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.
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?
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.