Poulantzas on Fascism

David McInerney davidmci at coombs.anu.edu.au
Sun Feb 4 21:45:53 MST 1996


Louis has just posted an excellent piece on Poulantzas, to which I shall
try to indicate the beginnings of a response.


Sun, 4 Feb 1996, Louis wrote:

<cut>
>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 actually think that my report was dreadful.  I was merely a series of
quotes from Poulantzas.  I thought this would allow Poulantzas to speak in
his own voice and prepare the ground for the more critical posts that were
to follow.  But work has prevented me from attempting these other posts,
which would require a week to write each!  I thank Bryan for his reply,
which I hadn't got around to replying to on l*st yet.  I will try to
indicate some points which may direct the discussion a little.

>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.

I sensed this and trhis is why my original tack was to suggest to Louis
that *he* read Poulantzas on this topic, as he has a knowledge of competing
analyses which I do not possess.  Louis's advocacy of Marx's '18th
Brumaire' as a suitable text from which to begin an analysis of fascism
propmted me to suggest Poulantzas, who uses that text in a different way,
to provide the basis of three concepts of differing degrees of generality
-- that of the relative autonomy of the (capitalist) state, that of the
exceptional state as a form of capitalist state, and that of the
Bonapartist state as one type of exceptional state.

>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".

As I said in my post, I think that Poulantzas's recourse to Maoism (even if
it appears in a more sophisticated Bettelheim guise) is symptomatic of a
failure in Marxist analyses more broadly to deal with the problem of the
dynamics of different party structures.  I have suggested in a subsequent
post that some of the theorists that Jon is looking at -- esp. Theweleit --
as well as the later work of Poulantzas and Althusser, may provide a way
into this problem of the different forms of subjectivization that occur in
different party structures.  But this is still largely to be done, and is a
speculative point on my part.  I am going to approach this problem in my
own work through the detour of an analysis of the Indian National Congress
and the Muslim League, and I hope this will provide some clues as to how
the structures of our revolutionary parties may be thought of also.

>For Poulantzas, the student of Althusser, "economism"
>explains  the failure of the Comintern to understand the problem of
>fascism.

This is partly correct.  Then one must explain the roots of this economism,
which, as I just suggested, is exactly what Poulantzas was unable to do
satisfactorily in _Fascism and Dictatorship_.

>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.

>From my point of view, this would be avoiding two problems which must be
dealt with.  These are the economism in Trotskyist analysis which manifests
as catastrophism (as I suggested in the report) and the problems of party
structure, which remain in the Trotskyist parties but are unable to produce
the sorts of effects that Stalinism or Maoism produced as these parties
have nowhere been able to create a state of their own.  (BTW, I do not
count the Bandranaike government in Sri Lanka (1971-1977) as a Trotskyist
state.  The Trotskyist LSSP was a minor member of a coalition of parties,
the leading member of which was the Singhalese chauvanists SLFP.  Some
people from time to time have suggested that this is an example of
Trotskyism in power.  All I can say is what a poor example it makes.)
Rather than saying that the Stalinists abandoned Marxism and that if
Trotsky was running the show what a revolutionary nirvana it would have
been (this idealist analysis of "what if" still persists) we should look
for the faults in both sides.  Louis, I seem to remember that you ran into
strife in the Trotskyist organisations.  This couldn't have simply been a
"deviation" or "error" in those organisations.  We should look at the way
in which authority is organiused within the revolutionary parties and it
effects, in order to be able to avoid repeating these "errors".

>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.)

For anyone who wants a brief statment from Poulantzas on the new petty
bourgeoisie and his theory of class, I would suggest the paper in Alant
Hunt (ed.), _Class and Class Structure_ (London, 1977).  It represents a
revision of some of the theses in _FD_ also.

>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 notes that these two groups were more vulnerable as they were
inexperienced in the class struggle, and had not participated in the
revolutionary offensive of 1918-1920.  Actually, similar things could be
said about the working-class component of Bal Thackerey's Shiv Sena in
today's Bombay, but that's another story.  The Shiv Sena has also employed
goondas (unemployed thugs, "lumpen elements", etc) in a way similar to the
German Freikorps in riots in Bombay and surrounding districts.

>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."

>From memory he attributes the cause of this passivity to the economistic
tactics of the working-class parties, more so than a
"petty-bourgeoisification".  The ideological crisis is important, what
Poulantzas says is that ideological hegemony is reorganised around the
petty-bourgeois, and this means the subordination of working-class ideology
to petty-bourgeois ideological elements such as "statolatry", "patriotism",
and suchlike.  Working class demands are reinterpreted.  They are
articulated with petty-bourgeois elements which advocate the thesis of "the
enemy within", "rotten apples", "corruption", etc.  It is not hard to see
how, once this step is made, the extreme anti-Semitism of Naziism is
allowed in also.  There is nothing wrong with the state -- just whose
running it!  This ties in with the instrumentalist conception of the state
found in economistic Marxist discourses.  It becomes a question of the
origins of the state personnel.  In a period of ideological crisis, it is
not difficult to see how this could shift from a class interpretation to a
racial one.

>I want to take aim at this notion in my next post in which I subject
>Poulantzas's methodology to an extended critique.
>
>
>
>     --- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---

I hope my comments have provided some stimulation.  Thanks Lou for this
excellent post.  I must say also, how glad I am that the quality of posts
has improved since the squabbles over moderation have died down.  Jerry and
Bryan have been posting some very interesting stuff on subjectivity, which
if I had time to read closely and to reply I would do so.  Oh well.  Good
to see anyway.


Mr. David McInerney,
Political Science Program, Research School of Social Sciences,
The Australian National University, Canberra, A.C.T., AUSTRALIA  0200.
e-mail: davidmci at coombs.anu.edu.au; ph: (06) 249 2134; fax: (06) 249 3051




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