Response to the critics of the term “fascist state”
I have received a large amount of criticism from Marxists regarding my insistence that the present state is fully fascist in every sense of the term. The most recent comes in the form of criticism that I am somehow being dishonest in my employment of the term fascist state and designation of Keynesian economic policies as essentially fascist:
People need to stop villainising Keynes. There’s an entire branch of economics that merges Keynes with Marx. The workers were hardly the most screwed by Keynesian policy: the petite bourgeoisie, with their vast savings, were far worse off (relative to what they had been before). Post-war Europe was one of the better times to be a worker in capitalism, far better than modern neoclassical neoliberalism.
Also, stop calling modern governments “fascist”. It’s just intellectually dishonest.
The resistance of the Left to the term fascism is understandable for reason I will show. However, I insist my use of the term fully conforms with historical materialism, no matter how grating it may be for “progressives” and other Leftists. I base my assessment of the present state wholly on the argument made by Marx and Engels throughout their entire careers. In particular, I base it on the explicit argument made by Engels in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific. I offer my take in hope it will spark a discussion on the subject of the nature of the present state and the impossibility the state can in any way serve as a path to communism.
Engels view is actually very simple: eventually social production would outstrip the control of private capital. This process would render the capitalist class superfluous to the management of social production. The state would be compelled to step in — Engels is very clear on this part: it would be forced to undertake the role. The capitalist class would be pushed aside and the state would assume the role of the national capitalist. According to Engels, the capitalist relation would not be done away with: the proletariat would remain the proletariat. The capitalist would be rendered into a superfluous mass of parasite living off their dividends, but not, at least at first, proletarianized.
This is all outlined in Engels’ “Socialism” with a preface by Marx, who obviously concurred on this opinion:
“If the crises demonstrate the incapacity of the bourgeoisie for managing any longer modern productive forces, the transformation of the great establishments for production and distribution into joint-stock companies, trusts, and State property, show how unnecessary the bourgeoisie are for that purpose. All the social functions of the capitalist has no further social function than that of pocketing dividends, tearing off coupons, and gambling on the Stock Exchange, where the different capitalists despoil one another of their capital. At first, the capitalistic mode of production forces out the workers. Now, it forces out the capitalists, and reduces them, just as it reduced the workers, to the ranks of the surplus-population, although not immediately into those of the industrial reserve army.
But, the transformation — either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership — does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.”
The corollary of this view, it seems to me, is that the proletariat would directly confront the state as their exploiter. I think this conclusion is impossible to side-step and still claim to be a “Marxist” in the strictest sense of the term. If the state is itself the direct exploiter of the proletariat and the capitalists have been rendered superfluous what other conclusion can one reach on this issue? I can accept the objection that I have completely misinterpreted Engels on this, but someone would have to show me how another interpretation is possible. I mean, he is absolutely crystal clear on these points.
Moreover, Engels’ argument converge with two other predictions Marx and Engels make. First, in the Grundrisse “fragment” Marx makes the unequivocal prediction that production on the basis of exchange breaks down — a breakdown that we witnessed during the inter-war period and which lasted until 1971. Second, in the German Ideology, Marx and Engels make the prediction that the proletariat would be compelled to overthrow the state — not the bourgeois class. What most people overlook is that Marx and Engels never believed the proletariat had a beef with the bourgeoisie. In historical materialism, classes confront each other as classes over a conflict between their material conditions of existence; however the proletariat’s material condition of existence never conflict with those of the bourgeois class. To the contrary, the capitalist mode of production itself creates the proletariat.
One of the problems with addressing fascism is that Marxists almost overwhelmingly assume a condition that makes it fundamentally impossible. The condition is best expressed by the open Marxist, Simon Clarke:
“The [open Marxist] approaches which emerged, although inspired by Marxism, firmly rejected the traditional Marxist theory of State Monopoly Capitalism to retain the social democratic insistence on the autonomy of the state in order to insist on the specificity of the political and the irreducibility of political to economic conflicts.”
The idea that the political struggle is specific and irreducible to the economic conflicts of society means the state remains outside the capitalist relationship itself. On the basis of this assumption, Engels could never be right that the state itself becomes the national capitalist — somehow or another the separation between politics and the material conditions of capital production must be reproduced. The starting point of almost all Marxist discussion on the state, therefore, is the assumption the state cannot become the capitalist as Engels insisted. It seems to me no evidence to the contrary will ever push most Marxists off this position — they are incapable of altering their view.
I think the social democrat bent to Marxist analyses of the state is itself a superficial expression of democracy and universal suffrage. The political activity of the worker is not imposed by external forces on her, but directly arise from her empirical position in society. Just as competition within the world market provides for the freest possible expression of her own material activity, so democracy provides the freest possible conditions for the expression of her material conditions of existence in political activity. In the freest possible conditions of competition within the market or within politics the activity of the worker never appears coerced.
Fascism, therefore, appears, not as the caricature of goose-stepping Nazis and concentration camps, but as the freest and most democratic form of bourgeois rule. The state never appears more neutral than under fascism, since it is indifferent to all particular interests. It can represent the interests of capital only by being indifferent to all particular interests of the members of bourgeois society. However, Marxists insist the state must give evidence of its non-neutrality in the class struggle, by becoming a partisan in the conflict. This is the only basis on which they will even entertain the idea that the state is fascist. Thus, they insist on the absence of democratic formalities like elections, outlawing of trade unions, enforcement of wage contracts on conditions favorable to capitalists, etc.
The idea that state can be fascist all the while paying strictest attention to the formalities of “democratic self-rule” escapes the Marxist; it never occurs to them that the so-called “rule of law” can be administered in a neutral fashion precisely because the material conditions of bourgeois society rests the absolute subjugation of the worker to capital. This absolute subjugation is not achieved by guns; nor is it imposed by ideological methods of state institutions like the media, church or schools. Rather, since it is already given in the capitalist relation itself, the reproduction of ideas consistent with the mode of production follows.
As Lebowitz shows conclusively, historical materialism assumes capital creates a worker who is completely at home in her conditions of subjugation:
“Is it hard, then, to understand why Marx could say that capitalism produces a worker who looks upon its requirements as ‘self-evident natural laws’? When we think about the dependence of the worker on capital, is it difficult to grasp why capitalism keeps going? After all, Marx not only proposed that capitalism ‘breaks down all resistance’ he also went on to say that capital can ‘rely on his [the worker’s] dependence on capital, which springs from the conditions of production themselves, and is guaranteed in perpetuity by them’ (899). Capitalism tends, in short, to produce the workers it needs.”
Likewise, within the mode of production, the fascist state does not appear as what it really is: the dictatorship of one class over another, but as a neutral machine tasked with ensuring the continuation of existing social relations.
Why would there be a place for theory if things were exactly as they appeared on the surface of political relations; if political relations really were relatively autonomous from the mode of production as they appear?
So it seems to me, what has to be explained is not fascism itself, but why, given the material conditions of society, fascism could only be imposed through bloody regimes in Germany and Italy. And, I believe, the reason this happened is obvious: In 1920s to 1930s Germany and Italy we find the most conscious and developed proletarians in Europe. By contrast, the relatively “backward” proletarians of the English speaking world offered little or no resistance to fascism at all.