Leon Trotsky Takes Up Fight Against Fascism
BY HILDA CUZCO
What is fascism and how can it be combated? That question is on the minds of growing numbers of workers and youth around the world, from the 50,000 who marched against the National Front in Strasbourg, France, March 29 to the protesters who dogged Patrick Buchannan during his 1996 presidential bid in the United States.
The best way to get some answers is to dig into the writings of Leon Trotsky. After the death of Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin in 1924, Trotsky, a central leader of the Russian revolution, took up the task of defending the revolutionary course against the bureaucratic caste lead by Joseph Stalin. Until his death in 1940 at the hands of a Stalinist agent, he fought to build the kind of international leadership needed to lead the working class and its allies to take power in a time of capitalist crisis, rising fascist forces, revolutionary possibilities, and impending imperialist war.
One of the points Trotsky stresses is that fascism is not just a military dictatorship, but a movement whose sole objective is to crush the workers' organizations and atomize the working class. Its foundation is the petty bourgeoisie. In contrast, "A military dictatorship is purely a bureaucratic institution, reinforced by the military machine and based upon the disorientation of the people and their submission to it," he explained in the article titled "American Problems." "After some time their feelings can change and they can become rebellious against the dictatorship." (Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939-40, page 338)
Betrayal of Social Democrats, Stalinists
Fascism was able to triumph in Italy, Germany, and elsewhere as a result of the betrayals of the main workers parties-the Social Democracy and the so-called Communist parties that looked to the Stalinist regime in Moscow. The leaders of these parties, which held the allegiance of millions of workers, refused to mobilize an effective defense against the fascist gangs. Such a struggle would have shifted the relationship of forces in favor of the working class and opened the possibility for a revolutionary offensive.
In "A declaration to the Congress Against Fascism," written in April 1933, Trotsky points out the treacherous role of the Social Democratic bureaucracy that opened the road to fascism in Germany. "The top layers of the German Social Democracy are now trying to adapt themselves to Hitler's regime in order to preserve the remainder of their legal positions and the benefits that accrue from them. In vain! Fascism has brought with it a swarm of starved and ravenous locusts who demand and will obtain the monopoly of jobs and sinecures for themselves. The destitution of the reformist bureaucracy, a secondary result of the defeat of the proletarian organizations, represents the payment for the uninterrupted chain of treachery of the Social Democracy since August 4, 1914." (Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932- 1933), page 174).
Meanwhile, the Communist Party in Germany refused to recognize the actual danger of fascism and instead denounced the social democracy as being "social fascists," no better than Hitler's forces. In the "Turn in the Communist International and the German Situation," September 1930, Trotsky blasts the CP for not organizing a fight against fascism and calling for a united front of all the workers parties. "If the Communist Party, in spite of the exceptionally favorable circumstances, has proved powerless to seriously shake the structure of the social democracy with the aid of the formula of `social fascism,' then the real fascism now threatens this structure, no longer with wordy formulas of so-called radicalism, but with the chemical formulas of explosives....
"The policy of a united front of the workers against fascism flow from this situation. It opens up tremendous possibilities to the Communist Party. A condition for success, however, is the rejection of the theory and practice of `social fascism,' the harm of which becomes a positive menace under the present circumstances." (The Struggle against Fascism in Germany, page 70)
The need for united workers' defense
On Feb. 6, 1934, fascist riots imposed the bonapartist government of Gaston Doumergue in France. In the October 1934 article "Whither France?" Trotsky emphasizes the need to lead an organized defense against fascist forces through workers militias. " `We need mass self-defense and not the militia,' we are often told" by the CP and the Socialist Party, Trotsky wrote. "But what is this `mass self-defense' without combat organizations, without specialized cadres, without arms? To give over the defense against fascism to unorganized and unprepared masses left to themselves would to play a role incomparably lower than the role of Pontius Pilate. To deny the role of the militia is to deny the role of the vanguard. Then why a party? Without the support of the masses, the militia is nothing. But without organized combat detachments, the most heroic masses will be smashed bit by bit by the fascist gangs. It is nonsense to counterpose the militia to self-defense. The militia is an organ of self-defense." (Leon Trotsky on France, p. 44).
Building a revolutionary party was key to fighting fascism, Trotsky emphasized. "In every discussion of political topics the question invariably arises: Shall we succeed in creating a strong party for the moment when the crisis comes? Might not fascism anticipate us? Isn't a fascist stage of development inevitable? The successes of fascism easily make people lose all perspective, lead them to forget the actual conditions which made the strengthening and the victory of fascism possible," he wrote in 1940. "No occupation is more completely unworthy than that of speculating whether or not we shall succeed in creating a powerful revolutionary leader-party. Ahead lies a favorable perspective, providing all the justification for revolutionary activism. It is necessary to utilize the opportunities which are opening up and to build the revolutionary party." (Struggle against Fascism in Germany, pages 447, 452)