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Ernest Mandel (1968): Trotsky’s theory of fascism

3 May 2022
1944 cover

The history of fascism is at the same time the history of the theory of fascism.i For no other new social phenomenon of modern times is the simultaneity of its appearance and the attempt at understanding it as striking as for fascism.

The reasons for this simultaneity are obvious. It is a sudden, new phenomenon that seems to abruptly overturn a long-term historical trend of ‘progress’. Attentive contemporaries are all the more shocked because the brutality of this historical turn is accompanied by an even more precise violence of brute force targeting specific individuals. Suddenly historical and individual fate become identical for thousand – and later for millions. Not only the defeat of social classes and the downfall of political parties, but the existence and physical survival of large groups of people are suddenly at stake.

It is therefore understandable that those affected by the fate that befell them, almost immediately sought to understand what happened. From the flames of the first Casa del Popolo set alight by fascist gangs in Italy, inevitably the question had to spring forth: ‘What is fascism?’ For forty years, until the first years after the Second World War, this question fascinated the leading theoreticians of both the workers’ movement and the bourgeois intelligentsia. Although the pressure of events and the ‘unmastered past’ii has eased somewhat in recent years, the theory of fascism remains a much discussed object in political science and political sociology.iii

It should not surprise anyone who is aware of the social conditioning of the so-called historical sciences that attempts to interpret the greatest tragedy of contemporary European history often do not contain much science but are rather driven by ideological concerns. The scientific material is undoubtedly supplied by historical and contemporary reality itself. The set of terms and concepts with which this material is to be ordered and reordered by each generation of sociologists and political scientists is also largely found ready-made, and only partially renewed. But the way in which these analytical tools are applied to the material, and the results they lead to are by no means immanently predetermined. From Robert Michels’ concept of the bureaucratized party, for example, or from Mannheim’s concept of the free-floating intelligentsia, it is objectively possible to advance in innumerable different directions. But if the main thrust is not in all directions at once, but only in one or a few, if additionally this thrust then underpins certain political conceptions which reinforce the self-assurance and self-satisfaction of certain social classes, while on the other hand significantly limiting their exposure to attacks from other, hostile social classes – then it can hardly be doubted that we are dealing with a functional process, meaning that the prevailing interpretation of a certain historical phenomenon has to fulfil a very concrete function in the ongoing social confrontations.iv

In the same sense, it appears to us that the simultaneity of fascism and the theory of fascism hardly can be limited to the scientific-contemplative character of this theory. If theorists strive to grasp the essence of fascism, it is not only out of love for sociology or for scientific knowledge in general, but also in the understandable and perfectly reasonable assumption that the more precisely one grasps its nature, the more successfully one will be able to fight fascism. The parallel development of fascism and the theory of fascism thus entails a necessary incongruity. Fascism was able only to develop successfully over two decades because its real nature was not properly understood, because those fighting against its advance lacked a scientific theory of fascism, because the prevailing theory of fascism was a false or incomplete one.

We speak of a necessary incongruity because we do not see in the temporary victory of Italian, German and Spanish fascism the result of inescapable forces of fate, of forces which escape the impact of practical acts by people and social classes. Rather we see in this victory the product of precisely measurable, comprehensible shifts in the economic, political and ideological relations between the social classes of late capitalism. These shifts are not inevitable. If one starts from the assumption that this temporary victory of fascism was not inevitable and fatal, then one must also assume that a theory congruent with the real phenomena, capable of illuminating them, would have decisively contributed to the struggle against fascism.

The history of the rise of fascism is thereby at the same time the history of the inadequacy of the prevailing theory of fascism. This in no way implies, however, that this inadequate theory of fascism was the only theory of fascism. On the fringes of organized political forces and their ideologies, the analytical intelligentsia worked with a sharpness that today is cause for amazement and admiration. This intelligentsia grasped the new phenomenon, recognized in good time the immense danger it posed, warned their contemporaries, and demonstrated how to master the monster. They achieved everything that can be achieved in the theoretical field. But theory alone cannot make history – for that it must seize the masses. However, the bureaucratic apparatuses which dominated the mass organizations of the workers were able to prevent an adequate theory of fascism and an effective strategy and tactics for the struggle against fascism from seizing the masses. Later they themselves often paid the price of historical defeat and even physical annihilation. The price paid by humanity was incomparably higher. Even the figure of 60 million dead in the Second World War does not fully express it, because the objective consequences of above all the victory of German fascism in 1933 continue to this day to affect many fields.v

In history, however, nothing happens in vain; no historical achievement remains fruitless in the long term. Even if the scientific theory of fascism did not gain sufficient mass influence to stop the victorious march of the fascist gangs in the 1930s and early 1940s, it continues to have an effect today, illuminating and explaining new post-war social phenomena, preparing new struggles and avoiding new defeats – if its teachings are assimilated. It is therefore no coincidence that the renaissance of creative Marxism in the Federal Republic of Germany – especially in the wake of the mass radicalization of students – has greatly revived interest in the theory of fascism. It is therefore appropriate that the first German volume of Leon Trotsky’s Collected Works is devoted to writings on fascism. For among the small number of theoreticians who correctly recognized the nature and function of fascism, Trotsky undoubtedly occupies the first place.


Trotsky’s theory of fascism derives from the Marxist method of social analysis. In particularly striking manner it reflects the impressive superiority – compared to the multitude of bourgeois interpretations of history and societyof this method and the accumulated results of its application. This superiority lies above all in its ‘total’ character, i.e. in the twofold attempt to grasp all aspects of social activity as interconnected and structurally related to each other, and to isolate in this continuously changing complex of relations those which can be regarded as determining the whole complex, that is to say: to separate those changes which can be integrated into the existing structure from those which can only be achieved by forcefully transforming the existing social structure.

It is striking how powerless is the approach of most bourgeois scholars to the problem of the ‘primacy of politics or primacy of economics’, a question which plays an important role in the debates on the theory of fascism.vi In painstaking detail, they try to interpret this or that action of the Hitler regime. Did it benefit big business? Did it run counter to the wishes of entrepreneurs as documented in writing? They do not instead ask themselves whether the immanent laws of development of the capitalist mode of production were realized or negated by this regime. The vocal majority of the American big bourgeoisie cried foul over Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’; even Truman’s ‘Fair Deal’ was met with no small amount of ranting about ‘creeping socialism’. But no objective observer of the development of the American economy and society over the last 35 years can today deny that in this era the accumulation of capital expanded, not contracted; that American big corporations have become incomparably richer and more powerful than they were in the 1920s; that the willingness of other classes of society – mainly of industrial labour – to challenge directly, politically and socially, the domination of these corporations has become less than it was during and immediately after the great economic crisis. The conclusion presents itself that Roosevelt and Truman were not unsuccessful in consolidating the class rule of the American property-owning bourgeoisie. To portray them as ‘anti-capitalist statesmen’ therefore, in no way expresses the outcome of their work and only corresponds to the inability to judge parties and governments by what they actually do – rather than by what they say about themselves or by what others say about them.

A similar method must be applied to the overall assessment of fascism. It is immaterial to determine whether Krupp or Thyssen met Hitler with enthusiasm, with restraint or with reluctance at this or that point of his rule. It is essential, on the other hand, to determine whether Hitler’s dictatorship maintained or destroyed, consolidated or undermined the social institutions of private ownership of the means of production and the subordination to the rule of capital of the working people who are forced to sell their labour-power. The historical record seems clear to us. We will come back to this later.

Equally powerless appears the method of sharply separating periods of Hitler’s rule and operating, for example, with the concept of ‘partial fascism’, which, in contrast to ‘total fascism’, is supposed to be characterized by a significant degree of direct exercise of power by big capital.vii

Here, not only the complete autonomy of political leadership is assumed, but also and above all the autonomy of a war economy that has supposedly become detached from the interests of social classes. All the interventions of the Hitler government in the sphere of the economic power of individual large corporations can ultimately be traced back to the inner logic of the war economy.viii

But such an ‘autonomy’ has so far by no means been proven, nor can it be proven. The war and the war economy did not fall from the sky nor did they spring forth from the compost heap of fascist ideology. The war and the war economy sprang from a definite, determinable mechanism of economic antagonisms, imperialist conflicts and expansionist tendencies that correspond to the interests of the ruling monopoly-capitalist groups of late bourgeois society. After all, before Hitler there was a First World War and since the Second World War there has been a permanent policy of arms production in the United States.ix The roots of the German war economy also reach deep back into the pre-Hitler era.x Accordingly, the war economy and its iron laws can by no means be seen as something opposed to German monopoly capitalism, but are to be understood as its product. And if the war economy in its final phase undoubtedly assumes forms of extreme irrationality not only from the standpoint of the individual capitalist, but even from that of the bourgeois class as such, such forms are not limited to the Nazi regime. They only express in the sharpest way the irrationality that is inherent in the capitalist mode of production – the combination, carried to the extreme, of anarchy and planning, of objective socialization and private appropriation, the reification of social relations taken to the absurd – and in addition they contain a very real rational core.xi

The essence of fascism cannot be recognized, as bourgeois ideology attempts to do, by singling out a particular moment such as autonomy of political leadership or the ‘primacy of politics’. The weakness of this approach is also shown in its inability to integrate certain historical peculiarities of fascism into an overall social concept. Ernst Nolte attaches great importance to the concept of the non-simultaneity of history (i.e. the persistence of older forms of existence in contemporary society) for understanding the phenomenon of fascism. This concept was first elaborated in broad strokes by Ernst Bloch and before, or independently of, Bloch it exists at least potentially in Labriola and Trotsky.xii It is true that in the ideology of fascism and in the mass psychology of the declassed petty bourgeoisie, which forms the social breeding ground for the emergence of fascist mass movements, pre-capitalist, guild-oriented, semi-feudal ideological fragments of the past play a not insignificant role. Nolte, however, commits an obvious fallacy when he writes: ‘If it [fascism] is an expression of “archaic militaristic tendencies”, then it has its own and unavoidable sphere of origin in human nature, and then it is not an offshoot of the capitalist system, although in the present it could only arise from the soil of the capitalist system, i.e. in certain moments of its endangerment.’xiii

The only thing that follows from the first part of the sentence is the commonplace observation that if there was no ‘aggressive trait’ in human nature, aggressive actions would not occur. Without aggressiveness there would be no aggression, or, as the immortal Molière put it: ‘Opium puts people to sleep because it has soporific properties’. Nolte seemingly does not understand that he has by no means proved the second part of his sentence. He would have to show that in the ‘good old days’ as well the ‘archaic militaristic tendencies’ could have produced fascist or fascist-like forms of rule. Unfortunately, however, there they led to conquests by slaveholders, raids by pastoral peoples or feudal crusades, which have as little to do with the essential characteristics of a fascist regime as a Roman villa or a medieval village have with modern large-scale enterprise. Thus, the specificity of fascism is not that it expresses an ‘aggression rooted in human nature’ (for this is expressed as well in countless other, widely varying historical movements), but that it gives this aggressiveness a particular social, political and military form that never existed before. All other attempts to interpret fascism mainly in terms of psychological factors suffer from the same fundamental weakness.

The attempt to grasp fascism as a product of specific traits of certain peoples or races – or of a specific historical past – is hardly more sound methodologically; one ascends from individual to national psychology without actually explaining more than those factors which, in the most general sense, make a phenomenon such as fascism possible in the first place. Neither the historical backwardness of Italy, nor the Prussian military tradition of Germany, and certainly not a ‘penchant for discipline’ or ‘fear of freedom’ can sufficiently explain the abrupt rise and fall of fascism during the years 1920 to 1945. Often such arguments are plainly contradictory: if Italy was a relatively backward industrial country, Germany was the most developed industrial nation on the European mainland. If the ‘penchant for discipline’ was a basic trait of the ‘German national character’ (traceable to the belated abolition of serfdom in Prussia), the Italians were among the most ‘undisciplined’ peoples in Europe, not to mention their complete lack of a military tradition. As secondary factors and causes, these elements undoubtedly played a role in giving fascism in each case a specifically national character, corresponding to the historical specificity of monopoly capitalism and of the petty bourgeoisie in each country. But it is precisely when fascism is understood as a general phenomenon which has taken root – and can take root again tomorrow – in all imperialist countries that the attempts to explain it by focusing mainly on the national specificities of this or that situation are particularly inadequate.xiv

Detailed research into special interest groups, and more narrowly, the feuding sectors of big business as specific ‘carriers’ of fascism has found a wide field of activity, above all through the publication of the protocols and materials of the Nuremberg trials. Much of those confirm what one could previously suspect or theoretically deduce: that it was to a greater extent heavy industry rather than light industry that had an interest in Hitler’s seizure of power and rearmament, that the ‘Aryanization’ of Jewish capital did not play a significant role in the German economyxv; that the IG Farben trust was able to exert a particularly active and determining influence on a series of economic and financial policy decisions of the Hitler regime, and so on.xvi After all, it is not necessary to search through mountains of files to realize that in the specific situation of German capitalism in 1934, the manufacturers of guns, tanks and replacement materials profited more from rearmament than manufacturers of underwear, toys or pocket knives. Nolte, however, again commits a typical error of thinking when he claims:


...but when he [Otto Bauer] distinguishes between different fractions of ‘the’ capitalist class whose interests are in essence [?] opposed (e.g. the manufactured goods industry dependent on exports or the pacifist pensioner class in contrast with a heavy industry interested in armament profits), the old familiar and trivial distinction between ruling class and ruling caste is no longer of any use, and talk of fascism as the executive organ of ‘capital’ becomes meaningless. Then the contrived economic unity dissolves into the multiplicity of its historically given elements, and the only relevant question that remains is under what conditions this multiplicity needs to appear as a unity, and to what extent it can lose exactly because of this a position of power that in a certain sense was self-evident, but in no case unrestricted, in all European states for 150 years.xvii


The whole argument revolves around the word ‘essential’ and can only be clarified through an analysis of the characteristics of the capitalist mode of production. ‘Essential’ for this mode of production, and the class that rules it, are neither the orientation of foreign policy nor the possibility of being able to speak and write freely politically. Neither is it to entrust the business of government directly to representatives elected by this ruling class. All this has existed in different epochs of bourgeois society and during many others it did not (or not to the same extent). What is essential is private property, the possibility of accumulating capital and of realizing surplus value. And here the figures are particularly clear. The profits of all industrial and commercial enterprises rose from 6.6 billion marks in 1933 to 15 billion marks in 1938; but while the turnover of the Bremer textile company Woll-Kämmerei practically stagnated and that of AEG increased by only 55 per cent, that of Siemens doubled, that of Krupp and Mannesmann-Röhrenwerke tripled, that of Philipp Holzmann AG increased sixfold and that of Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken AG increased tenfold.xviii Far from being merely a mental construction, this presents a very clear collective economic interest of the capitalist class. At the same time, certain special interests stand out and assert themselves within the framework of this collective interest. Finally, the principle that capitalist private property always arises and grows from the expropriation of many small (and sometimes large) property owners is not specific to Hitler’s epoch, but applies to the overall history of this mode of production.

The methodological weaknesses of bourgeois theories of fascism are evident. Because they lack an understanding of social structures and modes of production, bourgeois ideologists are unable to grasp the contradictory moments of fascist reality as a dialectical unity and to recognize the factors that determine both the integration and the subsequent disintegration – the rise and decline – as moments of a coherent totality.

The methodological superiority of Marxism consists in the fact that it can succeed in such an integration of contradictory analytical moments – in reflecting a contradictory social reality. Marxism by no means guarantees such an analysis; unfortunately, this is shown by too many examples, the subject of critique in many of the works in this volume; but that it makes it possible is shown brilliantly by Trotsky’s contribution to the theory of fascism.


Trotsky’s theory of fascism forms a unity of six elements which each have a certain autonomy; due to their inner contradictions each goes through a certain development, but they can only be understood as a closed and dynamic totality and only in their intrinsic coherence can they explain the rise, victory and collapse of the fascist dictatorship.

a) The rise of fascism is the expression of a deep social crisis of late capitalism, a structural crisis which, as it did in the years 1929 to 1933, may well coincide with a classical economic crisis of overproduction, but goes far beyond such a conjunctural fluctuation. It is fundamentally a crisis of the conditions of the valorization of capital, i.e. the impossibility of continuing a ‘natural’ accumulation of capital under the given conditions of competition on the world market (that is to say, at the existing level of real wages and labour productivity, with the existing access to raw materials and sales markets). The historical function of the fascist seizure of power is to change these conditions of valorization, abruptly and violently, in favour of commanding groups of monopoly capitalism.

b) In the era of imperialism and the developed, modern workers’ movement, the political rule of the bourgeoisie is exercised most advantageously – i.e. with the least expense – by way of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, which among other things offers the advantage of being periodically able to reduce the explosiveness of social antagonisms by means of certain social reforms. It also involves a significant sector of the bourgeois class directly or indirectly (through bourgeois parties, newspapers, universities, business associations, local and regional administrative bodies, the leaderships of the state apparatus, the central banking system, etc.) in the exercise of political power. However, this form of rule by the big bourgeoisie – historically by no means the only onexix – is conditioned by a very unstable balance of economic and social relationships of force. If this equilibrium is disturbed by objective developments, then the big bourgeoisie has hardly any other way to realize its historical interests than to attempt, even at the price of giving up the direct exercise of political power, to impose a higher form of centralization of executive state power. Historically, then, fascism is both the realization and the negation of tendencies inherent in monopoly capital that were first recognized by Hilferding: tendencies towards the totalitarian ‘organization’ of the whole of social life in its own interests.xx Realization because fascism ultimately fulfilled this historical function; negation because, contrary to Hilferding’s assumptions, it could only fulfil it through the far-reaching political expropriation of the bourgeoisie itself.xxi

c) Under the conditions of modern industrial monopoly capitalism and the numerically unprecedented disproportion between those dependent on wages and big capital owners, such a violent centralization of state power and elimination of most (if not all) of the achievements of the modern workers’ movement (including any ‘sprouts of proletarian democracy within the framework of bourgeois democracy’, as Trotsky correctly calls the organizations of the workers’ movement) is practically impossible by purely technical means alone. Neither a military dictatorship nor a simple police state – not to mention an absolutist monarchy – has sufficient means at its disposal to atomize, discourage and demoralize a conscious social class of millions for a longer period. Such long-term atomization however is the only to prevent the flare-ups of at least elementary class struggles that are periodically spurred on by the simple play of the laws of the market. To accomplish this, a mass movement is needed which sets large crowds in motion, and in small skirmishes and street clashes demoralizes and wears down the more conscious sections of the proletariat through systematic mass terror. By completely smashing the proletarian mass organizations after the fascist seizure of power, such a movement can bring about the discouragement and resignation of the working class. Subsequently, this movement can – with its own methods adapted to the needs of mass psychology – even achieve a position in which not only does a huge apparatus of block guards, street inspectors, National Socialist Workplace Cell Organizations, and simple informers constantly monitor the masses of class-conscious wage-dependents, but also that a part of the less conscious workers, above all white-collar workers, is ideologically influenced by it and engages in ongoing class collaboration.

d) Such a mass movement can only arise on the basis of the third social class that in capitalism exists alongside the bourgeoisie and the proletariat: the petty bourgeoisie. If this petty bourgeoisie is so severely affected by the structural crisis of late capitalism that it falls into despair as a result of inflation, bankruptcy of small businesses, mass unemployment of academics, technicians and higher employees, etc., then among at least a part of this social class, through a combination of ideological reminiscences and resentment, there will arise a typical petty bourgeois mass movement. This movement will combine the greatest hostility towards the organized workers’ movement (‘down with Marxism’, ‘down with communism’) with extreme nationalism and anti-capitalist demagoguery.xxii As soon as this movement, recruited mainly among the declassed sections of the petty bourgeoisie, sets out to use direct physical violence against the wage-earners and their actions and organizations, a fascist movement is born. After it has gone through an autonomous development to become a mass movement and achieves mass influence, it needs the financial and political support of important sections of monopoly capital to prevail until it seizes power.

e) The prior attrition and beating back of the workers’ movement is indispensable if the fascist dictatorship is to fulfil its historical role, but this is only possible if in the period preceding the seizure of power the scales are decisively tipped in favour of the fascist gangs and against the wage-earners.xxiii The rise of the fascist mass movement is tantamount, so to speak, to an institutionalization of civil war, in which, however, objectively speaking, both sides have a chance of success. This, incidentally, is the reason why the big bourgeoisie will only approve and finance such experiments under very special, ‘abnormal’ conditions. Undoubtedly, a certain risk is from the outset present in such politics that put everything at stake. If the fascists succeed in fragmenting, paralysing, discouraging and demoralising their enemy, i.e. organized labour, then their victory is assured. But if the workers’ movement succeeds in fighting back and taking the initiative, then a decisive defeat can be inflicted not only on fascism but also on the capitalism that gave birth to it. This has technical-political as well as socio-political and socio-psychological reasons. At the beginning, the fascist gangs organize only the most determined, desperate sections of the petty bourgeoisie (the part that has gone wild). The mass of the petty bourgeoisie, as well as the unconscious and unorganized section of the wage-earners and especially of the working-class and white-collar youth, will normally vacillate between the two camps. It will tend to take the side that shows the most audacity and decisiveness; it prefers to bet on the winning horse. Therefore, it can be said that the victory of fascism historically expresses the inability of the workers’ movement to solve the structural crisis of late capitalism in its own interest and according to its own aims. In general, only such a crisis offers the labour movement the chance to achieve its aims. Only when this chance is missed and the class is led astray, divided and demoralized, can the clash lead to the triumph of fascism.

f) If fascism has succeeded ‘as a battering ram to smash the workers’ movement’, it will have done its duty from the point of view of the monopoly capitalists. The fascist mass movement will be bureaucratized and largely incorporated into the bourgeois state apparatus. This requires that the most extreme forms of plebeian petty-bourgeois demagoguery, which supposedly are among the ‘goals of the movement’, disappear from sight and are removed from the official ideology.xxiv This by no means contradicts the continuing tendency of the highly centralized state apparatus to become more and more independent. But once the workers’ movement has been defeated and the conditions of capital valorization have been decisively changed in favour of the big bourgeoisie at home, by necessity its political interests orient towards a similar change on the world market. The threat of state bankruptcy also pushes towards this. The high-risk politics of fascism, carried from the socio-political sphere into the financial sphere, fuel permanent inflation and ultimately leave no other way out than foreign political-military adventures. This entire development, over the course of the war economy, does not lead to an improvement of the political and economic position of the petty bourgeoisie (with the exception of that part which can be bought off with sinecures in the increasingly independent state apparatus), but rather to a reduction. There is no ‘breaking of the shackles of interest’xxv but rather a pronounced acceleration of the concentration of capital. This shows the class character of the fascist dictatorship, which does not correspond to that of the fascist mass movement. The dictatorship does not represent the historical interests of the petty bourgeoisie, but those of monopoly capital. Once this characteristic has the upper hand, the deliberate, active mass base of fascism diminishes. The fascist dictatorship has the tendency to reduce and decompose this mass base. The fascist gangs become appendages of the police. Fascism, in the phase of its decline, transforms itself back into a specific form of Bonapartism.xxvi

These are the constitutive elements of Trotsky’s theory of fascism. This theory is based on an analysis of the specific conditions under which the class struggle develops in highly industrialized countries during the structural crisis of late capitalism (Trotsky himself spoke of the ‘epoch of the decline of capitalism’), and on a specific characteristic of Trotsky’s Marxism: the combination of objective and subjective factors in the theory of the class struggle and in the attempt to influence it in practice.


Then what is the relationship between Trotsky’s theory of fascism and that of other currents of the workers’ movement? What specific features emerge from a comparison with other attempts to clarify the problem of fascism with help of the Marxist method?

In the case of Social Democratic authors, the pragmatic-apologetic nature of the analysis is particularly striking; here, theory must aid an arch-opportunist practice and explain its failure as ‘the fault of the opponent’. This opportunism had at the time not yet cut the umbilical cord to Kautsky’s objectivist-fatalist vulgar Marxism. In addition to the ‘fault of the opponents’, ‘objective conditions’ always appear as the ultima ratio: the ‘relationship of forces’ simply did not allow better results. That one’s own actions can change these relationships of forces, that one’s own inaction can also change these relationships of forces – specifically, in favour of the class enemy – this was never accepted in that school of thought.

The basic tenor here is the worn out thesis that the radical agitation of the ‘Bolsheviks’ offered fascism the possibility, or at least the pretext, to mobilize the frightened and conservative strata of the population. Fascism supposedly was the punishment inflicted by the big bourgeoisie on the proletariat for communist agitation. ‘If you do not want to frighten the petty bourgeois and irritate the big capitalists, remain moderate.’ This liberal wisdom of the ‘golden mean’xxvii overlooks the fact that it is precisely the bankruptcy of ‘moderate’ everyday politics in bourgeois parliamentarianism during an intensified structural crisis of late capitalism that drives the desperate petty bourgeois into the arms of fascism. In order to prevent them from doing so, an alternative solution must be offered, a solution that has a chance of success in the daily practice of struggle. If this alternative solution is lacking and the impoverished and declassed petty bourgeoisie is left with only the choice between a powerless parliamentarianism and a fascism that is on the march, then it will choose fascism. And it is precisely the ‘moderate’ self-restraint and self-induced fear of the workers’ movement that will strengthen the masses in feeling that the fascist horse is the most promising one.

The Social Democratic theory of fascism shows itself to be particularly helpless when it advocates the thesis of ‘defending legality at all costs’, in the mistaken belief that, precisely when the fascists leave the ground of legality, the workers organizations must confine themselves exclusively to legal action. This thesis overlooks the fact that legality and the state are not the reification of abstract concepts, but expressions of concrete interests of social groups and classes. The ‘legality’ and the ‘state’ mean, in the final analysis, the judges, the colonels and majors of the Reichswehr, who were connected by a thousand threads to their ‘comrades’ from the right-wing paramilitary Stahlhelm and the SS, and who hated and fought the organized workers’ movement just as much – only in a somewhat more ‘civilized’ manner – as the fascist gangs did. To try and use them as protection against these gangs was in fact to be defenceless.

Another significant element of the Social Democratic theory of fascism lies in the hypostasis of the factors of ‘economic crisis’ and ‘mass unemployment’: if there were no economic crisis, the danger of fascism would disappear. This overlooks the fact that the structural crisis is more important than the conjunctural crisis and that if the former continues, even the alleviation of the latter will not fundamentally change the situation. This is what Belgian Social Democrats like Paul-Henri Spaak and Hendrik de Man found out: they worked with all their means to reduce unemployment – even at the cost of giving up important positions and weakening the fighting power of wage earners – and yet they saw fascism grow instead of retreating.

All the rudiments of this Social Democratic theory of fascism were already present in the first works that Italian Social Democrats devoted to the catastrophe that befell them. Giovanni Zibordi wrote as early as 1922: ‘... the excesses of extremism (are) to be blamed for creating the atmosphere, just as the socialist and workers’ movement as a whole is to be blamed for pushing into the arms of fascism those petty-bourgeois and intellectual strata who have no real economic reason to fear and hate socialism’.xxviii Turati repeated a few years later: ‘... as a result of the philo-bolshevik excesses (the) fear of the property-owning classes of losing their privileges, infantile and fantastic as it was, was at certain moments real and very great.. The conclusion is permissible that without this behaviour the plutocratic fascist collaboration would not have been possible.’xxix And it is to be regretted that a former communist and Marxist like Angelo Tasca, in his book written before the Second World War, concluded that one cannot fight the state apparatus and fascism at the same time and one must therefore ally with the former against the latter.xxx

The German Social Democrats offered only a vulgarized and superficial copy of these theses. Their most important theoretician of the 1920s, the Belgian anti-Marxist Hendrik de Man, who tried to fathom the psychology of the petty bourgeoisie in fascism, after the German catastrophe even concluded that one must not ‘scare’ the petty bourgeoisie. He therefore abruptly called off a great wave of workers’ enthusiasm and will to fight for the general strike of 1935, thus creating the preconditions for the huge surge of the Belgian fascist movement after 1936xxxi. Only Léon Blum was intelligent enough to admit after Hitler’s conquest of power that the Nazi victory was the punishment for the fact that German Social Democracy, after the collapse of the Kaiserreich, had strangled the beginnings of the proletarian revolution and thereby freed and strengthened all those forces – from the Reichswehr to the Freikorps – that now inflicted a shameful rout upon it.xxxii But the same Léon Blum, when confronted a few years later with a great mass strike, could do nothing but repeat the policy of appeasement of Ebert and Scheidemann, which could only lead to the collapse of the Third Republic and the seizure of power by the senile Bonapartism of Vichy.

The official theory of fascism of the Comintern after Lenin’s death hardly passed the test better than the Social Democratic one. Certainly, there were beginnings of a Marxist analysis of the international danger looming over the workers’ movement. In Clara Zetkin, Karl Radek, Ignazio Silone and sometimes also in Grigory Zinoviev, one finds elements of a Marxist theory of fascism. Very soon, however, the theoretical work of the Comintern got caught up in the factional struggles of the Russian Communist Party. It was no longer a matter of scientifically evaluating objective processes, but of handing the leadership of the KPD [Communist Party of Germany] to a faction that was bound to Stalin. All the requirements of Marxist analysis and the revolutionary class struggle in Germany were ruthlessly subordinated to this goal.

The result is well known. This was the theory which failed to recognize the independent mass character of the fascist movement and understood fascism as the direct expression of the interests of the ‘most aggressive sections of monopoly capital’. This was the theory of fascism as the ‘twin’ of Social Democracy in service of monopoly-capital, and the theory of the ‘gradual’ or ‘step-by-step fascization’ of the Weimar Republic. This theory deceived the working people about the catastrophic character of a fascist seizure of power and prevented them from fighting against dangers that were as yet only imminent. The whole was crowned by the theory of ‘social fascism’, which in its most extreme form led to the thesis that first Social Democracy had to be defeated before fascism could be defeated.xxxiii As a conclusion, there was the typically social-democratic and defeatist addition that ‘Hitler would’ – among other things due to his inability to solve the economic crisis – ‘quickly run out of money’, ‘and after Hitler it will be our turn’. This ‘analytical’ element practically meant resigning oneself to the inevitability of Hitler’s seizure of power and vastly underestimating the impact of his seizure of power and the crushing of the workers’ movement. This whole analysis could only confuse and paralyse resistance to the rise of the Nazis.

It was not until 25 years later that the ‘official’ Communist world movement was able to critically confront Stalin’s false theory of fascism. The practical break with this theory, however, happened very quickly – but only once it was too late. The turn to Popular Front politics in 1935 implied a complete revision of the theory of ‘social fascism’ and a sudden turn to an equally flawed right-wing politics, after the ultra-left policy had had such disastrous consequences.xxxiv But since criticizing Stalin’s writings and theses was taboo until 1956, a cautious revision of the theory of social fascism began only after the beginning of so-called de-Stalinization.xxxv The Italian Communist Party leader Togliatti said openly what most Communist cadres thought in silence, and the official ‘History of the German Workers’ Movement’ published in the GDR [Germany Democratic Republic, East Germany] subjected the theory and practice of the KPD in the years 1930 to 1933 to a cautious but nevertheless thorough critique – while making, of course, new errors in determining the nature and function of fascism.xxxvi

The theories of ‘gradual fascization’ and ‘social fascism’ are not only false assessments of the political conjuncture and tactical mistakes in the struggle against the rise of fascism. They are blind to the decisive features of fascism, so correctly recognizsed by Trotsky and so tragically confirmed by history.

Fascism is not merely a new stage in the strengthening and growing independence of the executive of the bourgeois state. It is not merely ‘the open dictatorship of monopoly- capital’. It is a special form of a ‘strong executive’ and of ‘open dictatorship’ that is characterizsed by the complete destruction of all workers’ organizsations, including the moderate ones, certainly the Social Democratic ones. Fascism is the attempt to forcibly prevent through the complete atomizsation of working people any form of organizsed class struggle and organizsed self-defence by the working class. Here one can see how false the thesis is that because Social Democracy paves the way for fascism, fascism and Social Democracy are allies and one cannot ally with the latter against the former.

The exact reverse is true. Through its policy of class collaboration, by identifying itself with a bankrupt parliamentary democracy and undermining the fighting power of the working people, Social Democracy did in fact prepare the way for the fascist seizure of power. However, the fascist seizure of power is at the same time the downfall of Social Democracy. The mass of Social Democratic members and not a few of their leaders become all the more conscious of this as the moment of catastrophe approaches and announces itself in numerous bloody incidents. And this consciousness – —which expresses all the contradictions of Social Democratic politics – —can, with a correct united-front policy, become the starting point of a real unity in action of working people and a real, abrupt change in the socio-political relationship of forces. Such a change could lead not only to victory over fascism but also to victory over capitalism (and, moreover, to victory over the Social Democratic policy of class collaboration and reconciliation).

We find the same inability to recognize the specificity of fascism in a series of theoretical attempts by authors who stand between Marxism and vulgar social reformism. Max Horkheimer, for example, sees fascism as ‘the most modern form of monopoly-capitalist society’. Paul Sering (Richard Löwenthal) held a similar view with his thesis that National Socialism was ‘planned imperialism’.xxxvii Both opinions obviously tie in with Hilferding’s thesis of the congruence of increasing centralizsation of political power in the bourgeois state and the ‘highest form of concentration of capital’ which he latter saw in finance capital. But as ingenious and historically accurate as this prediction was – —despite the implicit simplification – —in 1907, it had become inaccurate in the years immediately before and after Hitler’s seizure of power. One cannot understand fascism if one leaves out two decisive moments of the analysis: that the highest form of centralizsation of the bourgeois state can only be achieved through self-inflicted political abdication of the bourgeoisiexxxviii, and that it is not the ‘most modern form of monopoly capitalist society’ but the expression of the sharpest form of the crisis of this society.xxxix

In his book Il Fascismo:. Origini e sviluppo, Ignazio Silone tried, not without success, to present fascism as the result of the deep structural crisis of Italian bourgeois society and the simultaneous inability of the Italian workers’ movement to resolve this crisis through a socialist transformation of society.xl He also correctly identified the difference between fascism and ‘classical’ military dictatorship or Bonapartism.xli However, his definition of the ‘political immaturity’ of the workers’ movement halts at the threshold of the problem to be solved. What factor prevented this workers’ movement from acting as the representative of all the exploited strata of the nation, from neutralizsing or winning over broad strata of the petty bourgeoisie, and placing the struggle for power on the immediate agenda? It is no accident that the term ‘socialist revolution’ hardly appeared in Silone’s book and that he showed little understanding of the fact that the solution of the complex problem he described requires a strategic plan which can only be carried out by a revolutionary party created specifically for this purpose. However correct his criticisms of the Italian reformists, maximalists and the immature ultra-left and fatalist tendencies of the young Italian Communist Party might have been be, they did not lead to any alternative solution and left the impression that ‘political maturity’ and capacity for political leadership were either the result of a biological accident (‘In Russia there was Lenin’) or a mystical matter. It is understandable that Silone could not hold on to these typically in-between positions for long; he quickly regressed to being a reformist.

The two most important contributions to the theory of fascism made by Marxists in the 1920s and 1930s, apart from Trotsky’'s, were those of August Thalheimer and Otto Bauer.xlii August Thalheimer’s analysis of fascism comes closest to that of Trotsky. However, by following Marx’s analysis of 19th- century Bonapartism too closely and overemphasizsing ‘gradual fascization’, he underestimated the qualitative difference between Bonapartism and fascism (growing independence of the state apparatus and ‘traditional’ repression of the revolutionary movement versus growing independence of the state apparatus and destruction of all workers’ organizsations and an attempt to completely atomizse the working class). Furthermore, he reduces the problem of fascism to the socio-political relationships of forces – —the working class is not yet capable of exercissing political rule; the big bourgeoisie is no longer capable of doing so itself – —without illuminating the connection between the development of these relationships of forces and the structural crisis of late capitalism.xliii Trotsky’s theory of fascism, on the other hand, unites the contradictory moments into a dialectical unity by showing, on the one hand, the driving forces which, in the context of a structural crisis of capitalism, could enable the working class to conquer and exercisse political rule. On this question, Thalheimer’s confusion of the objectively-historically conditioned immaturity of the French working class in the years 1848 to 1850 with the merely subjective immaturity of the German working class in the years 1918 to 1933, an immaturity which contradicted the objective possibility, is particularly disastrous. Trotsky’s analysis on the other hand emphasizses the functional character of the ‘independence’ of the state apparatus under fascism, which precisely by preventing any organizsed class resistance of the proletariat radically changes the conditions of valorization of capital in favour of the big bourgeoisie and therefore is able to temporarily solve the structural crisis – —that is, until the next explosion.

Otto Bauer sees in fascism a combination of three moments: the declassing of parts of the petty bourgeoisie as a result of the war; the impoverishment of further parts of the petty bourgeoisie through the economic crisis, which leads to their break with bourgeois democracy; and finally, the interest of big business in intensified exploitation of labour power, which requires that the resistance of the working class and workers’ organizations be broken.xliv He also correctly recognizses that


‘fascism did not win at a moment when the bourgeoisie was threatened by the proletarian revolution. It won when the proletariat had long since been weakened and put on the defensive, when the revolutionary tide had already ebbed. The capitalist class and the big landowners handed state power over to the violent fascist mob not in order to protect themselves from a looming proletarian revolution, but in order to depress wages, to destroy the social gains of the working class, to smash the trade unions and the positions of political power of the working class; not, therefore, in order to suppress a revolutionary socialism, but in order to smash the gains of reformist socialism’.xlv


This analysis was far superior to the vulgar reformists’ nonsensical parroting of the fascist thesis that fascism only represents an answer to the ‘Bolshevik danger’, but it suffers fatally from an underestimation of the deep structural crisis that shook capitalism in the years 1918 to 1927 in Italy and in the years 1929 to 1933 in Germany. This crisis weakened rather than strengthened the existing social order, and at the same time improved the objective possibilities of for the working class to seizeof seizing power. The mechanistic separation of ‘defensive’ and ‘offensive’ only serves to obscure this connection. Like Otto Bauer, Thalheimer saw the victory of fascism as the logical outcome of the counter-revolution that, after the suppression of the beginnings of the proletarian revolution from 1918 to 1921, continued to expand, without recognizing that the 15 years from 1918 to 1933 were characterized by a periodic rise and decline of revolutionary possibilities. By no means there was a straight line of descent.

In turn the incomplete analysis led to serious tactical errors. Being in a ‘defensive phase’, the ‘revolutionary socialist’ Otto Bauer believed he had to limit himself to waiting, ‘with the rifle at the shoulder’, until the clerico-fascist reaction attacked the workers’ organizations. Then – —and only then – —would one defend oneself by all means, including with arms. This led to the heroic struggle of the Schutzbund [Republican Defence League, the paramilitary wing of the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Austria] of February 1934, which was certainly vastly superior to the SPD’s and KPD’s surrender to the Nazi regime without a fight, but which, like the latter, inevitably led to defeat. Only if the workers’ movement recognizses the full depth of the structural crisis and openly declares that it wants to solve this crisis by its own means and thereby putting forward the struggle for the conquest of power as an immediate goal, only then can it succeed in drawing to its side those middle strata that are no longer interested in the status quo (norand neither in the mere ‘defence’ of the workers’ organizations) as well wavering sections of the population.

Even an historian as astute as Arthur Rosenberg concludes his history of the Weimar Republic in 1930, writing: ‘In 1930 the bourgeois republic in Germany perished because its fate was put into the hands of the bourgeoisie and because the working class was no longer strong enough to save the republic.’.xlvi The fact that – —provided the leadership of the working class had not failed – —there were still almost three years left in which through an active struggle the working class could if not save bourgeois democracy, then whatever of its democratic elements were worth preserving for socialism, escaped Rosenberg’s fatalistic historiography.


We have compared Trotsky’s theory of fascism with other attempts at explaining the phenomenon of fascism and recognized its clear superiority, which springs, among other things, from its ability to integrate a multitude of partial aspects into a dialectical unity. We now have at our disposal a significant amount of empirical data that was unknown to Trotsky and other Marxist authors of the period immediately before and after the NSDAP seizure of power. What can this data tell us about some of the crucial, contentious points of the theory of fascism?

The clearest finding regards the economic and overall political function of the fascist dictatorship. By crushing the organized workers’ movement, Hitler succeeded in achieving a wage freeze that was almost miracle-like for the capitalist entrepreneurs. Hourly wages were frozen at the level of the economic crisis; the disappearance of mass unemployment did not lead to any significant increase in wage rates. To be able to pay the same wages when there are 5 million unemployed as when there are no none: in its entire history this had never before been achieved by capital.

For skilled workers, the average hourly wage fell from 95.5 pfennigs in 1928 to 70.5 pfennigs in 1933 and then rose to 78.3 pfennigs in 1936, 79.0 pfennigs in 1940 and 80.8 pfennigs in October 1942.xlvii These figures refer to the average collectively agreed wage in 17 industries. Other sources quote somewhat higher figures for the average standard wages of skilled workers in the overall economy of the German Reich; these are said to have fallen further from January 1933 to 1937, from 79.2 pfennigs to 78.5 pfennigs, then slowly rising to 79.2 pfennigs in 1939, 80 pfennigs in December 1941 and 81 pfennigs in October 1943.xlviii But these figures also clearly confirm the picture of standard wages remaining far below the pre-crisis level – —in the face of a huge labour shortage, this is truly a ‘magnificent’ achievement of the Nazi regime! In summary, Neumann notes that the distribution of German national income changed sharply in favour of capital between 1932 and 1938: the share of capital (capital income, industrial and commercial profits, and undistributed profits of industry) rose from 17.4 per cent of national income in 1932 (and 21 per cent in 1929) to 25.2 per cent in 1937 and 26.6 per cent in 1938.xlix In view of this data, it really should be unnecessary to discuss the class nature of the fascist state.

After these fundamental questions of the economic function of fascism, its effect on the accumulation and concentration of capital cannot go unmentioned. In this field, too, we now have a comprehensive body of data which fully confirms the Marxist theses. The total capital of all German joint-stock companies rose from RM 18.75 billion in 1938 (RM 20.6 billion in 1933) to more than RM 29 billion at the end of 1942; but at the same time the number of joint-stock companies fell from 5518 in 1938 to 5404 in 1942; and it had already fallen previously from 10437 in 1931 and 9148 in 1933 to almost half this number in 1938. The share of the largest corporations with a capital of more than RM 20 billion in this total capital rose from 51.4 per cent in 1933 to 53.5 per cent in 1939 and 63.9 per cent in 1942.l

The state favoured this concentration of capital through a variety of means. Forced cartels, mergers under Wehrwirtschaftsführern [‘economic leaders’, executives of companies considered important for the war economy], the organization of Reichsvereinigungen and Gauwirtschaftskammern [national and regional associations] led to the highest degree of fusion between monopoly capital and the fascist state. The Reichsvereinigung Eisen und Stahl [National Association of Iron and Steel] was led by the big capitalist Hermann Röchling; the Reichsvereinigung Kunstfasern [National Association of Artificial Fibres] by Dr Ernst Hellmut Vits of the Vereinigte Glanzstoff-Fabriken. The same applied to the ‘Reich Groups’ and ‘Main Committees’. At the head of 8 (of a total of 15) of these committees were direct representatives of the large corporations (Mannesmann, August Thyssen Hütte, Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken, Henschel-Flugzeugwerke, Auto-Union, Siemens, Weiss & Freytag and Hommelwerke).li

It is precisely because of this perfectly verifiable development, which directly contradicted not only the demagogic programme of the Nazis but also their ‘political special interest’ (the preservation of a broad mass base in the middle classes, petty bourgeoisie and small businesses), that it is incomprehensible how Timothy Mason can conclude that the industrial power bloc ‘dissolved’ in fascist Germany after 1936, that industrial organizations ‘lost control’ and that ‘what was left were the special interests of individual firms’; ‘the collective interest of the capitalistic economic system dissolved progressively from 1936 to 1939 into a mere agglomeration of the short-term interests of individual firms.’lii Mason’s naive, formal view is that the ‘collective interest of the capitalistic economic system’ is mainly represented by business associations, whereas, as is well known, in the age of monopoly capitalism, and especially in late capitalism, these generally only try to reconcile the interests of the mass of medium and small entrepreneurs with those of the large corporations, or to outright defend them against no matter what. Monopoly capitalism is not the ‘dissolution’ of the system into ‘a mere agglomeration of the short-term interests of individual firms’, but rather an ever-increasing identification of the system with the corporate interests of a few dozen large corporations, even at the expense of the mass of small and medium-sized enterprises. And this is what happened in fascist Germany to an extent that has never been repeated before or since.

An excellent indication of the actual balance of forces between monopoly capitalists and the party and state bureaucracy is provided by the determination of prices and profit margins in the arms industry and the relationship between the private and nationalized sectors of the economy. The fundamental tendency here was not that of nationalization but privatization,liii not the primacy of any ‘political leadership’ but the primacy of the surplus profits of the big corporations.liv

In the midst of the war, when one might have expected the fanatics of ‘total war’ to show complete ruthlessness towards any private interests, two incidents occurred in connection with the Flick conglomerate which illustrate the prevailing production conditions extremely well. On 4 May 4, 1940, this conglomerate negotiated with a state commissioner about the production of tank shells. Ministry officials had calculated that – —including a ‘fair profit’ – - Flick should receive RM24 per grenade. The conglomerate, however, demanded RM 39.25 per grenade. RM 37 was finally agreed on: an extra profit of RM 13 per grenade, i.e. more than 35 per cent or over a million RM extra profit for all grenades produced until the end of 1943. One can see that the difference between the First and the Second World War is not so significant: in both cases the soldiers believed they were dying for the fatherland, and in both cases they died for extra profits of the corporate overlords.

The second example is even ‘better’: using public-sector capital, the Wehrmacht had set up various plants of its own. These factories were usually leased to corporations in return for a state profit share of 30 to 35 per cent. In 1942, the Flick conglomerate pushed for the takeover of the machine factory Donauwörth-GmbH. On 31 March its acquisition value was 9.8 million, but the book value was only 3.6 million. The conglomerate received the factory, equipped with the most modern machines, for the book price. Klaus Drobisch estimates the profit in this case at more than RM 8 million.lv

Here, when the political cover is removed, one discovers the real core of class rule. If the Nazi state had systematically nationalized munitions factories, if, for example, it had reduced profit margins to 5 or 6 per cent, if it had insisted that more than half of the members of the supervisory boards in the arms industry should consist of direct representatives of the state and the Wehrmacht – —all demands that could legitimately have been derived from the needs of more effective warfare – —then the question of the class character of this state would have been justified at least partly. The data, however, clearly shows the opposite: brutal subordination of all interests to those of the big corporations. Even the demands of the barbaric warfare carried out in the interests of these corporations were secondary when the be-all and end-all of capital accumulation was at stake.

Empirical data are also clear with regard to the stages that led from the breakthrough of the Hitler movement in the Reichstag elections of 1930 to the seizure of power on 30 January 1933. We know how massive financing of the Nazis by certain – —initially rather limited – —circles of big business began, what doubts and differences of opinion there were in the circles of big business and big landowners in their attitude towards Hitler and the NSDAP. Such hesitation was increased by, among other things, the win-or-lose game of the dictatorial candidate, but was then reduced by the passivity and helplessness of the workers’ movement. We also know how the programmelvi drawn up by big industry as early as 1931, one that aimed at an authoritarian state, massive wage cuts and a revision of the Treaty of Versailles at any price, was linked to Hitler’s accession to power. The future leader pushed aside his ‘left-plebeian’ wing. Through, for example, his speech of 27 January 27 to the Industry Club in Düsseldorf, Hitler gave the corporate bosses all the necessary guarantees for the defence of private property and the application of the ‘Führer principle’ in the factories. We know that the alliance between big industry and the NSDAP went through different crises, partly as a result of the detours of the NSDAP’s electoral defeat in November 1932 and the deep financial problems that followed. And finally, we know how after the East Aid scandal over subsidies to Prussian land owners, the meeting of 4 January 4, 1933 in the home of Baron von Schröder in Cologne sealed the fate of the Weimar Republic.lvii If we follow Trotsky’s analysis in the years 1930 to 1933, we can only conclude that the material available today confirms this analysis in all aspects.

This leaves a final and not insignificant question. What about the possibility of halting the rise of National Socialism through united working- class action? What about the possibility of such unity itself? Although here the material is of course more fragmentary than in the field of the economic constitution or the attitude of a small group of corporate bosses, an abundance of testimony indicates that among both Social Democratic and Communist workers and lower-ranking functionaries the desire for united action against Hitler was very great. From the mass of memoir literature reminiscences flare up; how the Reichsbanner sent relays to the ‘leadership’ – - this word was probably never used in such a reified way as in this context! – - urging that the battle shwould be begun, but receiving the ludicrous reply that ‘no workers’ blood must be spilled’ (as if Hitler’s victory would not cause workers’ blood to flow in torrents, as Trotsky predicted); how locally at the last hour attempts to find an agreement on joint struggle of Social Democrats and Communists increased; how powerless the leaderships staggered from the seizure of power to the Reichstag fire and from this provocationlviii to the Enabling Act, without having any strategic plan for the defence of the workers’ movement.lix This haunting literature, often imbued with a guilty conscience, reads like a bitter indictment of the SPD [German Social Democratic Party], KPD and ADGB [General German Trade Union Federation] leaderships of the time, even if it was written in a spirit of self-justification. Never before in modern history have so many had to pay so dearly for the mistakes of so few.


Trotsky’s theory of fascism is however not simply a merciless indictment of the past. Looking to the present and the future, it is a warning against new theoretical errors and new dangers.

Only from within the framework of imperialist monopoly capitalism can the specificity of fascism be grasped. It is absurd to call authoritarian movements in semi-colonial countries ‘fascist’ simply because they swear allegiance to a leader or dress their followers in uniform. If in a country the most important part of the capital is in foreign ownership, and the destiny of the nation is dominated by foreign hands, there can be no question of calling a movement of the national bourgeoisie fascist when, in its own interest, it seeks to free itself from this domination. Such a movement may have some superficial features in common with fascism: extreme nationalism, the cult of the leader, sometimes even anti-Semitism. Like fascism, it may find its mass base in the declassed and impoverished petty bourgeoisie. But its decisive socio-political and economic differences from fascism immediately emerge when one examines its attitude towards the two decisive classes of modern society: big capital and the working class.

Fascism consolidates the rule of the former and provides it with the highest economic profits; it atomizes the working class and smashes its organizations. On the other hand, nationalist movements of the national bourgeoisie in semi-colonial countries, while sometimes wrongly denounced as fascist, can inflict many serious and lasting blows on – mainly foreign – big capital and create new organizational possibilities for the working class. The best example of this is the Peronist movement in Argentina which, far from atomizing the working class, saw the first breakthrough of mass general unions of factory workers that have significantly influenced the country’s fortunes to this day.

Certainly, the manoeuvrability of this so-called ‘national bourgeoisie’ between foreign imperialism and domestic mass movements is limited historically and socially. It will constantly vacillate between these two main poles. Its class interest will ultimately lead it to an alliance with imperialism. Through mass pressure it merely attempts to blackmail imperialism into receiving a higher share of the total value. But too strong an upsurge of the mass movement threatens its own class rule. A turn of this bourgeoisie against the masses can express itself in bloody, fascist-like repression, such as that of the Indonesian generals after 30 September 1965. But the fundamental difference between the two processes – fascism in the imperialist metropolises, at worst temporary military dictatorships in semi-colonial Third World countries – should be recognized clearly enough so that any confusion of terms is avoided.

Similarly, one should avoid labelling the increased trend towards a ‘strong state’ a tendency towards ‘creeping’ or even ‘open fascization’. It needs to be underlined constantly that the base of fascism is a desperate and impoverished petty-bourgeoisie. After a twenty-year ‘expansive long cycle’, there is hardly such a desperate petty bourgeoisie in any important imperialist country of the West. At most, marginal strata of the peasantry are hit by a tendency towards impoverishment, but even these strata, which have no significant weight in the total population, have relatively easily found new jobs in trade, services or industry. This process is the reverse of what took place between 1918 and 1933, when the middle layers were pauperized but not proletarianized; today they are proletarianized but not pauperized.

Under conditions of a predominantly wealthy and conservative petty bourgeoisie, a neo-fascism lacks any objective possibility of gaining a broad mass base. Well-to-do, satisfied petty bourgeois do not go into the streets to have fistfights with revolutionary workers or radical students. They prefer to appeal to the police and provide them with more weapons to ‘suppress disorder’. And therein lies precisely the difference between fascism, which organizes masses of desperate petty bourgeois and uses them to terrorize whole industrial districts and large cities, and the authoritarian ‘strong state’, which may well use violence and repression and inflict heavy blows on the workers’ movement or radical groups, but which is incapable of destroying workers’ organizations and atomizing the working class. A comparison, even superficial, between developments in Germany after 1933 and those in France after the establishment of the ‘strong state’ in 1958 makes this difference particularly clear. In Spain, the comparison between the fascist dictatorship of 1939 and the decadent ‘strong state’ of today, which is completely incapable of suppressing a rising mass movement, despite at times resorting to the harshest repression by the police and military apparatus, must lead to the same conclusion.

For a new, immediate fascist danger to arise in the imperialist states of the West, economic developments need to change decisively. This is by no means ruled out for the future, indeed it is probable. But as long as this is not the case, instead of letting oneself be transfixed by a danger which as of now does not yet exist, one should shout less about neo-fascism and pay more attention to the systematic struggle against the very concrete, very real tendency of the big bourgeoisie towards the ‘strong state’, i.e. towards the systematic constriction of the democratic rights of the working class (via emergency laws, anti-strike laws, wage freezes, fines and prison sentences for ‘wildcat strikes’, limits on the right to demonstrate, state and capitalist manipulation of mass media, reintroduction of preventive detention, etc.). The grain of truth in the thesis of ‘creeping fascization’ is the danger that the passive and depoliticized acceptance of such attacks on elementary democratic rights will only whet the appetite of the rulers for further, even more serious attacks. If the workers’ movement allows itself to be dragged along without resistance and lets itself be gradually disempowered, then at the next sharp turn in the economic situation any adventurer might again have the idea of smashing it totally. Resistance must be prepared for years in small skirmishes, it will certainly not like a miracle fall from the sky at the moment of decision.

But precisely because today the main task lies, not in the struggle against a still almost powerless neo-fascism, but in the struggle against the very real threat of the ‘strong state’, it would be inappropriate to confuse the terms. If one declares the first skirmishes to already be the beginning of the decisive battle and give the impression that fascism (whether ‘creeping’ or ‘open’) is identical with the still rather ineffective Paris CRS or West Berlin police thugs, one dulls the masses’ awareness before the appalling danger. It would mean committing the same fatal error as the KPD leaders of 1930 to 1933, who successively portrayed Brüning, Papen, Schleicher and Hugenberg as the embodiment of fascism, which in turn could only lead the working people to conclude that the threat was not all that grave.

The seeds of a potential new fascism are to be found in xenophobic and racist mentalities (against black people, against people of colour, against immigrant workers, against Arabs, etc.) that in several imperialist countries are being deliberately created, in the growing indifference to political murders in a country like the United States,lx in the irrational resentment against the ‘negative developments’ in world politics which tend to become more and more evident, and in a no less irrational hatred against radical, non-conformist minorities (many times SDS [Socialist German Students’ Union] demonstrators in the Federal Republic and West Berlin have been met with cries of ‘you should all be gassed’ and ‘you belong in a concentration camp’ is a common insult of ‘law-abiding citizens’ towards radical demonstrators in the Federal Republic and in the United States). It is tragically misguided when an otherwise astute, liberal university teacher like Jürgen Habermas gets carried away and uses the catchword of ‘left-wing fascism’ against radical students, i.e. against the first potential victims of fascist terror. Yesterday as today the real breeding ground of fascism is not among non-conformist minorities but among those who are so upset by these students; the angry bourgeois stuttering ‘decency, honour, loyalty’.

It can by no means be ruled out that in the event of a shock to the capitalist world economy – which does not necessarily need to take the form of a world economic crisis as severe as that of the years 1929 to 1933, which is improbable in view of the size of present national budgets – such germs present throughout Western Europe will cause new fascist epidemics to spread. But there is some evidence to suggest that this danger may be much more present in the United States than in Europe. The European big bourgeoisie has already burnt its fingers in a fascist experiment. In some parts of the continent it lost its head and neck in the process, in others it was only able to save its class rule at the last minute. It will be all the less tempted to repeat the adventure, since the experience has also left deep traces in the masses, and the sudden danger of a new fascism will lead to the sharpest reactions.

In this sense, the development of the West European student body represents a favourable omen. Since the beginning of the century, students had been the intellectual breeding ground of fascism. The first cadre of fascist gangs were recruited from among students. They provided the organized strikebreakers of the twenties, not only in Germany but also in Britain during the General Strike of 1926. Long before Hitler moved into the Reich Chancellery, he had seized control of the universities. And when the French Popular Front won the 1936 elections, the semi-fascist Camelots du Roi continued to dominate the student Latin Quarter.

Today the picture has changed radically. In all Western European countries, the main trend among of students is to the left and the radical left, rather than extreme right. Not strikebreakers, but pickets are recruited among the students, and these turn to the factories not to help the employers ‘restore peace and order,’ but to encourage the wage-earners to question the late-capitalist ‘order’ much more radically than their traditional mass organizations do. It is unlikely that this trend will change abruptly in the coming years. If after the First World War fascism was above all an uprising of the young, there is little sign today that the youth anywhere in Western Europe could be seduced in their masses by extreme right-wing slogans.

The next wave in Europe will be to the left and radical left – that’s what the seismograph of the youth indicates, which is several years ahead of the mass movement. And to this the May Day events in France in 1968 were only a prelude. Only if this wave were to ebb unsuccessfully, and the disenchantment of the young generation to coincide with an upset of the economy, would fascism once again have a chance.

In the United States, too, we can expect the same dialectical movement that we have seen again and again since 1918. When late capitalist society is shaken, the pendulum always swings first to the left, and only when the labour movement fails does the right have its chance. But the American big bourgeoisie is less experienced, and therefore more brutal, than the Western European one, for it has hardly ever suffered severely from the risks it took. It therefore has less feeling for the natural limits of high stakes politics. It possesses, in the apolitical tradition of large sections of the American population, a reservoir of extreme right-wing conservatism which, in the event of a reversal of the economic situation and a missed opportunity for the radical left to change the course of the country in a socialist direction, would offer fascist adventurers a greater chance of success than in Europe. The growing violence, the explosive racial question, the recklessness of some die-hard imperialist circles already indicate more clearly fascist trends on the other side of the Atlantic than on this.lxi

The terrible danger that such fascism would pose, not only to the survival of human culture, but to the physical existence of humanity in general, needs no explanation. Imagine what would have happened in 1944 if Hitler had had at his disposal an arsenal of nuclear weapons similar to that of the United States. ‘Rather dead than red’ is what the right-wing adherents of the John Birch Society and the Minutemen are already saying. If, after already having been defeated in the rest of the world, in the final phase of a desperate struggle to save ‘their’ monopoly-capitalist society, big capital in the United States should hand over political power to irrational violent criminals, it could be the undoing of all humanity. In the late 1920s or early 1930s, revolutionary Marxists warned that the struggle against fascism and for a socialist solution to the European crisis was a struggle for or against a barbarism marching on our continent. In the coming decades, the struggle for a socialist America is likely to be a life-and-death struggle for all humanity.

That is why the incisive analyses and Cassandra calls of Trotsky are still so relevant. For as long as monopoly capitalism persists, the same danger can return in even more terrible form and bring even more inhuman barbarism. We said at the beginning that in reading this book one is captivated by Trotsky’s analytical achievements. But when one studies these writings, stronger even than this admiration is a feeling of indignation and anger. How easy it would have been to listen to Trotsky’s warnings and to avoid the disaster. That should be the great lesson for us: to recognize the evil in order to be able to fight it promptly and successfully. The German catastrophe must not be repeated. And it will not be repeated.

30 January 1969

i [This essay was originally written for a collection of texts on Germany by Trotsky, Schriften über Deutschland (Frankfurt, 1971), edited by Helmut Dahmer. This translation is by Alex de Jong, notes in brackets added by the translator.]

ii The ‘unmastered past’ [unbewältigte Vergangenheit] relates to the fact that the social relations that made the fascist seizure of power possible still exist in the GFR [German Federal Republic, West Germany]. It is impossible to fully comprehend the roots of fascist barbarism without examining this foundational relationship. And in as so far as the restored rule of West German capital is a class rule, it is difficult to imagine that revealing this relationship will be a prominent theme in higher and secondary school education. Because one cannot (or does not want to) fully examine the past, it can also not be ‘worked through’. Wolfgang Fritz Haug, in the essay ‘Ideological components in theories of fascism’, and others have convincingly shown how attempts to explain fascism by way of theories of mass psychology lead to asserting that ‘the claim of the masses on knowledge and earthly happiness, the traditional privileges of the possessing classes,’ was what ‘unleashed the totalitarian tendencies’. Haug rightly concludes that this apologetic theory ‘makes the repressed drives and socially oppressed subordinated layers responsible for the oppression’ thereby ‘rehabilitating such oppression in the process’ (Das Argument, no. 33, May 1965). The same volume contains a good (incomplete) bibliography on theories of fascism.

iii See the most recent publications on this theme, such as: Ernst Nolte’s volume of over 500 pages, Theorien űber den Faschismus (Köln-Berlin, 1967); Wolfang Abendroth, Faschismus und Kapitalismus (Frankfurt, 1967), a collection of texts by A. Thalheimer, O. Bauer, H. Marcus. A. Rosenberg and Angelo Tasca on the character of fascism; Laqueur, Walter and Mosse, George L., eds, International Fascism 1920-1945 (New York, 1966), a collection of essays on fascism, etc.

iv The collection Wege der Totalitarismus-forschung (Darmstadt, 1968), edited by Bruno Seidel and Siegfried Jenkner, gives a good overview of the so-called ‘totalitarianism thesis’; see especially the essays by Hannah Arendt, A.R.L. Gurland and Zbigniew Brezinski. It would be interesting to compare the ebb and flow of interest in this thesis with that of the Cold War. One would be surprised by a clear correlation (with the building of the wall in East Berlin and the Cuba crisis of 1962 as conjunctural high points). The ‘convergence thesis’, which points in the opposite direction, could be the subject of a similar research.

v Such a balance sheet needs to include the stabilizing effect of Hitler’s seizure of power on the Stalin-regime in the Soviet Union and the most extreme forms of bureaucratic degeneration of this state, and the long- term effects of the interaction between fascism and Stalinism on the development of the West German workers’ movement and on the conditions under which the building of socialism had to be begun after the Second World War.

vi See the discussion between Timothy Mason and Eberhard Czichon in issues 41 and 47 of the Berlin journal Das Argument (December 1966 and July 1968). Unfortunately, mechanistic Marxists make similar mistakes. We will return to this issue later on.

vii See Arthur Schweitzer, Big Bbusinesses in the Third Reich (Bloomington, 1964). Mason relies on the same concept, one that has been sharply rejected by, among others, Czichon, Dietrich Eichholz and Kurt Gossweiler. A typical example of the bourgeois attempt to reduce the Nazi -state to a purely political power structure (to which the ‘disempowered’ economy was supposedly fully subordinated) is David Schoenbaum, Hitler’s Social Revolution: Class and Status in Nazi Germany, 1933-1939 (New York, 1997).

viii See Franz Neumann, Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism (London, 2009).

ix The classic preliminary study on the economic driving force of militarism is the final chapter of Rosa Luxemburg’s The Accumulation of Capital (London, 2003). For more recent studies, especially of United States imperialism, see among others Fred J. Cook, Juggernaut, the Warfare State, a special issue of the United States journal The Nation, 20 October 1951; the seventh chapter of the book by Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (New York, 1970); George F.W. Hallgarten, Hitler, Reichswher und Industrie (Frankfurt, 1955); and the studies by Harry Magdoff in Monthly Review.

x See among others Georg Thomas, Geschichte der deutschen Wehr- und Rüstungswirtschaft (1918-1943/45, e Edited by von Wolfgang Birkenfeld, Boppard a. Rh (Boldt, 1996).

xi We have attempted to describe the increasing dis-accumulation (destruction of capital) produced from a certain point on by an increasing war economy with the term ‘contracted reproduction’; see Mandel, Marxist Economic Theory (London, 1968), chapter 10. Examples from Britain and especially Japan show that these are in no way processes typical only of fascism. The ‘rational’ kernel of this irrationality is that imperialist wars, like all others, are fought to be won and that in certain cases there is the justified hope that lost capital can be more than compensated at the expense of the defeated adversary.

xii Ernst Nolte, p. 38, 54; Trotsky, What is National-Socialism, online at [https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1933/330610.htm].

xiii Ernst Nolte, p. 21.

xiv See for examples of such attempts, René Rémond, La Droite en France de 1815 à nos jours (Paris, 1954) and Jean Plumyène and Raymond Lasierra, Les Fascismes francais 1923-1963 (Paris, 1963), who uphold this thesis for France. In the collection edited by Walter Laqueur and George L. Mosse, Eugen Weber defends a similar thesis (International Fascism 1920-1945, pp. 105, 123, passim). On the other hand, as early as 1938 Daniel Guérin developed the fundamentally common characteristics, despite their national specificities, of German and Italian fascism in Fascism and Big Business (New York, 1938).

xv That Hitler’s seizure of power and the gradually escalating escalating antisemitic measures only caused modest shifts in property relations in the Third Reich is sufficient proof that ‘Jewish big capital’ was a myth. This also applies today to the United States (see among others, Ferdinand Lundberg, The Rich and the Super-Rich (New York, 1968), pp. 297-306.

xvi The earliest Marxist theories in this regard are Otto Bauer, Zwischen Zwei Weltkriegen? (Bratislava, 1936) p. 136f, and Daniel Guérin, Fascisme et Grand Capital (Paris, 1945 [1938]), pp. 27-49.

xvii Ernst Nolte, p 54.

xviii Charles Bettelheim, L’économie allemande sous le nazisme (Paris, 1946), p. 212f.

xix The amnesia of bourgeois ideologues regarding the recent past of bourgeois society is always astounding. In the two centuries since the first industrial revolution Western Europe states have varied from aristocratic monarchies, plebiscitary Caesarism, conservative-liberal parliamentarianism (restricting the right to vote to around 10 per cent or sometimes even less than 5 per cent of the population) and outright autocracy, depending on the political development of the country one studies. With the exception of a brief period during the French revolution, bourgeois parliamentary democracies, with general, equal franchise have been the product of struggles of the workers’ movement, not of the liberal bourgeoisie.

xx ‘'Economic power also means political power. Domination of the economy gives control of the instruments of state power. The greater the degree of concentration in the economic sphere, the more unbounded is the control of the state. The rigorous concentration of all the instruments of state power takes the form of an extreme deployment of the power of the state, which becomes the invincible instrument for maintaining economic domination […] Finance capital, in its maturity, is the highest stage of the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of the capitalist oligarchy. It is the climax of the dictatorship of the magnates of capital.’ Rudolf Hilferding, Finance Capital (London, 1981 [original German edition: 1909], chapter 25, online at [https://www.marxists.org/archive/hilferding/1910/finkap/ch25.htm].

xxi This led Hilferding on the eve of his tragic death to the fallacy that Nazi Germany was no longer a capitalist power since power belonged to a totalitarian bureaucracy. This fallacy was contemporaneous with James Burnham’s thesis of ‘the managerial revolution’.

xxii However, this is a specific form of demagogy that only attacks specific forms of capitalism (‘t'the shackles of interest’, department stores, ‘rapacious’ as against ‘productive’ capital, and so on); private property as such or the authority of the bosses in the workplace are never contested.

xxiii If this does not happen, and the workers maintain their strength and readiness for struggle, an attempted fascist coup can lead to a great revolutionary upsurge. The fascist military putsch in Spain of July 1936 was answered by a revolutionary uprising by the working class that in a few days inflicted a devastating military defeat on the fascists in the major cities and industrial areas, forcing them to retreat to the rural areas. The fact that after a strenuous, almost three years long civil war the fascists in the end did take power is to be explained by the interaction of international factors as well as the calamitous role of the left-wing party- and state-leaderships who obstructed the workers from rapidly and successfully concluding the socialist revolution begun in July 1936. Land reform and a declaration of independence of Morocco would have broken Franco’s last base of power among the backward peasantry and North-African mercenaries.

xxiv See among others Daniel Guérin, pp. 141-168.

xxv [Brechung der Zinsknechtschaft or ‘breaking the shackles of interest’ was a slogan of the earlier Nazi- movement.]

xxvi The distinction between Bonapartism and fascism will be discussed below.

xxvii Already in the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels mocked the liberal argument that the communists only fuel conservative reaction. In the aftermath of the revolution 1848 it was endlessly repeated that if only the evil ‘socialists’ had not been around, the liberal-constitutional regime would have been consolidated. But the socialists scared the bourgeois and drove them into the arms of the reactionary camp. After the French revolution, the conservatives used a similar argument; if it had not been for the excesses of the Convention and the ‘left-radical’ constitution of Year III, the monarchy would not have been restored. One sees there is nothing new under the sun.

xxviii Giovanni Zibordi, ‘Der Faschismus als antisozialistische Koalition’, in: Ernst Nolte, Theorien über den Faschismus, pp. 79-87, specifically p. 83.

xxix Filipo Turati, Faschismus, Sozialismus und Demokratie, pp. 143-55, specifically p. 147.

xxx Angelo Tasca, Nascita e Avvento del Fascismo (Turin, 1950).

xxxi See among others Hendrik de Man, Sozialismus und National-Faschismus (Potsdam, 1931);, and the memoires of Severing (Mein Lebensweg, Im auf und ab der Politik (Köln, 1950) and the memoirs of Otto Braun, Von Weimar zu Hitler (New York, 1940).

xxxii Otto Braun justified his pitiful capitulation to Von Papen’s coup of 20 July 20, 1932 with the argument that because of the economic crisis and millions of unemployed a general strike such as the one that stopped the Kapp- putsch [the right-wing attempt to overthrow the Republic in 1922] was impossible. He forgets that at the time of the Kapp -putsch as well the German economy was in crisis. And contrary to what Otto Braun claims, the bosses’ associations and reactionary politicians were fearful of a general strike. The official history of the I.G. Metall (Fűnfundsiebzig Jahre Industriegewerkschaft (Frankfurt, 1966) explicitly states:; ‘The workers waited in vain for a sign to act on 20 July 20, 1932’ (p. 279). The most nonsensical argument of Otto Braun is that an uprising of the workers against the Reichswehr could only end in defeat – as if a capitulation without a fight did not amount to a much heavier defeat!

xxxiii See the extensive documentation in Theo Pirker, Komintern und Faschimus 1920-1940 (Stuttgart, 1965). The most impressive proof remains the official Comintern and KPD press from the period 1930-33. In his introduction to the second edition of Ossip K. Flechtheim, Die KPD in der Weimarer Republic (Frankfurt, 1969) Hermann Weber gives an overview of the significant literature on KPD policy in the years 1930-33. Flechtheim’s book also also contains extensive documentation supporting Trotsky’s thesis.

xxxiv The theory of ‘social- fascism’ arbitrarily isolates the objective role of the Social Democratic leadership (without doubt a factor in the stabilization of the bourgeois status quo in late capitalism) from its mass- base and its specific form (a form that implies the survival of workers organizations). In the theory of the popular front on the other hand, the anti-fascist will of the masses and the need of the Social D-democratic leadership to defend itself against the danger of annihilation by fascism is in a similarly arbitrary fashion isolated from the social context of the structural crisis of late capitalism. In the first case, the masses are paralysed by division, in the second case they are decisively restrained out of consideration for the ‘liberal’ bourgeois partners in the popular front. The pendulum swings from the left- to the right-opportunist deviation without ever grasping the correct position of the unity in action of the working people, one that has an objectively anti-capitalist dynamic.

xxxv As late as the 1950s a desperate attempt was made to justify the KPD policy between 1930 and 1933. See for example the issue ‘Les origines du Fascisme’, published in the series ‘Recherches iInternationales à la lLumière du Marxisme’, no. I, Editions La Nouvelle Critique, Paris 1957.

xxxvi See volume 4 of ‘Geschichte der Deutschen Arbeiterbewegung’ (Berlin, 1966), pp. 168, 171, 206, 239, 288, 300-303 etc. This volume admits, after the fact, that Trotsky was right in every point – but without ever mentioning his name in this context!

xxxvii Ernst Nolte, pp. 55, 66. Also see Harold Laski, Reflections on the Rrevolution of Oour Ttimes (London, 1943).

xxxviii It would be interesting to investigate this compulsion. We think it lies not only in the need to atomize the working class through mass- terror as ‘normal’ repression is not sufficient, but also in the nature of a mode of production based on the private ownership of the means of production. Such a mode of production will always contain an element of competition, and can only arrive at the collective interest of the class (or rather, that of the decisive layer of the class) through a process of bargaining and reconciliation of contradictory partial interests. If this collective interest is to have a direct, unmediated effect (meaning without long discussions and difficult negotiations) the representation of the common interest would need to be separated from the defence of special, distinct interests. This means that the personnel leading the big corporations would need to be separated from the political executive. This explains the tendency of bourgeois society to abdicate political power in times of crisis, during its youthful rise as much as in its decadent old age.

xxxix Robert A. Brady makes a similar mistake in his book The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (New York, 1937).

xl Ignazio Silone, Der Faschismus. Seine Entsthehung und seine Entwickelung (Zürich, 1934), pp. 32, 46, 52, etc.

xli Ibid.em, p. 276.

xlii August Thalheimer, ‘Über den Faschismus’, in: Wolfgang Abendroth (ed), Faschismus und Kapitalismus (Frankfurt, 1967), pp. 19-38; Otto Bauer, Zwischen zwei Weltkriegen? (…), pp. 113-141.

xliii This aspect is underlined as well by Rüdiger Griepenburg and K.H. Tjaden in ‘Faschismus und Bonapartismus’, Das Argument, 41, 8 JG, Heft 6, December 1966, pp. 461-72.

xliv Otto Bauer, p. 113.

xlv Ibid.

xlvi Arthur Rosenberg, Geschichte der Weimarer Republik (Frankfurt, 1961), p. 211.

xlvii Charles Bettelheim, p. 210.

xlviii Jürgen Kuczynski, Die Geschichte der Lage der Arbeiter in Deutschland, vol II: 193 bis 1946 (Berlin, 1947), pp. 125, 199, 154.

xlix Franz Neumann, p. 435. Considering such conditions, it appears almost as mockery when Timothy Mason, as proof of a supposed ‘primacy of politics’ after 1936 points out that the Hitler- regime between autumn 1936 and the summer of 1938, ‘neglected’ to decide on limiting the freedom of changing workplaces and the introduction of maximum wages; such ‘measures were rejected for two years by the political leadership because such radical steps against the material interests of workers and consumers were not reconcilable with the political task of ‘‘educating’’ them in National Socialism’: , ‘The Primacy of Politics’, in: Tim Mason, Nazism, Fascism and the Working Class (Cambridge, 1996), p. 66. Who wants to prove too much, proves to be wrong. Mason seemingly does not realize that the decisive element here is not that such steps were postponed for two years, but on the contrary that a regime that at least demagogically was sworn to a ‘people’s community’ took such steps towards the partial enslavement of the working force (abolishing the freedom of movement) and decided on a ‘monopoly on armaments profits’ in favour of the large corporations. Does this not prove that the interests of the ‘political leadership’ were subordinated to those of monopoly capital, that there was no ‘primacy of politics’ but rather a ‘primacy of monopoly capital’?

l Neumann, p. 613, Bettelheim, p. 63.

liNeumann, pp. 591, 601.

lii Timothy W. Mason, pp. 482, 487, 484. Mason, Nazism, Fascism and the Working Class, p. 64.

liii On privatization, see among others Bettelheim, p. 112;, Neumann, p. 297. On the Gelsenkirchen corporation affair, and its centrality in bringing broad layers of heavy industry into the camp of Hitler and on the privatizsation of the United Steelworks in 1936, see: George F.W. Hallgarten, Hitler, Reichswehr und Industrie, pp. 108-113;, K. Gossweiler, ‘Die Vereinigten Stahlwerk un die Grossbanken’, in: Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte, 1965, vVol. IV, Berlin, pp. 11-53.

liv In this context we want to return to Mason’s thesis that ‘from 1936 onwards’, ‘both the domestic and foreign policy of the National Socialist government became’, ‘increasingly independent of the influence of the economic ruling classes’. The important word here is ‘influence’. The thesis does not contradict the Marxist interpretation of state and society, but rather its mechanistic, superficial distortion. Marxism implies that there is no absolute correspondence between base and superstructure; both levels have their own inner logic, determined by the division of labour. Hence, in class societies not only religion and philosophy but also the state and army are to a certain degree autonomous. The key element is not whether a group of bankers or big industrialists ‘dictate’ decisions to the head of state or the army, but whether such decisions correspond to the class interests of big finance and industry, and can be understood as resulting from the inner logic of the given mode of production. Mason overlooks the fact that in the context of monopoly capitalism militarism and war, long before the NSDAP, war and militarism had achieved such autonomy. Indeed, the term ‘primacy of politics’ was produced precisely by the context of the First World War. ‘There now exist’, writes Mason, ‘certain indications that the attacks on Poland in 1939 and France in 1940 were not vital components of the ruling class’ view’ (‘Primat der Industrie? Eine Erwiderung’, Das Argument, Heft 47, July 1968, p. 206). Looking back, can we not hold, with just as much conviction, a similar judgement about Churchill’s adventurism in the Dardanellen in the First World War, of Verdun and other massive battles during the First World War, and in fact of the outbreak of this war itself, as about the Second World War?
Would it not have been in ‘the interest’ of large capital to resolve the contradictions over Serbian and Bosnian pig exports of over German and British penetration of the Middle East, rather than lose millions and ignite a socialist revolution? Were Was it not diplomats, the imperial entourage and most of all the general staff who, in the period between the shooting in Sarajevo and the march into Belgium, made the decisions? And not the employers’ -organizations or the board of the German bank? Are militarism, imperialist contradictions, militarist-nationalist ideology, the arms race, and Germany’s lack of raw materials not determined by a certain economic and social structure that in the final analysis is the cause of the war? Were they not based on the expansionist drive of the German banks? Were the war goals not closely related to this cause of the arms- race? The Marxist thesis of the monopoly-capitalist and imperialist nature of the Nazi -system must be understood in this sense, and not in the mechanistic sense that the gentlemen of big finance supposedly had more influence on the day-to-day conduct of the war than the general headquarters of the German army. This was not the case in either the First or the Second World War.

In this context Dietrich Eicholz and Kurt Gossweiler put forward a telling quote from a member of the board and central executive of IG Farben, one Carl Krauch, from 28 April 28, 1939:; ‘As in 1914 the German political and economic situation – a fortress besieged by the world – appears to necessitate a quick decision of the war through annihilative blows struck directly at the beginning of hostilities’ (Das Argument, nor. 47, p. 226). That was the dominant mentality among decisive layers of monopoly capital. In retrospect, it appears just as ‘irrational’ as that of the big bourgeoisie under Wilhelm II (as does the similar mentality of many other imperialist powers). But this only proves that imperialist wars and monopoly capitalism as such intensify to the highest degree the ‘rationalized irrationality’ inherent to bourgeois society.

 Klaus Drobisch, ‘Flick-Konzern und faschischistischer Staat 1933-1939’, in Monopole und Staat in Deutschland 1917-1945 (Berlin, 1966), p. 169.

 There is an abundance of literature regarding this. An impressive presentation is given by George F. W. Hallgarten, Hitler, Reichswher und Industrie, p. 104 and further.

      Here as well the literature is abundant. See, among other titles, H.S. Gegner, Die Reichskanzlei von 1933-1945 (Frankfurt, 1959), p. 33;      Alan Bullock, Hitler. A Study in Tyranny (London, 1962), pp.196, 243;. William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York, 1960) provides a summary of the most important testimony,. p. 175.

 [The question of who was responsible for the Reichstagfire is contested among historians. The thesis that Dutch council-communist Marinus van der Lubbe was solely responsible for setting the fire was for a long time dominant. See: Hans Mommsen, ‘The Reichstag Fire and Its Political Consequences’, in Holborn, Hajo (ed.) Republic to Reich:. The Making of the Nazi Revolution (New York, 1972), pp. 129–222. For another view, see: Benjamin Carter Hett, Burning the Reichstag:. An Investigation into the Third Reich’'s Enduring Mystery (Oxford, 2014) and the response of Richard J. Evans, ‘The Conspiracists’, LRB, vVol. 36 nNo. 9, 8 May 2014.]

 See the relevant passages in memoires such as: Heinz Brandt, Ein Traum der nicht entführbar ist. Mein weg zwischen Ost und West (Munich, 1967);, Margaret Buber-Neumann, Under Two Dictators: Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler (London, 2008);, Franz Jung, Der Weg nach Unten (Hamburg, 2013);, Arthur Koestler, The Invisible Writing: The Second Volume oOf aAn Autobiography, 1932-40 (New York, 1954);, Wolfgang Leonhard, Child of the Revolution (Washington, 1958);, Gustav Regler, The Owl of Minerva (London, 1959);, and Jan Valtin, Out of the Night (Edinburgh, 2004).

 The list of political leaders murdered in the United States in the past few years is worryingly reminiscent of the Weimar republic; Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, several leaders of the Black Panthers, to name only a few in a long list.

 Still, it should be remarked that in this beginning process of polarization, right-wing activism is already on the decline and in the United States as well the majority of the politically active youth tend to the left. As in Western Europe, the confrontations are not between activists of the right and of the left, but between leftists and the police. Of course, the relative prosperity of the United States middle layers and their concomitant conservatism play a role in this.

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