Fascism and Democracy
A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism.” Thus Marx and Engels in the opening sentence of the world-famous “Communist Manifesto.” Ninety years later, however, it is another ; spectre that is haunting the minds of our anti-fascists: the spectre of Fascism.
In an article of this scope it is impossible to go into the social origin and content of Fascism. In the main, it is the concrete, practical differences; between the fascist and democratic forms of political administration that interest the working class. Under Fascism, the traditional forms of working class political and economic organisations are denied the right of legal existence. Freedom of speech, assembly, and the Press, is severely curtailed and made to conform to the needs of a single political party that has, for the time being, secured a monopoly in the administration of the state machine. Under Democracy, the workers are allowed to form their own political and economic organisations and within limits, freedom of speech, of assembly, and of the press is permitted as well as the possibility of the electorate choosing between contending political parties.
Now, unlike many people intoxicated with a newly-found love for democracy, the Socialist Party of Great Britain has always insisted on the democratic nature of Socialism, and on the value that the widest possible discussion of conflicting political views has for the working class. When we refuse to unite with non-socialist organisations for the purpose of defending democracy, it is most certainly not because we in any way minimise or underestimate the importance of democracy for the working class or the socialist movement. It is simply because we are convinced that democracy cannot be defended in such a manner.
And as proof of this contention, the working class has a rich experience from which to draw. The policy of the “lesser evil,” that is, a policy of concessions to, and compromise with, non-fascist parties and elements of capitalism which was pursued and justified by the Social Democratic Party of Germany on the grounds that such a policy was dictated by the necessity of defeating Hitler Fascism : the more recent experience of the same policy operated under a different name, that is, the “popular front” in France, both point to the same lesson. Namely, provided the “Fascist Menace” is real, and not the invention of hysterical and panic-stricken “intellectuals,” the formation of a bloc of non-socialist anti-fascists does not impede the advance of Fascism, but if anything, serves to expedite its progress. In order to make this point quite clear, it is necessary that we should understand the nature of democracy, and its usefulness to the working class. Democracy, in itself, cannot solve a single problem of the working class. Unemployment, poverty, insecurity, and other evil effects of capitalism remain, no matter whether the form of its political administration be democratic or dictatorial. Freedom to cry working class misery from the house-tops will not, in itself, abolish that misery. Democracy is a weapon, potentially invaluable, it is true; but like every other weapon, it can be used either for self-preservation or for self-destruction. And the painful fact is that in Germany—and the same process is going on in France to-day, and may be going on here to¬morrow—the working class, lacking in an understanding of how to use the democratic weapon in its own interests, chose to commit political suicide with it instead.
The constitution of the German “Weimar” Republic—already doomed before Hitler took power—was formally one of the most democratic in the world. Nevertheless, so miserable had the existence of wide masses of the German people become, that in the last free election held in Germany a majority of the electorate voted for the abolition of democracy. For in spite of the concern for democracy which is expressed by the Communists nowadays, at the time of that election both National Socialists and German Communists were united in their hatred of what they called “bourgeois democracy.” For the Communists to assert at this time of the day that the downfall of German democracy was due to the refusal of the German Social Democrats to form a united front is nothing less than sheer effrontery; they wouldn’t have touched the then “social fascists” (as they described the Social-Democrats) with a barge pole. The chief difference between the followers of the Communists and Nazis was that they chose different vehicles through which to express their hatred of democracy. Lacking an understanding of their social position, disgusted by the antics and ineptitudes of self-styled socialists, the mass of the German people found the source of the grievances not in the capitalist nature of the social system, but in the democratic form in which it was administered. Hence, in their uninformed despair, they fell an easy prey to astute and unscrupulous demagogues, who never failed to reinforce the belief that democracy was the cause of social distress.
Fascism does not exist in the blue of the heavens like every other social phenomenon, it is related to, and has its origin in, a social background. And that background is the very democratic capitalism that “popular-frenters” and other exponents of working class compromise with capitalism, would have us defend. That capitalism inevitably gives rise to working class problems has already been mentioned; but with equal inevitability it also gives rise to problems of a specifically capitalist nature, such as maintaining the profitability of production; securing new, and retaining old markets; the necessity of forging “national unity” when faced with war with rival capitalist groups, etc. And it is precisely in an attempt to solve these problems that the ruling class has recourse to Fascism. That these problems can be permanently solved is precluded by the nature of the capitalist system itself; but that will not prevent the capitalists from making the attempt. Fascism, then, is a political form best adapted to meet the needs of certain contemporary capitalist states.
As long as the working class supports capitalism and capitalist policies, it will, in the long run, ultimately give its support to that policy best calculated to meet the political and economic needs of capitalism—even though that policy may be fascist.
Democracy for the working class can only be consolidated and extended to the extent that the working class adopts a socialist standpoint. To renounce Socialism so that democracy may be defended, means ultimately the renunciation of both Socialism and democracy. It cannot be emphasised too much, that the struggle for democracy is bound up with the struggle for Socialism, and not the struggle for Socialism bound up with the struggle for democracy.
A. H. M.