Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Trump, Fascism and Democratic Socialism.

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Trump’s New Residence? 

There is debate on the left, across the world, on Donald Trump’s national populism and its relation to fascism. Many are now talking of David Renton’s study on the way in which different factions on the right have converged. (The New Authoritarians: Convergence on the Right. 2019).

One theme of the last twelve months has been the convergence of people and groups emanating from a conservative or a fascist starting point which, despite their different origins, have been working together since Brexit.

Convergence on the right

Nick Cohen writes in the Observer today,

If Trump looks like a fascist and acts like a fascist, then maybe he is one

I can see three objections to calling a large section of the Republican party pre-fascist. The first can be dismissed with a flick of the fingers as it comes from a self-interested right that has to pretend it is not in the grip of a deep sickness – and not only in the United States. The second is the old soothing “it can’t happen here” exceptionalism of the Anglo-Saxon west, which has yet to learn that the US and UK are exceptional in the 21st century for all the wrong reasons. The third sounds intelligent but is the dumbest of all. You should not call Trump or any other leader a pre- or neo-fascist or any kind of fascist until he has gone the whole hog and transformed his society into a totalitarian war machine.

Perhaps we can learn something about how to react from the history of other “pre-fascist’ movements.

For the specialist in the history of French fascism, Zeev Sternhell, the European far-right was born out of a will to break with “l’ordre libérale” in the late 19th century. One of the first stirrings was “Boulangism”  1885-1889 (named after General Boulanger). Boulanger was seen by many French people  as the man destined to avenge France’s defeat in the Franco-German War. This movement was,, Sternhell argued, a synthesis between nationalism and certain forms of ultra-republican socialism (Blanquisme).  anti-liberalism, nationalism (Bonapartists), with an anti-Semitic overtow, (La droite révolutionnaire, 1885–1914. Les origines françaises du fascisme.1978).

A kind of Make France Great Again movement, Boulangism was an electoral event, a coalition of candidates around a figure who would carry the “will of the people” to power against corrupt elites. They were seen to be behind Revanche (Revenge on Germany), Révision (Revision of the Constitution), and, for at least one section of their supporters, Restauration (the return to monarchy). Despite the success of Boulangist candidates never came near to winning a majority in the French election of 1889, 72 deputies against 366 for the Republican side .

Efforts to pin Boulangist ideas down in one ‘populist’ nationalist direction, nostalgia for Bonaparte’s First Empire, run up against the fact that Boulanger had not just the votes but the financial backing of wealthy Monarchists (exposed by a former supporter in  Les Coulisses du boulangisme).

Despite this, some on the left, like Paul Lafarge, considered that the demands of the ‘people’ against the “les gros bourgeois” and their impatience with republican ‘réformisme’  could be turned  in a socialist direction. An important section of the left opposed Boulanger, accusing him of Césarisme, the wish to override democratic procedures.  For Jean Jaurès popular support for Boulanger was not just socialist aspirations gone astray, it was not socialist in any sense.

After initial electoral appearance, with support from working class districts, Boulanger himself took the stage and  was urged to take power by a coup d’état.

In January 1889 Boulanger was returned as deputy for Paris by an overwhelming majority. When the election results were announced, wildly shouting masses of his supporters urged him to take over the government immediately. Boulanger declined and spent the evening with his mistress instead. His failure to seize control at the crucial moment was a severe blow to his following.

A new government under Pierre Tirard, with Ernest Constans as minister of the interior, decided to prosecute Boulanger, and within two months the Chamber was requested to waive the General’s parliamentary immunity. To his friends’ astonishment, Boulanger fled from Paris on April 1, going first to Brussels and then to London. He was tried in absentia for treason by the Senate as high court and condemned on Aug. 14, 1889, to deportation. In the elections of 1889 and 1890 his supporters received setbacks, and public enthusiasm for his cause dwindled away. In 1891 Boulanger committed suicide in Brussels at the cemetery of Ixelles, over the grave of his mistress.

Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Frederick Engels set out some reflections that stand up well today,

Although the Boulangist movement appeared to be ephemeral in retrospect, Frederick Engels paid close attention to it. Engels saw the threat of a Boulanger dictatorship, warning socialists in France:


The finest thing of it all is that three months after these two congresses Boulanger will be in all probability dictator of France, do away with parliamentarism, expurgate the judges under pretext of corruption, have a gouvernement à poigne and a chambre pour rire (trans. mock chamber), and crush Marxists, Blanquists and Possibilists all together. And then, ma belle France—tu l’as voulu! (trans. my beautiful France – that’s what you wanted!)

Engels recognized the danger of a Boulangist dictatorship as spelling the end not only to the socialist movement in France, but the Third Republic itself. For him, the question was not just how to analyse Boulangism, but how to fight it.

Engels, Boulanger and the Fight Against Fascism

That could stand for the position democratic socialists should take towards Trump’s supporters and their assault on the Capitol.



Written by Andrew Coates

January 17, 2021 at 12:33 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Cultural Fascism from Spiked,

    “Anti-globalisation was hugely important. People were railing against Big Tech and against being censored, which we are seeing even more since the events of 6 January.” “Trump is fully responsible for sending his followers in an agitated state under a bogus rallying call, even though they have some very legitimate grievances.


    Andrew Coates

    January 17, 2021 at 4:01 pm

  2. Fascism is a political methodology, involving the use of violence to break up the organisation of your opponents, often the violence is terroristic in nature, and to prepare the ground for the seizure and control of governmental power via a coup. It often uses nationalistic rhetoric. The Zionist terror organisations such as the Stern Gang openly stated their adherence to such a fascist political methodology, for example, and sought support for and obtained training in Mussolini’s Italy. Similarly, as Trotsky said the only difference between the regime of Stalin and that of Hitler was that Stalin’s was more brutal.

    Fascism as a political methodology, perhaps best described in the works of the fascist Giovani Gentile should then be distinguished from Nazism. Even the use of racism, as opposed to extreme nationalism is problematic. Mussolini had within his inner circle a Jewish banker, for example, and there was no particular anti-Semitism in his approach to begin with, that coming later at Hitler’s insistence as Italy came to rely more and more on Germany, along with the development of the anti-Comintern Pact with Germany and Japan, which was officially signed in 1936, but which was actually created back in 1933 by Goebbels.

    Fascism is a government of the petty-bourgeoisie, which is the basis of its nationalist and anti-capitalist rhetoric, but it can only ever succeed in conditions in which the ruling-class, fearing a rising working-class is forced into an alliance with that petty-bourgeoisie and its fascist representatives. These conditions arise only at specific times. In the 19th century, the shoe was on the other foot. The industrial bourgeoisie, as Engels describes, had to ally itself with the industrial proletariat not only to defeat the landlord class (1832 Reform Act), but also for the large scale industrial capital to defeat the allies of that landlord class, the merchant and financial bourgeoisie (Repeal of the Corn Laws). It was also necessary to promote the interests of big industrial capital at the expense of the petty-bourgeoisie, which arises with the conversion of the big bourgeoisie to the social-democratic state, of regulation of working hours and so on. As Engels says it means the big bourgeoisie small in number realise they cannot rule without the support of the industrial proletariat. Hence the extension of the franchise, the incorporation of unions into the party of the big bourgeoisie – the Liberals – and creation of Lib-Lab MP’s, prior to the reality of the social weight of the workers resulting in social-democracy taking the form of bourgeois workers parties, such as Labour in Britain.

    This is the basis of bourgeois rule in the developed economies. As Trotsky relates, fascism was always difficult in Britain because of the size of the proletariat compared to the size of the peasantry and petty-bourgeoisie in Germany, France, Spain and Italy, particularly the peasantry. Fascism in Italy and Germany could only succeed, when the ruling class broke from its reliance on the proletariat, as it feared it, and allied with the petty-bourgeoisie. The fascist parties no longer had to contend with opposition from the capitalist state as they did with the earlier putsches, but could rely on it, to stand back or assist. But, capital was always reluctant, and believed they could control the fascists if push came to shove. Their experience in the 30’s, makes them much more reluctant today.

    Especially given that the big bourgeoise has nothing to fear from workers, it has no reason to give up its direct control by opening the door to fascists. The current fascist movements are entirely petty-bourgeois and untethered to any connection with the big bourgeoise and its state, which will and is opposing them. Could the fascists defeat the big bourgeoisie and its state? In most developed economies very unlikely. But, even if they could, what then? They have no unified ideology; the Nazis were forced to protect the interests of big capital upon which the modern economy and state depends; no modern state can function as a state based upon the petty-bourgeoisie, and the principles of 18th century free market capitalism, which is what the petty-bourgeoisie desires. It would collapse in short order under the weight of its internal contradictions. The experience of Brexit will be enough to demonstrate that.

    Trump has certainly built a large electoral coalition, as did Farage, but electoral coalitions are not what fascism is about, and as Trotsky said about Hitler, the internal contradictions are such that at a point long before they have an electoral majority, their ebb exceeds their flow. They have to resort to a violent overthrow. Unless they can turn that large electoral coalition into an organised mass armed force, then the state will smash them, which is what will now happen in the US.

    Of course, capital does have a problem as Trotsky described in Permanent revolution. If the petty-bourgeoisie does unite around the fascists, in such numbers that they threaten to overwhelm the state, then the ruling-class, as it did in the 19th century has to rely on an alliance with the proletariat to defeat the petty-bourgeoisie. It does that easily in parliamentary terms alternating between conservative social-democratic governments of the major parties, but when it comes to an active mobilisation, its different. Relying on an organised working class to come on to the streets, to fight alongside the state to defeat the fascists always risks the workers going beyond the limits that the bourgeoisie sets for it. That is why, for example, in opposing Brexit or Trump, the bourgeoise has relied on its own methods of use of its state apparatus, the courts, the civil service and so on, to frustrate the forward movement of the petty-bourgeoisie rather than on an open political struggle.


    January 17, 2021 at 5:22 pm

  3. Andrew, I have another comment that might be stuck in moderation.


    January 17, 2021 at 5:23 pm

  4. Martin Thomas in the present issue of Solidarity:

    6 January 2021, 6 February 1934

    France, February 1934
    Many historians, in hindsight, regard the 6 February 1934 attempt by mostly far-right army-veteran groups to storm France’s Chamber of Deputies, over a corruption scandal, as a blip.

    They can make a case. The 6 February riot was smaller than 4 January’s in Washington. The police were solid against it, indeed shot down the protesters, killing 16 and injuring 600-odd.

    The riot never got near breaching the parliament building. The biggest contingent, the Croix du Feu, went home when trouble started.

    Politically, the protest was a mix of small groups. The French far right in 1934 was weaker than the US far right is now, with Trumpists hegemonic in the Republican Party and the 100,000-strong militia movement drawn into Trump Republicanism. Trotsky wrote at the time: “fascism is not a mass movement in France”.

    The riot did make the prime minister resign; but that was the sixth change of prime minister since the victory of a Radical/ Socialist Party [SP] alliance in the June 1932 election, and the shift was from one member of the Radical Party to another.

    In truth, if 6 February turned out a blip, that was because the French left saw it as a warning, as more than a blip. 6 February ended the Stalinist Third Period. It pushed the SP to the left, and the CP into a united front with SP; it impelled anti-fascist activism; it set things moving towards the June 1936 general strike. It opened the way for the Trotskyists to win support in the SP youth.

    The CP would drag the SP back into alliance with the Radicals (the Popular Front); the SP and the CP would betray the general strike; and then France would move right again. But the surge of response to 6 February had created better possibilities.

    Responses in France were shaped by the recent Nazi triumph in Germany (January 1933) and the Great Depression.

    The US today is different, but economic disruption from the pandemic is and will continue large. Erdogan in Turkey, Modi in India, are not the Nazis, but they do show a new era of at least proto-fascist politics.

    6 January in Washington didn’t stop the ratification of the 4 November election. That does not prove it a setback for the far right, any more than 6 February 1934’s failure to put the Croix du Feu into power proved that a blip.

    Fascist (or proto-fascist) movements don’t seize power by popular uprisings. Usually they do it by convincing enough of the state machine and the ruling class that the country can’t be governed against the far right, so best bring the far right to office and hope to restrain it by coalitions.

    I don’t know whether the Romney-line Republicans will now rally. But crying contradictions in the Trump line haven’t broken up the Trumpist movement to date, and it’s unlikely they will now. The takeaway for the Trumpist far-right from 6 January is that they can impede governance. They can credibly paralyse a Biden administration which would have been conformist even without the far-right threat. And then in four years…

    Hope lies with the possibility that 6 January will galvanise the US left and labour movement as 6 February 1934 galvanised the French left.

    Jim Denham

    January 17, 2021 at 5:46 pm

    • In terms of membership the Croix de feu had more than 100,000 members, it had hundreds of thousands (peak membership was around 800,000), though, with its origins as a veterans’ mutual association it was not a mass totalitarian party. It was only one of the ‘ligues’.

      The argument in France is:

      Firstly, whether the croix-de-feu were fascist rather than on the right (the reason for this is linked to the fact that some of them became part of the Resistance, and, not least, because of François Mitterrand’s ” Volontaires Nationaux (National Volunteers), an organization related to François de la Rocque’s far-right league, the Croix de Feu, for one to three years, depending on the source.”

      Secondly, whether during the 1930s a basically stable bourgeois democratic system, he 3rd Republic, with a republican droite nationale, a centrist parti radical, and the SFIO, with the PCF, with some radical right groups, including Action française, was, like Britain exempt from a serious internal fascist threat.

      Sternhell and others (book reviewed on this blog: (edited by Sternhell) L’Histoire refoulée : La Rocque, les Croix de feu, et la question du fascisme français, les Éditions du Cerf, 2019,) have argued that they were a substantial force. They did not assert that France was ever seriously at risk of a domestic fascist take-over.

      As both Boffy and Martin Thomas Point out, there are other comparisons to be made with the time which illustrate differences.

      One person I would not cite as an authority on 1930s France is Trotsky,

      “But we want to speak frankly to you, comrade Trotsky, about the sectarian methods which we have observed around us and which have contributed to the setbacks and enfeebling of the vanguard.

      I refer to those methods which consist in violating and brutalizing the revolutionary intelligence of those militants – numerous in France – who are accustomed to making up their own minds and who put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts. These are the methods which consist in interpreting with no indulgence whatever the inevitable fumblings in the search for revolutionary truth.

      Finally, these are the methods which attempt, by a colonization directed from without, to dictate to the labour movement attitudes, tactics or responses which do not come from the depths of its collective intelligence. It is in large part because of this that the French section of the Fourth International has shown itself absolutely incapable not merely of reaching the masses but indeed even of forming tried and serious cadres.

      Marceau PIVERT
      PARIS, Jan. 26, 1939

      Andrew Coates

      January 18, 2021 at 10:10 am

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