L. Trotsky

What Is Fascism

Extracts From a Letter to a Comrade

(November 1931)

Written: 15 November 1931.<<br /> Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 3 (Whole No. 99), 16 January 1932, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

I am writing you today regarding the question of Fascism. It would be well if you were to discuss three questions with the English comrades, since in this manner we can arrive at conclusions and definite views.

What is Fascism? The name originated in Italy. Were all the forms of counter-revolutionary dictatorship Fascist or not? That is, prior to the advent of Fascism in Italy.

The former dictatorship in Spain, of Primo de Rivera, is called a Fascist dictatorship by the Comintern. Is this correct or not? We believe that it is incorrect.

The Fascist movement in Italy was a spontaneous movement of large masses, with new leaders from the rank and file. It is a plebeian movement in origin, directed and financed by big capitalist powers. It issued forth from the petty bourgeoisie, the slum proletariat and even to a certain extent, from the proletarian masses, Mussolini, a former socialist, is a “self-made” man arising from this movement.

Primo de Rivera was an aristocrat. He occupied a high military and bureaucratic post, and was chief governor of Catalonia. He accomplished his overthrowal with the state and military forces. The dictatorships of Spain and Italy are two totally different forms of dictatorship. It is necessary to distinguish between them. Mussolini had great difficulty in reconciling many old military institutions with the Fascist militia. This problem did not exist for Primo de Rivera.

The movement in Germany is analogous mostly to the Italian movement. It is a mass movement, with its leaders employing a great deal of socialist demagogy. This is necessary for the creation of the mass movement.

The genuine basis is the petty bourgeoisie. In Italy it is a very large base – the petty bourgeoisie of the towns and cities, and the peasantry. In Germany likewise, there is a large base for Fascism. In England there is less of that base because the proletariat is the overwhelming majority of the population: the peasant or farming stratum only an insignificant section.

It may be said, and this is true to a certain extent, that the new middle class, the functionaries of the state, the private administrators, etc., etc., can constitute such a base. But this is a new question that must be analyzed. This is a supposition. It is necessary to analyze just what it will be. It is necessary to foresee the Fascist movement growing from this or that element. But this is only a perspective which is controlled by events. I am not affirming that it is impossible for a Fascist movement to develop in England or for a Mosley or someone else to become a dictator. This is a question for the future. It is a far-fetched possibility.

To speak of it now as an imminent danger is not a prognosis but a mere prophecy. In order to be capable of foreseeing anything in the direction of Fascism, it is necessary to have a definition of that idea. What is Fascism? What is its base, its form and its characteristics? How will its development take place?

The aim of this is to show the English comrades that the question is not a simple one. It is necessary to proceed in a scientific and Marxian manner.

Now another question. Naturally, it is important that you occupy yourself with the isolated elements of the Left Opposition, but it is no less important to pay close attention to what is taking place in the Communist Party, the Independent Labor Party and the Labour Party. The first tremors or the earthquake must have produced very great cracks in the wall of the house, and the Bolshevik-Leninists can gain an influence among a large section of the labor movement. It is necessary to direct your attention not only to our little section but to everything that is happening in this great organism.

This letter is in very rough form. I have not even checked its contents but I trust that you will get the general sense of the ideas expressed ...

Kadikoy, November 15, 1931


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Last updated on: 23.3.2013