Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Sun Jun 11 12:55:31 MDT 1995

Jerry Levy asks for a definition of fascism. According to Tom Bottomore's
entry in the first edition of the Dictionary of Marxist Thought, Marixan
analyses start with Trotsky's (here I'm quoting TB, not LT): "Fascism, he
argued, is the expression of a profound structural crisis of late
capitalism, and results from the tendency of monopoly capitalism (as noted
by Hilferding) to 'organize' the whole of social life in a totatlitarian
fashion.... while the social basis of the fascists mass movements is the
petty bourgeoise or middle class. A more systematic general analsyis of
fascism was undertaken by [Otto] Bauer (1938) [in Bottomore & Goode, eds.,
Austro-Marixsm], who regarded it as 'the product of three closely
interconnected processes.' First, the first world war expelled large
numbers of people from bourgeois life, turning them into declasses, who
after the war formed the fascist 'militias' and 'defence leagues' with
their militaristic, anti-democratic and nationalistic ideologies. Second,
the postwar economic crisis impoverished a large part of the lower middle
class and peasantry, who then forsook the bourgeois-democratic parties and
rallied to the militias. Third, the economic crises reduced the profits of
the capitalist class, and in order to restore them by raising the level of
exploitation it needed to break the resistance of the working class, and
this seemed difficult or impossible to achieve under a democratic regime."
The entry goes on to review later developments, including the Frankfurters
psychological investigations.

Obviously this is not a defintion, but an analysis of the social roots of
fascism. But I think it captures several essential aspects - the fact that
fascism is not a dictatorship imposed from above, but something with real
popular roots that is used to great advantage by the ruling class. There
are enough obvious parallels in Europe & the US today to make one very very
nervous; when Bottomore wrote this in the early 1980s, there were no
"militias" to speak of; now, everyone knows about them. The resurgence of
nationalism and racism, from the former Yugoslavia to the Bell Curve,
provides the proper ideological backdrop.

The differences are there, too, however. For one, I think monopoly capital
is a fairly useless concept now; giant firms cannot control the pace of
innovation or competition. Hilferding's Finance Capital contains a wrong or
obsolete observation on virtually every page. Also, the capitalists are not
yet at the stage where they would support a fascist turn  in the First
World. Free trade, the collapse of socialism, the weakness of unions, and
the lack of confidence on the left have all done this work for them. In
virtually every country, the wage share of value added has been in sharp
and extended decline. But hordes of declasses bear watching. Not only war
wrecks the petit bourgeoisie; so too does the intensified competition among
giant global firms.



Doug Henwood
[dhenwood at panix.com]
Left Business Observer
250 W 85 St
New York NY 10024-3217
+1-212-874-4020 voice
+1-212-874-3137 fax

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