Alt Left: Trotsky on Fascism: One of the Best Analyses of Fascism Ever Written

Brian: Leon Trotsky, as far as I can tell, held the view that fascism is a capitalist phase that occurs when capitalism needs to be rescued from rising discontent among workers.

He wrote:

The Nazis call their overturn [of Social Democracy] by the usurped title of revolution. As a matter of fact, in Germany as well as in Italy, fascism leaves the social system untouched. Taken by itself, Hitler’s overturn has no right even to the name counterrevolution.

But it cannot be viewed as an isolated event; it is the conclusion of a cycle of shocks which began in Germany in 1918. The November Revolution, which gave the power to the workers’ and peasants’ soviets, was proletarian in its fundamental tendencies. But the party that stood at the head of the proletariat returned the power to the bourgeoisie. In this sense social democracy opened the era of counterrevolution before the revolution could bring its work to completion.

However, so long as the bourgeoisie depended upon social democracy and consequently upon the workers, the regime retained elements of compromise. All the same, the international and internal situation of German capitalism left no more room for concessions. As social democracy saved the bourgeoisie from the proletarian revolution, fascism came in its turn to liberate the bourgeoisie from social democracy. Hitler’s coup is only the final link in the chain of counterrevolutionary shifts.

In Trotsky’s view, social democracy overturned socialism after 1918, promising compromise between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and then Nazism overturned social democracy so as to end the need for compromise between the bourgeoisie and proletariat.

Nazism, in his analysis, and fascism in general is an expression of the petty bourgeoisie, which is hostile to economic and social development because such development in the current era necessarily favors either capitalists or workers.

So the petty bourgeois start making a commotion when economic and social conditions turn against them, and when the big bourgeoisie feels sufficiently threatened by the Left, they ally with the petty bourgeois elements and fascism begins. The primary objective is to throttle the workers so that both the big and petty bourgeoisie can be relatively comfortable in their socioeconomic positions.

However, the big capitalists prefer not to be in alliance with the petty bourgeoisie and to rule on their own, so such an alliance is merely convenient, and the big capitalists are not fully comfortable with it since it, like social democracy, limits their autonomy.

So during the capitalist stage of history, the upper class naturally prefers laissez faire capitalism or libertarianism, the middle class naturally prefers stasis and to hinder development so as to preserve themselves, and the working class naturally prefers socialism.

Perhaps it can be thought of like this: Fascism occurs when both the upper and middle Class agree that workers’ power threatens to grow too starkly, and they ally. Social democracy, perhaps, occurs when the middle and working class feel acutely threatened by the upper class, and they ally. Laissez faire capitalism occurs when the upper class is firmly in control. And socialism occurs when the working class is firmly in control.

Moreover, social democracy tends to pave the way for the upper class to regain much of its diminished power by maintaining the social system of the capitalist stage of history in general. This is why Trotsky thinks only a full proletarian revolution can safeguard against the return of an anti-worker regime, whether that regime is laissez faire or fascist.

Of course, Marxism in general holds that capitalism must reach a certain level of development before a true and lasting proletarian revolution can occur.

What do you think of all this?

Trotsky’s take on national socialism and fascism.

Thank you very much for this comment. Anyone want to argue against this or expand on it.

Yes, I read that essay. Written ~1930, right? It’s perfect. Trotsky is unjustly maligned, though his position on WW2 was unconscionable. His murder by Stalin was a serious crime. Need we remind ourselves that Leon Trotsky was the leader of the Red Army itself? That’s pretty impressive right there.

Trotsky’s essay, though written 90 years ago, remains one of the finest analyses ever of the phenomenon of fascism, which surprisingly is a very hard concept to figure out, mostly due to its chameleon-like and ever-mutating nature which tries to hide its fascist nature by saying a fascist project is not fascist. Fascism can and does call itself just about anything. In fact, there are fascist movements that have called themselves antifascists!

I recall there was this anti-Semite on the Jewish and Israeli newsgroups who often posed as an antifascist. He called actual antifascists fascists and called fascists antifascists. So he ended up railing against fascism while actually promoting it! He was pretty confusing for a while there until a I finally figured out his game after a few months. He sure was sneaky though, I’ll give him that.

The ever-mutating nature of fascism mirrors that of capitalism itself. Following Marx, I agree that capitalism is an amazing thing. I stand in awe at its capacity to continuously innovate and suit itself to most any material conditions. Think about this: A capitalist can literally print up t-shirts with Che Guevara’s face them and Revolution! written across the fronts, sell them and make a million dollars from them! That’s amazing. A capitalist making a bundle by selling anti-capitalist products. This is why capitalism is such a formidable foe.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Alt Left: Trotsky on Fascism: One of the Best Analyses of Fascism Ever Written”

  1. In Trotsky’s analysis of the situation in Germany after WWI, it seems that a full proletarian revolution was taking hold, but it got derailed by the social democrats. If social democracy is an alliance of the working and middle classes against the upper class, this means either of two things.

    First, that the social democrat leadership never intended to help the working class for very long and were secretly aligned with the bourgeoisie.

    Second, that the situation at the time was very hazy such that the middle class wanted better conditions for themselves and saw alliance with the working class as their best bet at the time, but as it became clear that their situation would not improve with social democracy – due to whatever variety of reasons in the Weimar Republic – they turned against the workers, judging that since they can’t topple the upper class, they could at least crush the working class beneath them.

    This was the beginning of the counterrevolution.

    Then, with the counterrevolutionary spirit in the air, fascist elements, who were those in the middle class who wanted an alliance with the bourgeoisie instead of with the proletariat, continued what the social democrats’ betrayal had started. So the rise of the Nazi dictatorship was just another step forward for the counterrevolution.

    Then the Nazi party betrayed the middle class at least to some extent and allowed the big bourgeoisie to run the economy. The middle class, instead of gaining status, was under even tighter control now than they were under the social democracy of the Weimar government.

    But the Nazis gave the middle class nationalistic reassurances of superiority as a way to placate them, along with a thick racial and Germanic mysticism to distract the middle class from their continued socioeconomic stagnation. So the counterrevolution was almost complete and Capital was running the show.

    Rearmament for the sake of future imperialism served the capitalists’ interests much more than those of the middle class, though the national socialist state, which accomplished far more in the realm of nationalistic imperialism than it ever cared to in the realm of socialist reform, did offer a few programs for the people and tried to make sure people had access to food and shelter.

    So the Nazi regime wasn’t simply rule by the capitalists, which would have been a laissez faire approach to the economy. But it did come quite close to allowing full capitalist rule. Perhaps if the Nazi regime had lasted longer, it would have jettisoned most of the fascist ideology and the racial mysticism used to befuddle the middle class and just evolved into a laissez faire plutocracy, complete with corporate globalization, multiculturalism, and imperialism, like existed in the late 19th century or today.

    We can see a similar trend in Europe in recent decades. The social democracies of Europe, which had been helpful to the working class and were sometimes critical of imperial projects (though they always engaged in some), have becoming increasingly hostile to the working class and are now quite apt to embrace imperialism.

    Social democracy ended up betraying the workers as the middle class moved to align itself with the upper class, thus opening the door to eventual fascism. The middle class consists of social climbers who want to join the upper class, so their natural tendency is to sympathize with the bourgeoisie, though they sometimes align with the proletariat when this seems like a good way to prevent a bourgeois attack against them.

    Perhaps in Europe, the middle class in many countries is now so comfortable that they no longer find common cause with the proletariat and want to rise higher than they can with social democracy, so they are pushing to dismantle it. Or perhaps the pressures of decades- long neoliberal attacks on the middle and working classes have left the middle class with an “every man for himself” mentality, so they are willing to turn against the working class and promote the interests of the bourgeoisie in the hope of gaining their favor.

    Either way, social democracy precluded full socialism and then didn’t bother to seek it through a process of slow reform, thus paving the way to the next stage of counterrevolution and the reassertion of direct power by the upper class.

    It would seem that Trotsky and the Marxists are right: if you want socialism, the revolution must go all the way and not stop at social democracy. The US in the mid-twentieth century had programs similar to those of a social democratic government, but of course they got eroded and fascist tendencies asserted themselves from around the time of Reagan onward.

    1. You’re German. I know you guys love to capitalize your nouns, but I would prefer if you leave social democracy, big and petit bourgeois, socialism, party, etc. in lower case.

      Also is this analysis that you arrived at by being German, that is is this a typical analysis of that era by the German Left?

      Fantastic. Did you just think this up or have you been thinking about this for a long time? This is so perfect. It’s so correct. I’ve been wondering about these things for so long, but you just made so much of it make sense for me.

      1. I wrote all that out extemporaneously, but such thoughts have occasionally gone through my head for at least a decade, and I have read some Trotsky, Lenin, Marx etc. in the past, and have studied the history of the rise of the National Socialist Party in Germany.

        They were disproportionately supported by the middle class, like accountants and small business owners, whereas factory workers and laborers tended to give disproportionate support to the socialists. The industrialists liked the older conservative factions but were willing to back the Nazis as a way to prevent socialism. So those comments were just extrapolations from Trotsky’s thought, Marxism in general, and history.

        The interview of Stalin by H.G. Wells is here.

        https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/04/h-g-wells-it-seems-me-i-am-more-left-you-mr-stalin

        I think Stalin actually has the better points in this discussion, especially when Wells tries to argue that Roosevelt’s New Deal is socialist in character and could lead to a socialist state. Stalin says that Roosevelt is the most remarkable of the leaders of capitalist nations at that time, but since the means of production remain privately owned, Roosevelt’s reforms are not socialism. Moreover, Stalin argues that it’s unlikely they’ll lead to a socialist state in the future.

        But though Stalin was right on that score, his Socialism in One Country policy failed. Trotsky wanted to go full bore pushing for socialist revolution around the world. Stalin however was more content to have the Soviet Union, though he and later Soviet leaders did support socialist causes elsewhere. But not the extent Trotsky would have wanted.

        Moreover, Trotsky saw the Soviet Union after Stalin took over as a “degenerated workers’ state.” That is, the Soviet Union began as a flourishing workers state, from about 1917 until Stalin’s rise in the mid-1920s. Workers were militant in supporting the socialist cause, and there was a fair bit of democracy.

        What Stalin did was make the Soviet Union oppressively bureaucratic and laid the groundwork for the emergence of a ruling caste of party insiders – which was not a ruling class because they didn’t own productive property but was an undemocratic institutionalized elite all the same. This sapped the vitality of the workers’ struggle.

        Interestingly, Trotsky also spoke of the “deformed workers’ state.” The Baltic states during the Soviet period would be examples of this. This was a bureaucratic, authoritarian state in which individuals did not own the means of production, and which was run to some extent for the benefit of the workers, since ensuring the dignity of the working class was the state’s claim to legitimacy.

        But the workers themselves did not bring about such states; instead, they were imposed from outside. So these were not “degenerated” workers’ states, but instead deformed from the outset. The true and healthy workers’ state originates with the working class acting autonomously after becoming aware of itself as a class and of its general class interests.

        I mention these concepts because there is talk on the political right concerning the “Great Reset.” Some claim that this is a socialist agenda, which is nonsense if there really is a top-down Great Reset underway. But let’s suppose there is a Great Reset and the agenda behind it is socialist, in the sense that after the world system has been reset, everyone is guaranteed the basic necessities of life and some kind of work.

        This would be a sort of socialist state but a deformed one, having not organically arisen through autonomous action by the working class. It would have been imposed from above and would probably be oppressively bureaucratic and run by an elite caste.

        If it were run by a ruling class that owns property, it would not even be a workers’ state, but just a new and much more oppressive form of capitalism, quite similar to fascism in the sense that members of this society would get their basic needs met, but they’d have little if any say in policy and everything would be run by an elite, in this case a technocratic one.

        I think having these concepts can be helpful for analyzing and understanding current events.

  2. Had Trotsky not been Jewish, he never would have lost out to Stalin. Stalin was just better at intrigue after Lenin’s death. Has anyone ever checked out Stalin’s interview with the great writer H.G. Wells? Wells didn’t back down from Stalin at all, basically telling him to his face that his views and approach to socialism were outdated. Google the interview. It’s very interesting. 1931?

    1. I need to look that up. More people need to read Wells. I do have War of the Worlds though! Haven’t read much more than a page or so of it. He wrote much more than that and was considered one of the finest writers of his time. He should be read more!

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