Trotsky’s struggle against fascism, according to one of his latter-day admirers
Finding the lies about, and distortions of, revolutionary leaders of the Soviet Union, the policies of the Soviet Communists, and the actions of that once great state is quite easy; virtually any bourgeois paper, TV programme or internet blog site can be depended on to serve that up. However, it is those who pose as socialists/communists, while peddling this anti-Soviet, anti-communist filth, that are the real danger to the proletariat and its crying need to take the road of understanding Marxist-Leninist ideology and indulging in revolutionary practice. Finding lies and distortions from these individuals/sects/groups/parties is just as easy as finding them from bourgeois sources. It is impossible to answer each and every one of these slanders individually; so we have to lump them together for a general response or pick out the odd one to answer in some depth, knowing that much of our answer will apply also to the lies of other renegades and enemies of the proletariat. This article is of the latter type.
On the social networking site, Twitter, there is a group by the name of ‘Left News’ which gathers articles from a variety of sources, usually Trotskyist or Social-Democratic in nature, and pumps them out. On 6 August 2010 they put out an article by one Liz Walsh entitled “Trotsky and the struggle against fascism”. This is essentially a review of a collection of Trotsky’s articles on the subject, put together in pamphlet form by Socialist Alternative under the title of The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany.
The article/review starts by telling us of the “…growth of fascist and far-right parties such as Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in Holland, the Northern League in Italy and Nick Griffin’s British National Party – which has a membership of some 10,000. All attempt to use extreme nationalism and racist ideology to glue their supporters together; all focus the social discontent that capitalism in crisis creates on to scapegoats.”
A statement which begs the question: which bourgeois party (including the Labour Party) does not use nationalism and racism not only to “glue their supporters together” but, more importantly, to create splits and animosity within the working class, essential for them in times of economic crisis? But of course most of the Trot and revisionist opportunists in Britain have just spent a lot of time and energy exhorting people to vote Labour to keep the BNP out in the recent General Election and don’t really want to dwell on this aspect of Social-Democracy.
Moving swiftly on, Ms Walsh tells us that, although we are not at the same stage as thirties Germany, “the growth of the European far right and the threat of fascism that acute economic crises provoke, demands an understanding of what fascism actually is.” So what is fascism according to Ms Walsh?
She tells us that “Leon Trotsky developed an analysis of fascism which remains today the best in the Marxist tradition. His numerous articles and pamphlets written during fascism’s forward march in Germany in the 1930s (many of which have been collected together in ‘The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany’), give the clearest exposition of the social conditions that can give rise to fascist movements, the class basis of fascism and the methods it deploys, as well as the most effective means to fight it.”
So what is this “clearest exposition of the social conditions that can give rise to fascist movements?” What is the “class basis of fascism” its “methods” and the “most effective means to fight it”, laid out in these works, that we are told, are “the best in the Marxist tradition?”
First we are told that “Trotsky argued against any notion that fascism could be reduced to some peculiarly authoritarian German national tradition. After all fascism was not just a German phenomenon.” This is hardly a revelation. The assertions of some bourgeois historians that fascism was something to do with German ‘military’ genes, and a ‘natural’ authoritarianism, were only ever a flimsy cover to hide the real nature of fascism. No serious Marxist has ever put forward such an absurdly unscientific position. So that hardly makes these works “the best in the Marxist tradition.”
Next we are told that Trotsky “correctly understood that fascism was the result of the deepest crisis in the history of world capitalism, which was tearing German society apart. The Great Depression of the 1930s particularly devastated the German economy”. We think that anyone around at that time may have noticed the depression going on and assumed it had an effect not only upon the rise of fascism but also, and more importantly, upon the rise of communism among workers in imperialist countries to which fascism was an answer. Ms Walsh informs us that this depression in Germany “impoverished not only the working class, but also ravaged the middle class (or petty bourgeoisie)” who were, in Trotsky’s words, “brought to desperation and frenzy”. She continues, further quoting Trotsky: “In the atmosphere brought to white heat by war, defeat, reparations, inflation, occupation of the Ruhr, crisis, need, and despair, the petty bourgeoisie rose up against all the old parties that had bamboozled it. The sharp grievances of small proprietors never out of bankruptcy, of their university sons without posts and clients, of their daughters without dowries and suitors, demanded order and an iron hand.” And further still “Isolated and impotent before the two main classes in society, the fascist movement could give the ruined middle class a sense of power through its militant nationalism and violence, violence which was targeted first and foremost at the radical left and the labour movement.” So if Ms Walsh and Trotsky are to be believed, fascism is the political expression of the middle classes “brought to desperation and frenzy”.
Let us consider that alongside another quote; “The petty-bourgeois is in such an economic situation, the conditions of his life are such, that he cannot help deceiving himself, he involuntarily gravitates now towards the bourgeoisie, now towards the proletariat. It is economically impossible for him to pursue an independent line” (Lenin, ‘Constitutional Illusions’, Selected Works Vol 6, page 182).
Fascism is not, cannot be an independent political expression of the middle classes. Fascism is the response of the bourgeoisie to the rising militancy of the proletariat, to its growing revolutionary preparedness. It is the weapon to be used against the proletariat when the sly and, unrecognised by many, weapon of Social-Democracy is no longer capable of diverting the working class away from revolution. Why does Trotsky, the author of these works that are “the best in the Marxist tradition” according to Ms Walsh, not understand why this “violence”, supposedly emanating from an independent petty-bourgeois political tendency, “was targeted first and foremost at the radical left and the labour movement”? To explore this question can only lead one to the conclusion that fascism is the method by which the bourgeoisie drowns revolutionary workers in their own blood.
Ms Walsh must have started to realise this, for she informs us that “…while racism has increasingly become the means by which fascist organisations have cohered their supporters, it has not been a core feature of every fascist movement. Violence against the left and the labour movement, on the other hand, has always been at the heart of fascism.
“In Italy, for instance, anti-Semitism was absent from early fascist ideology. The Italian ruling class had turned to fascism in Italy because they were terrified out of their wits by the Bienno Rosso. During these ‘two red years’ that followed the First World War, millions of workers in the north of Italy had occupied their factories and rural workers, having formed unions, took over the land.
“Keen to teach the working class a bloody lesson, Mussolini’s brown shirts, armed and financed by industrialists and landowners, began killing activists, burning union halls and using terror to intimidate the left.”
At last! The truth comes shining through! The ruling class “had turned to fascism in Italy because they were terrified out of their wits by the Bienno Rosso” ie. a build up of workers militancy in practice based upon Marxist ideology. It matters not which class Mussolini had been born into. Fascism was, is, the political expression of the ruling class at a certain revolutionary juncture ie. a time when the working class are growing in political militancy and revolutionary ideology and will not be ruled in the old way (led by the nose by Social-Democracy in the interests of the bourgeoisie) and the ruling class cannot rule in the old way. In short, the time that fascism is used is just prior to, during, or following a revolutionary situation.
Far from being an independent theory and system born in opposition to capitalism, far from being an independent ideology of the petty bourgeoisie hostile to the proletariat and monopoly capital alike, fascism is, on the contrary, the most consummate expression, in certain conditions of extreme decay, of the chief tendencies and policies of capitalism in its imperialist stage. Fascism is the response in practice of the imperialist bourgeoisie faced with the threat of proletarian revolution. It is a counter-revolutionary mass movement which, while enjoying the full support of the bourgeoisie, deploys a mixture of social demagogy and terrorist methods in order to crush the revolution and strengthen the dictatorship of finance capital. In order to define fascism and place it in its concrete reality, one must expose its class basis, the system of class relations which give birth to it and within which it operates, and the class role assigned by finance capital to it and which it duly performs.
Through its social demagogy fascism was able to build a somewhat broader mass base by appealing preponderantly to the petty bourgeoisie (also crushed by monopoly capital), as well as the lumpen proletariat and the demoralised sections of the working class, helped along by the robber barons of finance and industry, as well as the big landed magnates, all of whom supported it financially and directed it politically. Once in power, however, fascism carried out the ruthless behests of monopoly capital, and mercilessly turned the state machinery against those of its supporters who had been gullible enough to expect anti-capitalist measures from it.
Once in power, casting aside its anti-capitalist rhetoric, fascism revealed itself in its true colours as “a terrorist dictatorship of big capital” (‘Programme of the Comintern’, 1928)
“Fascism arises where a powerful working-class movement reaches a stage of growth which inevitably raises revolutionary issues, but is held in from decisive action by reformist leadership … Fascism is the child of reformism” (R Palme Dutt, Labour Monthly, July 1925).
Having a vague realisation of the real nature of fascism, Ms Walsh tries to back-track, not fully, but just enough, she hopes, to cover Trotsky’s errors. “A particular strength of Trotsky’s writings on the class nature of the fascist movement was his recognition of fascism’s complex relationship to the capitalist class. He never simply reduced it to being a pawn of big business or the army high command. Indeed, the plebeian character of the movement and the instability it causes by its all or nothing game, gave some sections of the ruling elite in Germany cause for hesitation.
“However, it is also true that from their inception, the German Nazis had important allies within the capitalist class, receiving considerable behind the scenes political support and significant financing, particularly from the captains of the coal, iron and steel industry.”
Oh dear, that’s not very helpful to her earlier assertions about the class nature of fascism, is it?
Ms Walsh continues; “Fascism is a particular governmental system based on the uprooting of all elements of proletarian democracy within bourgeois society… To this end…it is…necessary to smash all independent and voluntary organisations, to demolish all the defensive bulwarks of the proletariat, and to uproot whatever has been achieved during three-quarters of a century by the Social Democracy and the trade unions.”
And further: “Identifying these core features of fascism and its particular capacity to devastate the working-class movement reveals why bandying around the term fascist for any right-wing government – as so many on the left do today –misunderstands what fascism actually is and downplays the threat it poses. Unfortunately, this is precisely what the German Communist Party did in the 1930s.
“Loyally following the line issued from the Communist International, now dominated entirely by Stalin, the KPD held to a theory that German society was undergoing a process of ‘gradual fascisation’. All governments in Germany, whether headed by right-wing nationalist parties or even the reformist Social Democratic Party, were judged to be fascist.
“Ernst Thälmann, a leading member of the KPD, for instance, declared that ‘fascism will not begin when Hitler arrives; it began a long time ago,’ which was patently absurd given the continuing existence of strong working-class organisations and the abundance of national elections contested by multiple parties. Social Democracy was also absurdly labelled ‘social fascist’ or the ‘twin’ of fascism, a term coined by Stalin himself.
“Trotsky railed unceasingly against the danger of the theory of ‘social fascism’, pointing out that the KPD’s seemingly ‘ultra radical’ line could only breed complacency and passivity towards the rising fascist movement.”
We reply to this long quotation, and the previous one, with the following long quotes from Harpal Brar’s book Imperialism, the eve of the social revolution of the proletariat;
“Although German Social-Democracy had originated on the basis of the revolutionary programme of Marxism and had a long and glorious tradition, in the imperialist era opportunism, parliamentary cretinism and corruption, and the economist politics of trade unionism, had made increasing inroads into the Party. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 completed this process, with the Social-Democratic Party openly and unashamedly siding with Kaiser Wilhelm, German militarism and the bourgeoisie. Adopting the slogan of ‘defence of the fatherland’ in an imperialist predatory war, German social democracy, like its counterparts in other European countries (the sole honourable exception being the Bolsheviks in Russia and James Connolly and his comrades in Ireland), betrayed the working class and trampled underfoot the banner of proletarian internationalism. The November 1918 revolution was organised by scattered revolutionary elements who had gathered, in the very difficult conditions of war censorship and Party censorship, in the illegal Spartacist League (founded in 1916) and the independent Socialist Party (founded in 1917).
“The Social Democratic Party played no part in the victorious 1918 revolution. On the contrary, it was opposed to the revolution from the start.” The SDP leaders were part of the defeated government at the outbreak of the revolution “but the moment the revolution had triumphed on 9 November, Social Democratic leaders rushed to Liebneckt and the Independents begging to be included in the leadership of the victorious revolution and form a joint government. Ignoring Liebneckt’s advice, the Independents fell for the bait in the name of ‘unity’ and formed a coalition with the Social Democrats, i.e., with the enemies of the revolution, the open agents of the bourgeoisie. Thus, when all other means had proved useless, bourgeois influence was restored at the heart of the new regime through the treacherous social democracy.”
The SDP in government soon earned their keep from their masters, the bourgeoisie “…the Social Democratic government protected the old regime at every step. Instead of arming the proletariat for the defence of the revolution, it not only ordered the disarming of the workers but also armed and equipped special counter-revolutionary corps under the command of the ultra-reactionary monarchist officers. And it is these White Guard troops who went on to drown the proletarian revolution in blood. Liebneckt and Rosa Luxemburg were brutally murdered, their murderers going unpunished and openly gloating in their crime under the Social Democratic government…with the defeat of the 1918 revolution by social democracy, the basis was laid for the subsequent rise of fascism.
“Far from acting out of blindness, folly and stupidity, as their apologists would have us believe, the Social Democratic leadership were driven solely by a burning desire to ‘save Germany from Bolshevism’, that is save capitalism. To achieve this aim, social democracy was prepared to commit any crime, perpetrate any outrage, against the proletariat.” It can surely be no exaggeration, no mistake to say that fascism grew out of social democracy.
After calling Ernst Thälmann absurd for implying that the Social Democrats were responsible for the rise of fascism Ms Walsh states without any apology:
“While the KPD were right when they claimed that the SPD had helped pave the way for fascism’s triumph by refusing to actively oppose the Nazis, amongst other things, the very fact that that fascism aimed at uprooting not only revolutionary but ‘all elements of proletarian democracy within bourgeois society’, made it the mortal enemy of Social Democracy. For Social Democracy, the struggle against fascism was ultimately a matter of life and death.
“Importantly, this shared threat laid the basis for what Trotsky termed the united front – working-class organisations coming to an agreement to engage in concrete struggle around common aims. Trotsky maintained that in making such an agreement, the Communists needed to preserve their political independence, their right to criticise and pursue further action in the likely event that the pro-capitalist SPD leadership would pull back, attempt to restrain the working class and fail to take the necessary steps to defeat fascism.
“In Trotsky’s articles in this period he implores the KPD to attempt to unite in action with the SPD to physically confront the Nazis, because it was the only strategy which held out the possibility of victory…. It was plain that the reformist SPD leadership would not take genuine action against the fascists unless they were forced to. An appeal from the KPD for united activity would have placed considerable pressure on them.
“It would also have opened up the opportunity for the KPD to undermine the hold of the reformist leaders over their overwhelmingly working-class rank and file. If the SPD leaders rejected the communists’ offer for united action around widely supported common aims, dissatisfaction amongst the ranks of the SPD with their conservative leadership would only increase, making it more likely they would abandon the SPD for the KPD as the ones who were serious about fighting for workers’ interests.
“Accepting the offer, on the other hand, would have led to the fraternisation between the KPD and SPD rank and file. It would have led to strikes, demonstrations, and the possibility of winning the demands.
“Fascism would actually fall to pieces if the Communist Party were able to unite the working class, transforming it into a powerful revolutionary magnet for all the oppressed masses of the people….Only strong and decisive action by the powerful working-class organisations, not conciliation or caution, would have been capable of winning over the middle layers and other vacillating sections of the population which were no longer interested in moderation or preserving the status quo. Concerted resistance from the working class would at least have driven the fascists off the streets, out of the political mainstream and back into the gutter where they belonged…. Trotsky’s urgent appeals for united struggle tragically fell on deaf ears.
“As a result of the passivity of the German left, Hitler took power without a finger being lifted. There was no general strike, no civil war, only a truly demoralising capitulation.”
Oh those silly Stalinists, if only they had listened to wise old Trotsky, things could have been so different! Of course they had no need to turn to Trotsky for this sage advice because they were already trying to create joint action with the SDP and being turned down every time! We will not be too hard on Ms Walsh, for she may not have read the history of the time before writing about it: we only charge her with stupidity in attempting to write on a subject she obviously knows very little about. Trotsky, however, was aware of what was going on and as usual his utterances were designed to mislead workers and spread pessimism about the possibility of defeating imperialism. We shall once again return to comrade Brar’s excellent book to acquaint readers with the facts about the pleas for a united front made to the SPD by the KPD:
“Before the Nazis came to power the Communist Party and the Red Trade Union opposition issued calls to the Social Democratic Party and the General Trade Union Confederation for joint action of all labour organisations against the then impending wage offensive (April 1932 appeal) and for the organisation of a general strike for the repeal of emergency decrees and the disbanding of Storm Troops (20 July 1932 appeal). Both these appeals were rejected, the second on the spurious ground that the call for a general strike was provocative and that the ballot box was the only instrument for opposing fascism. A third appeal for a united front was issued by the Communist Party on 30 January 1933 after the installation of Hitler as Chancellor. There was such a groundswell of support for this call that, although it did not respond officially, the leadership of the Social Democratic Party was compelled to explain its refusal in its own publications. While specifically rejecting any joint action against Hitler on the spurious ground that, as he had assumed power legally, he should not be opposed, it proposed a ‘non-aggression pact’ with the Communist Party, i.e., abstention from mutual verbal criticism. The fourth call for a united front, made on 1 March 1933, after the burning of the Reichstag and the unleashing of unbridled Nazi terror, was also left unanswered by the Social Democratic leadership, as the latter was busy at the time trying to come to an understanding with the Hitlerites for the toleration of social democracy under fascism. Ignorant quarters have levelled the criticism that the Communist Party’s emphasis on the ‘united front from below’ and its failure to appeal directly to the leadership of German social democracy and the trade unions earlier than 1932, contributed to the failure of the working class to frustrate the fascist advance to power. This criticism is totally groundless, failing as it does to take into account the actual conditions then prevailing in Germany. When the social democrat, Severing, in his capacity as Minister of the Interior, was shooting down the workers’ May Day demonstrations in 1929, it would have been pointless to have appealed to the leadership of social democracy for a united front against the attack on the workers. However, with the expulsion of the Braun-Severing government by Von Papen, an opportunity for such an appeal presented itself, and the Communist Party sent its proposal to the Executives of the Social Democratic Party and the General Trade Union Federation for a united front. The firm rejection of the Communist proposal by these two bodies ensured the victory of fascism.”
As always Social Democracy is the door warden of fascism and those in Britain who ask us to vote Labour to keep out the BNP have little idea of this history.
According to the unread Ms Walsh “the responsibility for the catastrophe lay at the feet of the leaders of the SPD and KPD.
“It was in the aftermath of this defeat, in the face of a total lack of uproar within the Communist Parties over how such travesty could happen, that Trotsky concluded it was no longer possible to reform the Stalinist Communist Parties: ‘The German workers will rise again – Stalinism, never.’”
Of course Trotsky had his own motives for trying to discredit the Communist Parties which even Ms Walsh understands were the most committed to fighting against fascism. The collusion between Trotsky and his followers and German and Japanese fascism are well documented and even a basic understanding of his treachery makes Ms Walsh’s claim that Trotsky’s work on fascism is “the best in the Marxist tradition” look either very misguided or very mischievous.
Ms Walsh finishes (at long last I hear you cry) her awful article with the words;
“For those committed to not repeating the mistakes of the past, Trotsky’s writings on fascism remain an invaluable part of our arsenal.” That this assertion of Ms Walsh is absurd, must be clear to anyone in the light of the foregoing.
If we really want to make sure that the past mistakes within our movement are not repeated, the one lesson to learn is to regard Social Democracy as the enemy within the working-class movement and to wage an uncompromising struggle to expose and destroy its influence and grip on the working class. A part of that struggle is the exposure of Social Democracy’s apologists – the revisionists and Trotskyists. This fight against Social Democracy and its apologists is an essential part of the struggle to overthrow imperialism. Without this struggle, all this talk about socialism is only hypocritical cant.
If you want to know more of the rise of fascism in Germany we suggest you send £10 to E.J.Rule, 14 Featherstone Road, Southall, Middx UB2 5AA and ask for a copy of Imperialism, the eve of the social revolution of the proletariat. If you only read chapter ten, which deals with this question, it will be money well spent.