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Post Fascism in Trotsky's View
Created by John Eipper on 08/19/13 3:31 AM

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Fascism in Trotsky's View (Luciano Dondero, Italy, 08/19/13 3:31 am)

I would like to take up some of the points raised by Eugenio Battaglia and John Eipper on 18 August. We need to start from an understanding of what fascism was.

The terms "fascism" and "fascist" have historically been used a lot outside of their proper context. For instance, Stalin and the Comintern went on for years and years with the notion of "social-fascism," by which they meant that social democracy was just the other side of the fascist coin. The term "red fascism" has also been used on and off by anybody who wanted to declare communism akin to fascism.

Leon Trotsky, who did not draw a sharp distinction between Italy and Germany in that respect, spent a good deal of time writing about fascism, and I think that a few quotes may be helpful.

"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."

(1926, quoted in 1932): http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1944/1944-fas.htm#p1

"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."

(1931): http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1944/1944-fas.htm#p1

"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..."

(1932): http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1944/1944-fas.htm#p1

"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."

(1934): http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1944/1944-fas.htm#p1

In fact, when he read Jack London's The Iron Heel in 1937, Trotsky wrote a very favorable review in a letter to London's daughter Joan, which has been reprinted in 1970s reissues of the novel. And that's precisely the dystopia presented by London, a world under the iron heel of a global dictatorship, not much different from what George Orwell would depict in his own Nineteen Eighty-Four. But London's book dated from 1907, and that's what Trotsky found so amazing--for someone to be able to describe both fascism and Stalinism with such prescience.

Now, while I think that some elements of this analysis have merit, I'm afraid that in order to accept Trotsky's analysis as a whole it would also be necessary to agree with Trotsky's basic premise, i.e. the validity of a Marxist (class) analysis of contemporary society.
Trotsky actually thought that the entire world was being inevitably drawn into fascism (or into a bureaucratic-Stalinist quagmire), and that only a proletarian revolution could stop this from happening. Clearly things have gone quite differently, and that's why even when I was still a Marxist and a Trotskyist, reality did strike into my mind all the time saying: "It ain't so!"

JE comments:  It is noteworthy in these Trotsky quotes that he frames the entire fascism concept in terms of class struggle.  No mention is made of the traits we commonly associate with fascism:  a heightened nationalism, the militarization of society, and the attempt to co-opt the labor movement into the government.

Has anyone else in WAISworld read London's The Iron Heel?  "Dzhek London" has always been a favorite Western writer among Russians, or at least he was in Soviet times.  I'm curious if this is still the case.

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