World Perspectives 2017: II. Some Theoretical Questions about the New Political Phase

1.                   In our analysis of the world situation, we have emphasized the resorting of many ruling classes around the world to more authoritarian forms of rule as well as the ascent of reactionary right-wing forces. These developments raise several important questions pertinent to the perspective and tactics of revolutionaries. First, are we witnessing the creation of fascist regimes and, if not, how can these regimes be characterized? Second, how shall we characterize various right-wing movements protesting against “the establishment” or “the system”? Third, what are the consequences for the class struggle of such regimes coming to power? Fourth, what are the consequences of these developments on the slogans and tactics of revolutionaries? And fifth, are we at the end of the “age of globalization” and, if so, what are the consequences of its demise? These are not simple theoretical or even academic questions, as they have huge consequences for the program to be advanced by revolutionaries – particularly in a period like the one we are entering. This is precisely why, as Lenin repeatedly emphasized, Marxist theory is a guide to action. Naturally, such a theoretical analysis is particularly important in a period like the present one which will be replete with convulsions, explosions and abrupt turns.

Trotsky once explained: “The vast practical importance of a correct theoretical orientation is most strikingly manifested in a period of acute social conflict of rapid political shifts, of abrupt changes in the situation. In such periods, political conceptions and generalizations are rapidly used up and require either a complete replacement (which is easier) or their concretization, precision or partial rectification (which is harder). It is in just such periods that all sorts of transitional, intermediate situations and combinations arise, as a matter of necessity, which upset the customary patterns and doubly require a sustained theoretical attention. In a word, if in the pacific and “organic” period (before the war) one could still live on the revenue from a few readymade abstractions, in our time each new event forcefully brings home the most important law of the dialectic: The truth is always concrete. [1]

2.                   Are we witnessing the creation of fascist regimes and, if not, how can these regimes be characterized? As Marxists we have always opposed the infantile use of the term “fascism” by the various shades of Stalinism. In the early 1930s, these people called every party except themselves “fascist.” For several decades various Turkish Maoists and Hoxhaists denounced every single government in their country as “fascist.” Various Maoist parties in India call the Modi government “fascist.” And it has also become popular amongst leftists in the US to characterize the Trump movement as “fascist.” In fact, the Cliffite IST tradition has always called right-wing parties like the FPÖ in Austria, FN in France, etc. “fascists.” All of this is utter nonsense. Fascism is not synonymous with simple authoritarian rule and not even when a military dictatorship is involved. What the term “fascism” does imply is the mass mobilization of the petty-bourgeois in the form of organized contingents of storm troopers violently attacking working class organizations in the service of monopoly capital. Hence, when fascism comes to power, it represents not only the abolition of bourgeois democracy but the complete and sustained annihilation of all workers’ organizations.

Trotsky once defined fascism as the following: „Fascism may assume different aspects in different countries; it can be diversified in point of social composition, but in its essence fascism is that combat grouping of forces which is moved to the fore by threatened bourgeois society in order to repel the proletariat in a civil war. When the democratic-parliamentarian state apparatus becomes entangled in its own internal contradictions, when bourgeois legality hampers the bourgeoisie itself, the latter sets in motion the most combative elements at its disposal, freeing them from the fetters of legality, and obliging them to employ all the methods of force and terror. This is fascism. Therefore fascism is a condition of civil war on the part of the bourgeoisie, just as we have the grouping of forces and the organization for an armed uprising in the epoch of civil war on the part of the proletariat. We thereby say that fascism cannot represent a protracted and, so to speak, “normal” condition of bourgeois society, just as a condition of an armed uprising cannot be a constant, normal condition of the proletariat. [2]

3.                   For these reasons, fascism’s coming to power represents a historic defeat and the liquidation of the working class struggle for a sustained period. This must not be confused with forms of authoritarian regime or even a right-wing government within the limits of parliamentary democracy. As reactionary as such forms of regimes might be, they do not represent the same devastating annihilation of all working class and even bourgeois democratic organizations as fascism does.

4.                   Bonapartism, on the other hand, is a broad concept and basically defines a regime based on the military and the bureaucratic state apparatus – and less, or not at all, on the bourgeois parliament – and maintaining a (more or less) unstable equilibrium between the antagonistic classes. In the words of Trotsky: „The concept of Bonapartism, being too broad, demands concretization. During the last few years we have applied this term to those capitalist governments that, by exploiting the antagonisms between the proletarian and fascist camps and by leaning directly upon the military-police apparatus, raise themselves above parliament and democracy, as the saviors of ‘national unity.’ [3] In another document, Trotsky elaborated the following characterization of Bonapartism: “It is true that the Doumergue government, like the Brüning-Schleicher governments in their day, appears at first glance to govern with the assent of parliament. But it is a parliament which has abdicated, a parliament which knows that in case of resistance the government would dispense with it. Thanks to the relative equilibrium between the camp of counterrevolution which attacks and the camp of the revolution which defends itself, thanks to their temporary mutual neutralization, the axis of power has been raised above the classes and above their parliamentary representation. It was necessary to seek the head of the government outside of parliament and “outside the parties.” (…) The government does not appear as an executive organ of the parliamentary majority, but as a judge-arbiter between two camps in struggle. A government which raises itself above the nation is not, however, suspended in air. The true axis of the present government passes through the police, the bureaucracy, the military clique. It is a military-police dictatorship with which we are confronted, barely concealed with the decorations of parliamentarism. But a government of the saber as the judge arbiter of the nation – that’s just what Bonapartism is. The saber by itself has no independent program. It is the instrument of “order.” It is summoned to safeguard what exists. Raising itself politically above the classes, Bonapartism, like its predecessor Caesarism, for that matter, represents in the social sense, always and at all epochs, the government of the strongest and firmest part of the exploiters; consequently, present-day Bonapartism can be nothing else than the government of finance capital which directs, inspires, and corrupts the summits of the bureaucracy, the police, the officers’ caste, and the press. [4]

5.                   Hence, revisionists of all sorts only create confusion among the workers’ vanguard when they randomly characterize all right-wing forces as “fascist.” It is only natural that the Cliffites were unable to explain how it was possible that “fascism” (in the person of the FPÖ) was part of the Austrian government from 2000 to 2006, without a single left-wing group and without a single demonstration or strike being prohibited. How can the Turkish Maoists and Hoxhaists state that “fascism” is in power when anti-government demonstrations can take place and Marxist-Leninist organizations are able to meet in public and to publish their newspaper?! How can the Indian Maoists claim that “fascism” has been in power since May 2014 (or even longer), when general strikes and mass demonstrations can take place and most of their parties are allowed?!

6.                   If so, what in fact is the character of these regimes and governments? Naturally, all this requires a concrete analysis of each national situation. However, such a concrete analysis must be based on the following theoretical consideration: Bourgeois democracy does not and cannot exist – particularly in the epoch of imperialism – in a “pure” form. Hence, all bourgeois democratic regimes contain greater or fewer elements of Bonapartism as a kind of safety belt for monopoly capital. Often this is the person of the president who plays a more (e.g., in the US, France, Mexico or Argentina) or less central role in a given political system. Or, it can be the constitutional court or a “National Security Council” (e.g., in Turkey in recent decades). Trotsky once remarked: „Every bourgeois democracy bears the features of Bonapartism. [5]

7.                   Nevertheless it is possible to differentiate between:

i)             Right-wing governments within parliamentarian democracies (which was the case, for example, in Austria in the years 2000-2006 and which is currently the case in India under Modri);

ii)            Pre-Bonapartist regimes with a strong executive and a stable and loyal following in the parliament (this could be the case with Donald Trump’s administration in the US);

iii)           Semi-Bonapartist regimes which are relatively independent of the parliament (Turkey under Erdogan);

iv)           Bonapartist regimes which exist with only a formally acting parliament or even without one, i.e., as an openly Bonapartist dictatorship (i.e., all sorts of military dictatorships like in Egypt, Syria, Thailand, etc.).

8.                   Naturally, the character of such a regime depends a great deal on the equilibrium between the classes and the level of the class struggle. Only under exceptional circumstances of an acute revolutionary crisis is the bourgeoisie forced to rely on the help of a fascist mass movement and is prepared to cede political power to it. Naturally, this is only a theoretical schema, and the reality of an antagonistic class society and the struggle between the classes produce various concrete regimes which can contain shades or combinations of this or that form.

9.                   From the perspective of the working class struggle, it is important to differentiate between Bonapartist regimes coming to power as a result of a decisive defeat of the popular masses and unstable pre-Bonapartist or semi-Bonapartist regimes which attain power in situations where such defeats have not taken place but are rather another manifestation of an intense ongoing class struggle. In the first case, revolutionaries must advise the workers’ vanguard to conduct a tactical retreat so as to evaluate what occurred and learn the appropriate lessons, regroup forces, and prepare themselves for the future struggle. In the second case, revolutionaries should rather attempt to organize the workers’ vanguard for mass struggles in the near future, with a program of tactics and slogans for mass mobilizations. The first case represents a successful counter-revolution which closes a period of struggle. The second case represents the beginning of a new period of struggle, albeit under conditions of a strengthened reactionary regime. The first case represents – to use a literary phrase – the beginning of the end, while the second case marks the end of the beginning.

10.                What is the nature of the various right-wing populist and racist movements which are currently on the rise in Europe, the US and in other countries? By and large, they are reactionary movements the main focus of which is not so much mass mobilizations on the streets, but rather supporting the electoral victory of a right-wing party. (The PEGIDA movement in Germany is a certain exception.) However, the agendas of such movements do involve at least the strengthening of the executive state apparatus and restrictions on bourgeois democracy. In general, we do not consider such forces as fascist, because their main raison d'être is not the violent smashing of the working class organizations and bourgeois democracy by mass mobilizations. However, it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the danger of these right-wing racist movements. First of all, while they may not be fascist in their entirety, they often contain a fascist wing within their ranks. Second, they do provide the ideological cover for increasing state repression of migrants and against the left. And third, while they may not be fascist today, in a period of acute crisis, they – or a sector of them – may give rise to an authentically fascist movement.

11.                The danger or even the very existence of such right-wing movements or Bonapartist regimes gives real importance to the democratic slogans of the Transitional Program. However, such a democratic program must not be put forward in a reformist manner – i.e., as impotent appeals for governmental reforms – but rather as militant slogans for mass mobilizations. This includes, among other things, militant mobilizations against racist and fascist forces and the formation of self-defense groups which, at some later point, can be transformed into workers’ and popular militias. [6] Trotsky pointed out the importance of democratic slogans in a document on the programmatic foundation of his movement: “Recognition of the necessity to mobilize the masses under transitional slogans corresponding to the concrete situation in each country, and particularly under democratic slogans insofar as it is a question of struggle against feudal relations, national oppression, or different varieties of openly imperialist dictatorship (fascism, Bonapartism, etc.).” [7]

12.                Naturally, a prerequisite for launching such a program of democratic slogans is the ability to identify such a reactionary or Bonapartist enemy. Thus, the hailing by various centrists like the Morenoite LIT, Alan Woods’ IMT or the Cliffite IST, of the military coup in Egypt on 3 July 2013 as a “Second Revolution” is a disgrace they will never be able to wash away. Similarly, the numerous Stalinists who praise Assad’s counterrevolutionary advances in Syria as “progressive” are guilty of the same blindness. And as we pointed out in our document on Trump’s victory, various pro-Russian leftists and some “left-wing” intellectuals like the notorious Zizek even called for voters to cast their ballot for America’s synthesis of Dagobert and Donald Duck. By definition, suchs forces are incapable of presenting a program for the struggle, for in their own inept confusion, they misidentify the main enemy of the working class as its friend!

13.                Related to the centrality of the democratic program against the reactionary offensive of the ruling class is the crucial importance of the united front tactic. As we have elaborated in various previous documents, this involves the appealing by revolutionaries to non-revolutionary (usually reformist or populist) mass organizations to undertake joint practical actions. Naturally, such joint mobilizations must not be allowed to limit the political criticism of revolutionaries for the reformist leaders whenever the latter restrict or betray the struggle. [8] Consequently, we utterly reject the contentions of various economists and sectarians who denounce democratic slogans or the united front tactic as “reformist.” It follows that, contrary to organizations like the Fracción Trotskista-Cuarta Internacional, the RCIT insists that such united front tactics must not be limited to trade unions and other economic mass organizations – as the ultra-left Bordigaists have incorrectly advocated – but must also include reformist and populist parties. This, indeed, was the understanding of Trotsky: We Bolsheviks consider that the real salvation from fascism and war lies in the revolutionary conquest of power and the establishing of the proletarian dictatorship. You socialist workers do not agree to this road. You hope not only to save what has been gained but also to move forward along the road of democracy. Good! As long as we have not convinced you and attracted you to our side, we are ready to follow this road with you to the end. But we demand that you carry on the struggle for democracy not in words but in deeds. Everybody admits – each in his own way – that in the present conditions a "strong government is necessary. Well, then, make your party open up a real struggle for a strong democratic government For this it is necessary, first of all, to sweep away all the remnants of the feudal state. It is necessary to give suffrage to all men and women who have reached the eighteenth birthday, also to the soldiers in the army. Full concentration of legislative and executive power in the hands of one chamber! Let your party open up a serious campaign under these slogans; let it arouse millions of workers; let it conquer power through the drive of the masses. This, at any rate, would be a serious attempt of struggle against fascism and war. We Bolsheviks would retain the right to explain to the workers the inefficiency of democratic slogans; we could not take upon ourselves the political responsibility for the Social Democratic government; but we would honestly help you in the struggle for such a government together with you we would repel all attacks of bourgeois reaction. More than that, we would bind ourselves before you not to undertake any revolutionary action that go beyond the limits of democracy (real democracy) so long as the majority of the workers has not consciously placed itself on the side of revolutionary dictatorship. [9]

14.                Let us also briefly deal with the issue of globalization: As we have outlined in our book The Great Robbery of the South, the process of globalization can be summarized by the formula “Globalization = Internationalization + Monopolization.” The massive amount of accumulated capital, the development of the productive forces, etc. clearly demands a world market. A retreat to autarky is impossible today. However, we have also outlined that “the same process of globalization which creates improved conditions for profits and extra-profits, also creates enormous contradictions and crisis at the same time. Furthermore, capitalism rests – and will rest as long as it exists – on national states. Without them the capitalist ruling classes can neither organize their domestic basis for exploitation nor posses a strong arm for support on the world market. However, the increasing rivalry between the Great Powers is undermining this globalization. The monopolies need a market as big as possible. But at the same time they need absolute dominance, unrestricted access for themselves but maximum possible restriction for their competitors. As a result there will be a tendency towards forms of protectionism and regionalization. Each Great Power will try to form a regional bloc around it and restrict access for the other Powers. By definition, this must result in numerous conflicts and eventual wars. [10]

15.                As we have pointed out in past World Perspectives documents, this is precisely what we have witnessed in recent years since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008. A number of bourgeois economists are also increasingly drawing attention to the decline of both output as well as global trade. Below, we reprint some figures actually published by the IMF in its recent World Economic Outlook as well as by The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies. It depicts the qualitative reduced growth of output and even more so of world imports since 2008 in comparison with earlier decades (see Figure 6, 7 and 8). Likewise, we are witnessing a relative reduction of capital exports when we compare the relation of Foreign Direct Investment with global GDP in recent years (see Figure 9). These developments must certainly accelerate in the era of Trump. The president-elect’s announcement of the US’s withdrawal from the TPP negotiations reflects the already pronounced tendency to end the regime of global free trade and replace it with an array of regional blocs each of which is dominated by a single imperialist power or a camp of imperialist powers. In this case, the era of globalization is about to come to an end.


Figure 6. Growth Rate of Real Capita Gross Global Product, 1961-2015 [11]


Figure 7. World Real Trade and GDP Growth in Historical Perspective 1960-2015 [12]


Figure 8. Share of Global Exports in Global Output, 1961-2015 [13]


Figure 9. World FDI as Share of GDP 1987-2015 [14]

[1] Leon Trotsky: Bonapartism and Fascism (July 1934), in: Trotsky Writings 1934-35, p. 51

[2] Leon Trotsky: Perspectives of World Development (1924),

[3] Leon Trotsky: The Workers' State, Thermidor and Bonapartism (1935), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky 1934-35, pp.180-181

[4] Leon Trotsky: Bonapartism and Fascism (1934) in: Trotsky: Writings 1934-35. p. 53

[5] Leon Trotsky: Again on the question of Bonapartism. Bourgeois Bonapartism and Soviet Bonapartism (1935), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky 1934-35, p. 31,

[6] For a more detailed elaboration of the importance of the democratic issues we refer readers to the following pamphlet by Michael Pröbsting: The Struggle for Democracy in the Imperialist Countries Today. The Marxist Theory of Permanent Revolution and its Relevance for the Imperialist Metropolises (2015), in: Revolutionary Communism No. 39,

[7] Leon Trotsky: The International Left Opposition, Its Tasks and Methods, in: Documents of the Fourth International, Pathfinder Press, New York 1973, p. 24 (Emphasis in the original)

[8] See on this e.g. RCIT: Manifesto for Revolutionary Liberation, Chapter VI. Work in Mass Organizations and the United Front Tactic pp. 25-26, The RCIT has published a more detailed elaboration of the Marxist United Front Tactic in an book of Michael Pröbsting: Marxism and the United Front Tactic Today. The Struggle for Proletarian Hegemony in the Liberation Movement and the United Front Tactic Today. On the Application of the Marxist United Front Tactic in Semi-Colonial and Imperialist Countries in the Present Period, RCIT 2016,

[9] Leon Trotsky: Our Present Tasks (1933); in: Trotsky: Writings 1933-34. pp. 138-139

[10]  See Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, Vienna 2013, pp. 389-390

[11] Leon Podkaminer: Has Trade Been Driving Global Economic Growth, The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, Working Paper 131 (2016), p. 3

[12] IMF: World Economic Outlook October 2016. Subdued Demand. Symptoms and Remedies, p. 64

[13] Leon Podkaminer: Has Trade Been Driving Global Economic Growth, The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, Working Paper 131 (2016), p. 1

[14] Michael Roberts: Testing Trumponomics, 18 November 2016,