“… whatever may be the circumstances of my death I shall die with unshaken faith in the communist future. This faith in man and in his future gives me even now such power of resistance as cannot be given by any religion.” (1940)
The Mexican president at the time was Lázaro Cárdenas, the most left-wing president in Mexican history, still very beloved by working class Mexicans for his nationalization of oil and agrarian reform programs. However, given his leftist policies at home and support for the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War, Cárdenas was often under fire for being a puppet of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Well, what’s a good way to prove you’re not under Stalin’s control? Give asylum to Trotsky.
In 1894 Alexander III died. As was usual on such occasions, the liberal hopes sought support from the heir to the throne. He replied with a kick. At the audience granted to the Zemstvo leaders, the young Czar described their aspirations for a constitution as “nonsensical dreams.” This speech was published in the press. The word-of-mouth report was that the paper from which the Czar had read his speech said “groundless dreams,” but in his agitation the Czar had expressed himself more harshly than he intended. I was fifteen at the time. I was unreservedly on the side of the nonsensical dreams, and not on that of the Czar. Vaguely I believed in a gradual development which would bring backward Russia nearer to advanced Europe. Beyond that my political ideas did not go.
Commercial, multi-racial, loudly colored and noisy Odessa remained, to an extraordinary degree, far behind other centres in a political sense. In St. Petersburg, in Moscow, in Kiev, there were already in existence at that time numerous socialist circles in the educational institutions. Odessa had none. In 1895 Friedrich Engels died. Secret reports were read at meetings held in his memory by student groups in the various cities of Russia. I was then in my sixteenth year. But I did not know even the name of Engels, and could hardly say anything definite about Marx. As a matter of fact, I probably had never heard of him.
My political frame of mind while at school was vaguely oppositionist, but no more than that. In my day, revolutionary questions were still unknown among the students. It was whispered that certain groups met at the private gymnasium maintained by the Czech, Novak; that there had been arrests; that Novak, who was our instructor in athletics, had been dismissed and replaced by an army officer. In the environment surrounding the home of the Schpentzers there was dissatisfaction, but the regime was held to be unshakable. The boldest dreamed of a constitution as possible only after several decades. As for Yanovka, the subject was unmentionable there. When I returned to the village after my graduation from school, bringing with me dim democratic ideas, Father, immediately alert, remarked with hostility: “This will not come to pass even in three hundred years.” He was convinced of the futility of all reformists’ efforts and was apprehensive for his son. In 1921, when he came to me in the Kremlin, after having escaped the Red and White perils with his life, I jestingly asked: “Do you remember what you used to say that the Czarist order was good for another three hundred years?” The old man smiled slyly and replied in Ukrainian: “This time, let your truth prevail.”
I faced the first crossroads on my path, poorly equipped politically even for a seventeen-year-old boy of that period. Too many questions confronted me all at once, without the necessary sequence and order. Restlessly I cast about me. One thing is certain: even then life had stored within my consciousness a considerable load of social protest. What did it consist of? Sympathy for the down-trodden and indignation over injustice the latter was perhaps the stronger feeling. Beginning with my earliest childhood, in all the impressions of my daily life human inequality stood out in exceptionally coarse and stark forms. Injustice often assumed the character of impudent license; human dignity was under heel at every step. It is enough for me to recall the flogging of peasants. Even before I had any theories, all these things imprinted themselves deeply on me and piled up a store of impressions of great explosive force. It was perhaps because of this that I seemed to hesitate for a while before reaching the great conclusions which I was impelled to draw from the observations of the first period of my life.
His great great-granddaughter is interesting. Her family suffered from severe alcoholism due to the obvious stress from the assassination attempts on Trotsky, and she became an expert on addiction.
Fascism is a hard ideology to define because nearly every modern government or political movement has been called ‘fascist’ by somebody. I contend that fascism was a political movement unique to the early 20th century, especially in Europe, because its worldview was shaped by events and philosophical ideas from the late 19th century until the interwar period. Some people have called states like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq ‘fascist’, but I believe that there is a big difference between authoritarian dictatorship and genuine fascism.
So how did fascism originally develop? It grew out of a European intellectual movement which criticized the alienating effect that industrial society had on modern man, as well as late 19th century critiques of Liberalism and Positivism. They believed that industrial society robbed men of their individuality; however they wanted to assert it at the same time. These ideas were adopted by many young people, especially young, middle-class socialists, because they wanted to rebel against what they perceived as pointless and archaic bourgeois morality and conformity. This is why in the 1930s, fascism looked like it might actually take over Europe: it successfully harnessed people’s dissatisfaction with modern society and directed it into political channels.
Fascists were influenced by philosophers like Gustav Le Bon who wrote about the need for a strong leading figure to lead the masses against social ills. He believed that people were fundamentally irrational, and should embrace their irrationality. This was taken up by fascist ideologues who thought that their members’ irrationality should be harnessed by the leader and directed into political action, which was mostly comprised of beating up socialists, communists and trade unionists (or Jews in the case of Nazism). Fascism was a fundamentally violent ideology which praised war and conflict. Both Hitler and Mussolini believed that war was the highest expression of human ability and society, and sincerely thought that life was a continual conflict between people for limited resources (hence the title of Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf). To fascists war was a good thing because it let nations or races decide who was the strongest and who deserved the planet’s resources.
Fascism’s insistence on embracing irrationality is one thing that makes it hard to comprehend; although Hitler and Mussolini wrote their respective handbooks about fascist beliefs, they ultimately rejected concrete doctrines and always acted in response to current events. This is why a lot of fascist rhetoric and actions seem to be contradictionary.
The First World War gave fascism its mass base. Veterans across Europe felt alienated in civilian society after the war, which could not understand their experiences on the frontline. A lot of them wanted to return to an idealized comradeship and hierarchy of the front line, which fascist organizations like the SA and the Blackshirts offered. A lot of them didn’t actually care about the nuances of fascist ideology, they just felt like they didn’t belong in civilian society and needed order and comrades. Instead of a real enemy opposing army, fascism offered them a frontline against post-war society which was especially attractive in revisionist countries like Germany and Italy, where many wanted to destroy the existing Liberal order which they blamed for their countries’ humiliations.
Unlike socialists and communists, fascists wanted to cure modern society’s alienation through the creation of a hierarchal state made up of different social classes working together for the benefit of the nation. This is called ‘corporatism’ and is fascism’s only real contribution to economic thought. The competing segments of industrial society would be united by the leader act entirely through the state, which incidentally would preserve existing capitalist hierarchies and strengthen them. Fascists were for a sort of inverted social-democracy which would give social services to its members but not to anyone else. If you were not a member of the nation or the Volksgemeinschaft – tough luck. This is why many people participated in Fascist and Nazi organizations like the DAP or Hitler Youth; if you did not actively participate in the national or racial community, you were not a part of it and would be socially ostracized (or worse) and denied state benefits. They didn’t necessarily believe in fascist ideology, and many opposed it, but the fascist state required them to participate in it.
The major difference between fascism and socialism is that the former was all about preserving hierarchy and bourgeois society, while getting rid of industrial alienation through the creation of a totalitarian society. Mussolini thought that by giving up your individuality to the totalitarian state, you could have your energies and efforts multiplied by its services. Paradoxically, by surrendering individuality, alienation would somehow disappear. In industrial societies, fascism was popular with the middle class because it offered a cultural and social revolution which would keep hierarchies and fortify them through corporatism. Unlike conservatism, fascism wanted a cultural revolution that would create a “New Fascist Man” who had no individuality separate from the state. This is why it was appealing to the middle class; it let them vent their frustrations about modern society and be little revolutionaries while simultaneously protecting their property and position in the social hierarchy.
The emphasis on maintaining private property and hierarchy was what made fascists hate socialists and communists. Fascism marketed itself as the “Third Way” between Liberalism, which was responsible for alienation and the post-war Wilsonian order, and Socialism, which threatened to take bourgeois property in an economic revolution. Conservatives and fascists usually got along because they both hated the same things, but most conservatives failed to understand the revolutionary aspect of fascism and believed they could be controlled to curtail workers’ rights and revise the Paris Treaties, which didn’t really work out.