Thursday, May 30, 2019

Fascism and Dictatorship: The Third International and the Problem of Fascism

Originally published: Marx & Philosophy (May 2, 2019)   | 
One of Poulantzas most important observations for understanding the extreme right today is his four-stage analysis of the rise of fascism. In the first stage, Poulantzas says that fascism exists as a mass movement that has grown and succeeded in establishing itself as a powerful force in society. The fascist movement has grown to such proportions that it becomes a danger and has the potential to seize state-power. In Brazil, this was the period between 2013, in which the right-wing seized control of leftist anti-government protests in Sao Paulo and other parts of the country, until they put Lula in prison in 2018. This mass movement posed a danger because they constituted the popular forces behind Jair Bolsonaro, and could no longer simply be ignored or dismissed as an isolated phenomenon. The second stage of fascism is “the period from the point of no return until fascism comes to power” (Poulantzas 66). One characteristic of this stage is a paralysis of working class organisations, which tend to only make economic demands, but fail to provide political leadership. Poulantzas shows how the German Communist Party (KPD) in the early 1930’s called many demonstrations for higher-wages as a result of the economic devastation of the post-war situation. Because the KPD did not initially think fascism was a real danger—viewing it as a temporary, passing phenomenon—they did not  fight the Nazi’s in the early 30’s, nor did they provide revolutionary leadership to the working class. They spent a lot of time attacking the SPD social democrats, instead of building a united front to defeat Hitler and the Nazi’s before they came to power.
In the second stage, the working class itself is significantly divided and the lack of political leadership drives some sections of them into the hands of the fascists. Here, the petty-bourgeoisie has succeeded in uniting the working class behind it in order to consolidate the forces to take political power. In Brazil, most Leftist parties and organisations had become critical of the Workers Party by 2014, and did not provide the political leadership needed to move the PT to the left. Some of them, such as the Unified Workers Socialist Party (PSTU) put out slogans such as “get rid of them all”, and agitated against both the Workers Party and the Brazilian neoliberal elite. Although they were always opposed to the PT since their founding in 1992, during the 2018 elections they escalated their attacks against the Workers Party. Others, such as the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), tended to tail behind the Workers Party, and while they were critical at times, they did not really challenge their class collaborationist approach to governance. This left many working people confused and as a result of this, many moved to the right and joined the forces to help get Bolsonaro elected in 2018.
In the third and fourth stages, Poulantzas argues that fascism changes as a result of transforming from a mass movement to a fascist state. He points out how in the period of monopoly capitalism, the state plays a more interventionist role by directly intervening into capitalist production. During a crisis, such as the one in Europe and the United States in the 1930’s, the bourgeoisie will utilise interventionist strategies to save capitalism (i.e. Keynesian economic policies, Roosevelt’s New Deal, etc.). When there is a significant threat to its continued domination, fractions of finance capital will be more willing to embrace fascism, which Poulantzas points out is a more extreme form of interventionism.  This is exactly what happens during the third stage, in which the capitalist class provides assistance to the fascist mass movement and helps them get elected to power. The third stage represents the first period in which a fascist takes power and begins building a fascist state. Poulantzas says that during the third stage, the bourgeoisie staffs the fascist state with members of the petty-bourgeoisie who helped fascism come to power. The bourgeoisie will make concessions to the petty-bourgeoisie, such as the imprisonment of politicians perceived to be corrupt, the enactment of racist legislation, and the encouragement of violence against immigrants and national minorities. Also, in the third stage, the working class suffers significant political defeats. The fascist state will criminalise communist and socialist political parties, imprison their leaders, and eliminate legislation that protects the working class. In Brazil, the fascist government of Bolsonaro has removed LGBTQ laws, escalated attempts to prosecute important PT and PCdoB leaders on trumped-up charges, encouraged violence against indigenous people and minorities, and passed pro-gun laws on the pretext of fighting crime. Many middle class Brazilians — lawyers, professionals, some intellectuals — who were excluded from the state during the PT years (2002-2014) have been given high posts in the government, the federal police, and the educational system.
In the final stage of fascism, the fascist state has consolidated power and freed itself of its petty-bourgeois class origins. Poulantzas says that this is the most brutal stage, for it involves violent purges at the state level to remove the petty-bourgeoisie, and terroristic repression over the masses. The fourth stage results when the opposition to fascism does not succeed in removing the fascist government.  One defining feature of this period is the beginning of expansionist imperialist wars. In Germany, this was the beginning of the camps in Auschwitz, and the imperialist war against Europe and the Soviet Union. Brazil has not yet achieved this stage, and the dynamics in which it develops will probably be different than in Nazi Germany. Bolsonaro, Trump, and the right-wing Colombian president Ivan Duque have formed an alliance against the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro. Furthermore, Brazil and Colombia have both given the US access to its military intelligence and allowed them to build military bases. The three of them backed the counter-revolutionary Juan Guaido in an attempted coup against Maduro, and spread anti-Venezuela propaganda in their media. The beginning of the fourth stage of fascism in Brazil will likely be accompanied by a direct military invasion of Venezuela, which will receive assistance from the United States, Colombia, and other right-wing states in Latin America.

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