Fascism! Fascism! Here! There! Everywhere! Hide your kids! Hide your wife!
Liberals and a good section of progressives who actually don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to fascism are currently in the midst of a panic that would make you think the march of the black shirts is nigh.
- READ ALSO: If Trump Loses
I find this moral panic a bit antagonizing for a few reasons that really need to be articulated maturely.
First, I want to start with the racial aspect, which I think is more essential than everything else. In a nutshell, I would argue that saying the rise of fascism is nigh is itself an unconscious white supremacist act. Several black media personalities I deeply respect and follow on a regular basis have pointed out that, to quote Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford, fascists in this country do not wear brown shirts, they wear blue, meaning they are cops. Just take a look at this image from outside the Republican National Convention:
When white people cry havoc about the rise of fascism, they fundamentally and undeniably delegitimize the suffering of black and brown people in the aftermath of World War II. Some of them are genuinely frightened for the well-being of minority populations but within the context of identity rather than class politics. Others, sadly, are just afraid that white people will begin to be treated as badly as black and brown people are currently. But either way, it is white supremacy because it denies legitimacy to the suffering of these populations. Margaret Kimberley best articulated this point:
Every political issue is turned into a diatribe against what many people are quick to label as fascism when we really need useful analysis of our current condition. Neo-liberalism is fascism and it is causing tremendous suffering around the world. It will exist whether Trump is president of the United States or not. By the way, the Brexit vote isn’t fascist either. The European Union is fascistic. It destroyed a poor country (Greece), tore another in two (Ukraine) and paid off another (Turkey) to stop the flow of refugees who wouldn’t exist if the U.S./NATO/EU hadn’t destroyed the nations of Libya and Syria.
To turn a familiar phrase, in other words, it did happen here. The mass-incarceration system, called ‘the New Jim Crow’, combined with the neoliberal onslaught against the poor begun under Carter and Reagan, has created our internal system of Nazi-like slave labor and death camps. This is of course ironic in light of the anti-China element of economic discourse in the media today. Yes, a good number of jobs were off-shored to Asia. But a significant number likewise were on-shored into the prison labor system. The de-industrialization of Rhode Island has more to do with the ACI work release program than Deng Xiaoping.
Now there is the class element. Identity politics fails to include within its critique of racism as an ideology the angle of class, making such critiques fundamentally worthless. In the spectrum of identity politics, President Obama has been a good thing. Only with class added to the critique do we see in actuality how awful he has been.
For example, even though he is African American, Obama has overseen the wholesale destruction of black wealth and the black middle class while he lectures them. Throughout his tenure, the recurring theme of speeches to black/brown-majority audiences have been based around dog-whistles that would have earned a Republican counterpart the condemnation akin to when Trent Lott made his 54-years-too-late endorsement of Strom Thurmond’s appalling 1948 Dixiecrat run for presidency. Just consider some of the material in The Audacity of Hope that Kevin Alexander Gray previously has said “could tumble out of the mouth of William Bennett”:
Many of the social or cultural factors that negatively affect black people, for example, simply mirror in exaggerated form problems that afflict America as a whole: too much television (the average black house hold has the television on more than eleven hours per day), too much consumption of poisons (blacks smoke more and eat more fast food), and a lack of emphasis on educational achievement. Then there’s the collapse of the two-parent black household, a phenomenon that is occurring at such an alarming rate when compared to the rest of American society that what was once a difference in degree has become a difference in kind, a phenomenon that reflects a casualness toward sex and child rearing among black men that renders black children more vulnerable—and for which there is simply no excuse. Taken together, these factors impede progress.
The fact that whites ate that up like candy indicates a deeply disturbing level of white supremacy that they are unconscious of.
Identity politicos will respond to this with shock and argue “how dare you say a [insert minority figure] is a fascist!” Yet this is because they fundamentally again do not understand what fascism is. Robin D.G. Kelley explained this succinctly to Amy Goodman when he eulogized Aime Cesaire in 2008:
[I]t was Cesaire, when he wrote “Discourse on Colonialism,” that kind of made the argument that, you know, the brutality and barbarism that defined colonialism came back to roost in some ways and can explain fascism in Europe.
It was another disciple of Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, who explained the psychology of the colonial/fascist collaborators. Whether it is a British Sepoy in India, a black gendarme in the Antilles, a Jewish member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz, or a member of the Vichy government in France, there are certain elements and aspects of that set of behaviors and actions that also can be seen to describe figures in power now.
All these facts are fundamentally linked to a class-based critique of fascism. I would again refer to the definition provided by the Marxists Internet Archive:
Fascism is right-wing, fiercely nationalist, subjectivist in philosophy, and totalitarian in practice. It is an extreme reactionary form of capitalist government…
The social composition of Fascist movements have historically been small capitalists, low-level bureaucrats of all stripes (see petty bourgeoeis), with great success in rural areas, especially among farmers, peasants, and in the city, slum workers.
Meanwhile, fascist leadership invariably comes to power through the sponsorship and funding of massive capitalists, without needing a revolution. These capitalists along with the top-tier leaders they create become fascism’s ruling aristocracy…
[O]rthodox fascism constantly parrots the Communist lexicon of working class struggle, etc, for reasons of populism. Neo-fascism, on the other hand, disdains any trace of Socialist/Communist terminology in their labels, and instead appeals to new populist roots: the modern aspirations of many workers to be wealthy, to be stronger than others, etc.
Fascism championed corporate economics, which operated on an anarcho-syndicalist model in reverse: associations of bosses in particular industries determine working conditions, prices, etc. In this form of corporatism, bosses dictate everything from working hours to minimum wages, without goverment interference.
The fascist corporate model differs from the more moderate corporatist model by eradicating all forms of regulatory control that protect workers (so-called “consumers”), the environment, price fixing, insider trading, and destroying all independent workers’ organisations.
In fascism, the corporate parliament either replaces the representative bodies of government or reduces them to a sham and the state freely intervenes in the activity of companies, either by bestowing favouritism, or handing them over to the control of rivals. There are several fundamental characteristics of fascism, among them are:
1. Right Wing: Fascists are fervently against: Marxism, Socialism, Anarchism, Communism, Environmentalism, etc – in essence, they are against the progressive left in total, including moderate lefts (social democrats, etc). Fascism is an extreme right wing ideology, though it can be opportunistic.
2. Nationalism: Fascism places a very strong emphasis on patriotism and nationalism. Criticism of the nation’s main ideals, especially war, is lambasted as unpatriotic at best, and treason at worst. State propaganda consistently broadcasts threats of attack, while justifying pre-emptive war. Fascism invariably seeks to instill in its people the warrior mentality: to always be vigilant, wary of strangers and suspicious of foreigners.
3. Hierarchy: Fascist society is ruled by a righteous leader, who is supported by an elite secret vanguard of capitalists. Hierarchy is prevalent throughout all aspects of society – every street, every workplace, every school, will have its local Hitler, part police-informer, part bureaucrat – and society is prepared for war at all times. The absolute power of the social hierarchy prevails over everything, and thus a totalitarian society is formed. Representative government is acceptable only if it can be controlled and regulated, direct democracy (e.g. Communism) is the greatest of all crimes. Any who oppose the social hierarchy of fascism will be imprisoned or executed.
4. Anti-equality: Fascism loathes the principles of economic equality and disdains equality between immigrant and citizen. Some forms of fascism extend the fight against equality into other areas: gender, sexual, minority or religious rights, for example.
5. Religious: Fascism contains a strong amount of reactionary religious beliefs, harking back to times when religion was strict, potent, and pure. Nearly all Fascist societies are Christian, and are supported by Catholic and Protestant churches.
6. Capitalist: Fascism does not require revolution to exist in capitalist society: fascists can be elected into office (though their disdain for elections usually means manipulation of the electoral system). They view parliamentary and congressional systems of government to be inefficent and weak, and will do their best to minimize its power over their policy agenda. Fascism exhibits the worst kind of capitalism where corporate power is absolute, and all vestiges of workers’ rights are destroyed.
7. War: Fascism is capitalism at the stage of impotent imperialism. War can create markets that would not otherwise exist by wrecking massive devastation on a society, which then requires reconstruction. Fascism can thus “liberate” the survivors, provide huge loans to that society so fascist corporations can begin the process of rebuilding.
8. Voluntarist Ideology: Fascism adopts a certain kind of “voluntarism;” they believe that an act of will, if sufficiently powerful, can make something true. Thus all sorts of ideas about racial inferiority, historical destiny, even physical science, are supported by means of violence, in the belief that they can be made true. It is this sense that Fascism is subjectivist.
9. Anti-Modern: Fascism loathes all kinds of modernism, especially creativity in the arts, whether acting as a mirror for life (where it does not conform to the Fascist ideal), or expressing deviant or innovative points of view. Fascism invariably burns books and victimises artists, and artists which do not promote the fascists ideals are seen as “decadent.” Fascism is hostile to broad learning and interest in other cultures, since such pursuits threaten the dominance of fascist myths. The peddling of conspiracy theories is usually substituted for the objective study of history. [Emphasis added]
Can we say this defines our current neoliberal system, epitomized in the Clinton political machine, or the political power of a xenophobic populist who has never held an elected office?
To conclude, I would point out the fact that the trial run of neoliberalism, the Chilean junta under Pinochet, did indeed earn the label of fascism from many on the left four decades ago. Why then when his successors enact these same policies and doctrines do they get a free pass?
When the Cold War began in 1945, the Soviet Union began to say that the West and particularly the United States had become the successors of the fascist regimes. I would close with a deep interrogation of this theme.
First, we need to understand that, with the exception of a few experimental periods that tended to end in disaster, the Communist movements never actually built what would be called socialism in a fashion akin to Lenin’s matrix in State and Revolution, instead they accepted that the failure of the 1919 German Revolution meant a wider European revolt would not happen. As a result, they instead proceeded to build a Bismarck-styled social safety net around economic policies that were described as “state socialist” by Engels several decades prior. Their actual policies, including universal healthcare, abortion rights, anti-discrimination laws, full employment, guaranteed vacation, old age care, housing, and free education would later become the hallmarks of the Keynesian welfare states.
Ergo the attack on the Soviets under the auspices of the Cold War was always a war on social safety net spending, the plight of the Russians under Yeltsin bears this out clearly. This does leave some level of curiosity about why the Nazis and Italians built significant welfare states and had major employment, but we also can quickly explain this away by emphasizing that both those societies were based on unchallenged slave labor whereas in America the slave labor system is challenged via the court system and human rights organizations.
Like James Carville said, it’s the economy, stupid! The Democrats have objectively and undeniably failed to offer a critique of neoliberalism’s ravaging of the economy. That’s because the worst of it happened under the Clintons because of their policies.
Now what comes after Trump will be intentionally and consciously fascist, make no mistake. Whereas Trump is very obviously just speaking off the cuff and stringing together rambling, barely-coherent sentences that seem to connect headlines and quotes he finds in the Libertarian blog-o-sphere and hears on talk radio, the time is approaching where an intelligent, competent, charismatic right wing strongman can and will make an appearance. Could the July 2016 announcement by David Duke of a political run for office foreshadow this?
If it does, the imperative can not be placed on defeating Trump to install Clinton and for two very distinct reasons.
First, the Trump base is not yet a fascist base. It is loaded with chauvinism but it still can be liberated from this via a course of political re-education. What these people need are class allies with enough grace and patience to help them grasp their shortcoming and overcome them. They need to be taught to exchange race war for class war. But by totally supporting Clinton, who will be the economic ruin of the Trump base, this demographic will be finally pushed over the edge into the abyss. There is literally a quarter-century of pent-up resentment towards the Clintons that has festered and metastasized in the hinterlands, animus that has been fed daily by talk radio, Fox News, the Republican Party, and the Evangelical movement. By electing Clinton one risks immense explosion of rage fueled by those sources.
Second, directly following that, is the guarantee that a fascist force will follow Trump if Clinton is elected, absolutely zero doubt about it. David Duke could very well be that person. Or it could be someone much younger, one of the ‘alt-right’ hipster types that are actually into blood and soil race theory. The Trump people will be unbound from a political candidate. They will be furious at the election of everything they loathe in American politics.
And they will be back.