Peter Petroff November 1936

The Defence of Democracy

Source: Labour, November 1936, p. 70;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Thirty years ago Democracy was in the ascendancy all the World over. Those countries where Democracy was not yet the established form of government were regarded as backward and considered themselves backward countries, The question was not when they would one day become democracies, but whether the people there would succeed in attaining the democratisation of their country. The Russian Revolution of 1905, the great struggle for the reform of the franchise system in Prussia 1906-1910, the political strikes for adult suffrage and genera1 franchise reform in Austria and Belgium, the Young Turk Revolution that deposed the tyrant Abdul Hamid, the democratic republican Revolutions in China and Portugal, the struggle for Parliamentary government in Persia – all these were land-marks on the world’s way towards Democracy.

Now, a quarter of a century later, victorious Democracy finds itself thrown back on the defensive in a life and death struggle for long-conquered territory against strong forces of reaction, degradation and slavery arrayed in unwashed shirts under the bloodstained flag of fascism. Pygmies and madmen have become the rulers of great nations while contemptible hooligans, lavishly supplied with funds from dark sources, are openly aspiring to dictatorial powers in countries with an old-established culture and democratic traditions.

The fear of the magnates of capital that the democratic onslaught of the working class against their privileges and powers of exploitation may dispossess them is so great that they are prepared to accept the devil and his grandmother as their rulers, to submerge their country into barbarism, to plunge the people into bloody civil strife in order to save their purses and their power from the “danger” of the natural development of political democracy in the hands of an enlightened people into socialist democracy.

This fear and their class hatred against the advancing workers make them so blind that they do not even ask whither Fascism will ultimately lead them.

After the experiences in Germany where Democracy was shamelessly deserted by its adherents without any attempt to combat with force of arms the onslaught of fascism, it is clearly impossible that any other people will go under the yoke without violet resistance. The attempt to introduce a fascist regime in any industrial country will inevitably lead to the most sanguinary civil war.

Now the problem is to place Democracy in such a position as to nip in the bud a development which would make civil war the only alternative to fascist dictatorship.

This cannot be attained by legislative or administrative measures which would systematically curtail the liberties of the people, nor by a democratic formalism in dealing with this new form of political gangsterism.

Society may take drastic measures against criminals without affecting the rights of the ordinary citizens. Emergency measures are required outlawing militarised fascist gangsterism, its barracks and uniforms, introducing a strict control of its funds ans their origin without curtailing the rights of other political organisations however militant they may be.

To allow the militarised hordes of hired fascist desperadoes freedom of development actually means Democracy run mad.

But legislation of a general character – such as the “German Defence of the Republic Act” – has been curtailing liberty of speech and meeting could only pave the way for fascism. Such a procedure tends ultimately to turn Democracy into an empty shell which could not inspire the people with enthusiasm for its defence. Since the object of fascism is the abolition of political liberty every general curtailing of democratic rights is a stepping stone on the way to fascism.

However, the combating of fascism cannot be limited to administrative and police measures alone. The active resistance of the public is essential.

The Tolstoyan attitude assumed by the German Socialdemocratic Party upon its followers to “remain at home and close the windows” while the fascists provocatively demonstrated in working class districts educated the sheep which the fascists can then easily slaughter.

Democracy, the achievement of a struggle of generations, has to be safeguarded by the working class. But for the working class defence means extension. This enthusiasm of millions cannot be effectively roused merely of the defence of the status quo existing in democratic countries.

Capitalist Democracy, important though its achievements are, cannot yet [unclear word] the working class.

The most effective defence of Democracy by the Labour Movement policy is a clear social policy and a fight for the consistent improvement of conditions of the people, especially a struggle for the raising of the bottom from the sordid conditions of toil and misery under which he subsists.

The danger of fascism is an international danger. It has to be fought by the workers, not only within the boundaries of their own country. A victory for Fascism in Spain, apart from all the international complications and the menace of war, would have strong repercussions throughout the world and would be a terrific blow to Democracy in France and in this country.

Therefore the rallying cry of the working class in support of the heroic struggle of the Spanish workers, who had won their liberty by democratic methods and now find themselves compelled by force of arms, is an essential part of the defence of Democracy at home.