Trotsky on Fighting Fascism
Posted 13 Nov 2020
Updated 5 Nov 2022
A personal blog about programming and socialism.
These articles should not be taken as the official view of any organisation.
Posted 13 Nov 2020
Updated 5 Nov 2022
Trotsky put forward clear ideas on how to recognise fascism and how to fight it. He also warned about the dangers of not correctly recognising it, in particular the fatal tactical mistakes made during the rise of German Fascism.
Fascism grows out of a crisis of capitalism (an economic crisis).
A Fascist movement has a “militant-terrorist” paramilitary wing - street gangs, thugs, etc., which sets about the complete annihilation of working class and democratic organisations and traditions by physical force.
It is, at its base, a militant mass-movement of small business owners who are fearful of being crushed by big corporations on one hand, and on the other of the threat socialism poses to their privileged way of life.
The “normal” oppressive measures of the capitalist democratic state - the police, criminal justice, military, etc. - can no longer keep order. Big business and finance turn to fascism.
Are these last two points in contradiction? No - Fascism is still a form of capitalist rule. Its promises are necessary to seize power, but it will not fulfil them. It will lose its base of support.
Because fascism is still a form of capitalist rule, it is a fatal mistake when faced with the danger of fascism to appeal to the democratic capitalist state - the law, the royal family, the constitution, etc. This is appealing to the democratic tools of the capitalist state in the exact period when it is dispensing with these tools and of democracy.
Even if capitalist democratic rule prepares the ground for fascism, the two forms are still distinct. The mistaken Stalinist policy of “social fascism” saw no distinction between capitalist democracy and fascism. This perspective left socialists fatally unarmed when facing an immediate, pressing, real danger of fascism - facing actual fascist paramilitary thugs, where the only tactic left us to organise democratic fighting workers’ organisations to physically beat them, fighting in a united front alongside other workers who were not yet revolutionary.
Trotsky’s, and Marxism’s, gift to the future was not a ready-made formula, but a living method that we can apply to today’s questions.
Questions like…. Is Donald Trump a fascist?
At the time of writing, no. Trump is certainly a right-wing populist. He has certainly emboldened fascist forces. But he’s mostly been content using the existing state apparatus - militarised police, immigration control (ICE), the national guard, etc. - as tools of oppression.
It is not impossible that Trump could move in this direction after his election loss, possibly on the basis of existing fascist organisations in the USA. If Trump is already described as fascist, then we won’t be able to recognise that qualitative change.
To be unable to recognise fascism is to be disarmed and unprepared to fight it when it appears. Fascism is a specific threat, poses an existential danger to the working class, and requires specific tactics to fight.
Although the capitalist state is fearful of unleashing fascism except as a last resort, it will always sow the seeds of its growth by resorting to racism and bigotry in an attempt to divide the working class. This can get an echo in the most deprived layers.
That is why any effective movement to defeat racism and fascism must be anticapitalist and linked to the fight for socialist policies - including free healthcare and education, mass investment in housing, social services and green infrastructure, and democratic workers’ control of society.
If you agree, join the CWI.
See is fascism on the march? (October 10, 2022) by Tom Baldwin.
Leon Trotsky - Fascism - What It Is and How To Fight It, Marxists Internet Archive, 1993.
Leon Trotsky - A Revolutionary Whose Ideas Couldn’t Be Killed, Chapter 7, CWI & Socialist Publications, October 2020.