This article is based on the presentation to our public meeting in Paris on 30 June, written to introduce and stimulate discussion.
The electoral results achieved by the extreme right have for some time been feeding the fear of fascism election after election. And this political fringe really is distinguished by a particularly vicious, xenophobic and racist discourse…
And it is also true that this discourse is reminiscent of the nauseating themes put forward by the fascist parties as they rose to power in the 1930s, particularly in Germany and Italy.
Does this similarity mean that there is a danger of fascism coming to power today as it did in the 1930s?
Our view on this question, and its discussion, are the subject of this public meeting.
A number of things seem to suggest an answer in the affirmative:
- Today, as in the 1930s, the economic crisis is hitting the majority of the population very hard;
- Today, as in the 1930s, the extreme right is searching for a scapegoat for all the ills of society. Yesterday the Jews, portrayed as the representatives of big international capital, or of the danger of Bolshevism; today the Muslims, or Arabs or immigrants who “take our jobs” or “cause the trouble” in the world;
- Today, as in the 1930s, the most receptive to these extreme right ideas are often the small artisans or businessmen ruined by the crisis, but also a part of the working class;
- Today the extreme right is developing in many countries, even more than in the 1930s, and tends to increase its political influence:
- In Holland the euro-sceptic, Islamophobic Freedom Party was in coalition with the Liberal and Christian Democratic Parties under a Liberal prime minister from 2010 until this year;
- In Hungary, the prime minister after the legislative elections in 2010, V. Orban, installed an authoritarian government which, according to his democratic opponents “liquidated democracy”. And it is true that in addition to harsh attacks on the living conditions of the working class he suppressed a number of democratic mechanisms;
- In Austria, the 2008 elections gave the two main parties of the extreme right, the Movement for Austria’s Future and the Freedom Party , 29% of the vote between them;
- In Greece, so badly hit by the crisis, the openly fascist Golden Dawn won 18 seats with 7% of the vote in the June election. It has also been involved in intimidating immigrants, as well as getting publicity for slapping another politician on live TV;
- In the USA the Tea Party, which has developed some of the most retrograde propaganda, such as the demand to teach creationism in schools, is an influential force on the right.
Even parties that do not claim to be on the extreme right are openly taking up its themes. In Switzerland, for example, the populist Democratic Union of the Centre has a campaign showing a white sheep chasing a black sheep, the latter symbolising the Arabs and Romanians, the two nationalities blamed in this country.
All these examples and elements of analysis seem, at first sight, to support the idea of a fascist danger in the present period.
However, we cannot be satisfied with this level of analysis. To compare two historic periods, in this case the 1930s and the present, we cannot limit ourselves to some elements, however important they are – like the crisis, the push of the extreme right, some success for xenophobic and racist propaganda, etc. We have to place these elements in the context of the dynamic of society and within that the relation of force between the bourgeoisie and proletariat.
That is what we will look at here.
What produced fascism in the 1930s?
We have already mentioned the crisis. However, to understand the eruption of this particular form of the domination of capitalism in society in a number of countries we must take account of another factor which we consider essential.
This factor is the heaviest defeat the working class has ever suffered, that of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23. Remember that it took the form of the degeneration of the Russian revolution and the physical and ideological crushing of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. And that was particularly true in the countries where its revolutionary struggle had gone furthest in putting capitalist order in question. All the Communist parties were transformed into organs for the defence of capitalism in the particular form of state capitalism existing in the USSR.
Such a defeat gave rise to the longest and most profound period of world-wide counter-revolution that the proletariat has ever known. The main distinction of this counter-revolution was that it rendered the proletariat of the whole world increasingly subject to the bourgeoisie’s imperatives. The ultimate submission was its enlistment as cannon fodder in the second imperialist World War.
During the Second World War the belligerent countries showed three different models of the organisation of society; all three were capitalist and all three were built around the strengthening of state capitalism, a general tendency affecting all countries in the world:
- Democratic state capitalism,
- Stalinist state capitalism,
- Fascist state capitalism.
The differences between the democratic capitalist state and the others are obvious. With hindsight today it is also obvious that it is more efficient that the two other forms, as much for the management of production as the control of the working class. There were certainly differences in form between the fascist and Stalinist capitalist states, the latter having developed on the basis of the state bureaucracy which, as the revolution degenerated, took the place of the old bourgeoisie overthrown in 1917.
Why were some capitalist states fascist at that time?
The fact that the fascist capitalist state (just like the Stalinist) was stripped of all democratic mechanisms destined to mystify the working class was not a problem at the time these regimes were installed in Russia, Germany and Italy. In fact there was no necessity to mystify the proletariat seeing that it had just been bleed dry in the defeat of the revolutionary wave (particularly in the USSR and Germany). What was needed was to maintain that defeat through the violence of a ferocious open dictatorship.
In Germany and Italy fascist parties took on the politics of state capitalism in the interests of national capital, in the context of an economy disorganised by the war and driven to the brink by an economic crisis. The bourgeoisie in these countries needed to prepare a new war. This was done under the banner of revenge for defeat and/or humiliation suffered at the time of the First World War. From the beginning of the 1920s the fascists were the champions of such an option.
In these two countries the transition from democracy to fascism was carried out democratically, with the support of big capital.
We have said that the profound defeat of the working class was an essential condition for the establishment of fascism in the countries where it achieved power. According to a belief widely spread by the bourgeoisie, it was fascism that defeated the working class in the 1920s and 1930s. That is completely false. Fascism did nothing but complete a defeat mainly carried out by the left of the bourgeoisie’s political apparatus. At the time of the revolutionary wave the bourgeoisie was represented by the social democratic parties which had betrayed the working class and proletarian internationalism. During the First World War they called on the working class to support the bourgeoisie’s war effort in different countries, against the very principles of proletarian internationalism.
Why did the social democratic parties play this role? Was it necessary for them to do so? Faced with a working class which is not only undefeated, but is also developing its revolutionary struggle, rendering certain repressive forces inoperative, it would be suicidal for the bourgeoisie to deploy its brute force first of all. Brute force is only effective when it is used as part of a strategy capable of mystifying the proletariat, to use any weakness, to turn it towards impasses, to set traps for it. And this dirty work can only be carried out by political parties which, although they have betrayed the proletariat, still have the confidence of large parts of the working class.
So, in 1919, the very democratic German SPD, last political pillar of capitalist domination at the time of the revolution in Germany, had the task of being the executioner of the revolutionary working class. To this end it was supported by the remains of the army still faithful to the state and set in motion the repressive Freikorps, the ancestors of the Nazi shock troops.
For this reason, of all the enemies of the working class, right wing democrats, left wing democrats, extreme left whether democratic or not, populists whether fascist or not, the most dangerous are those who can mystify the proletariat in order to prevent it advancing towards it revolutionary project. This is primarily the job of the left and extreme left of capital, and this is why it’s so important to unmask them.
What is the situation in the present period?
The great difference with the 1930s is that in 1968 the working class in France and internationally opened a new course of class struggle, a new dynamic that could open up towards major confrontations between the classes. While it has certainly experienced very great difficulties since then, the working class has not suffered a major defeat sufficient to open a period of counter-revolution worldwide, similar to the 1930s.
That is the reason why the essential condition for establishing fascism, a proletariat defeated on the global level, ideologically and physically crushed in several key capitalist countries, does not exist at the present.
In the present period what the proletariat has to fear most is not the peril of fascism coming to power directly, but the democratic mystifications and the old workers’ parties that have gone over to the class enemy. They function to sabotage every attempt by the working class to defend itself from capital and affirm its revolutionary nature. It is no accident that today these parties are the first to raise the threat of fascism in order to push workers into defending democracy and the left.
In these conditions how can we explain the present rise in populist parties with the same themes as the fascists of the 1930s?
It is the consequence of the difficulties the working class is having in drawing out its own perspective, the proletarian revolution, as an alternative to the bankruptcy of the capitalist mode of production.
So, even if the bourgeoisie does not have its hands free to unleash its own response to the crisis of its system - generalised imperialist war - society is rotting on its feet under the effects of the economic crisis. This process of the decomposition of society produces a ragbag of obscurantist, xenophobic ideologies, based on hatred of others who are seen as competitors or enemies. A significant part of the population, including the working class, is influenced by this to a greater or lesser extent.
Faced with this the solution is certainly not a mobilisation or specific struggle against fascism, nor the defence of democracy, but the development of the proletariat’s autonomous struggle against capitalism as a whole.
EDL fiasco in Walthamstow
On Saturday 1 September the English Defence League planned a march to intimidate Muslims, immigrants and minorities in the Walthamstow area of London. This was advertised as being against Sharia Law, in line with their incredible claim to not be racist. In the event the EDL could only mobilise 200. “They were outnumbered in Walthamstow because a large number of local people (mainly young and in the typical Walthamstow mixture) turned up as well as the usual professional anti-fascists and blocked the route to the town hall, so the police had to shepherd them down the back streets. The Socialist Worker/UAF claim there were 4,000 to the EDL's 200. The police were visibly protecting the EDL all along the route, and outside the town hall Tommy Robinson made a complete dick of himself by declaiming in front of the crowd without a sound system, looking like Mussolini practicing in front of a mirror. The EDL 'strategy' of parachuting into a 'multicultural' area was once again proved to be self-defeating. I live in Walthamstow and I don't think the EDL have any regular presence here, so they really do present themselves as a bunch of drunken outside troublemakers. This fiasco will probably exacerbate the divisions within the EDL. There were several accounts of rows and even punch ups between EDL members.” (Alf on libcom.org).
The demonstration was called by Unite Against Fascism, and unlike the EDL they were able to get their speakers heard, including “… local MP Stella Creasy, alongside speakers from mosques, trade unions, faith groups and local activists” (Socialist Worker Online). Meanwhile the democratic state has continued its scapegoating of immigrants by summarily excluding thousands of students at London Met, some of them prevented from taking the exam at the end of their course…