From New International, Vol.5 No.6, June 1939, pp.163-166.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Bankruptcy of the New Deal and of Capitalist Democracy Is Generating a Native Fascist Movement which Exploits the Growing Sentiment for a Radical Change – The Rise of Father Coughlin and the Evolution of His Program – How Not to Fight Against Fascism – The Burning Need of a Workers’ Defense Guard – The End of the Zionist Illusion
FOR TEN YEARS, NOW, seven to seventeen million men in this country have been unemployed. Many millions more have been working part-time. Every year an estimated five to six hundred thousand youth reach “employable age”; a large percentage of these never get jobs of any kind. A few million of the unemployed have had relief jobs on WPA or CCC The average wage on WPA has been $55 per month; CCC pays $20 per month. The remaining millions are kept at a minimum, or below-minimum subsistence level through various forms of home relief.
The existence of a permanent large body of unemployed is the surest symptom of the mortal illness of a social system. It was to be found in the dying days of Greece, in the decadent years of the Roman Empire, at the end of the Middle Ages. The social system proves its incurable malady by being unable to utilize and integrate its own members. The unemployed are transformed into an alien growth, a cancer on the social organism. And, like a cancer, the unemployed are a continuous threat of violent disturbance to the entire organism. So it was in Athens, where the impoverished unemployed citizens were whipped into frenzies by the latest demagogue. So, also, in Rome, where the “proletariat” flocked to the circuses and rioted in the streets. So, too, in the late Middle Ages, when the dispossessed serfs roamed in disordered bands through the countrysides and gathered raggedly together for vain and terrible rebellions.
It is not different with us. Is anyone so foolish as to imagine that these ten years leave the unemployed where they began? For one year, two years, the mass unemployment could seem like an accident, a visitation of God or a “natural” catastrophe. For three or four or five years, the New Deal with its smiling leader promising milk and honey for the forgotten man could comfort them with dreams. But an accident that lasts forever is no longer an accident; and all dreams come to an end.
What is happening in the minds of the unemployed, of the five hundred thousand youth thrown yearly into the job-empty labor market? Few questions are more momentous for the future.
Some of the unemployed, especially the oldest unemployed, have sunk into an utter demoralization which results in a passivity so hopeless that probably nothing will again rouse them. But the growing demoralization of others is of a different kind: it brings about not an ineradicable passivity, but a breakdown in the sense of social responsibility, in the habitual patterned modes of behavior imposed by society, and consequently produces a potential readiness for any line of action that promises a sudden break out of the suffocating blind alley.
In short, the unemployed of this country are becoming ready for revolution: if not the genuine revolution of socialism, then the pseudo-revolution of fascism.
FASCISM – THE BONAFIDE, genuine article – is a strange and seemingly paradoxical synthesis. It is at one and the same time a great, plebeian mass movement, and a mechanism whereby the small handful of chiefs of big business preserve their rule in the era of capitalist decay. It is not fascism unless or until it is both of these. It may start as either one, at first quite independent of the other; but it is only when the two fuse that we have fascism in the full sense. Naturally fascism appears entirely different to the plebeians in the ranks from what it does to the big business directors. Many widespread errors about the nature of fascism are caused by analyzing it from the point of View of only one of its two interlocked aspects; if we do not understand both we are condemned to disastrous confusion. With our eyes on the mass movement we can be led to think of fascism as anti-capitalist – a rather common illusion at present in this country, employed often in articles written about Germany. With our eyes on big business, we can pretend, as the Stalinists do, that the Hoovers and Garners are fascist leaders – and if we think that, we will not even recognize real fascism as it arises.
In the current discussions of fascism, every painfully won rule of scientific method as applied to political and social phenomena is being discarded by our “anti-fascist” publicists. We are told that fascism is a “foreign product”, imported by paid agents from Italy and Germany. We are told that it is artificially foisted upon innocent and unsuspecting masses by a cynically skillful and clever demagogue – the leader. We are told (by Silone, among others, for example) that the fascist ideology, by its own power, and fascist demagogy deceives and captures the minds of masses.
If it were only this easy! If fascism were merely a foreign product, an arbitrary ideology skillfully manipulated by demagogues, there would then be no need for us to worry. Isolated individuals, tiny groups here and there, can take up a foreign product, can adopt an arbitrary ideology (like theosophy or the theories of Glenn Voliva, the sage of Zion City). But great mass movements, we learned once and should not have altogether forgotten, grow only out of a soil which itself contains the chemicals required to nourish them; and an ideology captures the minds of masses for more than a brief moment only when that ideology is not arbitrary but corresponds – even if distortedly and in the long run deceptively – to the intellectual and physical needs of those masses.
Think of the unemployed. Is it not a fact that for ten years they have been learning on their own hides that for them there is nothing to hope for from democratic capitalism? And is this not what fascism tells them – the truth, so far as it goes? Will they believe forever Roosevelt and Browder and Lewis, who tell them what they know in their own lives to be a lie? Have they not been discovering for over six years that the New Deal is a fraud, that it has not given and will not give them jobs? This is what the fascists tell them. Are they not justified in believing the fascists here, rather than the lies about the New Deal that they hear from Dubinsky and the New Leader and the Daily Worker? Is it not a fact that every branch of the present government and both of the bourgeois democratic parties are shot through and through with corruption? The fascists say so. Is it not true, or at least part of the truth, that the big banks strangle the productive life of the country through their control of money and credit? The fascists stress the vicious role of the big banks – even though they give this fact an anti-Semitic twist. Is it not equally a fact that Roosevelt is trying to drag us into a war for the sake of big business? And will not the unemployed, especially the unemployed youth, be the first to die on the battlefields of that war? Lewis and Browder do not explain this to the unemployed, but the fascists do.
Yes, even when we come to fascism’s carefully formulated anti-trade union agitation, we do not enter the realm of mere primitive savagery in which Silone thinks fascism dwells. Here too we can find an intelligible, if perverted, correspondence with life as it actually seems to vast numbers of the unemployed (or small farmers or petty business men). Is it not a fact that there is a desperate competition for jobs in the labor market, and that in this competition the unemployed are those who have lost out? And is it not true also that by and large the unions protect the employed, not the unemployed; even, through seniority rules and the like, constituting in some cases more effective barriers to unemployed men than even the employers (who would prefer to dip into the ranks of the unemployed in order to depress the general wage level) ? In many trades and industries, the union can appear to an unemployed youth as an insurmountable obstacle to a job. It is hard to think the question all the way through to the end, to socialism. The unemployed want jobs and a meaning in life. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs in the governmental bureaucracy: why should they not have them, rather than the incumbent democrats? Jews, some Jews, have jobs; some Jews are rich. With a little assistance, it is easier to blame Jews for trouble than to set out to re-make the world. And the unemployed are ready for action, not postcards to Congress. They won’t get it from Lewis or Browder; the fascists will give them plenty.
WE ARE NOT WRITING about what might be, in some dim and distant future. We are writing about today, about what is happening now. The first wave in the growth of fascism as a mass movement in this country has begun.
The Nazi Bund is not American fascism. The Bund is, exactly, a “foreign product”, and there is not a chance in the world that it will be the authentic fascist movement in this country. The Bund has nevertheless an importance for the future of American fascism. Its prominence and boldness and nation-wide meetings during the past six months show, for one thing, how ripe the seeds are. And the Bund is teaching the native fascists many a crucial lesson: teaching how to organize; how to conduct meetings; how to train storm troops; how to use weapons; how to employ anti-Semitism; how to be scornful of democracy and democrats and democratic laws; and how to be bold.
The recent ballyhooed Dies’ witnesses – Gilbert, “retired Wall Street broker”, the head of the Knights of the White Camellias, General Van Horn Moseley – sound like crackpots. And these, too, are hardly going to lead the mass movement of the future. But they are not quite so cracked as they seem; and they too are symptoms. They have a nose for what is in the air. Moseley barnstorms through the country, and audiences, often large audiences, listen. He has discarded the sacred platitudes of liberalism. He does not hesitate to speak violence and revolution and concentration camps. The Herald-Tribune, read by so many bankers and big business men, prints daily news reports from his tours.
Mayor Hague, in spite of his recent electoral reverses, is a portent that has not been forgotten. He is too old, too much still of an old-fashioned boss, too primitive as a social demagogue to be decisive as an individual leader in the fascism of the future. But he also has been teaching many lessons: to big business, observing quietly; and to young-hopeful demagogues.
The Coughlin movement, however, has made the leap. Father Coughlin, after more than a year of retirement from the radio and the public eye, has come back on the scene in a costume not at all the same as that which he wore during his former appearance. Then, in spite of what many said, he was a fairly typical middle-class “radical” in the Populist tradition, with words and habits often known in this country. Upton Sinclair hailed him as an ally and co-thinker. During the Epic campaign, Sinclair’s longest stop on his trip East was at the Shrine of the Little Flower, and he reported on his return to California that Coughlin was 100% back of Epic.
But what is the fascist ideology but typical middle-class radicalism stepped up to high gear against a background of profound social crisis? The gulf from one to the other can be crossed by an easy jump – let the Sinclairs and
Ameringers take full note.
Father Coughlin is now a fascist, and is building a fascist mass movement. A March letter from Royal Oak reads, in part, as follows:
Unquestionably you are one of the Christian Americans who recognizes that we are face to face in a fight with anti-Christ. Christ’s divinity is denied. His social order is rejected. His doctrine of brotherhood is flouted. His charity is virtually scorned. Anti-Christ is riding high, wide and handsome.
Meanwhile, the Jews of America have not officially condemned Communism. Meanwhile, the government of America is fostering relations with Communistic states. And meanwhile, the people of America are suffering from the rule of those who are opposed to our Christ.
It is very well to quote the Scripture and say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But it is just as appropriate to remember that our battling is not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities and rulers dwelling in high places.
Let’s be militant and fight these’ people to the bitter end, cost what it may. Our Christ Who was crucified was no weakling when He drove the money changers from the temple by physical force. The day has come when we must stand up and fight for all that we hold dear.
The call to action is not going unheeded. In city after city, the movement is growing. Salesmen carry each issue of Social Justice into the most populous sections. Trained squads – unemployed youth as a rule – stay close by each salesman, ready to act, and acting, whenever a disturbance begins. The slogans, from the anti-war demagogy to the anti-Semitic filth, are sung out boldly – hawked in New York, for example, even in the heart of the most heavily Jewish districts of the Bronx. The cops are friendly, of course, and lend a hand against any objectors in the crowds. There is a fight nearly every night on the New York streets now.
Social Justice knows what it is doing. It is well and dramatically printed. Below its masthead is a firm and radical platform, wonderfully adopted to the hopes and prejudices of those to whom it is appealing. Its careful anti-Semitism masks itself with pious disavowals of racialism. Appeals to all the sentiments surrounding family and home and flag and religion alternate with slashing attacks on liberalism and communism and atheism. Yes, it is even running a $15,000 cash prize anti-war essay contest.
It is doubtful, perhaps, that a Catholic priest can in this country be the leader of the definitive fascist movement. But this doesn’t make the Coughlin enterprise any the less dangerous. His followers are being shaped into real fascists, and they will be ready to fuse into a broader movement where Coughlin himself may work largely behind the scenes. But you will not find it so simple to make them understand that they are becoming fascists.
THE SOCIAL CRISIS in this country is deepening far more rapidly than any but a few yet realize. The fascist movement, though still in its first stage, is now advancing at a faster rate than the labor movement. If this continues, fascism will conquer here also.
What are we going to tell those who are now beginning to move toward Coughlin’s banner? Are we going to tell them to put faith in the New Deal, to rely on it to protect us against reaction? How absurd, absurd on the face of it when once we understand what we are dealing with. They are turning to fascism precisely because they are fed up with the New Deal and with democratic capitalism in general. We have got to tell the truth: that democratic capitalism is finished, that it is time to overthrow it, not by the pseudo-revolution of fascism but by the genuine revolution of socialism.
Are we going to let ourselves be fooled into imagining that the fascist danger to the United States lies abroad, in Berlin and Rome? This would be the surest way in which to guarantee the victory of fascism at home. This is the central crime of the “anti-fascists” who ask us to fight fascism by enlisting in Roosevelt’s coming war against Germany. Native fascism, the fascism that is the real and main danger, blossoms and flourishes unchecked under protection of the illusory anti-fascist drive which is actually only a drive for support of imperialist war. To fight fascism at home means to fight against the war.
And will the growing fascist ranks be hindered by the postcards to Congress, the long editorials, the appeals to reason and decency, the reliance on liberals and the institutions of liberal capitalism? This is what we are told; and Hague and the Bund and the Coughlinites are answering. The whole fascist movement is predicated upon the collapse of “democracy” and scorn and rejection of democratic institutions – except so far as these can be used to their own ends. And their analysis and attitude are correct, and these institutions will not stand against them. That is why they can be fought only upon a different basis and through different means: relying not on democratic capitalism – whose decay and senility is proved by the very rise of fascism itself – but on the independently organized class strength of the workers. Against the demagogy of the fascists, only a bold and comprehensive program of revolutionary economic and political demands – demands breaking resolutely with the capitalist status quo and leading to a fundamental reorganization of the social order – will serve. Against the troops of the fascists only the troops of the workers, the anti-fascist workers’ guard, trained and disciplined and bold, will stand. The first lesson to be drawn from the transformation of Coughlinism into the first stage of a mass fascist movement is: the workers’ defense guard must be built, not tomorrow, but now.
THE ILLUSION THAT the Jewish question could be solved, if not entirely then at least in large part, by the munificent promise of British imperialism to establish a “Jewish homeland” in Palestine, has come to an end with the issuance of the latest White Paper of the Chamberlain Government, which restricts Jewish immigration to Palestine and regulates the maximum ratio of the Jewish population in that country to the Arab population as one to two. With the illusion ends also the basis of the Zionist movement, faithful flunkey of the British Empire and reactionary influence both among the Jews and the Arabs.
Yet, however revolting are the lamentations of the Zionist politicians over the failure of Britain’s ruling class – acting, to be sure, in its own sordid imperialist interests – to repress the Arab majority by force of arms so that they might be ruled over by the Zionist agents of London, a more fundamentally significant fact should not be lost sight of. With all its grandiloquent pretensions, capitalism has been unable to resolve the Jewish problem. Worse yet, in its period of disintegration capitalism actually exacerbates the problem by generating everywhere and on an unprecedented scale the poison of anti-Semitism. Is there a sane and serious person left today who will argue that the Jewish problem can be solved within the framework of the present incurably decadent social order?
Elsewhere in this issue, as on previous occasions, we publish articles on the Jewish question, with particular reference to Palestine, which we invited from contributors. Although they do not express the views of the editors – they are indeed in sharp conflict with them on many points – we feel justified in presenting them to our readers as contributions to the discussion of the problem that has reached an unheard-of stage of acuteness in recent times. A contribution to the discussion expressing our own point of view will appear in an early issue of the review.
Last updated on 8.8.2006