Poulantzas on Fascism

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Sun Feb 4 07:14:44 MST 1996


I've been extremely busy for the last two weeks trying to get "Class
Struggles in France" into shape for the Marx Web Site that Zodiac has
created. This has prevented me from devoting as much time as I'd like
to fascism issues, but it was certainly time well spent. After all, the
seminar began with a discussion of the 18th Brumaire that I
downloaded from that site. It is an important resource, needless to say.

Over the last couple of days, I have begun turning my attention to
Nicos Poulantzas. I have just finished reading his "Fascism and
Dictatorship" and I plan to read David's report on Poulantzas which
actually covers a broader scope than is represented by this text itself.
David put a lot of work into his report and it deserves a thoughtful
reply. Time constraints prevented him from completing it, but there
are over 6000 words that he managed to contribute to the subject.

I will say at this point, however, based on a preliminary reading of
Poulantzas, there are some major differences between the way I
approach the subject of fascism and the way Poulantzas does. Leaving
aside Poulantzas's Maoism, which was heavily imprinted in the 1970
"Fascism and Dictatorship" and which he subsequently disavowed,
there are still distinctions over the role and importance of
"economism". For Poulantzas, the student of Althusser, "economism"
explains  the failure of the Comintern to understand the problem of
fascism. For me, a student of students of Trotsky, the problem is
simply abandonment of Marxism. I see the Comintern in the time of
Hitler's rise not as a revolutionary institution with "economist"
deviations, but as an anti-Marxist impediment to socialist revolution. I
will elaborate on this in a subsequent post.

Right now I want to conclude with some interesting insights that
Poulantzas offers on the relationship of the working class to the Nazi
Party. This relates to the discussion we had a while back on the merit
of Michael Mann's description of the Nazi Party as having a working-
class composition.

Poulantzas reports that the Nazi's under Gregor Strasser's leadership
tried to gain a foothold in the working class with the slogan 'Into the
Factories'. The organizational form this campaign took was the
National Socialist Factory Cells Organization (NBSO). When Hitler
seized power, the NBSO had 400,000 members.

To which strata did these workers belong? Daniel Guerin stated that
the "labor aristocracy" supplied most of these members. Poulantzas
disagrees. He says that "the skilled, highly paid workers in key
industries, mostly social democrats but also communists, remained
overwhelmingly loyal to their organizations. The NBSO did recruit
elements of the 'labor aristocracy', usually already belonging to right-
wing organizations, but these were generally on the 'staff' of their
firms--high ranking technicians, engineers, administrative personnel,
etc. These were not productive workers, whereas the 'labor aristocracy'
is a stratum of the working class itself." (This distinction between
productive and unproductive labor is central to much of Poulantzas
discussion of the working-class in his entire body of work. I think it is
problematic, but will leave this for another occasion.)

The NBSO did recruit among the working-class, however. These
workers were mostly of recent peasant origin and worked in newly
established factories (Poulantzas's citation for this is from S.M.
Lipset's "Class, Status and Power".) These newer workers came
especially from the East where the agricultural crisis was especially
acute and where Nazism found support among the poor peasantry.

The NBSO also recruited from the unemployed, of whom there were
5,500,000 in Germany in 1932. The Nazi party simply became a job
for these people. What also happened is that a factory boss would often ask
for Nazi Party membership cards as a precondition for employment.

Poulantzas goes on to explain that the primary explanation of
working-class support or passive acceptance of Nazism, however, is an
ideological one. It involves "neutralization" and "passivity"
attributable to the petty-bourgeoisification of the working-class. He
says, "In the generalized ideological crisis of the rise of fascism, this
petty-bourgeois anti-capitalist aspect (against 'plutocracy', 'taxation'
etc.) was extended to the working-class."

I want to take aim at this notion in my next post in which I subject
Poulantzas's methodology to an extended critique.

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