Friday, June 15, 2018

What could the organized proletariat have done? Reading notes on Fascism and Big Business by Daniel Guerin

From Chapter 5: Fascist strategy on the march to power

....The German Socialists and Communists similarly refused to believe in the triumph of National Socialism. More than that, they periodically announced its rout. The Socialists uttered shouts of victory on every occasion: in August, 1932, because President Hindenburg refused Hitler's demands; and after the elections of November 6, because the votes for the Nazis showed a falling off. On that date Vorwaerts said: "Ten years ago we predicted the bankruptcy of National Socialism; it is written in black and white in our paper!" 53 And just before Hitler's accession to power, one of their leaders, Schiffrin, wrote: "We no longer perceive anything but the odor of a rotting corpse. Fascism is definitely dead; it will never arise again."

The Communists were scarcely more perspicacious. After the election of September 14, 1930, the Rote Fahne stated: "September 14 was the culminating point of the National Socialist movement in Germany. It will be followed only by weakening and decline." 55 In 1932, Thaelmann was aroused against "opportunistic overestimation of Hitler fascism." 56 In all the Communists' literature of 1932, they speak of nothing but retrogression, decay, break up, and retreat in the fascist camp. After the elections of November 6, we read in the Rote Fahne: "Everywhere S.A.'s are deserting the ranks of Hitlerism and coming over to the Communist flag. They are beginning to repudiate Hitler in his own movement." 57 And on the eve of fascism's taking power, Thaelmann spoke of a "turn of the class forces toward the proletarian revolution."

But what tactics could the organized proletariat have used against fascism on the way to power? Do not forget that fascism won power legally. Workers' militia, indispensable for fighting fascist bands while they played merely the role of "anti-labor militia," would no longer suffice to prevent fascism from gaining seats in parliament, winning public opinion, and entering the government through legal channels. Nor could a simple "general protest strike," even if effective throughout the country, block fascism's road to power-unless the strike was the point of departure for a revolutionary offensive. The Italian reformists tried it; at the end of July, 1922, they called a general strike throughout the peninsula. But they sought only to bring pressure on the government, on parliament and the Crown, to defend "civil liberties and the Constitution." But because the stoppage of work was not accompanied by aggressive action, it was child's play for the fascists to smash the movement. They insured the essential public services with "scabs" and made themselves masters of the streets. Far from blocking their road, this disastrous general strike was a moral victory for them-"the Caporetto* of the working-class movement."

Then what could the organized proletariat have done? Once fascism embarks on the road to power, the labor movement has only one recourse left: outstrip the fascists and win power first. But the proletarian parties did not show themselves to be revolutionary; not for an instant did they dream of conquering power by force. The truth is that on the eve of fascism's victory, in both Italy and Germany, the labor movement was profoundly weakened and demoralized: not only because of unemployment; not only because of repeated defeats that came from want of bold tactics in the daily clashes with fascist bands; but chiefly because the union organizations had been unable to defend the gains won by the working class. In Italy, the Federation of Labor did not know how to resist the wage cuts during the crisis, or to force the employers in the metal industry to observe the law for workers' control. In Germany, the German General Federation of Labor prevented the workers from fighting against Bruening's decree-laws, which cut wages, on the pretext that to defend their livelihood would endanger the Bruening government, and Bruening was "better" than Hitler. This tactic, known as that of the "lesser evil," greatly demoralized the workers.

When fascism embarked on the conquest of power, the labor movement showed itself to be inert and absolutely incapable of outstripping it. In Italy, the Socialists posed as defenders of the established order and crawled at the feet of the rulers of the bourgeois state. They implored the royal carabinieri and the army not to yield power to Mussolini. At the end of July, their leader Turati went to the
King to "remind him that he is the supreme defender of the Constitution."

In Germany, the reformist leaders begged Hindenburg and the Reichswehr to "do their duty" and not hand over power to Hitler. When Papen removed the Socialist government of Prussia on July 20, 1932, they limited themselves to protesting this "violation of the Constitution." They appealed to-the Supreme Court in Leipzig. Ten days before Hitler came to power, the executive committee of the Federation of Labor called on President Hindenburg. The union leaders "clung to faith in the state. They still hoped for help from the President of the Reich." 60 And on January 30, 1933, the day Hitler formed his government, Vorwaerts printed in a special edition: "In the face of a government that threatens a coup d'etat, the Social Democracy stands firm on the ground of the Constitution and legality." As for the Communists, in spite of their revolutionary verbiage, they took refuge behind the excuse that the reformists would do nothing-and so did nothing themselves.


Fascism is now in power; its leader has been entrusted by the head of the state with forming a government. But the last word has not been said, because the real adversary, the organized proletariat, is not yet conquered. The workers' parties and the unions still exist and are legal. We shall see how fascism utilizes the machinery of state to complete its victory, exterminate the workers' organizations, and install the dictatorship.

During the preceding period, when fascism was on the way to power, its tactics, as we have seen, were primarily legalistic. Its preparations for insurrection were only a bluff, intended to keep up the morale of its own troops. Now, just the reverse is true. Legalistic tactics are now only a war ruse intended to put the adversary to sleep, a mask under the cover of which fascism is already violating legality and methodically preparing a violent coup....
Fascism and Big Business by Daniel Guerin

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