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Fascism and big business, Daniel Guerin

Tuesday 10 February 2009, by Robert Paris

A PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS ILLUSION consists in regarding fascism, despite the horror it inspires, as a progressive political phenomenon – as a passing and even necessary, though painful, stage. Rash prophets have announced ten times, a hundred times, the imminent and inevitable crumbling of the fascist dictatorship in Italy or Germany under the blows of the victorious revolution. They have asserted that fascism, by driving class antagonisms to their highest degree of tension, is hastening the hour of the proletarian revolution, even going so far as to contend that the proletariat could conquer power only by passing through the hell of the fascist dictatorship. Today it is no longer possible to keep up such illusions. Events have demonstrated with tragic clearness that the moment the working class allows the fascist wave to sweep over it, a long period of slavery and impotence begins – a long period during which socialist, even democratic, ideas are not merely erased from the pediments of public monuments and libraries but, what is much more serious, are rooted out of human minds. Events have proved that fascism physically destroys everything opposing its dictatorship, no matter how mildly, and that it creates a vacuum around itself and leaves a vacuum behind it.

This extraordinary power to survive by annihilating everything except itself, to hold out against everything and everybody, to hold out for years in spite of internal contradictions and in spite of the misery and discontent of the masses – what is behind it?

Excessive Centralization

The strength of the dictatorship rests first of all in its excessive centralization. Such a regime cannot “by its very nature endure the slightest trace of federalism or autonomy. Like the Convention, like Napoleon, it must seek complete centralism, the logical consequence of its system and the necessary means to insure its permanence.” Mussolini and Hitler strengthen to the utmost the authority of the central government and suppress even the faintest trace of individualism. In Italy the powers of the provincial governors have been considerably increased.

“It must be clear,” a communication from the Duce informs them, “that authority cannot be divided ... Authority is single and unified. If it were not, we should fall back into a disorganized state.”

In Germany the seventeen “states”, whose rights to their own governments and parliaments were preserved by the Weimar Constitution, have been gradually suppressed and transformed into mere provinces of the Reich, directly administered by representatives of the central government, the Statthalter. Extolling his centralizing work, Hitler boasts of having “given the people the Constitution that will make them strong”.

Marx in his time was able to rejoice because the executive power, while becoming ever more concentrated, simultaneously concentrated against itself all the forces of destruction. And certain of our contemporaries, with a somewhat too simple conception of the dialectic, imagine that by centralizing to the utmost, fascism is working automatically for the Revolution. They would be correct if fascism did not, at the same time as it centralizes, destroy in the most radical fashion the “forces of destruction” themselves.

Fascism, in fact, has brought to the highest degree of perfection the methods of police repression used in modern states. It has made the political police a truly scientific organization. The Italian Ovra, the German Gestapo – real “states within the state”, with ramifications in all classes of society and even in every dwelling house, with enormous financial and material resources, and with limitless powers – are in a position literally to annihilate at birth every attempt at opposition wherever it appears. They can arrest at any time, “put away” on a remote island or in a concentration camp, even execute without a semblance of a trial, anyone they wish. Consequently it is possible to say that such a regime is a smooth block of granite where no hand can find a hold. Gentizon is not far from the truth, unfortunately, when he says of Italy:

“Opposition has completely disappeared ... With the system of the totalitarian state, no hostile propaganda is possible.”

And Goebbels too when he asserts:

“The enemies of the regime are completely put down; there is no longer in the whole country any opposition worthy of the name.”

Dispersal of the Working Class

Added to these methods of police repression is the state of “forced disunity, dispersion and helplessness” in which fascism keeps the working class. Certainly in neither Italy nor Germany can the regime boast of having all the proletariat with it; quite the contrary. Mussolini himself is forced to confess:

“I cannot say that I have [with me] all the workers ... They are perpetual malcontents.”

In Germany, the elections to the factory “confidential councils” have twice (April, 1934, and April, 1935) constituted a stinging defeat for the regime. According to the later admission of Dr. Ley himself, scarcely 40 per cent of the electors voted in 1934. In 1935 at least 30 per cent of the electors abstained or voted against. In 1936, 1937, and 1938 the elections were “postponed” as a precautionary measure, and in June, 1938, it was decided that the “confidential men” would no longer be “elected” but appointed by the head of the company.

This latent discontent, however, finds it almost impossible to express itself or to organize. The working class is atomized and disintegrated. It is true that protest movements have appeared here and there, but they are stifled immediately. They are restricted to isolated plants and known to few workers outside the plants where they occur; in each factory the workers believe they are alone in their resistance. Not only are the ties broken between the workers in different factories, but even inside large enterprises contacts no longer exist between the employees of the various departments, and it is very difficult to re-establish them. Even when the embryos of illegal unions are formed, with heroic efforts, they are almost always crushed in the egg.

No doubt there are militant socialists and communists who distribute illegal leaflets at the peril of their lives, but they are only an heroic and constantly decimated phalanx. The workers lose their passivity only when an event abroad reveals to them that they are not alone, that beyond the frontiers other workers are struggling. Thus the great strikes of June, 1936, in France, in spite of the care of the fascist press to minimize their importance, had a profound echo among the workers of Italy and Germany. [1]

Fascist Education

And while fascism puts its adult opponents in a position where they can do no harm, it imposes its imprint on the young and shapes them in its own mold. “The generation of the irre-concilables will be eliminated by natural laws,” Mussolini exults. “Soon the younger generation will come!” Volpe speaks lustingly of this “virgin material which has not yet been touched by the old ideologies.”

“Our future is represented by the German youth,” Hitler declares. “We will raise it in our own spirit. If the older generation cannot become accustomed to it, we will take their children from them. ...”

“We want to inculcate our principles in the children from their most tender years.”

And Goebbels asserts that as long as the youth are behind Hitler, the regime will be indestructible. At the age of four in Germany and at six in Italy, the child is taken from his family, enrolled in the militarized formations of fascism, and subjected to an intensive stuffing with propaganda. The dictatorial state puts in his hands a single newspaper, a single textbook, and educates him in an incredible atmosphere of exaltation and fanaticism.

This training accomplishes its aim. Although the regime in Germany has not been in power long enough to enable us to formulate valid conclusions, in Italy the results are tangible: “The youth can no longer even conceive of socialist or communist ideas,” Gentizon writes. A militant worker, Feroci, confirms this:

“A youth that has never read a labor paper, never attended a labor meeting, and knows nothing of socialism and communism ... that is ... what makes for the real strength of Mussolini’s regime.”

Doubtless there is something fascist education cannot stifle, and which does not need to be taught – the class instinct. No amount of propaganda will ever prevent the young worker from feeling he is exploited. Pietro Nenni, while far from claiming that the Black Shirt youth has already succeeded in freeing itself from the fascist grip, states that in Italy “many young people are socialists without knowing it and without wanting to be.” Il Maglio, the weekly paper of the fascist unionists of Turin, complains that among the youth there is a certain lack of understanding of fascist “unionism”:

“It is natural that there should be a few young people who, while recognizing that the abolition of all forms of class struggle is an absolute necessity ... still believe that labor’s material interests can be better assured by strikes and the methods of struggle used up to yesterday in labor conflicts ...”

In Germany as well, countless young people who believed literally that the Third Reich would be their state, and whom the Third Reich has condemned to forced labor, are bitterly disappointed. But it is extremely difficult for the youth in either country, in view of the mental training they are given, to get rid of the false ideas with which they are indoctrinated, to clarify their revolt, and without guidance do for themselves the work of a century of socialist action and thought. The confused awakening of their class consciousness leads some of them to the “left wing” of fascism or National Socialism; it does not make them into militant revolutionists.


Another illusion about the duration of fascism must be dispelled. Certain people try to deduce from the economic and political contradictions which have developed in the fascist regime that the days of the dictatorship are numbered. These contradictions do exist, and we have analyzed them. They are important enough possibly to bring about profound changes in the structure of the regime. But such changes can occur without the dictatorship itself collapsing.

Dissatisfaction of Big Business

A few supplementary explanations are necessary here. The fact is undeniable that the industrialists who subsidized and put fascism in power are not entirely satisfied with their own creation. In the first place the regime is terribly expensive. The maintenance of the excessive bureaucracy of the state, the party and the numerous semi-governmental bodies costs unheard-of sums and adds to the financial difficulties of the government. In their memorandum of June, 1937, to Hitler, the industrialists wrote:

“It used to be estimated that there was one functionary for every twelve persons in productive occupations. Today, if the official party organizations and the semi-official and corporative services with their functionaries and employes are included, it is estimated that there is one person on the state payroll for every eight persons in productive occupations.”

Abandoning any attempt to “estimate the amount of personal and material expenses required by the administrative machine,” the authors of the memorandum complained of the “incalculable losses arising from a lack of contact between the old and the new authorities, and the overlapping of functions between the old and new state services and the party.” [2] They wished the day would come when “in accordance with a definite principle, a final organization of the internal political apparatus of the state will be possible ...”

While the state must carry huge incidental expenses, the big capitalists themselves have to stand a certain number: “voluntary contributions” extorted by the party and its “welfare” undertakings; various subscriptions; “graft” and seats on the boards of directors of big companies for the “upper crust” of the fascist leaders, etc. But these incidental expenses, the importance of which must not be exaggerated, are less annoying to big business than the demagogic agitation indulged in by the fascist plebeians – agitation which, despite purges and repressions, periodically reappears, though within constantly narrower limits.

Again, while big business approves of an aggressive policy that brings it new armament orders, it is afraid lest the fascist leaders, in seeking a diversion from the wretchedness of the people, provoke a premature war which will result in the isolation of the country and its defeat. It is especially significant that in the autumn of 1935 it was the fascist leaders, Farinacci, Rossoni, and others, who urged Mussolini into conflict with England, while the big bourgeoisie, the General Staff, and the Crown, on the other hand, advised moderation and caution. Likewise in Germany, when Hitler decided in March, 1936, to remilitarize the Rhineland, it was the Nazi top bureaucracy – Goering, Goebbels, and others – who urged him on to the adventure, while the big capitalists and their representative, Dr. Schacht, as well as the Reichswehr Generals, were wary, not as to the act itself but as to the rash form it took. At the end of December of the same year, General von Fritsch pointed out that neither the Reich nor the German army could undertake any action that might lead to war in a short time, and he went so far as to threaten to resign his command if his expert advice was disregarded.

The Cult of the Leader

Neither does big business look without a certain amount of anxiety on the symptoms of “delusions of grandeur” displayed ever more obviously by the dictator. This development is really inevitable, for in proportion as the plebeians are eliminated and the party relegated to a secondary position, it is necessary to inflate the “Man of Destiny” all the more in order to conceal behind his person the real nature of the fascist state: a military and police dictatorship in the service of big business. It is necessary to follow Spengler’s advice:

“Nothing has meaning any more but the purely personal power exercised by the Caesar [in whom] the omnipotence of money disappears.”

Thus in Italy, the dictatorship of the fascist party has gradually given place to the personal dictatorship of the Duce. In Germany, during the last electoral campaign, “there [was] very little question of National Socialism and much – to the exclusion of almost everything else – of Herr Hitler.” But the dictator himself is taken in by this “booby-trap”. The same mishap befalls him as befell Louis Bonaparte:

“Only ... when he himself now takes his imperial role seriously ... does he become the victim of his own conception of the world, the serious buffoon, who no longer takes world history for a comedy but his comedy for world history.”

Mussolini and Hitler end by literally becoming egomaniacs. And the big capitalists must increasingly reckon with the boundless pride, the changing humor and whims, of the Duce or the Führer. This means a loss of time and has certain drawbacks.

And finally, the economic policy of fascism, however favorable to themselves it may be, is not entirely satisfactory to the big capitalists. Although they eagerly pocket the fabulous profits from armament orders, they are terrified at the possible consequences of this policy. They are haunted by the thought of a financial catastrophe. They likewise complain, as we have seen, that the “war economy” regime is constantly imposing on them more burdensome state regulations, that it is forever eating away at sacrosanct “private initiative”.

Therefore the industrialists are not wholly content, and in the minds of some of them the idea begins to germinate of throwing overboard once and for all the fascist plebeians and their leader himself, and of completing the already far-advanced transformation of the fascist totalitarian regime into a purely military dictatorship.

But they hesitate. They dare not deprive themselves entirely of the incomparable and irreplaceable means of penetrating into all cells of society which they have in the fascist mass organizations. Above all, they hesitate to deprive themselves of the services of the “Man of Destiny”, for the mystic faith in the Duce or the Führer, though declining, is not yet extinct.

“The present order in Germany,” the Temps states, “exists and continues only thanks to the popularity of the Chancellor and the faith of the German masses in Herr Hitler’s actions ...”

“The Führer is unquestionably more popular than the regime.”

The “Man of Destiny”, however much a nuisance he may be, is still necessary. Even his madness is useful; he alone can still perform the psychological miracle of turning the discontent and wretchedness of large strata of the people into enthusiasm and faith.

But most of all, the industrialists are apprehensive lest a radical change in the regime, such as they desire, should cost much bloodshed. They dread a civil war, even a short one, in which “national” forces would oppose one another; they fear nothing so much as what in Germany is called, in anticipation, a “new June 30”. Hence they hesitate.

The hypothesis is not absolutely excluded that some day they will come to feel that the advantages of a purely military dictatorship outweigh its shortcomings. But a change of this nature would not necessarily open up the way to a revolution. It is true that for the middle classes, suddenly deprived of their daily mythology, the awakening would be a cruel one, and that it would be harder, with only the aid of a military and police apparatus, to keep the proletariat enslaved. Yet the authoritarian state, strongly supported by bayonets, might still endure for a time in this new form; it might find new “mysticisms” (the nationalist mysticism, the dynastic mysticism, etc.) to keep large strata of the population under the spell; in a word, even without Mussolini or Hitler, the “strong state” might survive.


If fascism is not progressive politically, it is no more so economically – notwithstanding what certain people think. Stripped of all appearances, all the contradictions which dim its real face, all the secondary aspects which hide from so many its essential character, and all the circumstances peculiar to any one country, fascism is reduced to this: a strong state intended to prolong artificially an economic system based on profit and the private ownership of the means of production. To use the picturesque figure of Radek, fascist dictatorship is the iron hoop with which the bourgeoisie tries to patch up the broken barrel of capitalism. Here some clarification, however, is necessary: the “barrel”, contrary to what many believe, was not broken by the revolutionary action of the working class; fascism is not the “bourgeoisie’s answer to an attack by the proletariat” but rather “an expression of the decay of capitalist economy”. The barrel fell apart of its own accord.

Fascism is, to be sure, a defensive reaction of the bourgeoisie, but a defense against the disintegration of its own system far more than against any proletarian offensive – alas, non-existent. The crisis of the capitalist system itself is what shook capitalism to its foundations by drying up the sources of profit. The working class, on the other hand, paralyzed by its organizations and its leaders in the hour of the decay of capitalist economy, did not know how to take power and replace dying capitalism with socialism.

Capitalism in Decay

As to the nature of this crisis, fascism itself has no illusions.

“The crisis,” Mussolini admits, “has penetrated the system so deeply that it has become a systemic crisis. It is no longer a wound, but a chronic disease ...”

In spite of the fact that fascism demagogically promises the reabsorption of unemployment and the resumption of business, it knows perfectly well that it will not set the economic machine going again. It does not seek seriously either to bring back to life the vanished consumer, or to stimulate the long interrupted investment of private savings in production. Others are free to cherish Utopias if they wish, but fascism knows what it wants and what it can do. It merely tries to check, through artificial means, the fall in the profits of a private capitalism which has become parasitic. In spite of its verbose demagogy, it has no great designs; it lives from week to week; it aspires to nothing more than to keep alive – through wage cuts, state orders and subsidies, seizure of small savings, and autarchy – a handful of monopolists and big landowners. And in order to prolong the latters’ reign (though limiting their liberty and without insuring them their pre-depression income), it has no hesitation in hastening the ruin of all other layers of the population – wage earners, consumers, savers, working farmers, artisans, and even industrialists manufacturing consumers’ goods.

Those nai’ve people who, outside Italy and Germany, fall into the trap of fascist demagogic lies and go around saying that fascism is a “revolution,” and that fascism has “gone beyond” capitalism, are advised to study the following letter from a worker published by the Nazi daily, the Völkische Beobachter (June 7, 1936):

“Nobody concerned with economic questions will believe the capitalist system has disappeared. Although it is true that methods of public financing have assumed a different character – a character of coercion – capital, or at least what is generally understood by this word, has never been so powerful and privileged as at the present time ... The Economy accumulates enormous profits and reserves; the workers are invited to wait, and to console themselves while waiting by undergoing a whole series of preliminary conditions. The big ones make profits, and the little one receive drafts on the future. If that isn’t capitalism in the specific sense of the word, I would like to know what capitalism means ... One group is making formidable profits at the expense of the rest of the population. That is what used to be called capitalist exploitation . . .”

“This isn’t National Socialism; this is simply capitalism,” another correspondent wrote to the Völkische Beobachter on June 13. And the official organ of the Nazi party cynically replied that if the government had wanted to divide among the workers the two billions or so of big business’s increased profit, it would have placed itself “in flagrant opposition to the Economy, and its energy would have been entirely paralyzed in a struggle to maintain its position.”


Moreover, on the international plane, fascism merely aggravates the tendency of the whole capitalist system to national isolation and autarchy. By detaching the Economy from the international division of labor, by adapting the “productive forces to the Procrustean bed of the national state,” fascism brings “chaos into world relations”. For the future work of socialist planning, it creates “colossal additional difficulties”.

At the same time fascism aggravates and brings to their highest degree of tension the contradictions resulting from the uneven development of the capitalist system, and thus hastens the hour of a new division of the world by force of arms – the hour of that “relapse into barbarism” which Rosa Luxemburg foresaw in case the proletariat should be slow to fulfill its class duty and achieve socialism.

Nevertheless, it is not correct to say that fascism means war. Bela Kun not long ago attacked this self-interested lie:

“The slogan that fascism, which is one of the political forms of bourgeois rule ... means war, is designed ... only to free again and always from all responsibility one of the groups of imperialist powers that mask their war preparations under democratic forms and pacifist phrases ... The old slogan of Marxist anti-militarism – that of the revolutionary struggle against imperialist war – was differently expressed: capitalism means war.”

War is the product of the capitalist system as a whole. Tomorrow’s war will not find the democracies opposing the dictatorships. Behind ideological pretexts, imperialist realities are concealed. Tomorrow’s war will find the satisfied nations, who long ago got their “places in the sun” and divided the planet among themselves through blood and iron, opposing the “proletarian” nations – the late-comers who also demand their share in the feast, if need be through blood and iron. One group is ready to make war to force a new division of the world; the other is ready to make war to prevent this division. This is an elementary truth that can never be repeated too often in these troubled times when, for many people, anti-fascism has become synonymous with chauvinism. Fascism must be fought not from the outside by imperialist war but from within by proletarian class struggle. There is only one way to put an end to Mussolini and Hitler: that is to help the Italian and German workers to fight at home. And how can they be helped? By example! By fighting in our own countries!


1. On April 18, 1937. Rudolf Hess made a violent anti-communist speech at Karlsruhe, which the Berlin correspondent of Information commented on as follows:

“Inside Germany this speech tends to put a stop to the discussions which have arisen among the popular masses of the Reich, despite the censorship, as a result of the promulgation of the forty-hour law and new social laws by the Blum cabinet.”

2. “All the chief administrative bodies of the state,” the Berlin correspondent of the Temps hat observed, “are duplicated, so to speak, by the organs of the National Socialist Party ... The party penetrates into the Ministries, but it also preserves, on the fringes of the traditional administrative bodies, its own organs ...”


Daniel Guerin

Fascism and Big Business was begun in 1934 shortly after February 6, and appeared in July 1936. Was it necessary to reprint the book in its present form or continue the investigation to the start of 1945?

The date on which we stopped writing was undoubtedly premature. The phenomenon of fascism was then still in the full course of development (above all in Germany). Certain of its traits had not yet been sufficiently revealed. It was necessary to probe further.

But perhaps there was an impediment in probing too extensively. The object of this book, if we can so express it, is the study of fascism in its pure form. Our purpose was not to write the contemporary history of Italy and Germany; but to better understand, with the aid of parallel observations of these two countries, the essential nature of fascism. [1]

For, after 1939, the phenomenon of fascism tends to become confounded with the great upheaval of the imperialist. war. Nothing so resembles a country at war as another country at war. The characteristic traits of fascism are, in large part (not completely) blurred by those now familiar traits, namely, universally unloosed militarism and war economy. Undoubtedly a materialist explanation of the war should be undertaken as well as the materialist explanation of fascism. But whoever embraces too much grasps too little. We leave this task to others. [2] We have consciously limited the scope of this work to the study of the phenomenon of fascism by itself.

An objection might perhaps be raised that fascism and war are inseparable, that the present war is the monstrous product of fascism. But that’s precisely what we deny. There is, certainly, a direct link between war and fascism. They grow out of the same dungheap; they are, each in its own way, the monstrous products of the capitalist system in decline. They both flow from the fundamental vice of the system: first, the incompatibility between the tremendous development of the productive forces, and private ownership of the means of production: second, the partitioning of the world into national states. They both aspire, by different roads, to break the iron ring of the contradictions in which this system is henceforth enclosed. They both aim to restore endangered capitalist profits. Finally, both of these phenomena, while aiming to prolong the system, actually hasten the heur of its collapse. Moreover, beyond these general ties, a more direct interconnection can be observed between fascism and war in Italy and in Germany: because these two countries lack raw materials and markets, because they are in the category of “hungry nations” as opposed to the “sated” nations, the crisis in which the whole capitalist system is convulsed takes on in their case a particularly acute character, and imposes upon them, in advance of the others, a “strong state.” They act as “aggressive” powers with the aim of seizing part of the plunder from the “sated” nations. They aim at a new division of the world by force of arms, while their adversaries, opposing this redivision, assume the attitude of “peace-loving” powers.

Fascism and war

Thus fascism and war are, to be sure, related. But the relationship is not one of cause and effect. Eliminate fascism (assuming that could be done) and the causes of rivalries and of imperialist wars will not in the least thereby be eliminated. For four years, from 1914 to 1918, two groups of great powers fought over possession of the world market. In neither camp was there a “fascist” country. In reality, fascism and war are both the effects, different effects, of the same cause: though the two phenomena criss-cross, though, at times, they seem to be confounded with each other (and every conscious effort is made to confuse them) still each has a distinct existence and demands a separate study.

The study of the phenomenon of fascism should be continued beyond 1936. But, aside from a few additional facts, some confirmations and dotting of the i’s, we have not believed it necessary – for the reason indicated above – to bring the investigation up to date. That is why we have adopted a compromise: we have taken as a basis for the present reprint, the text of the American translation which appeared at the beginning of 1939 under the title of Fascism and Big Business. This translation was made with the aid of documentation up to the end of 1938. The original text was then very carefully revised (above all in that which concerns Germany). We confine ourselves merely to adding to it several corrections which seem indispensable at the beginning of 1945.

Do the events since 1939 cast a new light on the phenomenon of fascism? At the risk of disappointing the reader, we reply in the negative. At the risk of appearing presumptuous or of clinging to outlived positions, we will say that the events of these last years, in our opinion, do not modify to any marked degree the conclusions of our book. The only thing that fascism has brought, since 1939, is renewed proof of its barbarism. But who can be surprised at this, after witnessing the manner in which it crushed the Italian and German proletariat before crushing Europe? And can this barbarism which is “fascist” in its most hideous traits, be considered solely “fascist”? The whole war is barbarous.

Apart from that, the war and the German occupation, by giving us the opportunity to observe the phenomenon more closely, taught us, as we had already suspected, that the fascist regime, despite its “totalitarian” pretensions is not homogeneous. It never succeeded in dissolving into one single alloy the different elements of which it was composed. Its different wheels did not function without friction. Despite Hitler’s attempts for several years to find a compromise formula between the party and the army, the Wehrmacht on the one hand, and the Gestapo and the SS on the other, continued their cat and dog fight. Behind this conflict is a class question. The fascist regime, despite appearances, appearances that it delighted in maintaining, never domesticated the bourgeoisie. When we upheld the thesis several years ago, that fascism is an instrument of big business, it was objected that in Italy as in Germany (in Germany above all) big business marches in step. This is not exactly true. The bourgeoisie remained an autonomous force, pursuing its own ends in the totalitarian state. It made others don the brown shirt, for the Hitler bands were indispensable to crush the proletariat, but thus far it has not donned the brown shirt itself (or, if it has, it was only for the gallery). Hermann Rauschning led us into error with his thesis according to which the ruling class was eliminated by the Nazi plebeians, people who respected nothing, “nihilists.” Undoubtedly there have been individual cases where big capitalists have been ill-treated or forced to emigrate. But big business, taken as a whole, was not engulfed by the brown tide. Quite the contrary.

Army and the Regime

At all times the army is the instrument par excellence of the ruling class. The relative independence of the army with regard to the regime, its refusal to permit itself to be thoroughly nazified, makes clear the autonomy of big business (and the big landlords) towards the fascist regime, its refusal to be brought into line. We will be told: Hitler dealt some secret blows within his General Staff; insubordinate generals were successively eliminated. No doubt; but this continual “purge” was only a confirmation of the resistance that the army, backed by the big bourgeoisie, put up against complete nazification.

But what about July 20, what about those generals, those big capitalists, those country squires who were hung or shot, following the attempted assassination of Hitler? July 20, 1944, in Germany, just like July 25, 1943, in Italy (the day that Marshall Badoglio and the King had Mussolini arrested) carries striking proof that the capitalist ruling class was never absorbed by the self-styled totalitarian state. After subsidizing fascism and pushing it into power, the bourgeoisie tolerated, in spite of minor inconveniences, the overrunning of the state by the Nazi plebs: this conformed to its interests. But from the day when it appeared that the inconveniences of the regime outweighed the advantages the bourgeoisie, with the support of the army, did not hesitate to throw it overboard. As early as 1936, in the conclusions of our book, we set forth this hypothesis. The move succeeded in Italy. It has failed, for the time being, in Germany. But since the attempted assassination of July 20, Hitler is virtually finished. Big business, the top circles of the army, do not follow him any longer. [3] He only survives artificially by means of unheard of terror that the police and Himmler’s SS exercise within the very midst of the army and the population as a whole. He survives only because the plans for the dismemberment of Germany, agitated from abroad, have aroused in the masses, a desperate reflex of the instinct of self-preservation. The regime, although abandoned by the people, has been able to take momentary advantage of this. He survives only because the ruling class fears to let loose open civil war in the midst of total foreign war. This last episode proves that the redoubtable instrument of repression forged by fascism can prolong the life of the latter for a moment, even after it has been abandoned by big business. The bullet destined for the workers can also serve to make a hole in the skin of a few capitalists. But not for long. No political regime can govern against the class which holds the economic power. Although it may not please some naive people, the old laws which have always governed the relations of classes, have not failed this time either. Fascism has not suspended them, as with a wave of the magic wand. The link between fascism and big business is so intimate that the day when big business withdraws its support is the beginning of the end for fascism.

Fundamental Thesis

From our fundamental thesis, according to which fascism is essentially the instrument of heavy industry, certain people wish to infer today that it would suffice, in Germany, to confiscate heavy industry to extirpate every germ of fascism. We strongly protest against this false and tendentious deduction. Undoubtedly, heavy industry is the most aggressive, the most reactionary segment of capitalism. It incontestably subsidized and then hoisted to power the fascist bands. But the “confiscation” of its wealth would not suffice (quite the contrary) to resolve the contradictions in which the whole of German capitalism is struggling. Furthermore, who will profit from this confiscation? “The majority of shares, it is said, would inevitably fall into the hands of the Allies.” This is the clue. What’s involved here is not a matter of political cleansing aimed at destroying the germs of fascism, but an attempt of the Anglo-American powers to strangle their German competitor. Not long ago, for similar motives, the industrial region of the Ruhr was occupied by the troops of Poincairé. This action, as is well-known, served as a springboard for National Socialism. Only the proletarian revolution can free the world once and for all from the Hitlerite nightmare.

We pointed out, in the conclusion of this book, fascism’s extraordinary will to endure. The desperate tenacity with which it defends itself today, although knowing itself lost, evidently surpasses all expectations. Nevertheless the phenomenon is comprehensible if one remembers that fascism is not only an instrument at the service of big business, but, at the same time a mystical upheaval of the pauperized and discontented petty-bourgeoisie. Although a large part of the middle class who had helped fascism to power is cruelly deceived today, such is not the case with the militant sector. There are many playboys and corrupt people in the enormous bureaucratic apparatus of the Fascist state, but there are also some real fanatics. These not only defend their social position, even their lives, in defending the regime, they also defend an idea to which they firmly cling to the death. (Let us note in passing: it is not by brute force, much less foreign bayonets, that one loses faith. Only the powerful wind of the proletarian revolution in Germany would be able to clear their brains.)

Fascism, in the countries where it attained power, stands a chance of surviving for another reason: in its decline, as at its birth, it owes much to the complacence of its “adversaries”: the “democratic” state which succeeded it remains completely infected with the fascist virus (just as the “democratic” state which had preceded it was entirely infected with the fascist virus). The “purge” is nothing but a shameful comedy, because to really disinfect the bourgeois state, it is necessary to destroy it. The administrative tops, the army, the police, the judiciary remains staffed with auxiliaries and accomplices of the former regime, the same personnel for the most part who, a short time ago, delivered the keys of power to fascism. In Italy, Marshall Badoglio is the man who once placed the cadres and resources of the army at the disposition of the “black shirts.” Who can be surprised if, as Mussolini’s successor, he lets the Duce escape from prison? Bonomi, in 1921-1922, knowingly paved the way for fascism. Who can be surprised if in 1945, under his government, with the complicity of his functionaries, the fascist general Roatta succeeded in escaping? When will the complacent Bruening return to Germany? Only the revolutionary proletariat will be able to nail to the wall the fascist bandits and their accomplices without any delays or hesitation. [4]

Fascism’s New Forms

After its downfall as the political regime, fascism appears to borrow entirely new forms. It seems to have learned much from the tactics adopted by the Resistance movement in the occupied countries. It studies the lessons of the Maquis. Already, the fascists in Germany are organizing themselves for future underground struggle. It is possible that we shall see something of this kind even in France. Perhaps we are not as fully rid of the bands of Doriot and Darnand as we thought. Can such undertakings be successful? The problem is not technical, it is political. The Maquis owed their success above all to the fact that they were supported by a part of the population. Insurgent fascism could not stand up against a powerful movement of anti-fascist and revolutionary masses. But if such a mass movement does not develop or if other factors (of which we will speak a little further on) push a part of the middle classes and peasantry back towards reaction, then underground fascism could become a real danger.

Perhaps in the conclusions of this book, there is a point which has not been sufficiently stressed: the underground development of the class struggle beneath the fascist lid. We stressed, and it was necessary to stress, the formidable methods employed by the totalitarian regimes to break up, to “atomize” the movement of the working class, to scientifically track it down, if one can so express it, and to destroy in the embryo every form of opposition. But gradually and to the extent that the fascist lid is lifted, we perceive that beneath it, the class struggle, supposedly destroyed forever, continues right on its way. As we are writing these lines, Northern Italy has not yet been liberated. But we have already heard many echoes of the extraordinary fighting power displayed in these last years by the workers of Milan, of Turin, within the great industrial combines on which the red flag waved in 1920. More than twenty years of fascist dictatorship have not succeeded in changing the Italian worker.

In Germany, the grip of the regime and the police terror have been infinitely stronger. But, in spite of the savage muzzling of the German people [5], we find once more traces of a revolutionary vanguard, especially in the concentration camps and the prisons. Fascism has not halted humanity’s continuous march toward emancipation. It has only delayed it temporarily, if at all.

Is it necessary to reissue this book at the moment when the fate of Mussolini and Hitler would appear to discourage their imitators in other countries? Outside of its retrospective interest, does it retain its timeliness?

Re-reading it, we are impressed with the fact that its real subject is socialism much more than it is fascism. For what is fascism, at bottom, but the direct product of the failure to achieve socialism? Behind fascism, the shadow of socialism is ceaselessly present. We have only studied the first in relation to the second. More than once, in the course of these pages, fascism has served us simply as a counterpoint with which to define better by contrast certain essential aspects of socialism. When, as we hope, the day comes in which nothing remains of fascism but a bad memory, this book will remain an attempt to contrast socialism to what was, at one time, its most redoubtable opponent. On this score perhaps Fascism and Big Business will not become outdated too quickly.

A Widespread Illusion

But, as a matter of fact, is it really certain that the fascist epidemic has been definitively checked? We can only hope so, but we cannot at all be certain of it. It is a widespread illusion that the defeat of “The Axis” sounds the death knell of fascism in the entire world. Fascism, if you will pardon us for repeating it, is not a product that is specifically Italian or specifically German. It is the specific product only of decaying capitalism, of the crisis of the capitalist system which has become a permanent one. It has a double origin in the determination of big business to revive the profit mechanism by exceptional measures and in the revolt of the pauperized and despairing middle classes. In the aftermath of this second world war, capitalism in Europe will be convulsed with far greater contradictions which will differ in their acuteness from those that followed the last world war. It will need a “strong state” to survive. “Controlled economy,” this rickety expedient which it can no longer dispense with, is incompatible with “democratic” politics. It requires a stable central power which is not subject to the control of the masses. “Controlled economy” is not specifically fascist; it exists, in varying degrees, in all countries. But it accommodates itself much better to fascist regimes than to “democratic” regimes.

On the other hand, the tremendous impoverishment of large sections of the middle classes (much more advanced than that observed in Italy and in Germany in the period “between the two wars”) will create a state of profound social instability. Big business could very well, once again, bring to its feet the petty bourgeoisie driven to frenzy, arm them, inspire them with fanaticism, if, unfortunately, the worker’s parties prove incapable, once again, of showing them another way out.

Let us turn our attention also to the youth. Our young rebels have gotten into the habit of living outside the law; they have been shaped by the grim and extraordinary experiences of the Maquis. Today, they experience some difficulty and distaste in readapting themselves to prosaic “normal life.” The inglorious conclusion of the Resistance struggle plunges them, moreover, into discouragement and doubt. Let us not forget that, following the armistice of 1918, the volunteer corps of world war veterans, for similar psychological reasons, provided Mussolini and Hitler with their first recruits. Beware!

Foreign Aid

Fascism, moreover, can secure support abroad. The big “democracies” do not always tell the truth. They fought Hitler, not, as they claim today, because of the authoritarian and brutal form of the National Socialist regime, but because German imperialism, at a given moment, dared to dispute with them the hegemony of the world. It has been too generally forgotten that Hitler was hoisted to power with the blessings of the international bourgeoisie. During the first years of his rule, Anglo-American capitalism from the British aristocracy to Henry Ford, gave him, according to all evidence, their support. They viewed him as “the strong man,” who alone was capable of reestablishing order in Europe and saving the continent from Bolshevism. [6] Only much later, when the capitalists of the “democratic” countries found their interests, their markets, their sources of raw materials menaced by the irresistible expansion of German imperialism, did they start to preach against National Socialism, to denounce it as “immoral” and “un-Christian.” And, even then, there were capitalists and princes of the Church, who, more anxious to ward off the “red peril” than the German peril, remained partial towards the policeman of Europe.

Today the big “democracies” proclaim themselves “antifascist.” That’s the word they’re always mouthing. In reality, anti-fascism became necessary as a platform for them to overcome their German competitor. They could not gain the full allegiance of the popular masses in the struggle against Hitlerism solely by exalting national sentiment. Despite all appearances, we are no longer in the age of national wars. The struggle of the classes, the social war, dominates our epoch. The toiling masses could not have been brought to sacrifice themselves to liberate Europe unless sentiments of a social order were aroused in them, unless an appeal was made to their class instinct. They were told that it was necessary to finish off fascism. And as they understood more or less clearly, that Fascism is the exacerbated form of detested capitalism, they consented to all sacrifices. The Parisian barricades of the end of August 1944, the exploits of the various Maquis, will live as admirable examples of proletarian devotion.

But tomorrow the big “democracies” may very well put anti-fascism back on the shelf. Already, this magic word, which inspired the workers to rise up against Hitlerism, is considered by them undesirable as soon as it becomes the rallying point of the adversaries of the capitalist system. Already in Belgium and Greece, the Allies did not hesitate to brutally crush the very resistance movement which they had been only too happy to utilize for their own purposes. To reestablish “order,” they will sooner or later be compelled (as is already the case in Greece) to find points of support in the midst of the liberated populations. Against the people’s vanguard they will support formations of a clearly fascist character. Naturally they will be baptised with another name, for the word fascist is definitively “played out.” But, under the new label, the old merchandise will remain the same. It is to be expected that, tomorrow, the Allies will see in a neo-fascism more or less camouflaged, a guarantee against the “chaos” and “anarchy” rising in Europe; that is to say, against the proletarian revolution.

Big business, native as well as Anglo-American, will of course hesitate, in one country or another, to hand over the power to fascism (the distasteful experiences of Italy and Germany will undoubtedly make them somewhat cautious on this score) but it is quite likely that it will at least utilize the fascist gangs as anti-labor militias. In short, fascism, by whatever name it is called, will remain the reserve army of decaying capitalism.

The Basic Conclusion

Thus our basic conclusion is seen to be confirmed by the most recent developments, namely, that fascism, outgrowth of the failure to achieve socialism, can be effectively fought and vanquished definitively only by the proletarian revolution.

The evil cannot be warded off by palliatives and patch-work. The world tosses about in chaos and the intervention of the “strong state” is made necessary because the capitalist abscess has immeasurably prolonged itself. The abscess can not be removed except by the surgical intervention of the proletariat. Outside of this radical solution there is no salvation; all “anti-fascism” that rejects it is but vain and deceitful babbling. The misfortune is that we have permitted the bourgeois-democrats to seize hold of anti-fascism. These gentlemen fear the fascist knout for their own skins, but they fear the proletarian revolution at least as much. They conjured up a bastard solution to reconcile these two fears, that of the “Popular Fronts.” The “Popular Fronts” declaim against fascism but without taking a single thoroughgoing measure to attack its material roots. They refrain from laying a hand on capitalism despite their demagogic tirades against the “two hundred families,” against the “trusts,” and, an even graver crime, by their economic and social policies, they deepen the causes of friction between the proletariat and the middle classes; and thus they push the latter towards the very fascism from which they pretend to divert them.

The fascist menace has made many people discover the problem of the middle classes. Only recently, the parties of the left saw in them only an easy, faithful and stable electoral clientele. But from the day when it was demonstrated that in the course of their oscillations, amplified by the economic crisis, the middle classes could enter the opposite camp, that they could be seized with collective madness, that they could don the fascist uniform, these same parties have known the anguish of the mother hen menaced with losing her chicks; the question has become an obsession with them – how to retain the middle classes? Unfortunately, they have understood nothing (nor do they wish to understand anything) of the problem. We must apologize for only having, in this book, skimmed the surface of this problem. In effect, the logic of our analysis has led us less to research concerning how socialism could have been able to turn the middle classes away from fascism than to showing why and how it, fascism, succeeded in conquering them. The reader will therefore permit us a brief digression here.

The middle classes and the proletariat have common interests against big business. But there is more involved than common interests. They are not “anti-capitalist” in the same fashion. Undoubtedly the bourgeoisie exploits, sharpens at will these differences of interests, but it does not create them out of the whole cloth. It is therefore impossible to bring together the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie around a common program which will completely satisfy both. One of the two parties must make concessions. The proletariat, naturally, can agree to some. Whenever possible, it must see that the blows it directs against big business do not strike at the same time the small investors, artisans, merchants, peasants. But on certain essential points, it must remain intransigent, for if it yields on these points in order to retain influence over the middle classes, to reassure the small shopkeepers or peasants, it would renounce dealing capitalism the decisive blows. And every time that it failed in its mission to destroy capitalism, every time it has not pushed its advantage right to the end, the middle classes, caught between menacing big business and an aggressive working class, have become enraged and turned toward fascism.

Revolutionary Action

In short, the proletariat cannot win over the middle classes by renouncing its own socialist program. The proletariat must convince the middle classes of its capacity to lead society onto a new road; by the strength and firmness of its revolutionary action. But it is precisely this that the inventors of the “Popular Fronts” do not wish to understand. They have but one idea in their heads: to catch the middle classes on bait-hooks, and they do this with so much skill that they eventually throw them back towards the fascist bait.

When they face the dilemma, fascism or socialism, these rabbit-skinned democrats get red with anger. What right has anyone to disturb the pure waters of their “anti-fascism”? But the day comes when (such was the sad fate of some among them) they themselves succumb to the fascist knout. Let us honor their memory while denouncing their bankruptcy.

Anti-fascism cannot triumph as long as it drags along as the tail to the kite of bourgeois democracy. Beware of “anti” formulas. They are always inadequate because they are purely negative. One cannot conquer a principle except by opposing to it another principle – a superior principle. The world of today, in the midst of its convulsions, is not only looking for a form of property that corresponds to the collective character and the gigantic scale of modern production; it seeks also a form of government capable of substituting a rational order for chaos, while liberating man. Bourgeois parliamentarianism offers only a caricature of democracy, ever more impotent and more corrupt. Deceived and disheartened, the world turns towards the strong State, the heaven-sent man, towards the “leader principle.” On the plane of ideas, Fascism will be defeated only on that day when we present to humanity and when by example we shall make triumphant a new form of government of men, an authentic democracy, complete, direct, in which all the producers take part in the administration of things. This new type of democracy is not a chimera, an invention of the spirit. It exists. The great French Revolution – as we will demonstrate in another work – let us hear its first birth cries. The Commune of 1871 was the first attempt at its application, as Marx and Lenin have shown in a masterly manner. The Russian Soviets of 1917 provided the model to the world in unforgettable fashion. Since then, Soviet democracy has gone through a prolonged eclipse in Russia itself, for reasons too numerous to outline here. This eclipse coincides with the rise of Fascism.

Today fascism lies crippled. We will give it the finishing blow by proving in action that true democracy, democracy of the Commune or soviet type, is viable and superior to all other types of government of men. All Power to the Soviets, said Lenin. Mussolini shamefully caricatured this slogan, making of it the slogan of the totalitarian state: all power to fascism.

The totalitarian state is a tottering monster. We shall be forever rid of it by assuring the triumph of the antithesis: the Republic of the Workers’ Councils.

Footnotes 1. It has been objected that this book is somewhat schematic. We are not certain that this criticism is well founded. It would be if we had proposed to press into the same mould the evolution of the two countries studied, without taking into account their dissimilarities in every domain. Such was not our purpose. In confining ourselves to their common traits which are specifically the traits of the phenomenon of fascism, we never intended to depict Italian Fascism and German National Socialism as strictly identical. We have proceeded no differently than physicians who, on the basis of specific observations, noted in respect to dissimilar patients, establish the same general symptoms of a given disease.

2. Cf. Henri Claude: From The Economic Crisis To The World War, 1929-1939, an attempt at a materialist explanation of modern war.

3. “Since the attempted assassination, Hitler knows that ... the nobility and the military caste, the big industrialists, the bankers ... are against him.” Extract from an account of the July 20 attempt, by Mr. Lochner, Associated Press war correspondent, published in Le Monde, Mach 21, 1945.

4. The execution of Mussolini by the red partisans, an event which occurred after this preface was already written, confirms our thesis. As was to be expected, this resort to direct action displeased “the right kind” of people.

5. Not only the repression of the Gestapo, but also the mobilization of all able-bodied men, the dispersion in the country of the population of the destroyed urban and industrial centers, the systematic efforts of the Allies to prevent the revolution in Germany even at the price of dragging out the monstrous slaughter, the bludgeoning effects of the defeat, the desperate flight before the Red Army, which spoke in terms of vengeance and not of liberation, all these factors have contributed to demoralize and to momentarily paralyze the German proletariat. But perhaps certain people rejoice too soon at its present apathy. – (End of May, 1945.)

6. Note: It is also forgotten that the “upper crust” of Paris, London and New York paraded before the Palazza Venetia to cast admiring looks at the Caesar who had made the trains run on time.

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