Leon Trotsky
Fascism: What it is and how to fight it

The perspective in the United States

From “Some Questions on American Problems,” Fourth International

The backwardness of the United States’ working class is only a relative term. In very many important respects, it is the most progressive working class of the world, technically and in its standard of living…

The American workers are very combative—as we have seen during the strikes. They have had the most rebellious strikes in the world. What the American worker misses is a spirit of generalization, or analysis, of his class position in society as a whole. This lack of social thinking has its origin in the country's whole history. ...

About fascism. In all the countries where fascism became victorious, we had, before the growth of fascism and its victory, a wave of radicalism of the masses—of the workers and the poorer peasants and farmers, and of the petty bourgeois class. In Italy, after the war and before 1922, we had a revolutionary wave of tremendous dimensions; the state was paralyzed, the police did not exist, the trade unions could do anything they wanted—but there was not a party capable of taking the power. As a reaction came fascism.

In Germany, the same. We had a revolutionary situation in 1918; the bourgeois class did not even ask to participate in the power. The social democrats paralyzed the revolution. Then the workers tried again in 1922-23-24. This was the time of the bankruptcy of the Communist Party—all of which we have gone into before. Then in 1929-30-31, the German workers began again a new revolutionary wave. There was a tremendous power in the Communists and in the trade unions, but then came the famous policy (on the part of the Stalinist movement) of social fascism, a policy invented to paralyze the working class. Only after these three tremendous waves did fascism become a big movement. There are no exceptions to this rule—fascism comes only when the working class shows complete incapacity to take into its own hands the fate of society.

In the United States you will have the same thing. Already, there are fascist elements, and they have, of course, the examples of Italy and Germany. They will, therefore, work in a more rapid tempo. But you also have the examples of other countries. The next historic wave in the United States will be the wave of radicalism of the masses, not fascism. Of course, the war can hinder the radicalization for some time, but then it will give to the radicalization a more tremendous tempo and swing.

We must not identify war dictatorship—the dictatorship of the military machine, of the staff, of finance capital—with a fascist dictatorship. For the latter, there is first necessary a feeling of desperation of large masses of the people. When the revolutionary parties betray them, when the vanguard of workers shows its incapacity to lead the people to victory—then the farmers, the small businessmen, the unemployed, the soldiers, etc., become capable of supporting a fascist movement, but only then.

A military dictatorship is purely a bureaucratic institution, reinforced by the military machine and based upon the disorientation of the people and their submission to it. After some time their feelings can change and they can become rebellious against the dictatorship.