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Colin Barker


(November 1976)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.93, November/December 1976, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Martin Kitchen
Macmillan £6.95 (hardback), £2.95 (paperback).

On the whole, this is a useful little book review of theories of fascism, although with only 91 pages of text it is grossly overpriced.

The author is at his best when he is exploring the weaknesses of a wide variety of bourgeois and Stalinist accounts of fascism. He focusses his attention, rightly, on Italy and Germany, and is properly critical of the loose application of the term ‘fascist’ to any old right-wing authoritarian regime. His analysis of a variety of writings reveals how difficult it is for liberals to come to terms with fascism, since the fascist phenomenon casts into question precisely their own support for liberal capitalist democracy.

Kitchen is, however, slightly less acute on the errors of the Stalinist positions, both those of the infamous ‘Third Period’ when the communist parties characterised social democracy as the twin of fascism under the appalling label ‘social-fascist’, and those that succeeded this position, when the Stalinist parties retreated backwards into the politics of the ‘Popular Front’. The centre of his weakness lies in his failure to realise that there is only one effective alternative to fascism: socialist revolution.

Because his book approaches this position, it has much of value in it. But because it does not arrive at its proper destination, Kitchen falls back on Popular Front politics without ever noting that they failed, both in France and in Spain (not to mention Greece, Chile and lesser blackspots). He notes that the ‘major safeguard’ against fascism is a ‘united and determined working class’: a proposition which is true, but leaves unanswered the question: ‘determined ... to do what?’

Under the circumstances of crisis, it is precisely the failure of a mass working class movement to proceed to the overthrow of capitalism which provokes the growth of fascism. When the times demand extreme solutions, the petty bourgeoisie, battered as much as the working class by crisis, turn in large numbers to fascism if and when the workers’ parties fail to solve the crisis by revolutionary socialist means. Kitchen himself provides evidence of this for both Italy and Germany, although he emphasises the point insufficiently.

It is symptomatic of his weakness that Kitchen should be scornful of the contribution of Trotsky to the understanding of fascism. Trotsky, he asserts, ‘made a major departure from classical Marxism by insisting that the petty bourgeoisie could be won over to the ranks of the revolutionary proletariat if only the communist parties would provide the necessary leadership.’ In point of fact, there is nothing of a ‘departure’ in this position of Trotsky’s; Marx’s account of the peasantry in Germany and France, and Lenin’s of the Russian peasantry, is precisely in line with this position. If the petty bourgeoisie is a section of society that cannot master society, but requires to be mastered by another class, it is open to a revolutionary working class to assert that mastery: indeed, that assertion is a precondition for the success of socialist revolution.

The last pages of Kitchen’s book discuss the possibility of the re-appearance of mass fascist movements in the advanced capitalisms of today. Rightly, he asserts that the possibility is real. Wrongly, he supposes that such movements may use less brutal means than under Mussolini or Hitler. Actually, since the mission of fascist movements is to destroy working-class opposition within advanced capitalism, there is every reason to suppose that any future mass fascist movements will be still more brutal, more vicious, more extreme than those of the interwar years. For today the working class is bigger, its organisations are still more extended, than they were then: their destruction, therefore, would have to be a still more terrible process. The potential threat is even more severe: a conclusion which makes the development of revolutionary socialism even more urgent than ever.

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