Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Struggle Against Fascism

Fascism is a term that is often thrown about rather casually, generally with very little understanding of its actual meaning.  While many liberals, and even some radicals, tend to use the term as simply a pejorative against people who are politically to the right of them, we as Marxists have a much more precise definition, and understanding, of what fascism truly is.   In our view fascism is a uniquely sinister and violent form of capitalist rule.  It is something that comes about when the ruling class of a nation is in an extreme crisis, when it feels that it can no longer afford the luxury of democratic appearances, when the threat from its own working class is so dire that it feels it must resort to the most brutal form of government in order to survive.

It should be noted though, that fascism is not simply any old run of the mill dictatorship.  The ruling classes in various countries, at various times, and for various reasons have suspended democratic rights and imposed blatant dictatorships upon their people.  A dictatorship, or police state, is not in itself fascism.  Fascism is a more desperate and far reaching thing than that.  Fascism strives to create for the capitalists a popular mass movement in support of a dictatorship, to rally a layer of the citizenry around some national savior – and to provide an armed force to that supposed savior to crush their opponents – particularly working class organizations like unions and workers’ parties.  Fascism strives to accomplish nothing less than the physical annihilation of the workers’ movement. 

A study of fascist movements shows that they are primarily a middle class movement.  The majority of its adherents tend to be the petty bourgeoisie – small shop owners, landlords, disillusioned intellectuals, students, farmers and professionals of various sorts.  But it also draws support from the lumpen proletariat – the chronically unemployed, the down and out of a society - as well as from the more backward sections of the working class.  Using populist, and sometimes even leftist sounding rhetoric, it appeals to these sectors of society – people who feel under attack, who see their standard of living declining, who run the risk of loosing their shops, jobs and positions in life – and provides them with a target, with scapegoats – be it Jews, immigrants or some other minority.  Rather than direct people’s anger towards the capitalist class, it directs it towards these scapegoats, and in the process, against the workers’ movement, which tries to do the opposite.  It also wraps its appeal in the cloak of nationalism, and harkens back to a nation’s supposed glory days.  It generally promotes religion and rejects modernism.  It glorifies war and violence, and inevitably ends up forming militias to physically crush its opponents.  Fascism also promotes a subservience to authority, to the dictator, to the national savior – often packaging its slavish support for the dictator in terms of service to country and/ or to one’s race, together with heaping spoonfuls of over-dramatic nonsense about the power of the great leader’s iron will, about destiny, etc.

The thing to always remember about fascism though, is that no matter what certain leaders may say at a given time, no matter what populist rhetoric it may produce, the purpose of the movement, its reason for existence, is to save capitalism.  Daniel Guerin, in his book “Fascism and Big Business” points out that "fascism's game is to call itself anti-capitalist without seriously attacking capitalism.”  While it may be a middle class movement, it is one that is in the service of the ruling class.  Fascists come to power as a result of the will of the ruling class.  And it should be noted that it’s not a decision that the capitalist class takes lightly – putting eccentric dictators in power with armed mobs at their disposal is inevitably a risky proposition – it often results in the capitalist class even having to endure the disgrace and even death of some of its own members.  But when capitalism is in an existential crisis, the gloves come off.  Fascism is capitalism’s desperate last resort.

Lets now take a look at the origins and the history of this movement.  Fascism arose in the wake of World War I.  World War I was a massive inter-imperialist war that saw two mega camps of capitalist countries bloodily duking it out for control of markets and colonies.  It resulted in a level of bloodshed and destruction that had before been unseen.  And as in every war, to the victor went the spoils, leaving several countries crippled, their economies in ruins, and their political systems discredited and actively challenged by an angry, awakened, and now armed working class. 

Reacting to this senseless violence and destruction, workers and peasants in Russia rose up and established the world’s first workers’ state in 1917.  Workers elsewhere, from Hamburg to Hungary soon followed suit, rising up, and in some instances, briefly seizing power.  This political and economic crisis was particularly severe in defeated countries like Germany and Austria, but it also affected Italy, a victorious country which has lost much during the war and that felt it was cheated by the bigger powers out of its share of the spoils.  It would actually be in Italy that the world’s first fascist government would take power.

In the immediate wake of World War I Italy was wracked with rampant inflation, crippling foreign debt and massive unemployment – which grew all the more severe with the return from the front of millions of demobilized soldiers.  In this environment organized crime flourished, right wing nationalists crossed the border and occupied the city of Trieste – and many workers, especially in the industrial regions in the north of the country, joined the socialist and communist parties, and participated in a massive series of strikes and uprisings.

The Italian ruling class was paralyzed.  Prime Ministers rose and fell every couple of months.  Some of Italy’s most powerful capitalists were seeing their factories seized by their workers, and were impotent to respond. 

Enter Benito Mussolini.  Mussolini had originally been a socialist, but he was expelled from the Socialist Party when he vocally came out in support of the war.  Following the end of the war, he began publishing a newspaper and organizing what would become the Fascist movement.  He denounced class struggle politics, and called for a new Italy that would stand as an equal with the other great powers of Europe.  He denounced the socialist movement as a failure, and blamed the socialist and communist movement as being part of what made Italy weak.  While Mussolini’s movement was careful to try to still appear to be in favor of improving the lot of working people, in other words it still tried to cloak itself in populist sounding rhetoric, its actions were squarely against the working class.  Mussolini’s “combat groups” engaged in street fighting against workers’ organizations, and offered itself as a protector for Italy’s ruling class. 

Italy’s capitalists were quick to see the advantage of Mussolini’s movement, and provided him with the funds and protection that allowed his movement to grow in a meteoric fashion.  In the short span of only 3 years Mussolini’s movement went from a small local group of 200 street fighters in Milan, to being the governing party of Italy.  Mussolini’s proposal to Italy’s capitalists was a simple one – allow him to become the Il Duce, the supreme leader, and he would crush the left, reorganize Italy’s economy along corporatist lines, and rebuild Italy’s military in preparation for conquering a new Roman empire.  In other words, Mussolini promised to make the trains run on time – for the capitalists!

Under Mussolini one by one the radical parties and trade unions were banned.  Their activists were imprisoned, forced into exile, or sometimes even killed.  Left papers were banned, and their printing presses smashed to pieces.  Reactionary nationalism became the official state doctrine, and was drilled into the people from everywhere, from the radio stations to the elementary school classrooms.

North of the Alps, Germany too was in the midst of an intense political and economic crisis.  In the wake of Germany’s defeat in the war, workers rose up and succeeded in briefly seizing power in places like Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin and Bavaria.  But alas the workers’ revolution was drowned in blood.  Despite the heroic leadership of revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebkneckt, the German ruling class was able to hold onto power, albeit just barely, with the aid of the Social Democratic party, and state subsidized right wing militias of former soldiers, such as the Freikorps.  The German ruling class had to give up its monarch, but the Weimar Republic which replaced the Kaiser was just as committed to continuing capitalism.

The Weimar Republic that was established in the wake of World War I was unable to bring much in the way of consistent stability for the German ruling class.  Despite the defeat of the 1919 socialist revolution, millions of German workers still looked to revolutionary politics.  The German Communist Party, for example, grew to become the largest Communist Party in the world outside the young Soviet Union.  And neither was the German working class quiescent after 1919 – in fact they unsuccessfully rose up again in 1923.  Add to these attempted revolutions the massive economic hardships that Germany was dealing with in the wake of the war – inflation so rampant that even bales of money became worthless – not to mention the stripping away of all of her colonies and the imposition of crippling war reparations – and you can begin to understand just how tumultuous the situation was in the 1920s and early 1930s.

During this time period the German ruling class tried several strategies to squelch the turmoil.  They nervously employed the Social Democratic Party from time to time in the form of coalition governments in the hope that this would placate the workers.  They also put forward several liberal, Catholic and nationalist political parties, which tried to varying degrees of success to win adherents on the basis of religion, nationalism and reformist schemes.  And they backed a steady series of ex-soldier groups, that amounted to little more than violent street fighting gangs which sold their services to the capitalists in the fight against the workers’ movement.

At its founding Adolph Hitler’s Nazi party was just one of several of these small, street fighting groups made up of ex-soldiers and disgruntled middle class elements.  Its rather pathetic and unsuccessful attempt to seize power in the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch, for example, demonstrates that it was not originally viewed by the German elite as its savior.  Hitler and his cohorts would have to spend several years as a fringe movement, loosing as often as they won their street fights with socialist and communist workers, before they became a truly national force, and began to attract the attention of some of Germany’s ruling class.

During this time the Social Democratic Party [the SPD] was Germany’s largest.  It controlled the majority of the country’s trade unions.  Its parliamentary candidates got between six and nine millions votes in every election from 1924 to 1933.  While it contained a variety of different political factions, the leadership of the party was solidly on a reformist, non-revolutionary course.  It still called itself “Marxist” – but it shunned talk of revolution, and indeed had bloodied its hands in helping put attempted revolutions down.  Its stated goal was a social welfare state, to be achieved gradually through parliamentary reform and compromise with the capitalist class.

Competing for the support of German workers was the KPD – the Communist Party.  Formed in 1919 as a merger of Rosa Luxemburg’s Spartacus League, left wing splits from the Social Democrats, and a variety of other radical workers groups, it too represented a major force in German politics.  It contested the SPD control of the German trade union movement, and its parliamentary candidates received from 2 to 6 million votes during the period from 1924-1933.

Together the Social Democrats and Communists represented a large majority of the German working class.  Between their two parties, and the numerous trade unions, student, cooperative, youth, women’s and other social groups that they led, they had the numbers and the social power to crush the early Nazi party.  Given the directly counter posed nature of their class interests compared to those of the Nazi party, the legitimate question arises, why didn’t they?

While in the early 1920s the Nazi party may very well have simply not been on the radar screen of the SPD and KPD leadership, that was definitely not the case by the late 1920s.  The failure of the German Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party to unite and crush the growing fascist movement represents one of the great tragedies of history, and one of the greatest betrayals of Stalinism in particular.  It is an event that marked a major turning point in the evolution of our movement, the Trotskyist movement.

The answer to the question as to how this failure came about has its origins in the Soviet Union.  In the wake of Lenin’s death, and Joseph Stalin’s unfortunately successful struggle for power against Leon Trotsky, Stalin embarked on a course that saw the gutting of much of what was revolutionary about Russia.  The Soviet Union under Stalin soon became a caricature of what it had once been.  Under Stalin the USSR became a brutal dictatorship in which the ruling bureaucratic caste sought to protect its power and privilege by any means necessary.  Opposition was not tolerated.  Those who courageously fought back were either killed or exiled.  And the international communist movement, organized into the Communist International, also known as the 3rd International, was forced to follow Stalin’s every policy twist and turn.  By the late 1920s the leadership of the German Communist Party, like that of communist parties the world over, were decided in Moscow – and the criteria for leadership was absolute loyalty to Stalin.

In the course of Stalin’s struggle for power against Trotsky he formed an alliance with more conservative, cautious elements of the Soviet Communist Party, elements which opposed Leon Trotsky’s calls for spreading revolution internationally, and adopting an economic policy of rapid industrialization.  Instead they advocated the theory of “socialism in one country”.  Trotsky and his theories were denounced as being ultra-left – and on that basis he was driven from all positions of authority in the USSR.  But once Trotsky was ousted, Stalin turned on his conservative allies and sought to outflank them by shifting to the left.  While this whole situation is deserving of a lengthy talk in itself, the short and skinny of it is that Stalin choose to swing the international communist movement to the left – but not in the matter advocated by Trotsky – what Stalin forced down the movement’s throat was truly ultra-left.  He declared that capitalism was in what he termed the “Third Period” – a period of extreme crisis in which if the Communists were able to crush their leftist rivals, they would be able to ride a wave of new workers uprisings to power unhindered.  So, Communist Parties the world over were ordered to denounce Social Democrats as “social fascists” – an invented concept that claimed that the non-Stalinist left was in fact the greatest danger to the working class – more so than the actual fascist movement.  Stalin ordered the Communist Parties to split from the established trade unions around the world, and to form revolutionary “Red” unions.  Similar splits were carried out in the Cooperative, farmers, student and other social movement. 

At a time when fascism was gaining support in Germany, the German Communist Party was ordered to raise the position that it was not the Nazis that were the real threat to the German workers, it was the Social Democratic Party.  In this period it was against the SPD then, not the Nazis, that the KPD aimed its fire.   The Stalinists even suggested that it may be a good thing for the Nazis to come to power, stating that if that happened the workers would quickly reject them and replace them with the KPD – that is providing the SDP had been thoroughly crushed before hand.  This absurd misleadership went so far as to see the KPD forming tactical alliances with the Nazis in referendums and other campaigns against local SPD officials.

For its part, the SPD leadership didn’t help the situation any by its class collaborationism and continued sectarian attacks against the revolutionary left.  All the while the KPD and SPD were competing with each other to see who could sucker punch the other harder, the Nazis continued to grow, and with them the ominous dark clouds over Germany’s future.

In the midst of this lunacy, there were a few voices of sanity though.  The most significant of these of course was that of Leon Trotsky.  After being driven from the Soviet Union by Stalin, Trotsky was hounded from one place of exile to another.  But this didn’t stop him from gallantly trying to organize an international left opposition to Stalin’s misleadership.  And on the question of the rise of fascism Trotsky correctly warned of the enormous danger that fascism posed to the German working class.  Pointing to Mussolini’s Italy, he explained that the true purpose of fascism was to save capitalism in crisis, and that its goal was to annihilate the feuding SPD and KPD, and all workers’ organizations.

What Leon Trotsky advocated was a united front – a coalition of the mass workers’ organizations, primarily the SPD and the KPD, against the Nazis.  He pointed out that together they had the numbers and the social power to stop the fascists dead in their tracks, and in doing so, to open up the road to a socialist revolution.  In article after article Trotsky pointed to the dire danger posed by fascism, and advocated for the urgent need for a united front.  And the Trotskyist movement, with him, took up the cause with admirable tenacity.  In countless leaflets, newspaper articles, speeches and interventions, the small Left Opposition sought to goad the Social Democrats and Stalinists to unite and fight against the Nazis.  In Germany, for example, the tiny Left Opposition, counting no more than 600 members, sold an impressive 67,000 copies of Trotsky’s pamphlets on fascism.  In the U.S., the Communist League responded similarly, and despite a dearth of resources, managed to put out its newspaper, the Militant, three times a week during Hitler’s rise to power in a vain attempt to win the Stalinists from their sectarianism.

It was an uphill battle, and one that in the end proved unwinnable.  Stalin had state power.  He was able to cloak himself in the aura of the Russian Revolution, which continued to inspire tens of millions of workers around the globe.  With the significant resources at his disposal, he and his bureaucratic cohorts were able to by and large insulate the ranks of the Communist International from the Trotskyist campaign.  Tragically, it was not until Hitler had already come to power in 1933, and the leadership of both the German Social Democratic and Communist parties found themselves together in the concentration camps, that the two parties finally formed an alliance.  But an alliance of concentration camp prisoners is not the stuff that revolution is made of.  By that time it was far, far too late.

The coming to power by Adolph Hitler, which happened in a country that had such a massive workers’ movement, sent shock waves throughout the socialist movement.  For Trotsky and the International Left Opposition it was a sign that the Communist International was definitively politically dead.  Prior to 1933, despite having been formally expelled from its ranks, the Trotskyists had fought to reform the Communist International, to win its ranks back to genuine Leninism, and away from Stalin’s misleadership.  But when Hitler was able to come to power without the KPD firing a single shot, Trotsky concluded that the time had come to once and for all break from the Comintern, and to instead lay the ground work for a new revolutionary international, for a Fourth International.

After Hitler’s rise to power, the Stalinists, for their part, reacted in two ways.  One was to accelerate their efforts to crush the infant Trotskyist movement.  Several assassinations, including that of Trotsky himself in 1940, represented just part of a systematic campaign by the Stalinists to erase this embarrassing reminder of their colossal failure.  The other aspect of their response was a dramatic political shift to the right.  They dropped their ultra-left Third Period theories without so much as even a brief pause for reflection.  In its place the Stalinists began tripping over themselves in a rush to form an alliance with anybody against the fascists.  While Trotsky had been very clear that what was needed to defeat fascism was a united front of workers’ organizations, the Stalinists unveiled a very different strategy – that of the popular front.  Unlike a united front, a popular front is a multi-class alliance in which the workers’ movement subordinates itself to a section of the capitalist class.  Ostensibly, in this instance, it was to block fascism, but what it did was deliver the workers to just another wing of the capitalist class.

In the wake of fascism’s victory in Germany, the Stalinists entered into popular fronts in a number of countries, most famously in France and Spain.  In France, in 1934, there was an attempted coup by some right wing political forces.  The response of the Stalinists was to form an alliance with the social democrats and the bourgeois Radical Party - a popular front, that went on to win control of the government.  As Trotsky predicted though, this did not result in any kind of gain for the French workers, let alone a back door route to socialism, instead it resulted in the demobilization of the workers.  In the name of maintaining the Popular Front alliance with the Radical Party, working class demands had to be dropped.

A similar, but even more tragic thing happened in Spain in the late 1930s.  In 1936 the Spanish Stalinists formed an electoral alliance with the social democrats and a variety of liberal capitalist parties, like the Republican Union Party and a group called the Republican Left.  After the Popular Front won the parliamentary elections, the far right reacted with a military rebellion, led by Francisco Franco.  What followed is the Spanish Civil War.  And despite the fact that there were numerous inspiring actions taken by workers in various parts of Spain during that conflict – workers organizing their own militias, peasants seizing the land, and even whole cities being led by radical forces, the struggle was consistently handicapped by the Popular Front.  In the name of not alienating the liberal capitalists with whom it was in alliance, the Stalinists went so far as to literally attack and kill Trotskyists, anarchists and other activists who attempted to carry out radical change.  Instead of unleashing the workers and peasants to seize power in their own name, instead of allowing the revolution to fully blossom, and in doing so truly give the people something to fight for, and reason to rally against the fascist threat, the revolution was drowned in blood by the Stalinists, setting the stage for a relatively easy fascist military victory.

One must remember, that when dealing with fascism, the question of strategy, of what political program is correct, is not a question of semantics, it’s not some kind of pointless debate about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin – it is literally a matter of life and death.  A united front of workers’ organizations could have stopped the fascists in Germany, as well as in Italy and Spain.  And not only would that have spared the world the bloody tragedy of fascist rule in those countries, it would have opened the door to socialist revolution.  It is not going too far to say that we are still suffering today under capitalism, in part because of the Stalinist betrayals of the 1930s.

I want to take some time now to talk about fascism more broadly.  As we all know Germany and Italy were defeated in World War II.  And while Franco’s government lasted until his death in 1975, Spain, like Germany and Italy, saw its fascist capitalist government replaced by a liberal capitalist government.  And while that means that there today aren’t any more fascist governments, it doesn’t mean that fascism has been consigned to the dustbin of history, not yet at least.

For a time, in the 1930s, fascist movements, inspired by Mussolini and Hitler’s coming to power, popped up all over the world.  And in some countries, they grew to be a major force in their countries’ politics.  Examples include the Rexists in Belgium, the Arrow Cross movement in Hungary and the Iron Guard in Romania.  In fact many of these movements went on to play important roles in the puppet governments that Hitler set up in those countries during World War II.  In the wake of Germany’s defeat in that war though, and the revelations about the Holocaust and other atrocities, the appeal to fascism fell off dramatically. 

While it’s true that there are still a whole plethora of neo-fascist and neo-nazi groups in the world, including here in the United States, in our opinion they don’t represent much.  Groups like the American Nazi Party and its various split offs, together with the Aryan Nations, White Aryan Resistance, the National Alliance and other such groups, are really just comical caricatures of fascism.  By cloaking themselves in exotic, foreign and discredited symbols, like the swastika, they severely limit their appeal, and end up consigning themselves to the margins of society.  While these groups from time to time grab headlines through their sensational, and sometimes violent antics, in all likelihood they will always be what they are now – freak shows.  It is important to mobilize and react to the campaigns of these groups in their crude attempts to foment racism and anti-Semitism within the ranks of the working class, but we should bear in mind that a genuine fascist movement in this country, one that would pose a serious threat, is not going to come bearing posters of Adolph Hitler and wearing swastika armbands.  A real American fascist movement will have American symbols, and it will speak in a way that appeals to American petty bourgeoisie and backwards workers.

Lets take a look at fascism’s track record in the United States.  In the 1930s the U.S. had its share of fascist groups – groups like the German American Bund and the Silver Shirts.  The Trotskyist movement even had a number of direct run-ins with the Silver Shirts organization here in Minnesota during the ‘30s.  The Silver Shirts were a uniform wearing group that patterned themselves after Mussolini’s Blackshirts and Hitler’s Brownshirts, and on several occasions attacked our party, and the Trotskyist led Teamsters union in Minneapolis.  We took the threat seriously, and responded by organizing a union sponsored workers’ defense guard. 

During this same time period our movement came face to face with Frank Hague, the mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey, whose violent police crackdowns on the workers’ movement led many to compare his administration to that of Hitler and Mussolini.  Like the neo-fascists of today though, groups like the Silver Shirts proved to be a fleeting, and relatively marginal phenomenon.  Potentially violent, and more than willing to do the bidding of the bosses, the capitalist class declined to make use of them.

In Socialist Action’s opinion, the closest the United States has come to fascism was the McCarthy period of the late 1940s and early 1950s.  We have described McCarthyism as having essentially been a trial balloon, in which the ruling class tested the waters to see if fascism was a tool it wanted to bring out of its toolbox.  In the wake of World War II, the United States saw its most extensive and militant wave of labor strikes in its history.  Millions of workers, frustrated by the wage freezes, inflation and openly pro-boss policies of the war were determined to get their fair share.  It is no coincidence that it was during this period that the American Trotskyist movement was numerically at its height.  The size and veracity of this worker upsurge took the ruling class by surprise, and it tried several draconian tactics to break it.  From threats to draft strikers into the army, to a thorough anti-communist and socialist witch hunt in the unions and workplaces, extreme effort was made to break the back of this surge in worker militancy.  It was in this context that Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy sought to take advantage of the situation with his anti-communist crusade.  In the end though the ruling class decided that it didn’t need to resort to fascism, its more traditional tricks of the trade proved sufficient, and Joe McCarthy and his ilk were cast aside.

In more recent decades we have seen at least a couple of glimpses of what form a genuinely American fascism may take.  The best examples of this were the movements of Lyndon LaRouche and of Patrick Buchanan.

Lyndon LaRouche, a former leftist who at one time even called himself a Marxist, launched his own movement out of the Students for a Democratic Society in the late 1960s.  It was initially called the National Caucus of Labor Committees, though later it would call itself the U.S. Labor Party, and today it goes by a number of names: the National Democratic Policy Committee, the LaRouche PAC, the Schiller Institute, and the LaRouche Youth Movement, among others.  While initially portraying themselves as a leftist group, it soon evolved into a bizarre amalgam of left wing and right wing views.  It replaced talk of the class struggle with diatribes against finance capitalists, who it has been suggested he uses as a code word for Jews.  It should also be noted that LaRouche rails against bankers, etc., but considers industrial capitalists to be progressive.  He also promotes various elite conspiracy theories, which rather than blame capitalism for the world’s ills, point the finger at the Trilateral Commission, the Skull and Bones society, and the Queen of England. 

While many of LaRouche’s particular theories were and are quite ludicrous, his movement did succeed in building up a sizeable apparatus, and raising considerable funds for its projects.  I can still remember as a child watching half hour Lyndon LaRouche for President television ads, for example – where he went on and on about his plans to save the economy by colonizing Mars.  He was able to use the movement that he constructed to try and win the attention, and favor, of sections of the ruling class.  In 1974 he declared Operation Mop-up, where with baseball bats and numb-chucks his movement tried to win “hegemony” over the left by violently attacking members of the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party.  Later in the late 1970s and early 1980s LaRouche lent his mob to various reactionary trade union leaders, like the Teamsters bureaucracy, to beat up left wing activists in the unions.  He tried to recruit scientists, police officers and even government officials, in a vain attempt to promote his projects, and provide legitimacy to his movement.  The LaRouchites even set up their own private intelligence gathering agency, under the leadership of a former high ranking official from the National Security Council, to spy on leftists and try to sell the info to the government.

At the height of his movement, in addition to putting out an impressive array of glossy publications that were distributed far and wide, the LaRouchites were able to win the nomination for their candidates in several Democratic Party state-wide primaries, recruit a number of leaders of the American Agriculture Movement, and set up an impressive array of money making businesses and institutes.  They did yeoman’s work in promoting Ronald Regan’s Star Wars, the space program and nuclear fusion schemes, but in the end, the ruling class appears to have declined LaRouche’s repeated pleas to be of service.

An even more charismatic and popular figure of this ilk is Patrick Buchanan.  A one-time speechwriter and advisor for Nixon, Ford and Reagan, Buchanan emerged as a leading spokesman for a particularly dangerous wing of the conservative movement in the 1990s.  Buchanan attempted to construct an aggressive, nationalistic, populist movement, and to offer its services to a particular wing of the U.S. ruling class.  While the overwhelming majority of American capitalist are for globalization, there is a small, shrinking wing of it that is not.  This wing runs industries that are not competitive internationally, and need protectionist policies to survive.  Southern textile capitalists, for example, are part of this wing.  Buchanan tried to woe this wing of the capitalist class, going so far as to claim continuity with the isolationists movement that existed in some U.S. ruling class circles in the 1930s.  He even wrote a book in which he stated that it was a mistake for the West to have focused on defeating Hitler during World War II instead of the Soviet Union.  He tried to portray his protectionist program as being part of this historic isolationist approach.

Buchanan railed against NAFTA, the United Nations, the World Court and U.S. foreign military interventions, speaking to some of the paranoia and fear over loss of American sovereignty that a wing of the anti-globalization, labor and family farmers movements were talking about in the 90s.  He coupled his protectionist and nationalist rhetoric with constant calls for a culture war – which was a not so subtle attempt to rile middle and working class whites against Blacks, immigrants, gays and other scapegoats.

Buchanan had some success initially in building a movement.  He appealed to middle class religious conservatives, small town businessmen, farmers and even to some sections of the trade union bureaucracy.  His movement building efforts began with his two Republican Party presidential primaries campaigns in the 1990s.  Through them he was able to assemble a network of supporters, and test out his ideas.  He surprised many when his campaign in ’96 won the Iowa caucuses with the vote a significant chunk of farmers.  He then went on, despite hostility from the Republican Party establishment, to win the New Hampshire, Louisiana, Missouri and Alaska primaries.

Buchanan consolidated his network of supporters into the so called Buchanan Brigades – an independent movement that took directions only from him.  In 1999 Buchanan announced that he was leaving the Republican Party, denouncing it as a “belt way party”, and together with his Buchanan Brigades, he entered the Reform Party – which had been formed by Ross Perot for his second presidential bid in ‘96. 

The Buchanan Brigades succeeded in taking over the Reform Party, though it took an ugly and protracted fight.  What they won in taking over the Reform Party was a ballot line in 49 states, and a war chest of $12.6 million dollars.  Interestingly, Buchanan originally offered his vice presidential running mate slot to Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., with whom Pat has shared a speaking platform on several occasions.  After Hoffa declined, Buchanan ended up offering it to the extremely reactionary, John Birch Society activist, Ezra Foster – who, incidentally is Black.  While you wouldn’t know that from her politics, her being on the ticket was a good example of the type of clever theater that Buchanan’s movement put forward – a racist presidential candidate with a Black running mate.

Buchanan went on to wage a virulently anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, protectionist campaign in 2000.  In the end he only won half of one percent though – about half a million votes [compared to over 3 million votes he won in ’96 running as a Republican].  Pat has since drawn a negative balance sheet from his attempt to build a right wing populist party, and has grudgingly retreated back to the Republican Party.  His Buchanan Brigades have splintered.  Some stayed on in the Reform Party, and after being booted from there have formed the American Freedom Party.  Others have gone over to the right-wing Constitution Party or back to the Republicans with Pat.  In any event, nothing of substance remains of their efforts. The isolationist wing of the U.S. ruling class proved both too small and too hesitant to give Pat’s movement the kind of support he was counting on.

It’s going too far to describe Lyndon LaRouche and Pat Buchanan as fascists; a better, more accurate term for them would be incipient fascists.  Unlike the American Nazi Party’s George Lincoln Rockwell and the Aryan Nation’s Richard Butler though, LaRouche and Buchanan attempted to build something that would truly be useful to the ruling class – a mass populist movement that avoided the limiting baggage of foreign symbols like the swastika.  They cloaked their reactionary ideas in terms that appealed to at least a strata of the working class.  They were more clever, more effective than the Rockwells and Butlers.  Instead of railing against Jews, they railed against finance capitalists.  Instead of openly denouncing Blacks, they campaigned against affirmative action, inner city criminals and moral decay.  It means the same thing basically, but in politics packaging is far from unimportant.

Incipient fascists like Lyndon LaRouche and Pat Buchanan failed to gain traction not through lack of trying on their part, but because the ruling class simply deemed their services are not necessary at this point.  The most effective way for capitalists to cloak their rule is with a democratic fig leaf – no point in going the fascist route unless absolutely needed.  Lyndon and Pat misjudged what the ruling class needed.  Their projects are still worth noting though, and studying, because they give us a glimpse of what a modern American fascist movement is more likely to look like.

Now some hearing this talk might take umbrage at the claim that the U.S. ruling class has never opted to go the fascist route.  Many in the anti-war, and other progressive movements, miss no opportunity to brand President Bush and his neo-conservative advisers as fascists.  So many activists are operating under this assumption in fact, that I want to take a few minutes to address it.

If you look at the historical examples of fascist rule - Italy, Germany, Spain - you see a very different picture than what we see today.  In all three of these countries just mentioned you had mass socialist and communist parties that posed a real threat to the ruling class.  In those countries capitalism faced an existential crisis.  To respond to that threat, the capitalists turned to the Hitlers and Mussolinis to build mass movements to physically crush the workers' movement - thus saving the capitalist class from revolution, allowing them to re-consolidate their system and give challenging their international capitalist rivals another go.

We are nowhere near that kind of situation in this country.  The workers’ movement here is nowhere near seizing power in a revolution – it has a hard time even organizing most workplaces, let along take on the world’s most powerful ruling class!  If we were really living under fascism today we wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation, we wouldn’t be able to.  The Left would all be underground, dead or in prison. It's a disservice to the working class heroes that lost their lives to fascism in the 30s and 40s to claim that we are in a situation approximating theirs.

What we do live under in the U.S. today is bad enough, don’t get me wrong, but it's nowhere near fascism. What we're living under, I’m afraid to say, is run of the mill capitalism, and all of the heartless exploitation and suffering that that entails. While it’s true that things are getting worse, they're not qualitatively worse than what working people have faced in this country before. Instead what we're facing is a gradual erosion of our democratic rights and livelihoods that is happening for three reasons:

1. This is just what the capitalist class does - to make profit it has to wring more and more out of our hides.

2. The U.S. capitalists are in increasingly intense competition with the capitalists of Western Europe and East Asia, making their drive to wring more out of our hides all the more intense.

3. The workers’ movement is in such a sorry state that the resistance we put up to these attacks is usually so ineffective that the capitalists just walk all over us and take away the legal, social and economic gains of the past without much effort.

Some would say that we’re just arguing over dictionary definition by saying Bush wasn’t a fascist. But it's more than that. By mistakenly calling the Bushies fascists, we create a hysteria that allows otherwise intelligent, progressive people to support pro-war, pro-big business "alternatives" like John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama. During the last election how many times did you hear things like, "yeah, but Bush is a fascist, so we’ve got to do something."

Bush did some very nasty things - he has dramatically cut social programs, invaded Iraq, killed well over 100,000 Iraqis, brought us the Patriot Act, pushed through free trade agreements, whittled away a woman's right to choose, gutted public education, attacked unions, etc. These are the very reasons given for calling Bush a fascist. BUT all of these things have happened with the support of the overwhelming majority of Republican AND Democratic elected officials; AND all of these policies simply represent a continuation of policies that had already been initiated by the administrations of Bill Clinton (and Bush I, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, etc.). Lets not forget, George Bush's Patriot Act stands on the strong shoulders of Bill Clinton's Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Bush's 100,000 dead Iraqis stands on top of Clinton's 1 MILLION dead Iraqis, who died from the sanctions. Bush's cuts of social programs stands on Clinton's total gutting of welfare, etc, etc. There is nothing qualitatively different about Bush’s policies than Clinton’s policies.  And, there hasn’t been any qualitative difference between Bush’s Democratic successor – Barack Obama.  And this is all so important to remember as we enter the 2012 election, since there will inevitably be an attempt by Democrats to scare the left into voting for Obama again to save us from the evil fascistic Tea Partyites, be they Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry or Ron Paul.  They're all scary, reactionary people, but they are NOT fascists.

Understanding what fascism truly is, its nature and its purpose, are crucial in developing effective strategies to prevent it.  As Trotskyists we are opposed to all forms of capitalist governments, but make no mistake, we don’t fail to see the particularly insidious nature of fascism.  That is why we continue to be on our guard against any and every manifestation of it.  We not only strive to keep alive the lessons of the 1930s failure to defeat fascism, but also put those lessons to use in the here and now.

When fascists raise their head – be they the neo-Nazi caricatures of fascism, or the more dangerous, incipient fascists like Pat Buchanan, we believe that it is important to mobilize against them.  There are some on the left we make a fetish out of trying to shut down every Klan and Nazi meeting, who follow them around the country and attack the stage every time they give a speech.  While we agree that one ignores fascist organizing efforts at their own risk, we disagree with this “no free speech for fascists” approach.  While we would never provide any kind of resources or aid to defending a fascist’s rights, we recognize that campaigns to strip them of their democratic rights sets the stage for the stripping of our rights to free speech, free assembly, etc.  Back in 1960 George Lincoln Rockwell wanted to give a speech on the 4th of July in New York's Union Square. The city denied the Nazis a permit on the grounds that it might start a riot. Our predecessor organization, the Socialist Workers Party, opposed this decision. We said that if the government was able to ban a fascist rally, it could do the same thing when socialists, anti-war, Black or other progressive activists tried to organize a rally. The government could use the same pretence — to prevent "riots" and "stop the extremists from both right and left". At the same time we made this point though, we were in the forefront of organizing a counter-demonstration against George Lincoln Rockwell’s rally.

We also believe that the “no free speech for fascists” approach misdirects the discussion – it shifts the discussion among workers and the general public from exposing and opposing the content of fascist speech, to whether or not they are entitled to the right to speak.  In other words it leads to a debate about on free speech, as opposed to the danger of the ideas of fascism.

We respond to fascists by mobilizing as many people as possible in counter-demonstrations.  We do this to demoralize and intimidate the fascists, as well as to demonstrate the strength of the working class when it is united in action.  There’s no need to rush the stage when a Nazi is speaking to unplug his mic, when he can’t be overhead by the chants of ten thousand white and Black workers.

To sum up, we have seen how the struggle against fascism has been an important one for the Trotskyist movement.  The 1933 betrayal by the Stalinists was the decisive factor in the launching of our international, the Fourth International.  The lessons about the need and value of united fronts, and united front type organizations, as opposed to Stalinists’ Popular Fronts, continue to be a vital tool in our efforts to rebuild an effective workers’ movement.  And an understanding of what fascism is, and what it is not, has helped us to successfully navigate the treacherous pitfalls of bourgeois politics, and in doing so to uphold the flag of independent working class political action.  We can be proud of our record in the fight against fascism.  It has been a valuable experience for our movement, and has better equipped us for the struggles to come.  In both victories AND defeats, there are valuable lessons to be learned – lessons that will guide us along the path to revolution – and the consigning of fascism, once and for all, to the dustbin of history!  The End.

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