Karl Radek

Fascism and Communism

(July 1923)

FASCISM is no longer a fruit peculiar to Italian soil, but an international phenomenon. Italy is merely the first country where the Fascisti have seized the government, just as Russia is the first country where the proletariat has seized power. But the Fascisti flood is rising in Germany, in Czechoslovakia, and is beginning to stir in the United States, and France, and Austria.

Fascism, as we shall show, is a petty­bourgeois reaction against post-war conditions – a petty-bourgeois reaction that Big Capital is using to fortify itself wherever its rule is threatened. The difference in the condition of the petty bourgeoisie in different countries is much greater than the difference in the condition of the working classes; and the policies of the former therefore vary more than the policies of Labor.

I do not purpose to discuss here the national differences in the Fascist movement, but rather its common features. I shall confine myself to Fascism in central and southern Europe, because up to the present this movement in America and England is still in its infancy.

What common features has Fascism in Italy, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria? It is perfectly obvious of course that Horthy’s Government in Hungary pursues the same policy toward Labor that Mussolini’s Government pursues in Italy. Both countries are celebrating orgies of reaction, and persecuting Labor. We may say that these persecutions are in Hungary ten times more atrocious than in Italy. And yet, Hungary does not have a Fascist government. An anti-revolutionary government is not necessarily Fascist.

What then distinguishes the Fascisti from the Hungarian White Counter-revolutionists? The Fascist movement is supported by the lower middle classes, while Horthy’s Government is supported by the feudal nobility and the capitalists. White governments of the Horthy type, however, do not in the long run serve the ends of a feudal landed aristocracy, but rather of banking and industrial finance. The outcome of Fascist government in modern Europe is the same, because any new system today must rest upon either the proletariat or high finance; it can no longer rest upon the middle classes. The difference between a Fascist Government and a White Feudal­Capitalist Government lies in the fact that the latter ’ that of Horthy, for instance ’ is in the hands of the old ruling classes, who are trying to restore the old conditions, while the Fascist movement, so far as it represents the petty bourgeoisie, brings new men to the front and endeavors to set up a new order that will liberate the common people from the burdens imposed upon them by the war.

What is the ultimate cause of the Fascist movement? The ultimate cause of the Fascist movement is the reduction of great numbers of the middle classes to the condition of the proletariat as an outcome of the war. Disordered public finance, demoralized currency, rising prices, and enormous taxes have pauperized our educated classes, civil servants, army officers, and an important faction of our independent artisans and tradesmen. These people are seeking to save themselves. They are trying to find a new formula for life.

Immediately after the war the Social Democrats and other repre­sentatives of the petty bourgeoisie gained control of the government in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Italy. The distressed classes we have just mentioned hoped thus to bring about a change in their favor. But such a reform could be won only by a determined struggle with the great capitalists, and the adoption of Socialist measures. The Social Demo­crats failed, because they feared Big Capital and distrusted the ability of the proletariat. They not only com­promised with their opponents but capitulated to them. This destroyed the faith of both the working people and the middle classes in Socialism itself.

Since the condition of the middle classes grew steadily worse, they were forced to try other methods, and resorted to Fascism, whose motto is: ‘Destroy this lying democracy that merely stands for corruption and profiteering and ruins the industrious commons. Let us set up a strong government of bold, vigorous men, competent to run things, who will start our factories going, make our railways pay, give remunerative employment to our starving bourgeoisie, and rescue from ruin the educated classes.’

Capitalists use this Fascist ideology to destroy our impotent democracy. This democracy does not, to be sure, prevent their controlling our economic life, but it is proving a less serviceable tool than they would like ...

The petty bourgeoisie in central and southern Europe is nationalist, because it has been systematically trained for many decades to revere nationalism, and because when it compares its present condition with its condition before the war, it believes that it was better off under the old government. The middle classes look back longingly to the good old times, and thus become the victims of the very elements that have brought them to their present pass. All those who batten on the decay of society – speculators, profit­eers, and money leeches of every kind – make the Fascisti their tools to cow Labor and to prevent their employees from raising wages to correspond with the rising cost of living.

These features of Fascism determine the Communists’ tactics. Naturally our party must defend the working classes against the Fascisti. Naturally we must defend them by force of arms, for if the Fascisti gain power they will rivet the chains of Capitalism upon us. They will try to recover their own prosperity at the cost of the manual workers. But it does not follow that we must fight Fascism with arms alone; we must employ political measures likewise. The proletariat must take the initiative in reconstructing the world on a new foundation. This will convince the petty bourgeoisie that a new era is dawning which may save them from their misery. Therefore if we are to conquer Fascism we must win over the petty bourgeoisie. We must convince them that the capitalists and landlords and reactionary army-men are merely using them as tools. Fascism is middle-class Socialism, and we cannot persuade the middle classes to abandon it until we can prove to them that it only makes their condition worse.