Fascism: What it is and how to fight it

american-fascismBy MARTY GOODMAN

Below is the text of a speech that the author delivered at a Sept. 13 forum in New York City sponsored by Socialist Action.

What is fascism? Let’s consult an expert, Adolf Hitler. Hitler cut to the chase at a 1933 meeting of German industrialists when he told them: “Private enterprise cannot be maintained in a democracy.”

Actually, Adolf, capitalism is a dictatorship by definition, whether fascist or a so-called “democracy.” Under capitalism a grotesquely tiny minority runs society. Moreover, every capitalist, big or small, is a dictator. Disguising or obscuring these essential facts about capitalism is what passes for political discussion in the United States.

But capitalism does take on different political forms. Is fascism with us today? Let’s look at what’s happening. Since the beginning of the year 27 people have been killed in racist, Islamaphobic,  and transphobic attacks according to information compiled by Antifa International. In January alone, over 40 Jewish centers in the U.S. received bomb threats.

On Aug. 12, we saw protesters confront the racist beast head-on in Charlottesville. The right was having a unity rally and riding a wave of racism, anti-immigrant hate, Islamaphobia, and transphobia stoked by Mr. Trump and the alt-right. The KKK and Nazis murdered Heather Heyer and injured another 19, as cops looked on. Several of the victims identified themselves as socialists.

The reaction by the organized left and outraged individuals has been encouraging. On Aug. 16, some 3000 marched in Philadelphia; a coalition of 70 organizations led an Aug. 27 march of up to 7000 in Berkeley, Calif., against a “No to Marxism in America” rally, and the massive Aug. 19 march of 40,000 took place in Boston.

In New York City, hundreds, maybe thousands, marched on Trump Tower. Unfortunately, these rallies were less organized than others, perhaps deliberately so by Democratic Party forces. Except for the nurses, union contingents were not present. We must do better.

Oct. 2017 Glen NYC fascism
Glen Ford (co-editor of Black Agenda Report) speaks at Sept. 13 forum on fascism. Other speakers included Suzanne Ross (activist in International Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal) and Daniel Vila (chair, Manhattan Greens). Photo by Marty Goodman / Socialist Action.

Besides Trump’s ravings, anger over the fact that whites will eventually be a “minority” in the U.S. has added fuel to the growth of fascist forces. In addition, international capitalist competition tightens, stoking the racism and xenophobia that we’ve seen. Contributing factors include a refugee crisis from wars and climate change—outgrowths of imperialism.

The struggle against fascism is just beginning. As capitalism in crisis spawns the fascist beast, it also presents opportunities for a new generation of socialists to step and lead the struggle.

Are we living under fascism?

Is Trump a fascist? I don’t think so. We need to understand capitalism’s inherent capacity for brutality and depravity. Trump may be a demagogue, but plutocracy, war and racism are capitalism’s bloodthirsty history—without fascism.

I remember in 1968 telling my dad that President Lyndon B. Johnson was a fascist. B-52s were dropping massive ordinance and napalm on the non-white people of Vietnam, and by war’s end, more than all bombs dropped in World War II. Back home, Panthers were getting offed by pigs (didn’t use that word with dad!). Antiwar activists were getting their skulls bashed in.

Was I right? No. As bad as it’s gotten with war, segregation, McCarthyism, FBI Cointelpro spying, Watergate, the frame-up of Mumia, we can still vote, have unions, and have meetings like this. These are democratic rights, won through struggle—rights we must defend. Bottom line, this is a bourgeois democracy and a dictatorship of capital simultaneously.

Do capitalists prefer fascism to “democracy?” Not really. As Trotsky observed in the 1930s, “The big bourgeoisie likes fascism as little as a man with aching molars likes to have his teeth pulled.” Only in extreme crisis, like depression and threats of revolution, will most capitalists opt for fascism.

Those who, with good intentions, constantly shout “fascism!” should learn that the biggest profit maker of all time is, in fact, a stable capitalist bourgeois democracy—where everyone “accepts” oppression, goes to work every day, and signs up for war. Essential to this stability are unions, today’s junior partners in the Democratic Party, which are now down to 6% of the working class. Their wretched leadership poses no threat whatsoever to capitalist profits.

Given these conditions, the ruling class tells itself, “Why overthrow democracy, have a bloodbath, and risk rebellion when we’re doing so great?” If working people get mad we can always throw them the bone of the Democratic Party—Hillary, Bernie, or whoever. As the saying goes: “The Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements.”

Democrats like to pose as avenging angels. The Democratic Party saw to it that lynch-mob rule in the South lasted 100 years. Who are they to scream racism at Trump when Obama’s immigration policies resulted in more deportations than any other president? And, let’s not forget Obama’s wars, handed down from Bush, including the war on Palestinians. The Democrats want to divert the disgust at Trump’s racism, misogyny, etc. in order to stampede voters back into the voting booth and out of the streets.

Socialists say we need to break completely with the Democratic Party and stay in the streets! We need a fighting labor party that will lead working people, especially the doubly oppressed, into a genuine struggle against fascism and injustice.

What is fascism?

Thankfully, the fascist movement has not yet become a mass movement and is confined to marginal elements and psychopaths. Nevertheless, the internet is crawling with fascist websites like the “The Daily Stormer,” “The Daily Shoah” (Shoah is Yiddish for Holocaust) and “The Right Stuff,” which openly call for genocide against Blacks and Jews. One article in “The Right Stuff” was called “Genocide: The Inescapable Conclusion.”

Richard Spencer, a pseudo-intellectual leader who coined the term “alt-right” in 2010, established AlternativeRight.com. While Spencer was editor, he published an article called, “Is Black Genocide Right?” Spencer, who was present at the Charlottesville fascist rally, calls John Bannon, “alt-right lite.”

What exactly is fascism and how do we fight it? I just read a very good book titled “The Korean War.” Not only did the then Democratic President Harry Truman stoke the fires of McCarthyism and drop the first A bomb but he pursued a brutal racist war that set the stage ideologically and psychologically for Vietnam and Iraq. As a result, millions died. Was Truman an imperialist? Yes. Racist? Yes. Fascist? No. He was a capitalist politician.

So, how then, is fascism different from other forms of reaction? As Malik Miah put it in the International Socialist Review in 1975, “Fascists try to turn the anger of all those threatened with ruin by the capitalist crisis against the oppressed racial minorities and organized labor. [They] claim to be the representatives of the ‘little man’ against both the big capitalists and the communists, directing their fire at Blacks, Jews and ‘big labor.’”

Historically, fascism was a mass movement that used the ruined middle-class or petty bourgeois as a “battering ram,” as Trotsky put it, against the worker’s movement. It also attracted violent down and out types, those whom Marxists call the “lumpen proletariat.” Since the capitalists could not count on their military to attack workers, since most of the soldiers were working class, a special army of goons was created, financed by capital, to violently smash the worker’s movement.

How to counter fascism

Examples from history teach us how NOT to defeat fascism. In Germany, the powerful Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party, during Stalin’s “Third period,” refused to unite to fight Hitler. Reformism and sectarianism allowed Hitler to assume power without a shot being fired. Some 40 million died.

Also in the 1930s, the major parties of Spain’s working people, the Socialists and the smaller Communist Party, put their hopes in an alliance with so-called “democratic” capitalists in the fight against fascism, rather than pursuing a working-class fight against fascism and for socialism. Their liberal “democratic friends” turned tail to fascism. As brutal as the Nazis, the fascist “Falange” took over.

The first fascists took governmental power in 1922 in Italy. Led by Mussolini, roving fascist bands crushed strikes and beat and killed workers, especially Socialists and Communists. Workers’ headquarters were smashed. The socialists and Communists did not organize a mass armed defense, a deadly mistake.

Socialist Action advocates mass united fronts against fascism. Small groups, however sincere, cannot overcome the fascist threat, and they become easy targets of police repression.

Mass organizations, especially trade unions, which include oppressed groups directly threatened by fascists, are key. Mass organizations can adequately take up the task of defending the workers’ movement by using, as Malcolm said, any means necessary. I can imagine my 35,000 fellow transit workers dealing with the KKK!

Socialist Action does not call on the state to ban fascist demonstrations, knowing all too well from history that the real target of the capitalist state is to destroy the anti-capitalist left and ban its demonstrations.

We look forward to working with all working-class and anti-fascist organizations to build a united anti-fascist, anti-racist movement right here in New York City as conditions permit. Working with forces fighting police brutality would be a perfect fit.

But face the facts: Until the day that capitalism is overthrown by revolution, the threat of fascism will always be with us. That’s why being part of a revolutionary organization with decades of experience will help lead the struggle to victory. Please join us.

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