The Competitors of Fascism – Paul Mattick


International Council Correspondence, [Vol. I] (1934-1935), No 11 (September 1935)

One would think it would soon be superfluous to come out in opposition to the old labor movement. The two Internationals and the organizations connected with and related to them not only unmask themselves long before midnight; they also change their masks so often that really the most stupid should have a chance to discover their real features. But masquerade and deception can still be borne more easily than truth, as also the recognition of reality is no assurance that it has been mastered. Like religion, so also the hope in the old labor movement permits the illusion of later amendment of the present misery and hence the justification of one’s own inactivity and the overlooking of one’s own weakness. The deceivers are not by any means clever; they live merely on what, from the standpoint of the revolution, is the unripeness of the crisis, like hyenas on corpses. Because of their fear of being misunderstood, misjudged and perhaps also mistreated by the ruling class, they offer a new demonstration each day of their true prostituted nature. They think to save their own skins by binding themselves to do the work which today really belongs to the fascists. In whichever direction we look, (and only occasionally with the forced exception of the countries already gone fascist), we see the endeavors of the old labor organizations to prolong their bankrupt existence not by combatting fascism, to be sure, but by making it superflous. They promise their capitalists not to lay hands upon the present system of exploitation, but to defend it with claws and teeth and to conform with all its needs, even to conducting war. In order to hold up the march of fascism they have selected the easiest means: they offer to do the fascist work in their own special manner.

Nevertheless, world history, in so far as it depends at all on groups and individuals, does not depend on the lackeys but on their masters, so that no doubt even this new example of “Real-politik” on the part of the organizations still falsely denominated as a “labor movement” will not avail to assure their existence. The at present peculiar constellation of the capitalist powers, which are making ready for a new war, can by no means be regarded as fixed; all sorts of surprising shift’s are still possible, and on these will depend, among other things, the further development of faschism. Reversals of german, russian and french policy are capable of putting an end also to the present pseudo-struggle for the safeguarding of democracy against fascism, in which connection all that the Russians would have to do would be to identify fascism with socialism and make this latter not to depend any more on the presence of democracy. Meanwhile it is perhaps still possible for a time to point ou “successes” to the “freedom-loving anti-fascists” and to continue laying rotten laurels in the more modest but still ample lap. The russian-french alliance has somewhat hindered the development of french fascism, but this hindrance will only be the secret of the accelerated progress to come later. For the purpose of holding and clubbing down the workers, it is not very likely that the bourgoisie will bring into service the used-up lackeys out of the labor movement, but rather the new, fresh, job-hungry, petty-bourgeois rabble which, now that capitalism is on the decline, can no longer found the families which, notwithstanding monogamous culture, are complete with the servant-maid system. The wind has not been taken out of the sails of the fascists, but the old labor movement itself is the wind by which fascism is being propelled.

To speak the language of the Social Democracy: “If one wants to avoid being an anvil, he must become a hammer”. And so the old labor movement is making ready to do away with fascism by taking it up into itself. This is not easy, to be sure, and it takens an enormous lot of impudence to run after executioner’s jobs where a part of their own comrades was just recently slaughtered like cattle by the competitors. It is difficult, because a bad conscience takes away that peace and satisfaction which the “born” fascists possess “by nature” when they beat the life out of workers and other swine. Criticism on the part of labor, however, is not feared; not even on the part of their own subjects in the organizations. There has been plenty of opportunity in the last fifthy years to “educate” and “enlighten” the workers, so that today they are actually capable, if the beloved leader so desires, of taking black for white or – what amounts to the same thing – of seeing in Vandervelde or Stalin the “adored friends” and leaders of labor. The labor organizations have stupefied their hangers-on ideologically in quite the same way as Capitalism has idiotized the whole of humanity, in far greater measure than any other form of society and precisely by way of civilization and the increase of education. A beast can live, self-respecting people go under. When people today really think, they are quite on the way to insanity. When they fight like wild animals for their own interests, they act correctly and intelligently. That such a condition is not desirable does not do intelligently. That such a condition is not desirable does not do away with it; it merely compels to the revolutionary solution of this inverted state of affairs, in order that one may finally make the leap from the animal kingdom into the realm of freedom.

We are yielding to no illusion whatever; we place no hopes in the awakening of the insight of the masses; we have no confidence that one day the “scales will fall from their eyes” and that they will recognize intellectually their true problems and needs. The hangers-on of the old labor organizations who have not yet come out against them will probably never do so as a result of their own perspicacity, but at most as a result of their hunger, which will no longer be able to stand the sight of their well-fed leaders. But as yet that point has not been reached; they can still be led farther along the path of their own demoralization. What the cretins of the old labor movement and their school of corruption still lacked they have meanwhile learned from the fascists. If the occasion arose, there is no doubt that the owners of the labor organizations could once more do their part in making out of the poorest also the truest sons of the respective fatherlands.

As a matter of fact, the whole policy of both internationals is directed to giving the organizations a proper place in the “people’s front”, to conforming with the people’s interests, that is, with the interests of monopoly capital which are passed off as such, because they must and because it pays. While their previous policy was adjusted to “taking advantage of the rents” in the bourgeois camp – much as the A. F. of L. comes out at one time for the Republican and at another for the Democratic Party, according as one or the other has the most to promise it – this see – saw policy is no longer possible now that the exercise of power has necessarily been monopolized. Since there is only one any more who pays, so also only one song any more can be sung. It runs: Enthusiastically and without reserve, join in the “peoples front”. Gone are the lovely times of good-natured horse-trading, gone the lovely days of “reforms”; they task of all organizations bound up with capitalism has been contracted to the safeguarding of Capital – which is completely identical with the State – against all enemies within and without.

From the “Dictatorship” to the “People’s Government”

The Second International and its various national affiliates have actually, however strange it may sound, learned a number of things from the proceedings of the last few years. As a part of capitalism and bound up with its fortunes, they have done everything to show their gratitude to this world. They had already arranged themselves in the best possible manner, won for themselves a number of governments posts, even tho the struggle in this connection was only a matter of talk. They have built themselves houses, shoved wonderful broad seats under their buttocks and filled police jobs, tho in this latter case the uniform collars sorely rubbed the fat necks. They have even administered the colonies with gas bombs and airplanes; they have laid up money without, like true idealists, asking from whence it came; and they have also, even tho (as they write in their memoirs) only with heavy heart and out of their great sense of responsibility, shot down and bayonetted the revolutionary workers, wherever necessary – naturally in the interests of growing socialism. And yet they have come down in the social scale. After these genuine services, capital has found them unserviceable for its further ends and shown them the door. Just as the bourgeoisie by way of diplomacy sets one power against another, plays group off against group, just as in this system generally it is a struggle of all against all, so Capital has also promoted the competition among those who specialize in slaughtering workers and always held with the victors whose aim it furthered. The fascist victors had more to offer, they fitted in far better with the “spirit of the times”. They were not burdened with a past; with respect to the bourgeoisie they were not ambiguous, and they are reliable.

The dismanteling of the labor organizations, which accompanies the dismantling of democracy and which in its turn is only the political reflection of the monopolistic development, has been rather a shock to the labor-movement enterprises. That would lead to a radicalization of the socialist parties: such was the guess of those people who never become one thing or the other, who refuse to say anything bad about anyone or any organization, since of course, as a socialist if nothing else, one was bound to believe in the goodness of man. These slimy natures, whose brains are no less flabby than their bellies, are still not disappointed, in spite of the fact that what occured was the exact opposite of what they expected. After indulging for a time in a more radical phraseology and after the exhibitions of tipsy leaders of the Social Democracy, wounded by mistake, with all which it was sought to master the disturbance brought into the rest of the organization by reason of a few thousand worker’s corpses, the leaders soon came out again with the “language of reason” in order to establish themselves anew upon the ruins. The Social Democracy went not the left, but to the right. In all countries it throttled the spineless “opposition” and took up its struggle against fascism on the basis of capitalism; that is, it began a sharpened competitive struggle for the right to deceive workers. The Social Democracy reasoned – and from its own standpoint, with razor-edged logic – that it had lost out in the competition not because it had not been radical enough, but because it had been too radical. They had not offered the ruling class enough guarantees and so also had not found sufficient support among the “broad masses”. But one doesn’t want to be historically surpassed: even tho democracy may perish, still that is not the end of every bureaucracy. While to the half-bolshevist Romain Rolland, people die in order that God may live, so to the Social Democracy political systems change only in order that the bureaucracy may be eternalized. The Social Democracy is quite prepared to furnish the bureaucracy for a fascist state system. And of course it has no need, to that end, of any special transformation: its own state-capitalist conception is in principle not at all differente from monopolistic fascism, but is at most still more consistent. And so it merely competes with other aspirants for the parasitical functions in the capitalist system of exploitation.

Whether it will be given once more to the Social Democracy to carry on functions contributing directly to the maintenance of the State does not depend on the Social Democracy but on a number of circumstances of a national and international character which are not yet sufficiently transparent to permit of accurate conclusions. One thing, however, is clear: if the fascists should prove incapable of holding the masses in check, this role might under certain circumstances once more fall to the Social Democracy, and the role would certainly not be refused. Meanwhile, however, there remains to the Social Democracy, by the side and on the basis of this hope, nothing except to go farther and farther to the right, to take on more and more of the fascist coloring.

If we take such a “traditionally democratic and peace-loving” country as Switzerland and see that even there the Social Democracy can carry on only in competition with the fascists, then certainly nothing else can be expected from the other countries; in these the tendency visible in Switzerland can only occur in sharpened form and does so occur. It is only in countries like the United States, where the Social Democracy still plays no real role, that it can still afford the luxury of keeping silent about its real ideas and concealing its reactionary policy behind the old phrases. The struggle in the american Socialist Party, which began with the victory of the reactionaries and consequently ended in the same way, speaks loudly enough as to what is the proper course within the socialist world movement. And besides it was quickly realized by the “opposition”, which drew back in due time in order not to sink down into revolutionary poverty. The whole dispute was practically only the warding off of a temporary dissatisfaction within the party after the european scandal, tho bound up also with the ambitions of political adventures who were impatient to get on in the world. All that could come of it, however, was that the “Old Guard” was served with that general confusion in which thieves can take refuge, in which the spirit of opposition grows tired and wears itself out, and the positions of the reactionaries are consolidated anew. Anyone who has once viewed these “oppositionists” sheep at close range could only be amused at the eagerness with which all the competitors of the Socialist Party took pains to get “in touch” with them.

But to come back to Switzerland. There also, as everywhere, the fascist movement keeps on growing, and the danger draws nearer that the various social-democratic national councillors and a whole army of employees will be deprived of their daily bread. And so they have taken fright at their own program and have provided themselves with a new one in order not to attract unpleasent attention. The previous program, which dates from 1920, contains in contradistinction to the germen Noske-socialism and in harmony with the “better” austrian Marxism, the after all here quite innocent flourish of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessary transitional stage to socialism. The new program of 1935 has dropped this phrase about the dictatorship and replaced it with the one about the “people’s state”. To the swiss Social Democracy it is no longer a question of socialism, but of the “defense of present democracy”. And so the present program contains a full ream of senseless phrases concerned with the winning of the middle strata, the peasants, etc. The demand for dictatorship, it was explained at the party conference to the accompaniment of great applause, is still applicable at most only to countries already fascist; for democratic countries like Switzerland, this demand would be a crime. The realistic watchword today is the people’s partnership (Volksgemeinschaft), – not the fascist one, to be sure, but the social-democratic one. The debates at the party congress became very lively when the question of national defense was taken up. The party recognized quite as a matter of course, “the necessity of an armed frontier guard, which finds its embodiment in the militia”. However, the militia shall be “subject to the will of an anti-capitalist people’s partnership”. The question of how this is accomplished – how under capitalism one can have an anti-capitalist people’s Partnership – will no doubt forever remain a secret of the Social Democracy, which of course has always felt an attraction for things which looked very much like a cross between a rocking horse and a oil sardine. National Councillor Nobs declared at the party congress: “Anti-militarism in democratic countries may lead to a world victory of fascism”. So that to the Social Democracy anyone who today is opposed to militarism is an abettor of fascism, and consequently according to this logic is must be assumed that in the democratic countries socialism can be actualized only through the bayonets of the capitalist army. By the side of these things, the pary naturally came out for a planned economy and selected as a model, from the gret store of ideas on this subject, the belgium “Plan of Labor”, whose author, Henryk de Man, a specialist in mass psychology, is a sufficient guarantee that we have to do here with nothing more than the planful idiotizing of the masses. It was hoped that this plan would have quite special effects upon the middle strata. Etc., etc., etc.

The Belgian Success

That the Social Democracy failed, as so many people assert, to learn from the proceedings in Germany and Austria the “right thing” is not qwing to any unwillingness to learn but to the circumstance that the “right thing” is beyond its power to learn. When the Social Democracy wants to change at all, it can, from its very nature, only copy fascism. Its course in Switzerland is in fact an excellent indication of its “progress”.

The socialist labor party of Belgium offers a further example of this necessity. The “De Man Plan” which it adopted and from which it expected so much new life is only slightly distinguished from the “planned-economy” nonsense of the fascists. All that it finally amounts to is a demand for government control over the banks and key industries and their partial socialization; combatting the monopolies; assistance for the smaller enterprises; rescue of the middle class and peasants; social legislation for the workers; and the other well-known dissonances of the modern song of planned economy which, very unctiously intoned, seeks once more to become popular. The circumstance that the belgian bourgeoisie failed at first to find it agreeable does not affect in the least its insipidity and senselessness. The belgian government thinks to transplant its Congo policy into the motherland, but the white belgian negroes were not yet sufficiently demoralized to bow forth-with to the whip of emergency decrees. A series of strikes, which threatened to turn into a general strike, compelled the belgian bourgeoisie to accept a temporary compromise to the effect that the “Plan of Labor” would be seriously taken under advisement. Its author was for the present given a government post, and thereupon the Social Democracy, without going so far as to wage war, concluded an armistice with the bourgeoisie. This armistice is in reality nothing more than a close season for the legal labor movement, which is allowed to grow still a bit fatter before the drive upon it gets under way. During this close season the Social Democracy renders it bourgeoisie the final service: the energies which had been revealed in the proletariat are being counteracted through the talk of planned economy. The awakened forces are allowed to blow out in illusions, until the workers are sufficiently demoralized to accept fascism willingly. But “Socialism” is still on the march in Belgium as it once was in Germany. And it will probably leave quite as many workers’ corpses along its way and end up in the fascist dictatorship just as did the german socialism. It is probable also, however, that the social-democratic leaders will in the meanwhile develop into hundred-percent fascists.

The Triump of the United Front

The success of the belgian socialists still looks paltry in comparison with the triumph of the french “communists”. Upon the conclusion of the russo-french alliance, the policy of the Communist Party of France (CPF) suffered a sharp turn. All the previous watchwords were exchanged for those of the people’s front and national defense. This transformation was soon extended to all sections of the Third International, with the exception of those countries which might under certain circumstances operate contrary to the franco-russian block. At the same time there came about the dissolution of the communist trade-union leagues and their conversion, wherever possible, into the reactionary trade-unions. Parallel to this development is the flirtation with the Social Democracy, which receives an offer of organic unity. Quite open efforts are made toward the liquidation of the communist parties and of their international. The Social Democracy still maintains a waiting attitude: the attempt at suicide on the part of the Third International is for the present still looked upon in the spirit of a competitor and not of a partner. The Social Democracy in the various countries is still too closely linked up with its own national bourgeoisie, while the “communists” are still exclusively attached to the new russian bourgeoisie. In those countries, however, where the interests of its own run parallel with those of the new russian bourgeoisie, as in Czechoslovakia and France, the Social Democracy is much more inclined to the organic unity. The reason advanced by the Social Democracy for its restraint in regard to the unity efforts of the Third International are amusing: this latter had become too reactionary for the socialists. The communists “struggle” in union with all strata of the population – with the Catholics for religious liberty, with the german steel helmeters for the right to have other reactionary organizations by the side of the fascist ones, with the “Black Front” of the Strasser group for the genuine as against the opportunistic Hitler fascism – these demands of the “communists” go a bit too far even for the Social Democrats. In connection with the negotiations for the united front in France, the CPF came out against the demand of the Socialists looking to the partial socialization of individual capitalist monopolies, on the ground that such “demands went too far and would hinder the forming of the people’s front”. Nevertheless, the united front came out, and not only with the Social Democrats but also with the petty-bourgeoisie, on the basis of demands and watchwords which resembled those of the fascists almost to a hair. When it comes to deceiving the workers, the Social Democracy is surely open to conviction. Still it remains a joke when Norman Thomas can say of the present program of the communist party: “Certainly we Socialists can not be stampeded by temporary communist opportunism into a similar position”. But only have patience: soon Norman Thomas too, just like his swiss colleagues, will know how to prize this opportunism as the last word in socialist realistic policy.

The french people’s front was formed around the slogan: Defense of Bread, particularly the bread of the middle classes. The retardation of the crisis in France retarded also the growth of fascism. But even now the fascist forces within the ranks of the allies of the CPF are quite as strong as those which for the present are willing to go along with the communists. The petty-bourgeois groups which can derive no profit from the present united front will very shortly, in their inevitable disappointment, proceed from half to full fascism and drag a part of the workers with them. As in Germany, so also in France the Communist Party is preparing the masses for the coming fascism, Regardless of his intentions, anyone who, instead of pursuing a revolutionary policy, merely competes with the fascists for the state jobs can only, under the present conditions, help fascism into the saddle. What the united front of the CPF sows today, the fascists will reap tomorrow.

“We are firmly decided”, writes the french communist press, “to take up the struggle against impoverishment, without, however, repelling anyone from the people’s front – without raising demands which could only bring about divisions, at which the fascists would rejoice, as for instance a demand upon the (petty-bourgeois) Radical Party to take over the slogans and the program of the communists, as certain defenders of the ‘pure doctrine’ would like to do”. Since the petty bourgeoisie refuse to accept the platform of the CP, the CP accepts the platform of the petty Bourgeoisie. Here are the party’s demands: Taxes on large fortunes; state ownership of the Bank of France; control over the book-keeping of the banks. Or as the CP sums it up in the vernacular: “The rich shall pay”. Why not go farther? What sort of effect would result from the phrase, “The rich are politely requested to hang themselves”? In the light of this program, one can really dub Roosevelt an ultra-radical.

A people’s front embraces the whole people. If the rich are to pay, they must first be made financially sound. This also has been looked after by the CP, through the aid which it has assured to french imperialism. L’Humanité, the daily newspaper of the CPF, wrote on the occasion of the signature of the russo-french pact: “What could be more natural than the fact that our comrade Stalin, upon the request of Laval, should have declared his approval of France’s military measures.” To be sure; what could really be more natural?

The Last Congress of the Communist International

After the nationalistic adventures of the french communists, the 7th congress of the Communist International could no longer present any surprises. Altho the french policy is only a repetition of the policy of the CI under Lenin and Trotsky in Germany around the year 1923, or of its policy in Turkey and China, still this fact appears to have vanished from the memories of all the bureaucrats who have been neglected by Stalin. They have accordingly been greatly aroused over the consistent carrying out of Leninism by way of Stalin, as this was manifested at the 7th congress. As ridiculous, however, as the genuine Leninist policy must be today, equally pitiful are its present-day exponents. The perfect valet Piek and the cheap actor Dimitrov set the tone. The stupidity was naturally a unanimous stupidity, the counter-revolutionary unmasking was resolved as one man. A betrayal of revolutionary principles is here out of the question, for one can not betray what he has never represented. The present world situation compels the Third International to speark just a bit more openly than the “conspiratorial” souls would otherwise wish to do. The Third International has gone the way of all professional revolutionary flesh with admirable precision to its end. For us, there is no occasion for any polemic; we have only the satisfaction of the recording. Let us listen to Wilhelm Piek: “We communists fight to the death (a la Germany?) against Fascism and every manifestation of reaction (except the russian, czech and french varieties, be it understood). To us it is not a matter of indifference which political system prevails in this or that capitalist country. Since parliamentarism and the remains of democratic liberties, in spite of the heavy yoke of the capitalist system, offer some slight possibilities for the open fighting organizations of the proletariat, we are ready to defend the remnants of parliamentarism and democracy against Fascism and in further course to conduct the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship. We communists furnish protection to all peoples against capitalist slavery and fascist suppression. (what magnanimity!) We have been and constantly are for the right of self-determination of every people, however small. If German fascism attacks the national independence and unity of small independent states in Europa, a war waged by the national bourgeoisie of these states will be a just war, in which proletarians and communists cannot avoid taking part”. And a little later he foams on: “The era of the dominance of reformism in the labor movement comes to an end, there begins the era of the Communist International. It is a struggle for the happiness and freedom of the working masses”. Now we have it: the era of reformism is followed by the struggle for happiness. What magnificent progress!

Of course there was also to be had cheap some genuine “bolshevist self-criticism”, in spite of the ever correct line. “We neglected the opportunity”, Piek explained, “to give out at the capital by which the peasants were ruined, as well as against ‘interest slavery’” (one of the most fetching fascist slogans). “In many countries the petty bourgeoisie did not find in the communist parties sufficient understanding for effective support in its resistance to the trusts and the banks by which it was being bled white. The german communists did not consider in due time the significances of the yoke of Versailles, and enabled the bourgeoisie to turn to its own account the hatred of the masses for that yoke”. In a word, Piek complained that the communists had been such poor fascists, that they conducted such wretched competition.

While on the one hand, however, the CI regrets that it has not proceeded sharply enough against Versailles, on the other hand, by its support of France, it wants to maintain the Versaille policy. While it fights against german fascism, at the same time it assists german fascism in its armament policy. The russian government recently concluded with Hitler Germany contracts by which the german air fleet is supplied with the necessary fuel for the next three years. Business is business. The simultaneous support of the french and of the german army is not by any means a contradiction. The maintenance of world capitalism is the enduring task, the alliance policy is highly changeable.

As Moscow sets the tune, so the various sections of the International dance. The american Communist Party today comes out for such things as the “Worker’s and Farmer’s Labor Party”, which is to be based upon the half-fascist A.F. of L. and which incidentally is to take up into itelf the whole liberal virus. And all for a number of laws to be wrung from Congress, for an amendment to the Constitution designed to hamstring reaction, and other such nice things at which before this time it could only laugh compassionately. It represents the impossible and the nonsensical, for it doesn’t care to represent anything at all, but only to assure in some manner or other the daily bread for its functionaries.

All that ough to put a lot of life into the “oppositionists” of the CP. But their moribund state is still hanging on. To all the degeneracy of the Communist International they have nothing to oppose except the calling up of the past. “Back to Lenin”, or “back to Trotsky”, for “a new Zimmerwald”, for “better leaders”: that is the beginning and the end of their cry, which loses itself in its own wind. The lovestoneites who for years have combatted the “ultra-left” course of the CP shout today against its ultra-right course because the Stalinists are still not resigned to setting them up again with salaries. Trotsky founds for the second time the Fourth International with members whom he has fortunately just brought to shelter in the Second International. The bureaucrats quarrel over the ever fewer paid posts and disguise their quarrel behind an alleged struggle for this or that correct Leninist line. These ridiculous half-and-half organizations, small parasites of the greater spongers, are not the heirs of the Third International, nor its carrion crows. They are going under with it, as they were only capable of living off it. But for them also the revolutionary workers have no tears to shed. To speak for once with the original superman against all the present-day supermen of the CP and its offal, the workers can only – and not without satisfaction – say: “What falls shall furthermore be kicked”.