American Democracy: R.I.P : The Emergence of

Edward George ebgeorge at
Thu Feb 14 07:21:04 MST 2002

Macdonald refers to my 'essential point about the slinging of labels ...'. 
But It's about much more than just a question of labels: what I'm objecting 
to is not so much a mislabelling of bourgeois democracy but actually 
thinking that bourgeois democracy is a form of (proto-) fascism . Some 
leftists abuse the word 'fascism' and use it as an insult (saying things 
like Bush is a fascist, Blair is a fascist, and so on) but this is not my 
argument. There is a current of opinion (largely social-democratic 
influenced but also found on the left) which believes in bourgeois 
democracy, which has illusions in it, which believes that bourgeois 
democracy CAN be really democratic; and when they see nasty things happening 
think that bourgeois democracy is being undermined, and frequently 
undermined by a certain current within the bourgeois (rather than the 
bourgeoisie as whole) or by elements within the military or other parts of 
the state apparatus. This is why I say that this view idealises bourgeois 
democracy. Of course, bourgeois democracy, in its 'nicest' form, is the 
preferred method of bourgeois rule: it's what the bourgeoisie wants to do 
when it can, in the normal operation of things, because it's the easiest and 
safest method of securing what is in effect the dictatorship of the 
bourgeoisie. But in many respects the normal operation of bourgeois 
democracy is a fiction: people are excluded from the political process, 
people are prevented from engaging with politics in a collective, 
collaborative way, and the very system of formal rights that bourgeois 
democratic functioning implies is itself logically founded on the existence 
of large-scale inequality (and since bourgeois democracy is relatively 
expensive it is usually accompanied by a system of colonial exploitation of 
one form or another). But the bourgeoisie will modify the forms of rule when 
it sees fit, and it will turn to - or allow itself to be over-ruled by - 
fascist forms of bonarpartist dictatorship when it feels threatened. As has 
already been pointed out, it is the fear of revolution that drives the 
bourgeoisie (and all of it as a rule, not just the most reactionary elements 
as the popular-frontist argument would have it) to an accommodation to 
bonarpartist dictatorship (and in Germany in the early 1930s it wasn't just 
the existence of mass working class parties in a context of worsening 
conditions for normal bourgeois rule that impelled fascism forward but the 
very fresh memories of the revolutionary upheavals of 1918-23 too).

An example. In Spain, hardly anyone seriously regards the present Spanish 
state government as 'fascist' or 'proto-fascist', even though it is 
right-wing, neoliberal, and anti-democratic: the popular memory of real 
fascist dictatorship is too recent. But the current Spanish state government 
is in fact composed of a party which has strong and recent fascist 
antecedents, there are former fascists in the political set-up and in the 
structures of the military and the state (and the king, the constitutional 
head of state, for that matter, is Franco's appointed heir and clearly a 
former fascist). What happened in the Spanish state was that by the 1970s 
fascist rule became no longer 'necessary', and, as a consequence, a 
relatively peaceful and seamless transition to bourgeois parliamentary rule 
was engineered. There are fascists in Spain, who demonstrate every year on 
the anniversary of Franco's death, and who stand in elections, but they are 
so small (at the moment) that they are, to all intents and purposes, an 
irrelevance. But the transition ('la transición' as it is ubiquitously 
called in Spanish) was something that the left had a great deal of problems 
in coming to terms with, since they couldn't grasp how a fascist 
dictatorship could effectively self-reform in such a relatively painless 
fashion. The inability to understand this process still burdens the left 
today; indeed, it's one if its biggest stumbling blocks, in my view.

I said that practically no-one would call the present government and 
constitutional set-up 'fascist' today; that's not strictly true. In Euskadi 
(the Basque Country) a significant section of the Basque national left do in 
fact characterise the present Spanish state as 'fascist', and in good part 
this is used as a justification for the continuing armed struggle. This is a 
reflection of the present-day absolute cluelessness of the Basque left (a 
matter completely independent of the question of the rights of the Basque 
people, of course). One of the things that is most hamstringing the left in 
Euskadi is the ritualistic clinging on to the guerrillaist strategy, a 
strategy founded on a mistaken characterisation of the present Spanish state 
political order.

By the same token, from the 1950s right up to the transition the Spanish 
Communist Party had a political strategy based on a mistaken view of fascism 
and bourgeois democracy. For the PCE, Franco's dictatorship represented the 
social interests not of the bourgeoisie, but of the most reactionary, 
backward-looking sections of the bourgeoisie. On this basis they held to a 
political line of 'national reconciliation' - classical popular-frontism - 
which posited an a alliance with the 'progressive' bourgeoisie 
(automatically antithetical to fascism in their view) against the 
dictatorship. PCE asserted that the Franco regime only represented the 
interests of the big banks and the landowners: the defeat of Franco, which 
was seen from the mid-1950s as imminent, supposed the beginning of 'an 
antifeudal and antimonopolist democratic revolution' which would take on a 
series of measures such as the nationalisation of the banks and of 
large-scale industry, land reform, an anti-US foreign policy, etc. The fall 
of Francoism suggested the beginning of the transition to socialism. 
Needless to say, the post-transition bourgeoisie were not the least 
interested in nationalisation of the banks and large-scale industry, land 
reform, or an anti-US foreign policy. One of the reasons that the transition 
did turn out so negatively is the fact that the PCE sold the social, 
anti-capitalist struggle down the river at every opportunity in order not to 
jeopardise this alliance with the 'democratic' bourgeoisie. As it happened, 
the bourgeoisie virtually en bloc swung in behind the transition, isolating 
the left (and completely shafting PCE, which has gone from the by a long way 
dominant anti-fascist force in the early 1970s to a party which is picking 
up somewhere under 5 per cent of the vote in Spanish state elections today), 
and, not least, completely disorientating the working class movement. Far 
from being a necessary precondition for social progress, the alliance with 
the 'democratic' bourgeoisie has left us today in Spain with some of the 
worst social conditions in the European Union, massive levels of 
unemployment and by a very long way the highest level of temporary work 
contracts in Europe (currently standing at around 32-33 per cent of the 
total workforce!).

So this is not a question of labels: behind all this lie mistaken views of 
what bourgeois democracy and fascism really are. There are enough historical 
mistakes to learn from in relation to this subject already (and not only in 
the Spanish state) that we don't repeat the process.


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