As a prefatory note to this essay, I should like to make clear that this is not targeted towards a particular individual but rather a mentality that is colloquially called whiteness. One of the nuances within the ideology of whiteness is its profound flexibility and adaptability. Whiteness is not limited to just the mindset of Klansmen or the alt-right. Many well-intended progressives and radicals in the North America are themselves deluded and hypnotized by the fantasia of whiteness. In this sense my essay is an address to a generalized white male progressive-leftist.
As certain as the honking elicited by throwing a firecracker amongst a gaggle of geese, the word ‘fascist’ is on everyone’s lips these days. My recent writing about nonviolence had some interesting responses and, while I don’t feel obliged to answer individual complaints, there is a matter worth talking about. Putting it plainly, what the hell do you know about fascism anyways, white boy?
Two bits of material by Alexander Cockburn from beyond the grave have been in my mind. The first is a June 2008 Future of Freedom keynote address to a bunch of Libertarians. The second is this passage from his final travel diary, A Colossal Wreck:
May 17 
Detroit—The “Gun Stock ’95” rally held at Freedom Hill, in Macomb County, on a gusty Saturday in mid-May had been advertised to me by local leftists as a potential mini-Nuremberg of a far-right crowd. I drove north from Detroit expecting to find grim-jawed Patriots toting awesome armament and mustered in their camos in defense of the Second Amendment… Back in Detroit leftist friends berated me for taking too friendly an attitude to the afternoon’s proceedings. I told them we should have had our booths and literature up at the event, assuming the organizers would have let us. What’s always missing from the populist-right analysis is who actually runs the world. They say “the Masons,” or the “the Jews,” or some other preferred candidate. But they always miss out on the corporations. Show them the Fortune 500 and they look blank. But these young workers should be getting decent radical analysis and some respectful attention. Tell someone he’s a Nazi long enough, and he may just become one, just for the hell of it and as a way of saying F— you to the powers-that-be.
The political theater made manifest in toxic white masculinity of this sort brings to mind Marx’s description of religion as “the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality.” Because there is effectively no political Left in America equivalent to the old Communist Party or SDS, forces which trained effective organizers, those opposed to and alarmed by the postmodern alt-right engage in a re-enactment of old organizational norms rather than forging a new praxis that can be derived from a uniquely American tradition of resistance.
In an ironic way, this sort of thing is a strange inversion of liberal identity politics run amok. Liberal identity politics, while magnifying and articulating the pain of an oppressed demographic, does not promote a praxis of organization, it is an ideology of demobilization and opposition to class solidarity. These political theater performances fit that definition clearly because they fail to offer a vision of the other world they see as possible. While they seem to be equivalent to the spontaneity of the working class held in high esteem by Rosa Luxemburg or CLR James, in fact these exhibitions are much closer to the sanctified Event in the philosophy of Georges Sorel, whose attempt to fuse French syndicalism and Marxism led him to offering platitudes for both Lenin and Mussolini as a proto-fascist.
So let’s just reiterate what needs to be understood about a definition of the F-word.
First, the Left has an awful history with this. The most popular definitions of fascism are the ones offered in books by the Communists Georgi Dimitrov, R. Palme Dutt, and Palmiro Togliatti. Back when he was a member of the Sojourner Truth Organization, Noel Ignatiev wrote a wickedly funny pamphlet about this business:
The Dutt, Togliatti and Dimitrov books represent, in a certain sense, an official blueprint of failure. Yet, a generation later, they are rediscovered and, what is more, enjoy a certain vogue. It is as if a doctor were to gain increased popularity owing to the fact that every one of his patients is known to have died directly following his treatment, or at the very least wound up as a quadriplegic!
Just to be absolutely clear, the political strategy that was proscribed by these three volumes was not just slightly mistaken about fascism. They were absolutely and totally responsible for the ascent to power of the Nazi Party and the Second World War, full stop. These three eggheads of the vanguard created through a bizarre and absurd set of policy moves within the German Communist Party a red carpet from Hitler’s bedroom doorway to the Chancellor’s office. Or, going back to our correspondent Ignatiev:
The Dimitrov book, and the Seventh [Comintern] Congress generally, are associated with the notion of the “Popular Front,” which was originally set out as a new “tactical orientation” but which very quickly became the keystone of CP strategy… I cannot resist pointing out, however, that the Dimitrov book was published only one year before the Nazi-Soviet pact, when the line changed from the united front against fascism to — the united front with fascism. That odd timing has not seemed to hurt the book’s popularity. [Emphasis added]
The entire Communist apparatus by the late 1930’s, epitomized in the cannibalism of the Moscow Show Trials and attendant purges, induced a retreat from Marxism into a didactic and mechanistic view of reality where fascism equals finance capital in politics. It’s pretty easy to wrap your head around, really. If fascism is finance capital and the Social Democratic unions and parties have provided to their membership and societies a social contract/peace treaty of sorts between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, well, that means that the Social Democrats are collaborating with fascism! While I can certainly acknowledge that there might have been some validity in theory to the idea that the ‘Two-and-a-Half International’, the Social Democratic opponent to the Comintern, was far too soft on colonialism, making their member parties ‘social chauvinist’, the simple truth is that theoretical claim is totally nullified by moments of outright collaboration between the Nazis and Communists against the Social Democrats.
Over to you, Noel:
It was the so-called third period (1928-34) that contributed the immortal concept “social fascism” as the summary of the true nature of social democracy. The theoretical basis for this idiocy was most clearly articulated by Stalin when he declared that “Social-Democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism… They are not antipodes, they are twins.” (Works, vol. 6, page 294) This was regarded as somehow more “revolutionary” than the reasonable observation that fascism takes advantage of the reformist illusions fostered by the social democrats. Stalin’s formula was endlessly repeated and elaborated, for example by Comintern chief Manuilsky, who declared, “All too obvious mistakes are being made among us: it is said that bourgeois democracy and fascism, social democracy and Hitler’s party, are antagonistic.” (Report to Eleventh Plenum, 1931) Actually, the line went beyond equating social democracy and fascism: the German CP was insisting up to 1932 that “our political line… is to deal the main blow to the SPD (Social-Democrats).” One fruit of this was the formation of a de facto bloc with the Nazis, as in the “Red Referendum” of 1931. [Emphasis added]
Obviously there’s also a bit to do with some chap named Bronstein in the middle of all this but I’ll get back to him in a minute.
Anyway, there are whole packs of Lefties I actually respect who consider Dimitrov’s book as useful for something more than a toilet paper roll these days. Quite seriously, after the election, one could visit the new web store of International Publishers, the CPUSA bookseller, and they were pushing Dimitrov’s book on war and fascism as if it were not something to be embarrassed about! Are the Chinese and Cubans also thinking like this?! Is this why the North Korean DPRK News Service can seem a bit daffy sometimes?
I personally have to admit that I agree with Dr. Tony Monteiro, who told me in an interview recently that fascists in the US don’t run for office, instead they have been in power, embedded within the state apparatuses, as a force that was formulated and assembled to dismantle the gains of made in the 1960s and ’70s by the various movements of the people. Glen Ford puts it more succinctly when he says “Fascists don’t wear brown shirts in the US, they wear blue. They are cops.” You can’t have it both ways in that sort of logic, either the fascists are already in power or they are not. Certainly we should recognize our political dilemma includes the fact we have at hand a heterogenous phenomenon, where in some instances but not others the label of fascism might be seen as applicable. But we also need to see where this logic leads one.
It is important to understand the meta-narrative that is at play here within the pseudo-alternative left media since the election. The claim that the march of fascism is nigh and that the Dimitrov definition of the word carries relevancy now has a definitive and clear set of strategy proscriptions for American politics, namely creating a Popular Front with the Democratic Party in 2018 and 2020. Yet such politics would undeniably foment a further slide to the right in both political parties. We would see a repetition of the 2003-04 Kerry campaign. And even if Trump, unlike George W. Bush, were defeated in either the midterms or the next presidential election, that would not stop the Democratic Party’s implementation of neoliberal policies and further austerity. And austerity, from Weimar Germany unto today, has always been the force throughout history underwriting reactionary currents in a society.
It is precisely because Trump is such a loudmouthed blowhard egomaniac that we have to see him as a force that is in fact holding at bay the growth of a genuine fascist political movement under the tutelage of David Duke and his ilk. Trump is an emergency brake that has been deployed which has brought the American neoliberal state capitalist machine to a grinding halt because he does not know how to shut up and let the machine do its job. The forces of fascism that are loosed in the land which can be labelled correctly with the F-word are those which are completely autonomous and independent of the presidency.
In several books released by Verso to honor the centennial of the Bolshevik revolution, the most recent being Lenin 2017 by Slavoj Zizek, a special emphasis is placed on an article by Ilyitch titled On Climbing a High Mountain. In this April 1924 writing, he talks about a man who is unable to reach the summit and so must turn back, defeated but ready to try another route for the summit later. It is a Lenin who is like Samuel Beckett, saying one must try and fail repeatedly, only if possible try to fail better later. Lenin is writing with a mindset that is equivalent in many ways to what Trump presents the Left. There is no good solution, only the hope that we will get the best bad outcome, which in practical terms is hopefully three more years of complete socio-political gridlock unseen since the American Civil War.
And so I would argue the following:
Donald Trump is not a fascist, he is a petit bourgeois scumbag landlord from New York. He embodies everything I ever hated about that city and I say this as the grandson and nephew of three lawyers who practice(d) in several boroughs.
Many members of his base are pretty obviously white nationalist, particularly in the case of a degenerate like David Duke.
Where that base overlaps with the employees of a municipal, state, or federal law enforcement agencies is where you do see genuine fascists. But if the individual neo-Nazi is not a cop of some sort, they are not in a position of state power and so instead we need to differentiate the two. However, special note needs to be taken of a phenomenon reported on by Arun Gupta in June 2017 for The Intercept in a story headlined ‘Playing Cops: Militia Member Aids Police in Arresting Protester at Portland Alt-right Rally‘. Such a convergence and collaboration between the alt-right and police is indicative of a potential further development within the landscape of a fascist current unseen since the hindrance of the Solid Southern Democratic Party machines that oversaw a reign of terror against African Americans.
Mike Cernovich, Richard Spencer, and the rest of the alt-right are a strange matter. Many are self-promoting narcissistic creeps who probably could do well with a swift kick in the ass to wipe those smug grins off their faces. But their modus operandi is more political street theater than realpolitik, a demented and sick spoof of a Situationist routine. Alex Jones is a rodeo clown.
Steve Bannon is a demon from the pits of hell itself. Earlier this year, I was helping a professor emeritus at my alma mater update the illustrations in a textbook about racism and she concurred with my scientific analysis. His Breitbart website is pure filth, loaded with every type of chauvinism imaginable and even a few you did not think were possible. However, his ‘economic nationalism’ mindset is most clearly social democratic corporatist rather than neoliberal, hence the reason he got the boot. In this sense, he is an old school twentieth century fascist of the Dixiecrat variety as opposed to a neoliberal one, meaning he is barred from state power the same way Bernie Sanders was. Bannon’s recent interview on 60 Minutes, which I found fascinating, made very clear the economic dynamics of his thinking.
Jeff Sessions, however, is actually a fascist. Why? I would argue a useful definition for this era should be instead borrowed from the intersectional definition of oppression, which is privilege plus power. The American state apparatuses are the power and the other element in play is ideology. Sessions qualifies as a fascist because he is a neo-Confederate and he has the position of power to implement tremendous harm to people of color.
Let’s be clear furthermore about the fact that settler-colonialism, which is the status quo of American society every day, is actually more violent than fascism ever was. The Nazi lebensraum concept that led to the German expansion eastward was open about taking inspiration from the Monroe Doctrine, just as Hitler was adamant that the Nuremberg race laws were modeled on Jim Crow and the American eugenics movement. Aimé Césaire says in Discourse on Colonialism “before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples.” That sort of disconnect with white lefties is a major issue. What some (certainly not all, but some) fear is not that a new fascism will come into existence as much as that this forced of unrestrained chauvinism will start doing to whites what has been done to people of color for centuries.
Taking things one step further, it merits pointing out the distinction whereupon American settler-colonialism and Nazi fascism diverge. This is at the location of enslaved labor and reproduction. The Nazi holocaust was a well-oiled death machine that relied upon expansion of the occupation and deportation of more European minority groups to Auschwitz to refresh the slave labor pool. By contrast, a major engine that promoted the proliferation of American plantations and chattel slavery was the forced utility of an African woman’s body for procreation of the next generation of human beings held captive by the chattel slave system. Note, however, that prior to the importation of Africans, the settler-colonists attempted to hold in such bondage the American Indian. Only when the Indian population was significantly depleted by a combination of factors did the Europeans turn towards Africa for their next source of expropriation. Without resorting to a certain imposition of Stalinist stages theory upon the most ghastly of crimes in human history, one is forced to the query if such might had been borne out again in Europe had a Nazi victory been successful. Thankfully such a counterfactual is only tangible within the morbid fantasies of the alt-right, a certain sub-genre of alternative history novels pioneered by Philip K. Dick, and an Amazon television adaptation of that particular volume in question.
Leon Trotsky made some stupendous mistakes in his life. The counterfactual of what might have been had he rather than Stalin taken power in the USSR is a foolish delusion. Isaac Deutscher once described his Fourth International as “stillborn.” He did himself no favors by waltzing around meetings quoting Flaubert and carrying on with a kind of elitism that alienated him from quite a few comrades.
Yet he understood that the Comintern and Stalin’s views on fascism elucidated by Dimitrov were both pathetic and dangerous, describing the proscriptions derived from social fascism as “longwinded and diffuse.” In another article he said “The famous Dimitrov is as ignorant and commonplace as a shopkeeper over a mug of beer.” In a pamphlet titled Whither France? he devoted a section of discussion to the matter we face today with a ‘resistance’ against Trump and AntiFa, though at the time they used different verbiage.
The last Congress of the Communist International in its resolution on the Dimitrov report expressed itself in favour of elected Committees of Action as the mass support for the People’s Front. This is perhaps the only progressive idea in the entire resolution. But precisely for this reason the Stalinists do nothing to realize it. They dare not do so for fear of breaking off collaboration with the bourgeoisie.
Paging resistance leader Nancy Pelosi?
This is a phenomenon I have observed regularly. The Providence-based group Resist Hate is one which spontaneously was formed in the aftermath of the election. However, key figureheads from the Progressive caucus of the Rhode Island Democratic Party inserted themselves rather quickly into key leadership positions, channeling the energy into a Democratic pep rally intended to preserve middle class creature comforts which have been created in our American social contract through “collaboration with the bourgeoisie.” At the height of activity, the Democrats running the show were able just barely to maintain control of the crowd, reminding me of a dog walker being pulled down the street by charges which are about to break free from his hold.
Such tasks as the creation of workers’ militia, the arming of the workers, the preparation of a general strike, will remain on paper if the struggling masses themselves, through their authoritative organs, do not occupy themselves with these tasks. Only Committees of Action born in the struggle can assure a real militia numbering fighters not by the thousand but the tens of thousands. Only Committees of Action embracing the most important centres of the country will be able to choose the moment for transition to more decisive methods of struggle, the leadership of which will be rightly theirs.
And so in America, what are the “more decisive methods of struggle” to be embraced? The problem with groups like AntiFa is their blatant Eurocentricity, a yearning for political struggle within a relatively heterogeneous ethnic demography. Indeed, simultaneous with the alleged glory days of AntiFa in Europe, Americans were behaving awfully to Asians in the Pacific theater. In North America, the struggle should be referred back to the only true emancipatory liberation thought, the Black radical tradition. Those who try to differentiate between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X by crassly utilizing quotes in an opportunistic fashion fail to grasp this tradition in a holistic fashion. This is the tradition that has fought fascism and its antecedents for half a millennium.