation of the Italian Communist Party. Moreover, one must not lose sight of the fact that Italian fascism was then a new phenomenon, just in the process of formation; it would not have been an easy task even for a more experienced party to distinguish its specific traits.

[NOTE: Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937): a founder of the Italian Communist Party, imprisoned by Mussolini in 1926, he died in prison 11 years later. He sent a letter from prison, in the name of the Italian party’s political committee, protesting Stalin’s campaign against the Left Opposition. Taglatti, then in Moscow as the Italian representative to the Comintern, suppressed the letter. Throughout the Stalin era, Gramsci’s memory was deliberately effaced. In the period of de-Stalinization, however, he was “rediscovered” by the Italian Communist Party and officially enshrined as a hero and martyr. Since, there has been considerable international acclaim of his theoretical writings, particularly his prison notebooks.]

The leadership of the German Communist Party today reproduces almost literally the position from which the Italian Communists took their point of departure; fascism is nothing else but capitalist reaction; from the point of view of the proletariat, the difference between diverse types of capitalist reaction are meaningless. This vulgar radicalism is the less excusable because the German party is much older than the Italian was at a corresponding period; in addition, Marxism is enriched now by the tragic experience in Italy. To insist that fascism is already here, or to deny the very possibility of its coming to power, amounts politically to one and the same thing. By ignoring the specific nature of of fascism, the will to fight against it inevitably becomes paralyzed.

The brunt of the blame must be borne, of course, by the leadership of the Comintern. Italian Communists above all others were duty-bound to raise their voices in alarm. But Stalin, together with Manuilsky, compelled them to disavow the most important lessons of their own annihilation.

[NOTE: Dmitri Manuilsky (1883-1952): Headed the Comintern from 1929 to 1934; his removal heralded switch from ultra-leftism to the opportunism of the Popular Front period. Later appeared on diplomatic stage, as delegate to United Nations.]

We have already observed with what diligent alacrity Ercoli switched over to the position of social fascism — i.e., to the position of passively waiting for the fascist victory in Germany.

[NOTE: Ercoli. Comintern pen name of Palmiro Togliatti (1893-1964). Headed Italian Communist Party after Gramsci’s imprisonment. He survived all zigzags in Comintern line, but after Stalin’s death he criticized Stalin’s rule as well some of its continuing features in the USSR and International Communist movement.]


From The Turn in the Communist International and the German Situation, 1930

* * *

CC BY-NC-ND by kitchener.lord

The official press of the Comintern is now depicting the results of the [September 1930] German elections as a prodigious victory of Communism, which places on the order of the day the slogan of Soviet Germany. The bureaucratic optimists do not want to reflect upon the meaning of the relation of forces which is disclosed by the election statistics. They examine the figure of the increased Communist vote independently of the revolutionary tasks created by the situation and the obstacles it sets up. The Communist Party received around 4,600,000 votes as against 3,300,000 in 1928. From the viewpoint of “normal” parliamentary mechanics, the gain of 1,300,000 votes is considerable, even if we take into consideration the rise in the total number of voters. But the gain of the party pales completely beside the leap of fascism from 800,000 to 6,400,000 votes. Of no less important significance for evaluation the elections is the fact that the social democracy, in spite of substantial losses, retained its basic cadres and still received a considerably greater number of workers’ votes [8,600,000] than the Communist Party.

Meanwhile, if we should ask ourselves, “What combination of international and domestic circumstances could be capable of turning the working class towards Communism with greater velocity?” we could not find an example of more favorable circumstances for such a turn than the situation in present-day Germany: Young’s noose, the economic crisis, the disintegration of the rules, the crisis of parliamentarism, the terrific self-exposure of the social democracy in power. From the viewpoint of these concrete historical circumstances, the specific gravity of the German Communist Party in the social life of the country, in spite of the gain of 1,300,000 votes, remains proportionately small.

[NOTE: “Young’s noose”: a reference to the Young Plan. After Owen D. Young, American big businessman, who was Agent-General for the German Reparations during the 1920s. In summer of 1929, he was chairman of the conference which adopted his plan, which replaced the unsuccessful Dawes Plan, to “facilitate” Germany’s payment of reparations as per the Treaty of Versailles.]

The weakness of the position of Communism, inextricably bound up with the policy and regime of the Comintern, is revealed more clearly if we compare the present social weight of the Communist Party with those concrete and unpostponable tasks which the present historical circumstances put before it.

It is true that the Communist Party itself did not expect such a gain. But this proves that under the blows of mistakes and defeats, the leadership of the Communist parties has become unused to big aims and perspectives. If yesterday it underestimated its own possibilities,then today it once more underestimates the difficulties. In this way, one danger is multiplied by another.

In the meantime, the first characteristic of a really revolutionary party is — to be able to look reality in the face.

* * *


In order that the social crisis may bring about the proletarian revolution, it is necessary that, besides other conditions, a decisive shift of the petty bourgeois classes occurs in the direction of the proletariat. This gives the proletariat a chance to put itself at the head of the nation as its leader.

The last election revealed — and this is where its principle symptomatic significance lies — a shift in the opposite direction. Under the blow of the crisis, the petty bourgeoisie swung, not in the direction of the proletarian revolution, but in the direction of the most extreme imperialist reaction, pulling behind it considerable sections of the proletariat.

The gigantic growth of National Socialism is an expression of two factors: a deep social crisis, throwing the petty bourgeois masses off balance, and the lack of a revolutionary party that would be regarded by the masses of the people as an acknowledged revolutionary leader. If the communist Party is the party of revolutionary hope, then fascism, as a mass movement, is the party of counter-revolutionary despair. When revolutionary hope embraces the whole proletarian mass, it inevitably pulls behind it on the road of revolution considerable and growing sections of the petty bourgeoisie. Precisely in this sphere the election revealed the opposite picture: counter-revolutionary despair embraced the petty bourgeois mass with such a force that it drew behind it many sections of the proletariat….

Jonathan Davis Follow "It will never end" - Anti-Fascist stencil, Belgrade
Jonathan Davis Follow
“It will never end” – Anti-Fascist stencil, Belgrade

Fascism in Germany has become a real danger, as an acute expression of the helpless position of the bourgeois regime, the conservative role of the social democracy in this regime, and the accumulated powerlessness of the Communist Party to abolish it. Whoever denies this is either blind or a braggart….

The danger acquires particular acuteness in connection with the question of the tempo of development, which does not depend upon us alone. The malarial character of the political curve revealed by the election speaks for the fact that the tempo of development of the national crisis may turn out to be very speedy. In other words, the course of events in the very near future may resurrect in Germany, on a new historical plane, the old tragic contradiction between the maturity of a revolutionary situation, on the one hand, and the weakness and strategical impotence of the revolutionary party, on the other. This must be said clearly, openly and, above all, in time. >

* * *

Can the strength of the conservative resistance of the social-democratic workers be calculated beforehand? It cannot. In the light of the events of the past year, this strength seems to be gigantic. But the truth is that what helped most of all to weld together social democracy was the wrong policy of the Communist Party, which found its highest generalization in the absurd theory of social fascism. To measure the real resistance of the social democratic ranks, a different measuring instrument is required, that is, a correct Communist tactic. With this condition — and it is not a small condition — the degree of internal unity of the social democracy can be revealed in a comparatively brief period.

In a different form, what has been said above also applies to fascism: It emanated, aside from the other conditions present, in the tremblings of the Zinoviev-Stalin strategy. What is its force for offensive? What is its stability? has it reached its culminating point, as the optimists ex-officio [Comintern and Communist Party officials] assure us, or is it only on the first step of the ladder? This cannot be foretold mechanically. It can be determined only through action. Precisely in regard to fascism, which is a razor in the hands of the class enemy, the wrong policy of the Comintern may produce fatal results in a brief period. On the other hand, a correct policy — not in such a short period, it is true — can undermine the positions of fascism….

[NOTE: “Zinoviev-Stalin strategy”: Gregory Y. Zinoviev (1883-1936), chairman of the Comintern from its founding in 1919 till his removal by Stalin in 1926. After Lenin’s death, Zinoviev and Kamenev made a bloc with Stalin (the Troika) against Trotsky and dominated the Soviet party. In the period of the Zinoviev-Stalin domination of the Comintern, an opportunist line led to a series of defeats and missed opportunities, most notably the calling off of the German revolution of 1923. After breaking with Stalin, Zinoviev united his following with the Trotskyist Left Opposition. But in 1928, after the expulsion from the party of the United Opposition, Zinoviev capitulated to Stalin. Readmitted to the party, he was expelled again in 1932. After disavowal of all critical views, he was again readmitted, but in 1934, he was expelled and imprisoned. He “confessed” at the first of the great Moscow Trials in 1936 and was executed.]

If the Communist Party, in spite of the exceptionally favorable circumstances, has proved powerless seriously to shake the structure of the social democracy with the aid of the formula of “social fascism”, then real fascism now threatens this structure, no longer with wordy formulae of so-called radicalism, but with the chemical formulas of explosives. No matter how true it is that the social democracy by its whole policy prepared the blossoming of fascism, it is no less true that fascism comes forward as a deadly threat primarily to that same social democracy, all of whose magnificence is inextricably bound with parliamentary-democratic-pacifist forms and methods of government…

The policy of a united front of the workers against fascism flows from this situation. It opens up tremendous possibilities to the Communist Party. A condition for success, however, is the rejection of the theory and practice of “social fascism”, the harm of which becomes a positive measure under the present circumstances.

The social crisis will inevitably produce deep cleavages within the social democracy. The radicalization of the masses will affect the social democrats. We will inevitably have to make agreements with various social-democratic organizations and factions against fascism, putting definite conditions in this connection to the leaders, before the eyes of the masses…. We must return from the empty official phrase about the united front to the policy of the united front as it was formulated by Lenin and always applied by the Bolsheviks in 1917.


From What Next? Vital Question for the German Proletariat, 1932

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cow farm meatA cattle dealer once drove some bulls to the slaughterhouse. And the butcher came night with his sharp knife.

“Let us close ranks and jack up this executioner on our horns,” suggested one of the bulls.

“If you please, in what way is the butcher any worse than the dealer who drove us hither with his cudgel?” replied the bulls, who had received their political education in Manuilsky’s institute. [The Comintern.]

“But we shall be able to attend to the dealer as well afterwards!”

“Nothing doing,” replied the bulls firm in their principles, to the counselor. “You are trying, from the left, to shield our enemies — you are a social-butcher yourself.”

And they refused to close ranks.


From What Next? Vital Question for the German Proletariat, 1932

* * *

In case of actual danger, the social democracy banks not on the “Iron Front” but on the Prussian police. It is reckoning without its host! The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among social-democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker. Of late years, these policemen have had to do much more fighting with revolutionary workers than with Nazi students. Such training does not fail to leave its effects. And above all: every policeman knows that though governments may change, the police remains.

[NOTE: “The Iron Front”: A bloc between several big trade unions and bourgeois “republican” groups with little or no following or prestige among the masses. It was created by the social democrats toward the end of 1931. Combat groups called the Iron Fist were set up within the unions, and workers’ sports organizations were brought into the Iron Front. However, its first parades and rallies, at which thousands of workers raised their fists, shouted “Freedom”, and swore to defend democracy. The masses in the Social Democratic Party and unions really believed that this organization would be used to stop Hitler. It was not.]

In its New Year’s issue, the theoretical organ of the social democracy, Dar Freie Wort (what a wretched sheet!), prints an article in which the policy of “toleration” is expounded in its highest sense. Hitler, it appears, can never come to power against the police and the Reichswehr [German army]. Now, according to the constitution, the Reichswehr is under the command of the president of the Republic. Therefore fascism, it follows, is not dangerous so long as a president faithful to the constitution remains at the head of the government. Bruening’s regime must be supported until the presidential elections so that a constitutional president may then be elected, through an alliance with the parliamentary bourgeoisie; and thereby Hitler’s road to power will be blocked for another seven years….

[NOTE: Heinrich Bruening was chancellor from 1930-32. Regular parliamentary government in Germany ended in March 1930. There followed a series of Bonapartist regimes — Bruening, von Papen, von Schleicher, i.e., chancellors ruling not by ordinary parliamentary procedures but by “emergency” decrees. These Bonapartist figures presented themselves as political saviors needed to get the country through its crisis, and thus as above class and party. They depended not on the old bourgeois democratic party system but on their command of the police, army, and government bureaucracy. Pretending to be saving the nation from the dangers on both the left (socialists and communists) and the right (fascists), they struck their heaviest blows against the left, since their primary interest was saving capitalism.]

The politicians of reformism, these dexterous wire-pullers, artful intriguers and careerists, expert parliamentary and ministerial machinators, are no sooner thrown out of their habitual sphere by the course of events, no sooner are the placed face to face with momentous contingencies than they reveal themselves to be — there is no milder expression for it — inept bodies.

To rely upon a president is only to rely upon “the government”! Faced with the impending clash between the proletariat and the fascist petty bourgeoisie — two camps which together comprise the crushing majority of the German nation — these Marxists from the Vorwaerts [principal social-democratic newspaper] yelp for the nightwatchman to come to their aid, “Help! Government, exert pressure!” (Staat, greif zu!)


From The Only Road for Germany written September 1932, published in the USA April 1933

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working ppl bus artAny serious analysis of the political situation must take as its point of departure the mutual relations among the three classes: the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie (including the peasantry), and the proletariat.

The economically powerful big bourgeoisie, in itself, represents an infinitesimal minority of the nation. To enforce its domination, it must ensure a definite mutual relationship with the petty bourgeoisie and, through its mediation, with the proletariat.

To understand the dialectic of the relation among the three classes, we must differentiate three historical stages: at the dawn of capitalistic development, when the bourgeoisie required revolutionary methods to solve its tasks; in the period of bloom and maturity of the capitalist regime, when the bourgeoisie endowed its domination with orderly, pacific, conservative, democratic forms; finally, at the decline of capitalism, when the bourgeoisie is forced to resort to methods of civil war against proletariat to protect its right of exploitation.

The political programs characteristic of these three stages — JACOBINISM [left wing of petty bourgeois forces in Great French Revolution; in most revolutionary phase, led by Robespierre], reformist DEMOCRACY (social democracy included), and FASCISM — are basically programs of petty bourgeois currents. This fact alone, more than anything else, shows of what tremendous — rather, of what decisive — importance the self-determination of the petty bourgeois masses of the people is for the whole fate of bourgeois society.

Nevertheless, the relationship between the bourgeoisie and its basic social support, the petty bourgeoisie, does not at all rest upon reciprocal confidence and pacific collaboration. In its mass, the petty bourgeoisie is an exploited and disenfranchised class. It regards the bourgeoisie with envy and often with hatred. The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, while utilizing the support of the petty bourgeoisie, distrusts the latter, for it very correctly fears its tendency to break down the barriers set up for it from above.

While they were laying out and clearing the road for bourgeois development,the Jacobins engaged, at every step, in sharp clashes with the bourgeoisie. They served it in intransigent struggle against it. After they had culminated their limited historical role, the Jacobins fell, for the domination of capital was predeterminated.

CC BY-NC-ND by christophe brocas

For a whole series of stages, the bourgeoisie entrenched its power under the form of parliamentary democracy. Even then, not peacefully and not voluntarily. The bourgeoisie was mortally afraid of universal suffrage. But in the last instance, it succeeded, with the aid of a combination of violent measures and concessions, of privations and reforms, in subordinating within the framework of formal democracy not only the petty bourgeoisie but in considerable measure also the proletariat, by means of the new petty bourgeoisie — the labor aristocracy. In August 1914, the imperialist bourgeoisie was able, with the means of parliamentary democracy, to lead millions of workers and peasants into the war.

[NOTE: August 4, 1914: collapse of the Second International. The German Social-Democratic Party representatives in the Reichstag voted for the war budget of the imperialist governments; on the same day, representatives of the French Socialist Party did likewise in the Chamber of Deputies.]

But precisely with the war begins the distinct decline of capitalism and, above all, of its democratic form of domination. It is now no longer a matter of new reforms and alms, but of cutting down and abolishing the old ones. Therewith the bourgeoisie comes into conflict into only with the institutions of proletarian democracy (trade unions and political parties) but also with parliamentary democracy, within the framework of which arose the labor organizations. Therefore, the campaign against “Marxism” on the one hand and against democratic parliamentarism on the other.

But just as the summits of the liberal bourgeoisie in its time were unable, by their own force alone, to get rid of feudalism, monarchy, and the church, so the magnates of finance capital are unable, by their force alone, to cope with the proletariat. They need the support of the petty bourgeoisie. For this purpose, it must be whipped up, put on its feet, mobilized, armed. But this method has its dangers. While it makes use of fascism, the bourgeoisie nevertheless fears it. Pilsudski was forced, in May 1926, to save bourgeois society by a coup d’etat directed against the traditional parties of the Polish bourgeoisie. The matter went so far that the official leader of the Polish Communist Party, Warski, who came over from Rosa Luxemburg not to Lenin but to Stalin, took the coup d’etat of Pilsudski to be the road of the “revolutionary democratic dictatorship” and called upon the workers to support Pilsudski.

[NOTE: Joseph Pilsudski (1876-1935): Originally a socialist with nationalistic views, in 1920 he led the anti-Soviet forces in Poland; in 1926, he led a coup d’etat and established a fascist dictatorship. Warski: Friend of Rosa Luxemburg, he supported her differences with the Bolsheviks. When Comintern zigzagged to the left in its “Third Period” phase, Warski was demoted from leadership in the Polish Communist Party, but not expelled. He disappeared in the USSR during the great purge of 1936-38. Rosa Luxemburg (1870-1919): Great revolutionary theoretician and leader. Originally active in socialist movement of her native Poland, she later became a leader of the left wing of the German Social-Democratic Party. She and Karl Liebknecht were imprisoned for opposing World War I. After their release, they led the Spartakusbund. Both were arrested and assassinated during the unsuccessful revolution of 1919.]

At the session of the Polish Commission of the Executive Committee of the Communist International on July 2, 1926, the author of these lines said on the subject of the events in Poland:

“Taken as a whole, the Pilsudski overthrow is the petty bourgeois, ‘plebian’ manner of solving the burning problems of bourgeois society in its state of decomposition and decline. We have here already a direct resemblance to Italian fascism.

“These two currents indubitably possess common features: they recruit their shock troops first of all from the petty bourgeoisie; Pilsudski as well as Mussolini worked with extra-parliamentary means, with open violence, with the methods of civil war; both were concerned not with the destruction but with the preservation of bourgeois society. While they raised the petty bourgeoisie on its feet, they openly aligned themselves, after the seizure of power, with the big bourgeoisie. Involuntarily, a historical generalization comes up here, recalling the evaluation given by Marx of Jacobinism as the plebian method of settling accounts with the feudal enemies of the bourgeoisie…. That was in the period of the rise of the bourgeoisie. Now we must say, in the period of the decline of bourgeois society, the bourgeoisie again needs the ‘plebian’ method of resolving its no longer progressive but entirely reactionary tasks. In this sense, fascism is a caricature of Jacobinism.

“The bourgeoisie is incapable of maintaining itself in power by the means and methods of the parliamentary state created by itself; it needs fascism as a weapon of self-defense, at least in critical instances. Nevertheless, the bourgeoisie does not like the ‘plebian’ method of resolving its tasks. It was always hostile of Jacobinism, which cleared the road for the development of bourgeois society with its blood. The fascists are immeasurably closer to the decadent bourgeoisie than the Jacobins were to the rising bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, the sober bourgeoisie does not look very favorably even upon the fascist mode of resolving its tasks, for the concussions, although they are brought forth in the interests of bourgeois society, are linked up with dangers to it. Therefore, the opposition between fascism and the bourgeois parties.

“The big bourgeoisie likes fascism as little as a man with aching molars likes to have his teeth pulled. The sober circles of bourgeois society have followed with misgivings the work of the dentist Pilsudski, but in the last analysis they have become reconciled to the inevitable, though with threats, with horse-trades and all sorts of bargaining. Thus the petty bourgeoisie’s idol of yesterday becomes transformed into the gendarme of capital.”

To this attempt at marking out the historical place of fascism as the political reliever of the social democracy, there was counterposed the theory of social fascism. At first it could appear as a pretentious, blustering, but harmless stupidity. Subsequent events have shown what a pernicious influence the Stalinist theory actually exercised on the entire development of the Communist International.

CC BY-SA by Elvert Barnes
CC BY-SA by Elvert Barnes

Does it follow from the historical role of Jacobinism, of democracy, and of fascism, that the petty bourgeoisie is condemned to remain a tool in the hands of capital to the end of its days? It things were so, then the dictatorship of the proletariat would be impossible in a number of countries in which the petty bourgeoisie constitutes the majority of the nation and, more than that, it would be rendered extremely difficult in other countries in which the petty bourgeoisie represents an important minority. Fortunately, things are not so. The experience of the Paris Commune [first “dictatorship of the proletariat”, March 18, 1871] first showed, at least within the limits of one city, just as the experience of the October Revolution [Russian Revolution of 1917] has shown after it on a much larger scale and over an incomparably longer period, that the alliance of the petty bourgeoisie and the big bourgeoisie is not indissoluble. Since the petty bourgeoisie is incapable of an independent policy (that is also why the petty bourgeois “democratic dictatorship” is unrealizable), no other choice is left for it than that between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

In the epoch of the rise, the growth, and the bloom of capitalism, the petty bourgeoisie, despite acute outbreaks of discontent, generally marched obediently in the capitalist harness. Nor could it do anything else. But under the conditions of capitalist disintegration, and of the impasse in the economic situation, the petty bourgeoisie strives, seeks, attempts to tear itself loose from the fetters of the old masters and rulers of society. It is quite capable of linking up its fates with that of the proletariat. For that, only one thing is needed: the petty bourgeoisie must acquired faith in the ability of the proletariat to lead society onto a new road. The proletariat can inspire this faith only by its strength, by the firmness of its actions, by a skillful offensive against the enemy, by the success of its revolutionary policy.potato diggers art solidarity worker

But, woe, if the revolutionary party does not measure up to the height of the situation! The daily struggle of the proletariat sharpens the instability of bourgeois society. The strikes and the political disturbances aggravated the economic situation of the country. The petty bourgeoisie could reconcile itself temporarily to the growing privations, if it arrived by experience at the conviction that the proletariat is in a position to lead it onto a new road. But if the revolutionary party, in spite of a class struggle becoming incessantly more accentuated, proves time and again to be incapable of uniting the working class about it, if it vacillates, becomes confused, contradicts itself, then the petty bourgeoisie loses patience and begins to look upon the revolutionary workers as those responsible for its own misery. All the bourgeois parties, including the social democracy, turn its thoughts in this very direction. When the social crisis takes on an intolerable acuteness, a particular party appears on the scene with the direct aim of agitating the petty bourgeoisie to a white heat and of directing its hatred and its despair against the proletariat. In Germany, this historical function is fulfilled by national Socialism (Nazism), a broad current whose ideology is composed of all the putrid vapors of disintegrating bourgeois society.


From Whither France?, 1934

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CC BY-NC by Cabrera Luengo

After the war, a series of brilliantly victorious revolutions occurred in Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and later in Spain. But it was only in Russia that the proletariat took full power into its hands, expropriated its exploiters, and knew how to create and maintain a workers’ state. Everywhere else the proletariat, despite its victory, stopped halfway because of the mistakes of its leadership. As a result, power slipped from its hands, shifted from left to right, and fell prey to fascism. In a series of other countries, power passed into the hands of a military dictatorship. Nowhere were the parliaments capable of reconciling class contradictions and assuring the peaceful development of events. Conflicts were solved arms in hand.

The French people for a long time thought that fascism had nothing whatever to do with them. They had a republic in which all questions were dealt with by the sovereign people through the exercise of universal suffrage. But on February 6, 1934, several thousand fascists and royalists, armed with revolvers, clubs, and razors, imposed upon the country the reactionary government of Doumergue, under whose protection the fascist bands continue to grow and arm themselves. What does tomorrow hold?

[NOTE: Gaston Doumergue: Bonapartist premier of France. Succeeded Edouard Daladier. Daladier government fell the day after the fascist riots of February 6, 1934.]

Of course, in France, as in certain other European countries (England, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries), there still exist parliaments, elections, democratic liberties, or their remnants. But in all these countries, the same historic laws operate, the laws of capitalist decline. If the means of production remain in the hands of a small number of capitalists, there is no way out for society. It is condemned to go from crisis to crisis, from need to misery, from bad to worse. In the various countries, the decrepitude and disintegration of capitalism are expressed in diverse forms and at unequal rhythms. But the basic features of the process are the same everywhere. The bourgeoisie is leading its society to complete bankruptcy. It is capable of assuring the people neither bread nor peace. This is precisely why it cannot any longer tolerate the democratic order. It is forced to smash the workers and peasants by the use of physical violence. The discontent of the workers and peasants, however, cannot be brought to an end by the police alone. Moreover, if it often impossible to make the army march against the people. It begins by disintegrating and ends with the passage of a large section of the soldiers over to the people’s side. That is why finance capital is obliged to create special armed bands, trained to fight the workers just as certain breeds of dog are trained to hunt game.

The historic function of fascism is to smash the working class, destroy its organizations, and stifle political liberties when the capitalists find themselves unable to govern and dominate with the help of democratic machinery.

The fascists find their human material mainly in the petty bourgeoisie. The latter has been entirely ruined by big capital. There is no way out for it in the present social order, but it knows of no other. Its dissatisfaction, indignation, and despair are diverted by the fascists away from big capital and against the workers. It may be said that fascism is the act of placing the petty bourgeoisie at the disposal of its most bitter enemies. In this way, big capital ruins the middle classes and then, with the help of hired fascist demagogues, incites the despairing petty bourgeoisie against the worker. The bourgeois regime can be preserved only by such murderous means as these. For how long? Until it is overthrown by proletarian revolution.


From Whither France?, 1934

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Parliamentary cretins, who consider themselves connoisseurs of the people, like to repeat:

“One must not frighten the middle classes with revolution. They do not like extremes.”

In this general form, this affirmation is absolutely false. Naturally, the petty proprietor prefers order so long as business is going well and so long as he hopes that tomorrow it will go better.

But when this hope is lost, he is easily enraged and is ready to give himself over to the most extreme measures. Otherwise, how could he have overthrown the democratic state and brought fascism to power in Italy and Germany? The despairing petty bourgeois sees in fascism, above all, a fighting force against big capital, and believes that, unlike the working-class parties which deal only in words, fascism will use force to establish more “justice”. The peasant and the artisan are in their manner realists. They understand that one cannot forego the use of force.

It is false, thrice false, to affirm that the present petty bourgeoisie is not going to the working-class parties because it fears “extreme measures”. Quite the contrary. The lower petty bourgeoisie, its great masses, only see in the working-class parties parliamentary machines. They do not believe in their strength, nor in their capacity to struggle, nor in their readiness this time to conduct the struggle to the end.

And if this is so, is it worth the trouble to replace the democratic capitalist representatives by their parliamentary confreres on the left? That is how the semi-exploited, ruined, and discontented proprietor reasons of feels. Without an understanding of this psychology of the peasants, the artisans, the employees, the petty functionaries, etc. — a psychology which flows from the social crisis — it is impossible to elaborate a correct policy. The petty bourgeoisie is economically dependent and politically atomized. That is why it cannot conduct an independent policy. It needs a “leader” who inspires it with confidence. This individual or collective leadership, i.e., a personage or party, can be given to it by one or the other of the fundamental classes — either the big bourgeoisie or the proletariat. Fascism unties and arms the scattered masses. Out of human dust, it organizes combat detachments. It thus gives the petty bourgeoisie the illusion of being an independent force. It begins to imagine that it will really command the state. It is not surprising that these illusions and hopes turn the head of the petty bourgeoisie!

But the petty bourgeoisie can also find a leader in the proletariat. This was demonstrated in Russia and partially in Spain. In Italy, in Germany, and in Austria, the petty bourgeoisie gravitated in this direction. But the parties of the proletariat did not rise to their historic task.

To bring the petty bourgeoisie to its side, the proletariat must win its confidence. And for that it must have confidence in its own strength.

It must have a clear program of action and must be ready to struggle for power by all possible means. Tempered by it revolutionary party for a decisive and pitiless struggle, the proletariat says to the peasants and petty bourgeoisie of the cities:

“We are struggling for power. Here is our program. We are ready to discuss with you changes in this program. We will employ violence only against big capital and its lackeys, but with you toilers, we desire to conclude an alliance on the basis of a given program.”

The peasants will understand such language. Only, they must have faith in the capacity of the proletariat to seize power.

But for that it is necessary to purge the united front of all equivocation, of all indecision, of all hollow phrases. It is necessary to understand the situation and to place oneself seriously on the revolutionary road. …

jail prison america imperialism murderFrom “Some Questions on American Problems”, Fourth International, October 1940

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The backwardness of the United States working class is only a relative term.

In very many important respects, it is the most progressive working class of the world, technically and in its standard of living….

The American workers are very combative — as we have seen during the strikes. They have had the most rebellious strikes in the world. What the American worker misses is a spirit of generalization, or analysis, of his class position in society as a whole. This lack of social thinking has its origin in the country’s whole history….

About fascism.

In all the countries where fascism became victorious, we had, before the growth of fascism and its victory, a wave of radicalism of the masses — of the workers and the poorer peasants and farmers, and of the petty bourgeois class. In Italy, after the war and before 1922, we had a revolutionary wave of tremendous dimensions; the state was paralyzed, the police did not exist, the trade unions could do anything they wanted — but there was not party capable of taking the power. As a reaction came fascism.

In Germany, the same. We had a revolutionary situation in 1918; the bourgeois class did not even ask to participate in the power. The social democrats paralyzed the revolution. Then the workers tried again in 1922-23-24. This was the time of the bankruptcy of the Communist Party — all of which we have gone into before. Then in 1929-30-31, the German workers began again a new revolutionary wave. There was a tremendous power in the Communists and in the trade unions, but then came the famous policy (on the part of the Stalinist movement) of social fascism, a policy invented to paralyze the working class. Only after these three tremendous waves did fascism become a big movement. There are no exceptions to this rule — fascism comes only when the working class shows complete incapacity to take into its own hands the fate of society.

In the United States you will have the same thing. Already, there are fascist elements, and they have, of course, the examples of Italy and Germany. They will, therefore, work in a more rapid tempo. But you also have the examples of other countries. The next historic wave in the United States will be the wave of radicalism of the masses, not fascism. Of course, the war can hinder the radicalization for some time, but then it will give to the radicalization a more tremendous tempo and swing.

We must not identify war dictatorship — the dictatorship of the military machine, of the staff, of finance capital — with a fascist dictatorship. For the latter, there is first necessary a feeling of desperation of large masses of the people. When the revolutionary parties betray them, when the vanguard of workers shows it incapacity to lead the people to victory — then the farmers, the small business men, the unemployed, the soldiers, etc., become capable of supporting a fascist movement, but only then.

A military dictatorship is purely a bureaucratic institution, reinforced by the military machine and based upon the disorientation of the people and their submission to it. After some time their feelings can change and they can become rebellious against the dictatorship.”  Leon Trotsky; some of the posthumously published components of Fascism: What Is It, & How to Fight It