Max Eastman (1883-1969) was a poet, radical editor, translator, and author. He edited the socialist magazine The Masses (1912-1917) and translated Leon Trotsky into English. He traveled to the Soviet Union where he expected to discover the success of socialism but left in 1924, disillusioned by the bitter struggle that followed Lenin's death in which Trotsky was brushed aside by Stalin.
One of his books, Stalin's Russia and The Crisis in Socialism (1940) details some of the problems he witnessed in Russia. One section, reproduced below deals with the characteristics of fascism. It is worth reflecting on today.
There is too much dispute over the connotation of fascism for one simple formula to hold . We can as yet only point to all those traits which are common to the regimes in Italy and Germany, and not to be found in even the most caste-ridden of democratic countries . I have counted twenty-two such traits.
1. Nationalistic emotion is hysterically exalted. "Patriotism is the supreme law of life," was the way Stalin's Pravda expressed it in 1934, and he was then still hampered by relics of the old slogan of Marx and Lenin: "Workers have no fatherland." By now patriotism in Moscow must be pretty nearly the whole law of life.
2. A single party, disciplined, centrally controlled and having a monopoly of the political field, takes over the power of the state . The state is reduced to the position of a false front, whose function is to "ratify" the decisions of the party.
Needless to argue that this system exists in Russia, since it was there that Hitler and Mussolini learned it.
3 . Dissenting opinion is coerced by means of patronage and intimidation to the point where the party and its leaders can assert themselves to be the nation as a totality . The regime is called totalitarian exactly because it is not so, but this is a threat, not a boast . It means that all disagreement or even indifference, where it cannot be bridled, will be ruthlessly stamped out .
In Russia they talk of the "monolithic party" instead of the "totalitarian state," but this only because the system is so perfect that the state can be ignored .
4. The religion of nationalism comes into conflict with supernatural religion. The church, like the state, is permitted to exist, but its priests, and even its God, must recognize the superior authority of the party.
Under "Socialism in One Country"-which is emotionally, even more than logically, the same thing as "National Socialism"-not only religion, but philosophy is regimented by the party!
5 . The new religion finds its focus of devotion in "the Leader," who becomes to all intents and purposes a God.
In Russia, less civilized to begin with, this return to primitive superstition has gone farther than in Italy and Germany. In many minds it has gone to the point of literal deification. The adulation of the "Liubimii Vozhd," printed almost weekly in full-page headlines in the great metropolitan newspapers of Russia-"Our Beloved," "Our Infallible," "Our Incomparable Stalin," "Our Sensitive Stalin," "Our Teacher," "Our Father of Nations," "Our Sun," "Our Soul"-would provoke laughter in any Western metropolis .
6. Anti-intellectualism, in a degree heretofore found only among guttersnipes, becomes a public policy. It takes the form of flattery to the ignorant and lazy-minded, persecution, jail, death, or exile to those who stand for strenuous and honest thought.
Because of Stalin's personal jealousy of the brainier lieutenants of Lenin, and because the prejudice so easily aroused against highbrows was useful to him in over-whelming them, this policy has been more deliberately put through in Russia than in Italy or Germany . Moreover, with one exception, Stalin has not exiled his highbrows, but locked them up or shot them.
7 . Anti-intellectualism also takes the form of a physical destruction of books and records, a rewriting of history and revamping of science to make it fit the momentary needs of politics.
Hitler made a public bonfire, but what Stalin has done in his craftier way to Russian books and documents and films, and even spoken memories-to all recorded truth-makes Hitler's bonfire look like an Independence Day celebration.
8. Anti-intellectualism also takes the form of an attack on "pure science"-described by the Editors of the New Republic as "one of the weirdest aspects of the weird Nazi ideology."
Exactly the same attack on pure science was made, with Marxian flourishes and police assistance, by Stalin's Politburo.
9. The manipulation of public opinion is substituted for its enlightenment. Human minds are regarded as receptacles for officially decreed opinions. It becomes the function of the press and radio to put over the Leader's ideas, and misrepresent those of his enemies . Debate is abolished, dogma enthroned . Whatever intellectual life survives consists of inferences from temporary pronunciamentos of the Leader.
Here Stalin beats Hitler because he is operating upon a more primitive people .
10. Cultural isolation of the country is essential to this operation. The population is taught to believe all sorts of fables about their own merits and prosperities and the desperate condition of the outside world.
In Russia this has gone so far that private citizens cannot travel abroad, and are afraid to have friendly relations with a foreign visitor. It is, as we have seen, a crime of treason, punishable by death, to "escape across the border."
11. Party control of "scientific fact" (except in the industrial and military spheres) is accompanied by a similar control of creative art. Mussolini decrees the size of women's hips in Italian painting; Hitler suppresses as degenerate all the experimental art-works of the period.
Both Hitler and Mussolini learned this from Stalin, who inaugurated his aesthetic Inquisition in 1930. (See my Artists in Uniform .)
12. Immoralism takes two forms . Political lying and governmental hypocrisy are adopted as a system. Libel and slander become civic virtues . Fake plebiscites, solemn caricatures of judicial procedure, parodies of representative government, are accepted as the normal course . "Fooling all the people all the time" becomes the essential function of the state apparatus.
Stalin's "most democratic constitution in history," with its joker guaranteeing the political monopoly of the communist party and this party's domination in every social organization in the country, is the incomparable climax of this system . It is the most insolent hoax in history . It not only fools the people all the time, but fools them with the same trick, and hands it to them hand-embossed on parchment as the fundamental law of the land .
13. Immoralism takes also the form of state-planned assassinations, frame-ups, blood-purges, Reichstag fires, piracies in the Mediterranean, etc . The worst crimes in the code of civilization become the daring virtues of the totalitarian state.
Stalin, with his deliberate starvation of four to six million peasants, his deportations of whole villages, his millions in concentration camps, his whole counties consecrated to forced labor, his execution of practically every man in the country who has occupied a prominent position within the last fifteen years, makes Hitler's little blood-purge and Mussolini's regimen of castor oil tempered with assassination, look like a sophomore hazing party . If the shed blood of innocent men were measured, Stalin's would be a lake, Hitler's a duck-pond ; Mussolini's could be dipped up by the tank-carful
14 . Besides its own crimes, the state encourages the population to bait, torture and destroy some public enemy. The hate and persecution of this internal enemy serves as a peacetime substitute for war, which is necessary to keep the passion of tribal solidarity on which the whole thing is based at white heat .
What Hitler has done to the Jews compares palely with what Stalin has done to "Kulaks," and to prominent people generally. He has reversed Napoleon's maxim: "Careers are open to all men of talent." The place for men of talent in Russia, generally speaking, is the bloodstained cellar of the Lubianka prison. Still Stalin has not-as yet-overtly persecuted the Jews or other Russian national minorities. He belongs to one of them himself.
15 In baiting the Jews, Hitler revived-from the Old Testament!-the principle of tribal guilt for the crime of an individual.
Stalin has written this principle into the Criminal Code. As we have seen, his treason law holds guilty not only the family of the traitor, but everybody who lived, however innocently, in the same house with him.
16. Besides an object of hate, the tribal passion must have an object of love. There must be some real glorywork to consecrate oneself to . Accordingly, we find in all totalitarian regimes a process of economic revival or reconstruction . Absolute tyranny and complete regimentation of a population does solve-temporarily, I think one or two of the anxious problems of civilization, although at the cost of civilization itself. It is a great way of climbing out of a hole . And only in countries climbing out of a hole have such regimes been established.
Russia was in a deeper hole than Italy or Germany, and she has more abundant resources. She is a backward nation still to be industrialized. The real job to be done, the object of honest devotion, is bigger, more sure of success, more exciting.
17. The national revival is focused around and sustained by preparations for war. The war industries dominate, and the population is completely militarized from youngest childhood.
In this, Russia, Italy and Germany are alike, and Russia has now joined these other military despotisms in aggressions against peaceful neighbors.
18. Together with militarization goes a reckless campaign for increased population. Birth control is discouraged, abortions are outlawed, large families are boosted with state propaganda . Here Stalin was impeded by Lenin's extremely liberal and humanitarian legislation . He has repealed all that legislation, and Russia is now making cannon fodder with the best of them .
19. Woman is relegated to a subordinate position, and laws are passed against her independence . The totalitarian regimes are male regimes . Woman's business in them is to breed.
Here, too, Stalin has repealed the equalitarian decrees and proclamations of the October revolution. He is traveling in the anti-feminist direction. But he is still a good way behind Hitler and Mussolini.
20. All three totalitarian governments are characterized by a paternal concern for the welfare, or at least security, of the toiling masses-in so far as they are completely submissive . This fact about fascist regimes has been little appreciated in America, but it is the foundation of their success. It is the price at which the German and Italian masses sold their freedom. In Russia, notwithstanding the legends spread by Stalin's propagandists, this concern for the toilers is no more real, and is on the whole less effective, than in Germany . The Russian masses, accustomed as they were to slavery, have sold their freedom at a lower price. In both countries all the unions are company unions, and the company is the state.
21 . All totalitarian regimes make a liberal use of the phraseology of working-class revolution against capitalism. They call themselves "proletarian" ; they denounce democratic nations as "capitalist" ; Mussolini asserts that he is still a "revolutionary socialist" ; Goebbels promises a "socialism of nations" ; Hitler calls his party "National Socialist," denounces the "Jewish capitalist world" ; Goering describes Germany as a "workers' and peasants' state ."
Stalin uses this language more plausibly than the others, because he stems from a revolution that did involve a rising of the workers and peasants. In so far, however, as it implies that the workers and peasants run the government or receive a slice of the profits of industry, the language is as false in Russia as in Germany and Italy. The profits are disposed of by the new holders of totalitarian power, the class of bureaucrats, whose principal public expenditure is on militarizing the country mind and body.
22 . In all totalitarian regimes, industry, commerce and agriculture are controlled by the state-that is, the party and its leader. "Almost the only freedom left to the German employer," says Geoffrey Crowther, Editor of the London Economist, "is to put his name on the firm's stationery." And Stephen Raushenbush * adds that the German "business-owner," as well as the "homeowner," shows a "perfect obedience" to the state because he knows that "it is perfectly possible for the state to take the last feature of the older system away from him ."