The Guardian September 12, 2001


The origins and variants of fascism

The following article is taken from Essays on Fascism by Kurt 
Gossweiler. It has been translated from the German for The Guardian 
by Vera Butler.

1. Transition to Monopoly Capitalism as the Precondition for the Development of Fascism. Long before it became possible to speak of fascism, Marxists considered the question of what new political features would be associated with the transition of free competition capitalism to monopoly capitalism. The question was what political changes would take place when the economic basis of bourgeois society changed? Before Lenin's Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism was published, the most noteworthy Marxist work on this subject matter was Rudolf Hilferding's analysis of Finance Capital, published in 1910. What Hilferding discovered in terms of new economic, political, and ideological tendencies in the development of capitalism (at a time when he had not yet become the theoretician of the revisionist teaching about "organised capitalism" but was still a Marxist), became incorporated freed from mistakes and errors in Lenin's theory of imperialism. Hilferding recognised emerging tendencies whose full scope only surfaced under fascism. Today it is doubly important to recall Hilferding's statements at the time. Firstly, they prove emphatically the inseparable connection between imperialism and fascism; secondly, a comparison of Hilferding the Marxist with the revisionist creator of the theory of a crisis proof "organised capitalism", shows that the transition from Marxism to revisionism is identical with the inability to develop a scientific analysis of society, and the scientific anticipation of future developments. In the present discussion about the origins of fascism the following points made by Hilferding are especially important, because they refute all those arguments which deny the imperialist origin of fascist ideology and, instead, consider it to be a creation of the petty bourgeoisie. Hilferding wrote: "Finance capital does not want freedom, but dominance; only in order to take on competition from a higher rung of the ladder. But in order to achieve this, to preserve its overwhelming power and expand it further, [finance capital] needs the state, which ensures its command of the domestic market by way of import duties and tariff policies. "Ultimately it needs a powerful state which can promote its financial interests abroad and utilise its political power... A state which can intervene everywhere in the world in order to transform the entire world into an investment sphere for its finance capital. "Finally, finance capital needs a state which is powerful enough to pursue expansionary policies and acquire new colonies ... in this way the unbridled politics of power becomes a prerequisite of finance capitalism." Hilferding demonstrates how the economically driven politics of expansionism also revolutionised the worldview of the bourgeoisie: "The ideal of peace vanishes, in lieu of the humanitarian ideal there appear the ideals of state size and state power ... the goal is now to secure for one's own nation dominance over the world a goal which is as boundless as capital's striving after profits, which was at its origin ... "This goal now becomes an economic necessity, because all falling-behind reduces the profit of finance capital lowers its competitive ability, and finally turns the smaller economic territory into a dependence of the bigger one ... "Racial ideology, hidden behind a scientific cloak, justifies finance capital's striving for power. An oligarchic concept of dominance has replaced the democratic ideal of equality ... At the same time the growing power of workers strengthens the determination of capital to further the powers of the state as a security against the demands of the proletariat. Hence the ideology of imperialism emerges victorious over the liberal ideals of old." Lenin, who considered Hilferding's work to be a "most valuable theoretical study" regardless of certain weaknesses, deepened the understanding of imperialism's political traits. In his main work Lenin wrote that "reaction throughout, and worsening national oppression, are part of the specific features of imperialism", because, he said, "imperialism is the epoch of finance capital and of monopolies which seek dominance, not freedom ... " Elsewhere, in the same year 1916, Lenin was even more emphatic: "The political superstructure of new economics of monopoly capitalism ... is the turning away from democracy towards political reaction. Free competition is democratic. Monopoly means political reaction." Once monopoly has developed, it strives for exclusive power not just economically, but also politically. This is the result of the objective necessity of securing accumulation, as the condition for the survival of the giant monopoly in the competitive struggle. It is not just a question of achieving 'normal', average profits, but extra profits, monopoly profits. Monopoly profit is achieved at the cost of the entire society. However, bourgeois democracy and bourgeois parliamentarism still enable the non- monopolistic classes and strata to defend themselves albeit in limited fashion against the increased exploitation and robbery by finance capital and its allies, the landed estate owners. Hence there is a propensity to eliminate such impediments by abandoning parliamentary democracy and establishing their own, unhindered and overt dictatorship, whatever its name. According to Palmiro Togliatti, "It is not possible to determine the essence of fascism without knowing imperialism ... Lenin will give you the answer, it is outlined in his works about imperialism."1 The relationship between imperialism and fascism shows that the Marxist- Leninist theory of fascism must be part of the Marxist-Leninist theory of imperialism. The analysis of fascism requires the investigation of the connection between imperialism's economics and politics and their effects on capitalist society under specific historical conditions, as will be discussed. The correctness of this approach is evidenced by the fact that Lenin's description of monopoly capital's political features was to be confirmed by the rise of fascism and its entire history. Fascism as a political movement, and especially fascism in power, showed itself to be the pinnacle of imperialist striving for domination and force, for reaction throughout; whilst the allegedly petty-bourgeois ideology of fascism, and its pseudo-revolutionary stance, proved to be no more than make-believe, to deceive the petty-bourgeois and proletarian victims of fascist-imperialist rule. Hence the transition from the capitalism of free competition to monopoly capitalism created the economic foundation and, thereby, the first and most important precondition for the emergence of fascism. The resultant propensity of the financial oligarchy towards reaction and force, its hostility against democracy (which is intrinsic to imperialism), and the aggressive striving for unlimited power, was the first seed of fascism. However, it was only after World War I and the victory of the October Revolution that these imperialist goals acquired a fascist face that is, after capitalism entered the stage of its general crisis. It follows that next to the transition of capitalism to its imperialist stage, the onset of the general crisis was the precondition for the rise of fascism. In this sense fascism can be described as the "product of capitalism in crisis". 2. The General Crisis of Capitalism as the immediate precondition for the rise of fascism. The general crisis of capitalism, which emerged after World War I as the unavoidable result of the sharpening of imperialist contradictions, is a crisis of the entire capitalist social system.2 The victory of the socialist revolution in Russia in October (November) 1917 confirmed as well as deepened the general crisis. This victory showed that capitalism had entered its final stage, which encompasses a long historical period, but regardless of all detours bears the trait of capitalism's defeat by socialism in the course of a bitter, worldwide class struggle. The fall of the Russian bourgeoisie demonstrated to the bourgeoisie of the entire world that the working class is capable of victory over capitalism and of establishing a new order. The reaction of monopoly capitalism to this historical experience was and remains contradictory. On the one hand the hitherto despised social-democratic reformism, which was barely credited capable of governing, was now seen as a welcome bulwark against revolution; it now became part of capitalism's mechanism of dominance and oppression. On the other hand, fear of revolution generated the determination not merely to clamp down on the workers' movement, but to destroy it. All told, systemic hostility to democracy increased. Thus the revolutionary events which followed upon the victory of the October revolution in many countries showed that the arsenals for struggle against the working class were inadequate at a point of time when the imperialist bourgeoisie was under direct challenge and facing an entirely new situation. Hence the search set in for a new kind of organisation, a new kind of weapon that was to suit the military as well as the political struggle against the revolutionary working class. The response to this acute need of the ruling class was fascism. Therefore Togliatti described the fascist party as "a bourgeois party of a special kind ... a 'new type' of party which corresponds to the conditions of capitalist disintegration as well as the epoch of proletarian revolution."3 The main function of such a party and its methods of struggle were predetermined by the needs of the ruling class, long before it actually emerged, and before it was conceptualised or named. Its main function was to act as a militant protective force for capital in the epoch of the worldwide life-or-death struggle between capitalism and socialism. The main approach to the struggle was a combination between a civil war- like terror against the workers' movement and the winning of mass support by way of demagogical propaganda and agitation. Hence fascism was the answer to the need of the imperialist bourgeoisie for a political force which would enable it to get out of its historical defensive in the struggle against socialism and to regain the offensive. The goal was to 'make the world whole again' by way of reestablishing the unconstrained and unchallenged rule of imperialism across the globe after liquidating the communist parties and the Soviet Union proper. Yet the conditions for the rise of fascism were not only determined by the need of the imperialist bourgeoisie for a weapon against the proletariat, but also in response to its need for an organisation that would be capable of tearing away a considerable sector of the working class from the Marxist-oriented, internationalist workers' movement and link it permanently to its own, openly imperialist politics. The problem of "nationalising the working class" became a leading issue for the ruling class in those countries where the idea of the proletarian revolution had found its loudest echo and that, among the bigger imperialist countries, were Germany and Italy. In summary it is possible to identify the main preconditions for the emergence of fascism as a new political weapon of the bourgeoisie in its struggle against the working class: 1. The transition from the capitalism of free competition to monopoly capitalism, and the consequent effort of the monopoly bourgeoisie to equally monopolise political power. This required the demise of bourgeois democracy and its replacement by a form of governance that would ensure unchallenged command over the political mechanism of [state] power. 2. The beginning of capitalism's general crisis in World War I, the victory of the October Revolution, the world-wide rise of the proletarian and anti- imperialist revolutionary movement, prompted the search by the most reactionary circles of monopoly bourgeoisie for new instruments that would ensure the security and stability of its rule. It was necessary to suppress and destroy the revolutionary movement and to liquidate the source of world revolution the Soviet Union. 3. The victory of counter-revolution over both the proletarian- revolutionary and the revolutionary-democratic movements outside the Soviet Union was achieved with the help of social democracy, as was the stabilisation of the rule of finance capital. Therefore fascism contains both offensive and defensive elements which reflect the aspirations of the imperialist bourgeoisie. It would be a mistake to interpret fascism merely as a sign of capitalist weakness, just as much as it would be an unjustified error to see it solely as a sign of capitalist strength and power consciousness. Fascism always contains both elements, but in a variety of 'mixes' and, consequently, every single case has to be most carefully analysed in terms of the respective class relativities, if fascism is to be successfully challenged.
* * *
From Kurt Gossweiler 1988.Aufsaetze zum Faschismus [Essays on Fascism] Vols I & II Cologne: Paul Rugenstein Publishers. 1 Togliatti, Palmiro, Lectures on Fascism, Frankfurt/. 1973, p.9 2 Galkin, A A The Ideology of Fascism and Neo-Fascism, in Sowjetwissenschaft. Gesellschaftwissenschafitliche Beitraege, 12/1975, p. 1269. 3 Togliatti, op.cit., p. 126.

Back to index page