Many are concerned about the rise of “fascism”. But what does this mean? It was said that the election of Bolsonaro represented the victory of fascism in Brazil. Some have even gone as far as describing Donald Trump as a fascist. To liberals and even some lefts, it appears that “fascist” has become simply a term of abuse for any politician they don’t like. As Marxists however, we take a scientific view of the world. To properly cure a disease requires a precise diagnosis. It is therefore necessary to have a sober appraisal of what fascism is, if we are to successfully combat it.
Leon Trotsky brilliantly analysed the development of fascism during its rise in the 1920s – first in Italy, and later in Germany. He argued that fascism was unlike traditional forms of reaction, whereby a small layer of the existing state apparatus would move to take power. Instead, fascism was based on a mass movement – mostly of the frenzied middle-class and de-classed layers – with its aim to destroy all forms of working-class organisation.
The victory of fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain, was only made possible by the defeats of the socialist revolutions in these countries. Defeats that were brought about by the mistakes or treachery of the reformist and Stalinist leaders. The prospect of a return to fascism today is very small indeed. The working class is enormously stronger than in the early 20th century. Although small, fascist grouplets do exist, and must be combated by the working class, the classic social reserves of fascism have been greatly reduced. Only on the basis of a series of serious defeats of the working class, could fascism rear its head once again.
Learn the basics
As Marxists, we feel it is important not to replace serious analysis with scaremongering and exaggeration. In this article, Rob Sewell asks: what is fascism? And does it pose an imminent threat today?
While on all sides Marxism was being distorted and misused both by the Stalinists and the Social Democracy to justify their own betrayal of the working class movement, Trotsky consistently put forward a revolutionary position on all problems facing the workers.
Not every reactionary nor every dictatorship is fascist. It is necessary to understand the nature of a regime or a movement otherwise the tasks of the workers in relation to it can be confused.
“Fascism in power, like Bonapartism, can only be the government of finance capital. In this social sense, it is indistinguishable not only from Bonapartism but even from parliamentary democracy.”
The Battle of Cable Street was a momentous event in which the working people of London united to deliver a decisive blow against the menace British fascism.
This pamphlet from 1948 describes how the British capitalists were sympathetic to Hitler and Mussolini before the war, and how they supported the nascent fascist movement in Britain around Oswald Mosley.
In 1973, as the situation in Spain moved towards revolution and final overthrow of the hated Franco regime, Ted Grant wrote this document drawing all the lessons from those tumultuous events.
Despite its unfinished form, this article belongs among Trotsky’s most important contributions as he established here the historical law that fascism is successful only after repeated defeats of the working class.
Marxist classics & books
The word fascist is often very loosely used today, as a swearword against right-wing figures or reactionaries in general. But there is a Marxist analysis of fascism. It was made by Leon Trotsky not as a postmortem, but during the rise of fascism. This was one of Trotsky's great contributions to Marxism.
In the following collection of Trotsky’s letters and articles, he is specifically addressing the German Communist Party, which he considered the only realistic organisation to stop fascism. These series of articles and essays show Trotsky’s method in his ultimate break with the Comintern.
The European Union throws up a number of questions for Marxists, not just in terms of our perspectives for the class struggle in Europe, but also theoretical questions on the nature of the EU and the attitude of Marxists to the idea of European integration.
What are the perspectives for the rise of fascism? And how should workers and youth fight far-right and genuinely fascist elements that do rear their heads?
Marie Frederiksen discusses the rise of reactionary figures like Trump and Le Pen, and explains how these racist right-wing politicians differ from genuinely fascist leaders and movement.
What are the differences between fascist movements seen in the 1920s & 1930s and the right-wing populism that we see today? What factors have led to the rise of Trump and co. in recent years?
What was the social basis for fascism in Germany? And how could the Socialists and Communists at the time have stopped Hitler and the Nazis in their tracks?