Historical Fascism

This is Appendix C of Beyond Classical Marxism. It is the first draft of my “Moving Forward” column scheduled for publication in the August 2020 issue of the newspaper Works in Progress of Olympia, Washington.

Is President Donald Trump leading us into fascism?  To consider this question, it is necessary to understand the role which fascism plays in a capitalist society, why the capitalist class turns to facilitating the rise of fascism.  Such understanding is provided in the collection of essays Radical Perspectives on the Rise of Fascism in Germany, 1919-1945 (Monthly Review Press, 1989).

     In the aftermath of World War I, a democratic parliamentary political system was set up in defeated Germany, as the “Weimar Republic”.  The capitalists were divided into three major factions:  heavy industry (iron, steel, mining) focused on domestic economic development; export industry (dynamic, technologically more advanced, and more prosperous) led by machine, electric, and chemical industries as well as textiles and commercial interests; and agriculture (the landed aristocracy, particularly the “Junkers” of Prussia).  The “middle class” consisted of shopkeepers, commodity producers, and salaried employees, as well as the peasantry).  The working class had strong labor unions and a strong political party (the Social Democratic Party of Germany, or “SPD”) and a German Communist Party (“KPD”) which had been greatly weakened by the abortive revolutionary uprisings following World War I.

     At first the export-industry fraction of the bourgeoisie was dominant in representing capital, and the labor unions and SPD were able to work with this fraction in considerably improving workers’ lives, until 1930.  They were, in fact, “too” successful, for heavy industry was then unable to make a decent profit and the economic system was in major distress.  In the early 1930’s heavy industry achieved hegemony over the export industry and refused to collaborate politically with workers’ organizations.  However, the political system was so dysfunctional that the Weimar parliament lost most mass support in spite of efforts by heavy industry to revive it.  The only really strong political parties in the early 1930’s were the fascist NSDAP (the National Socialist German Workers Party of Hitler, based most strongly in the “middle class”) and the SPD (with some help from the KPD, although at this time the communists were denouncing the social democrats as being the main enemy of the revolution).  So the capitalists tried to use the NSDAP as a junior partner in parliament, as a substitute for their lack of mass following.  But Hitler refused any deal other than one making him Chancellor, and the capitalists finally capitulated, especially since the NSDAP in the most recent election appeared to be in decline and there was the danger that it would fade away.

     So on January 30, 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.  He quickly destroyed the labor unions and soon all other political parties, using as necessary the huge army of streetfighters (the SA, or “stormtroopers”) which the NSDAP had built up.  Through a referendum he had himself and his party declared the sole ruler of Germany, and by 1938 he had replaced the old state bureaucracy with his own followers.  Anti-Semitism was eagerly implemented in Germany, with Jews deprived of any political or social influence and even of their livelihood; this treatment was but a prelude to the Holocaust which the Germans carried out in eastern Europe as soon as they were able to, when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939.

     Furthermore, analysis for understanding authoritarianism in the United States aids in comprehending the possibilities for implementing fascism here.  A comrade has kindly provided the following analysis of authoritarianism here, the key reference points being slavery, the Civil War, the rollback of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and changing demographics as a major stress for the contemporary period.  The next column will then consider the question of to what extent Trump is implementing fascism in the United States.

     In the pre-Civil-War period and the Civil War, a whole section of society, anchored in the slaveowners but extending to a cross-class white bloc, viewed their whole civilization and “way of life” as being dependent on maintaining slavery. So they used “any means necessary” to try to defend and expand it. They were beaten, but came back via racist terror and the assault on Black voting rights to roll back Reconstruction and put in place Jim Crow for a hundred years. This was essentially apartheid – Blacks in the South “had no rights the white man needed to respect” and this was enforced through lynching – i.e. through open terror.

     Now we are living through another stage in the rollback of the gains of the 1960’s (and of the 30’s as well). And for the first time since the Civil War, a whole layer of society – again rooted in the most reactionary sectors of capital but extending to a cross-class white bloc – believes (since because of demographic change, the U.S. in 30-40 years will be a majority people-of-color country) that if democracy and majority rule exists in the U.S., their whole way of life (white Christian American civilization) will go under. So they are prepared to – more than that, enthusiastic to – set in place a system for long-term rule by a minority of the population via authoritarian means.  Big sectors of capital – not all, but highly important ones such as energy corporations and the military-industrial complex – are behind this because they know their ecoholic and energy policies (climate change denialism) are unpopular not just with communities of color but also with young whites.

     So there is a massive force moving toward what could be called neo-apartheid, a racialized authoritarian state, “illiberal democracy” or even a not-classical-European fascism but still essentially a form of fascism. This may occur even in the absence of a strong communist or revolutionary left. This is what Trumpism is about:  the absolute determination of roughly 30% of the U.S. population right now to turn to explicit authoritarianism in which immigrants and Blacks are not “real Americans” and have no rights that the “real Americans” need to respect.