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Dwight Macdonald

Off the Record

(21 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 17, 21 March 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

At long last, after many delays and false alarms, Daniel Guerin’s Fascism and Big Business is off the press. I am informed by persons whose testimony I believe to be reliable that they have seen with their own eyes a large number of copies neatly piled up in the offices of Pioneer Publishers. Considering that I wrote the introduction and helped get out the book, it is perhaps unnecessary to say that I consider it a most important work. We have had a flood of books on fascism, which in liberal circles has become the new demonology, but Fascism and Big Business stands out both as to form and content. Simply written, clearly organized, it should be of great use in workers’ educational and discussion groups.

Guerin analyzes the phenomenon of fascism in Marxist terms. That is, he deals not in backstairs gossip nor in Freudian psychology, but in basic economic factors. His primary question is always: who profits? He helps explode a myth which has become a platitude in certain liberal quarters: that fascism is a form of state socialism, that Hitler and Mussolini are middle class revolutionists, that the iron hand of the fascist state rests as heavily on business as on labor, etc. These propositions Guerin buries under a landslide of data as to the essentially capitalist nature of fascism. An especially interesting chapter he devotes to the struggle for power between the fascist “plebeians” and their big business masters. He shows that even though the plebeians seem to control entirely the State power, in fact when the real showdown comes (the Party “reorganizations” of 1923, 1925, and 1928 in Italy; the 1934 “Blood Purge” in Germany) the plebeians always knuckle under, and he shows why this must necessarily be the case. Above all, Guerin makes clear in copious detail that fascism can be fought only by the united, militant power of the workers. After reading his account of how the “progressive” governments of Giolitti and Bruening handed over the power to the fascists without a murmur, it takes an airtight closed mind to continue to believe in reformist political action. Guerin’s Marxist economic analysis leads him straight to the conclusion that the fascist drive to power can be smashed only by its natural enemy: the working class.

It Has Happened Here

Guerin writes of Italy and Germany, but our own experience bears out his points. There was the recent Nazi Bund meeting in Madison Square Garden, for instance. What could express better the policy of the Stalinists and the other reformist and “liberal”’ groups towards this incipient fascist threat than these words of Guerin: “Let us be careful not to reply to fascist violence, the reformist leaders said in both Italy and Germany; we should arouse ‘public opinion’ against us. Above all, let us avoid forming combat groups and semi-military bodies, for we should risk antagonizing the public authorities, who, we are confident, will dissolve the semi-military groups of fascism.” And what could be more closely applicable to the Madison Square Garden affair, where the 50,000 workers and other anti-fascists who demonstrated under S.W.P. leadership against the Bund were attacked and dispersed again and again by LaGuardia’s police – what could be more pat than this quotation from Guerin: “They counted, not on the militancy of the masses but on the Prussian police ... But the forces of ‘Law and Order’ backed up the Brown Shirts.” For “Berlin Sportspalast, 1932” read “Madison Square Garden, 1939.”

Patching Up the Barrel

Radek once wrote: “Fascism is the iron hoop with which the bourgeoisie tries to patch up the broken barrel of capitalism.” A great many people these days waste much time in demonstrating that an iron hoop is not the most comfortable thing in the world. They reason that since the business man under fascism suffers from all sorts of bureaucratic restrictions, he is sorry he ever heard of Adolf Hitler. Therefore, fascism is not a class phenomenon. Q.E.D. One more article along this line appears in the current issue of Harpers: Doing Business in Germany by Gunther Reimann. The interesting thing about Reimann’s article is that, although he thinks he is proving that the business man gets it in the neck under Hitler, the actual data he brings up tends to confirm Guerin’s analysis of the class nature of fascism. Thus Guerin writes that heavy industry (steel, iron, coal, etc.) for good economic reasons backs the fascist drive for power, while light industry (textiles, foods, and other consumer goods) in general opposes fascism – until it grows too strong to be peacefully suppressed, at which point light and heavy industrialists unite to place the fascists in power. Reimann’s article tells how the heavy industrialists, due largely to the rearmament program, are prospering as never before, while by comparison “the manufacturer of consumer goods appears as an unhappy Cinderella.” Guerin shows how the fascists hand back to private ownership many enterprises formerly operated by the State.

Finally, Guerin demonstrates that the condition of the small shopkeepers and petty bourgeois who flocked to Hitler’s banner became worse, not better, after their Fuehrer took power. Reimann calls the small retailer “the most depressed and the most restricted business man in Germany.” This is his major argument, in fact, to support his thesis that Nazism is not “the shield of private property.” But it is, to say the least, misleading to lump small shopkeepers and steel magnates under one head as “capitalists.” In fascist Germany, as Guerin abundantly demonstrates and as Reimann himself indicates, those who control the very heart of modern capitalism, the big industrial magnates, are still firmly in the saddle. “What is really happening in German business,” writes Reimann, “is a gradual fusion between private enterprise and State bureaucracy,”, Or, to put it another way, the capitalist magnates retain their class supremacy by taking over the State.

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