FASCISM AND CRISIS
BY MARIA STEVENS
BY MARIA STEVENS
In present times we see fascist and ultra-conservative groups making substantial electoral gains both in Europe and elsewhere. In the 1920s and 1930s fascist groups did not only have support but they won power in many countries through both electoral success (Germany and Italy) and via military power (Spain). It would also be false to think that fascism ended with World War Two. Spain remained fascist until the 1970s and there were military takeovers in countries where the regimes could be described as fascistic such as in Chile, Argentina and Brazil.
Nowadays when you ask someone as to why in modern times people support groups that could be described as fascistic the answer almost always involves ‘immigration’, followed by dissatisfaction with political elites. Fascists in the past undoubtedly held racist viewpoints backed by an extreme form of nationalism, it is not the case though that this is why people supported such parties in large numbers.
For the most part immigration did not exist on a wide-scale anywhere in Europe, certainly not by modern standards, before World War II or in countries that were to become fascistic post-war. The racism that existed in earlier fascist parties tended to be towards ethnic groups within a nation, that were believed to be dragging down, corrupting or secretly controlling the nation, as oppose to any fear of incomers. It is the case though that while racism did exist and that fascist parties were therefore supported by racists, as they still are, this is not why they took power.
The real reason, when the historical evidence is closely examined, is that the victories of fascism were not a result of racism but as a result of intensified class antagonisms.
The evidence is as such:
Where fascism was victorious it was supported to a far greater degree by small business people and the middle-classes as oppose to the working classes.
Everywhere fascism has taken power there were strong economic failings as well as a perceived and sometimes very real ‘threat’ of communism / socialism.
J. Noakes, The Rise of the Nazis
The Nazis did best in the rural areas and small towns of the Protestant parts of Germany, particularly in the north and east. They won much of their support from the most rooted and traditional section of the German population – peasant farmers, self-employed artisans, craftsmen and small retailers… In urban areas the party did best in those town and cities which were administrative or commercial centres with large civil servant and white collar populations, rather than in industrial centres; and they tended to win most support in upper-middle-class districts. Nazi support also tended to be strongest among the younger generation. This was particularly true of the membership, which was also overwhelmingly male.
Hitler and Nazism
The NSDAP was most successful where it did not have to cope with strong pre-existing ideological and organisational loyalties. Where these did exist, as in Social Democratic and Communist strongholds, it did far less well.
While some have stated that the Nazi party did have significant working class support they do not deny that the majority of support emerged from wealthier classes particularly in the early stages.
The Rise of Nationalism and the Working Classes in Weimar Germany
There is unmistakable overrepresentation of voters from the middle classes, a fact certainly disputed by no one as yet. On the other hand, it no longer appears admissible, given so high a proportion of voters from the working class, to speak of a middle class party. The National Socialists’ electoral successes were nourished by so many different sources, that the NSDAP might really best be characterised as an integrative [all-embracing]protest movement.
In all preceding elections before 1932 both the Socialist Party and the Communist party achieved a much higher combined quantity of the vote than Hitler, and in 1932 they achieved a combined vote only a few percentage points less than the Nazis. Both these parties were supported overwhelmingly by the German working class.
The same class allegiances to a greater or less extent are found in Italy where the fascists used their power and gained support from industrialists and business owners by violently breaking strikes and attacking working class organisations.
In Spain a leftist government was elected by democratic means and was overthrown by fascist military general Fransisco Franco who cemented his power after the fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War, a less bloody coup had taken place by fascists against the democratic government of Portugal in 1926.
All of the fascist leaders from Hitler to Mussolini to Franco all had support and funding from elite industrialists and extremely wealthy individuals.
In countries that experienced fascism, or governments akin to fascism, after the Second World War these occurred as a result of military coups often backed by the United States and other Western powers where it was feared communist or socialist governments would take power, or where they had already in fact taken power. In Chile when the communist government of Salvador Allende took power by the ballot box they were overthrown by a US backed military regime which was clearly fascist. Similar military coups took place in Argentina, Brazil, Greece, Indonesia and elsewhere, leading to fascistic but pro-US and harshly anti-left wing states. The overwhelming majority of those persecuted, imprisoned or executed by these regimes were socialists, communists and trade unionists.
There are two key elements to the rise of fascism throughout the 20th century. One is the existence of a weak or left-wing government, economic failures, and / or the fear of a rising working-class motivated by socialistic or communist tendencies. None of these regimes took power simply, and some to almost no extent at all, on racial or immigration positions.
What about today?
Clearly fascists today are making gains. They are doing so largely due to relatively high immigration and economic failures often supported by a right-wing and reactionary mainstream media. They currently find most of their support within the working-classes and the lower middle-classes. As neo-liberalism continues to fall unless the working class can begin organising themselves to oppose the system then fascist ideals may make greater inroads within the working class itself. The question is though is if the working classes can organise themselves will they be able to gain support from a wealthier, but by no means elite, section of society or will that group move towards a reactionary stance? Racism and anti-immigrant sentiment must be challenged but it would be wrong to see the rise of fascism out with its economic and political origins. Fascism, or more precisely fascism that gains power, is ultimately a reaction against the working class by both the elites and a wealthier section of the working class itself, often referred to as the ‘middle-class’.
In the words of Dutch political activist Antonie Pannekoek –
“Fascism is the political system of capitalism in an emergency”