Edgar Hardcastle

What to Do About Fascism?

Source: Socialist Standard, November 1936.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The Fascist Pot and the Communist Kettle

In the sacred name of liberty Sir Oswald I Mosley – who proposes, like his heroes, Mussolini and Hitler, to destroy all opposition parties if he gets power – demands the right to lead his blackshirt troops into the East End. In the sacred name of liberty the Communists – who propose here, as in Russia, to crush all opposition parties if they get power – call upon us all to rally against Sir Oswald Mosley. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, which does not propose to prevent anyone, anywhere, from voicing his opinions and organising peacefully to propagate them, is completely and permanently opposed to both of these suppressive movements. We are opposed to their objects, their methods and their secret finances, but principally to their objects because they neither of them have the solution for the problem of our age. The underlying discontent with things as they are in State-capitalist Russia is so widespread that the dictator and his yes-men are thoroughly scared lest one exile in Norway should prove a rallying point and endanger their positions. In the Fascist lands poverty and promises are as much the order of the day as in the capitalist democracies. Italy and Germany are as much the paradise of the moneyed men, the exploiters of human labour, as England and America. Nothing is changed except the patriotic trimmings and the colour of the shirt.

The Right to Wear what Clothes We Wish

When Sir Oswald Mosley, fresh from his visits of adoration to Mussolini and Hitler, asks if in this country “a man might not wear the clothes he wished to wear?” as he did in an address to Manchester business men on October 9th (Manchester Guardian, October 10th), he at once betrays the limitations of the Fascist movement, and of his own understanding. Nowhere in the capitalist world, whether under Baldwin, Sir Oswald’s former political associate, or under the foreign Fascist dictators, at whose feet he now sits, can a man wear what clothes he wishes to wear. All he can wear is what his class-position enables him to afford.. If he is a typical worker, a wealth-producer, he will wear clothes that are cheap and nasty, tasteless and inadequate. If he is a member of the propertied class, whether Liberal or Nazi, Conservative or Fascist, then, and only then, can he exercise his choice about the way he lives, including the clothes he wears. This is the crucial test of all the reformist movements from Mosley to Morrison. None of them dare face up to the question why it is that they propose to use power to preserve the class ownership of the means of production and distribution.

The Fascists Can’t Cure Capitalism

True, the Fascists can point to the manifold reformist activities of the Fascist Governments – and to the decline of unemployment. But this is now the favourite theme of all the apologists for capitalism, everywhere. Capitalism, after its latest crisis, is going through an expanding phase. So unemployment declines because of the expansion of trade and also because of the expansion of capitalism’s most thriving industries: armies and armaments. The Berlin correspondent of the Economist (September 19th, 1936) reports that the official number of unemployed is down to 1,098,000, and adds: –

“The Reich Unemployment Board considers that the shortage of skilled labour in certain industries is the result of compulsory military service.”

And what does it mean, anyway, when we admit that all the capitalist Governments are busy with schemes for patching up this, that and the other evil of capitalism? It means that capitalism is always producing more evils, and that the Fascists are as incapable as any other capitalist Government of solving them. Catholic Dictator Schuschnigg, in Austria, plays the age-old game of bread and circuses because the “Corporative State” is as mangy as all the other variations of capitalist rule. Read what the Vienna correspondent of the Daily Telegraph writes: –

“The Government is presenting 50,000 tickets of admission to football matches, 50,000 cinema, and 10,000 theatre tickets to the members of the (Fatherland) Front. About 400,000 free breakfasts and free railway transport for all will be provided.” – (Daily Telegraph, October 15th, 1936.)

This was Schuschnigg’s great victory parade at which the population were to give a spontaneous demonstration of loyalty and enthusiasm. The attendance was splendid – it was compulsory for large numbers of workers: “attend or lose your job” was the threat. Still the dictator failed. His “promises of improved conditions for the masses were received without enthusiasm. When he denounced Socialism and democracy the great crowd remained silent.” (Daily Telegraph, October 19th, 1936). It appears that the workers opened their mouths for the free meal and then kept them obstinately shut.

In Italy, a land of semi-paupers and millionaires, like the rest of the big powers, Mussolini blethers about Empire and prosperity like any Conservative but he cannot cure unemployment, he does not find a remedy for desperate poverty, and he never fails to look after capitalist interests. What else can he do, having no choice but to carry on capitalism? On Tuesday, October 13th, his Government instructed stockbrokers to submit the names and addresses of all clients who buy industrial shares. This was at 9.30 a.m. The Fascist syndicate of brokers promptly held a meeting and passed a resolution that “it would be advisable to close all the bourses rather than have to obey the latest order.” The Government instantly climbed down and agreed by 9.45 a.m. to waive the order. (Daily Telegraph, October 14th, 1936.) This is Mosley’s paradise for the workers in which he affects to believe that money no longer rules.

Then in Germany, where the Nazis claim to have got rid of talking-shops, and introduced Socialist deeds instead of capitalist and Labour Party promises, Hitler stages his own brand of circuses for keeping the workers’ attention off their own slavelike conditions. The Nuremberg rally of the Nazi Party in September, at which Hitler begged the German workers to keep their eyes fixed on poverty in Russia (lest they should look nearer home), was a splendiferous jamboree costing £2,000,000 (Daily Telegraph, September 8th, 1936). It contained all the fun of the political fair, every species of mental dope calculated to stop a worker from thinking.

Then, at home, what has Mosley to offer except a mixed bag of reforms of capitalism picked up on his passage from the Conservative Party, via the Labour Party, I.L.P., and New Party to the British Union of Fascists. I.L.P. reforms – 40 years old – plus Communist violence, plus the current exaggerated economic nationalism and patriotism, plus half-baked Stafford Cripps doctrines of rule by Order in Council. That is the sum total of Mosley’s programme: it is as rotten as the rubbish heaps from which it has been gathered.

The Fascists and Disorder

The Fascist technique of propaganda and gaining power is simple, but its effectiveness depends entirely on the level of political knowledge and experience of the workers and on the behaviour of the opponents of Fascism. Fascism (copying most of the traditional methods of the Labour Parties) exploits every phase of working-class and small-capitalist discontent. It denounces Jews, Freemasons, Catholics, Trade Union officials, bankers, all big corporations, bureaucracy, Parliament, financial scandals, unemployment, etc., etc. Where it scores over the older methods is in provoking disorder with the assistance of those who believe they are hindering it. Given an increasing number of marches and the appearance if not even the reality of disorder the Fascist leaders know that they can count, with certainty, on growing support from numerous quarters. They get the support of all who have grievances against Jews, Freemasons, and so on, but, above all, they get the support of large numbers of people who, knowing little of politics, are simply scared by disorder. Such people, if they believe they have to choose between the Communist Party and the Fascists, choose the latter. Every riot brings Mosley support from them.

How, it may be asked, do the Fascists manage to win over workers who formerly supported the Labour Parties; as they succeeded in doing in Italy and Germany, and are doing here? Why is the Labour Party reformist demagogy less successful than it used to be? The answer is simple.

Labour Parties and Fascism

Before the War the world was obviously governed by and for the propertied class, landed and plutocratic, on a more or less restricted Parliamentary franchise. The inevitable discontent with capitalism naturally drove workers to support democratic parties claiming to be particularly concerned with political and social reforms.

After the War the franchise was made more or less universal in nearly all countries, and Labour or Liberal-Labour Governments became common. With what result? Capitalism continued, therefore discontent continued. But now the discontent had to find a new outlet. Having tried capitalism under democracy, the workers were ripe for a new kind of demagogue, one preaching dictatorship. Renegade Labour leaders hastened to adjust themselves to the change of fashion. They reaped the harvest, but who sowed the seed? None other than the Labour Parties. It is they who poisoned politics with their doctrines of reforming capitalism without abolishing it.

The Key to Modern Politics

The idea still survives that politics is concerned with a struggle of ideas about Government, trade, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. Politics is concerned with the ownership of the land, factories, railways and all the accumulated property of the country. The small minority who own and control all that matters, the late Sir J. Ellerman with his £50 million, Joseph Rank and Lord Nuffield, reputed to be worth upwards of £20 million each, the Lady Houstons and the Wills and Coats families, and all the rest of the owning class, have one overriding interest, one motive, one determination. They may tell simple-minded newspaper readers that “Money means nothing to me. I could just as easily go back to where I started – in fact, I might be happier if I did” (Lord Nuffield, News Chronicle, October 17th, 1936), but their actions, individual and combined, belie their words. No exploiting class ever gives up its privileged position until it has tried every conceivable device to retain what it has.

Broadly speaking, in the 20th century the capitalist class are on the defensive. Ideas are on the march. Workers are beginning to think. From the capitalist standpoint that movement must be stopped, destroyed, divided, or turned into blind alleys – anything to preserve capitalism. If the discontented organise to secure reforms the capitalists can try buying off the leaders, offering small concessions to the rank and file, playing off one section against another, Catholic against Protestant, Jew against Arab, German against English, Blackshirt against Greenshirt and Redshirt. And if one group forges ahead and becomes influential, then the capitalists must come to terms with it – hence Labour Governments, and if, in due course, the popularity of Labour Governments wanes then the new rounders-up of working-class votes, the Fascists, must be given their turn. So capitalism goes on.

In Italy and Germany Mussolini and Hitler trod on the heels of discredited Syndicalism and Labourism, backed by capitalist money and under the protecting arm of the State.

Now Mosley says that he is receiving support from English industrial capitalists (see Rome Giornale d’Italia, quoted in News Chronicle, October 19th, 1936). They hope that he will be able to give capitalism – meaning themselves – a further lease of life.

If the Workers Go Fascist

Many who are alarmed at the growth of Fascism in England talk in a panicky way of fighting or crushing the movement, and appeal to the Government to ban uniforms. This is all so much waste of words. The issue rests with the workers in the main. If the workers understood capitalism and Socialism they would not fall for the Fascist claptrap – but neither would they fall for Liberal. Labour or Conservative claptrap. If, on the other hand, the workers here can, as in Italy and Germany, be won over in their hundreds of thousands to the Fascist programme then all talk of suppression is idle. If the workers want Fascist Government they will get it, as they got Labour Government. At certain stages of the Hitler movement the Prussian and German Governments did try to ban his movement, forbid uniforms and demonstrations, etc., but they failed to stem the drift towards him.

The only answer to Fascism, as to other capitalist-reformist movements, is knowledge and understanding. Their economic programme would deceive no worker who gave serious thought to it – which is, doubtless, one reason why the Mosleyites prefer riotous demonstrations to quiet meetings at which their programme has to be stated in all its poverty.

The most seductive claim of the Fascists is that they are Socialists. Hitler repeated this again in Berlin on October 6th (News Chronicle, October 7th, 1936), and it is the common argument of the Mosley movement nowadays. Every Labourite will laugh at the notion that the Mosleyite programme of reforms is Socialist; but they have little enough reason to laugh. Who, if not the Labour Party and I.L.P., started this dishonest practice? Who made it possible for Lord Beaverbrook’s Daily Express to say (October 1st) that it opposes Socialism but not the Labour Party – “that is a very different thing.”

If the Fascists can get support by misrepresenting Socialism, that is largely due to all the Labour speakers who have done the same in the past.

The Struggle Will Go On

The rise of Fascism to power in this country is, to say the least, improbable. The problems facing the British capitalists, in particular the international situation, are not of a kind to make them give up flattering the Labour and Trade Union leaders in order to encourage Mosley. At a pinch a more likely development, if the situation threatens war, is an enlarged “National Government” in which Trade Union leaders and Mosley work happily together defending British capitalism. What is more important to remember about Fascism here and abroad is that the eventual failure of the Fascist movements is as certain as the failure of Labour Governments which helped them to rise. Fascism is incapable of making capitalism work satisfactorily. It is an impossible task. Capitalism goes on producing discontent under the surface. The future of Fascism is forecast in the growing activity of anti-Fascists in Italy and Austria. Sooner or later all the Fascist facades of capitalism will fall away, leaving the main problem still to be tackled. The workers will still have to be won over to Socialism. That is the task for Socialists, whether under Dictatorship or Democracy.