Peter Petroff April 1934

Socialist Civilisation or Blackshirt Barbarism?

Source: Labour, April 1934, p.188;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Mr. Petroff has previously exposed the fallacies of the Fascist philosophy as observed by him at close quarters – and at great personal risk – on the Continent. He now discusses the cogent problem of Fascism in Britain.

A Fascist wave is sweeping over Europe. The barbarisation of Germany has given a new impetus to the fascist reaction in other countries.

The forces working for Fascism can be traced everywhere.

The unabated crisis is shaking the very foundation of capitalism. The productive forces have developed at an enormous pace, they have completely outgrown the economic relations of the capitalist system. Steam power has been displaced by labour-saving electricity; mechanisation and rationalisation increased the productive capacity while reducing the number of employed workers and therewith the purchasing power of the masses. Starvation and misery prevail because too much food, too many goods have been produced.

The present crisis is different from the crises of the 19th century not only in its dimensions but also in its essence. It is not simply one of the recurrent capitalist crises but a crisis of capitalism itself. It becomes more and more obvious that mankind stands at a cross-road – up to Socialism or down to barbarism is the alternative. While the workers are striving to lead humanity up to Socialism, the capitalists, fearing to lose their power and privileges are trying to drag the social development down the other road. Fascism is a vehicle to achieve this end.

All the world over, the crisis is bringing about changes in the social structure. The proletarisation of large numbers of the lower middle class is rapidly progressing and they are sinking into the slum proletariat. Workers declassed by long unemployment, and young people who have no chance of entering the process of production, are joining them. These despairing elements, though unable to develop an ideology of their own, are very excitable. They are therefore always willing to follow any fascist demagogue who promises them to bring about a “radical change.”

Out of these declassed, the magnates of capital, through their fascist agents, are recruiting a praetorian guard to be used against unionised Labour. These private armies in their provocative actions against the working class may, in all countries, count upon the sympathy of the bourgeois courts.

The war has blunted sensibilities and bought about a general callousness which has been accentuated by the soullessness of modern rationalised labour. The idea of violence, dictatorship and military-like discipline consequently seems less repugnant to the present generation. There is now less enthusiasm to take up the fight against injustice and oppression wherever it is encountered. The hero-worship internationally propagated by the communists, their jesuitic teaching that the end justifies the means, their contempt for the rights of all who disagree with them, their tactics of lies and slander as well as their general militarist outlook – all this assists in creating amongst the dissatisfied workers, the psychological ground on which fascism may grow.

These factors are of a general character and can be traced in many capitalist countries. In Germany, of course, there still other causes peculiar to that country.

After her defeat in the war, Germany in 1918, went through a political revolution. Yet the economic power was left in the hands of the junkers and magnates of capital. The old officials were left in their places; the reactionary judiciary remained intact; the newly created army was placed under the command of monarchist generals. So the way for the counter-revolution was paved while the working class – split into two hostile camps – was weakened through a fratricidal war within its own ranks.

The Social Democratic Party had taken the responsibility for the defeat in the war, for the rebuilding of the country on capitalist lines, for the crisis and the resulting depletion of social legislation, education and municipal institutions. In their hatred against Social Democracy the Communists were at times fraternising with the fascists (for instance, in the Prussian plebiscite of August 1931).

All this weakened the influence of organised Labour while the severe blows of the crisis brought not only the unemployed, but also the lower middle class and the peasantry to despair, thus strengthening the power of advancing reaction. Nationalist tendencies grew, especially amongst the declassed elements who, deprived of class-community, were searching for a spiritual home in the “nation.”

While in Britain the general facts favouring fascism are as strong as anywhere else there are, undoubtedly, very important factors against fascism.

The governing class in this country is undoubtedly more intelligent than their brethren in other countries. Many of them understand that fascism will destroy their old culture and they know that the bells ringing in the era of Fascism would be the death knell of The Empire.

The majority of the population in this country consists of proletarians. There is no peasantry while Trade Unionism is a growing force amongst the agricultural labourers.

England is not a militarist country. The short period of conscription during the war has had no lasting effect on the psychology of the people. The worship of military-like discipline and militarist psychology so characteristic of present-day Germany, Russia and Italy is quite alien to the British character. In British public life we find the “human touch” which was lacking in Germany. Labour has here taken over the best of humanitarian traditions of liberalism, melting them into their socialist ideology.

In Great Britain Parliamentarism is still a reality and a strong moral force notwithstanding its shortcomings. Municipal life is healthy although only one-third of the population take the trouble to vote at municipal elections. The degradation of capitalism has not produced in Britain such a general corruption of public life as is the case in Germany.

However, the most important factor against Fascism in this country is that strong, democratic, undisrupted Trade Union Movement.

So long as the Labour Movement remains a virile, democratic force, fighting for the emancipation of the working class democracy cannot be destroyed in the country. However, it would be a grave mistake to believe that in our time Democracy can be protected on purely defensive lines. Organised Labour can defend Democracy only through an offensive for Socialism!

Labour was published by the TUC. There are bound volumes in the British Library covering the years from 1933, when it was first published, to 1938. In it there are many full page articles by Petroff.