Fascism and neofascism
1. THE EIGHTEENTH BRUMAIRE AND FASCISM
Fascism is the most extreme form of counterrevolution. Counterrevolution itself only emerges as a response to revolution. Nazism, for example, didn't arrive because the German people all of a sudden lost their bearings from an overdose of Wagner's operas and Nietzsche's aphorisms. It arrived at a time when massive worker's parties threatened bourgeois rule during a period of terrible economic hardship. Big capital backed Hitler as a last resort. The Nazis represented reactionary politics gone berserk. Not only could Nazism attack worker's parties, it could also attack powerful institutions of the ruling class, including its churches, media, intellectuals, parties and individual families and individuals. Fascism is not a scalpel. It is a very explosive, uncontrollable weapon that can also inflict some harm on its wielder.
Fascism emerges in the period following the great post-World War I revolutionary upsurge in Europe. The Bolsheviks triumphed in Russia, but communists mounted challenges to capitalism in Hungary, Germany and elsewhere. These revolutions receded but but their embers burned. The world-wide depression of 1929 added new fuel to the glowing embers of proletarian revolution. Socialism grew powerful everywhere because of the powerful example of the USSR and the suffering capitalist unemployment brought.
Proletarian revolutions do not break out every year or so, like new car models. They appear infrequently since working-people prefer to accomodate themselves to capitalism if at all possible. They tend to be last-ditch defensive reactions to the mounting violence and insecurity brought on by capitalist war and depression.
The proletarian revolution first emerges within the context of the bourgeois revolutions of 1848. Even though the revolutions in Germany, France and Italy on the surface appeared to be a continuation of the revolutions of the 1780's and 90's, they contain within them anticapitalist dynamics. The working-class at this point in its history has neither the numbers, nor the organization, nor the self- consciousness to take power in its own name. Its own cause tends to get blurred with the cause of of other classes in the struggle against feudal vestiges.
Marx was able to distinguish the contradictory class aspects of the 1848 revolutionary upsurge with tremendous alacrity, however. Some of his most important contributions to historical materialism emerge out of this period and again in 1871 when the proletariat rises up in its own name during the Paris Commune. The 18th Brumaire was written in the aftermath of the failure of the revolution in France in 1848 to consolidate its gains. Louis Bonaparte emerges as a counterrevolutionary dictator who seems to suppress all classes, including the bourgeoisie. Marx is able to show that Bonapartism, like Fascism, is not a dictatorship that stands above all classes. The Bonapartist regime, whose social base may be middle-class, acts in the interest of the big bourgeoisie.
Robert Tucker's notes in his preface to the 18th Brumaire that, "Since Louis Bonaparte's rise and rule have been seen as a forerunner of the phenomenon that was to become known in the twentieth century as fascim, Marx's interpretation of it is of interest, among other ways, as a sort of a prologue to later Marxist thought on the nature and meaning of fascism."
The 18th Brumaire was written by Marx in late 1851 and early 1852, and appeared first in a NY magazine called "Die Revolution". This was a time of great difficulty for Marx. He was in financial difficulty and poor health. The triumph of the counterrevolution in France deepened his misery. In a letter to his friend Weydemeyer, Marx confides, "For years nothing has pulled me down as much as this cursed hemorrhoidal trouble, not even the worst French failure."
In section one of the 18th Brumaire, Marx draws a clear distinction between the bourgeois and proletarian revolution.
"Bourgeois revolutions like those of the eighteenth century storm more swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day- but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith, and a long Katzenjammer [crapulence] takes hold of society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly. On the other hand, proletarian revolutions like those of the nineteenth century constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals -- until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out: Hic Rhodus, hic salta! "
Proletarian revolutions, Marx correctly points out, emerge from a position of weakness and uncertainty. The bourgeoisie emerges over hundreds of years within the framework of feudalism. At the time it is ready to seize power, it has already conquered major institutions in civil society. The bourgeoisie is not an exploited class and therefore is able to rule society long before its political revolution is effected. When it delivers the coup de grace to the monarchy, it does so from a position of overwhelming strength.
The workers are in a completely different position, however. They lack an independent economic base and suffer economic and cultural exploitation. Prior to its revolution, the working-class remains backward and therefore, unlike the bourgeoisie, is unable to prepare itself in advance for ruling all of society. It often comes to power in coalition with other classes, such as the peasantry.
Since it is in a position of weakness, it is often beaten back by the bourgeoise. But the bourgeoisie itself is small in numbers. It also has its own class interests which set it apart from the rest of society. Therefore, it must strike back against the workers by utilizing the social power of intermediate classes such as the peasantry or the middle-classes in general. It will also draw from strata beneath the working-class, from the so-called "lumpen proletariat". Louis Bonaparte drew from these social layers in order to strike back against the workers, so did Hitler.
Bonaparte appears as a dictator whose rule constrains all of society. In section seven of the Eighteenth Brumaire, Marx characterized Bonapartist rule in the following manner:
"The French bourgeoisie balked at the domination of the working proletariat; it has brought the lumpen proletariat to domination, with the Chief of the Society of December 10 at the head. The bourgeoisie kept France in breathless fear of the future terrors of red anarchy- Bonaparte discounted this future for it when, on December 4, he had the eminent bourgeois of the Boulevard Montmartre and the Boulevard des Italiens shot down at their windows by the drunken army of law and order. The bourgeoisie apotheosized the sword; the sword rules it. It destroyed the revolutionary press; its own press is destroyed. It placed popular meetings under police surveillance; its salons are placed under police supervision. It disbanded the democratic National Guard, its own National Guard is disbanded. It imposed a state of siege; a state of siege is imposed upon it. It supplanted the juries by military commissions; its juries are supplanted by military commissions. It subjected public education to the sway of the priests; the priests subject it to their own education. It jailed people without trial, it is being jailed without trial. It suppressed every stirring in society by means of state power; every stirring in its society is suppressed by means of state power. Out of enthusiasm for its moneybags it rebelled against its own politicians and literary men; its politicians and literary men are swept aside, but its moneybag is being plundered now that its mouth has been gagged and its pen broken. The bourgeoisie never tired of crying out to the revolution what St. Arsenius cried out to the Christians: 'Fuge, tace, quiesce!' ['Flee, be silent, keep still!'] Bonaparte cries to the bourgeoisie: 'Fuge, tace, quiesce!'"
At first blush, Bonaparte seems to be oppressing worker and capitalist alike. Supported by the bourgeoisie at first, he drowns the Parisian working-class in its own blood in the early stages of the counterrevolution. He then turns his attention to the bourgeoisie itself and "jails", "gags" and imposes a "state of siege" upon it. By all appearances, the dictatorship of Bonaparte is a personal dictatorship and all social classes suffer. The Hitler and Mussolini regimes gave the same appearance. This led many to conclude that fascism is simply a totalitarian system in which every citizen is subordinated to the industrial-military-state machinery. There is the fascism of Hitler and there is the fascism of Stalin. A class analysis of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia would produce different political conclusions, however. Hitler's rule rested on capitalist property relations and Stalin's on collectivized property relations.
Bonaparte's rule, while seeming to stand above all social classes, really served to protect capitalist property relations. Bonaparte represents the executive branch of government and liquidates the parliamentary branch. The parliament contains parties from every social class, so a superficial view of Bonapartist rule would conclude that all classes have been curtailed. In actuality, the bourgeoisie maintains power behind the scenes.
In order to maintain rule, Bonapartism must give concessions to the lower-classes. It can not manifest itself openly as an instrument of the ruling-classes. It is constantly on the attack against both exploiter and exploited. It acts against exploited because it is ultimately interested in the preservation of the status quo. It acts against the exploiters, because it must maintain the appearance of "neutrality" above all classes.
Marx describes this contradictory situtation as follows:
"Driven by the contradictory demands of his situation, and being at the same time, like a juggler, under the necessity of keeping the public gaze on himself, as Napoleon's successor, by springing constant surprises -- that is to say, under the necessity of arranging a coup d'etat in miniature every day -- Bonaparte throws the whole bourgeois economy into confusion, violates everything that seemed inviolable to the Revolution of 1848, makes some tolerant of revolution and makes others lust for it, and produces anarchy in the name of order, while at the same time stripping the entire state machinery of its halo, profaning it and making it at once loathsome and ridiculous. The cult of the Holy Tunic of Trier, he duplicates in Paris in the cult of the Napoleonic imperial mantle. But when the imperial mantle finally falls on the shoulders of Louis Bonaparte, the bronze statue of Napoleon will come crashing down from the top of the Vendome Column."
Bonaparte throws the bourgeois economy into a confusion, violates it, produces anarchy in the name of order. This is exactly the way fascism in power operates. Fascism in power is a variant of Bonapartism. It eventually stabilizes into a more normal dictatorship of capital, but in its early stages has the same careening, out-of-control behavior.
Bonapartism does not rest on the power of an individual dictator. It is not Louis Napoleon's or Adolph Hitler's power of oratory that explains their mastery over a whole society. They have a social base which they manipulate to remain in power. Even though a Bonapartist figure is ultimately loyal to the most powerful industrialists and financiers, he relies on a mass movement of the middle-class to gain power.
Louis Bonaparte drew from the peasantry. The peasantry was in conflict with the big bourgeoisie but was tricked into lending support to someone who appeared to act in its own behalf. The peasantry was unable to articulate its own social and political interests since the mode of production it relied on was an isolating one. Marx commented:
"The small-holding peasants form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with each other. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. The isolation is furthered by France's poor means of communication and the poverty of the peasants. Their field of production, the small holding, permits no division of labor in its cultivation, no application of science, and therefore no multifariousness of development, no diversity of talent, no wealth of social relationships. Each individual peasant family is almost self-sufficient, directly produces most of its consumer needs, and thus acquires its means of life more through an exchange with nature than in intercourse with society. A small holding, the peasant and his family; beside it another small holding, another peasant and another family. A few score of these constitute a village, and a few score villages constitute a department. Thus the great mass of the French nation is formed by the simple addition of homonymous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes. Insofar as millions of families live under conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests, and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. Insofar as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests forms no community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they do not constitute a class. They are therefore incapable of asserting their class interest in their own name, whether through a parliament or a convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, an unlimited governmental power which protects them from the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above. The political influence of the small-holding peasants, therefore, finds its final expression in the executive power which subordinates society to itself. "
Intermediate layers such as the peasantry are susceptible to Bonapartist and Fascist politicians. They resent both big capital and the working- class. They resent the banks who own their mortgage. They also resent the teamsters and railroad workers whose strikes disrupts their own private economic interests. They turn to politicians whose rhetoric seems to be both anti-capitalist and anti-working class. Such politicians are often masters of demagoguery such as Hitler and Mussolini who often employ the stock phrases of socialism.
The peasantry backed Bonaparte. It was also an important pillar of Hitler's regime. In the final analysis, the peasants suffered under both because the banks remained powerful and exploitative. The populism of Bonaparte and the "socialism" of Hitler were simply deceptive mechanisms by which the executive was able to rule on behalf of big capital.
Bonapartism, populism and fascism overlap to a striking degree. We see elements of fascism, populism and Bonapartism in the politics of Pat Buchanan. Buchanan rails against African-Americans and immigrants, both documented and undocumented. He also rails against Wall St. which is "selling out" the working man. Is he a fascist, however? Ross Perot employs a number of the same themes. Is he?
The problem in trying to answer these questions solely on the basis of someone's speeches or writings is that it ignores historical and class dynamics. Bonaparte and Hitler emerged as a response to powerful proletrian revolutionary attacks on capital. What are the objective conditions in American society today? Hitler based their power on large-scale social movements that could put tens of thousands of people into the streets at a moment's notice. These movements were not creatures of capitalist cabals. They had their own logic and their own warped integrity. Many were drawn to Hitler in the deluded hope that he would bring some kind of "all-German" socialism into existence. These followers were not Marxists, but they certainly hated the capitalist class. Are the people who attend Buchanan, Perot and Farrakhan rallies also in such a frenzied, revolutionary state of mind?
At what point are we in American society today?
I would argue that rather than being in a prerevolutionary situation, that rather we are in a period which has typified capitalism for the better part of a hundred and fifty years.We are in a period of capitalist "normalcy". Capitalism is a system which is prone to economic crisis and war. The unemployment and "downsizing" going on today are typical of capitalism in its normal functioning. We have to stop thinking as if the period of prosperity following WWII as normal. It is not. It is an anomaly in the history of capitalism. When industrial workers found themselves in a position to buy houses, send children through college, etc., this was only because of a number of exceptional circumstances which will almost certainly never arise again.
We are in a period more like the late 1800's or the early 1900's. It is a period of both expansion and retrenchment. It is a period of terrible reaction which can give birth to the Ku Klux Klan and the skinheads and other neo-Nazis. It is also a period which can give birth to something like Eugene V. Debs socialist party.
But if we don't recognize at which point we stand, we will never be able to build a socialist party. We will also not be in a position to resist fascism when it makes its appearance.
In my next report, I will take a look at the American Populist movement led by Tom Watson at the turn of the century. It is a highly contradictory social movement. In some respects it is fascist-like, in other respects it is highly progressive. If we understand American Populism, we will in a much better position to understand the populism of today.
These are the types of questions that we should be considering in the weeks to come:
1) Why did fascism emerge when it did? Could there have been fascism in the 1890's?
2) Is fascism limited to imperialist nations? Could there be fascism in third-world countries? Did Pinochet represent fascism in Chile?
3) What is the class base of the Nation of Islam? Can there be fascism emerging out of oppressed nationalities? Can a Turkish or Algerian fascism develop as a response to neo-fascism in Europe today?
4) The Italian government includes a "fascist" party that openly celebrates Mussolini. What should we make of this?
5) What is the difference between fascism and ultrarightism? Ultrarightism is a permanent feature of US and world politics. Was George Wallace a fascist? What would a European equivalent be?
6) Is fascism emerging in the former Soviet Union? Does Zherinovsky represent fascism? Is the cause of the civil war in former Yugoslavia Serbian or Croatian fascism?
7) Can there be a fascism which does not incorporate powerful anticapitalist themes and demagoguery? Joe McCarthy was regarded as a fascist-like figure, but had no use for radical left-wing verbiage or actions. What should we make of him?
8) If fascism emerged as a reaction to the powerful proletarian revolutionary movements of the 1920's and 30's, what types of conditions can we see in the foreseeable future that would provoke new fascist movements? If socialism is no longer objectively possible because of the ability of capitalism to "deliver the goods", what would the need for fascism be? Why would the capitalist class support a new Hitler when the working-class is so quiescient? Should we be thinking about a new definition of fascism?
9) Fascism has a deeply expansionist and bellicose dynamics. In the age of nuclear weaponry, can we expect imperialism to opt for a fascist solution? Would the Rockefellers et al allow a trigger-happy figure like "Mark from Michigan" in control of our nuclear weapons?
10) What tools are necessary to analyze fascism? Should we be looking at the speeches of Farrakhan or Mark from Michigan? Was this Marx's approach to Bonapartism?
2. TROTSKY ON BONAPARTISM AND FASCISM
Trotsky, like Lenin, was a revolutionary politician and not an economist or political scientist. Every article or book the two wrote was tied to solving specific political problems. When Lenin wrote "Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism", he was trying to define the theoretical basis for the Zimmerwald opposition to W.W.I. Similarly, when Trotsky wrote about German fascism, his purpose was to confront and defeat it.
Trotsky's understanding of how fascism came to power is very much grounded in the definition of "Bonapartism" contained in Marx's "18th Brumaire", a classic study of dictatorship in the 19th century. Marx was trying to explain how dictatorships of "men on horseback" such as Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon's nephew, can appear to stand suspended above all classes and to act as impartial arbitrator between opposing classes, even though they carry out the wishes of the capitalist ruling class. The capitalist class is small in number and periods of revolutionary crisis depend on these types of seemingly neutral strong men.
A true Bonapartist figure is somebody who emerges out of the military or state apparatus. In order to properly bamboozle the masses, he should have charismatic qualities. War heroes tend to move to the front of the pack when a Bonapartist solution is required. Charles DeGaulle is the quintessential Bonapartist figure of the modern age. If the US labor movement and the left had been much more powerful than it had been during the Korean war and had mounted a serious resistance to the war and to capitalist rule, it is not hard to imagine a figure such as General Douglas MacCarthur striving to impose a Bonapartist dictatorship. Since there was no such left-wing, it was possible for US capitalism to rule democratically. Democracy is a less expensive and more stable system.
Germany started out after W.W.I as a bourgeois democracy-- the Weimar Republic. The republic was besieged by a whole number of insurmountable problems: unemployment, hyperinflation, and resentment over territory lost to the allies.
The workers had attempted to make a socialist revolution immediately after W.W.I, but their leadership made a number of mistakes that resulted in defeat. The defeat was not so profound as to crush all future revolutionary possibilities. As the desperate 20's wore on, the working- class movement did regain its confidence and went on the offensive again. The two major parties of the working class, the CP and the SP, both grew.
In the late 1920's, Stalin had embarked on an ultraleft course in the USSR and CP's tended to reflect this ultraleftism in their own strategy and tactics. In Germany, this meant attacking the Socialist Party as "social fascist". The Socialist Party was not revolutionary, but it was not fascist. A united SP and CP could have defeated fascism and prevented WWII and the slaughter of millions. It was Stalin's inability to size up fascism correctly that lead to this horrible outcome.
Hitler's seizure of power was preceded by a series of rightward drifting governments, all of which paved the way for him. The SP found reasons to back each and every one of these governments in the name of the "lesser evil". (This is an argument we have heard from some leftists in the United States: "Clinton is not as bad as Bush"; "Johnson is not as bad as Goldwater, etc." The problem with this strategy is that allows the ruling class to limit the options available to the oppressed. The lesser evil is still evil.)
The last "lesser evil" candidate the German Social Democracy urged support for was Paul Von Hindenburg, a top general in W.W.I.. The results were disastrous. Hindenburg took office on April 10 of 1932 and basically paved the way for Adolph Hitler. Hindenburg allowed the Nazi street thugs to rule the streets, but enforced the letter of the law against the working-class parties. Elections may have been taking place according to the Weimar constitution, but real politics was being shaped in the streets through the demonstrations and riots of Nazi storm-troopers.
As these Nazi street actions grew more violent and massive, Hindenburg reacted on May 31 by making Franz Von Papen chancellor and instructed him to pick a cabinet "above the parties", a clear Bonapartist move. Such a cabinet wouldn't placate the Nazis. All they wanted to do was smash bourgeois democracy. As the civil war in the streets continued, Papen dissolved the Reichstag and called for new elections on July 31, 1932.
On July 17, the Nazis held a march through Altona, a working class neighborhood, under police protection. The provocation resulted in fighting that left 19 dead and 285 wounded. The SP and CP were not able to mount a significant counteroffensive and the right-wing forces gathered self-confidence and support from "centrist" voters. When elections were finally held on July 31, the Nazi party received the most votes and took power.
In his article "German Bonapartism", Trotsky tries to explain the underlying connections between the Bonapartist Hindenburg government and the gathering Nazi storm:
"Present-day German Bonapartism has a very complex and, so to speak, combined character. The government of Papen would have been impossible without fascism. But fascism is not in power. And the government of Papen is not fascism. On the other hand, the government of Papen, at any rate in the present form, would have been impossible without Hindenburg who, in spite of the final prostration of Germany in the war, stands for the great victories of Germany and symbolizes the army in the memory of the popular masses. The second election of Hindenburg had all the characteristics of a plebiscite. Many millions of workers, petty bourgeois, and peasants (Social Democracy and Center) voted for Hindenburg. They did not see in him any one political program. They did not see in him any one political program. They wanted first of all to avoid civil war, and raised Hindenburg on their shoulders as a superarbiter, as an arbitration judge of the nation. But precisely this is the most important function of Bonapartism: raising itself over the two struggling camps in order to preserve property and order."
The victory of Hitler represents a break with Bonapartism, since it represents the naked rule of finance capital and heavy industry. Fascism in Germany breaks the tension between classes by imposing a reign of terror on the working class. Once in power, however, fascism breaks its ties with the petty-bourgeois mass movement that ensured its victory and assumes a more traditional Bonapartist character. Hitler in office becomes much more like the Bonapartist figures who preceded him and seeks to act as a "superarbiter". In order to make this work, he launches an ambitious publics works program, invests in military spending and tries to coopt the proletariat. Those in the working-class who resist him are jailed or murdered.
In "Bonapartism and Fascism", written on July 15, 1934, a year after Hitler's rise to power, Trotsky clarifies the relationship between the two tendencies:
"What has been said sufficiently demonstrates how important it is to distinguish the Bonapartist form of power from the fascist form. Yet, it would be unpardonable to fall into the opposite extreme, that is, to convert Bonapartism and fascism into two logically incompatible categories. Just as Bonapartism begins by combining the parliamentary regime with fascism, so triumphant fascism finds itself forced not only to enter a bloc with the Bonapartists, but what is more, to draw closer internally to the Bonapartist system. The prolonged domination of finance capital by means of reactionary social demagogy and petty- bourgeois terror is impossible. Having arrived in power, the fascist chiefs are forced to muzzle the masses who follow them by means of the state apparatus. By the same token, they lose the support of broad masses of the petty bourgeoisie."
3. MICHAEL MANN ON FASCISM
Michael Mann believes that 20th century Marxism has made a mistake by describing fascism as a petty-bourgeois mass movement. He does not argue that the leaders were not bourgeois, or that the bourgeoisie behind the scenes was financing the fascists. He develops these points at some length in an article "Source of Variation in Working-Class Movements in Twentieth-Century Movement" which appeared in the New Left Review of July/August 1995.
If he is correct, then there is something basically wrong with the Marxist approach, isn't there? If the Nazis attracted the working-class, then wouldn't we have to reevaluate the revolutionary role of the working-class? Perhaps it would be necessary to find some other class to lead the struggle for socialism, if this struggle has any basis in reality to begin with.
Mann relies heavily on statistical data, especially that which can be found in M. Kater's "The Nazi Party" and D. Muhlberger "Hitler's Followers". The data, Mann reports, shows that "Combined, the party and paramilitaries had relatively as many workers as in the general population, almost as many worker militants as the socialists and many more than the communists".
Pretty scary stuff, if it's true. It is true, but, as it turns out, there are workers and there are workers. More specifically, Mann acknowledges that "Most fascist workers...came not from the main manufacturing industries but from agriculture, the service and public sectors and from handicrafts and small workshops." Let's consider the political implications of the class composition of this fascist strata." He adds that, "The proletarian macro-community was resisting fascism, but not the entire working-class." Translating this infelicitous expression into ordinary language, Mann is saying that as a whole the workers were opposed to fascism, but there were exceptions.
Let's consider who these fascist workers were. Agricultural workers in Germany: were they like the followers of Caesar Chavez, one has to wonder? Germany did not have large-scale agribusiness in the early 1920's. Most farms produced for the internal market and were either family farms or employed a relatively small number of workers. Generally, workers on smaller farms tend to have a more filial relationship to the patron than they do on massive enterprises. The politics of the patron will be followed more closely by his workers. This is the culture of small, private agriculture. It was no secret that many of the contra foot-soldiers in Nicaragua came from this milieu.
Turning to "service" workers, this means that many fascists were white-collar workers in banking and insurance. This layer has been going through profound changes throughout the twentieth century, so a closer examination is needed. In the chapter "Clerical Workers" in Harry Braverman's "Labor and Monopoly Capital", he notes that clerical work in its earlier stages was like a craft. The clerk was a highly skilled employee who kept current the records of the financial and operating condition of the enterprise, as well as its relations with the external world. The whole history of this job category in the twentieth century, however, has been one of de-skilling. All sorts of machines, including the modern-day, computer have taken over many of the decision-making responsibilities of the clerk. Furthermore, "Taylorism" has been introduced into the office, forcing clerks to function more like assembly-line workers than elite professionals.
We must assume, however, that the white-collar worker in Germany in the 1920's was still relatively high up in the class hierarchy since his or her work had not been mechanized or routinized to the extent it is today. Therefore, a clerk in an insurance company or bank would tend to identify more with management than with workers in a steel-mill. Even under today's changed economic conditions, this tends to be true. A bank teller in NY probably resents a striking transit worker, despite the fact that they have much in common in class terms. This must have been an even more pronounced tendency in the 1920's when white-collar workers occupied an even more elite position in society.
Mann includes workers in the "public sector". This should come as no surprise at all. Socialist revolutions were defeated throughout Europe in the early 1920's and right-wing governments came to power everywhere. These right-wing governments kept shifting to the right as the mass working-class movements of the early 1920's recovered and began to reassert themselves. Government workers, who are hired to work in offices run by right-wingers, will tend to be right-wing themselves. There was no civil-service and no unions in this sector in the 1920's. Today, this sector is one of the major supporters of progressive politics internationally. They, in fact, spearheaded the recent strikes in France. In the United States, where their composition tends to be heavily Black or Latino, also back progressive politics. But in Germany in the 1920's, it should come as no major surprise that some public sector workers joined Hitler or Mussolini's cause.
When Trotsky or E.J. Hobsbawm refer to the working-class resistance to Hitler or Mussolini, they have something specific in mind. They are referring to the traditional bastions of the industrial working-class: steel, auto, transportation, mining, etc. Mann concurs that these blue- collar workers backed the SP or CP.
There is a good reason why this was no accident. In Daniel Guerin's "Fascism and Big Business", he makes the point that the capitalists from heavy industry were the main backers of Hitler. The reason they backed Hitler was that they had huge investments in fixed capital (machines, plants, etc.) that were financed through huge debt. When capitalism collapsed after the stock-market crash, the owners of heavy industry were more pressed than those of light industry. The costs involved in making a steel or chemical plant profitable during a depression are much heavier. Steel has to be sold in dwindling markets to pay for the cost of leased machinery or machinery that is financed by bank loans When the price of steel has dropped on a world scale, it is all the more necessary to enforce strict labor discipline..
Strikes are met by violence. When the boss calls for speed-up because of increased competition, goons within a plant will attack workers who defend decent working conditions. This explains blue-collar support for socialism. It has a class basis.
These are the sorts of issues that Marxists should be exploring. Michael Mann is a "neo-Weberian" supposedly who also finds Marx useful. Max Weber tried to explain the growth of capitalism as a consequence of the "Protestant ethic". Now Mann tries to explain the growth of fascism as a consequence of working-class support for "national identity". That is to say, the workers backed Hitler because Hitler backed a strong Germany. This is anti-Marxist. Being determines consciousness, not the other way around. When you try to blend Marx with anti-Marxists like Weber or Lyotard or A.J. Ayer, it is very easy to get in trouble. I prefer my Marx straight, with no chaser.
4. NICOS POULANTZAS ON FASCISM
Nicos Poulantzas tried to carve out a political space for revolutionaries outside of the framework of the CP, especially the French Communist Party. Poulantzas wrote "Fascism and Dictatorship, The Third International and the Problem of Fascism" in 1968 when he was in the grips of a rather severe case of Maoism.
This put him in an obviously antagonistic position vis a vis Trotsky. Trotsky was the author of a number of books that tried to explain the victory of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco in terms of the failure of the Comintern to provide revolutionary leadership. Poulantzas's Maoism put him at odds with this analysis. His Maoist "revolutionary heritage" goes back through Dmitrov to Stalin and Lenin. In this line of pedigrees, Trotsky remains the mutt.
Poulantzas could not accept the idea that the Comintern was the gravedigger of revolutions, since the current he identified with put this very same Comintern on a pedestal. Yet the evidence of Comintern failure in the age of fascism is just too egregious for him to ignore. He explains this failure not in terms of bureaucratic misleadership, but rather in terms of "economism". This Althusserian critique targets the Comintern not only of the 1930s when Hitler was marching toward power, but to the Comintern of the early 1920s, before Stalin had consolidated his power. All the Bolsheviks to one extent or another suffered from this ideological deviation: Stalin and Trotsky had a bad case of it, so did Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kamenev.
What form did this "economism" take? Poulantzas argues that the Third International suffered in its infancy from "economic catastrophism", a particularly virulent form of this ideological deviation. What happened, you see, is that the Communists relied too heavily on Lenin's "Imperialism, the Latest Stage of Capitalism". Lenin's pamphlet portrayed capitalism as being on its last legs, a moribund, exhausted economic system that was hanging on the ropes like a beaten prize-fighter. All the proletariat had to do was give the capitalist system one last sharp punch in the nose and it would fall to the canvas.
If capitalism was in its death-agony, then fascism was the expression of the weakness of the system in its terminal stages. Poulantzas observes:
"The blindness of both the PCI and KPD leaders in this respect is staggering. Fascism, according to them, would only be a 'passing episode' in the revolutionary process. Umberto Terracini wrote in Inprekorr, just after the march on Rome, that fascism was at most a passing 'ministerial crisis'. Amadeo Bordiga, introducing the resolution on fascism at the Fifth Congress, declared that all hat had happened in Italy was 'a change in the governmental team of the bourgeoisie'. The presidium of the Comintern executive committee noted, just after Hitler's accession to power: 'Hitler's Germany is heading for ever more inevitable economic catastrophe...The momentary calm after the victory of fascism is only a passing phenomenon. The wave of revolution will rise inescapably Germany despite the fascist terror..."
Now Poulantzas is correct to point out this aspect of the Comintern's inability to challenge and defeat fascism. Yes, it is "economic catastrophism" that clouded its vision. We must ask is this all there is to the problem? If Lenin's pamphlet had not swept the Communists off their feet, could they have gotten a better handle on the situation?
Unfortunately, the failure of the Comintern to provide an adequate explanation of fascism and a strategy to defeat it goes much deeper than this. The problem is that Stalin was rapidly in the process of rooting out Marxism from the Communist Party in the *very early* stages of the Comintern. Stalin's supporters were already intimidating and silencing Marxists in 1924, the year of the Fifth Congress of the Comintern.
>From around that time forward, the debate in the Comintern was not between a wide range of Marxist opinion. The debate only included the rightist followers of Bukharin and Stalin, the cagey spokesman for the emerging bureaucracy. The Soviet secret police and Stalin's goons were suppressing the Left Opposition. Shortly, Stalin would jail or kill its members. So when Poulantzas refers to the "Comintern", he is referring to a rump formation that bore faint resemblance to the Communist International of the heroic, early days of the Russian Revolution.
When Stalin took power, the Comintern became an instrument of Soviet foreign policy and Communist Parties tried to emulate the internal shifts of the Soviet party. The ultraleft, third period of the German Communist Party mirrored the extreme turn taken by Stalin against Bukharin and the right Communists in the late 1920s. Bukharin was for appeasement of the kulaks and, by the same token, class-collaborationist alliances with the national bourgeoisie of various countries. Stalin had embraced this policy when it was convenient.
When Stalin broke with Bukharin, he turned sharply to the ultraleft and dumped the rightist leadership of the Comintern. He replaced it with his lackeys who were all to happy to march in lock-step to the lunatic left. The German CP went to the head of the pack during this period by attacking the social democrats as being "social fascists".
Poulantzas maintains that the Kremlin did not have a master-puppet relationship to the Communist Parties internationally. Since the evidence to the contrary is rather mountainous, his explanations take on a labored academic cast that are in sharp contradistinction to his usually lucid prose. It also brings out the worst of his Maoist mumbo- jumbo:
"To sum up: the general line which was progressively dominant in the USSR and in the Comintern can allow us to make a relatively clear [!] periodization of the Comintern, a periodization which can also be very useful for the history of the USSR. But this is insufficient. For example, we have seen how the Comintern's Sixth (1928) and Seventh (1935) Congresses cannot be interpreted on the model of a pendulum (left opportunism/right opportunism), but that there is no simple continuity between them either. That corroborates the view that the turn in Soviet policy in relationship to the peasantry as a whole was not a simple, internal, 'ultra-left' turn. But it will be impossible to make a deeper analysis of this problem in relation to the Comintern until we have exactly established what was the real process involving the Soviet bourgeoisie [Don't forget, gang, this is 1968] during the period of the class struggle in the USSR -- which was considerably more than a simple struggle of the proletariat and poor peasants against the kulaks."
As Marxists, we should always avoid the temptation to resort to "deterministic" types of analysis. Poulantzas, the Althusserian, would never yield to such temptation. That is why refuses to make a connection between the ultraleft attack on the peasantry within the Soviet Union and the ultraleft turn internationally. I am afraid, however, that no other analysis makes any sense. Sometimes, a cigar is simply a cigar. Stalin, the quintessential bureaucrat seems only capable of lurching either to the extreme left or extreme right. His errors reflect an inability to project working-class, i.e., Marxist, solutions to political problems. By concentrating such enormous power in his hands, he guaranteed that every shift he took, the Communist Parties internationally would follow.
Ideology plays much too much of a role in the Poulantzas scheme of things. The Comintern messed up because it put Lenin on a pedestal. He also says that the bourgeoisie supported fascism because it too was in a deep ideological crisis. What does Poulantzas have to say about the German working-class? What does he say about the parties of the working-class? Could ideological confusion explain their weakness in face of the Nazi threat? You bet.
Poulantzas alleges that the rise of fascism in Germany corresponds to an ideological crisis of the revolutionary organizations, which in turn coincided with an ideological crisis within the working class. He says:
"Marxist-Leninist ideology was profoundly shaken within the working class: not only did it fail to conquer the broad masses, but it was also forced back where it managed to root itself. It is clear enough what happens when revolutionary organizations fail in their ideological role of giving leadership on a mass line: particular forms of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology invade the void left by the retreat of Marxist- Leninist ideology.
The influence of bourgeois ideology over the working class, in this situation of ideological crisis, took the classic form of trade unionism and reformism. It can be recognized not only in the survival, but also in the extending influence of social democracy over the working class, through both the party and trade unions, all through the rise of fascism. The advancing influence of social-democratic ideology was felt even in those sections of the working class supporting the communist party."
Comrades, this is not what Lenin said! Lenin said that socialist consciousness has to be brought into the working-class from the outside, from intellectuals who have mastered Marxism. Not is it only what Lenin said, it is happily what makes sense. Workers *never* rise above simple trade union consciousness.
When Poulantzas says that bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology "invades" the working-class, he is mixing things up hopelessly. This type of ideology has no need to invade, it is *always* there. It is socialist ideas that are the anomaly, the exception.
Workers have no privileged status in class society. The ruling ideas of any society are the ideas of the ruling class. When Jon the railroad worker reports to this l*st about the numbers of his co-workers who are for Perot, he is conveying the same truth that is found in What is to be Done. The ideas that he supports are being "imported" into the rail yards. That's the way it goes.
This also explains the murderous fanaticism of the Shining Path. When they witness the "bourgeois" ideas of ordinary Peruvian workers, it is very tempting for them to put a bullet in the brain of any of them who stand in their way. If Maoism posits ideology as the enemy, no wonder they conceive of the class struggle as a struggle against impure thoughts. The answer to impure thoughts, of course, is patient explanation. This is the method of Marxism, the political philosophy of the working-class. Marxists try to resolve contradictions by reaching a higher level of understanding. Sometimes, it can be frustrating to put up with and work through these contradictions, but the alternative only leads down the blind alley to sectarianism and fanaticism.
5. DELEUZE/GUATTARI ON FASCISM
In the translator's foreword to "A Thousand Plateaus", Brian Massumi tells us that the philosopher Gilles Deleuze was prompted by the French worker-student revolt of 1968 to question the role of the intellectual in society. Felix Guattari, his writing partner, was a psychoanalyst who identified with R.D. Laing's antipsychiatry movement of the 1960's. Laing created group homes where schizophrenics were treated identically to the sane, sort of like the Marxism list. Guattari also embraced the protests of 1968 and discovered an intellectual kinship with Deleuze. Their first collaboration was the 1972 "Anti-Oedipus". Massumi interprets this work as a polemic against "State-happy or pro-party versions of Marxism". "A Thousand Plateaus", written in 1987, is basically part two of the earlier work. Deleuze and Guattari state that the two books make up a grand opus they call "Capitalism and Schizophrenia".
I read the chapter "1933" in "A Thousand Plateaus" with as much concentration as I can muster. Stylistically, it has a lot in common with philosophers inspired by Nietzsche. I am reminded of some of the reading I did in Wyndham Lewis and Oswald Spengler in a previous lifetime. These sorts of authors pride themselves in being able to weave together strands from many different disciplines and hate being categorized. Within a few pages you will see references to Kafka, American movies, Andre Gorz's theory of work and Clausewitz's military writings.
Their approach to fascism is totally at odds with the approach we have been developing in our cyberseminar. Thinkers such as Marx and Trotsky focus on the class dynamics of bourgeois society. Bonapartism is rooted in the attempt of the French bourgeoisie in 1848 to stave off proletarian revolution. Trotsky explains fascism as a totalitarian last- ditch measure to preserve private property when bourgeois democracy or the Bonapartist state are failing.
Deleuze and Guattari see fascism as a permanent feature of social life. Class is not so important to them. They are concerned with what they call "microfascism", the fascism that lurks in heart of each and every one of us. When they talk about societies that were swept by fascism, such as Germany, they totally ignore the objective social and economic framework: depression, hyperinflation, loss of territory, etc.
This is wrong. Fascism is a product of objective historical factors, not shortcomings in the human psyche or imperfections in the way society is structured. The way to prevent fascism is not to have unfascist attitudes or live in unfascist communities, like the hippies did in the 1960's. It is to confront the capitalist class during periods of mounting crisis and win a socialist victory.
In a key description of the problem, they say, "The concept of the totalitarian State applies only at the macropolitical level, to a rigid segmentarity and a particular mode of totalization and centralization. But fascism is inseparable from a proliferation of molecular focuses in interaction, which skip from point to point, before beginning to resonate together in the National Socialist State. Rural fascism and city or neighborhood fascism, youth fascism and war veteran's fascism, fascism of the Left and fascism of the Right, fascism of the couple, family, school, and office: every fascism is defined by a micro-black hole that stands on its own and communicates with the others, before resonating in a great, generalized central black hole."
This is a totally superficial understanding of how fascism came about. What is Left fascism? It is true that the Communist Party employed thuggish behavior on occasion during the ultraleft "Third Period". They broke up meetings of small Trotskyist groups while the Nazis were breaking up the meetings of trade unions or Communists. Does this behavior equal left Fascism? Fascism is a class term. It describes a mass movement of the petty-bourgeoisie that seeks to destroy all vestiges of the working-class movement. This at least is the Marxist definition.
Fascism is not intolerance, bad attitudes, meanness or insensitivity. It is a violent, procapitalist mass movement of the middle-class that employs socialist phrase-mongering.
I want to conclude with a few words about Felix Guattari and Toni Negri's "Communists like Us". Unlike Deleuze/Guattari's collaborations, this is a perfectly straightforward political manifesto that puts forward a basic challenge to Marxism. It is deeply inspired by a reading of the 1968 struggle in France as a mass movement for personal liberation. Students and other peripheral sectors move into the foreground while workers become secondary. It is as dated as Herbert Marcuse's "One Dimensional Man".
The pamphlet was written in 1985 but has the redolence of tie-dyed paisley, patchouli oil and granny glasses. Get a whiff of this:
"Since the 1960's, new collective subjectivities have been affirmed in the dramas of social transformation. We have noted what they owe to modifications in the organization of work and to developments in socialization; we have tried to establish that the antagonisms which they contain are no longer recuperable within the traditional horizon of the political. But it remains to be demonstrated that the innovations of the '60s should above all be understood within the universe of consciousnesses, of desires, and of modes of behaviour."
I have some trouble understanding why Deleuze and Guattari are such big favorites with some of my younger friends. My friend Catherine who works in the Dean of Studies office at Barnard was wild about Derrida when I first met her four years ago. She started showing more of an interest in Marxism after Derrida did. But she is not reading the 18th Brumaire. She is reading Bataille, Deleuze/Guattari and Simone Weil. My guess is that a lot of people from her milieu feel a certain nostalgia for the counterculture of the 1960's and in a funny sort of way, Deleuza/Guattari take that nostalgia and cater to it but in an ultrasophisticated manner. They wouldn't bother with Paul Goodman and Charles Reich, this crowd. But French and Italian theorists who write in a highly allusive and self-referential manner: Like wow, man!
6. TOM WATSON
Tom Watson was born in Thompson, Georgia on September 5, 1856. His father owned 45 slaves and 1,372 acres of land on which he grew cotton. These assets put the Watson family in the top third of the Georgian land-owning class, but not at the very top of the slaveocracy.
The slave-owning class hated the Northern industrial class which had won the civil war. The northerners brought an end to the old agrarian ways at the point of the bayonet during reconstruction. The Yankee industrial capitalist sought free land and free labor. This would allow him to commercially exploit the south and break up the older semi- feudal relations.
Young Tom Watson hated what was happening to the south and joined the Democratic Party soon after graduating college and starting a law profession. The Democrats in the south formed the political resistance to the northern based Republicans. The "white man's party" and the Democratic Party were terms used interchangeably.
Some of the southern capitalists aligned with the Democratic Party realized that the future belonged to the northern capitalist class and joined forces with them. They became avid partners in the commercial development of agriculture and the expansion of the railroads throughout the south. Most of these southerners were connected with a newly emerging finance capital, especially in the more forward- looking cities like Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta has always seen itself as representative of a "new south". It was to be the first to end Jim Crow and it was the first to develop an intensive financial and services-based infrastructure after WWII.
The intensive commercialization of the south impoverished many of the small and mid-sized farmers who found themselves caught between the hammer and anvil of railroad, retail store and bank. The banks charged exorbitant mortgages for land while the railroads exacted steep fees for transporting grain and cotton. It often cost a farmer a bushel of wheat just to bring a bushel of wheat to market. The retail stores charged high prices for manufactured goods and were often owned behind the scenes by bank or railroad.
Tom Watson identified with the exploited farmers who had begun to organize themselves into a group called the Farmer's Alliance, which started in Texas but soon spread throughout the south in the 1880's. The Alliance was determined to defend the interests of small farmers against the juggernaut of bank, railroad and retail entrepreneur. The Alliance evolved into the People's Party, the original version of the populists, a term that is much overused today.
In this emerging class conflict, what side would a Marxist support? After all, didn't Marx support the Yankees in the Civil War? Didn't the north represent industrialization, progress and modernization? Wasn't the Alliance simply a continuation of the old agricultural system?
When Tom Watson joined the Alliance cause, his words would not give a modernizer much encouragement. He said, "Let there come once more to Southern heart and Southern brain the Resolve--waste places built up. In the rude shock of civil war that dream perished. Like victims of some horrid nightmare, we have moved ever since-- powerless--oppressed--shackled--".
The Alliance, like the Democratic Party in the south, was for white people only. The leader of the Alliance in Texas, Charles Macune, was an outspoken racist.
A preliminary Marxist judgment on the Populists would be negative, wouldn't it, since their nostalgia for the old south is reactionary. Their roots in the Democratic Party, the "white man's party" would also make them suspect. Finally, why would Marxists support the antiquated agrarian life-style of small farmers against the northern capitalist class and their "new south" allies?
This snap judgment would fail to take into account the brutal transformations that were turning class relations upside down in the south. As farmers became pauperized by the commercial interests, many became share-croppers who had everything in common with the impoverished Okies depicted by John Steinbeck in the "Grapes of Wrath". Others became wage laborers on plantations, while others entered the industrial proletariat itself in the towns and cities of the "new south". The class interests of these current and former petty- bourgeois layers were arrayed against the big bourgeoisie of the south and north.
This impoverished white farmers found itself joined in dire economic circumstances with black farmers who had recently been freed from slavery, but who remained share-croppers for the most part. Those with a pessimistic view of human nature might assume that white and black farmer remained divided and weak. After all, doesn't racial solidarity supersede class interest again and again in American history?
The Populists defied expectations, however. They united black and white farmers and fought valiantly against Wall St. and their southern partners throughout the 1890's and nearly succeeded in becoming a permanent third party.
At their founding convention, the delegates to the People's Party adopted a program which included the following demands:
"The conditions which surround us best justify our cooperation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the legislature, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench. The people are demoralized...
We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people...
The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the heritage of the people, and should not be monopolized for speculative purposes, and alien ownership of land should be prohibited.
All land now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs, and all lands owned by aliens [i.e., absentee landlords] should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only."
This program galvanized millions of farmers into action. They joined the People's Party and elected local, state and federal politicians including Tom Watson himself who went to Congress and spoke forcefully for the interests of small farmers.
Watson also was one of the Populist leaders who saw most clearly the need for black-white unity. Watson framed his appeal this way:
"Now the People's Party says to these two men, 'You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both.'"
Watson spoke out forcefully against lynching, nominated a black man to his state executive committee and often spoke from the same platform with black populists to mixed audiences.
The Populists were a real threat to the capitalist system. While they did not advocate socialist solutions, they objectively defended the interests of both poor farmer and working-class. In many states in the west and north, populist farmers began to form ties with the newly emerging Knights of Labor. Both populist farmer and northern worker saw Wall St. as the enemy.
How and why did the populists disappear?
Watson became the Vice Presidential running-mate of the Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan in 1896. Bryan had the reputation of being some kind of populist radical, but nothing could be further from the truth. He was the first in a long line of Democratic Party "progressives" who fooled the mass movement into thinking that the party could accommodate their needs.
Bryan did support the adoption of the silver standard (this was favored by farmers who sought more plentiful currency in expectation that this would bring down prices), but was cool to the rest of the populist demands. He had no use especially for any anti-corporate measures.
The populists were fooled into supporting Bryan, but the Democrats knew who their class-enemy was. Throughout the south, armed thugs destroyed populist party headquarters and terrorized party members. The combination of Bryan's co-optation and violence at the street level took the momentum out of this movement.
In a few short years, other factors served to dampen farmer radicalism. There was a European crop failure and American farmers were able to sell their goods at a higher price. Also, the United States started to develop as an imperial power through its conquest of the Philippines, Cuba, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. The material and psychological benefits of these new colonies tended to mute class-consciousness among worker and farmer alike.
The populists dissolved slowly as the twentieth century approached. Some activists became members of the Progressive Party, while others joined Deb's Socialist Party. The working-class began to emerge as more of a self-aware, insurgent force in its own right, especially in its drive to form unions.
What lessons can be drawn about the People's Party? At the very least, it should teach us that politics can often be unpredictable. Who would imagine that the son of a slave-owner would end up as a defender of black rights nearly a century before the civil rights movement?
As we move forward in our study of fascism, and especially as we come close to the period when Black Nationalism and the militias show up, let us take care to look at a movement's class dynamics rather than the words of one or another leader. Marxism is suited to analysis of social forces in formation and development. It is ideally suited to understanding the types of rapid changes that are beginning to appear on the American political landscape.
7. PAT BUCHANAN AND AMERICAN FASCISM
The United States in the 1930s became a battleground between industrial workers and the capitalist class over whether workers would be able to form industrial unions. There had been craft unions for decades, but only industrial unions could fight for all of the workers in a given plant or industry. This fight had powerful revolutionary implications since the captains of heavy industry required a poorly paid, docile work-force in order to maximize profits in the shattered capitalist economy. There were demonstrations, sit-down strikes and even gun-fights led by the Communist Party and other left groups to establish this basic democratic right.
Within this political context, fascist groups began to emerge. They drew their inspiration from Mussolini's fascists or Hitler's brown- shirts. In a time of severe social crisis, groups of petty-bourgeois and lumpen elements begin to coalesce around demagogic leaders. They employ "radical" sounding rhetoric but in practice seek out working- class organizations to intimidate and destroy. One such fascist group was the Silver Shirts of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In chapter eleven of "Teamster Politics", SWP leader Farrell Dobbs recounts "How the Silver Shirts Lost Their Shrine in Minneapolis". It is the story of how Local 544 of the Teamsters union, led by Trotskyists, defended itself successfully from a fascist expedition into the city. Elements of the Twin Cities ruling-class, alarmed over the growth of industrial unionism in the city, called in Silver Shirt organizer Roy Zachary. Zachary hosted two closed door meetings on July 29 and August 2 of 1938. Teamster "moles" discovered that Zachary intended to launch a vigilante attack against Local 544 headquarters. They also discovered that Zachary planned to work with one F.L. Taylor to set up an "Associated Council of Independent Unions", a union-busting operation. Taylor had ties to a vigilante outfit called the "Minnesota Minute Men".
Local 544 took serious measures to defend itself. It formed a union defense guard in August 1938 open to any active union member. Many of the people who joined had military experience, including Ray Rainbolt the elected commander of the guard. Rank-and-filers were former sharpshooters, machine gunners and tank operators in the US Army. The guard also included one former German officer with WWI experience. While the guard itself did not purchase arms except for target practice, nearly every member had hunting rifles at home that they could use in the circumstance of a Silver Shirt attack.
Events reached a climax when Pelley came to speak at a rally in the wealthy section of Minneapolis.
Ray Rainbolt organized a large contingent of defense guard members to pay a visit to Calhoun Hall where Pelley was to make his appearance. The powerful sight of disciplined but determined unionists persuaded the audience to go home and Pelley to cancel his speech.
This was the type of conflict taking place in 1938. A capitalist class bent on taming workers; fascist groups with a documented violent, anti-labor record; industrial workers in motion: these were the primary actors in that period. It was characteristic of the type of class conflict that characterized the entire 1930s. It is useful to keep this in mind when we speak about McCarthyism.
WWII abolished a number of major contradictions in global capital while introducing others. The United States emerged as the world's leading capitalist power and took control economically and politically of many of the former colonies of the exhausted European powers. Inter-imperialist rivalries and contradictions seemed to be a thing of the past. England was the U.S.'s junior partner. The defeated Axis powers, Germany and Japan, were under Washington's thumb. France retained some independence. (To this day France continues to act as if it were an equal partner of the US, detonating nuclear weapons in the Pacific or talking back to NATO over policies in Bosnia.)
Meanwhile the USSR survived the war bloodied but unbowed. In a series of negotiations with the US and its allies, Stalin won the right to create "buffer" states to his West. A whole number of socialist countries then came into being. China and Yugoslavia had deep-going proletarian revolutions that, joined with the buffer states, would soon account for more than 1/4 of the world's population.
World imperialism took an aggressive stance toward the socialist bloc before the smoke had cleared from the WWII battlegrounds. Churchill made his "cold war" speech and contradictions between the socialist states and world capitalism grew very sharp. Imperialism began using the same type of rhetoric and propaganda against the USSR that it had used against the Nazis. Newreels of the early fifties would depict a spreading red blot across the European continent. This time the symbol superimposed on the blot was a hammer-and-sickle instead of a swastika. The idea was the same: to line up the American people against the enemy overseas that was trying to gobble up the "free world".
A witch-hunt in the United States, sometimes called McCarthyism, emerged in the United States from nearly the very moment the cold war started. The witch-hunt would serve to eradicate domestic opposition to the anti-Communist crusade overseas. The witch-hunters wanted to root up and eradicate all sympathy to the USSR. President Harry Truman, a Democrat and New Dealer, started the anticommunist crusade. He introduced the first witch-hunt legislation, a bill that prevented federal employees from belonging to "subversive" organizations. When Republican Dwight Eisenhower took office, he simply kept the witch-hunt going. The McCarthy movement per se emerges out of a reactionary climate created by successive White House administrations, Democrat and Republican alike.
I will argue that a similar dynamic has existed in US politics over the past twenty years. Instead of having a "cold war" against the socialist countries, we have had a "cold war" on the working-class and its allies. James Carter, a Democrat, set into motion the attack on working people and minorities, while successive Republican and Democratic administrations have continued to stoke the fire. Reaganism is Carterism raised to a higher level. All Buchanan represents is the emergence of a particularly reactionary tendency within this overall tendency toward the right.
Attacks on the working-class and minorities have nothing to do with "bad faith" on the part of people like William Clinton. We are dealing with a global restructuring of capital that will be as deep-going in its impact on class relations internationally as the cold war was in its time. The cold war facilitated the removal of the Soviet Union as a rival. Analogously, the class war on working people in the advanced capitalist countries that began in the Carter years facilitates capital's next new expansion. Capitalism is a dynamic system. This dynamism includes not only war and "downsizing", it also includes fabulous growth in places like the East Coast of China. To not see this is to not understand capitalism.
"The United States, the most powerful capitalist country in history, is a component part of the world capitalist system and is subject to the same general laws. It suffers from the same incurable diseases and is destined to share the same fate. The overwhelming preponderance of American imperialism does not exempt it from the decay of world capitalism, but, on the contrary, acts to involve it even more deeply, inextricably and hopelessly. US capitalism can no more escape from the revolutionary consequences of world capitalist decay than the older European capitalist powers. The blind alley in which world capitalism has arrived, and the US with it, excludes a new organic era of capitalist stabilization. The dominant world position of American imperialism now accentuates and aggravates the death agony of capitalism as a whole."
This appears in an article in the April 5, 1954 Militant titled "First Principles in the Struggle Against Fascism". It is of course based on a totally inaccurate misunderstanding of the state of global capital. Capitalism was not in a "blind alley" in 1954. The truth is that from approximately 1946 on capitalism went through the most sustained expansion in its entire history. To have spoken about the "death agony" of capitalism in 1954 was utter nonsense. This "catastrophism" could only serve to misorient the left since it did not put McCarthyism in proper context.
One of the great contributions made by Nicos Poulantzas in his "Fascism and the Third International" was his diagnosis of the problem of "catastrophism". According to Poulantzas, the belief that capitalism has reached a "blind alley" first appeared in the Comintern of the early 1920's. He blames this on a dogmatic approach to Lenin's "Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism" that existed in a communist movement that was all too eager to deify the dead revolutionist.
Lenin's theory of imperialism owed much to Hilferding and Bukharin who believed that capitalism was moribund and incapable of generating new technical and industrial growth. Moreover, this capitalist system was in a perpetual crisis and wars were inevitable. The Comintern latched onto this interpretation and adapted it to the phenomenon of fascism. Fascism, in addition to war, was also a permanent feature of the decaying capitalist system. A system that had reached such an impasse was a system that was in a permanent catastrophic mode. The Comintern said that it was five minutes to midnight.
The SWP's version of catastrophism did not allow it to see McCarthy's true mission. This mission was not to destroy the unions and turn the United States into a totalitarian state. It was rather a mission to eliminate radical dissent against the stepped-up attack on the USSR, its allies and revolutionary movements in the third world. The witch- hunt targeted radicals in the unions, the schools, the State Department, the media and elsewhere. After the witch-hunt had eradicated all traces of radical opinion, the US military could fight its imperialist wars without interference from the left. This is exactly what took place during the Korean War. There were no visible signs of dissent except in the socialist press and in some liberal publications like I.F. Stone's Newsletter. This clamp-down on dissent lasted until the Vietnam war when a newly developing radicalization turned the witch-hunt back for good.
In the view of the SWP, nothing basically had changed since the 1930's. The target of McCarthyite "fascism" was the working-class and its unions. The Militant stated on January 18, 1954:
"If the workers' organizations don't have the answer, the fascists will utilize the rising discontent of the middle class, its disgust with the blundering labor leadership, and its frenzy at being ruined economically, to build a mass fascist movement with armed detachments and hurl them at the unions. While spouting a lot of radical-sounding demagogy they will deflect the anti-capitalist wrath of the middle class and deploy it against labor, and establish the iron- heel dictatorship of Big Capital on the smoking ruins of union halls."
One wonders if the party leadership in 1954 actually knew any middle- class people, since party life consisted of a "faux proletarian" subculture with tenuous ties to American society. Certainly they could have found out about the middle-class on the newly emerging TV situation comedies like "Father Knows Best" or "Leave it to Beaver". Rather than expressing "rising discontent" or "frenzy", the middle- class was taking advantage of dramatic increases in personal wealth. Rather than plotting attacks on union halls like the Silver Shirts did in 1938, they were moving to suburbia, buying televisions and station wagons, and taking vacations in Miami Beach or Europe. This was not only objectively possible for the average middle-class family, it was also becoming possible for the worker in basic industry. For the very same reason the working-class was not gravitating toward socialism, the middle-class was not gravitating toward fascism. This reason, of course, is that prosperity had become general.
The other day Ryan Daum posted news of the death of Pablo, a leader of the Trotskyist movement in the 1950s. European Trotskyism is generally much less dogmatic than its American and English cousins. While the party leadership in the United States hated Pablo with a passion, rank and filers often found themselves being persuaded by some ideas put forward by the Europeans.
One of these differences revolved around how to assess McCarthy. The party leadership viewed McCarthy as a fascist while a minority grouping led by Dennis Vern and Samuel Ryan based in Los Angeles challenged this view. Unfortunately I was not able to locate articles in which the minority defends its view. What I will try to do is reconstruct this view through remarks directed against them by Joseph Hansen, a party leader. This is a risky method, but the only one available to me.
Vern and Ryan criticize the Militant's narrow focus on the McCarthyite threat. They say, "The net effect of this campaign is not to hurt McCarthy, or the bourgeois state, but to excuse the bourgeois state for the indisputable evidences of its bourgeois character, and thus hinder the proletariat in its understanding that the bourgeois- democratic state is an 'executive committee' of the capitalist class, and that only a workers state can offer an appropriate objective for the class struggle."
I tend to discount statements like "only a workers state" since they function more as a mantra than anything else ("only socialism can end racism"; "only socialism can end sexism"-- you get the picture.) However, there is something interesting being said here. By singling out McCarthy, didn't the SWP "personalize" the problems the left was facing? A Democratic president initiated the witch-hunt, not a fascist minded politician. Both capitalist parties created the reactionary movement out of which McCarthy emerges. By the same token, doesn't the narrow focus on Buchanan today tend to lift some of the pressure on William Clinton. After all, if our problem is Buchanan, then perhaps it makes sense to throw all of our weight behind Clinton.
Vern and Ryan also offer the interesting observation that McCarthy has been less anti-union than many bourgeois politicians to his left. The liberal politicians railed against McCarthy's assault on civil liberties, but meanwhile endorsed all sorts of measures that would have weakened the power of the American trade union movement.
This was an interesting perception that has some implications I will attempt to elucidate. McCarthy did not target the labor movement as such because the post WWII social contract between labor and big business was essentially class-collaborationist. The union movement would keep its mouth shut about foreign interventions in exchange for higher wages, job security, etc. Social peace at home accompanied and eased the way of US capitalist expansionism overseas. The only obstacle to this social contract was the ideological left, those members of the union movement, the media, etc. They were all possible supporters of the Vietminh and other liberation movements. McCarthy wanted to purge the union movement of these elements, but not destroy the union movement itself. Turning our clock forward to 1996, does anybody think that Buchanan intends to break the power of the US working-class? Does big business need Buchanan when the Arkansas labor-hater is doing such a great job?
The SWP has had a tremendous attraction toward "catastrophism". Turning the clock forward from 1954 to 1988, we discover resident genius Jack Barnes telling a gathering of the faithful that capitalism finally is in the eleventh hour. In a speech on "What the 1987 Stock Market Crash Foretold", he says:
"Neither past sources of rapid capital accumulation nor other options can enable the imperialist ruling classes to restore the long-term accelerating accumulation of world capitalism and avert an international depression and general social crisis....
"The period in the history of capitalist development that we are living through today is heading toward intensified class battles on a national and international scale, including wars and revolutionary situations. In order to squeeze out more wealth from the labor of exploited producers....
"Before the exploiters can unleash a victorious reign of reaction [i.e., fascism], however, the workers will have the first chance. The mightiest class battles of human history will provide the workers and exploited farmers in the United States and many other countries the opportunity to place revolutionary situations on the order of the day."
Someone should have thrown a glass of cold water in the face of this guru before he made this speech. He predicted depression, but the financial markets ignored him. The stock market recovered from the 1987 crash and has now shot up to over 5000 points. His statement that nothing could have averted an international depression shows that he much better qualified at plotting purges than plotting out the development of capital accumulation.
His statement that the "period in the history of capitalist development that we are living through" is heading toward wars and revolution takes the word "period" and strips it of all meaning. Nine years have passed and there is neither depression nor general social crisis. Is a decade sufficient to define a period? I think all of us can benefit from Jack Barnes' catastrophism if we simply redefine what a period is. Let us define it as a hundred years, then predictions of our Nostradamus might begin to make sense. Unfortunately, the art of politics consists of knowing what to do next and predictions of such a sweeping nature are worthless.
Sally Ryan posted an article from the Militant newspaper the other day. It states that Buchanan is a fascist:
"Buchanan is not primarily out to win votes, nor was he four years ago. He has set out to build a cadre of those committed to his program and willing to act in the streets to carry it out. He dubs his supporters the 'Buchanan Brigades'....
"Commenting on the tone of a recent speech Buchanan gave to the New Hampshire legislature, Republican state representative Julie Brown, said, 'It's just mean - like a little Mussolini.'....
"While he is not about to get the Republican nomination, Buchanan is serious in his campaign. The week before his Louisiana win, he came in first in a straw poll of Alaska Republicans and placed third in polls in New Hampshire, where the first primary election will be held. He is building a base regardless of how the vote totals continue to fall. And he poses the only real alternative that can be put forward within the capitalist system to the like-sounding Clinton and Dole - a fascist alternative."
These quotations tend to speak for a rather wide-spread analysis of Buchanan that a majority of the left supports, including my comrades on this list.
I want to offer a counter-analysis:
1) We are in a period of quiescence, not class confrontation.
Comrades, this is the good news and the bad news. It is good news because there is no threat of a fascist movement coming to power. It is bad news because it reflects how depoliticized the US working-class remains.
There is no fascist movement in the United States of any size or significance. It is time to stop talking about the militias of Montana. Let us speak instead of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, etc. Has there been any growth of fascism? Of course not. In New York, my home town, there is no equivalent of the German- American bund, the fascists of the 1930s who had a base on New York's upper east side, my neighborhood.
There are no attacks on socialist or trade union meetings. There are not even attacks on movements of allies of the working-class. The women's movement, the black movement, the Central American movement organize peacefully and without interference for the simple reason that there are no violent gangs to subdue them.
The reason there are no violent gangs of fascists is the same as it was in the 1950s. We are not in a period of general social crisis. There are no frenzied elements of the petty-bourgeoisie or the lumpen proletariat being drawn into motion by demagogic and charismatic leaders like Mussolini or Hitler. There are no Silver Shirts that the labor or socialist movement needs protection from.
There is another key difference from the 1930s that we must consider. Capital and labor battled over the rights of labor within the prevailing factory system. Capitalism has transformed that factory system. Workers who remain in basic industry are not fighting for union representation. They simply want to keep their jobs. Those who remain employed will not tend to enter into confrontations with capital as long as wages and benefits retain a modicum of acceptability. That is the main reason industrial workers tend to be quiescent and will remain so for some time to come.
In the 1930s, workers occupied huge factories and battled the bosses over the right to a union. The bosses wanted to keep these factories open and strikes tended to take on a militant character in these showdowns. Strike actions tended to draw the working-class together and make it easier for socialists to get a hearing. This was because strikes were much more like mass actions and gave workers a sense of their power. The logical next step, according to the socialists, was trade union activity on a political level and, ultimately, rule by the workers themselves.
The brunt of the attack today has been downsizing and runaway capital. This means that working people have a fear of being unemployed more than anything else. This fear grips the nation. When a worker loses a job today, he or she tends to look for personal solutions: a move to another city, signing up for computer programming classes, etc. Michael Moore's "Roger and Me" vividly illustrated this type of personal approach Every unemployed auto worker in this film was trying to figure out a way to solve their problems on their own.
In the face of the atomization of the US working class, it is no surprise that many workers seem to vote for Buchanan. He offers them a variant on the personal solution. A worker may say to himself or herself, "Ah, this Buchanan's a racist bigot, but he's the only one who seems to care about what's happening to me. I'll take a gamble and give him my vote." Voting is not politics. It is the opposite of politics. It is the capitalist system's mechanism for preventing political action.
2) Buchanan is a bourgeois politician.
Pat Buchanan represents the thinking of an element of the US ruling class, and views the problems of the United States from within that perspective. Buchanan's nationalism relates very closely to the nationalism of Ross Perot, another ruling class politician.
A consensus exists among the ruling class that US capital must take a global route. The capitalist state must eliminate trade barriers and capital must flow to where there is greatest possibility for profit. Buchanan articulates the resentments of a section of the bourgeoisie that wants to resist this consensus. It would be an interesting project to discover where Buchanan gets his money. This would be a more useful of one's time than comparing his speeches to Father Coughlin or Benito Mussolini's.
There are no parties in the United States in the European sense. In Europe, where there is a parliamentary system, people speak for clearly defined programs and are responsible to clearly defined constituencies. In the United States, politics revolves around "winner take all" campaigns. This tends to put a spotlight on presidential elections and magnify the statements of candidates all out of proportion.
Today we have minute textual analysis of what Buchanan is saying. His words take on a heightened, almost ultra-real quality. Since he is in a horse race, the press tends to worry over each and every inflammatory statement he makes. This tends to give his campaign a more threatening quality than is supported by the current state of class relations in the United States.
3) The way to fight Buchanan is by developing a class alternative.
The left needs a candidate who is as effective as Buchanan in drawing class lines.
The left has not been able to present an alternative to Buchanan. It has been making the same kinds of mistakes that hampered the German left in the 1920s: ultraleft sectarianism and opportunism. Our "Marxist-Leninist" groups, all 119 of them, offer themselves individually as the answer to Pat Buchanan. Meanwhile, social democrats and left-liberals at the Nation magazine and elsewhere are preparing all the reasons one can think of to vote for the "lesser evil".
What the left needs to do is coalesce around a class-based, militant program. The left has not yet written this program, despite many assurances to the contrary we can hear on this list every day. It will have to be in the language of the American people, not in Marxist- Leninist jargon. Some people know how speak effectively to working people. I include Michael Moore the film-maker. I also include people like our own Doug Henwood, and Alex Cockburn and his co-editor Ken Silverstein who put out a newsletter called "Counterpunch".
Most of all, the model we need is like Eugene V. Debs and the Socialist Party of the turn of the century, minus the right-wing. Study the speeches of Debs and you get an idea of the kind of language we need to speak. Our mission today remains the same as it was in turn of the century Russia: to build a socialist party where none exists.