From the November 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard
The rise to power of Hitler’s party in Germany has again focussed attention on Fascism or dictatorship.
There are many who look upon dictatorship as a new departure in government, forgetting the dictatorships of ancient times and also those of pre-war capitalism. The government of Napoleon III in France during certain of its phases, and the suppression of the Social Democrats and Catholics by Bismarck are cases in point. In Liberal circles and in many of the alleged working class parties doubts have again arisen as to the practicability of political democracy. Many of the Liberals are quaking with fear at what appears to them to be its inevitable discarding, and the advent of dictatorship or Fascism. They see the ever-widening circle of countries that have gone over. Russia, Italy, Jugo-Slavia, Poland, Hungary, and now Germany and Austria. In England Sir Oswald Mosley, a former Labourite, would be a Mussolini, although so far his voting strength is apparently not great. But' there are many who recall that a short while ago Hitler’s followers were few in number, -
In the United States, the press reports a growing Fascist Movement, led by a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, which at a meeting recently held in Philadelphia, attended by some thousands, decked out in all the trappings of the European advocates of Dictatorship, not even omitting the raised arm salute, stated their intention of seizing power.
From far-off Chile and Argentina, we have reports of a growing Fascist Movement and sentiment.
The response of the alleged working class parties takes on many forms.
In the United States, the reformist Rev. Norman Thomas, standard bearer and one of the chief spokesmen of the reformist Socialist Party of America, is warning his followers, by speech and written word, of the imminent possibility of a triumphant Fascism in the United States. He points to the American Legion and the remnants of the Ku Klux Klan as the possible nucleus for a Fascist Movement.
From the Communist International comes forth a Ukase to all of its faithful throughout the world to cement a “United Front” with the parties affiliated to the Second International, in order to wage a war against Fascism, though never neglecting to brand those with whom they are to unite as “ Social Fascists.”
What basis is there for the fears of the Liberals and the Labour Parties that Dictatorship is to replace Political Democracy the whole world over?
Is Fascism or Dictatorship a possibility in highly developed Capitalist nations like England and the United States?
It is first of all necessary to examine the way in which the term dictatorship is used in its application to the political systems of Germany, Italy, Russia and other countries, for its use in more than one sense is a cause of confusion. Sometimes the term dictatorship is used in the sense of a minority which governs against the wishes of, or at any rate without formally consulting, the majority of the population. At other times it is used to mean the suppression of minorities by a government which owes its election to the votes of the majority. When we examine Russia, Italy and Germany, we find that in each case the dictatorship owed its position originally to the support of the majority of the voters. The Bolshevists were unable to overthrow Kerensky until they had been voted into control of the principal Soviets. Mussolini was placed in power by those whom the Italian electorate had voted into control of the machinery of government. Hitler and his party obtained 51 per cent, of the votes cast in the last election. In each of these three countries the dictatorships in their general policy, including the violent suppression of the opposition minorities, can count upon the support or the indifference of the majority. If, therefore, the term dictatorship were used only in the sense of usurpation of power by the representatives of a minority, it could not be applied to Italy, Russia and Germany.
The other use of the word still remains applicable to these countries, for in them—unlike political democracies—the minorities have no legal standing to organise or carry on agitation for a change of government or change of social system, and individuals and minorities are subjected to persecution which varies from something mild up to savage terrorism.
So-called “ Dictatorships ” are the outgrowth of definite material conditions. With the disappearance of these conditions “ Dictatorships ” will cease.
In Spain, during the last years of King Alfonso's reign, a “Dictatorship" was set up, headed by Primo De Rivera. It was the last attempt and the dying gesture of a semi-feudal class who, with the assistance of the Church, sought to stave off various groups who were discontented, among which was the peasantry clamouring for the partitioning of the large estates. The Capitalists were aligning with the peasants for the seizure of political power. The remnants of semi-feudalism were an obstacle to the development of Spanish Capitalism. Spain had remained neutral during the World War. Flooded with orders from the belligerent nations, she was carried well on the road to industrial development. The alliance of workers, the capitalists and peasants finally drove the dictatorship of the Dons and clericals from power. This is one form of dictatorship, used in the endeavour to prolong the power of a dying economic group.
One of the most important causes of the “dictatorships" in Italy, Jugo-Slavia and Poland was the breaking up of the big estates, and the general industrial impetus and growth resulting from the war. In order that the new ruling class might be firmly entrenched, and also in order to sweep away the semi-feudal debris, governments were set up which would brook no interference from minorities, whether representing the former ruling class, the working class, or hostile national minorities brought within the frontiers as a result of conquest in the war.
The peasantry constituting the majority were not as yet experienced in the running of the governmental machinery. The capitalists being in the minority, envisioned the peasantry running amok and seizing political power for themselves. But the peasants, elated with their new possessions and changed economic and social status, are for the time being content to permit the capitalists to retain political sway, the fear of counter revolution on the part of the former landowners being a contributing factor. In outlook the peasants are not far removed from the capitalists. It is not difficult for them to acquiesce in the rule of the capitalists, and thus another form of “dictatorship” arises. A temporary condition resulting from the changed social status of the peasantry, coupled with the expansion of the industrial capitalists, and a politically immature peasantry, indifferent as to who governs, so long as they are permitted to enjoy their newly-acquired possessions.
Numerous factors enter into the support of Hitler by a majority of the German population. Patriotism, the Reparations question, unemployment, fear of the Communists, extravagant promises of reforms for the workers and “Socialism in our time," and promises of help for the peasants; all these things were cleverly utilised by the Nazis to gain a majority. One factor was the support given to Hitler by big landowners who feared the land reforms which the Catholic Centre Party under Bruening was promising to its peasant supporters, who wanted the big estates broken up. Many of Hitler's forces received their training on the estates of big landowners, who also provided some financial assistance. Realising their danger these landowners hoped that they might make use of Hitler to fob off the peasants, even although vast numbers of the latter are among Hitler's keenest supporters. Now that Hitler is in the saddle he has stated that he is opposed to his own earlier promises to break up the big estates, but it still remains to be seen whether the pressure from his own supporters will be sufficiently strong to compel him to move some way in that direction.
In one of its aspects the German situation resembles the Spanish dictatorship in that a former agrarian ruling class supports it in the hope that it will protect their interests.
We can also find a resemblance to the situation in 1848. The German capitalists, in revolt against the feudal aristocratic ruling class, were on the verge of success, but turned and retraced their steps when they saw their allies, the workers, were not content merely to fight for capitalism, but were disposed to give the revolt something of a working class character. So the capitalists allowed the old ruling class to retain its position. The German capitalists in and since 1918 have shown the same characteristics. The awe with which they regarded the Junkers, particularly their representative Marshal von Hindenburg, would not permit them or their allies, the Social Democrats, to carry the 1918 upheaval beyond a certain stage. Once again, as in 1848, they sought comfort by compromising with their "social betters," the German Junkers.
As for the future of “ dictatorships,” one need not be a prophet to realise that they are but a temporary condition. The increase in the number of workers in the agrarian nations in which “dictatorships” exist, will necessitate the introduction of parliamentary and democratic forms of governments. This applies also to nations like Germany, where a large minority of the population are still dependent upon peasant farming for their existence.
Where capitalist production is highly developed, with the workers in the majority, the need for a fully-developed system of representative government becomes not just a sop to the workers, but a necessity for capitalism in the long run. To damp down the lid means unrest and riots and interferes too much with the orderly running of capitalism.
The fears of the Norman Thomas’s are not well grounded. Highly-developed industrial nations like the United States, England, etc., do not provide fertile ground for the establishment of “dictatorship.” Though we recognise the possibility of the establishment of a ”form of government minus its democratic features,” where the rights of minorities may be curtailed, this could only be done if the majority approve.
The danger lies in the noxious Social Reform and ”Great Man” theories expounded by alleged working class parties, preparing the way for the workers* acceptance of a repressive form of government. Let us not forget that practically since the formation of the Social Democratic Party in Germany the workers have been led to believe that the way out was through the medium of Social Reforms. With this outlook it was a simple matter for Hitler to win over the masses, with his large and extravagant list of social reforms, offering more in the way of “something now” than the Social Democrats, who were, moreover, discredited by having helped to administer capitalism for 14 years.
To meet the possibility of a “dictatorship,” there remains for us the great task of combating the Thomases and the alleged workers’ organisations they represent.
The so-called Socialist Party of America having carried on thirty-five years of propaganda for social reform, has helped to pave the way for an acceptance on the part of the workers of any form of government, repressive or otherwise, that promises still more reforms.
Socialists can only continue to point out that reforms of capitalism, whether enacted by Labour parties or by so-called dictators, cannot solve the problem, for the emancipation of the workers can only be achieved by the workers themselves.
We seek the abolition of capitalism whether its political system is monarchist or republican, fascist or democratic.
Workers Socialist Party (U.S.A.)