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International Socialist Review Issue 2, Fall 1997

Leon Trotsky on Fascism

The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky developed what is still to this day the best analysis of the nature of fascism. All the more remarkable is that he wrote his analysis of German fascism in the early 1930s while exiled from Stalin’s Russia and in extreme political isolation. The centerpiece of Trotsky’s argument was that fascism was a mass movement based in the middle class, but backed by big capital, that sought to destroy the working-class movement. Again and again he called for united working class action against the nazi movement. The reformist SPD—the largest working-class based party in Germany—feared mobilizing its ranks against Hitler, preferring parliamentary manuevers and appeals to the state insteade. Trotsky argued that the the Communist Party (KPD)—which alone still handn’t the forces to defeat Hitler—should propose a United Front with the Social Democrats (SPD) for the purposes of physically confronting the Nazis. Such a policy would be gladly supported by rank-and-file workers of all political shades, would expose the Social Democrat’s half-heartedness and would stop Hitler in his tracks. Sadly, the KPD followed a completely opposite strategy. Under the directives of Stalin the KPD leaders refused to call for a united front with the SPD, whom they insanely considered to be the “moderate wing of fascism.” This policy paralyzed the working-class movement and allowed Hitler to take power without a fight.
Trotsky’s analysis was brilliant, but his forces were weak. Hounded, exiled by Stalin’s bureaucracy, he was only able to organize a few hundred followers in Germany—hardly enough to shift the course of events. Yet his ideas remain a model today for understanding fascism and how to fight it. What follows are excerpts from Trotsky’s writings.

On the conditions that give rise to Fascism

“The gigantic growth of National Socialism is an expression of two factors: a deep social crisis, throwing the petty-bourgeois masses off balance, and the lack of a revolutionary party that would be regarded by the masses of the people as an acknowledged revolutionary leader. If the Communist Party is the party of revolutionary hope, then fascism, as a mass movement, is the party of counterrevolutionary despair”

“Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or thirteenth. A hundred million people us eelectricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet, fascism has given them a ganner.Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism.”

On the class character of Fascism

“[T]he Big Bourgeoisie, even those who supported Hitler with money, did not consider his party theirs. The national “renaissance” leaned wholly upon the middle classes, the most backward part of the nation, the heavy ballast of history. Political art consisted in fusing the petty bourgeoisie into oneness through its common hostility to the proletariat. What must be done in order to improve things? First of all, throttle those who are underneath. Impotent before big capital, the petty bourgeoisie hopes in the future to regain its social dignitiy through the ruin of the workers.”

“German fascism, like Italian fascism, raised itself to power on the backs of the petty bourgeoisie, which it turned into a battering ram against the organizations of the working class and the institutions of democracy. But fascism in power is least of all the rule of the petty bourgeoisie. On the contrary, it is the most ruthless dictatorship of monopoly capital. Mussolini is right: the middle classes are incapable of independent policies. During periods of great crisis they are called upon to reduce to absurdity the policies of one of the two basic classes. Fascism succeeded in putting them at the service of capital. “

“The coming to power of the National Socialists would mean first of all the extermination of the flower of the German proletariat, the destruction of its organizations, the eradication of its belief in itself and its future. Considering the far greater maturity and acuteness of the social contradictions in Germany, the hellish work of Italian fascism would probably appear as a pale and almost humane experiment in comparison with the work of German National Socialism”

On the United Front

“The Communist Party must call for the defense of those material and moral positions which the working class has managed to win in the German state. This most directly concerns fate of the workers’ political organizations, trade unions, newspaper, printing plants, clubs, libraries, etc. Communist workers must say to their Social Democratic counterparts: “The policies of our parties are irreconcilably opposed; but if the fascists come tonight to wreck your organization’s hall, we will come running, arms in hand, to help you. Will you promise us that if our organization is threatened you will rush to our aid?” This is the quntessence of our policy in the present period. All agitation must be pitched in this key.
The more persistently, seriously, and thoughtfully...we carry on this agitation, the more we propose serious measures for defense in every factory, in every working-class neighborhood and district the less the danger that a fascist attack will take us by surprise, and the greater the certainty that such an attack will cement rather than break break apart the ranks of the workers.”

“Worker-Communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions; you cannot leave for anyplace; there are not enough passports for you. Should fascism come to power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a terrific tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only a fighting unity with the Social Democratic workers canbring victory. Make haste, worker-Communists, you have very little tim left!”

Source: The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, (Pathfinder, 1971)

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