Fascism: not a form of capitalism
but a way to maintain capitalist rule
The following is an excerpt from the section “Capitalism and fascism” from a November 1992 talk published in Capitalism’s World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium by Jack Barnes. Copyright © 1999 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
BY JACK BARNES
In [his book] Teamster Politics, Farrell [Dobbs] explains how small fascist outfits began to grow in this country in response to the deep economic and social crisis and the rise of workers’ struggles in the 1930s. “Clashes between capital and labor in times of social crisis tend to stimulate activity among political demagogues with a fascist mentality,” he wrote. “They anticipate that intensification of the class struggle will cause sections of the ruling class to turn away from parliamentary democracy and its methods of rule, and resort to fascism as the way to hold on to state power and protect special privilege.”
Farrell understood that if workers are misled into believing there is some choice between capitalism as they know it and some qualitatively worse form of capitalism called fascism, then the argument to choose capitalism as it is—and even to fight to defend it under certain conditions—can appear strong. For decades, that is the way the Stalinists have miseducated working people, convincing them to subordinate their own class interests and organizations to various bourgeois parties and governments—to prevent something worse from happening. There are the “democratic capitalists” and the fascists, the Stalinists say, so workers must support the democratic capitalists in order to stop the fascists.
But fascism is precisely a movement set in motion and financed by sections of the ruling class in desperate circumstances in order to maintain capitalist rule. It is not an alternative to “democratic capitalism”; it is bred by “democratic capitalism.” When workers understand what fascism really is, then the enormity of the responsibility to get rid of capitalism—a task only the working class can organize and lead—becomes that much clearer.
When we say that fascism is not a form of capitalist rule, but a way of maintaining capitalist rule, we do so in order to stress that fascism is not a way of organizing capitalism. Instead, it is a radical petty-bourgeois movement in the streets—the most horrible, malignant such movement in history. Banal, mediocre, figures—but ones adept at radical demagogy, nationalism, phrase-mongering, and organization—rise to leadership in these movements. Thugs rise among the cadres. The fascists ape much of the language of currents in the workers movement. “Nazi” was short for National Socialist German Workers Party.
These movements never begin with broad ruling-class support. At first, the rulers in their majority alternately scorn and fear this rowdy “rabble”; only handfuls of capitalists back them at the outset. But as the bourgeoisie become convinced they confront an irresolvable social crisis, and as the working class puts up an increasingly serious challenge to capitalist rule itself, growing layers of the exploiters start supporting, or tolerating, the fascists in order to try to smash the workers and their organizations. That is the job the fascists are finally enlisted to do by the bourgeoisie when the threat to capitalist rule reaches a certain threshold.