Georg Lukács. The fascist slogan “Liberalism = Marxism”, 1931

The fascist slogan “Liberalism = Marxism”

Written: 1931 in Berlin;
First published: as Ueber das Schlagwort “Liberalismus und Marxismus”, in: Der rote Aufbau, 15, 1931;
Translated: by Anton P.

The internal contradiction of the class situation of fascism necessarily manifests itself in all its ideological and polemic positions. The fascists themselves feel this very strongly. In the great theoretical works this contradiction is covered with roundabouts, with “mythical” constructions of history, with eclectic philosophical sophistry, etc. But in propaganda literature, where one is serious and directly addresses the proletarian or proletarianized masses, is forced to look at them clearly. And indeed Goebbels in his pamphlet Der Nazi-Sozi (The Social Nazi), conceived in the form of a dialogue, formulates this contradiction as an objection to fascist propaganda in these terms: “This means, therefore, if I understand correctly: the NSDAP is a proletarian party with bourgeois leadership”. The rebuttal is obviously not as clear as the statement of the difficulty. Goebbels is forced to sidestep the question of the class content of fascism with completely empty phrases. “We are neither bourgeois nor proletarian. The concept of the bourgeois has died and that of the proletarian will never come back to life,” he writes in his reply and continues his “refutation” in the same style. These empty words are repeated in the most varied variations in all fascist writings. And it is understandable. Indeed, they state the central difficulty of fascist propaganda among the working masses. These masses, as a result of the growing crisis of the capitalist system, oppose capitalism in an increasingly energetic way. Fascism can only gain ground among the masses if it appeals to their anti-capitalist instincts (which do not yet mean conscious opposition to capitalism), if it stimulates them, develops them and makes them the basis of organization and action. But the entire fascist mass movement – whose mass base is precisely this instinctive anti-capitalism of the masses – is at the same time subservient to the interests of big capital. Fascism must therefore conduct its propaganda in such a way that the followers won on the basis of anti-capitalist mass sentiments are used in practice as safe supports of the capitalist system.

It is impossible here to discuss at length all the contradictions of fascist theory produced by this discrepancy between class content and propaganda, between mass aim and mass base. Usually, a very characteristic discrepancy occurs. Thus a contradiction is destined to deepen, which, in the critique of the bourgeoisie, is expressed in the fact that a mock battle is waged against it that leaves intact all its positions of power and decisive economic institutions. Towards the working class, on the other hand – in these mass propaganda writings – a very “proletarian” tone is used and the exploitation and impoverishment of the workers is described in vivid colours. However, this propaganda is directed against the class struggle of the proletariat, against all its ideological and organizational tools which actually serve to defend against exploitation and impoverishment. Fascism thus takes a theoretical position from which it pretends to fight simultaneously against the “bad sides” of capitalism and against the labor movement. From this position it clearly follows that these two “bad sides” are logically and historically connected: Marxism, class struggle, etc. They appear as the logical and historical consequence of the “bad sides” of bourgeois development, as a consequence of liberalism, in whose critique is condensed the false battle of fascism against the capitalist system.

In this theoretical position there is nothing new in itself. The “critique of capital” is entirely borrowed from the theoretical arsenal of Romantic anti-capitalism. The more the latter, due to the development of the class struggle, loses its original sincerity and severity, the more it goes in the direction of the purification of capitalism from the rust of liberalism and Manchesterism, and the greater the role it assigns to the state, to statism (Rodbertus) in this process of purification, the greater its part borrowed by fascism can become. The main lines of this distinction between “good and bad sides”, the doctrine that on the one hand only the big capitalist is a true capitalist and middle industry represents nothing capitalistic (Gottfried Feder) and on the other the doctrine that the true capitalist – the creative and not the predatory – is a “commissar” of society and not an unbridled chaser of profit, both these doctrines already exist in the Romantic anti-capitalism of the 19th century, in Carlyle, Rodbertus, etc. This necessarily trivial critique of “liberal” capitalism in the course of development increasingly loses the subjective honesty that Sismondi and the young Carlyle still possessed. Today’s fascists speak of medium industry and mean Borsig and Krupp. They rage against predatory capital and agree to Jacob Goldschmidt’s loans to the Lahusen company. They fight against economic liberalism and in Stuttgart Gregor Strasser explains: “We will be the most persistent supporters of private property and interfere in the economy as little as possible, we will let the entrepreneurs rule freely.” And the greatest theoretician of National Socialism, Alfred Rosenberg, states that “a socialist action can mean individualization, the release of many individual forces.” That this explanation (and not the criticism of “liberalism,” of predatory capital) corresponds to Nazi practice was made quite clear by the votes in parliament (millionaires’ contributions, etc.), the strike-breaking services of the National Socialist industrial organizations, etc.

It is in these terms that the “struggle” against the capitalist system (and against its “bad sides”) is waged. But how is the connection between Marxism and liberalism made? It is clear that here too we are dealing with the old heritage – which fascism aspires to appropriate or has already appropriated – of reactionary mass movements. There is always an attempt to connect the despair of the petty-bourgeois strata in the face of their proletarianization with the mistrust of the most backward workers towards narrow class organizations. (Remember the anti-Semitic Christian Social movement that emerged in Austria before the war, under Karl Lueger, which was originally a huge mass movement). However, this old heritage is of course being updated and used by today’s fascists. The theoretical arguments are clearly very weak and fragile. The Viennese professor Othmar Spann, for example, goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Marx constitutes, both philosophically and economically, an indissoluble unity with classical bourgeois economics, with Smith and Ricardo. and therefore that the struggle for the “organic” state of the guilds, for the abolition of the class struggle, can only be a struggle against Ricardo and Marx, against liberalism and Marxism. (There is no room here for a scientific refutation of Spann. I therefore refer to my criticism of his Kategorienlehre (Archive Gruenberg, XIII, p. 302 ff.) and only recall that Professor Spann neglects the analysis of value and commodity and sees in the “right to the full profit of labour” another decisive reason for the “charm” of Marxism to “bourgeois intellectuals and economists”. But we can we see that here he has a slightly bad conscience, since he recalls that this demand achieves its triumph “not exactly in the form that Marx had expressed it, he (Professor Spann) does not know it apparently.” (ibid). Marx always rejected this position more decisively as inaccurate and unscientific, for example in the Critique of the Gotha Program. This small example is enough to show the level of the fascist professors’ understanding of Marx.) And like the professors, so are the propagandists. The well-known Viktor Klagges formulates the charge in these terms: “Ideologically considered, liberalism and Marxism constitute a unity, and this unity must be overcome by National Socialism.”

Such catchphrases can be multiplied at will. But what matters here is not the quantity of quotations cited, but the clarification of trends and their origin. And in this regard, these methods of propaganda (theoretically disproved hundreds of times and based on the most appalling ignorance of scientific and social data) are extremely interesting. Indeed, the coupling of liberalism and Marxism today can be based on one important fact, easily understood by the unenlightened masses: the theory and practice of social democracy. No matter how much Social Democracy has abandoned Marxism in word and deed, no matter much the working class (and a growing part of the middle classes) have clearly understood the total rejection of Marxism by the Social Democrats, a relatively large mass (especially among the petty bourgeois) can blame Marxism for the theory and practice of Social Democracy. But if the question is put in such a way that the bourgeois worldview and policy – characterized by the term liberalism – and the social democratic worldview and policy are in close relation to each other, then the situation is very different from the “liberalism equals Marxism” or the Smith-Ricardo and Marx position.

Bernstein’s famous book Conditions of Socialism from 1899, already contains a rather consistent and complete theoretical basis of revisionism, the fundamental lines of which consist precisely in adapting the theory and practice of the labor movement to the needs of the “progressive” bourgeoisie. What Lenin wrote about the attitude of Menshevism in the turbulent years 1905-1907, namely that it “tried to introduce bourgeois liberal tendencies into the labor movement” and that “the adaptation of the working class struggle to liberalism” was the essence of this orientation in German Social Democracy. Bernstein’s rejection of the revolutionary dialectic, David’s agrarian theory, the approval of the budget in Baden, etc. form a single line leading to the pro-imperialist war stance of the German Social-Democracy in 1914-18 and beyond to the establishment and defense of the Weimar “democracy” (also in the form of toleration of the state of emergency, the establishment of murderous squads against the revolutionary workers by the Social-Democrat Noske in 1918-19, the endorsement by the social democrats of many of the reactionary economic emergency measures of the bourgeois governments, and up to the recent massacre of the Berlin workers on May Day 1929 by the social democratic government of Prussia). It is true that today’s German bourgeoisie is no longer either liberal or democratic. However, the class content of this social-democratic policy is capitulation to the bourgeoisie in general, and the (initially desired) capitulation only to the liberal part of the bourgeoisie was only the apparent form of this policy at a certain stage of development. Along with the evolution of the German bourgeoisie from “liberalism” to fascism, this policy of capitulation had to necessarily develop. Today’s form of capitulation, today’s “Marxism” of social democracy is therefore as little “liberal” as the bourgeoisie itself. However, this does not change the fact that in the eyes of the masses social democracy seems rightly responsible for all the misery brought upon the working masses by the world war, the Treaty of Versailles, the Weimar “democracy” and its descent into fascism. The theory of fascism, scientifically unsustainable, which regards liberalism and Marxism as jointly responsible for the present poverty of the masses thus acquires a certain proof. In the present phase of imperialism it can only be convenient for the bourgeoisie that the anti-capitalist instincts of the disaffected masses are diverted by attacks on the ghost of liberalism. These attacks also offer ideological support to the fascist direction of bourgeois democracy and to all possible restrictions on the freedom of movement of the masses. The attack on Marxism and its connection with liberalism can, on the other hand, be effectively countered by the proletariat only when it becomes clear to the broad masses that Social Democracy has nothing in common with Marxism, either in theory or in practice. (How little this recognition has penetrated into the consciousness of bourgeois science is shown by the book Soziologie als Wirklichkeitswissenschaft by Professor Hans Freyer of Leipzig, one of the best minds among the theoretical exponents of fascism, who, as an example of the superiority of non-Marxist over Marxist sociology, cites the agrarian question, the national question, the question of imperialism and the labor aristocracy (p. 297), that is, he mentions a series of questions, to which the Leninist form of Marxism (which is unknown to the professor) has long ago given scientific answers, but it is precisely to these questions that social democracy (which the professor considers to be orthodox Marxism) has given the most liberal answers. The liberal distancing of social democracy from Marxism emerges in a particularly visible way precisely in these questions, and so the space is open to the fascist Freyer, starting from the thesis “Marxism equals social democracy” to claim that Marxism equals liberalism). So it becomes clear what material the theory and practice of social democracy offers to fascist demagoguery.

It is therefore a question of restoring the slogan Liberalism = Marxism to its real class content in the light of concrete facts. It must be explained to those masses who allow themselves to be seduced by fascism today that it is not “Marxism” that is responsible for their unhappiness, but the abandonment of Marxism by Social Democracy. They must understand, based on the facts, that fascism and social-fascism are closely related because they are the servants of monopoly capitalism (and not of a “liberalism” which has already become legendary) and because both prevent the masses from following the only possible way out of the state of progressive impoverishment, the class struggle for socialism and communism. The fascist deception of the working masses can only be exposed if the exposure of the deception touches on this central point: the exposure of the real connection between the theory and practice of social-fascism and the theory and practice of fascism. They are objectively related. A separate struggle – even in the ideological field, in the refutation of a single fascist theory – always leads to a secondary path and distracts from the revelation of the class content of the question. Only when the connection between the liberal labor policy of the Social Democracy in the pre-war period and its development today becomes clear will it become equally clear why the slogan “against liberalism and Marxism” exerts an attractive force on the impoverished masses despite the fact that it contains more errors than the letters that make up its words.