From New International, Vol.2 No.1, January 1935, pp.28-29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Fascism and Social Revolution
by R. Palme Dutt
289 pp. New York, International Publishers 1934, $1.75.
John Strachey has called Dutt’s latest book “incomparably the best book on Fascism that has yet been written”. Undoubtedly it is most comprehensive in scope; for it begins with the socio-historical basis for Fascism, enters into an analysis of the theory and practise of Fascism, its victory in Italy, Germany, and Austria; the tendencies towards Fascism in Western Europe (France) and the United States, the relation between Fascism and social democracy, etc.
It is obvious that Dutt has been assigned the Sisyphus task of systematizing the Stalinist theory in this field in popular fashion and to supply a suave apology for the capitulation of the German Communist party to Fascism. Only an author whose style and reputation as a Legal Marxist – having refrained from active participation in the decade-old struggles which have racked the world revolutionary movement – could make palatable – for some! – that which when served by less skilled hands is entirely indigestible.
Dutt has now more openly come out as an apologist for Stalinism. This is as was to be expected. (See our review of Dutt’s Lenin in The New International, August 1934.)
However, his skillful evasiveness and apparent objectivity still remain. To an average reader, his book, which reads interestingly, is almost convincing. Though an active politician he, unlike his higher ups – and even such newcomers as John Strachey – does not even mention the disputes on Fascism within the revolutionary movement. In a word, it is a sort of division of labor within which Dutt – so far? – still assumes the “scholarly” form of Stalinist apologetics.
Dutt summarizes his conception of Fascism as follows:
“Fascism, in short, is a movement of mixed elements, dominantly petty bourgeois, but also slum-proletarian and demoralized working class, financed and directed by finance capital, by the big industrialists and landlords and financiers, to defeat the working class revolution and smash the working class organization” (p.82).
This sounds fairly good. But a few pages earlier Dutt quotes with approval from the program of the Sixth congress of the Comintern (why does he have to go as far back as 1928 for an official definition of Fascism?) that “the principal aim of Fascism is to destroy the revolutionary labor movement, i.e., the communist sections and leading units of the proletariat.” Nothing is said in this definition, or in the program, about Fascism smashing all working class organizations, as Dutt definitely implies in the above quotation.
To accept the Sixth congress conception of the aim of Fascism – and the subsequent plenary sessions of the Executive Committee were even cruder – Fascism was impossible, for example, in Austria, for there was no “revolutionary labor movement” in that country! Even more. Wherein lay the common basis for a united front with social democracy, so far as the latter was concerned, if Fascism aimed to crush only the revolutionary section of the labor movement?
Later, Dutt designates as Fascist the regimes in Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain under de Rivera. But do these governments comply with his definition of Fascism? Hardly. Then why the designation? In order to show the compatibility of a Fascist regime and a legal social democratic party, that is, to “prove” the theory of social Fascism.
For a Marxist, the fact that in Hungary, for example, a middle class movement never was the basis for the Horthy regime, that an amputated parliament, reformist trade unions and a loyal opposition in the form of the social democracy are tolerated, is precisely what distinguishes the dictatorship in Hungary from Fascism. But Dutt is not interested in scientific analysis.
He gets around this indiscriminate gathering under one roof of different phenomena by calling the regimes of Mussolini and Hitler “complete Fascist” and the others merely “Fascist”. He then gracefully drops the word “complete” from the description of the German and Italian governments (as in his definition) ; does not define what incomplete “Fascism” is, and – presto! – he smuggles in a defense of the theory of “social Fascism”.
Nor is Dutt any clearer on the question of whether the social democratic party is a working class organization. If it is, then according to Dutt, it follows that it would be smashed by Fascism; but this would contradict the theory of social Fascism. If it is not, then the working class united front with social democracy is impossible; but this would contradict the present united front tactics of the Stalinists!
Dutt was given the impossible task of defending the old theory and the new practise, at a time when one may well speak of the withering away of the theory of social Fascism.
He further states that the theory is substantiated not only by the legality of social democracy in Hungary, etc., but even in a “fully completed Fascist dictatorship”, such as Italy or Germany:
“Both [Fascism and Social Democracy – J.C.] exist together; and each performs a distinctive role, supplementing one another.”
But in these countries the social democratic parties and the trade unions have been smashed. Quite right, replies Dutt, but only organizationally! Since Fascism cannot possibly find a mass basis within the working class, and social democratic ideology still dominates the proletariat, social democracy remains the chief social support of the bourgeoisie.
This mystical theory was of course concocted after the destruction of the German social democracy by Hitler! As befits his station, Dutt concludes the discussion of this matter by stating that Stalin was correct when he wrote in 1924:
“Social democracy is objectively the moderate wing of Fascism!”
The problem of how Fascism came to power in Germany is solved by Dutt with the formula: Social democracy! To make a credible story of this one-sided conception, he is compelled to omit all references to the strength of the CP in 1923; the fact that political power was within its reach in October of that year and that it failed; the policies of the German Communist party in the class struggle which led them to that isolation which Dutt depicts – but which the Stalinists vociferously denied in the pre-Hitler days.
Suffice it for Dutt to repeat the Stalinist fable of their four united front proposals to the social democracy and to state that the Comintern never rejected in principle the “united front from above” (p.121). The united front is now called the “crucial question”, the instrument which would have crushed Fascism. Since the social democracy rejected it, it is responsible for Hitler’s victory.
In the first place, none of the four so-called proposals was, according to the available evidence, made directly to the executives of the social democracy and the trade unions. Second, Dutt records that on July 20, 1932 the social democrats stated that they were ready to accept a non-aggression pact with the communist party as a pre-condition for a united front. The CP rejected this. Why was it wrong to accept a non-aggression pact in 1932 and good “Bolshevik policy” in 1933-34?
Third, that the united front from above was rejected in principle (despite some inconsistencies common to all Stalinist policies) is well known, particularly to Dutt. For he and his colleagues of the Central Committee of the British CP were reprimanded in 1932 for forming a united front with the ILP leaders “in spite of numerous decisions of international congresses and conferences [of the Third International – J.C.] on the need of adopting the united front tactic only from below ...” (Communist International, March 15, 1932, p.161.)
Dutt the “Marxist” sees no connection between an evaluation of the role of social democracy – as in the theory of social Fascism – and the united front. The two questions are put into two separate, air-tight compartments. It would indeed be embarrassing for Dutt to inter-relate them.
Dutt’s apology for Stalinism is the best available. Yet, what a feeble product!
Last updated: 24.12.2005