Books of the Month

The capitalist rulers turn to fascism to smash the working class

January 16, 2023
Teamsters Local 544 Union Defense Guard in 1938. Showing road for workers toward taking power, unionists across Minneapolis-St. Paul area swelled its ranks to block mobilization of employer-funded strikebreakers, fascist thugs.
Teamsters Local 544 Union Defense Guard in 1938. Showing road for workers toward taking power, unionists across Minneapolis-St. Paul area swelled its ranks to block mobilization of employer-funded strikebreakers, fascist thugs.

The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany by Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for January. The term “fascist” is falsely used by liberals and the middle-class left today as an anti-working-class epithet. Trotsky explains scientifically how the menace of a fascist movement arises out of the failure of working-class leadership to take power during revolutionary crises. The capitalist rulers can then use fascists to incite the disillusioned petty bourgeoisie against the working class and its organizations. The excerpt is from Trotsky’s unfinished Aug. 20, 1940, article, “Bonapartism, Fascism and War.” Copyright © 1971 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.


We have analyzed fascism as it developed, throughout the various stages of its development, and advanced to the forefront now one, now another of its aspects. There is an element of Bonapartism in fascism. Without this element, namely, without the raising of state power above society owing to an extreme sharpening of the class struggle, fascism would have been impossible. But we pointed out from the very beginning that it was primarily a question of Bonapartism of the epoch of imperialist decline, which is qualitatively different from Bonapartism of the epoch of bourgeois rise. At the next stage we distinguished pure Bonapartism as the prologue to a fascist regime. …

Insofar as the proletariat proves incapable at a given stage of conquering power, imperialism begins regulating economic life with its own methods; the political mechanism is the fascist party, which becomes the state power. The productive forces are in irreconcilable contradiction not only with private property but also with national boundaries. Imperialism is the very expression of this contradiction. Imperialist capitalism seeks to solve this contradiction through an extension of boundaries, seizure of new territories, and so on. The totalitarian state, subjecting all aspects of economic, political, and cultural life to finance capital, is the instrument for creating a supranationalist state, an imperialist empire, ruling over continents, ruling over the whole world.

All these traits of fascism we have analyzed each one by itself and all of them in their totality to the extent that they became manifest or came to the forefront.

Both theoretical analysis and the rich historical experience of the last quarter of a century have demonstrated with equal force that fascism is each time the final link of a specific political cycle composed of the following: the gravest crisis of capitalist society; the growth of the radicalization of the working class; the growth of sympathy toward the working class and a yearning for change on the part of the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie; the extreme confusion of the big bourgeoisie; its cowardly and treacherous maneuvers aimed at avoiding the revolutionary climax; the exhaustion of the proletariat; growing confusion and indifference; the aggravation of the social crisis; the despair of the petty bourgeoisie, its yearning for change; the collective neurosis of the petty bourgeoisie, its readiness to believe in miracles, its readiness for violent measures; the growth of hostility towards the proletariat which has deceived its expectations. These are the premises for a swift formation of a fascist party and its victory.

It is quite self-evident that the radicalization of the working class in the United States has passed only through its initial phases, almost exclusively in the sphere of the trade-union movement (the CIO). … The problem of forming an independent labor party will be put on the order of the day. Our transitional demands will gain great popularity. On the other hand, the fascist, reactionary tendencies will withdraw to the background, assuming a defensive position, awaiting a more favorable moment. … It is necessary to utilize the opportunities which are opening up and to build the revolutionary party. …

The old conservative tradition of the democratic state, which was so powerful even during the era of the last imperialist war, exists today only as an extremely unstable survival. On the eve of the last war the European workers had numerically powerful parties. But on the order of the day were put reforms, partial conquests, and not at all the conquest of power.

The American working class is still without a mass labor party even today. But the objective situation and the experience accumulated by the American workers can within a very brief period of time place on the order of the day the question of the conquest of power. This perspective must be made the basis of our agitation. It is not merely a question of a position on capitalist militarism and of renouncing the defense of the bourgeois state but of directly preparing for the conquest of power. …

The irreconcilability of the struggle waged by Marx, Engels, and Lenin against opportunism on the one side and anarchism on the other demonstrates that they did not at all underestimate this danger. In what did it consist? In this, that the opportunism of the summits of the working class, subject to the bourgeoisie’s influence, could obstruct, slow down, make more difficult, postpone the fulfillment of the revolutionary task of the proletariat. It is precisely this condition of society that we are now observing. Fascism did not at all come “instead” of socialism. Fascism is the continuation of capitalism, an attempt to perpetuate its existence by means of the most bestial and monstrous measures. Capitalism obtained an opportunity to resort to fascism only because the proletariat did not accomplish the socialist revolution in time. The proletariat was paralyzed in the fulfillment of its task by the opportunist parties. …

We may set it down as an historical law: fascism was able to conquer only in those countries where the conservative labor parties prevented the proletariat from utilizing the revolutionary situation and seizing power. In Germany, two revolutionary situations were involved: 1918-1919 and 1923-24. Even in 1929 a direct struggle for power on the part of the proletariat was still possible. In all these three cases the Social Democracy and the Comintern criminally and viciously disrupted the conquest of power and thereby placed society in an impasse. Only under these conditions and in this situation did the stormy rise of fascism and its gaining of power prove possible.