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What is fascism and how do we fight it?

Faline Bobier

May 3, 2017

The reason it’s important to look at the question of fascism today is
 the alarming rise of the right internationally.

If we look to Europe, we see the success of parties such as France’s
 Front National under the leadership of Marine LePen, It has taken to
 mainstream parliamentary politics but it is building its popularity in 
the main on anti-Muslim racism and its roots are in Holocaust denial.
The last decade has seen the emergence of two “pure” fascist organisations, complete with street squads and openly anti-Semitic, as well as being anti-immigrant and anti-refugee: Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary. This raises fears of a repeat of the 1930s: abolition of democracy, scrapping of civil liberties and a wave of racist terror.                                 

To stop fascism we need to know what it is, where it comes from, and how to fight it. The Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who was living in exile in Turkey during the rise of fascism in Germany, wrote in great detail about what he saw happening. These writings remain critical to today.

Economic crisis and the rise of fascism

Fascism cannot fundamentally be explained by referring to the inherent 
racism of human beings, although it definitely uses the tools of
 racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and extreme nationalism to build its 
street-fighting cadre. Fascism is actually an outgrowth of capitalism itself. Capitalism is a system prone to cyclical crises, which throws vast numbers of ordinary people into unemployment, despair and worse. But the system also presents problems for big capital, in the sense that their system isn’t working anymore. It’s not providing them with the profit levels they previously experienced in the boom periods of capitalism.

The most fundamental cause of the rise of fascism in the 1930s was the international
 economic crisis triggered by the stock market crash in the US. In
 Germany the process was especially violent and anarchic. None of the traditional parties of the Weimar Republic, including the social democratic SPD, seemed able to deal with the crisis. In an atmosphere of mounting chaos, the Nazi Party was able to present itself to the swelling ranks of the desperate and disoriented as the movement which had what others lacked: the energy and courage to impose drastic solutions.

If capitalists become desperate enough they look to a political answer that
 can ‘discipline’ the vast majority, that is, the working class, and 
that can smash working class organization, which is really the main
 bulwark against fascism. Fascism orients to the petit bourgeoisie, the 
middle classes – small business owners, petty functionaries who are
 squeezed between capital (the bourgeoisie-the owners of the means of
 production on a large scale) and the working class—and creates a street fighting mass movement, autonomous from the existing state but serving big capital.  

As Trotsky explained in an article 
entitled National Socialism, one year after Hitler’s coming to power:
 “German fascism, like the Italian, raised itself to power on the backs 
of the petty bourgeoisie, which it turned into a battering ram against 
the working class and the institutions of democracy. But fascism in 
power is least of all the rule of the petty bourgeoisie. On the
 contrary, it is the most ruthless dictatorship of monopolist capital.
 Fascism succeeded in placing them in the service of capital. Such
 slogans as state control of trusts and the elimination of illegitimate 
profits were thrown overboard immediately on the assumption of power.”

Another world was possible

Trotsky’s writings were in part a polemic with the German Communist Party of the time, which was following the dictates of Stalin. Stalin argued that the Social Democrats, the SPD, were just as bad as the fascists – that they were “social fascists”
– and that the KPD (German Communist Party) should not try and make
 alliances with them to fight Hitler. The SPD leadership were indeed 
weak and vacillating and put up very little fight against the rise of 
Hitler, but this ignored the millions of German workers inside the SPD
 who could have been galvanized in a united fight with members of the 
KPD, had the KPD leadership not been so sectarian.

The situation was all the more tragic since it was not inevitable that
 Hitler came to power. In the 1920s Germany had the most powerful trade union movement in the world, the largest Social Democratic Party and the largest Communist Party outside Russia. Adolf Hitler commanded few forces outside Bavaria and was widely regarded as a joke. But the economic crisis did not go away. 
Unemployment rose from 1.3 million in 1929, rising to over 6 million
 at the start of 1933.

During this whole period from 1928 until the eventual takeover by 
Hitler in 1933 Trotsky wrote furiously from exile, arguing primarily 
with the German Communist Party, that it was possible to stop the rise 
of Hitler, if they would only abandon the ludicrous position of
 calling the SPD social fascists and form a United Front with the SPD 
leadership and thereby the millions of workers who were members of the
 party. In that way there was at least the possibility of confronting 
the rise of fascism, both physically in the streets and ideologically 
through puncturing the racist, anti-worker, elitist politics the Nazis 

Through being the most vigilant fighters against fascism they would
 also be able to expose the collaborationist and weak Social Democratic 
leadership for what they were and put forward a compelling argument
 that the only way to end fascism finally would be to replace 
capitalism with a socialist society where the wealth would be owned 
and controlled by workers themselves—not by a parasitical ruling
 class who would open the door to the Hitlers and Mussolinis, if it
 seemed the only way to save their system and their profits.

Trotsky argues that it’s by no means inevitable that the middle 
classes will fall behind the fascists. It depends, he argues, on the 
balance of class forces. Had the German working class and its 
organizations been able to create a united front willing to take on 
the Nazis and to move towards the possibility of creating a better
 society, the middle class could have been pulled alongside them—as happened in 1871 Paris Commune and the
 1917 Russian Revolution.

Unfortunately this did not happen. Trotsky, isolated as he was (having
been expelled by Stalin in 1927) and exiled, had no organization that 
could put his ideas to the test of practice. But his ideas, and the lessons of history, are increasingly relevant today.

Fighting racism and fascism today

The re-emergence of fascist organizations like Golden Dawn and Jobbik,
 and the electoral success of a party like the National Front in France 
remind us of the dangers of fascism rearing its ugly head once again. 
Likewise, the climate of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant racism that
 we see being stoked in Europe and here in North America must be fought

The recent election of Donald Trump is one of the more
 troubling signs of something not being ‘right’ in the body politic.
 It is important not to underestimate the threat represented by the 
normalization of racist, xenophobic language and violence against
 non-whites, immigrant or native. We need to promote the widest
 possible movement to defend rights and resist Trump at every turn, or, 
here in Canada, right-wing politicians like Kellie Leitch, who has had
 extreme right wing racists appearing where she speaks.

But it’s 
equally important to insist that Trump and Leitch are not fascists.
Right wing populism, racism and sexism do not equate to a movement 
bent on destroying working class organizations. Trump is a symptom of 
the disorientation in the US ruling class but he doesn’t have his own 
independent street fighting organization capable of demolishing 
democratic institutions or mobilizing against every collective working 
class expression.

If we use the term fascism to include right-wing politicians like
 Trump and Leitch, it becomes a catch-all category for right-wing,
 racist authoritarianism that risks blinding us to the real thing, 
should it arise. It also serves to write off those sections of workers 
who may be attracted, to whatever degree, by right wing populism in
 the absence of a more progressive pole of attraction.

None of this means we should not be opposing the far right and the 
fascists at every turn; we can’t afford to be complacent in the face
 of fascist organizing. But when we take them on we need to ensure that
 the largest possible numbers are there from a broad range of
 organizations: churches, trade unions, student organizations, Muslim
 organizations, disability rights organizations, women’s organizations,

At the moment the vast majority of people in society are opposed 
to what fascists represent. Those people can be mobilized in their own
 defence and the defence of the rights of their neighbours. In the
 current climate Muslims are a particular target of fascist and right 
wing organizing and we need to be cognizant of that as well.
The danger is we move from recognizing a degree of polarisation in 
society—benefitting the right in the main, but also the radical left—to vastly inflating the immediate threat of the far right and 

We still have the possibility to organize and resist. The rebuilding of a grass-roots movement that can take on Trump,
 Leitch and the ugly but still tiny shoots of real fascism that have 
appeared in their wake and the reality of failing capitalism, is
 urgent. We can see evidence of this organizing in the Jan 21st women’s 
marches across the globe, including here in Toronto, the thousands
 that protested Trump’s Muslim travel ban at airports across the US, 
the Fight for 15 & Fairness campaigns that have organized low-paid
workers (often women & workers of colour) in the US and Canada, the 
Black Lives Matter protests, the spontaneous vigils outside mosques in
 the east end of Toronto to defend Muslims’ right to practice their

efforts can push back on racist right-wing politicians like Trump and
 Leitch. This will also have the effect of making it that much harder 
for the real Nazi scum to raise their ugly heads.

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