********************  POSTING RULES & NOTES  ********************
#1 YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message.
#2 This mail-list, like most, is publicly & permanently archived.
#3 Subscribe and post under an alias if #2 is a concern.

Michael Mann believes that 20th century Marxism has made a mistake by describing fascism as a petty-bourgeois mass movement. He does not argue that the leaders were not bourgeois, or that the bourgeoisie behind the scenes was financing the fascists. He develops these points at some length in an article "Source of Variation in Working-Class Movements in Twentieth-Century Movement" which appeared in the New Left Review of July/August 1995.

If he is correct, then there is something basically wrong with the Marxist approach, isn't there? If the Nazis attracted the working-class, then wouldn't we have to reevaluate the revolutionary role of the working-class? Perhaps it would be necessary to find some other class to lead the struggle for socialism, if this struggle has any basis in reality to begin with.

Mann relies heavily on statistical data, especially that which can be found in M. Kater's "The Nazi Party" and D. Muhlberger "Hitler's Followers". The data, Mann reports, shows that "Combined, the party and paramilitaries had relatively as many workers as in the general population, almost as many worker militants as the socialists and many more than the communists".

Pretty scary stuff, if it's true. It is true, but, as it turns out, there are workers and there are workers. More specifically, Mann acknowledges that "Most fascist workers...came not from the main manufacturing industries but from agriculture, the service and public sectors and from handicrafts and small workshops." Let's consider the political implications of the class composition of this fascist strata." He adds that, "The proletarian macro-community was resisting fascism, but not the entire working-class." Translating this infelicitous expression into ordinary language, Mann is saying that as a whole the workers were opposed to fascism, but there were exceptions.

Let's consider who these fascist workers were. Agricultural workers in Germany: were they like the followers of Caesar Chavez, one has to wonder? Germany did not have large-scale agribusiness in the early 1920's. Most farms produced for the internal market and were either family farms or employed a relatively small number of workers. Generally, workers on smaller farms tend to have a more filial relationship to the patron than they do on massive enterprises. The politics of the patron will be followed more closely by his workers. This is the culture of small, private agriculture. It was no secret that many of the contra foot-soldiers in Nicaragua came from this milieu.

Turning to "service" workers, this means that many fascists were white-collar workers in banking and insurance. This layer has been going through profound changes throughout the twentieth century, so a closer examination is needed. In the chapter "Clerical Workers" in Harry Braverman's "Labor and Monopoly Capital", he notes that clerical work in its earlier stages was like a craft. The clerk was a highly skilled employee who kept current the records of the financial and operating condition of the enterprise, as well as its relations with the external world. The whole history of this job category in the twentieth century, however, has been one of de-skilling. All sorts of machines, including the modern-day, computer have taken over many of the decision-making responsibilities of the clerk. Furthermore, "Taylorism" has been introduced into the office, forcing clerks to function more like assembly-line workers than elite professionals.

We must assume, however, that the white-collar worker in Germany in the 1920's was still relatively high up in the class hierarchy since his or her work had not been mechanized or routinized to the extent it is today. Therefore, a clerk in an insurance company or bank would tend to identify more with management than with workers in a steel-mill. Even under today's changed economic conditions, this tends to be true. A bank teller in NY probably resents a striking transit worker, despite the fact that they have much in common in class terms. This must have been an even more pronounced tendency in the 1920's when white-collar workers occupied an even more elite position in society.

Mann includes workers in the "public sector". This should come as no surprise at all. Socialist revolutions were defeated throughout Europe in the early 1920's and right-wing governments came to power everywhere. These right-wing governments kept shifting to the right as the mass working-class movements of the early 1920's recovered and began to reassert themselves. Government workers, who are hired to work in offices run by right-wingers, will tend to be right-wing themselves. There was no civil-service and no unions in this sector in the 1920's. Today, this sector is one of the major supporters of progressive politics internationally. They, in fact, spearheaded the recent strikes in France. In the United States, where their composition tends to be heavily Black or Latino, also back progressive politics. But in Germany in the 1920's, it should come as no major surprise that some public sector workers joined Hitler or Mussolini's cause.

When Trotsky or E.J. Hobsbawm refer to the working-class resistance to Hitler or Mussolini, they have something specific in mind. They are referring to the traditional bastions of the industrial working-class: steel, auto, transportation, mining, etc. Mann concurs that these blue- collar workers backed the SP or CP.

There is a good reason why this was no accident. In Daniel Guerin's "Fascism and Big Business", he makes the point that the capitalists from heavy industry were the main backers of Hitler. The reason they backed Hitler was that they had huge investments in fixed capital (machines, plants, etc.) that were financed through huge debt. When capitalism collapsed after the stock-market crash, the owners of heavy industry were more pressed than those of light industry. The costs involved in making a steel or chemical plant profitable during a depression are much heavier. Steel has to be sold in dwindling markets to pay for the cost of leased machinery or machinery that is financed by bank loans When the price of steel has dropped on a world scale, it is all the more necessary to enforce strict labor discipline..

Strikes are met by violence. When the boss calls for speed-up because of increased competition, goons within a plant will attack workers who defend decent working conditions. This explains blue-collar support for socialism. It has a class basis.

These are the sorts of issues that Marxists should be exploring. Michael Mann is a "neo-Weberian" supposedly who also finds Marx useful. Max Weber tried to explain the growth of capitalism as a consequence of the "Protestant ethic". Now Mann tries to explain the growth of fascism as a consequence of working-class support for "national identity". That is to say, the workers backed Hitler because Hitler backed a strong Germany. This is anti-Marxist. Being determines consciousness, not the other way around. When you try to blend Marx with anti-Marxists like Weber or Lyotard or A.J. Ayer, it is very easy to get in trouble. I prefer my Marx straight, with no chaser.


Full posting guidelines at: http://www.marxmail.org/sub.htm
Set your options at: 

Reply via email to