Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bauhaus: art as life

   By Anton Johnson

THIS SUMMER the Barbican is holding the first exhibition of Bauhaus in London for over 40 years. The Bauhaus school was founded in Germany in 1919 on Socialist-Utopian ideas and the Arts & Crafts movement – to bring art and technology together. The first school was based in Weimar then moving to Dessau to a purpose-built facility in 1925.
Bauhaus saw play and fun as a starting point for creativity with a collective approach. The school had for that time a very progressive admissions policy, with women being allowed equal entry and in the mid-1920’s the majority of students were under 30 years of age.
Bauhaus covered all forms and mediums – cloth, metal, wood, sculpture, design, photography and performance art such as the famous Triadische Ballet.
The school had a socialist bent and there was a parallel with the Vkhutemas Workshop in the USSR. The school had a communist student cell and its second director from 1928–1930 was the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer who was a member of the German Communist Party.
Meyer undertook the largest Bauhaus commission, which was to design the school for the Federation of German Trade Unions (ADGB) in 1930. Though Meyer, because of his political beliefs, was often overlooked as a Director of Bauhaus by historians when compared to the other two, his contribution was fully acknowledged in the German Democratic Republic in the 1970s.
 The school attracted hostility from the right-wing. The Nazis did not approve of the Bauhaus movement, which they dismissed as “degenerate art”. When the Dessau local government fell to the Nazis, the school had to move to Berlin. In an attempt to survive in the changing political climate of the time, the school adopted a non-political outlook, which took away the ideals of the movement.
But was not enough for the Nazis and in 1933 the Gestapo raided the building, resulting in the closure for ever of the Bauhaus school. Many of the Bauhaus masters went abroad and set up new design schools such as in Chicago. That dispersal, following the Nazi closure of the school in Berlin, was to spread the influence of Bauhaus throughout the world.
Bauhaus was an art for life – it brought simplicity and utilitarianism to design; a design that was to last – for those who went to school in the 1950s to 1970s will recognise the Bauhaus chair used in schools. The nesting tables that became popular in the living rooms of the 1970s were a Bauhaus design. The architecture style was to last and influence.
Bauhaus gave a view of modern urban living, with communal design living for the then growing numbers of single urban dwellers and the housing estate, modelled on ideas from the USSR by Meyer, which were a format for the British “Garden Cities”. The Bauhaus gave designs for production and showed a way forward for modern living that if revisited today may provide answers to many of the issues we face, such as housing.
Bauhaus has something to offer today, behind the adoption of its design for fashion and by the wealthy, the Bauhaus movement had fundamental ideas that can be looked at by communists today for ideas and practical solutions.
             The full range of the Bauhaus creativity is on display from children’s toys to furniture and is to be recommended.

Bauhaus: Art as Life runs at the Barbican until 12th August. The Barbican Art Gallery is part of the Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS and admission is £10 (when purchased online in advance) or £12 on the door; concessions £6-£8; under-13s free. The gallery is open daily from 11am to 8pm (6 pm on Wednesday) with a late showing until 10pm on Thursday.

The Leveson Inquiry

                                        By Neil Harris

WHEN Lord Hutton produced his long-awaited report into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, people were surprised that his conclusions were so out of step with the evidence. Instead of exposing those who had launched a war of aggression based on lies, the only people who were to lose their jobs as a result of that report were those who had challenged the supposed basis for the illegal invasion of Iraq: the journalist Andrew Gilligan, the BBC’s director general Greg Dyke and Chair of Governors, Gavin Davies.
It is also likely that, despite its conclusions about Murdoch and News International, the parliamentary committee on culture, media and sport will only see one person jailed as a result of its hearings: the hapless Jonnie Marbles who got four weeks for throwing a custard pie at Rupert Murdoch.
Now with Lord Justice Leveson floating the idea that his report does not even need to consider individual wrong-doing, on top of his indication that it is not his priority to make findings of fact, it looks as though we are facing Hutton II. This means that unless one of the witnesses makes a foolish admission of wrong-doing on oath, the report will deal with generalities only.
However these are strange times indeed: with the “humbling” of Murdoch, the jailing of Conrad Black and the death of Robert Maxwell, we may be witnessing the end of an era. The charges of perverting the course of justice laid against Rebekah Brooks may mean the days of the megalomaniac newspaper baron and the all-powerful editor are being replaced with something a little more corporate, more 21st century. It must be puzzling for Murdoch as former friends and allies desert him and people who would once have flown across the world to talk to him do not return his calls. In a world where money and power flow through networks of contacts, oiled by corruption, this is a problem.
So how does it work?  Newspapers provide “entertainment” to police officers in return for information. Charlie Brooks, husband of Rebekah, the former chief executive of News International and former editor of the News of the World is lent a police horse “Raisa” for his stables and his wife’s close friend David Cameron comes round and rides it a couple of times, chatting to Rebekah as he does. Rupert Murdoch pops in to Number 10 for talks, via a back entrance.
For over seven years the Metropolitan Police refuse to investigate the widespread hacking of mobile phones by private detectives sub-contracted to the News of the World. No one has been accused of doing anything wrong there, although in the past year both the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and his deputy have taken early retirement.
After winning the 2010 election Cameron employed Andy Coulson to be his Director of Communications, after he had had to resign as editor of the News of the World due to the phone hacking scandal. At the same time as being employed as a civil servant, he was still receiving private health insurance and severance pay from News International as well as owning £40,000 worth of undeclared shares in the company. No wrong-doing there either, although he had to resign from that job too.
Meanwhile News International, which already owns 39 per cent of BSkyB, wants to buy out the remaining shareholders, to own the company outright. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary is about to decide whether this is in the public interest or not when he takes a routine surgery in December 2010. Two of his “constituents” are just a bit too attractive to be taking such a close interest in him and he is flattered into boasting that he had “declared war on Murdoch and I think we are going to win”. The conversation is taped and after publication, the BSkyB decision is taken away from him by the Prime Minister, who appoints Jeremy Hunt, the minister for Culture, Media and Sport in his place.
 Hunt is known to be favourable to Murdoch and his interests, long before his special advisor Adam Smith has to resign after his emails to News International executives about the decision-making process are published, showing just how friendly that relationship is. Hunt agrees the takeover of BSkyB, until it all unravels later.
Meanwhile, Mathew Freud owns Freud Communications, a highly successful public relations company which had close links to Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair and New Labour. This was a lucrative connection, bringing valuable government contracts including PR for the Millennium Dome and the Olympic torch.
In the summer of 2008, Freud flew David Cameron in his private executive jet (a Gulfstream IV) to the Greek island of Santorini for drinks on Rupert Murdoch’s yacht Rosehearty, before the whole party moved over to Freud’s yacht Elizabeth F for dinner. Also present in happier times were Charlie and Rebekah Brooks as well as the singer Billy Joel, who presumably had to sing for his supper just as Mr Cameron had. Afterwards, Cameron is back on the private jet to re-join his family in Turkey for their summer holidays.
            In the 2010 election, the Sun switched its support from Labour to Conservative, but after the Tories won Freud Communications continued to work for the new government, as though nothing had happened. By coincidence Freud is married to Elizabeth Murdoch, Rupert’s daughter and the person the Elizabeth F is named after.
In 2010 a rising and bright appeal court judge, Brian Leveson, attends a dinner at Freud’s London house. They must have got on quite well because Freud agrees to do some free PR work for the sentencing council, which Leveson chairs. They meet again twice at social occasions, the last being in January 2011.
When the phone hacking scandal finally gets out of control Cameron announces a public inquiry, headed by none other than Lord Justice Leveson. The learned judge, as well as the six independent assessors have to declare any conflicts of interest they may have to the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, who just happened to be Jeremy Hunt, who will be giving evidence to the inquiry himself and to whom Leveson will report.
The loose group around Cameron, the Brooks and the Murdoch’s becomes known as the Chipping Norton set, as so many of its members live in luxury houses set in the countryside nearby.  They certainly aren’t touched by the credit crunch. The Tatler admiringly described a day in the life of one couple as follows: “When Charlie Brooks wakes up in the morning in his barn in Oxfordshire he likes nothing better than to fly to Venice from Oxford Airport with Rebekah for lunch at Harry’s bar. Later in the day, after shopping and sightseeing, the couple fly back to London for dinner at Wiltons in Jermyn Street.”
Probably the most sought after invitation in 2011 would have been to Elizabeth Murdoch's 40th birthday bash at Burford Priory. With two luxurious marquees laid on, each a different version of a London restaurant and a jazz band playing all night, there was also a cinema showing a boxing match for sports fans.
Absolutely everyone was there, amongst them Robert Peston in conversation with his old friend Nick Jones, the general manager of News International. When the Daily Telegraph edited out Vince Cable’s remarks about Murdoch, because they wanted to ensure that his bid for BSkyB would still fail, this was leaked to Peston who published it in full on his BBC website.
Tessa Jowell, former Culture Secretary was there too, with her “estranged” husband David Mills; they had separated when she was in the Labour Cabinet and he faced accusations that he had accepted a bribe from Berlusconi, Blair’s friend. Happily reunited after a not guilty verdict, Jowell’s old department had been a client of Freud communications.
One local is described by the Mail online as: “multi-millionaire Tony Gallagher, who bought his 17th century estate near Chipping Norton from multi-millionaire Tory defector turned Labour Cabinet minister, Shaun Woodward.” Woodward is married into Lord Sainsbury’s family, the former social democrat who became the largest individual contributor to New Labour.
            Gallagher owns A C Gallagher holdings, one of Britain’s largest private developers. After being questioned about contributions to the Labour Party he replied: “Frankly, whatever government of the day is in power, we always work with them, because that is the name of the game”.
Gallagher, a supporter of the Taxpayers’ Alliance and a Conservative Party contributor as well, added: “In England we work with Labour councils, Conservative councils, whatever, because in the real world that’s what you do, isn’t it?”
It is that real world that we are interested in, not the froth of parties and social gatherings. The oil that keeps all this partying going is Rupert Murdoch and as one party guest remarked: “It’s like the social wing of the Rupert Murdoch media empire. Rupert wields his influence through his newspaper and TV network. Elizabeth and Matthew feed off this by providing a link between the worlds of politics, business and show business. Their wealth means they can provide for all of them to meet in complete privacy at Burford. Behind it all is the unspoken assumption that if you are out of favour with Rupert Murdoch, you are not likely to be invited.”
If Murdoch is the power behind the parties, the key to his current interests is gaining control of BskyB. A brilliant capitalist, Murdoch’s rise has always relied on exploiting an under-used asset to fund his next great expansion.
When he bought the News of the World in 1968, he realised that the presses were idle for six days of the week, so he added the Sun the following year and consolidated. Using the extra profits, he was able to develop his newspaper empire and the political contacts that came with it. In 1980, following a meeting with Mrs Thatcher, he was allowed to buy the Times and Sunday Times, both loss-making papers at that time. In circulation terms, this breached all competition rules, but in return for his papers’ backing, the Tories turned a blind eye.
In 1986 he engineered a dispute with the print unions and used the pretext to fire 6,000 workers, replacing them with scab “journalists” and “electricians”. Fortress Wapping was paid for out of the proceeds of selling the Sun’s old printing premises on Bouverie Street for development as upmarket offices. This move, which resulted in all his titles coming off one press, using cheap company-union labour on new technology, brought in a new period of super profits. These he used to buy papers in America, and launch Sky broadcasting, offering satellite TV at a huge loss.
This, he eventually merged into BSB, a loss-making rival satellite broadcaster, and the new BSkyB had overnight become a near monopoly. Once again the Tories turned a blind eye. It became so lucrative that Murdoch was able to fund his expansion into US television, movies and Fox, with the political contacts that followed.
Currently BSkyB is hugely undervalued, partly because Murdoch’s 39 per cent stake means no one else can buy it or take control and this keeps the share price artificially low.  Even better, at a time when internet businesses, which have never made a profit, are valued in many tens of billions of dollars based solely on questionable estimates of future revenues, BskyB is a real business with real profits today. It has 10.5 million British customers tied in to contracts and paying over £250 a year each. This means its valuation of £10 billion is a bargain even based on current revenues. After buying out Virgin Media’s television interests in 2010, it has ensured its monopoly status in Britain and would like to use it to drive down the costs of football and movies, the mainstay of its channels.
Murdoch is aiming to expand into both Europe and the Far East, where his operations in India and China have stalled. The presence of José Maria Aznar, the former premier of Spain on the News Corporation board of directors is a good indication of where Murdoch’s immediate ambitions lie. All of which will cost big money,  dependent on taking ownership of BskyB and then using that business to finance the expansion.
The origins of Murdoch’s current problems lie in 1992, which ironically had been a particularly good year for both him and the Sun. This was an election year, the one that John Major should have lost, his government discredited by economic failure and the early signs of corruption that would come out later. Although Labour had been leading in the opinion polls all year, the Sun had fought a vicious anti-Labour campaign ending with a notorious front page: “If Kinnock wins today would the last one to leave Britain please turn out the light”. After Major’s unexpected victory, the front page boasted “It’s the Sun wot won it!”
It was also the year of the “squidgy tapes” and “camillagate”, when the Sun published transcripts of intercepted calls between Charles and Diana and their respective lovers. While it has never been clear who bugged the phones, it was clear at the time that there was little chance of anyone being convicted as a result.  Over the next 20 years there was a flurry of legislation, in which the state reasserted its monopoly of phone bugging, eavesdropping, and intercepting messages on the internet, to ensure it kept up with the new media.
At the same time the News of The World and other papers were discovering that using listening devices, eavesdropping on voicemail messages, hacking emails, corrupting police officers and blagging information from doctors or other public officials had given them a new source of stories. In effect the Murdoch press had established a private intelligence service, spying on an increasingly corrupt political elite, using the methods that a state normally reserves for itself.
Despite the convictions of the News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private eye Glen Mulcaire for hacking royal phones, there was a great reluctance by police and politicians, many with Murdoch links, to take action. At the same time there has been an equally steady stream of leaks from person or persons unknown, ensuring that the story has kept bubbling up whenever it was in danger of being forgotten. All of which bears an uncanny resemblance to the equally puzzling leak of  parliamentary expenses claims, which resulted in a clear out of corrupt MP’s in 2009/10.
As new teams of police officers trawl through the accounts and emails of News International, there will be an increasing number of politicians, police and journalists wondering just what was “shredded” and what survives.
 At the same time there is no threat to Murdoch’s empire, which currently has a monopoly of satellite TV, owns 7.5 per cent of ITV and 40 per cent of British newspaper sales. All of which has enabled him to continue to act as the cheer-leader of anti-union, anti-working class, imperialist interests since the days of Thatcher and Reagan.

The Politics of Literature


By Andy Brooks

British Communism and the Politics of Literature 1928-1939: Philip Bounds, 320pp, Merlin Press 2012, £18.95.

OTHER people’s PhD dissertations seldom make for easy reading and Philip Bounds’ book, based on his thesis submitted to Swansea University in 2003, is no exception. Nevertheless this comprehensive and well-researched study of the role of communist intellectuals during the hey-day of the old Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) is a must for all serious students of our movement and the literature that it produced.
            The works of three key communist writers – Alick West, Ralph Fox and Christopher Caudwell,  are analysed in depth to demonstrate the impact, one way or the other, of the Soviet Union and the Communist International on the progressive avant-garde during what the writer and former Daily Worker journalist, Claud Cockburn, would later call the “devil’s decade”. 
The study begins with the disastrous sectarian “class against class” period, which began in 1928 and carried on until 1934. That was the year when the CPGB began to implement the new Comintern policy of broad alliances and popular fronts. The year 1934 was also when the first Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers was held – a mammoth two weeks of art and ideas  presided over by Maxim Gorky – and adopted the much misunderstood concept of Socialist Realism.
Bounds uses an impressive number of original sources to challenge the conventional Trotskyist and bourgeois academic mantra that communist writers simply echoed whatever was favoured by the Stalin leadership at the time.
The author maintains that, on the whole, the Party intelligentsia were developing a line based on the realities of life in Britain itself. He points out that some challenged the popular view amongst within the CPGB that reduced art to a propaganda tool or another “weapon in the struggle”.  Some said that the cultural front was, in fact, as important as the industrial struggle or any other arena in revolutionary politics.
Alick West, who was an early critic of the revisionist British Road to Socialism, was one of them. West argued that matters were compounded by the fact that communists were so intent on seeing culture as an instrumental force (that is, as something that could be used in the struggle against existing social relations) that they had become virtually incapable of seeing it as an end in itself.
West says: “I said that culture (at a CPGB school on culture in 1953)…heightens our consciousness of the world we want to win and our energy to win it. In this sense it was true that culture is a weapon in the fight for socialism. But the truth depended on the recognition of the greater truth that socialism is a weapon in the fight for culture.
“For our final aim was not the establishment of a political and economic structure, but the heightening of human life. Without this recognition, the slogan became a perversion of the truth, since it degraded culture into a means to a political end. It seemed to me that the political end itself was thereby perverted, and that this was the weakness of The British Road to Socialism…At a meeting of the Cultural Committee, of which I was a member, I said that since the enrichment of human culture was our final aim, the Cultural Committee should have equal standing with the Political Committee in the leadership of the Party. The proposal met with no response, and I said no more.”
Though this study centres on the 1930s it also looks at post-war developments in the British communist movement. A whole chapter is devoted to the efforts to popularise the Marxist analysis of history and the class struggle in Britain down the ages. Historians like A L Morton and Christopher Hill and novelists like Jack Lindsay challenged the received wisdom of bourgeois academia and the Establishment literati and the struggle to counter the bourgeois narrative of British history continues to this day.
The bourgeoisie work constantly to deride anything that doesn’t conform to their own class outlook on the world. Social realism is dismissed as propaganda while those who produce anti-working class novels or drama like George Orwell or the spate of “kitchen-sink” dramatists are hailed as the cutting edge of British literary society.
Marxist historians are dismissed as dogmatists and humanity’s advance is portrayed as culminating in bourgeois democracy. And it’s not just in books or the media. This book makes the point that one of the main functions of the heritage industry is to reinforce the belief that history has somehow come to an end by presenting the past through the medium of museums, stately homes and ruins, to persuade us that significant historical change is now impossible.
But Bounds says: “However anachronistic their politics may otherwise seem, organisations such as the Communist Party, the New Communist Party of Britain and the Communist Party of Great Britain deserve some credit for challenging this curious blend of postmodern pessimism and conservative triumphalism. With their flow of articles on the periods in British history when the class struggle was at its most intense, most of them published in newspapers and magazines whose low production values make them seem anything but remote, they remind us that history has yet to reach its Hegelian terminus and that popular revolt is still one of the main sources of social progress. More than 70 years after the Seventh Congress of the Communist International, Dimitrov’s legacy is still alive – just.”
Whatever we might think about Bound’s conclusions they can be little doubt that this book is an important contribution to the study of the history of the communist movement in Britain and the role of many of its leading intellectuals during its formative years. It can be obtained from any high street bookshop or web-based bookseller.              

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Ruling Class, Fascism and the State

Mussolini and Hitler: two of a kind
by  Neil Harris

IT IS nearly a century since fascism first appeared in Italy, and yet it is as misunderstood now as it was then. That the story of Hitler and the Nazis’ rise to power are such a major part of the history taught in our schools makes this a concern, because the confusion is no accident. It is a version of history that is acceptable to the ruling class and follows a simple but flawed narrative of the 20th century, namely that the great depression of the 1930’s produced two challenges to bourgeois democracy and capitalism: from the left, Communism and from the right, Fascism.
 The capitalists regard both as different varieties of the same system, “totalitarianism”. The story even has a “happy” ending with the triumph of bourgeois democracy over fascism at the end of the war and over communism after the long cold war.  When the leading bourgeois historian, Francis Fukuyama described the end of the Cold War as “the end of history”, what he meant was the end of the class struggle itself. This was wishful thinking; today the class war still continues just as history does.
The importance the ruling class places on history should tell us that the struggle over what happened in history is just as important as any other battle we fight: it is the battle for ideas. So, to set the record straight: throughout the 1930’s it was the ruling classes of the West who hailed fascism as a weapon against the revolutionary working class at home and abroad and both bank-rolled its rise and then financed it after it seized power in Italy, Germany and Spain. Montague Norman’s Bank of England was lending money to Germany even in the summer of 1939, just months before the declaration of war.
 It was communists and socialists who were the leading opponents of fascism and without the Red Army the Axis powers would have won the war in Europe. Afterwards, unable to reverse the advances made by the working class throughout the world, the imperialists were forced into an uneasy stalemate until the end of the cold war. So, what is fascism? Can it come back and if so when is it a threat?
 At this point we have to be clear that fascism is, of course, always a threat: to racial minorities, working class organisations and progressive individuals. This is because racism is an essential element of imperialism and will always be promoted by the ruling class as part of its ideology. Fascism takes its lead from this racism and is ever present in the form of small, violent gangs of right-wing racists. These embittered groups are always available for those in the ruling class who want to make use of small scale political violence outside of state power. It is our task to oppose them on a daily basis, on the streets. However, the seizure of state power itself is another matter and is the subject of this article.

Why does this happen in one country and not another? Why did Mosley fail and Mussolini succeed?

The nature of the state

The state only appears after private property and classes have themselves appeared; primitive societies have no need of a state. It is the antagonism between classes (the class struggle), over the ownership of private property (the means of production) that brings about the creation of a state. All states exist to preserve the position of a ruling class and do so through a variety of methods.  In the last resort this means the use of violence. Marx put it very succinctly when he said that the state is nothing but the “organising committee of the bourgeoisie” and by this he meant that the state exists to mediate between the different factions, individuals and organisations of the capitalist ruling class itself, not between the ruling class and the working class.
 While some states are quick to resort to violence and others are slower, it is the use of force on behalf of the ruling class which is the ultimate function of a state. In order to do this all states make sure that they have a monopoly of the use of violence in the form of police or armed forces, being quick to stamp out “vigilantes” or “mob rule” which may threaten their control. Even when auxiliaries or “death squads” are used in times of civil emergency it is always under the direction of or with the secret agreement of the security forces.  
The nature of fascism

In the 1930’s there were as many theories regarding the nature of what was then a new and novel development as there were commentators, but always reflecting the prejudices of the writer. For the bourgeoisie, fascism was at first a positive response to the arrival of communism. They saw it as an ally. Therefore when bourgeois writers first considered it, they highlighted the comradeship of fascist ex-servicemen, their noble nationalism, the sacrifice of patriots, all of which was shorthand for anti-communism. Much was made of the rise of the Nietzschean leader, the rise of the “superman”. The emphasis was always on “modernity”, because the appearance and methods of Mussolini and Hitler, which now seem so comical, were in their time seen as both cutting edge and efficient. The intention was to create fear amongst the people of their respective countries.
 Later when German imperialism was seen as a threat to rival imperialisms, the tone changed. Nationalists blamed the stereotypical national characteristics of the Italians or the Germans to explain what had happened. The “Chicago school” of bourgeois sociologists saw fascism and communism as “deviancy”, that is a deviation from the “normal” system of capitalism and bourgeois democracy. Freudians saw the rise of Hitler and Mussolini in terms of sex and the sub-conscious. All imperialists claimed that both communism and fascism were the same system because to an imperialist both were a threat to their rule. German fascism was now a rival and increasingly dangerous imperialist power while communism was a threat to the very existence of imperialism itself.
            What all bourgeois writers had in common was to ignore the class basis of the state and with very good reason.  The result of a communist revolution was the seizure of the property of the capitalist class, the replacement of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with the dictatorship of the proletariat. The fascist dictatorship, on the other hand, in banning parties of the working class, seizing unions and co-operatives only reinforced the dictatorship of the ruling class. This was obvious to people from all backgrounds at the time, in a way it is not today, after 80 years of bourgeois “history”.
 Georgi Dimitrov’s classic definition, first set out at the 7th  Congress of the Communist International in 1935 is a helpful start in understanding what really happened; “Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital”. As a description of what happened in Germany and Italy it is accurate and helpful, but it fails to explain the reason “why” fascism appeared.
Rajani Palme Dutt went further; “Fascism arose as a special form of counter revolution in the period of the general crisis of capitalism and following the opening of the world socialist revolution in 1917”, he added: “Fascism is thus a form of counter revolution, but not every counter revolution is fascism”, and it is with that last addition that he raised the questions that we need to answer.
It is first helpful to understand what fascism isn’t. For example, it is not simply capitalism’s response in times of depression. If it were so, we would have had fascism in Britain or America, where both countries suffered greatly in the 1930’s and both had vociferous fascist parties.
Fascism is not a coup d’état, that is, a seizure of power by the military.  When the military take power, as a component of the state, they are doing so as the state itself, on behalf of the ruling class.
 Fascism, on the other hand, has a mass base outside of the state and while it may have supporters in the military, it is not just a military action. In Spain, Franco acted more like the typical Latin American coup leader where coup d’état is frequently used by the ruling class in general and feudal landowners in particular, to preserve their power.  Franco represented the reactionary section of the Spanish military, acting on behalf of the landowners, monarchists, the church and some of the capitalists. While he took power in an alliance with the fascist parties, he always kept the military separate from them.  Fascist parties may aspire to take power by force, but do not do so from within the state apparatus itself.
Fascism does not “seize” control of the state, even though fascist parties always talk of a revolutionary seizure of power. Following Mussolini’s “march on Rome”, he appeared before the king saying “I beg your majesty to forgive me for appearing in your presence in uniform – I come from the field of battle”. In fact, Mussolini had arrived in Rome by sleeper train in a first class compartment.
Some days before, on October 24th  1922 a secret conference had taken place in Florence; attending were Blackshirt leaders, army chiefs, nationalists, business leaders and the representative of the Duke of Aosta. Together, those present were a cross-section of the ruling class of the time and all were agreed it was time to take over the Government. The first choice of leader was Gabriele D’Annunzio the poet and nationalist adventurer who refused. The second choice, General Peppino Garibaldi also refused before Mussolini was picked as third choice. Two days later the ultimatum was put to the prime minister, who promptly resigned without a struggle, and the “march” began. In effect the ruling class and the state invited him to take power.
It was no different in Germany. On September 12th 1919, Hitler attended a meeting of a tiny nationalist movement, boasting fewer than 10 members. He did so in his post-war role as a political agent working on behalf of the German Army. Impressed by what he saw he joined and recommended to his commanding officer that the group was worthy of an army subsidy, which it received for many years. In 1920 when the “National Socialist German Workers Party” launched its first newspaper it was financed by an industrialist from Bavaria, an officer of the Hansa bank and the army in equal amounts. The army funds came from the secret “Freikorps” fund raised to organise nationalist death squads outside the 100,000 limit on troop numbers imposed by the treaty of Versailles. In 1933 Hitler was invited to take power by the President.
It is also not a “revolution”, as fascists claim, nor can it be described as a revolt of the oppressed.  Nowhere has any fascist party enacted any progressive measures or seized any property except that belonging to racial minorities or working class organisations.
Fascism is not “anti-capitalist” as it claims, nowhere has any fascist ever threatened the ruling class of their own country, on the contrary it is the working class and their organisations that are its target. This is clear from a study of those who financed Hitler during his rise to power.  Hitler’s financial backers varied quite dramatically over the years but none could be described as anti-capitalist, ranging from exiled White Russians, the Nobel organisation (manufacturers of weapons), Thyssen steel, German Naval Intelligence, Swiss bankers, Henry Ford the US car maker and anti-communist, Lord Rothermere owner of the Daily Mail, Mussolini’s Italy and the German Army.
There are many examples of such ruling class support; in 1927 the Westphalian coal syndicate agreed amongst its members to raise a levy for the Nazi party of 50 pfennigs on every ton of coal sold by its members. 
On 9th January 1928 12 influential men met, including representatives of Krupp the arms manufacturers, I G Farben the chemical conglomerate, together with the coal and lignite industries in order to create the “Ruhrlade”, a massive political fund. Over the next few years a series of follow up meetings were to take place, notably in January 1931 at Herman Goering’s house where Hitler charmed Thyssen Steel, Ernest Tengleman the director of the Ruhr mining company and Dr Schacht the former President of the Reichsbank, with the result that later that year the Ruhrlade fund switched over to the Nazi party.
In 1932 Hitler attended a meeting with the banker Schacht, Schroder the Cologne banker, Meyer of Dresdner bank, Bismarck’s grandson (a leading landowner), representatives of Comerz and Privat bank, Siemens, the Hamburg-America shipping line, Flick steel, United steel and a fertiliser magnate.
So we can see that as Palme Dutt stated, fascism is counter revolution and as Dimitrov understood, it is a counter revolution carried out on behalf of the most reactionary elements of the ruling class. But why in some countries and not others? The usual answer to this question is that the rise of fascism was a response to the threat of revolution and communism.
As communists, we could be excused for believing that the purpose of fascism was to destroy communism and communists. Indeed, that has always been a central part of fascist ideology and communists have always been the first victims of fascism.
Facts however are troublesome things. In the Italian elections of 1921, just after the Italian Socialist Party had expelled the faction that was to become the Communist Party, the communists won 18 seats out of just over 500. In the German election of 1932, the communists won 10 per cent of the vote. This is not to belittle our comrades’ efforts. These votes were won in the teeth of vicious physical attacks from the fascists and the state, biased media and with very limited funds to run campaigns. More importantly, these were parties committed to revolution rather than elections and whose influence amongst the working class was more important to them than their membership or the number of votes cast. True communists always measure their support amongst the working class at the point of production rather than their vote in bourgeois elections.
The point is that these parties had limited support, and at the time of the fascist takeovers did not represent an immediate threat to capitalist system. It is certainly true that at that time, communists believed that they were the coming force and that was also a view shared by the capitalists, however fear of the future does not provide an adequate explanation of what happened. If it were, the American measures of 1919 would have provided a ready model for the German and Italian ruling classes.
Following the First World War, America saw a huge rise in labour movement activity, strikes and political action. The communist and anarchist movements were forces for revolutionary change in a country where revolutionary syndicalist ideas had been strong for many years amongst the working class. The ruling class response was harsh; the “Palmer raids”, the rise of J Edgar Hoover and the creation of the FBI, specifically to deal with the “red menace”. Thousands were arrested and imprisoned simply for being suspected communists or militants, and any who were not American citizens were immediately deported back to Europe. It would take many years for the left to recover, and in some respects it never did. 
They did not pass. Mosley's Blackshirts defeated in Cable St, 1936
It is a commonly held view that fascism appeared because of the imminent threat of revolution, this is also not the case. Certainly, the Italy of 1919 gave every appearance of a country on the brink of revolution; on August 30th 1919 some 500,000 workers were occupying their factories and demanding workers control. During this wave of unrest over a million would become involved, including peasants demanding land reform, some of whom would actually seize the land they had worked for generations, but did not own.
The ruling class did not sit idly by, Mussolini’s blackshirts, paid for by the ruling class, armed by the military and transported by the state began a reign of terror, attacking the labour movement throughout the country from October 1920 on, following the end of the factory occupations.
From November onwards and starting in red Bologna a large scale para-military action was launched against the working class, driving out socialist town councils, destroying trades union and co-operative organisation. From January to May 1921 120 Trade union headquarters and 243 socialist centres were destroyed, leaving 220 dead and 1,144 wounded. Between 1921 and 1922 500 labour centres and co-operatives were burnt while 900 socialist municipalities were dissolved by force.
To quote Mussolini on 2nd  June 1921: “The Italy of 1921 is fundamentally different today from that of 1919, to say that the Bolshevik danger still exists in Italy is equivalent to trying to exchange for reasons of self-interest, fear against the truth. Bolshevism is conquered, more than that, it has been disowned by the leaders and the people.”
In Germany it is a similar story, the First World War ended in 1918 as the monarchy collapsed as a result of soldiers’ uprisings and workers’ revolts. Unfortunately this produced not a soviet republic but a bourgeois democratic republic and with right wing social democrats in control in many state governments.
The Army, limited in size and activity by the terms of the armistice and later the Versailles treaty, created the “Freikorps”, armed irregulars made up mainly of the officer class and elite squadrons. The workers’ councils which had sprung up were viciously put down.
January 1919 saw the murders of communist leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg and started a period of great violence until 1923. Uprisings, general strikes and soviets organised by left social democrats and communists were put down with some 20 to 30,000 dead. In addition to ruling class support, the freikorps acted with the support of right social democrats where they were in power or elected as police chiefs and which poisoned the relationship between social democracy and communists for many years.
Clearly revolution was a real possibility at any time from 1918 to 1923, and the reasons why it failed could be the subject matter for a book in itself. What is equally clear is that in 1933, when Hitler “took” power, revolution was not a threat, at least not in the short term. All the same, the ruling class invited Hitler into government and gave him extraordinary powers. Within days of the Reichstag fire providing a pretext, the Communist Party was destroyed and its members imprisoned or on the run. From that point on, as Alan Merson showed in his book on the German underground, the average period a newly elected full timer would serve before his or her arrest was a mere three months, such was the brutality of the dictatorship.
 However the real destruction had hardly begun. By June 1933 the social democratic party had been banned and destroyed and the trade union leaders arrested. When asked why this was necessary, Hitler said “better in jail”. Co-operatives of all types, Catholic or social democratic were seized.  So too were the Catholic workers’ associations, whose role had been to deny that the class struggle existed and to promote the belief that workers and capitalists had interests in common. What is striking is that a revolution, while always a possibility in the future was not an imminent prospect in 1933.
To understand what happened we need to understand the nature of revolutionary situations: circumstances when revolutions are possible and likely to succeed. In between April and May 1920, Lenin wrote Left-wing communism, an infantile disorder, at a time when much of Europe had been ripe for revolution for the previous two years.
            “Wrote”, is probably not right. Passages leap out of the pamphlet with an urgency revealed in such erratic grammar that they can only have been dictated at great speed to a secretary, Lenin abandoned the precise scholastic style of his pre-revolutionary life. One such dramatic passage, reprinted below sets out what he called “the fundamental law of revolution”:
“The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the 20th century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes: for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way.
 “It is only when the ‘lower classes’ do not want to live in the old way and the ‘upper classes’ cannot carry on in the old way that the revolution can triumph. This truth can be expressed in other words: revolution is impossible without a nation-wide crisis (affecting both the exploited and the exploiters). It follows that, for a revolution to take place, it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class-conscious, thinking, and politically active workers) should fully realise that revolution is necessary, and that they should be prepared to die for it; second, that the ruling class should be going through a governmental crisis, which draws even the most backward masses into politics (symptomatic of any genuine revolution is a rapid, tenfold and even hundredfold increase in the size of the working and oppressed masses – hitherto apathetic – who are capable of waging the political struggle), weakens the government, and makes it possible for the revolutionaries to rapidly overthrow it.”
Put very simply, for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the working class to feel unable to carry on living in the old way, it is also necessary for the ruling class to be going through a crisis of its own – it too cannot continue living in the old way. The importance of this passage is that we can see the reason why revolutions fail, and in particular why the risings failed in Germany and Italy, while that of Russia in 1917 succeeded. The strength of social democracy (that is the belief that a non-revolutionary road was a way to reform capitalist exploitation) was such that an insufficient section of the working class was prepared to use force to overthrow its oppressors.
The failure of those revolutions, as with the failure of the British working class to develop 1926 into a serious revolutionary situation were due to workers not having reached the point where they could no longer go on living in the old way. They retained the hope that there was an alternative. At the same time, whatever crisis the ruling class of their respective countries were in, they had not reached the point where they were unable to go on living on the old way.
So what had happened to bring about fascist regimes? Why was it necessary to have a counter revolution when a revolution was not imminent?
It is quite clear that the ruling classes in both Italy in 1922 and Germany in 1933 were in severe crisis and one which was far worse than that at the end of the First World War. From the armistice onwards, defeated Germany had lurched form one crisis to another and by the 1930’s this had reached finance capital itself with a series of bank failures and extravagant frauds. Italy, thinking it had come out of the war on the side of the victors found instead that it was unable to share in the spoils with the major imperialists and instead its landlords feared the loss of their land and the factory owners the loss of their factories.
In both cases the ruling classes, or significant sections of them, had reached the conclusion that they could not continue to rule in the old way. Quite simply, they knew that at the next crisis it was likely that they would be overthrown. At the same time the revolutionary tide had subsided, the workers had not yet reached the point where they had decided that they could not go on in the old way. The scene was set, not for revolution but for counter revolution.
It is then that the ruling classes looking to the state, with its officials, employees and elected posts staffed by people who might be anything from Catholics, liberals, social democrats, monarchists to conservatives, saw it as unreliable and unlikely to carry out its new role as a ruthless dictator. It is no coincidence that apart from the oppression of workers and the left, after taking power there is a systematic upheaval of the whole state apparatus and even its lowliest employees. Judges, civil servants, police officers, lecturers, librarians, teachers, even postmen were required to show complete loyalty to the fascist state, facing dismissal or far worse if they showed any opposition. While a minority left or hid, the majority took the hint and stayed on, accepting the new regime and doing its dirty work.
For that is what it was, a new state apparatus brought about by the ruling classes dissatisfaction with the old, a state which it felt was simply not up to the job.
The destruction of every form of workers organisation (including the Catholic associations) and their replacement with fascist unions, was to ensure not the resurgence of communism, important though that was, but to prevent any form of class consciousness and class struggle. The effect was to allow capitalism to increase the rate of exploitation as a means of maintaining the level of surplus value and to ensure its survival as a system, for the time being at least. For imperialism, it allowed the whole of the economy to become concentrated into a massive increase in arms production, expansion of the armed services and ultimately preparation for imperialist expansion, intended to give it new markets, natural resources and a new workforce. It was not for nothing that a left slogan of the time was “fascism means war”.
Daniel Guerin’s study from the 1940’s is interesting; contrasting Hitler’s consistent support from heavy, capital-intensive industries such as coal, iron, steel, chemicals, and arms with more lukewarm support from the makers of consumer goods such as beer and clothing, reliant as they were on sales to working class consumers. The makers of arms, explosives, iron, steel and fuel were, of course, those most likely to gain from re-armament and war. Also interesting is the analysis he makes of the organic link between finance capital and the Nazi’s rise to power.
The last word must go to Clara Zetkin, veteran militant and communist addressing the executive committee of the communist international in July 1923 “Historically, fascism is the punishment of the proletariat in western and central Europe for failing to carry on the revolution begun in Russia.”

Does a fascist seizure of the state, change the nature of the state?

Here we must spell out the difference between “the state” and a government, a parliament or an assembly. An elected government may win an election but that does not mean that it controls the state apparatus itself. This is only a problem, of course, when that elected government fails to represent the views of the ruling class as it would in normal circumstances, for it is the ruling class that controls the apparatus of the state and not the government.
 A recent example would be the British Labour Governments of  the 1970’s, which were elected on rather mild “centre left” manifesto pledges, but faced determined opposition from the civil service, army and police who were echoing demands from the ruling class for renewed attacks on the working class and living standards. Harold Wilson had no doubts that he was the victim of a smear campaign from elements within the security services.
All states are a dictatorship of one class over another and all ultimately rely on violence to carry out that function. However it is clear that the German state of 1933 was different to that of, say, 1927 just as the Italian state of the mid 1920’s was different to that of 1919, before Mussolini took power. The difference, however, is one of degree only. The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie takes many forms ranging from “liberal democracies” to naked, open fascist dictatorship. For left social democrats and communists, murdered in their thousands in Germany from 1919 to 1923, it can have been of little comfort that they were living in a liberal democracy rather than a fascist dictatorship.
Fascism, in a form that Hitler or Mussolini would recognise, is unlikely to return. The process that gave rise to it, however, is only too likely to happen again and a good example of such a situation would be the events during the anti-communist hysteria in America following World War Two.
In 1945 America was the close ally and friend of the Soviet Union. President Roosevelt, no communist himself, was a liberal “new dealer”, who had fought against the ignorance and poverty of the depression years and limited the role of capitalism during the war. Many in his administration and the US state shared his views, although only a handful could be described as left-wing. By the late 1940’s, the American ruling class chose confrontation rather than friendship with the Soviets and at home an end to the class compromises of the new deal and the war.
When they looked at the state apparatus they saw employees who did not share their view of the world and on whom they could not rely. They began an anti-communist crusade, led by Joseph McCarthy and others, representing the vocal demands of big business, or what Eisenhower was to describe as the “military-industrial complex”. The professed aim was to clear all the “communists” out of government.
 A witch hunt was launched where every other person was a suspected communist unless they could prove otherwise or redeem themselves by implicating others. While it lasted every school teacher, civil servant and even postman was in fear of a knock on the door from the FBI or losing their job and facing a lifelong blacklist.
            Communists were cleared out of leadership of all but a handful of trade unions and workers on the shop floor were in fear of expressing any contrary views. Sponsors threatened to withdraw finance from movies and radio programmes unless supposed communists were fired. However, the number of communists was actually quite small, as was the threat they posed to the capitalist system. Its effect was to intimidate all who worked for the state and by its end it had put the American state on a worldwide war footing, its personnel purged of dissenting views.
In the era in which we live, where imperialism can operate temporarily without restraint from proletarian revolutions, the words of Berthold Brecht in his satire on the Nazis The resistible rise of Arturo Ui, ends the play with the words : “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”