In the last few decades it has become popular on the world left do dub “fascist” every reactionary right wing movement, government of policy that promotes repressive policies against mass movements. Thus, from Bush and his policies to numerous organisations and governments all over the world are regarded as “fascists”.
This abusive generalisation, initiated by Stalinism in the days when European fascism surfaced (in the 1920s and 1930s) prevents us from understanding and studying the real characteristics of these processes and, consequently, from proposing the most suitable methods and policies to fight against it.
But what is most serious is that those who use this so generalised way of defining “fascism” do not learn from the historic lessons on how workers and mass movements should fight against real fascism. In this way, their proposal doubly confuse the toiling masses.
At present, this debate is underway hinging round the characteristics of the political movement propelled by the bourgeoisie of the Half Moon in Bolivia and the way to confront it. In order to tackle this specific problem, we believe it best to refresh some definitions by Leon Trotsky who, in the face of the confusion created by Stalinism, was the one who most seriously studied the phenomenon of fascism and put forward the most appropriate proposals on how to defeat it, especially in the series of articles written in the 1920s, edited in the book “The struggle against fascism in Germany”
Some of Trotsky’s definitions
Let us see come of the essential issues developed by the Russian revolutionary in these articles:
a) He defines fascism as a political movement encouraged by and in the service of the most concentrated sectors of financial and monopoly capital that recruit the petty bourgeoisie desperate and impoverished by the crisis, fringes of working class declassed by the crisis and lumpen elements to attack and defeat workers’ movement and toiling masses using methods of civil war.
b) Fascist organisation are, initially marginal or small. But they can soon acquire great weight in the toiling masses due to the fact that increasing desperation among those sectors drives them rightwards, in view of the fact that socialist revolution is not being put into practice and, consequently, the working class becomes increasingly weak as an alternative of leadership to offer a solution for the crisis and decadence. That is what Trotsky means when – in 1930 – he said, “If the communist party is the party of revolutionary hope, fascism as a mass movement, is the party of counterrevolutionary hopelessness”.
The struggle for the petty bourgeoisie
That is why, the policy proposed by Trotsky to fight fascism in centred in two main issues. The first one is that this battle was, up to a great extent, a struggle for the workers’ movement to win over the petty bourgeoisie – or important sectors of it – to the side or the revolution. In times of crisis and revolutionary processes, the complex social sector, incapable of being the subject of a political way out of their own, oscillates between the working class and the bourgeoisie, between turning right and turning left.
If the working class appears as a clearly independent pole and offers a possibility of socialist revolution, it will draw important petty bourgeois sectors to stand for that project. A fundamental factor becomes decisive here: the existence of a revolutionary leadership (or an alternative leadership) to press forwards with this policy.
To the contrary, if the working class does not offer a clear alternative and the perspective of the socialist revolution is diluted and is delayed, fascism gains growing sectors and becomes stronger and stronger. That means that the growth of fascist organisation is inversely proportional to the power of attraction of the working class and its organisations.
That is why he criticised bitterly the policy of encouraging the governments of “popular front” – that surfaced, for example, in France and Spain – promoted by Stalinism since 1934. That means, bourgeois government including workers’ organisations and parties together with the non-fascist parties of the bourgeoisie. Trotsky regarded the popular front as “the last-but-one attempt made by the bourgeoisie to halt the revolution, before turning to fascism”
He warned that, far from being an aid to defeat fascism, as Stalinism and social democracy wanted to pass it off for, popular fronts, due to their policy of class conciliation and because they hindered workers from mobilising and so made sure they would not get beyond the limits of the bourgeois regime, they only helped fascism to overcome. And this was what happened in Spain in 1939.
He insisted that – regardless the possibility of carrying out definite action jointly with sectors of the bourgeoisie in order to combat against fascism, the only revolutionary policy for workers’ parties and organisations was that of not trusting these governments and granting them no support. The most absolute political independence and autonomy was to be obtained in order to fight against fascism and bourgeoisie as a whole including the government itself. Any form of support for those governments, including the indirect and most bashful version, would – as we have seen – lead to the defeat of the working class and open a path for the triumph of fascism to march in.
The need to fight against fascism in the streets
The second aspect of his proposal is summed up in a blunt phrase: One does not discuss with fascism; we must fight it down!” This means that when face with movements of this type, it was not possible to act like when tackling other types of trends, disputing their influence over toiling masses through traditional political activity (“One does not discuss with fascism”).
In his opinion, workers’ actions had to be centred round physical action, military combat with fascist bands (we must fight it down). That is why he proposed groups of self-defence and workers’ militias were to be organised, enabling workers to defend their living quarters, trade unions, strikes and mobilisations against attacks by fascist bands. As their partial triumphs accrued in these combats, their self-confidence and determinations would increase and the grassroots of the fascist would lose heart and this would allow us to begin a more generalised offensive to destroy these organisations.
Closely related to that, there is his proposal to build united front of workers’ organisations (fundamentally communist and social democratic one, these being the two biggest workers’ parties in Europe of those days). The goal of such front was to be to produce a joint response of the entire class to fascist attacks. At the same time, united activities against economic attacks of the bourgeoisie (fall of wages due to inflation, unemployment, etc.) with the perspective that these struggles were to be the prelude to more strategy struggles for socialist revolution.
Some lessons for the present-day Bolivia
With this theoretic-political framework in the background we can now tackle the situation in Bolivia. It is necessary to incorporate an element: Bolivia is not an imperialist country but a very poor semi-colony. That means: it is not a movement encouraged directly by the most concentrated monopolist bourgeoisie (imperialist) but by a deeply dependent bourgeoisie. Let us remember that when Trotsky compared the forms that Latin American political regimes adopted and those of the imperialist countries of the 30s, he always highlighted this difference and used different denominations to refer to them: Bonapartism Sui generic, semi fascism, etc.
Regardless these theoretic consideration, it is evident that the political project of the Half Moon bourgeoisie did develop strong fascist features. In the first place, it is the response of the strongest sector of the bourgeoisie of the country to a revolutionary process that has not been defeated but that, at the same time, cannot advance any further towards a socialist revolution. Secondly, it coexists with a government of popular front, whom they regard as enemy, which does not prevent them from taking advantage of the conciliatory policy and immobilising the toiling masses so as to be able to advance and growing strong. At the same time, their ideology is clearly racist and of disparagement towards the “Indians”.
The central fact is, however, that once this bourgeoisie achieved departmental power and is supported by organisations that, like the Santa Cruz Youth Union, are winning over sectors of petty bourgeoisie to attack the mass movement with methods of civil war not only workers and poor urban sectors but especially the peasantry, they develop such organisations.
It is very hard to define accurately whether the “clash detachments” already enjoy mass weight or if they are still numerous and active vanguard organisations. But history teaches us that unless they are resolutely confronted, they grow fast.
That is why, while making headway in the theoretic-political work in order to reach a more accurate characterisation, it is absolutely necessary to take up the political proposals of Trotsky’s on how to fight down fascism.
In the first place, fascism is not to be discussed with but must be confronted in physical and military combat. That is the only way to defeat it. Secondly, the policies of class conciliation proposed by popular fronts can only lead to strengthening fascism and to its triumph. Consequently, supporting those bourgeois governments with the justification of “all together against fascism” has so far been nothing but a way to our defeat. Only independent action and organisation of the working class can halt it. Thirdly, it is necessary for the working class to advance towards the socialist revolution in order to become a clear pole of reference for the increasingly seduced by fascism petty bourgeoisie and so win it over or, at least divide it.