Leon Trotsky spent the last decade of his life in a struggle to keep alive the genuine method of Marxism in all fields. While on all sides Marxism was being distorted and misused both by the Stalinists and the Social Democracy to justify their own betrayal of the working class movement, Trotsky consistently put forward a revolutionary position on all problems facing the workers.

One of the immediate dangers facing the international working class was the rise of fascism and therefore this new phenomenon clearly needed to be understood. Trotsky grappled with this question over a period of many years, starting with the rise of Mussolini in Italy in 1922, then going on to the rise of Hitler in Germany in the early 1930s, followed by an analysis of events in France and then Spain. His writings on this subject are still valid today and should be studied by the new generation of labour and student activists.

Many on the left today use the word Fascist very loosely. It has become more a term of general abuse against reactionaries in general. It is used to describe parties such as Haider's FPO in Austria, or Fini's AN in Italy, without taking into consideration the historical circumstances that brought fascism into being. Such an approach can only lead to a lowering of the understanding of what fascism really is, and thus can lead to mistakes in how to fight it.

From Trotsky's writings it is clear that fascism is not a general term used to describe all forms of reactionary regimes. The term has a more scientific meaning. Trotsky clearly distinguished between different forms of reactionary regimes. This was necessary in order to understand what the labour movement was up against in each particular situation. The triumph of fascism is only possible on the basis of certain historical circumstances, of a particular balance of class forces. To mistake a temporary, bonapartist regime for Fascism could lead to serious errors on the part of the revolutionary proletariat.

As Trotsky explained before WWII:

"We must not identify war dictatorship – the dictatorship of the military machine, of the staff, of finance capital – with fascist dictatorship. For the latter there is first necessary a feeling of desperation of large masses of the people. When the revolutionary parties betray them, when the vanguard of workers shows its incapacity to lead the people to victory then the farmers, the small business men, the unemployed, the soldiers, etc. become capable of supporting a fascist movement, but only then. A military dictatorship is purely a bureaucratic institution, reinforced by the military machine and based upon the disorientation of the people and their submission to it. After some time their feelings can change, and they can become rebellious against the military dictatorship.

"In all the countries where fascism became victorious, we had before the growth of fascism and its victory, a wave of radicalism of the masses; of the workers and the poorer peasants and farmers, and of the petty bourgeois class. In Italy, after the war and before 1922, we had a revolutionary wave of tremendous dimensions; the state was paralyzed, the police did not exist, the trade unions could do anything they wanted-but there was no party capable of taking the power; As a reaction came fascism.

"In Germany the same. We had a revolutionary situation in 1918; the bourgeois class did not even ask to participate in the power. The Social Democrats paralyzed the revolution. Then the workers tried again in 1922-23-24. This was the time of the bankruptcy of the Communist party—all of which we have gone into before. Then in 1929-30-31 the German workers began again a new revolutionary wave. There was a tremendous power in the Communists and in the trade unions, but then came the famous policy of Social Fascism, a policy invented to paralyze the working class. Only after these three tremendous waves, did fascism become a big movement. There are no exceptions to this rule—fascism comes only when the working class shows complete incapacity to take into its own hands the fate of society.

"In the United States you will have the same thing. Already there are fascist elements, and they have of course the examples of Italy and Germany. They will therefore work in a more rapid tempo. But you also have the examples of other countries. The next historic waves in the United States will be waves of radicalism of the masses; not fascism. Of course the war can hinder the radicalization for some time but then it will give to the radicalization a more tremendous tempo and swing. The war cannot organically change developments but only retard them for some time-and. then give them a push. War, as we have said before, is only the continuation of politics by other means In this sense, I am sure you will have many possibilities to win the power in the United States before the fascists can become a dominant force."

So is fascism an immediate threat in the US today?  Far from it.  The US working class is largely fresh and undefeated, and in the revolutionary epoch which is opening up on a world scale, there will be many opportunities for the working class to take power in one country after another- including in the US.  A thorough understanding of the nature of fascism is indispensable in our work, but it would be the height of irresponsibility to label each and every reactionary regime "fascist".   To do so can only confuse the movement and lead us into potentially tragic mistakes.

Again from Trotsky:

"Both theoretical analysis as well as the rich historical experience of the last quarter of a century have demonstrated with equal force that fascism is each time the final link of a specific political cycle composed of the following: the gravest crisis of capitalist society; the growth of the radicalization of the working class; the growth of sympathy toward the working class, and a yearning for change on the part of the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie; the extreme confusion of the big bourgeoisie; its cowardly and treacherous maneuvers aimed at avoiding the revolutionary climax; the exhaustion of the proletariat; growing confusion and indifference; the aggravation of the social crisis; the despair of the petty bourgeoisie, its yearning for change; the collective neurosis of the petty bourgeoisie, its readiness to believe in miracles, its readiness for violent measures; the growth of hostility towards the proletariat, which has deceived its expectations. These are the premises for a swift formation of a fascist party and its victory…

"In every discussion of political topics the question invariably flares up: shall we succeed in creating a strong party for the moment when the crisis comes? Might not fascism anticipate us? Isn't a fascist stage of development inevitable? The successes of fascism easily make people lose all perspective, lead them to forget the actual conditions which made the strengthening and the victory of fascism possible. Yet a clear understanding of these conditions is of especial importance to the workers of the United States. We may set it down as an historical law: fascism was able to conquer only in those countries where the conservative labor parties prevented the proletariat from utilizing the revolutionary situation and seizing power. In Germany, two revolutionary situations were involved: 1918-1919 and 1923-24. Even in 1929 a direct struggle for power on the part of the proletariat was still possible. In all these three cases the Social Democracy and the Comintern criminally and viciously disrupted the conquest of power and thereby placed society in an impasse. Only under these conditions and in this situation did the stormy rise of fascism and its gaining of power prove possible…

"…No occupation is more completely unworthy than that of speculating whether or not we shall succeed in creating a powerful revolutionary leader-party. Ahead lies a favorable perspective, providing all the justification for revolutionary activism. It is necessary to utilize the opportunities which are opening up and to build the revolutionary party."

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