Revolutionist movement of the petty bourgeoisie spearheading the counterrevolution and with the historical mission of destroying the network of class organizations inherited from the Second International, replacing them with the forced insertion of the workers in state capitalism through trade unions and institutions derived from or integrated into the political apparatus of the state.
Fascism arises in Italy in the nationalist atmosphere that cries out for participation in the First World War in order to “complete” Italian reunification, that is, the territorial program of the bourgeois revolution.
It dates back to 1914-15, that is, to the period preceding Italy’s entry into the world war. The groups calling for this intervention, which were politically made up of representatives of various tendencies, constituted the first manifestation of fascism. There was a right-wing group with Salandra, i.e., the great industrialists interested in the war who, before calling for the intervention of the Entente, had advocated war against it; there were also bourgeois tendencies on the left: the Italian radicals, i.e., the left-wing democrats and the Republicans, traditional supporters of the liberation of Trento and Trieste. In third place were some elements of the proletarian movement, revolutionary syndicalists and anarchists. To these groups belonged also (this is, by the way, just an individual case but with a particular importance) the head of the left wing of the Socialist Party, director of “Avanti”: Mussolini.
Amadeo Bordiga. Report on Fascism. Fourth Congress of the Communist International.
These “leftist” tendencies are the ones that will coalesce around d’Annunzio, Rossoni and Mussolini in a petty-bourgeois revolutionism. Like all petty-bourgeois revolutionists up to then, it will be primarily nationalist and popular (=interclassist).
But in 1919-20 there are two elements that marked a change of historical epoch that would give such revolutionism a specific form as fascism: the workers’ revolution and the integration of trade unions in state capitalism.
What gives fascism the opportunity to become the hope of the great bourgeoisie will be the hesitations and weaknesses of the working class revolutionary movement in Italy. After the inability of the socialist party to lead the mass movements of the workers, the factory occupations and the movements of the rural proletariat, the petty bourgeoisie en masse took a turn and the bourgeoisie saw the opportunity to use it as a battering ram against the ongoing revolution.
The proletariat was disoriented and demoralized. As soon as it saw victory slipping away from it, its state of mind underwent a profound transformation. It can be said that in 1919 and the first half of 1920, the Italian bourgeoisie had somehow resigned itself to witnessing the victory of the revolution. The middle class and petty bourgeoisie tended to play a passive role, in tow not of the big bourgeoisie but of the proletariat which they believed to be on the verge of victory. This state of mind has since changed radically. Instead of witnessing the victory of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie has been seen to successfully organize its defense. When the middle class realized that the Socialist Party was not capable of taking the lead, it gradually lost confidence in the proletariat’s possibilities and turned to the opposite class. It is at this point that the capitalist and bourgeois offensive began. It essentially took advantage of the new state of mind in which the middle class found itself. Thanks to its extremely heterogeneous composition, fascism represented the solution to the problem of mobilizing the middle classes in favor of the capitalist offensive.
Amadeo Bordiga. Report on Fascism. Fourth Congress of the Communist International.
Despite the inevitable ideological incongruities of such a movement, fascism is not only a nationalist and revolutionist ideology that mobilizes a frustrated petty bourgeoisie against the proletariat. It builds a specific form of socializing state capitalism around the trade unions: the corporate state.
It emerged first in Italy in 1920, with an ideological conception based on Sorel’s theories on violence and their systematic application, it took from the syndicalist nuclei that supported it (Rossoni) the corporate idea of the state, and from the nationalist camp, the state as a supra-temporal and individual entity. (Everything in the State; nothing against the State: nothing outside the State, Mussolini). The Fascist Party represents and embodies the State; the great council, run by the State, is the central institution of government and the trade unions as the instrument of connection between the people and the State. (Although such trade unions have no other function than that of peacefully subduing the proletariat to the bosses.) ) It first presented itself as socialist, to the extent that in 1919 it supported such a program, supporting the peasant demands for the socialization of the land and supporting the occupation of the factories in Lombardy, trying to remain a socialist faction. Relying on the discontent of the rural and petty-bourgeois masses, the former combatants and freelance professionals, who were threatened with replacement, and replaced, by those who had not gone to war, agitated a socializing program and took advantage mainly of the failure of the occupation of the factories and the general strike of the proletariat, Due to the treachery of the reformists, abundantly subsidized by capitalism, it came to power, where it wiped out all the organizations of the working class and even all the bourgeois opposition, also rejecting and condemning its original anti-capitalist demagoguery.
From all this it can be seen that it is not only a phenomenon of capitalist reaction but, to a certain degree, a new political method of capitalism, the analysis and knowledge of which is extremely important for the proletariat. Today it constitutes a special state power, which has abolished all democratic forms, replacing them with the rule of a militarized and bureaucratic party that keeps the whole population in a state of absolute oppression.
Antonio Gallo. On the movement of September, 1932
The rise of Nazism in Germany
The crash of 1929 translates into a spectacular rise of the Nazi party in the 1930 elections in Germany. The Komintern makes a triumphalist display by ignoring the results and interpreting the KPD’s results as a victory. Trotsky responds as soon as he has the results by proposing to “evaluate the parliamentary victory of the Communist Party in the light of the revolutionary tasks”. The result is obviously not triumphalist but alarming… and at its base is the more than justified inability of the German proletariat to trust the KPD. An inability that alienates the petty bourgeoisie from the party of revolutionary hope (communism) by throwing it into the arms of the party of counter-revolutionary despair (fascism).
The gigantic growth of nationalsocialism reflects two essential facts: a deep social crisis, which is tearing the petty-bourgeois masses from their equilibrium, and the absence of a revolutionary party which, from this moment on, plays a recognized revolutionary leadership role in the eyes of the masses. If the communist party is the party of revolutionary hope, fascism, as a movement of the masses, is the party of counter-revolutionary despair. When revolutionary hope takes hold of the whole mass of the proletariat, it inevitably drags behind it, along the road of revolution, important and ever-widening strata of the petty bourgeoisie. Yet in this domain, the elections offer precisely the opposite picture: counter-revolutionary despair has seized the petty-bourgeois masses with such force that it has dragged important layers of the proletariat behind it.
What explanation can there be for this? In the past we have seen an abrupt reinforcement of fascism (Italy, Germany), victorious or at least threatening, after a revolutionary situation that had been exhausted or had been wasted, at the end of a revolutionary crisis in the course of which the proletarian vanguard had shown its inability to put itself at the head of the nation, to transform the fate of all classes, including that of the petty bourgeoisie. It is precisely this that has given Italian fascism its enormous strength. But today, in Germany, it is not a question of the way out of a revolutionary crisis, but of its approach. The leading officials of the party, optimistic about their job, draw the conclusion that fascism, arrived “too late”, is condemned to a rapid and inevitable defeat (Die Rote Fahne) . These people are not willing to learn anything. Fascism comes “too late” if we refer to past revolutionary crises. But it appears “too soon” – at dawn – in relation to the new revolutionary crisis. That it has been able to occupy such a strong starting position on the eve of a revolutionary period, and not at the end of it, is not a weakness of fascism, but a weakness of communism. The petty bourgeoisie, therefore, has no need for further disillusionment as to the inability of the Communist Party to improve its lot; it remembers the elections of 1923, the whimsical jumps of Maslow-Thälmann’s ultra-left course, the opportunistic impotence of Thälmann himself, the bravado of the “third period”, etc. The end, and this is the essence, of their mistrust of the proletarian revolution is nourished by the mistrust that millions of social democratic workers have of the communist party. The petty bourgeoisie, even though events have taken it completely out of the conservative routine, can only side with the social revolution if the latter has the sympathy of the majority of the workers. This condition, which is very important, is missing precisely in Germany, and it is not by chance.
Leon Trotsky, “The Turn of the Communist International and the Situation in Germany,” 26 September 1930
But fascism, also in its German version, is not only the expression of a counter-revolution on the back of the petty-bourgeoisie’s revolutionism. It has a clear objective: to destroy the basis that makes the continuity of the class movement possible.
There are no “class differences” between democracy and fascism. That must mean, of course, that both democracy and fascism have a bourgeois character. We had not waited until January 1932 to guess. But the ruling class does not live in a closed container. It maintains certain relations with the other classes. In the “democratic” regime of developed capitalist society, the bourgeoisie relies first and foremost on the working class tamed by the reformists. It is in England that this system finds its most complete expression, both under Labor governments and under Conservative governments. In the fascist regime, at least in the first stage, capital relies on the petty bourgeoisie to destroy the organizations of the proletariat. In Italy, for example! Is there a difference in the “class content” of the two regimes? If the question is posed only about the ruling class, there is no difference. But if you take the situation and the reciprocal relations between all classes from the point of view of the proletariat, the difference is very great.
Fascism’s main and only function is to destroy all the bastions of proletarian democracy to its very foundations. Does this have “class significance” for the proletariat or not? Let the great theorists lean on this problem. Having described the regime as bourgeois -which is undeniable- Hirsch, like his teachers, forgets one detail: the place of the proletariat in that regime. They replace the historical process with a sterile sociological abstraction. But the class struggle takes place in the terrain of history and not in the stratosphere of sociology. The starting point of the struggle against fascism is not the abstraction of the democratic state, but living organizations of the proletariat, in which all its experience is concentrated and which prepare the future.
“What now? Vital problems of the German proletariat.” Leon Trotsky. January 1932
This will be the achievement and the historical legacy that fascism will leave, hand in hand with stalinism, the political expression of the Russian counter-revolution. And not only in the countries that had lived revolutions and massive class movements (Russia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain…).
Fascism in Spain and Argentina
The Spanish bourgeoisie, which in the 1920s was experiencing with force its fusion with the landowning oligarchy and the bureaucracy distilled by the latter, laying the foundations of the first Spanish state capitalism, was surely the first to realize the usefulness of the new ideology in breaking up a workers’ movement which had put it on the ropes as early as the “Bolshevik Triennium” and which, with all its weaknesses, could not take it for granted that this workers’ movement had been defeated, but rather the opposite. The dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera, supported by the Catalan bourgeoisie, who considered him a hero after his time in Barcelona, will try to copy the party and union structures of Italian fascism. The experiment, which is openly supported by the two pillars of the “ominous Spanish reaction” (the army and the Catholic Church), will not succeed in turning the petty bourgeoisie into a strike force for the state. The political expression of the Spanish petty bourgeoisie, left-wing republicanism, was still too weak and cowardly, after a century of state brutality, to produce any credible radicalization, let alone by priests and generals. The dictatorship will only find willing partners in socialist syndicalism. Even today, the statue of Largo Caballero still welcomes the “New Ministries” built by Primo under the standards – architectural and bureaucratic – of Italian fascist rationalism.
Seven years the dictatorship extended his life. Not because it had effective national support, apart from the flag quarters, the sacristies, the circles of the nobility and the great bourgeoisie, but because it coincided with the best world financial period after the war 1914-1918. This allowed the great bourgeoisie to associate, neutralize the small bourgeoisie and ensure the appeasement of the strongest workers’ organization in Spain, the Socialist Party. It has already been explained under another title to what extent this served as a stepping stone to the dictatorship, offering it advisors of state and national assemblymen. But the monarchy was condemned. In the depths of the masses enormous energies were accumulated. The dictatorship had postponed, not prevented, the opening of the revolutionary period.
G. Munis. Jalones de derrota, promesa de victoria, 1947
Francoism, as a political movement, represented in its relationship with the inane fascist groups in Spain an updating of the same model of Primo’s dictatorship. To the Falangists and National Unionists, the insurrectionist army provided them a field as death squads and recruiters of the petty bourgeoisie without giving them the slightest space in the direction of the war. They were good for barbaric ornaments and violence, a useful facade for the military to show alignment with the axis powers and political commissars of the state. After the war, they were encouraged to organize a defeated and massacred proletariat, they were given command over the unions and housing, they were given room in ideological “elaboration” -not without having been forced to merge with the last feudalist party in Europe, Carlism- and they were always subjected to the counterweight of both the most stale clericalism and the militarization of the state. Francoism had taken from fascism aestethics and rhetoric, gunmen and cadre, but it never let itself be guided by petty bourgeois “revolutionism”. The Spanish fascist was nothing but a civilian henchman of an authoritarian military regime, with strong roots in the most reactionary component of the Spanish state bourgeoisie, a bloodthirsty and profiteering henchman. That is why its drift in the sixties and seventies, when the regime began to “modernize”, led it back to “social democracy” (Ridruejo) or the clerical ultra-right wing (the “bunker”), but not to trade unionism or leftist guerrillaism, as was happening with its Argentine equivalents at the same time.
In Argentina the relationship of the bourgeoisie with fascism took a different course. The 1930 coup d’état and the subsequent Uriburu dictatorship revealed a fracture within the Argentine bourgeoisie:
The civilist, democratic sector judged it convenient to dismiss radicalism and not go further. The fascist sector, a minority, but bolder and more determined by virtue of the force at its disposal, deemed the opposite. And the subsequent development of the coup d’état was completely nourished by this difference that was to end with the triumph of the democratic sector.
Antonio Gallo. On the September movement, 1932
A fracture that would determine all Argentine politics until the military coup of 1943 from which Perón emerged, finally supported in 1945 by the trade unions after serving as Secretary of Labor and Welfare. Perón would not try to dress up a military dictatorship to the liking of the great agrarian bourgeoisie with fascist elements, but he would confront it, giving free rein to the “revolutionarist” element of petty-bourgeois nationalism and, above all, the statist aspiration of the trade union structure, making class reconciliation (the “social justice” for which the movement is named) and the rhetoric of national liberation the basis of a state that no longer has counterrevolution (which had triumphed globally) as its primary objective but the affirmation of a state capitalism -five-year plans and planning utopia included- with its own imperialist interests.
It was this rupture, continuity of the aspirations of the original fascism, that made the Peronism of the 1970s, in ultra-right wing drift, the matrix of a revolutionist bourgeois left (“montoneros”) that would feed the “national and popular left” of Kirchnerism in the 1990s and the now famous “populism” of Laclau and Mouffe claimed by the European “populist left”.