fascism and dictatorship

Willem de Kooning, Untitled, (1968)


Commentary on the book by Nicos Poulantzas.


In an article in issue no.o. 9 am Criticism of Political Economy, Jean-Luc Painant quickly addressed Poulantzas' criticisms under the title: "Against Political Mechanics". The book by Poulantzas, fascism and dictatorship, constitutes the application to a concrete historical problem of the conceptual apparatus established in the previous book, Political power and social classes (ed. Unicamp). This test therefore represents, for the Poulantzas method, the test of practice. How can we understand, from the point of view of historical materialism defined as the “science of history”, the real movement of the class struggle in relation to which we first, out of fear of historicism, distanced ourselves from it?

The attempt, obviously inspired by certain works by Althusser, is generally debatable. We'll come back to that. But the inherent contradictions seem even more acute in their application to Poulantzas' chosen object.

One of the central ideas of his previous book was the recovery of a fundamental distinction: that of the mode of production and social training. The mode of production is a theoretically developed concept, of which no social formation, that is, no concrete, historically defined society, represents the pure illustration. The social formation is always characterized by an “overlap” of modes of production, one of which is dominant.

Thus, Russia at the end of the XNUMXth century was characterized by Lenin in his book The development of capitalism in Russia (Cultural April), as dominated by the capitalist mode of production, although the elements inherited from the feudal mode of production maintain an important, revised place, involved by the rise of capitalism.

It seems, through his two books, that Poulantzas seeks to find a distinction analogous to that established between mode of production and social formation, at the level of political superstructures. There is also a tendency to base the existence of models of power concretized in the concrete social formation by the redistribution of elements: ideology, party, apparatuses of repression, ideological apparatuses.

The undertaking is questionable and random. By distrusting historicism, it runs the risk of freezing and disfiguring the true movement of history. It draws, in the structuralist sense, the concept of mode of production and tends to make it correspond to a still inexplicable concept of “mode of power”.

The structuralist or structuring interpretation of Marxism, to which Althusser gave his academic coverage, comes at the expense of the notion of dialectical totality. Structure is the static, dismembered totality from which revolutionary subjectivity has been removed. Poulantzas, despite some visible efforts to overcome the Althusserian heritage, remains dependent on it.

Thus, under the pretext that, according to Mao's precepts, politics controls us, he sees the sin of economism, taken from the Second International, as having the inevitable dominance of the Comintern. Stalin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, everyone is impressed by this. To the point that the internal battles in the Comintern become secondary (and are treated as such) in the common ground of economism.

But this crusade against economism gives Poulantzas the opportunity not only to assert the place of politics in the command post, but to empower the political superstructure enough to try to build his theoretical concept. Structuring mechanics takes over the political domain, previously separated from the movement of the whole.

We understand that Althusser, avoiding the historical criticisms of Stalinism, was led to put on the positivist boots. He enthusiastically understood the Stalinist distinction (already criticized by Gramsci) between historical materialism, the science of history, and dialectical materialism, the science of method. The story is clean; between the objective weight of the structures and the theoretical reading, there is no longer room for political responsibility.

Poulantzas, despite absorbing Althusser's positivist definition of historical materialism, is drawn to history. Not approaching it from a partisan point of view, from the point of view of the articulation between theory and practice, he remains a prisoner of the academic currents of Althusserianism. However, he is already helping to make them explode: Althusserian mechanics does not support frequenting, even from a distance, concrete history.

Sometimes, Poulantzas manifests the feeling, if not the awareness of what we are debating here. At the fascism and dictatorship, he writes: “The political crisis that can lead to a form of state of exception resides essentially in particular characteristics of the field of class struggle, that of social relations. However, it is accompanied by deep cracks in the institutional system, that is, in the state apparatus, just as the revolutionary situation is, from this point of view, characterized by a situation of dual power, a specific characteristic of state authority: it is between these cracks which the state of exception responds”.

In the political crisis, the state of exception, in the revolutionary crisis, the double power: the emaciated political mechanics remains below the revolutionary politics. It is neither true nor false, neither done nor to be done, it is ineffective. In conclusion, Poulantzas states that, through the analysis of fascism, he wanted to reveal “the general characteristics of the political crisis and the state of emergency”. But, "to avoid an abstract typology", he had to abandon several "exceptional forms of regime" (Bonapartism, military dictatorship) and strive to close the case of fascism: history has its demands, and when you step there, you don't it comes out so cheap!

Thus, Poulantzas oscillates between the inconvenient formalization of politics and the political demands of real history that distance him from Althusser. “However, it should be noted that these theoretically established crises and exceptional regimes usually present themselves in concrete reality in a combined way”. A useful precaution that resumes the distinction between the theoretical model (method of production, “theoretically established” political mode) and the concrete reality, the social formation.

Lenin, for whom Poulantzas recognizes the merit of having broken with economism by thinking of Russia as “the weak link in the imperialist chain”, had the weakness of defining politics as “economic concentrate”. A crude definition of a circumstance that, however, has the merit of prohibiting the dissociation of politics from the totality, on which Poulantzas' attempt at formalization rests. Also the definitions given by Lenin (in the bankruptcy of the Second and International, not once mentioned in Poulantzas' book) and Trotsky (in The History of the Russian Revolution) have nothing to do with Poulantzas' abstract politics. They are the dialectical synthesis of a set of determinations in which subjective factors come into consideration: existence and orientation of a revolutionary party.

By using certain analyzes of Gramsci, Poulantzas suggests, if not doubts, at least questions: “I criticized him elsewhere [Gramsci] and I will not return to him. It seemed important to me, given the theoretical and political conjuncture, to insist on this critique [of historicism]”. "Here here! And what did this theoretical-political conjuncture consist of? The offensive against Gramsci, common to Althusser and Poulantzas, did not seem cyclical and circumstantial, but strategic. It took part in the general struggle against the Hegelian perversion of Marxism, which haunts Althusser's evenings and books.

Since then, the story has changed. It is like! In the face of its bubbling, the historicist danger, if it exists, is stronger today than then. Those who denounced it must fight it with more intransigence. Poulantzas does not specify how the theoretical-political conjuncture has changed. What were the emergencies based on? Were they not, above all, validated by Althusser's or Bettelheim's effort to provide decadent Stalinism with tentative theoretical alibis? Therein lies the question. Poulantzas' book marks the limits of the undertaking and announces its possible overcoming.


The construction of the book provides a first indication of the author's project. It is divided into seven parts: 1) the question of the period of fascism; 2) fascism and class struggle; 3) fascism and dominant classes; 4) fascism and the working class; 5) fascism and the petty bourgeoisie; 6) fascism and countryside; 7) the fascist state.

After the fourth part, an attachment is inserted in the Comintern and in the USSR. It seems to us that the second part on “fascism and class struggle” should have taken the main place, giving an explanation of fascism through all its social and political determinations. However, this part is the shortest of all (it occupies ten pages out of four hundred in the book). And, above all, it is limited to some methodological considerations. Thus, in relation to the “general characteristics of the political crisis”, fascism is defined as a political response to a specific crisis defined by the “particular characteristics of social relations”, in particular by the “crisis of institutions”.

Only then, in each of the parties, fascism is studied from the angle of its relations with the main social forces, but it is a matter of analyzing unilateral relations of fascism with each of the classes, without taking into account the place of the phenomenon. On the whole this results, in particular, in relativizing the role of the subjective failure of the labor movement, the absence of a revolutionary response to the resistant rise of fascism. “The development site in the Comintern and in the USSR”, attached to the section “Fascism and the working class”, is significant of this reduction.

Consequently, the coronation of the book is really the “fascist state” part. It seems that this systematization of the characteristics of the fascist state, constituting the target chosen by the author, ends up justifying the adopted approach. How is this piece designed? It deals successively with “general proposals on the fascist state, a particular form of the state of emergency”, then the specific cases of Germany and Italy. Each of these developments is dealt with in two steps: the system in place at the trial: the general proposals summarize the characteristics of the system in place.

Let us summarize these characteristics, which are five in number:

(1) “The existence within the ideological apparatuses of the State of a mass party with particular characters.”

(2) “Special relations, following the stages of the fascist party and the repressive state apparatus”: first “exogenous to the state apparatus”, the stabilized fascist party of the second stage”, properly transformed is dominated and subordinated to the state apparatus.

(3) “It is a particular branch of the state apparatus that dominates the other branches […]. This branch … is the political police.”

(4) “An order of subordination” of state apparatuses: political police – administration – army, in which it is important “to observe the secondary role of the army compared to bureaucratic administration”.

(5) “Reorganization of relations within the ideological apparatuses of the State.”

The main result is a redistribution of state structures, a new combination of devices with which exceptional regimes must be confronted in order to judge their degree of kinship with the fascist state. It is interesting to compare this attempt to extract a skeleton of the fascist state with Ernest Mandel's synthesis of Leon Trotsky's analysis of fascism.[1]

For Mandel, it is the combination of six general factors that makes it possible to explain the conditions of the emergence of fascism:

(1) “The rise of fascism is the expression of a serious social crisis of capitalism in decline, of a structural crisis that may, as in the years 1929 to 1933, coincide with a crisis of overproduction, but which goes far beyond what is assumed. simple cyclical fluctuations […]. The historical function of the seizure of power by fascism is to suddenly and violently change the conditions of production and realization of surplus value to the benefit of the main groups of monopoly capitalism.”

(2) When objective developments threaten, in the age of imperialism, the very unstable balance of economic and social forces, “the big bourgeoisie has no other solution but to try to establish a superior form of centralization of the executive power of the state to achieve its own interests, even at the cost of renouncing the immediate exercise of political power”.

(3) Given the conditions of capitalist society and the huge numerical disproportion between wage workers and big capitalists, “it is practically impossible to carry out such violent centralization by purely technical means […]. Neither a military dictatorship nor a purely police state – let alone an absolute monarchy – has the capacity to atomize and demoralize a conscious working class of several million members and, thus, prevent the resurgence of the most elemental class, produced periodically by the simple game of the laws of the market”.

To achieve its aims, the big bourgeoisie needs a movement which can mobilize the masses to its side, which can break and demoralize the most conscious parts of the proletariat through systematic mass terror and street warfare, and which can, after the conquest of power, completely destroying the mass organizations of the proletariat and leaving the most conscious elements not only atomized, but also demoralized and renounced.

(4) “Such a mass movement can only arise on the basis of the petty bourgeoisie […]. It combines extreme nationalism and at least verbally anti-capitalist demagoguery with the most intense hatred of the organized labor movement.”

(5) “The rise of the fascist movement is like the institutionalization of civil war in which each party, objectively considered, has a chance of success. Historically considered, the victory of fascism expresses the inability of the labor movement to solve the structural crisis of capitalism in decline for its own interest and for its own ends. This crisis always initially offers the labor movement a chance of victory.

(6) If fascism prevails, the mass movement that supports it becomes bureaucratized and largely assimilates the bourgeois state apparatus. “Fascist dictatorship tends to undermine and disintegrate its own mass base. Fascist gangs become appendages of the police. In its phase of decline, fascism reverts to a particular form of Bonapartism.”

The richness of Mandel's and, through him, Trotsky's approach is obvious. It understands fascism not as a particular arrangement of structures, but as a global political response by big capital to a given situation. It allows the subjective responsibility of the workers' movement to be directly involved in it. Trotsky, whom Poulantzas throws, supporting Stalin, into the dustbin of economism, presented in the preface to the transitional program the idea (which could be considered the final expression of revolutionary subjectivism) according to which the crisis of humanity is first reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leaderships!

Thus, if we consider the rise of fascism, Poulantzas analyzes the failures of the German and Italian proletariat between the years 1918 and 1923 to essentially mention the resulting changes in the balance of forces, creating the conditions for the development of fascism. Trotsky looks at it, on the other hand, not just to measure the objective deterioration of the balance of power, but to advance in the revolutionary alternative that would be possible, to evaluate the current extensions of the past failure of the workers' leaderships.

This fundamental continuity of the subjective factor is considerably attenuated in Poulantzas, who does not analyze the situation from a partisan point of view, that is, from the point of view of strategic developments in theory. Everything he says tends to cut the historical movement into sequences of new equilibria, in which the errors of the workers' leadership are relatively independent of the errors of the previous sequence. According to Poulantzas, their only link of continuity is the general economistic line that runs through them, like a curse inherited from fallen social democracy.

Another observation: the way in which Poulantzas defines the fascist state by a redistribution of state and ideological superstructures leads him to minimize, if not omit, the living contradictions of fascism itself. Thus, among the characteristics of the fascist state, Poulantzas first observes the exteriority of the fascist movement in relation to the state apparatus. He observes that, in a second step, on the contrary, the fascist movement is subordinated to the state apparatus. And that, not to mention the resulting contradiction: the loss of the mass base that tends, as Mandel observes, to reduce fascism in decline to a particular form of Bonapartism.


If Poulantzas reduces the importance of subjective data, it is also because, based on his criticisms, he does not feel comfortable. The central idea that, according to him, explains the defeat of the labor movement in the face of fascism, is the economism of its leadership. The economism of the Stalinized Communist International would be expressed through the “catastrophist” expectation of the inevitable final crisis. Trotsky's economism, for a constant imminence of the revolution that Poulantzas hastily imputes to the theory of the permanent revolution.

Once again, the fight against economism offers Poulantzas a convenient cover for engaging in tasteless political or ideological acrobatics. Thus, in relation to the USSR, without discussing the social roots that the bourgeoisie could have in the relations of production, he argues that it took refuge as a social force in the state apparatus. Or again, it is “the general line followed by the Comintern” which constitutes “the essential gap” through which the constitution of the “Soviet bourgeoisie” passes. This ideologism to which we will return is made possible by the autonomy of the superstructures that results from the structuralist dismemberment of the whole.

Having got rid of Trotsky, Stalin and Bukharin at the same time under the common bias of economism, Poulantzas no longer feels the need to explain the political struggle in the USSR after Lenin's death. Even better, he practically ignores it and justifies it thus: “Throughout the period that occupies us, we are witnessing in the USSR even a bitter class struggle between the two paths (the capitalist path and the socialist path, because there is no third); I am referring to the struggle between the two paths, and not between the two lines [underlined in the text], because in the USSR and the Comintern there are no two lines, the various 'oppositions' are finally on the same ground as the official one”.

In other words, the two objectively existing paths have not found conscious expression. At least the socialist path has not found consistent advocates. The argument is a bit short. Should we or should we not deduce that the capitalist path was inevitable? Or is the absence of a revolutionary alternative, according to Poulantzas, just a result of a theoretical error, an intellectual failure?

The first response would be to join the Mensheviks in their positive appreciation of the development of capitalism in Russia; we would then be far from the theory of the “weakest link” and more deeply involved in the waters of economism that Lenin always considered an attribute of the Mensheviks. As for the second answer, it is unsatisfactory: wouldn't the whole revolutionary tradition and experience of a workers' movement have given birth to the embryo of a just line? We run the risk of explaining the course of history by the absence at one period of a theoretical superman; which takes us this time far enough away from historical materialism.

Thus, Poulantzas' vision is reduced to that of a linear economic degeneration of the Comintern: “We also observe that, gradually and according to a contradictory process, a general line – economism and the absence of a mass line – dominates in the Comintern, a line that controls the left and right curves. Poulantzas, therefore, deals with the various congresses of the Comintern from an ideological point of view, without replacing them in relation to the political confrontation within it that actually existed. And not garbage! On every decisive issue (the German revolution, the Chinese question, planning and priorities in the USSR, the Anglo-Russian committee) the positions involved clashed.

It's not an interpretation a posteriori. The texts exist and witness step by step the struggle undertaken by Trotsky and the Left Opposition: the platform of the Left Opposition, the Communist International after Lenin, Trotsky in particular. In the case of Germany, Trotsky's articles mark the rise of fascism and, despite the disastrous results of the Comintern, they propose an alternative political response at every step and fight the delusional line of social-fascism from the beginning!

It was not, warmly enough, an academic debate. For Trotsky's policy, the Comintern in Germany sanctioned the irreversible collapse of the Stalinist leadership, and justifies the founding project of a new International, the Fourth International.

The general line of economism also confuses, for Poulantzas, the meaning of the zigzags of Stalinist policy. That is why he can consider that there is a contradiction between Dimitrov's correct line and the physical elimination of correct opposition during trials. First, there would not necessarily be a contradiction between a right turn and the elimination of a right opposition, any more than the turn to heavy industry and dekulakization were preceded by the elimination of the irreducible left opposition. But, above all, the great purges of the trials do not have the limited meaning of “an intense struggle against the right-wing opposition”. They assume much more the meaning of the physical annihilation of the backbone of the Bolshevik party, which made the revolution, and the consolidation of the bureaucracy in power; the victims of the purges do cross a wide range of past trends.

As we have already seen, in its appendix in the Comintern and in the USSR, Poulantzas addresses the issue of the USSR, speaking of a “Soviet process of reconstitution of the bourgeoisie”, the general economist line being presented as one of the “main effects” of this study. In the previous paragraph, it was written that the general line represents “the essential violation that allows the beginning of the process of reconstitution of the bourgeoisie”. The circularity of cause and effect is not necessarily dialectical! Once again, Poulantzas oscillates between the idea that it is a false line that paved the way for the bourgeoisie (by theoretical deficiency, in short!) and the idea that the false line was almost irresistible on the basis of the reconstitution of the bourgeoisie that took refuge in the state apparatus.

But, above all, it is difficult to understand how this somewhat conspiratorial view of history can be rigorously founded. The bourgeoisie expelled from the factories would have taken refuge in the state apparatus. But we learn from Marx that the bourgeoisie is defined above all as a class by its place in the relations of production, that the possession of the means of production, the enslavement of wage earners, constitutes the social basis of its ideological domination. Where does a bourgeoisie (is it still?) Taking refuge in the state apparatus draw its strength? Of your ideology? But we know of no example of an ideological counterrevolution: feudal ideology was maintained in France well beyond 1789, without reducing society from capitalism to feudalism.

On the other hand, Poulantzas says nothing about the reconstruction, all too real, of an agrarian bourgeoisie through the enrichment of the kulaks, nor the fact that this process was brutally broken by forced collectivization. There are, however, social processes whose foundation is intelligible based on the organization of production, and not based on a thesis that makes the state apparatuses the matrix of a class that would not have its roots only in superstructures, institutions and not in the relations of production.

In his argument, Poulantzas addresses a crucial problem from which he immediately escapes. Either the October revolution was in fact a proletarian revolution, and if we are talking about the process of reconstitution of the bourgeoisie, it is necessary to say when and how it regained power. Through what you fight and not for progressive tidbits. Either we face the October analysis head on, immediately seeing a specific bourgeois revolution in which the intelligentsia it would use the working class as a footstool; this is the thesis defended by Pannekoek and the advisers. Poulantzas seems to favor the first hypothesis, but without specifying when the bourgeoisie will regain power. It is true that he is obviously inspired by Bettelheim in this area, and that Bettelheim was not very precise on this point. Poulantzas seems to lean, without saying so, until the moment around 1928, to the bourgeois reconquest of power.

In any case, if this is the underlying idea, it allows us to understand an observation like the one found on page 253: “As long as the class nature of the Soviet state remains proletarian, the watchword defense of the ussr, which gradually dominates the Comintern, does not necessarily mean – I say: not necessarily – the abandonment of internationalism and the mechanical submission of the Comintern to the interests of the foreign policy of the USSR”.

Again, the change is significant. Poulantzas is right on one point; it is not the defense of the USSR erected as a slogan that marks the rupture with internationalism. On the other hand, what paves the way for this rupture is the triumph of the construction line of socialism in a country. This problem was the subject of a fierce battle between the Left Opposition on the one hand and Stalin and Bukharin on the other. This battle is known both for its content and its consequences; and proves that the break with internationalism does not coincide with the turn of 1928: it preceded it.

For Poulantzas, Trotsky's interpretation of the bureaucratic zigzags of Stalinist policy reveals their inconsistency. Thus (p. 174), Poulantzas observes two temptations that seem contradictory to Trotsky's position: (a) the idea of ​​maintaining the opportunist zigzags from 1928 to 1935; (b) idea that nothing essential happens after 1928.

Contrary to what Poulantzas suggests, there is no contradiction here. After 1928, the Left Opposition was politically defeated and physically repressed. Thermidor triumphed, the bureaucracy consolidated its power. But, as a bureaucracy, it remains dependent on the social balances that account for its opportunistic oscillations. So there was indeed an important change in 1928, but beyond a continuity of bureaucratic policy.

Poulantzas, who interprets the story of the Comintern in the light of the general economistic line, he accuses Trotsky of not presenting the same type of global explanation: “Stopping with bureaucracy, he never tried to draw a general line that would govern this policy, but was satisfied, consequently with itself, with a conception of bureaucratic zigzags ”.

Poulantzas recognizes that there is a certain consistency of which the cornerstone is the analysis of bureaucracy. Trotsky's position cannot be criticized as inconsistent or incomplete if his concept of bureaucracy is not analyzed in substance. This brings us back to the whole debate about the nature of the USSR, which was discussed at length in issues 7-8 of this same review.

Finally, Poulantzas discovered another theoretical inability in Trotsky, that of distinguishing periods. Prisoner of a homogeneous conception of time, marked by the omnipresence of the imminent revolution, Trotsky would be insensitive to the ebb and flow movements of the world revolution: “Trotsky’s characterization of the era of revolution was how the permanent revolution seems to abolish time for him, in the sense that he cannot find periodization.

There's a real problem there. But it is impossible to treat it with a lapidary statement, especially if we think of Trotsky's analyzes in 1905, in his History of the Russian Revolution, in texts such as the Communist International after Lenin, such as Europe and America, for writings about France or Germany, or in a text entitled the errors of the third period of the Third International in which he specifically criticizes the mechanical conception of the notion of radicalization used by Comintern. Poulantzas' criticism seems less rigorous than that of a book in which the German question occupies a central place, and where he himself, speaking of Dimitrov's rectification, recognizes in a footnote: it is true that Trotsky has already pointed out these points in 1930. "For a cripple in periodization, it wasn't so bad."

For our part, Trotsky's defense against Poulantzas's far-sighted rather than rigorous assessments is not an idolatrous mania. It is not pious respect indignant at sacrilege. It is a theoretical battle whose importance is current and practical. Indeed, what Poulantzas denies through his superficial criticisms of Trotsky is the historical existence of a revolutionary alternative to Stalinism. And the extent of this denial is in fact a blind accompaniment to the ideological and political currents born out of the decomposition of Stalinism.

Thus, for Poulantzas, “the analysis of what happened in the USSR […] must be based precisely on the historical experience of the Chinese revolution and on the principles developed by Mao”. If Poulantzas maintains this appreciation after the last consequences of the cultural revolution, we would be interested in knowing how Mao's Maoism gave a grid of intelligibility to Stalinism and the history of the USSR. The analysis of texts produced since 1956 would encourage us to see in them a confused and empirical awareness of historical realities that could no longer be ignored. The theoretical poverty of Maoism does not prevent the Chinese leadership from being revolutionary leadership, but this is another debate we are ready to lead.


Poulantzas states in the introduction and conclusion of his book that he wrote it in keeping with the actuality of the problem of fascism. However, this book leaves us hungry for two essential topical questions: (a) Was the victory of fascism avoidable? (b) What is the future of fascism today?

Poulantzas describes the rise of fascism

By denying the existence of an alternative revolutionary line to Stalinism in the USSR and the Comintern, he was led to implicitly accept the inevitability after 1923 of the rise of fascism. As inevitable as the reconstitution of a bourgeoisie in the USSR. In his opinion, there was no alternative direction or direction.

Furthermore, he defines the process of fascistization as resulting, from the point of view of the working class, from a “politically defensive” period and from a turning point in which “the economic aspect takes precedence over the political aspect” of the class struggle. ”. Not enough. What is a “politically defensive” period, or at least what are the consequences? They are similar to what the Austrian social democratic leader Otto Bauer deduced from characterizing the period as defensive: namely, being ready to resist direct attack against workers' organizations without taking the initiative. We know the result: the defeat of the Austrian proletariat, despite the heroic defense of the Schutzbund from Vienna in February 1934.

This is not the place to repeat an anthology of texts, but Writings about Germany, Trotsky provides precise responses, in the form of slogans and programs, to the evolving situation. It is first necessary to recognize that this revolutionary alternative was formulated at the right time and not a posteriori, which was possible.

It's another thing to analyze the reasons for your defeat. But to deny its existence is to fall into a fatalism that, under other circumstances, might lead to capitulation.

What is the future of fascism today?

In his conclusion, Poulantzas warns against overusing the concept of fascism. But this is not enough to assess the chances of fascism today. Conditions, compared to those presented by Mandel, are radically different today from those of the interwar period. Western European and American capitalism experienced a prolonged boom after World War II. The result is a profound change in social structures: the social weight of the petty bourgeoisie, in particular, has weakened, especially the weight of the traditional petty bourgeoisie with which Poulantzas easily unites non-productive functionaries of the same class. Young people, especially university students, who provided the initial militant base of fascism, became politicized on the left. As Ernest Mandel writes: “The next wave in Europe will be on the left and on the extreme left: the seismograph of youth announces it, and youth are still several years ahead of the mass movement.”

Stalinism in crisis no longer has the same control over the international workers' movement as in the 1920s and 1930s. Finally, the degree of interpretation of capital in Europe makes it difficult to resort to a self-sufficient economic policy, which feeds the nationalist ideology of fascism .

For all these reasons, a fascist solution is hardly conceivable in the immediate future. Only a profound change in the economic period could recreate favorable conditions for its mass development. And even so, one can wonder whether fascism as it existed does not represent an original solution linked to a specific phase of imperialism. Today, we imagine much more puppet solutions, of the type of the south of Vietnam, directly supported by the dominant imperialism, capable of maintaining for political purposes a very large bureaucratic-military apparatus, supported by a vast system of corruption and clientelism, without benefiting from the base of real mass that the desperate petty bourgeoisie could have supplied to fascism.

Finally, if Poulantzas thinks, as he suggests, that fascism is not the main danger of the period, he must condemn more openly than the double error of groups like L'Humanité Red or the ex-proletarian left attacking the PCF as social-fascist or social-imperialist, jokingly repeating the tragic policy of the German CP.

Poulantzas's essay seems interesting to us, in particular insofar as he tries to obtain certain methodological borrowings from the Althusserian school on the basis of concrete analyses. The preface, subsequent to fascism and dictatorship, that he produced for Lindenberg's anthology on the Communist International and the school class (Maspero) confirms this concern. He fights head-on against the institutionalist deformation that would see the school as the social node of division into classes. Despite the conceptual remedies that seem questionable to us, this short preface shows a problem that makes possible a fruitful debate, which we are ready to pursue.

However, this openly controversial preface does not name its interlocutors. It's pitiful. By interpreting it perhaps with malicious intent, we think we have detected a firm refutation of the theses of Baudelot and Establet. If that's the case, it would have been better to announce the color because, behind Baudelot's and Establet's positions, it is the Althusserian matrix that is at play.

In the problem of the school, as in other circumstances, this matrix serves as a common justification for the reformist revisionism of the PCF and for the “provisionally” extreme left theorizations of French Maoism. It founded the possibility of investing the state apparatus without destroying it and the desire to undertake the cultural revolution (ideological and institutional) before overthrowing the bourgeois order. In a word, Juquin and his “sense of reality” accommodate Althusser's scientism, Mavrakis and his dogmatism as well. Their common point resides in the evacuation of history and, consequently, in the relationship between theory and practice.

Althusser's neopositivism (discussed in more detail in n° 9 of this review, in particular in Michael Löwy's article) is the expression of a theory that flees from its political past and remains deactivated in the face of the present. Poulantzas' movement proceeds in the opposite direction. It starts from an ossified theory to return to practice, to confront it with the class struggle movement.

Hence the sharp contradictions that make discussion with Poulantzas possible. Ultimately, this evolution of the theoretical debate since the beginning of the sixties is for us another testimony of the news of the revolution. A return from positivism, from socialist science (the last theoretical refuge of decaying Stalinism), towards revolutionary theory, towards scientific socialism that does not dissociate the subject of the proletarian revolution from its object, the judgment of fact from the judgment of value. The renewed interest in the works of Lukács, Korsch, Gramsci, Jakubowsky, proceeds from the same movement.

Many questions remain open about these authors, but they are located within the field that unites defenders of dialectical materialism against that of its mechanical interpreters, from Bernstein to Stalin, from Althusser to Juquin.

*Daniel Bensaïd (1946-2010) was professor of philosophy at the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes – Saint-Denis) and leader of the IV International – Unified Secretariat. Author, among others Marx's books, the untimely (Brazilian Civilization).

Translation: Lucio Emílio do Espírito Santo Junior to the website Marxist theory.

Originally published in Critique of Political Economy, n ° 11-12, April-September 1973. Paris, Maspero.


Nicos Poulantzas. Fascism and dictatorship: the Third International against fascism. Translation: Bethânia Negreiros Barroso and Danilo Enrico Martuscelli. Florianopolis. Announced publications, 2021, 384 pages.


[1] Leon Trotiski. The struggle against fascism in Germany. New York, Pathbinder Press.


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