Fascism? Democracy? Communism

The central question confronting the workers’ movement nowadays is its attitude towards democracy, or more precisely, the need to defend (or not) the democratic institutions threatened by fascism, at the same time as the latter proceeds to destroy the proletarian organizations. The simplest solution to this question — as to others — is not the clearest, since it in no way corresponds to the reality of the class struggle. Though it may seem paradoxical at first glance, the workers’ movement will only succeed in actually preserving its organizations from the assault of reaction on the condition that they maintain their fighting positions intact, not tie them to the fate of democracy, and fight the battle against the fascist offensive, at the same time as it carries forward the struggle against the democratic state. In effect, once the communion between the workers’ movement and democratic institutions is established, the political condition for the complete ruin of the working class is given, since the democratic state finds in the contribution of the working masses, not a possibility of life or of persistence, but the necessary condition to become an authoritarian regime, or the signal of its disappearance with the aim of ceding its place to the new fascist organization.

If one considers the current situation regardless of its connection with the situations that preceded it and which will come after it, if one considers the current position of the political parties without linking them to the role they have played in the past and that which they will play in the future, the immediate circumstances and the current political forces of the general historical context are displaced, which allows reality to be easily presented thusly: fascism goes on the attack, the proletariat is completely interested in defending its freedoms, and for this reason it is necessary to establish a defensive front of threatened democratic institutions. Painted with a revolutionary tinge, this position is presented under the varnish of a pretended revolutionary strategy, while also being fundamentally “Marxist.” From here, the problem is presented thusly: there is an incompatibility between the bourgeoisie and democracy, consequently, the interest of the proletariat to defend the freedoms that the latter grants to it naturally prevails over its specifically revolutionary interests and the struggle for the defense of democratic institutions thus becomes an anticapitalist struggle!

At the base of these propositions there is an evident confusion between democracy, democratic institutions, democratic liberties, and working-class positions that are erroneously called “workers’ freedoms.” We will observe both from the theoretical point of view, and from the historical point of view, that there is an irreducible and irreconcilable opposition between democracy and working-class positions. The ideological movement that has accompanied the ascent and victory of capitalism is situated and expressed, from an economic and political point of view, on the basis of the dissolution of the interests and particular demands of individuals, communities and especially of classes, within society. Here the equality of the components would be possible precisely because individuals entrust their fate and custody to the state organisms that represent the interests of the community. It is useful to point out that liberal and democratic theory supposes the dissolution of groups, of categories made up of “citizens,” which would be interested in spontaneously ceding a part of their freedom to receive the safeguarding of their economic and social position in compensation. This relinquishment would be made for the benefit of an organism capable of regulating and directing the whole of the community. And while the bourgeois constitutions proclaim the “rights of man” and also contain the affirmation of “freedom of assembly and of the press,” they do not recognize class groupings in any way. These “rights” are considered exclusively as attributions granted to “man,” to the “citizen,” or to the “people,” who must make use of them to grant the organisms of the state or government access to the individual. The necessary condition for the functioning of the democratic regime resides, then, not in the recognition of groups, their interests, or their rights, but in the foundation of the indispensable organism to guide the collectivity, which must transmit to the state the defense of the interests of each unit that constitutes it.

The marshal and the corporal [Hindenburg and Hitler]: Come struggle with us for liberty and equal rights.

Democracy is only a means for preventing “citizens” from resorting to organs other than those governed and controlled by the state. It could be objected that freedom of assembly, press, and organization lose all their meaning from the moment it becomes impossible to obtain, through them, a given concession. Here we enter the terrain in which Marxist critique shows how, behind the democratic and liberal mask, class oppression is actually hidden, and that Marx so rightly affirmed that the synonym of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” is “infantry, cavalry, artillery.” On the contrary, today it is not so much a matter of demonstrating the inconsistency of the supposedly egalitarian basis of democracy, but of exposing how they intend to tie the expansion of workers’ organizations with the defense of the latter.

Now, as we have explained, the condition of life of the democratic regime consists precisely in curtailing the power of some groups in particular in the name of the interests of individuals, as well as society. The establishment of a workers’ organization directly involves an attack on the theory of democracy and for this reason it is characteristic to note that, in the current period of degeneration of Marxist thought, the overlap of the two Internationals (that of the traitors and that of the future traitors) occurs precisely on the basis of the defense of democracy, from which would derive the possibility of existence, and even development, of workers’ organizations.

From a historical point of view, the contradiction between “democracy” and workers’ organizations manifests itself in quite a bloody manner.

English capitalism was founded in the seventeenth century, but it was much later that Chartists snatched the right of the working class to organize by force of struggle. In all countries, the workers would obtain this conquest only on the basis of strong movements that were continually subjected to the bloody repression of democratic states. It is quite accurate that before the war, and more specifically until the first years of our century, mass movements aimed at establishing independent organisms of the working class were led by socialist parties towards the conquest of rights that would grant workers access to government or state functions. Certainly, this question was hotly debated within the labor movement; its most conclusive expression is found above all in the reformist theory which, under the banner of the gradual penetration of the proletariat into the enemy’s fortress, actually allowed the latter — and 1914 represents the conclusion of this balance sheet of Marxist revision and treason — to corrupt and submit to their own interests the whole of the working class.

In the struggle against what is habitually derided as “Bordigism,” it is often argued, for reasons of controversy (which are generally the reasons of entanglement and confusion), that this or that movement had as its objective the conquest of universal suffrage, or this or that democratic demand. This way of interpreting history is very similar to that which consists in explaining events, not by determining their cause as a function of the antagonistic classes and the specific interests that they really put forward, but simply basing themselves on the initials inscribed on the flags that waved above the masses in movement. This interpretation, which on the other hand has only a purely acrobatic value in which the pretentious people who populate the labor movement are pleased, vanishes immediately if the problem is posed in realistic terms. In effect, working class movements cannot be understood except in the course of their ascent towards the liberation of the proletariat. If, on the contrary, we place them on the opposite path, which would lead the workers to conquer the right of access to governmental or state functions, we would place ourselves directly on the same path that led to the betrayal of the working class.

In any case, the movements that had as their objective the conquest of the right to vote could carry out this fight and in an enduring fashion, because in the end, far from dismantling the democratic system, they did nothing but introduce the workers’ movement itself into its very game. The miserable deeds of the workers who rose to government posts are well known: the Eberts, Scheidemanns, Hendersons, etc., clearly demonstrated what the democratic mechanism is and the capacity it has to unleash the most ruthless counterrevolutionary repression. What concerns the class positions conquered by the workers is completely different. Here no compatibility with the democratic state is possible; on the contrary, the irreconcilable opposition that reflects the antagonism of classes is accentuated, sharpened, and amplified, and workers’ victory will be achieved thanks to the policy of the counterrevolutionary leaders.

The latter distort the effort made by the workers to create their class organizations, which can only be the fruit of a merciless struggle against the democratic state. Proletarian triumph is only possible in this direction. When the working masses are seduced by the politics of the opportunist leaders, they end up being dragged into the democratic swamp. There they are not more than a simple pawn of a mechanism that becomes so much more democratic as it manages to annul all the class formations that represent an obstacle to its functioning.

The democratic State that operates this mechanism will make it work “equally” only on the condition of having before it, not antagonistic economic categories grouped in different organisms, but “citizens” equal to each other, who recognize themselves as being of similar social position, to traverse together the multiple paths they have access to upon exercise of the democratic power.

To critique the democratic principle with the aim of demonstrating that electoral equality is nothing more than a fiction that obscures the chasms separating classes in bourgeois society exceeds the framework of this article. What interests us here is to be able to show that there is an irreconcilable opposition between the democratic system and working-class positions. Every time the workers have been able to impose — through heroic struggles and sacrificing their own lives — their class demands on capitalism, they have dealt a serious blow to democracy, a blow of the kind only capitalism necessitates. On the contrary, the proletariat finds the reason for its historic mission by denouncing the lie of the democratic principle in its own nature and in the need to suppress the differences of classes and the classes themselves. At the end of the path traveled by the proletariat through the class struggle, there is no regime of pure democracy because the principle on which communist society will be based is that of the non-existence of a state power directing society, while democracy is absolutely inspired by it. In its most liberal expression, it continually strives to exclude the exploited who dare to defend their interests with the help of their organizations instead of remaining submissive to the democratic institutions created with the sole aim of maintaining class exploitation.

Having placed the problem of democracy in its normal framework — we do not really see how else it would be possible for Marxists to do it — it is possible to understand events in Italy and in Germany, as well as the situations currently experienced by the proletariat in different countries, and in particular in France. At first glance, the dilemma in which they situate these events consists of the opposition “fascism/democracy,” or, to use common terms, “fascism/antifascism.”

These “Marxist” strategists will say, to top it all, that the antithesis continues to be the existence of two fundamentally opposed classes, but that the proletariat has the advantage of taking advantage of the opportunity offered to it and of presenting itself as the main figure in the defense of democracy and in the antifascist struggle. We have already highlighted the confusion between democracy and workers’ positions that is the basis of this policy.

Now we need to explain why the front for the defense of democracy in Italy — as in Germany — did not represent, ultimately, more than a necessary condition for the victory of fascism. For what is improperly called the “fascist coup d’état” is only, in the end, a transfer of power, more or less pacific, from a democratic government to the new fascist government. In Italy, a government made up of the representatives of democratic antifascism gives way to a ministry led by the fascists, which will have an assured majority in this antifascist and democratic parliament, when, however, the fascists had no more than a parliamentary group of forty representatives out of five hundred deputies. In Germany, the antifascist Von Schleicher gives way to Hitler, called, on the other hand, by another antifascist, Hindenburg, the chosen of the democratic and social-democratic forces. In Italy and Germany, in the epoch of the transformation of capitalist society into fascism, democracy does not immediately retire from the political scene, but maintains a political position of the first order: in effect, if it remains in government, it is not with aim of representing within it a rallying point to prevent the situations to which a fascist victory will lead, but to allow the triumph of Mussolini and Hitler. In Italy, moreover, after the march on Rome, and for several months, on top of that, a coalition government was formed of which the fascists were a part in collaboration with the Christian Democrats, and even Mussolini renounced the idea of having representatives of social democracy in the leadership of trade-union organizations.

Current events in France, where the fascist perspective does not represent the only capitalist solution to the situation, and where the “pact of action” between socialists and centrists has made the working class the main element in the defense of democracy, will end up clarifying the theoretical controversy in which our fraction stands against the other organizations that claim to be for the working class. For the necessary condition for the defeat of fascism, and which supposedly consists in the regrouping of the parties that act within the working class in a united front raising the flag for the defense of democracy, this condition that did not exist either in Italy or in Germany, it is completely fulfilled in France. Now, in our opinion, the fact that the French proletariat has been derailed from its class terrain and spurred on as it has been, by centrists and socialists, on the road that today immobilizes it and tomorrow will deliver to it capitalism, foreshadows the undoubted victory of the enemy, in the double sense of being forced to resort to fascism, or to a transformation of the current state into a state in which the government will gradually absorb the fundamental legislative functions and where workers’ organizations must give up their independence and allow state control in exchange for their “ascension” to the category of collateral consultative institutions.

When it is said that the current situation no longer allows capitalism to maintain a form of social organization analogous or identical to that existing in the ascending historical period of the bourgeoisie, it does not do more than confirm an evident and indisputable truth. But it is also a verification of facts that is not specific to the question of democracy, but is general and applies equally to the economic situation and all other social, political, cultural, etc., manifestations. This serves to prove that today is not yesterday, that there are currently social phenomena that did not appear in any way in the past. We would not highlight this banal statement if it were not for the political conclusions, which are strange at the very least, that it entails: social classes are no longer recognized by the mode of production they establish, but by the form of political and social organization with which they endow themselves. Capital is thus a democratic class necessarily opposed to fascism, which is a resurrection of feudal oligarchies. Otherwise capitalism can no longer be capitalism, from the moment it stops being democratic, and the problem consists in murdering the fascist demon using capitalism itself. Or, since capitalism today is interested in abandoning democracy, we only have to put it on the ropes by taking up the texts of the constitution and the laws, and we would thus break the transformation of capitalism to fascism and open the way that leads to proletarian victory.

Ultimately, the fascist offensive would temporarily force us to place our revolutionary program under quarantine in order to defend the endangered democratic institutions, and then resume the comprehensive fight against this very democracy that, thanks to this interruption, would have allowed us to set a trap against capitalism. Once the danger was eliminated, democracy could be crucified again.

The simple enunciation of the political conclusions derived from the verification of the difference between two capitalist epochs — the ascending and the descending — allows us to see the state of decomposition and corruption of the parties and groups that claim to be on the side of the proletariat in the current period.

The two historical periods considered separately can differ, and really do differ, but to reach the conclusion that there is an incompatibility between capitalism and democracy, or between capitalism and fascism, we should consider democracy and fascism not so much as social forms of organization, but of classes or it would be necessary to admit that from now on the theory of the class struggle is no longer true and that we are witnessing a battle that will pit democracy against capitalism, or fascism against the proletariat.

But the events in Italy and Germany are there to show us that fascism is nothing more than the instrument of bloody repression against the proletariat, at the service of capitalism, which sees Mussolini proclaim the sanctity of private property on the rubble of the class institutions that the workers had founded to direct their struggle against the bourgeois appropriation of the product of their work.

But the theory of the class struggle is verified, once again, in the cruel experiences of Italy and Germany. The appearance of the fascist movement does not at all modify the antithesis of capitalism/proletariat, replacing it either by capitalism/democracy or fascism/ proletariat. In the evolution of decadent capitalism, there comes a time when the latter is forced to undertake another path different from that which it had traveled in its ascending phase.

Politische Marionetten im Theater Kamera, Berlin. Die Puppen von Hindenburg, von Papen, und Hitler. 23.10.1932

Before it could fight its mortal enemy the proletariat, presenting its perspective as that of a progressive majority with the same fate until it achieved its liberation and, with this aim, it opened the doors of the democratic institutions by accepting so-called workers’ representatives, who became agents of the bourgeoisie in the measure that they came to chain the workers’ organizations in the framework of the democratic State. Today — after the war of 1914 and the Russian revolution — the problem for capitalism is to disperse, with violence and repression, any proletarian focus that may be related to the class movement. At bottom, the explanation of the difference in attitude between the Italian and German proletariat in the face of the fascist offensive, the heroic resistance of the former to defend the last brick of the workers’ institutions and the collapse of the latter as soon as the Hitler-Papen-Hindenburg government was formed, depends solely on the fact that in Italy the proletariat founded — aided by our current — the organism that could lead to victory, while in Germany the Communist Party, broken by the base in Halle by merging with the leftwing independents, experienced a series of stages in the course of the multiple convulsions of the left and extreme left, which mark successive steps forward in the corruption and decomposition of a party of the German proletariat that in 1919 and 1920 had written pages of glory and heroism.

Even if capitalism goes on the offensive against democratic institutions and the organizations that claim to support them, even if it assassinates political personalities belonging to democratic parties of the army or the Nazi Party itself (like June 30 in Germany), this does not mean that there should be as many antitheses as there may be oppositions (fascism/military, fascism/Christianity, fascism/democracy). These facts only prove the extreme complexity of the current situation, its spasmodic nature, and do not threaten in any way the theory of class struggle. The Marxist doctrine does not present the struggle of proletariat/bourgeoisie in capitalist society as a mechanical conflict, to the point that any social manifestation could and should be linked to one or the other end of the dilemma. Apart from the antithesis of bourgeoisie/proletariat, the only motor of present-day history, Marx demonstrated the foundations and the very contradictory course of capitalism, to such an extent that capitalism cannot exist in harmony, even after the proletariat has ceased to exist (as is the case in the current situation as a result of the action of centrism and social-democratic betrayals) as a class that tries to break the capitalist order and establish the new society. At the present time, capitalism may have temporarily amputated the only progressive force of society, the proletariat, but, both in the economic and in the political sphere, the contradictory foundations of its regime do not cease to determine the irreconcilable opposition of the monopolies, of States, the political forces that act in the interest of the conservation of their society, in particular the contrast between fascism and democracy.

Basically, the dichotomy of war/revolution means that once the establishment of a new society has been discarded as a solution to the current situation, an era of social tranquility will not appear at all, but the entire capitalist society (including the workers) will walk towards catastrophe, a result of the contradictions inherent in this society. The problem to solve is not to attribute to the proletariat as many political attitudes as there are oppositions in the situation, linking it to such a monopoly, such a state, to such a political force, against those who oppose it, but to maintain the independence of the organization of the proletariat in struggle against all economic and political expressions of the class enemy in the world.

The transformation of capitalist society into fascism, the opposition and conflict between the factors of both regimes, must in no way alter the specific physiognomy of the proletariat. As we have pointed out on several occasions, the proletarian programmatic foundations today must be the same that Lenin published, with his work as a fraction, before the war and against opportunists of all stripes. Against the democratic State, the working class must maintain a position of struggle for its destruction and must not enter it in order to conquer positions that allow for the gradual construction of a socialist society; the revisionists who defended this position, turned the proletariat into a victim of the contradictions of the capitalist world, into cannon fodder, in 1914. Today, when situations force capitalism to proceed towards an organic transformation of its power, of the State, the problem remains the same, that is, the destruction and introduction of the proletariat into the enemy state to safeguard its democratic institutions, which places the working class at the mercy of capitalism; and where the latter must not resort to fascism, it once more makes it a victim of interimperialist conflicts and the new war.

The Marxist dichotomy of proletariat/capitalism does not mean that communists in every situation must raise the question of revolution, but that in any circumstance the proletariat must be grouped around its class positions. The question of the insurrection may arise when the historical conditions for the revolutionary struggle exist, and in the other situations it will be obligated to promote a more limited program of demands, but always on a class basis. The question of power arises only in its integral form and if the historical premises necessary for setting in motion the insurrection are missing, this question does not arise. The slogans to be put forward, then, will correspond to the elementary demands that concern the living conditions of the workers from the point of view of the defense of wages, proletarian institutions, and conquered positions (right of organization, of the press, of assembly, of demonstration, etc.).

The fascist offensive finds its raison d’être in an economic situation that precludes any possibility of error, and that assumes that capitalism must annihilate all the workers’ organizations. In this moment, the defense of the demands of the working class directly threatens the capitalist regime, and the outbreak of defensive strikes can only be situated in the course of the communist revolution. In such a situation — as we have already said — the democratic and social-democratic parties and organizations play a leading role, but in favor of capitalism and against the proletariat, in the line that leads to fascist victory and not in the line that leads to the defense or to the triumph of the proletariat. The latter will be mobilized in the defense of democracy so that it does not fight for partial demands. The German Social Democrats call on the workers to abandon the defense of their class interests so as to not threaten the “lesser evil” government of Brüning; Bauer has done the same for Dollfuss between March 1933 and February 1934; the “Pact of Action” between socialists and centrists in France is realized because it contains (a clause inspired by Zyromski’s principles) the fight for democratic freedoms, excluding strikes for economic demands.

Trotsky dedicated a chapter of his documents on the German revolution to demonstrate that the general strike has ceased to be the weapon of defense of the working class. The struggle for democracy is a powerful distraction maneuver to separate workers from their class terrain and attach them to the contradictory movements of the state in its metamorphosis from democracy to fascist state. The dichotomy fascism/antifascism thus acts in the exclusive interest of the enemy; antifascism and democracy drug the workers so that the fascists can skewer them; they daze the proletarians so that they cannot see their own class terrain. These are the central positions that the proletarians of Italy and Germany have traced with their blood. World capitalism can prepare the world war because the workers of other countries do not take inspiration from these programmatic ideas. Our fraction, inspired by these programmatic principles, continues its fight for the Italian revolution, for the international revolution.

Ottorino Perrone
(December 1934)