This article was originally published on socialistworld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International, on October 8th, 2020.
More than six months of the global COVID pandemic and global crisis have exposed everything that is rotten in this era of capitalist decline. Global capitalism is in a putrefying prolonged death agony, which is inflicting misery on millions of people on a scale not seen for an entire historical era. Humankind’s productive forces stagnate, and the technological leaps forward made in recent years are failing to raise the material wealth of the mass of the global population. The environmental crisis, reflected in recent fires and floods, is causing additional suffering and dislocation. Internationally, in most countries, an economic, political, and social crisis not witnessed since the 1930s is unfolding at breakneck speed. The horrific consequences of these crises have demonstrated the crucial necessity for the working class to build mass socialist parties that offer an alternative to capitalism in a decadent era of decline. “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat,” wrote Leon Trotsky in 1938. Words that are very apposite to the situation we face today.
The leaderships of the former social-democratic and ‘communist’ parties have embraced capitalism. Those donning the mask of the ‘left’ in the leadership of the newer organisations, like PODEMOS, Die Linke, Left Block or Momentum, and the Corbynistas, have tail-ended them and adapted to capitalism. They fail to pose even the idea that a socialist alternative is possible. In most countries, the majority of the trade union bureaucracy, even those on the left, have placed themselves in quarantine and have failed to lead a serious struggle to defend workers and the oppressed. The more the crisis has intensified, the further to the right the “left” leaders have moved to accommodate and manage capitalism and buckled to the pressure of calling for ‘national unity’.
The need to build new mass parties and revolutionary parties of workers and youth with a socialist programme and to transform the trade unions into combative fighting organisations is now globally an urgent historical task for the working class. The bitter class divisions opening up in society, and increasing polarization taking place within and between nations, reveals that these tasks are posed more acutely with each passing day. This is demonstrated by the electric events unfolding in the run-up to the US Presidential elections and the devastating crisis breaking in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The absence of such organisations of the working class has left a vacuum. In some countries, this has allowed the populist right and far-right to partially step in, along with increasingly authoritarian measures being introduced by numerous governments, which pose a serious threat to the oppressed. The massive polarisation and upheavals taking place are posing the question of which forces will gain from it.
It is necessary for Marxists and activists in the workers’ movement to assess through which stage we are passing in the crisis and class struggle, and, at the same time, have an accurate assessment of the nature of the right-wing forces which are developing in many countries. This is essential in order to prepare for active intervention in the coming upheavals and class battles which are pending, in order to assist workers and the oppressed to draw the conclusions of how capitalism and the ruling class can be defeated.
Capitalism in deepest crisis since the 1930s
Capitalism is faced with its deepest crisis since the 1930s. The “great accelerator”, COVID, has speeded up all of the economic features which were present in the world economy prior to the onset of the pandemic. In the neo-colonial world, especially Latin America and Africa, a debt crisis is currently unfolding. It has led the president of the World Bank to call on the Chinese state-owned banks and lenders to join in a debt rescheduling for these countries. They may be prepared to reschedule debt repayment for a period but they will not totally write them off. Japan, the third-largest imperialist power is gripped by an economic crisis. Some capitalist economists raised the spectre of the UK facing its deepest economic contraction for 300 years. They have recently consoled themselves that it will only be the worst recession since 1918! A similar situation, only worse, exists in the USA. Although officially the unemployment rate has not yet hit the highest levels anticipated, it remains catastrophic. Of the twenty million jobs lost during the pandemic only 11 million new ones have been “created”. The Federal government figure of 12.6 million being out of work in September grossly underestimates the reality of the situation due to how the statistics are compiled.
There is no likely prospect in the immediate future of a return even to the ephemeral growth which eventually followed the 2007-08 crash. The economy never returned to its pre-crash levels of employment, real living standards, homeownership, or business investment as a percentage of the GDP. In the five years running up to the pandemic, the growth which did take place in the US economy was mainly driven by consumer spending and expanding debt. This is not going to be repeated in the 2020s following this crash and deep recession/depression which now exists. We correctly discounted a ‘V-shaped’ recovery.
The pandemic has devastated the global market for many advanced goods in which the US excels. The most glaring example is the civil aviation industry which depends on worldwide demand. This is currently dead as most planes remain grounded. Construction of offices is virtually stagnant and will remain so as increasing numbers of office workers work from home. The limited growth after the 2007-2008 crash was not in the purchasing of goods but more in the production and consumption of services. The growth in jobs was most pronounced in bars, restaurants, hotels, and other areas of the service sector. A large part of this is being wiped out by the pandemic and will not simply return. It is estimated that the number of US citizens who will be “food insecure” in 2020 will rise to 54 million.
The unprecedented stimulus packages which have been introduced globally by capitalism have failed to resolve the crisis. The reversion to Keynesian-type methods has, thus far, prevented a more catastrophic collapse from taking place in the global economy. However, they have failed to resolve the recession and depression in most countries revealing the limitations of Keynesianism. Global capitalism in the 2020s is poised to stumble from one crisis to the next like a drunk staggering down the street.
Turmoil on every continent
The economic crisis and consequences of the pandemic have produced turmoil on every continent. It is especially pronounced in the USA where developments are already shaping world events. At the same time, the crisis has provoked convulsions in the neo-colonial world. The process of de-globalisation which is taking place has resulted in an increase in tensions and the outbreak of a series of conflicts between the main imperialist powers, and also between different countries and regional blocks. They illustrate how unstable capitalism has become. The clash between China and US imperialism will not be resolved following the US elections. Indeed, Biden has denounced Trump for being “too soft” on both China and Russia. The tensions between China and India over Kashmir continue to flare up. Putin has asserted Russia’s international interventions but with growing opposition at home. The clash between Turkey and Greece, backed by France, over gas reserves poses the prospect of two NATO powers being in a military conflict. Now the clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh threatens to draw in Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Tensions within the EU continue which can lead to its breakup or reconfiguration, with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit threatening to aggravate tensions further in the short term.
The economic and COVID crisis has also sharpened the national question in a series of countries. The surge in support for independence in Scotland is a reflection of this process. It has also seen increased support for independence in Catalonia. The Hindu nationalist agenda being pursued by Modi in India is strengthening nationalist sentiment in Tamil Nadu and other states. In Africa, in some countries like Libya, Ethiopia, and Cameroon, there is a tendency towards break-up taking place. In Nigeria and some other countries, national and religious forces have gained strength, especially where the working class has not posed an alternative. Within other nations, a series of conflicts have developed during the crisis. The Spanish government is in conflict with Madrid over the handling of the crisis, and Macron in France is in conflict with Marseille and other regions. The centrifugal tendency for some of the states in the US to act in opposition to Washington is likely to increase should Trump hunker down and remain in the White House.
Class battles and uprisings
We have already seen big class battles erupt, and even multiple uprisings break out, in a series of countries as a consequence of the health and economic crisis. In others, like France and the US, smaller but significant strike movements have taken place. The tremendously inspiring unified uprising in Lebanon has continued for twelve months. Lebanon faces economic bankruptcy and recurring crisis. The mass mobilization against the ruling class, corruption, the banks, sectarianism, and the sectarian political leaders illustrates the processes of revolution at work. The ongoing movement in Belarus against the Lukashenko regime, the general strikes and mass demonstrations in Bolivia, Ecuador, Algeria, Iraq, and Hong Kong, together with the unprecedented youth protests in Thailand, and strikes and demonstrations in Iran, illustrate the nature of the period that we are now in, and the demand for change and end to the system as it is. The social uprisings of the BLM movement, in particular in the US, Britain, and elsewhere, were also a part of this process.
The bigger mass movements and revolts that have emerged developed spontaneously from below, in the main lacked organization by the proletariat, and are marked by the absence of any mass parties of the working class. They have often raised the demand for ‘revolution’ or removal from power of the existing regimes. They have largely been marked by a sharp class polarization and demand for change, greater equality, and democracy but without a rounded-out socialist programme for overthrowing capitalism. The spontaneous character of the movements in many of the countries where they have taken place allowed them to go forward for a period. Often, the reformist or Stalinist organisations were not in the leadership to act as a brake on them. This, of course, will not always be the case in future movements and social explosions. The spontaneous character they have assumed has, in that sense, been for a period the strength of these movements. This was reflected in the general strike in Bolivia, in which the leadership of the trade unions and social movements were forced to convene because of the mass pressure from below. However, this massive movement was called off by the leadership and a rotten compromise reached, rather than taking the movement forward and allowing the working class and masses to take power into their own hands.
However, these struggles have now also demonstrated the limits of a spontaneous movement. The lack of an organization or party with a clear programme and strategy to advance and overthrow the ruling regimes, and replace them with a workers’ democracy and a revolutionary socialist programme, is now acting as a major obstacle that needs to be overcome. This weakness poses a threat to these revolutionary upheavals.
The lack of a social base of the regimes where these movements have erupted points towards such upheavals being drawn out over a relatively lengthy period of time. Inevitable ebbs and flows in the mass movement will take place. The movements can become exhausted and tire over a period. This can allow a decrepit regime to cling on to power for a time. Alternatively, power can be passed to “new governments” or regimes in cosmetic acts of window-dressing where little changes other than allowing the ruling class to win time. In Hong Kong, despite some continuing protests, the Chinese regime is step-by-step strengthening its grip and ratcheting up repression.
In Lebanon, there was an attempt to cobble together a new government headed by Mustapha Adib in August. It was intended as a government of “consensus”. A former diplomat and ambassador to Germany, Adib, initially had the backing of all the existing sectarian political parties in Lebanon (‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’). However, reflecting the explosive situation, he was forced to step down. Macron’s “reconstruction” initiative has failed to come to fruition. In Mali, in August, the military stepped in, with some popular support, following months of protest against the Keita government. But almost immediately the question of the character of the transitional government arose, especially the role of the military. A similar development took place in Sudan, last year, where protests took place in August on the first anniversary of the transitional government.
It would be a mistake to think that spontaneous mass movements and struggles – or even mass anger and pressure – without leadership and rounded-out coherent programme, have no effect. They can compel the ruling class to make some concessions for a period. This can have a crucial effect in boosting the confidence and mood of workers and youth in struggle. In Britain, Johnson was forced into 11 U-turns in 8 months! More than enough to have brought the government crashing down if a fighting political opposition existed, rather than the new right-wing Labour JParty leadership led by Keir Starmer. In Chile, following the mass movement, the Piñera regime has been compelled to concede a referendum on changing the constitution, albeit on a fraudulent, undemocratic basis, and also allow workers to withdraw 25% of monies paid into their pension fund. These demands were originally implacably opposed by his regime. In some situations, spontaneous mass uprisings can overthrow the existing regimes but then the question is starkly posed: what next? This is illustrated in the uprising in Kyrgyzstan. Without consolidating power into the hands of the working class and breaking the grip of the ruling class, capitalist counter-revolution can develop. This was illustrated by the events which unfolded in Portugal following the revolution in 1974.
Modern Monetarist Theory not an alternative
Concessions or U-turns by the ruling class can embolden the mass movement under certain conditions, especially when it is in the ascendancy. However, in this era of capitalist death agony, we are not in a period of sustained reforms being possible. This is something that the ‘new left’ supporters of ‘Modern Monetarist Theory’ (MMT), like American economist, Stephanie Kelton, fail to grasp. Like the leaders of the ‘new left’ parties, they remain imprisoned within the confines of capitalist thought. They fail to even pose the idea that an entirely different social and economic system – socialism – is possible, as even the old-style reformists and social democrats did in the past. They dream of a return to the golden-era of capitalist boom and upswing, which belongs to a bygone age. In defining MMT in an interview with ‘The Intercept’ in March 2020, Kelton argued, “Well, in fact, MMT is almost an entirely descriptive project… But MMT is mostly about helping people get a better understanding of the nature of the monetary system we have today… We don’t have fixed exchange rates and how can we best take advantage of the monetary system of the policy space to build a better economy? That’s essentially what MMT is about”. In other words, manage capitalism better! In practice, it means managing misery. Any programme that will be in the interests of the working class will meet the resistance and sabotage of the markets and capitalism.
The role of the trade unions and building fighting oppositions
As the economic and health crisis has deepened, most of the ‘left’, including the ‘left’ intelligentsia and trade union leadership has been driven further to the right into the arms of the capitalist class. The appearance of the General Secretary of the TUC on the steps of 11 Downing Street in London – the residence of the British finance minister –parading together with the Conservative chancellor and the leader of the employers’ organization, the CBI, supporting government economic policy, graphically illustrated this.
In Nigeria, the trade union leadership recently called off the general strike against the increase in fuel (PMS) and electricity prices. They signed a document that accepted “the dire financial circumstances of the federation that precludes any ability to sustain any subsidy on PMS and thus makes the deregulation of the PMS inevitable”. The draconian labour laws introduced by Modi in India and other attacks on workers’ rights have not been fought against by the trade union bureaucracy or the CPI and CPI(M). Their call for a general strike will not, as usual, be followed up with meaningful campaigning. In Spain, the PSOE/PODEMOS government has been propped up by the CCOO and UGT bureaucracy.
Under pressure from the working class, some sections of the trade union bureaucracy can be compelled to organize some action, as we have seen recently in Germany, South Africa, and Ireland. In Austria, the crisis and wave of redundancies have sparked off protests, which could lead to strikes and even occupations. However, the rotten role played by the majority of the trade union bureaucracy during this crisis has been a brake on the development of bigger workers’ movements and has allowed the employers and ruling class to go on the offensive and attack workers’ rights and conditions. This highlights the need to struggle in the workplaces to mobilise workers in struggle to transform the trade unions into fighting, combative organisations. This is a crucial task in this crisis, in which the CWI and others can play an important role in assisting, as illustrated by the work of the NSSN in England, Wales, and Scotland.
The launching by the far-right VOX in the Spanish state of a ‘trade union’ denouncing the existing unions as being tools of the government is a warning, although it is uncertain this will get much of an echo. The far right-wing paramilitary, RSS, in India, controls one of the largest trade union organisations, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS). These warnings underline the importance of building fighting opposition groups in the trade unions. Where this is blocked, other initiatives to organize workers who want to struggle may be necessary.
US – a harbinger for the 2020s
The economic, social, and political eruptions taking place in the US are a harbinger for the class and social upheavals that will rock every continent and country in the 2020s. The events in the most powerful imperialist country are having pronounced effects internationally and will shape world events in the coming period along with developments in China. The most polarized presidential election for decades is currently taking place against the background of clashes, including armed clashes, in a number of states. The political earthquake taking place with a high level of social and class polarization includes elements of civil war, which will not be resolved whoever wins the election. The election has been thrown into turmoil as a result of Trump contracting COVID-19. Numerous twists and turns, constitutional crises and battles, are set to take place. Should Trump not have recovered from the virus further turmoil and upheaval are certain.
The US capitalist class, in the main, wants Trump out. They are mobilizing their forces to try and ensure he is defeated. The leaking of his tax returns, the declaration by hundreds of retired generals in support of Biden, and the attacks on him in the media are all indications of this. The national polls point to his defeat. However, a Biden victory remains far from certain, at this stage. The narrow lead for Biden in many swing states, the weakness of Biden’s campaign and programme, and the totally undemocratic nature of the Electoral College election system all mean that a second term for Trump cannot be excluded.
Moreover, the unprecedented declarations and actions of Trump and his machine, that he may not accept the result and refuse to accept defeat, mean that a contested result could erupt into a massive social conflict including armed clashes. In the bitter presidential debate, Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists and urging the militia ‘Proud Boys’ to “stand back and stand by”, indicate that he is preparing to make a fight of it. Trump clearly has a ‘game plan’ to contest the result: challenging mail-in ballots, the use of voter suppression, passing the election of Electoral College delegates from the popular vote to state legislatures or governors, and ultimately passing the election of the President to Congress.
Trump’s dash to get the Supreme Court vacancy filled by the arch-reactionary, Amy Coney Barrett, is part of his schema. It has also been set back by the contraction of COVID-19 by three Republican senators. Votes in the Senate have to be in person, meaning Trump has lost a majority to force through the nomination unless the Senate rules are changed.
Whether Trump can get away with his game plan to stay in power is another question but, should Trump attempt it, a massively polarized situation and conflict are likely to erupt. The majority of the ruling class is desperate to avoid this and may resort to using sections of the state to oust Trump, if necessary. A section of the Republican Party has come out against Trump and fears a backlash. Should Trump move in this direction, there will be a ferocious reaction against him and the Republican Party, deepening the polarization which already exists.
Incredibly, Biden raised the spectre of the army being mobilized to escort Trump from the White House. The chairman of the Chiefs of Staff responded by saying it would not be their responsibility to do this but that of the security services or police marshals! The drama being played out in this election makes the presidency of Francis Underwood in ‘Houses Of Cards seem like a model of calm, consensual, honest government!
Should events move in this direction it will provoke massive upheavals within the US, including armed clashes and the possible invoking of the Anti-Insurgency Act and deployment of the army. Pro-Trump right-wing militias have emerged in a number of states – with the nod or tweet of approval by Trump.
Such militias have existed before in the US. Prior to Obama’s election, it was estimated that up to fifty were in existence. Following Obama’s election, the number rose to more than 200. Today even more have been formed. In response to these and the brutal killings by the police more recently, black militias have also been formed, like the ‘Minnesota Freedom Fighters’, who see their role as “defending the community”.
The impact of such developments would be felt internationally and enormously damage the credibility of US imperialism, especially in the neo-colonial world. However, this is the nature of the period that we have now entered.
The objective situation in the US is crying out for the formation of a new mass workers’ party. The capitulation of Sanders to the Democratic Party, and his refusal to take the steps necessary to form such a party, in 2016, was a lost opportunity. The deepened social and economic crisis since then makes this task even more urgent now. An independent party of the working class would win the support of millions today. More than 50% of young people in the US now view the idea of socialism favourably. This represents a sea change in US society, even if many will not yet grasp fully what socialism is. Whereas in the past socialism was a “conversation stopper”, today it is a “conversation starter”, as Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate in the presidential elections, put it.
The understandable sentiment of millions to get Trump out and a mood of ‘lesser evilism’ in the elections will inevitably lead to a squeezing of the vote potential for Howie Hawkins’ campaign. But the need for a mass workers’ party in the US will be posed even more acutely post-election, whoever wins the presidency. Some of the forces drawn to Hawkins’ campaign, along with others, especially rank-and-file trade unionists and activists from BLM, could become a point of reference for a campaign to build a new workers’ party after the election.
The character of the populist and far-right
The polarization within US society and the absence of a mass workers’ party pose important questions of international significance about the nature of the right-wing forces which have emerged around Trump. This is part of an international process taking place in many countries. The desperate social conditions which have emerged and the absence of a mass socialist alternative have left a vacuum. The far-right and populist right in some countries have made significant inroads and increased support, mainly electorally. It is important to distinguish between the populist right parties, such as Forza Italia, in Italy, the FPÖ Freedom Party, in Austria, and National Rally, in France, and the far-right parties and organisations with a stronger fascistic element or core.
In Europe, the far-right VOX, in the Spanish state, with its origins in the fascist Falange, is now the third-largest party, with 50 seats in parliament. Its base, at the moment, is mainly amongst the middle class, security forces, and far-right Roman Catholic groups. In Italy, the fascistic Fratelli d’ Italia (Brothers of Italy) has recently won control of a second region. In Germany, the far-right populist AfD became the largest opposition party to Merkel’s coalition but has lost ground during the pandemic. The far-right parties use populist rhetoric which has been incorporated in some countries by the traditional right-wing bourgeois parties. The populist right and the far-right parties have their own features in each country but are often racked by splits and divisions when they grow.
The growth of these and other parties has been accompanied by a growth in authoritarian measures and repression by numerous governments during the COVID-19 crisis. This has been the case in the imperialist countries, like the US under Trump, and Britain under Johnson. The Tory prime minister has now introduced legislation prohibiting the use of “anti-capitalist” and “extremist” teaching in schools. His attempt to appoint right-wing supporters to head the BBC, and the state communications regulator, Ofcom, are an echo of Trump’s attempt to stack the Supreme Court with right-wing supporters.
The repressive powers enacted by these and other governments, including greater powers to the police and threats to use the army, include an element of parliamentary Bonapartist methods – of rule by decree and stripping back of parliamentary checks. This has produced open divisions within the Conservative Party and the ruling class in Britain.
In the US, Trump has largely been able to take control of the Republican Party and shift it dramatically to the right. Whilst the Republican Party has shifted to the right before, the depth of the crisis and the political characteristics of Trump gives it a different magnitude. The militias and growth of previously obscure conspiracy theory groups, such as QAnon, are measures of the desperation layers of society are being driven to as a consequence of the crisis. While not overstating its growth, QAnon is gaining influence even within the Republican Party. Whilst most Republicans are not openly endorsing it, they are drawing on it for some support, and some QAnon supporters are likely to enter Congress. There are echoes of the growth of mysticism and religious ideas around Rasputin, in Russia, prior to the revolution in 1917. This illustrates the dead-end that capitalist society now finds itself in.
Involved in some of the militias are groups like the ‘Michigan Freedom Fund’, which was created in 2012 by employers to lobby for anti-union legislation. QAnon and others have a clearly right-wing agenda. Yet some drawn to the anti-lockdown protests in the US, and elsewhere, are attracted in a confused way by opposition to the lockdown and the desperate consequences it has had on millions of workers and the poor. This is also fuelled by a lack of trust and confidence in the government, or that its measures will be effective. Forces on the far right have intervened in a populist way and got a certain echo amongst a relatively small layer, at this stage.
In the neo-colonial world, brutal repression has been enacted and even gone further. Indian Prime Minister Modi enacted a vicious, draconian wave of repression before and during the lockdown period. Sri Lanka, following the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has in place the template for a de-facto military dictatorial regime. Brazil now has more military personnel running government departments and offices than existed under the military dictatorship! In Bolivia and Ecuador, Morales and Correa have been barred from running in the forthcoming elections after spurious legal cases were taken out against them. However, it seems likely that the MAS will win the election in Bolivia, reflecting the weak social basis of the right-wing government which was installed after the de-facto coup against Morales. Whether the right-wing will accept this probable defeat is another question.
The growth of the far-right and the tendency towards more authoritarian methods of rule represent important threats to the working class and urgently pose the need for the working class to take the necessary steps to combat it. Understandably, some youth and activists see in these trends the prospect of a fascist threat similar to that which developed in the 1920s and 1930s. Some have even dubbed Trump and his supporters “fascists”. Bolsonaro, in Brazil, and Modi, in India, are often denounced as fascist. This sentiment is an understandable response from those wishing to fight these reactionary, repressive regimes.
However, in order to combat the threat posed by the far-right and the introduction of increasingly authoritarian rule, it is important for Marxists and the working class to have an accurate estimation and assessment of these regimes and developments. This does not mean underestimating their threat but being able to face up to what they represent and combat them.
Fascism in the 1920s and 30s
Fascism, as developed in the 1920s and 1930s, had very specific characteristics and objectives, although in each case it represented a special form of reaction. In the conditions which developed in the 1920s and 1930s, it rapidly acquired a mass base amongst the petty-bourgeois, most oppressed and downtrodden sections of the working class, and some demoralized workers. The term ‘fascist’ originated in Italy under Mussolini’s leadership and then developed in Germany and Spain. Fascism had a very specific objective of destroying and atomizing the organisations of the working class. As Trotsky pointed out, the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in Spain (1923-30), despite its reactionary repressive nature, was not the same as the mass fascist movements and regimes which later came to power.
Fascism arose as a consequence of the social crisis which had developed and the threat of the working class taking power. It was due to the failure of the working class in those countries to take power as a result of the wrong policies and programme of the mass workers’ parties which then existed. The social-democratic and communist parties allowed the fascists to triumph. In particular, in Germany, it was due to the refusal of the Communist and SPD leaders to form a united front to combat the fascists.
The depth of the political and social crisis, and the fear of further revolutionary explosions, meant that for the bourgeoisie in those countries, parliamentary democracy was no longer a reliable system of rule for capitalism. The capitalist class therefore eventually threw their weight and support behind the fascists and allowed them to come to power.
In Germany, the Nazi party won its strongest base of support in the rural areas and smaller towns where the working class and its parties were weaker. In general, in the large industrial areas, fascist dominance was only achieved after Hitler came to power in 1933, as a result of brutal intimidation by the state and the fascist auxiliary forces. The working-class parties still won 13 million votes in November 1932 in elections in Germany. The votes for the fascists rocketed in elections in July 1932 to 13.7 million, before falling to 11.7 million, four months later. The Nazis never won an absolute majority, in November 1932 the workers’ parties won over 1.5 million more votes than the fascists. The increase in the Nazi vote was mainly the result of the collapse of the middle-class liberals, moderate nationalists, and the unemployed into the arms of the fascists, who were desperate as a result of the economic collapse.
The ‘anti-capitalist’ slant of fascist propaganda, in both Germany and Italy, which was necessary to win support amongst those who were driven by desperation and the failure of the working-class parties to offer an alternative, was jettisoned once in power. The fascist club of the SA Stormtroopers was used to crush and atomise the working class and its organisations. However, the purge of the SA in 1934 in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ signified a change, as the dictatorship evolved into a reactionary bourgeois government. As a result, its mass base began to ebb away. The regime then rested on the effects and consequences of the victory of the fascists on political consciousness, and the fear of the repressive apparatus.
The threat of the right today – the need for a socialist alternative
In general today, the social basis for mass fascist movements, as seen in Germany, Italy, and Spain in the 1920s and 1930s, does not exist as it did then. Big layers of the previously petty bourgeois layers are in the process of being proletarianised and often politically radicalized towards the left. Moreover, the more farsighted sections of the capitalist class also have learned from history and the experience of the fascists in power. The German capitalist class paid a price for allowing the fascists to come to power. The bourgeois politicians lost power to the fascist state for a period. The ruling class paid a heavy price both economically and from defeat in the war. The prospect of such an outcome being repeated in one form or another will make the capitalist class, in general, drawback from allowing mass fascist forces come to power.
Yet this does not mean that the ruling class when threatened will not be prepared to resort to drastic measures if they have no alternative. In the 1970s throughout Latin America, they turned to rule by the sword in a series of brutal military-police dictatorships. In the main, these lacked the mass base that the fascists enjoyed, although they rested on the support especially of the middle class and lumpenised sections of the urban poor. In Chile, the Pinochet regime also enjoyed the support of a substantial fascist auxiliary, Patria y Liberdad.
Today, the scale of the economic and social crisis is having a devastating effect on sections of the middle class, and is also resulting in a mass reserve army of the unemployed in many countries. From this, it is possible that in some countries more substantial far-right or even fascistic forces can develop on a larger basis than has been seen in recent decades. These can be used as an auxiliary weapon by the ruling class against the working class. How far this develops depends on the ability of the working class and socialists to build parties and organisations which can offer an alternative. The recent emergence of far-right parties, groups, and militias is a warning to the working class.
The brutal regime of Modi in India illustrates the danger that exists in some countries. Modi leads the BJP – the largest party in the world with more than 100 million members – and is supported by the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – ‘National Volunteer Organisation’) with a fascistic large core from which Modi himself originates. The Hindu nationalist mood that his regime is whipping up, and the brutal attacks especially against Muslims and other minorities, are now being followed by savage attacks on workers’ and labour and farmers’ rights.
These developments reflect the highly polarized nature of the period we have now entered. A struggle between the elements of revolution and counter-revolution is unfolding globally. The rhythm of this conflict may vary from country to country but it is present globally. Extremely rapid changes can take place in the rhythm of the class struggle. The speed of events unfolding in this crisis is one of its central characteristics. As new social explosions erupt, we need to be prepared for new forms of organization, assemblies, and action committees to be thrown up during the struggle.
Revolutionary socialists need to be ready to intervene in developments and, where possible and relevant, initiate them. In the explosive situation which is unfolding, even small revolutionary groups can have a big impact, with audacious interventions, tactics and concrete proposals for action and struggle.
Revolutionary socialist groups and parties enter this period of upheaval with relatively small forces. However, this does not mean they will remain so. With the right tactics, strategy, slogans, programme, and audacious interventions, small organisations can experience explosive growth. They can win the most advanced and combative sections of the working class and youth who are searching for a road to escape from the dystopian era of capitalism we have now entered. A historic responsibility and opportunity confronts the CWI and revolutionary socialists to actively intervene in the stormy events which are taking place and build a more powerful socialist alternative.