The German Marxist, Clara Zetkin, stated in her report to the Communist International in 1923 regarding fascism’s rise in Italy,
Fascism confronts the proletariat as an exceptionally dangerous and frightful enemy. Fascism is the strongest, most concentrated, and classic expression at this time of the world bourgeoisie’s general offensive. It is urgently necessary that it be brought down.
In Albuquerque in mid-June of this year, a group of armed men determined to “protect” the statue of a Spanish conquistador shot at protestors in broad daylight. It was another example of white vigilantes confronting protestors, including white men in cities like Philadelphia wielding bats and attacking those they condemn as “threats”.
As the rebellions against police brutality grow, the police themselves have continued to intimidate, assault, and arrest scores of protestors, doing what they’ve always done in poor and working-class Black and Brown neighborhoods at a broader scale.
Finally, as the lockdown is lifted and as the Democrat and Republican party leadership continue prioritizing the needs and interests of major corporations, working-class communities, many of which are disproportionately Black and Brown, are left economically devastated.
Echoing the era in which Zetkin produced her report, the economic and political conditions in our present-day are ripe for the power of right-wing authoritarians and fascistic politics to grow.
Those of us on the Left, whether socialist, communist, or Left-wing, must take this threat of right-wing authoritarianism and fascism seriously. Whether we’re discussing the benefits of electoral politics or its limits, whether we’re exploring the potential of the recent rebellion against the police, or whether we’re creating more labor unions, we must incorporate tackling this threat into all of our organizing or otherwise risk any hope in building a more humane and socialist country, even a social democratic one, to be ended.
One of the core features of fascism that Zetkin among others, such as Yale philosopher, Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, identify is its appeal to people beyond the traditional base of conservative policies, especially among the downwardly mobile middle-classes.
Fascists and right-wing populists construct a narrative in which the political “elite” are working on behalf of historically oppressed groups against the interests of the nation’s “true” people. The enemies of the “people” aren’t the capitalists working in service of themselves but instead, elites beholden to so-called Jewish “interests” or a trans “agenda”. These elites, according to them, must be replaced and the historically oppressed groups must be controlled or exterminated.
A second core feature is the insistence that racial, ethnic, and gender hierarchies are natural and that challenging them breeds chaos. Essentially, certain people must be dominated for their own good and for the good of society. Those who seek to undermine these hierarchies, such as Communists and feminists, are agents of chaos.
The third feature of fascism is its reliance on “glorifying” the “nation” as a means of organizing society. Glorifying the nation is made synonymous with growing the economy. Fascist leaders collude with business owners in ridding obstacles in their way of building up the capitalist economy. This is why fascists have always attacked Communists and labor unions the moment they gain power.
The final core element of fascism is its overt reliance on extreme forms of violence to maintain “law and order”. Fascistic politics encourages the use of extreme violence targeting groups that would oppose such rule, such as Communists, feminists, labor organizers, and historically oppressed racial, religious and ethnic groups.
WRAPPED IN THE FLAG
Elements of right-wing authoritarianism and fascistic politics have been a part of the U.S. since its inception as a capitalist country on stolen land. The U.S. was founded on a racial hierarchy which justified the snatching away of the labor and land of Black and indigenous people.
This type of proto-fascist thinking was best exemplified by the Confederacy.
“The Confederacy, like Hitler’s Reich,” Stanley explains, “was built to defend the ‘aristocratic principle in nature’, the principle of racial hierarchy.”
Hitler and the Nazi Party were inspired by the Confederacy and by Jim Crow.
Under Jim Crow, Black Americans were violently oppressed by the law and by paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
At their peak, by the early 1900s, the KKK had developed themselves into a nation-wide organization capable of organizing Anglo-American workers and the Anglo-American middle-class through KKK affiliated community groups.
“Many were mutual benefit societies, essentially insurance cooperatives providing for burial, medical expenses, and the support of widows,” historian Linda Gordon explained in The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition.
Through these groups, the KKK promoted the worldview that Black and Brown people, that Jewish Americans and Communists were subverting the “American way of life” with the aid of elites.
“Its primary adversaries, those responsible for the erosion of American values and the American way of life, were not capitalists or men of significant wealth,” Gordon explained, “Instead the elites it condemned were cosmopolitan, highbrow urbanites, who are often liberals.”
This toxic conception of politics has been in resurgence since the rise of far-right politicians like Ronald Reagan and the grassroots movements that supported them. This resurgence is due to a combination of factors, including the expansion of U.S. imperialism ,reinforcing the worldview that some (Asians, Africans and Latin Americans) must be dominated, and the inability of the New Left and labor unions to unite against the right-wing.
Trump and those behind him, from white nationalists to white evangelicals, is the culmination of a nearly four decades long right-wing trend in our mainstream politics.
Trump and those who support him have repeatedly echoed the fascist talking-point that the “elites” are working against the interests of “patriotic” Americans by favoring immigrants from countries that are predominantly Muslim or from Mexico and Central America.
Therefore, Trump and political leaders like him have constructed the narrative that the country’s major political fight is between one set of elites who care about the “forgotten” man and elites who are “globalists” bringing in groups who threaten the so-called fabric and “culture” of the nation.
Hence, Latinx immigrants and Muslims must be dominated and controlled through institutions like ICE and through immigration bans, or otherwise, these same groups, with the help of “liberal elites”, will have more rights and privileges than the “forgotten” man.
Prominent labor organizer and theoretician, Bill Fletcher, Jr. expressed in his piece on Trump, the Tea Party and right-wing populism,
Especially in the context of the USA, the new racism takes place in the context of a declining living standard for white workers brought up believing a racial hierarchy would protect all or most of them from the ravages of capitalism. To put it in blunt terms, that no matter how bad things might get, there would always be a person of colour beneath them who was worse off.
Also, growing the U.S. capitalist economy has become tantamount to “making America great again”. Since the 1980s, there has been an increasing obsession among politicians, Democrat and Republican, to continue shifting power into the hands of corporations at the expense of working people. But Trump and the modern Republican Party and its grassroots supporters, such as those demanding that the lockdown be lifted sooner, are an extreme, bare manifestation of this politics.
Policies that would’ve set the precedent for government providing basic resources to working people, such as providing masks and healthcare during Covid-19, have been rejected by the Trump administration. Such decisions have literally led to thousands of workers getting sick and dying. But all of this is deemed “necessary” by the Republicans since protecting “free market principles” and private enterprise, even during a pandemic, is elevated above all else.
Further, there has been a mainstreaming of rhetoric by Trump and others like him that there is a “civilizational” battle in the U.S. and throughout the world. This is a battle between people who are “law abiding” and hard working and who want to honor the country’s history, its power, and the values that made it “great” against those, such as trans rights activists, “Antifa”, feminists, and now the protestors rebelling against the police, who exemplify “chaos” and “disorder” and whose values are antithetical to the “American way of life”.
Thus, the rebellions have been identified by Trump, the Republicans and by the right-wing as an “enemy” force that must be “dominated” by law enforcement.
Extreme forms of violence are wielded effortlessly than in recent memory as a means of controlling people, from starving the people of Puerto Rico by denying them basic aid to policies detaining and separating families on the U.S.-Mexican border to protestors now being shot in the face with tear gas and rubber bullets in broad daylight in front of the cameras.
ANTI-FASCISM RESISTANCE & REBELLION
Preventing Trump from winning re-election is a priority. If Trump were to win a second term, his administration and those who support him will be more emboldened to brutalize and detain those who could pose a threat to their rule, from labor organizers to Black and Brown protestors.
However, if Trump were to lose his re-election, the cesspool of U.S. politics that birthed him, won’t go away either. As long as capitalism is the dominant economic system, promoting values of unfettered growth and competition and upholding abusive institutions, the seeds for a fascistic worldview will always be with us. As long as we have economic and political institutions built to provide for the wealthiest ahead of everyone else, then we will keep finding ourselves in crisis like the one we’re in now, with another right-wing demagogue and their emboldened right-wing movement, prepared to “wipe out” the rest of us, trans, Black and Brown, Jewish, Communists, the disabled, and rebellious workers alike.
This can and must change, especially considering the recent rebellions against the police, in which we’ve seen panic spread among the ruling class.
“The worst thing we could do would be to allow our historical understanding of fascism to sway us toward inactivity, toward waiting, or toward the postponement of arming ourselves and struggling against fascism,” Zetkin argued.
A healthy society that no longer produces fascism is one that’s no longer capitalist. A healthy society is one in which the needs and interests of historically oppressed groups and workers are addressed with federal policies extending universal healthcare, universal housing and jobs to all. It is a society in which workers and working-class communities, disproportionately Black and Brown, are in control of major economic decisions.
To achieve this, however, requires building working-class power across race, gender-identity and sexuality.
Fletcher, Jr. explained,
It would have to be a movement addressing gender and class as well as racial inequality and wealth redistribution, government transparency, increased voting rights and popular control, and demilitarization.
Historically, policies shift in meeting more of the needs of historically oppressed groups and workers when workers and the historically oppressed, especially Black and Brown people, organize strikes and lead uprisings. When workers were frustrated with the pace of change at the beginning of the New Deal, they occupied the factories, which forced the federal government to provide labor protections. During the 1960s, many Black Americans were frustrated at the broken promises made by the federal government, and led rebellions across major cities and towns, which led to more federal government investment in Black and Brown communities.
The radical momentum in each instance was cut short by the rise of the right-wing as well as missteps made by the Left, including a heavy reliance on mainstream politics, such as lobbying for change within Congress or within the Democrat Party.
Fortunately, this desire for direct confrontation against pro-capitalist institutions has never went away and in recent years, has been in resurgence, with teachers and essential workers striking, to the recent rebellions against the police.
However, we still need more workers confronting their employers and the institutions that oppress them. Despite the deteriorating living and working conditions, many workers may still feel anxious and unsure about rising against the capitalist class and the right-wing.
We need political campaigns that remind people of the power they wield when they’re joining other workers and tenants against common class enemies, such as landlords or local employers. By building campaigns that focus on such targets, there is more of a likelihood of different people, as tenants and as workers, meeting other tenants and workers who otherwise they wouldn’t have spoken to. This is necessary because the only power we can leverage against the capitalist classes and their right-wing allies is the sheer number of us who are workers and tenants. The capitalist class is a tiny minority of people while the majority of us are workers and tenants whose labor and consumption sustains the economy. The problem is that many of us are too busy working to realize this, or frankly, too disillusioned to think we could unite with others, especially beyond our workplaces.
By bringing different people together to fight against common class enemies, like the landlords and the police, we are helping them realize that they are not alone and that others may not share exactly what they’re going to but are facing similar types of issues, such as not being able to pay the rent in time or working at a warehouse or supermarket that’s not providing PPE. Building these campaigns helps in breaking down barriers between even different historically oppressed groups, such as working-class Asian Americans, Latinx and Black Americans, who must for the long-term link up in order to survive what’s coming next, which includes more repression by law enforcement and the right-wing.
Every single proletarian must feel like more than a mere wage slave, a plaything of the winds and storms of capitalism and of the powers that be. Proletarians must feel and understand themselves to be part of the revolutionary class, which will reforge the old state of the propertied into the new state of the soviet system. Only when we arouse revolutionary class consciousness in every worker and light the flame of class determination can we succeed in preparing and carrying out militarily the necessary overthrow of fascism.
Such campaigns must be willing to go beyond just organizing one building or one workplace even. Of course, organizing is always difficult and the act of organizing among tenants and workers at one location is a critical first step. But given the scale of our political and economic crisis, worker and tenant campaigns must be willing to link up across workplaces or across various working-class neighborhoods. Once again, by gathering more and more people together to fight against a group of landlords or a group of employers will mean more work to do but also, more workers and tenants getting to know one another.
Workers must utilize their labor campaigns as a means of organizing people beyond the workplace. This is known as bargaining for the common good or as social justice unionism, which has recently been practiced by the teachers striking in Chicago who fought for resources that the neighborhoods they taught in needed. It is a method of building relationships among larger groups of people and a means of leveraging more power against the employers. It is a method of reenergizing class struggle since the fight is no longer just about a contract or more PPE but is about the masses against the employer, whose existence drains resources away from the community, or the masses against the employer and their allies in local government, who are willing to provide tax incentives for major businesses while gutting government services.
Of course, campaigns organizing workers into labor unions is incredibly important too. When labor unions were led by Communists, they were correctly used as not just spaces to bargain for contracts or for higher wages, but as institutionalized spaces to discuss radical politics and to develop necessary bonds and friendships among workers.
“The labor union is the chief mechanism societies have found to bind people who differ along various dimensions,” Stanley explains, “Trade unions are sources of cooperation and community, and of wage equality, as well as mechanisms to provide protections from the vicissitudes of the global market.”
In the age of Covid-19, campaigns must also find ways of uniting the unemployed. The combination of Covid-19 and neoliberalism has left working-class communities economically devastated, with Great Depression-era level of unemployment.
During the Great Depression, Black and white Communists organized the unemployed, still building campaigns against common class enemies, like the landlords who demanded rents to be paid, and directing peoples’ rage at so-called New Deal Democrats who claimed to be sympathetic.
Similarly, we must find ways of organizing campaigns that can organize people who are currently jobless and feeling angry or hopeless. This still requires us to organize people in our communities against institutions like banks or major businesses.
Electoral campaigns can be useful in doing the work of bringing people together, of engaging people with issues that matter to them. Again, the goal is to embolden and gather historically oppressed groups and workers into fighting back. Hence, we need campaigns, electoral or otherwise, that help in connecting workers to one another. We need campaigns that develop an independent working-class constituency who are willing to do to get what they want, including shutting down the economy.
The final piece to our efforts in staving off fascism is the need for the current rebellions to grow. These rebellions, in such a short period of time, have already been incredibly successful in attracting media and political attention to the needs and wants of Black Americans in poor and working-class communities and in pushing defunding the police onto the national political agenda.
Brittany Battle, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Wake Forest University, who has been part of the protests, stated, “I hope the protests move us toward dismantling the carceral state. I think we are having national dialogues now that just 6 months would have been unimaginable. So yes, I think the protests are being more and more effective.”
The rebellions have been powerful since they represent a threat to many of those in power, from neoliberal Democrats to corporations. The rebellions are a threat to the status quo because they have been inspired by and focused on Black Americans in poor and working-class communities, whose liberation would require a new economic and political system to be created.
Jamel Love, a fellow grad worker at Rutgers University, and who has also been participating in the protests, expressed,
On the other hand, from the perspective of those protesting, namely Black and Brown communities most harmed by police violence, these rebellions represent a growing discontent and apathy regarding the non-responsiveness of politicians and leaders in reforming police tactics to reduce police involved killings and more broadly the ongoing evidence of the enduring pervasiveness of racism which these frequent unjustified police killings of Black persons continue to show.
Most importantly, these rebellions are inspiring people to directly confront institutions that oppress us, such as the police. Whether it’s been people protesting and marching every week and demanding abolition or others targeting the private property of brutal institutions, like the police and major businesses, these rebellions are undermining the legitimacy of the institutions that those in power depend on to dominate us.
Akin O., a comrade and organizer on issues of economic and racial justice, explained in a recent piece about the rebellions, “It creates an avenue outside of the realm of elections and non-profit organizing, for working people to seek power, and it cannot be easily controlled in the same way that normal marches and protests can.”
As historically has been the case, the moment rebellions on the streets fade, the political openings that they create disappear along with them. Once labor no longer centered strikes in its organizing but rather, on contract negotiations with employers, the ability for labor leaders to lobby for the immediate needs of workers diminished. As the uprisings that took place in the 1960s and those revolutionary groups that were emerged from them, such as the Black Panther Party, were no longer supported, an anti-racist political agenda tied to anti-capitalism also melted away from the mainstream.
To push policymakers toward adopting short-term reforms that aren’t merely symbolic, such as defunding the police and providing resources that Black and Brown and working-class communities actually need, such as universal healthcare and jobs that pay a living wage, we need for the protests to last.
We cannot let up. We cannot take our foot off the gas in this moment. We have to stay in the streets as long as possible for keep these issues at the forefront. And while these issues are at the forefront of national conversations, then we need to get to work at the local and state level to push the agenda of dismantling the carceral state.
As long as the rebellions continue and as long as they challenge the legitimacy of our existing economic and political institutions, policymakers (politicians or major businesses) will be more likely to adopt particular short-term demands, like defunding. As long as the rebellions persist, more people will continue to be exposed to the fascistic politics at the core of our institutions, such as the willingness of the police to be as brutal as they want to be, and become radicalized.
Most importantly, as long as the rebellions grow, people who have been historically oppressed will continue to feel emboldened to fight for what they want and need, whether against the police, against the right wing, or against institutions that have oppressed them.
“The protests are symbolic of a volcanic eruption and people are becoming angrier, more passionate, and more determined to force change instead of waiting for local leaders or some political savior to emerge in the Democratic party,” Love explained.
It’s simple. Either, we continue confronting the forces that have been leading us toward fascism, or we misinterpret the moment and fail to organize beyond elections.
Sudip Bhattacharya is in the PhD program in Political Science at Rutgers University, where he focuses on issues of racial and economic justice, and co-chair of the Central Jersey Democratic Socialists of America. He is also a writer and journalist, having written for local newspapers and media outlets in New Jersey, D.C. upstate New York and Pennsylvania.