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Socialist Appeal, October 1935, Volume 2 No. 1, Pages 7-8
Transcribed, Edited and Formatted by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

“Fascism” In Terre Haute

by Lydia Beidel

THE WORKING-CLASS movement is an international whole. The saddest proof of this theory is the agility with which the various national sections adopt each other’s false ideas and immature concepts. If this weakness were balanced by an equal adeptness in learning the lessons of theoretical and tactical error, things might be much better with the revolutionary socialist movement today.

Remote as it may seem, geographically and politically, from Berlin, Paris, or Moscow, Terre Haute, Indiana brings up the present rear in the procession of error in revolutionary theory as it is expressed by some of our Socialist party member?

For almost two months Terre Haute and Vigo County Indiana, have suffered under a form of martial law. A general strike of short duration declared in the last week of July was offered by Governor McNutt as the excuse for a partial suspension of civil authority and the bringing in of troop?. Picketing is prohibited and the general meeting-together of workers forbidden, except when such meetings occur under A. F. of L. auspices. Strike-breakers for the Columbia Enameling Works transact their business under sanction of a pass signed jointly by the vice-president of the Enameling Company and the commanding officer of the Indiana National Guard. Men arrested by the National Guard are held incommunicado for weeks; the right of habeas corpus is suspended. All of which leads many of our American Socialist party members dangerously far along a path strewn with the bleeding bodies and corpses of other Socialist parties of the world.

What do conditions in Terre Haute signify? Terre Haute does not stand alone as a single peak of organized mass action against economic oppression. It has some very significant predecessors – Minneapolis, Toledo, San Francisco. To view any of these upheavals as isolated “accidental” instances or rebellion is to fail to see the profound change through which American labor is going. Each of these is a dramatic manifestation of the slow development of strike strategy to a new and higher level. The decomposition of the capitalist producing machine (of which enhanced monopoly is a part) is making more and more ineffective the strike against the single industrial enterprise. Only two alternatives offer themselves: the general “horizontal” tie-up of an industry (which presupposes a growth of industrial unionism); or the general strike, paralyzing the functioning of a highly interdependent geographic area.

As the decay of capitalism proceeds, the use of the general strike tactic will become ever more necessary and frequent. Coincident with this broadening of strike strategy will come the increasingly more brazen and ruthless use of governmental force on the side of capital. Each of these developments finds its source in the immutable logic of capitalist economic evolution; it is capitalist economy and not the presence of a peculiarly constituted political superstructure that is the root cause of working class misery. One political set-up as against another might add a few embellishments on the side of capitalism, but the prime mover of repressive force against workers is the capitalist producing apparatus.

In the minds of some of our comrade?, martial law in Terra Haute falls, together with the NRA, low wages on relief projects, the cutting down of educational budgets and a hundred other things, into the category of American fascism. According to one party member, Governor McNutt himself declared that he has instituted a fascist dictatorship in Vigo County; and because Governor McNutt knows just nothing at all about the theoretical basic characteristics of fascism, we are not obligated to echo his words. Our comrades have found an “illegal” use of martial law; is our logical position therefore to strive to cleanse martial law of its “illegality”? “The whole thing is unconstitutional anyhow”. Fight martial law on this basis and the next time Governor McNutt will give you a thoroughly constitutional martial law – and the constitutional clubs will crack just as loudly on workers’ skulls and the constitutional bullets kill just as dead.

The declaration of any form of martial law is a move of the capitalist state machine against the working class. “Unconstitutional” or otherwise, it is a vicious assault upon the workers’ interests. Terre Haute workers must be swung into a fight against martial law knowing that they are faced with a normal expression of capitalist class rule at a given intensity of struggle. To fight on the basis of legality is in essence to assist capitalism in making its future onslaughts fool-proof; and it diverts to a superficial technicality the attention which the workers should have directed to the fundamentals of the class nature of the state. But most vicious of all, such a campaign throws the reliance of the working class upon the “liberal” phases of the bourgeois constitution instead of upon their own organized resistance.

The state and its troops have allied themselves with the capitalist owners of industry; witness the famous pass issued to the strike-breakers; this is fascism, cry some socialists. Can anyone dig up a single strike of major importance in the history of American industry where this has not happened? Have we all forgotten Ludlow and Homestead, fruit of the heyday of capitalist democracy? Has everyone forgotten that parties were declared illegal and men – hundreds of them – held incommunicado by Attorney-General Palmer in 1919, long before even Mussolini began to do much about fascism? The fact that the Terre Haute A.F. of L. is allowed to sponsor huge open-air mass meetings on the steps of the court-house is not only an indication of the questionable working class virtues of that respectable body but also a pretty certain mark of an ordinary non-fascist capitalist behavior on the part of the governor.

The things taking place in. Terre Haute are not happening because the administration of the state of Indiana has broken with bourgeois democracy and gone fascist in one county. If the administration uses some of the methods of fascism {but leaves undone some much more important things that a, fascist regime should do) that does not excuse us for raising the confusing “wolf-cry of “fascist dictatorship” against it. These acts are the flower of Capitalism – the plain, everyday, garden variety; and compared with Ludlow and Homestead and Minneapolis and San Francisco, weeds of a mild odor. Violence comes out of capitalism just as fascism develops from capitalism; the working class must fight, terror in Terre Haute today as a manifestation of an existing capitalist economy and not as the. threat of something bad lurking in the dark future.

But is it mere pedantic quibbling to denounce as a very costly sport this loud labeling of the obviously common functional manifestations of a capitalist state machine a. fascist The number of German and Austria, proletarian lives that have paid the price of this sport is well up in the thousands. The Communist party of Germany found full-blown fascism in every administration precede Hitler – nay, it found it even in the ranks of the Social-Democratic and Communist Labor parties. So many of the ordinary things of life were fascism that the e masses of workers found themselves quite unmoved to take arms against the arch-fascist, Hitler. And the revolutionary workers themselves, whose first duty to the movement is intellectual clarity and scientific accuracy, were confused and stupefied by a slip-shod irresponsible leadership. You cannot destroy an enemy if you do not know of what he is made nor where he is.

This simple and hysterical dying of “Fascism, fascism” has a corollary still more dangerous to the revolutionary socialist movement. That consists in diverting all of the energies of the party membership and sympathetic masses into the channel of a defensive struggle against a threatening condition without recognizing that the best defense against that menace is a strong offensive against capitalism in its every manifestation. The germs of fascism lie in capitalist breakdown, fascism can be prevented only if the revolutionary socialist party takes advantage of that breakdown to strike blow after blow at the body of capitalism itself, destroying the germ with the bearer.

We can look to Germany again for lessons in defensism and its outcome. For how many years and how desperately did German Social-Democracy “defend” the Weimar Constitution against “the fascist menace?” But they failed to organize the offensive for socialism and now they are still on the defensive – behind the walls of concentration camps.

But if we want a still more tragic manifestation of defensism and its final implications, we may look to our erstwhile critics, the Communist International. Completely abandoning the principle that the irreconcilable enemy of socialism is the capitalist state machine, we see these “communists” (motivated by a weak,, non-revolutionary defensism) going the length of distinguishing between good and bad capitalism, good and bad imperialist wars, even bad and not-so-bad fascisms! And, mind you, asking the revolutionary masses to line up on the “good” sides. if they are not too dizzy to know which is which. It may be Comintern “dialectics” to conceive of good enemies and bad enemies, but it is sheer betrayal in the mind of any revolutionary socialist.

The height of confusion is found, however, in the new line of the Communist party of France, which now busies itself fighting fascism by “people’s front” alliances with potentially fascist elements in France to prevent fascism from arriving in the form of a Nazi army from Germany. The seeds of French fascia he in France and not in Germany and the only real defense against German imperialist aggression is the destruction of French imperialism through the socialist revolution. To make a truce with French imperialism means to act as midwife at the birth of French fascism. This is the ultimate logic of the purely defensive fight against fascism.

The present struggle in Terre Haute will not be the last one of its kind upon which the Socialist party will have to take a position. That position should be taken upon the basic socialist principle that the struggle for socialism is conducted against capitalism as capitalism, regardless of its manifestation under a democratic republic or a fascist dictatorship. The new Comintern line which expresses the distinction between bourgeois democracies and fascist dictatorships in the form of truces and alliances with the former in the field of the class struggle is suicidal for the cause of the socialist revolution. Those ideologically bent in the direction of compromise with ordinary pro-fascist capitalism are precisely the ones guilty of the careless timing of every violent expression of capitalist rule as fascism. Whether motivated by cowardice or a spirit of compromise or an inability to understand the forces with which they must deal, these people refuse to come to grips with capitalism as a whole and single out only its crassest evils for attack, branding these not normal expressions of capitalism but as something else that has a bad name.

Revolutionary socialists will have to work hard to stop the tit. spread of the idea that there are good and also bad capitalisms. Capitalism in all its forms is diametrically opposed to socialism, ;he some people are forgetting that fact very rapidly. Those who are still undemoralized, those who still have the virility to fight an offensive battle against capitalism, economically and politically, on the basis of socialist principle will have to be drawn together. It is the historical function of revolutionary socialists today to gather together and build into a strong organization those whose opposition to capitalism is a matter of basic principle and not simply emotional reaction.

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