Many are concerned about the rise of “fascism”. But what does this mean? It was said that the election of Bolsonaro represented the victory of fascism in Brazil. Some have even gone as far as describing Donald Trump as a fascist. To liberals and even some lefts, it appears that “fascist” has become simply a term of abuse for any politician they don’t like. As Marxists however, we take a scientific view of the world. To properly cure a disease requires a precise diagnosis. It is therefore necessary to have a sober appraisal of what fascism is, if we are to successfully combat it.
Leon Trotsky brilliantly analysed the development of fascism during its rise in the 1920s – first in Italy, and later in Germany. He argued that fascism was unlike traditional forms of reaction, whereby a small layer of the existing state apparatus would move to take power. Instead, fascism was based on a mass movement – mostly of the frenzied middle-class and de-classed layers – with its aim to destroy all forms of working-class organisation.
The victory of fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain, was only made possible by the defeats of the socialist revolutions in these countries. Defeats that were brought about by the mistakes or treachery of the reformist and Stalinist leaders. The prospect of a return to fascism today is very small indeed. The working class is enormously stronger than in the early 20th century. Although small, fascist grouplets do exist, and must be combated by the working class, the classic social reserves of fascism have been greatly reduced. Only on the basis of a series of serious defeats of the working class, could fascism rear its head once again.