During an in class discussion earlier today, the phenomenon of fascism was brought up. Eventually, as often happens in these sorts of discussions, communism came up as well. In agreement with a large section of the populous, it was mentioned that “communism and fascism are two sides of the same coin”, that coin being totalitarianism. Naturally, as a Marxist and a Trotskyist with libertarian tendencies, I was compelled to politely write her a letter on why this was not the case, on why communism does not equal fascism, even if one wishes to equate Stalinism with communism generally. I have nothing but the utmost respect for my professor, but naturally I did felt compelled to write the following letter:
Dear Professor (Name Omitted),
I certainly enjoyed today’s discussion and while I took absolutely no offense to it in any way whatsoever, I wanted to address something that was said because it commonly comes up in discussions I have with other people. That is, the misconceptions of Marxism brought about by the tragedy of Stalinism in the 20th century and, consequently, what it has done to the image of the Marxist movement as a whole.
Initially, nearly all of the early socialists and communists of the 20th century took on an attitude that the state was an inherently evil institution, and even went so far as to criticize the roots of totalitarianism that emerged in Russia before the Stalinist period. Rosa Luxemburg for instance, a leading figure of the attempted communist revolution in Germany, had this to say in light of the despotism that had emerged in the early Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic:
“Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of “justice” but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when ‘freedom’ becomes a special privilege… Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element.”
Even within the Russian Revolution itself, there developed an intangible bureaucracy in which all the genuinely democratic gains of the early revolution were lost. When Stalin came to power he not only continued the revolutionary despotism of the civil war era into the post-revolutionary period, but he also amplified and obfuscated its role in the development of Soviet society. Stalin murdered, imprisoned, exiled, or otherwise “disappeared” nearly all of the original Bolsheviks who first served in the October revolution, numbering in the thousands.
He did this in the name of Marx, Engels and Lenin, who, contrary to popular belief, never once wrote about a one-party state. Trotsky, a man who most considered to be Lenin’s no. 2 during the revolution, was exiled by Stalin for opposing the bureaucracy within the party. For the rest of his life he fought for genuine democracy and liberty within Soviet society and for political revolution before being murdered by one of Stalin’s henchmen in his own home.
As for Marx, he was first and foremost an economist; he studied above all else capitalism and its relation to the earlier economic systems of human history. After decades of intense investigation of political economy (including a tedious analysis of all the written works of the prominent economists of and before his time) and human history, he made a scientific prediction that capitalism, like feudalism before it, would eventually be surpassed by a more efficient, democratic socioeconomic system. The means of producing wealth in our society, which are today exclusively owned by the property owning class who de facto hold all state power, would be held in common and would be brought not under state control, but the democratic control of the workers themselves, thereby abolishing private property. Those who produce all the wealth in our society would have democratic control over what is to be done with that wealth. The objective of the produce of human labor would thus become addressing human needs rather than blind profit.
The idea was that eventually humankind, after abolishing private (not to be confused with personal) property, would necessarily enter into a stateless society. Because to Marx and Engels, the state was, as Engels put it, “nothing but an instrument of oppression of one class by another – no less so in a democratic republic than in a monarchy.” Marxists certainly never saw it as a good thing. The violent organization that we call the state would be replaced with the democratic management of society. Eventually when human society became productive enough, people could work according to ones abilities and take freely (without money as a medium of exchange) to each according to their needs. This, and not the totalitarian despotism of Stalinism, is what we call communism.
The question of how to get to this society has many answers, some in anarchist (anti-statist) tactics from the beginning, some in the initial use of the state under a more libertarian pretext, others through sheer state terror and totalitarianism (Stalinism). Thus the proposition of achieving a communist society has no inherent basis in the use of the state, let alone a totalitarian one. I consider myself to be a libertarian Marxist, meaning that while I agree with Marx’s critique of capitalism; I wholly and unequivocally condemn any form of totalitarianism to get to a more democratic and equal society.
As for fascism on the other hand, while its totalitarianism and lack of personal liberty is, admittedly, comparable to the Stalinist despotism that devolved in the cold war era, it sees the use of the state as an end and not a means to an end. Hitler wanted his “Reich” to last a thousand years. Lenin wanted the state to wither away as soon as possible, for the state is always a barrier to the genuine fulfillment of human liberty. Contrary to Marxism, it sees democracy as a negative aspect of human society, it sees classes and inequality as a good thing. As Mussolini, Hitler’s biggest inspiration put it,
“After Socialism, Fascism attacks the whole complex of democratic ideologies and rejects them both in their theoretical premises and in their applications or practical manifestations. Fascism denies that the majority, through the mere fact of being a majority, can rule human societies; it denies that this majority can govern by means of a periodical consultation; it affirms the irremediable, fruitful and beneficent inequality of men, who cannot be leveled by such a mechanical and extrinsic fact as universal suffrage. . . . Democracy is a regime without a king, but with very many kings, perhaps more exclusive, tyrannical and violent than one king even though a tyrant. . . .”
Marx and Lenin, on the other hand, supported a system in which the working masses (the overwhelming majority), to the exclusion of the property holding class, would hold and democratically control all state power. In this way it is an inversion of the early American democracy, a bourgeois democracy in which only white, property owners had an exclusive dictatorship over the state. In this way, we can say that such a system is inherently even more democratic than our own (if applied properly and developed in ideal conditions). For Lenin, freedom and democracy were always a goal for working people, for example, he said,
“Freedom and equality for the oppressed sex! Freedom and equality for the workers, for the toiling peasants! Down with the liars who are talking of freedom and equality for all, while there is an oppressed sex, while there are oppressor classes, while there is private ownership of capital, of shares, while there are the well-fed with their surplus of bread who keep the hungry in bondage. Not freedom for all, not equality for all, but a fight against the oppressors and exploiters, the abolition of every possibility of oppression and exploitation-that is our slogan!”
In short, I merely wanted to respectfully lay out my views on the matter. I know you may disagree with me, as is certainly and should be your right, but I just wanted you to be informed of the basics of these ideas, ideas which have suffered intentional obfuscation by those in power since their inception.