I decided to write this after I saw on a conservative facebook page an image of 2 flags. One of the Soviet Union, and the other of Nazi Germany. It read, “Why is one of these flags and its followers shamed and banned whereas it killed 20 million people, and the other is seen as embodying equality and justice, and it killed 50 million?” At the top, it read COMMUNISM = FASCISM. My blood boiled, but not for the reasons you would think (i.e. historical revisionism, support of Stalin, etc.) This page was comparing fascism to communism, not fascism to Stalinism. It completely lacked any in-depth analysis of the ideological foundations of Soviet Marxism and German National Socialism alike. I will here show the absurdity of this argument, I am arguing openly as a communist, but moreover as a Trotskyist. I take a very critical view of the USSR, it’s totalitarianism, its crimes, its lack of liberty and democracy. I will show how these ideological trends are not only not the same, but often the exact opposite of one another, and no, it’s not what you think.
First, let us look broadly at the two ideologies, Fascism is inherently authoritarian by nature while communism (moreover the pursuit of communism) is much more ideologically diverse. Fascism by default is a totalitarian system of government enforcing a system of state-capitalism, while Marxism-Leninism is typically a totalitarian institution of state-capitalism in the pursuit of communism. But what is Marxism-Leninism? Marxism-Leninism is the ideological system you think of when you hear the word communism, it was the core ideology at the heart of all the 20th century Marxist states (USSR, China, Cuba, Albania, Romania, etc.) You may know it by its other name, used by critics on the communist left such as myself to refer to it in its pure form: Stalinism. The Stalinist legacy of Marxism-Leninism was diluted in the USSR after Khrushchev’s reforms and ‘de-Stalinization’ in the USSR (as I will cover later), however, communist leaders Enver Hoxha and Mao Zedong maintained a much more Stalinist form of Marxism-Leninism after Stalin’s death, calling it Anti-Revisionist Marxism-Leninism, or just Anti-Revisionism. This anti-revisionism is what I am referring to when I say Marxism-Leninism. Though there are few Marxist-Leninists today that reject Stalinism as there were in the later USSR (Khrushchev and co.)
Both Fascism and Stalinism embody a system of over-centralization of state power and totalitarianism. In fact, the criticism of Stalinism is not left to the liberal intellectuals and rightists. It’s most militant critics are actually found on the communist left. The term ‘Marxism-Leninism’ was developed by Joseph Stalin after the death of Vladimir Lenin in the USSR. Stalin pursued a highly authoritarian variant of Leninism after Lenin’s death, the USSR was subjected to what Trotsky called a ‘bureaucratic degeneration’ of the Soviet Union, making it what he called a ‘degenerated/ deformed workers state’. Trotsky? Who’s that? Leon Trotsky was the co-leader of the October Revolution, next to Lenin he was the most important figure in the 1917 revolution. Consequently, Trotsky, a bolshevik to the core, was among the first to criticize the totalitarian nature of Stalinism, its inherent lack of democracy and fundamental rights of citizens, its criminal justice system, overuse of state-terror and bureaucratic nature. He referred to the USSR not as a socialist state, but as a degenerated workers state in desperate need of political, not social revolution. Trotsky is still vilified by Marxist-Leninists today, saying the man who wrote The Revolution Betrayed was actually himself a traitor. But I will not entertain this notion of the demonization of such a hero of liberty.
It is not entirely fair to blame Stalin for the USSR’s bureaucratic degeneration, the material conditions of early Russia are largely responsible for what happened. Lenin repetitively said that without the revolution in Germany that the socialist revolution was doomed, that Soviet Russia was doomed, for socialism in one country alone was impossible. After the October revolution, it was invaded by a coalition of 14 countries (including the US and UK, mind you), it was in the midst of a famine, it had just gotten out of the first world war, 2 revolutions, a civil war, and a foreign invasion. It was completely isolated and surrounded by hostile capitalist foreign powers on all sides. Authoritarian degeneration, some would say, was inevitable in such conditions. To make matters worse the overwhelming majority of early Russia was illiterate, barefoot and living in extreme poverty. Nevertheless, Lenin and Trotsky attempted to lead the country out of economic and political disaster, taking no more than a workman’s wage while doing so.
Contrary to popular belief, Lenin never once wrote about or suggested a one-party state. In fact, the USSR was a multi-party state up to 1924 (the year of Lenin’s death) during the New Economic Policy (where state-regulated capitalism was favored over state-capitalism) when the Mensheviks took up blatant counter-revolutionary positions that they felt they had to temporarily suspend it. When Lenin died, Stalin rose to power and never re-established a multi-party system. Up until Stalin’s rise to power, there had been no mention by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg or any other Marxist thinker of a one-party state. It is purely a vestige of Stalinism, one that still haunts the world to this day in Cuba, China, etc. In fact, if you read Lenin’s writings on the party it is very clear that it was not to be the only political or ideological force guiding the country, freedom of open criticism and disagreement was to be encouraged, as was freedom of speech, press, striking and protest by default. His proposed system (in his book The State and Revolution) was actually extremely democratic, even more so than the United States or Europe is today, it was based largely on Marx’s analysis of the Paris Commune, one of Marx’s few writings of what a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat (of the working class, of the majority) instead of a capitalist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, would actually look like. I think it doesn’t even need to be said that Stalinism proved to embody the exact opposite of this proposed system. Lenin’s vision of a truly democratic society could tragically not have been realized in backward Russia, so he had to pursue a different path. Nonetheless, I cannot help but laugh when people mention a one-party dictatorship when I mention Lenin’s name, Lenin would have and probably did, roll over in his grave when Stalin came to power and did the things he did.
The economic system of the USSR, from a class and Marxist analysis, was actually a system of state capitalism, not socialism. Though many socialists still debate if it really was since the USSR was, at least in theory, the dictatorship of the proletariat. But what is state capitalism? And how does it differ from socialism? State capitalism is a system where the state, owning the means of production, acts as the capitalist. The worker is still exploited but by the state instead of a private capitalist. In essence, the state acts as the capitalist. Socialism is quite different, as Trotsky said, “socialism needs democracy like the human body needs oxygen”. To explain this more clearly here is a basic (and I do mean basic) analysis of how a capitalist enterprise works, from a Marxian economic perspective of course:
Under state capitalism, the relation between Labor and Capital remains the same, the board of directors (or planners) is selected by the state instead of by wealthy shareholders. Under socialism, the BoD would be democratically elected (assuming we are speaking of a corporation). There is no real difference between being oppressed by a private capitalist and by the state. Lenin and Trotsky understood that state capitalism was a necessary prerequisite to socialism in the USSR and that it could only be achieved under the following conditions. 1.) In an advanced country having undergone a period of capitalist (or state capitalist) development, and 2.) Only on an international scale, capitalism is an international system, so too must be socialism.
In the 1930’s, after the USSR had undergone strenuous hardships, Stalin, now leader of the state, had to make a political decision. On one hand, he could have been honest and formally declared that the USSR had achieved a system of state capitalism, that the people would have to endure God knows how many more decades of rapid industrialization and hardships, or he could lie. So Stalin did what politicians do, he lied. He went to the Soviet people, who were tired and overworked, who had transformed their country from one of the poorest agricultural countries in the world into a budding industrial superpower in a hitherto unseen level of rapid industrialization, and he lied. He declared that “Socialism has been achieved!” Well, Stalin didn’t ‘achieve’ anything of the sort, he declared it. This goes hand in hand with Stalin’s theory of ‘Socialism in one country’ which he developed after it seemed that the revolution in Germany wasn’t going anywhere.
The USSR was alone and would remain alone largely until the second World War. Stalin had solidified power, through purges and state terror, and through constructing a massive and bureaucratic state apparatus. This is largely the reason for the confusion of what the term socialism actually means today. We Trotskyists uphold the original Marxist definition of socialism advocated by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and Connolly instead of the state-capitalist definition upheld by Stalin, Mao, Hoxha, and co. When people today advocate socialism, oftentimes they are advocating state-capitalism or worse still, social democracy (regulated capitalism, or as I like to call it ‘capitalism with pretty flowers’). We uphold the older definition, the one of genuine workers democracy (both politically and industrially) which is possible to be almost immediately realized in the U.S. and Europe today without undergoing a long period of state capitalism as was the case in the backward USSR. Because we already are living in an advanced capitalist society, such a period of transition would not be necessary.
In the USSR there had been forced collectivization, mass repressions, and purges of both the Communist Party and the population at large- and yes, a lot of people died, unlike the historical revisionist Marxist-Leninists we do not deny this. In the time that this was occurring we communists did not remain silent. Those who identified themselves as Marxist-Leninists, which was the prevailing trend of 20th century Marxism, sided with Stalin. And who could blame them? The only people who understood what was going on were those bolsheviks and dissidents who were exiled or fled from the USSR. The Soviet Union offered a tempting alternative to capitalism, even if it wasn’t the socialism fought for by Marx and Lenin despite its appearance. Leon Trotsky was one of those exiles. He was the co-leader of the revolution, and he was exiled under Stalin’s orders. He founded the Marxist ideological trend of Trotskyism, of which I am a part. In fact, it was we Trotskyists who were persecuted and scapegoated more than any other group in the USSR, next to of course the Kulaks and former capitalists. Trotsky remained a dedicated Leninist and Marxist till the end when he was assassinated under Stalin’s orders. Apart from Stalin, he was the last significant Bolshevik who participated in the October revolution still alive. The rest had been executed by Stalin’s orders. Trotsky did not shy from comparing Stalinism (Marxism-Leninism) to fascism, and particularly to the rising Hitler’s form of government, and neither do I. Trotsky often referred to the Soviet secret police as the ‘Gestapo’.To compare the two would not be a wrong analysis. In fact after Stalin’s death, his successor Khrushchev gave an infamous speech to the Communist Party congress accusing Stalin of the crimes that Trotsky had been accusing him of his whole life.
In fact, even Leninism as an ideological trend was rejected by many communists at the time. For instance, many Marxist and socialist groups sided with Marx’s original analysis, that socialism could only come about in most advanced capitalist countries at the end of capitalist development due to its own internal contradictions. They took on the view that Russia must undergo a phase of natural capitalist development before it could achieve socialism, despite its (as they would say) premature socialist revolution. In fact, this cannot be entirely disputed. There is no doubt that we are living in the times Marx spoke of today, and many socialists assert (myself included) that the USSR never transcended state-capitalism.
Then there are the anarchists. Anarcho-communism is a belief held by anarchists that anarchism can only be achieved in a classless, communist society. We may have our disagreements on the state, but they are certainly communists all the same. They are the epitome of anti-authoritarianism. When people compare ‘communism’ to fascism I cannot help but laugh in light of this fact alone. People do not realize that libertarian socialism, libertarian Marxism, and anarcho-communism are popular ideological trends among communists today.
Marxism-Leninism, anarcho-communism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Luxemburgism, Libertarian Marxism, Marxism-De-Leonism, etc. are but different systems of getting to socialism as an economic system, and finally to communism. Communism itself is the mortal opposite of fascism, it has of course never been achieved anywhere on earth. I can’t think of a moneyless, classless, stateless society where people work freely “from each according to their ability” and take freely “to each according to their needs”. The system itself is in essence, anarchism, or at least embodying an extremely decentralized government without an oppressive state organ. Marx never wrote a ‘master plan’ for communism. His work was on the analysis of capitalism as an economic system, not on building a communist society, this explains the radically different approaches to such a system, and yes, some of them were tragically totalitarian and should never be repeated in human history. We, communists, do not deny this fact. If you condensed everything he ever wrote down to say ~50 volumes, only about 10 pages would describe what a communist system would actually look like. He always said when asked about the future, “I do not have a crystal ball”. Now that we have defined the ideological foundations of Soviet Marxism and what we commonly refer to as 20th century communism, we can accurately compare and contrast communism and fascism.
In a nutshell, all National Socialists defend Hitler and defended Hitler during his rise to power. Not all communists defend Stalin nor did they in his rise to power. The difference is that communism can be as authoritarian as Nation Socialism (in the form of Marxism-Leninism, especially in its anti-revisionist variants in Maoism or Hoxhaism), but it can also be as libertarian as anarchism. The difference is inherent to the moral ineptitude of National Socialists and Stalinists alike. But as we have demonstrated, there are quite many among us, communists to the core, who are appalled at all forms of totalitarianism, including that of Stalinism and the 20th century Marxist states. We do not need to embrace historical revisionism to justify our views and aims, though the fascists and Stalinists certainly do. In denying the material conditions inherent to Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany alike, they make fools of themselves. There are but two possibilities for a neo-Nazi and an ardent Stalinist. 1.) They embrace historical revisionism (i.e. alternative historical analysis such as genocide denial) to justify their views, in which case they are naive, ignorant and generally historically illiterate, or 2.) They reject historical revisionism, accepting the totality of what occurred (the crimes central to the ideology of National Socialism, that unlike Stalinism is to Marxism, Naziism is to National Socialism), and are in and of themselves; immoral, heartless, unempathetic, deluded and potentially psychopathic. Either way, we have here a wretched or at the very least misguided human being either totally incapable of empathy and remorse or of thinking objectively for himself in light of overwhelming evidence.National Socialism (Naziism) and fascism are intrinsically authoritarian forms of government, there are no libertarian variants or less authoritarian versions of it, unlike the much more diverse ideological school of communism. It is authoritarian to its core and worse still, this authoritarianism is not a means to an end such as communism, but it is an end in and of itself.
So yes, to compare anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism to fascism is not a nuanced analysis, however, to compare communism to fascism most certainly is. To fly the Soviet flag often signals support for the October Revolution and its historical significance. It can also mean support of the Soviet Union up to Lenin’s death or during its much later reforms. To fly the Nazi flag or support its ideology is inherent to supporting Hitler. While to support the ideology of communism is absolutely not inherent to, nor is the support of Stalin implied. I hope I have sufficiently explained the absurdity of such a comparison to you, thank you for taking the time to read this somewhat lengthy polemic.