Workers Vanguard No. 1107

10 March 2017


Fascism: What It Is


29 January 2017

Dear W.V.,

Lots of folks calling everyone “Fascists” these days. It might be good to print a very concise definition in W.V. of what the proper definition of “fascist” is. I also meet people who confuse “Nazi” and “National Socialist” and think they are the same as Socialism. Add into that Sanders’ claim to be a “socialist” and Sawant’s claim to be a “socialist” & I spend most of my time explaining the differences. Thus a simple definition list would be useful!

Red Greetings
Lawrence of Seattle

WV replies: Fascists are paramilitary gangs whose purpose is the destruction of the workers movement and carrying out racial and ethnic terror. In the U.S., where black oppression is integral to capitalist class rule, homegrown fascism is embodied in the KKK, Nazis and other white-supremacist outfits like Identity Evropa and similar vermin crawling in the “alt-right.” In addition to targeting black people with lynch mob terror, the KKK and other fascists have mobilized against efforts to organize trade unions—one of the few pockets of integration in this society—as well as against immigrants, Jews and other oppressed sectors.

Historically, mass fascist movements are extraparliamentary mobilizations of the enraged petty bourgeoisie, lumpenproletariat and even a section of backward workers, who have been ruined by capitalist economic crisis and embrace murderous, right-wing nationalism. The capitalist rulers hold the fascist shock troops in reserve so that they can be unleashed at times of social crisis against any prospect of revolutionary struggle by the working class. As Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky described: “At the moment that the ‘normal’ police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium—the turn of the fascist regime arrives” (“What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat” [January 1932]).

The defeat of revolutionary struggles by the workers in Germany in 1918-19 and 1923 was a precursor to the rise of Nazism. This, combined with economic devastation and national humiliation resulting from the defeat of German imperialism in World War I, enabled the Nazis to become a mass movement by the early 1930s. The fascists’ adoption of the name “National Socialist German Workers’ Party” was an example of what Trotsky described as fascist leaders “employing a great deal of socialist demagogy” as “necessary for the creation of the mass movement” (“What Is Fascism?” [November 1931]). The Nazis, in fact, waged a terrorist campaign against all socialist organizations. The many millions of German workers organized in the Social Democratic and Communist parties and the trade unions wanted to fight Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933. But they were shamefully betrayed by their leaderships, not least by the Communist Party’s failure to fight for working-class rule. This set the stage for the genocidal murder of eleven million people, including six million Jews, in the Holocaust.

In contrast to Germany in the 1930s, the U.S. is not a defeated imperialist country, but is rather the world’s biggest imperialist power. Nor does the U.S. ruling class currently face a challenge from the working class at home. Trump is not a fascist; he came to power within the framework of the bourgeois electoral system, not through the mobilization of a fascist mass movement. When leftist groups like the Revolutionary Communist Party call his regime “fascist,” it is to prettify U.S. bourgeois democracy and to justify “unifying” with so-called progressive forces in the capitalist Democratic Party. To characterize all manner of reactionary, right-wing forces as “fascist” serves to disorient and politically disarm the struggle against the genuine Nazis and other race-terrorists who have been emboldened by Trump’s win.

The fascists must be crushed in the egg by mobilizing the power of the multiracial working class to smash them in an elementary defense of itself and all the oppressed. We are proud of our record of initiating and carrying out successful united-front, multiracial mobilizations, based on the power of the trade unions, which stopped the Klan and Nazis in cities like Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and elsewhere. Emphasizing that the ultimate targets of the fascists are black people and the multiracial workers movement, these were exemplary actions that underscored the role of a revolutionary vanguard in linking the cause of labor with that of all the oppressed.

As for Bernie Sanders, he is not now nor has he ever been a socialist. He is a capitalist politician who has been a member of the Senate Democratic Caucus for over 25 years (see “Bernie Sanders: Imperialist Running Dog,” WV No. 1083, 12 February 2016). For her part, Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant, one of Sanders’s biggest boosters, is a pseudo-socialist, who won a seat on Seattle’s City Council based on a program of liberal reforms that in no way threaten capitalism (see “Reformists Salivate Over Sawant’s Seattle Election,” WV No. 1042, 21 March 2014).