One of the things that 2017 will be remembered for being the year the US fascist movement entered mainstream conversation. This occurred in large part because of the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president of the US. It was his embrace of certain elements of this movement that granted it its undeserved legitimacy. In addition, his espousal of certain positions held by most US fascists regarding white supremacy and immigration made those positions legitimate in the minds of too many US residents. Because of Trump’s fascist leanings, those opposed to fascism have found it necessary to mount a struggle against the movement’s resurgence.
The quick rise of the current anti-fascist movement has created some very intense political debate, both inside and outside the movement. It has also helped push the fascist movement into a defensive mode, limiting the fascists’ ability to spread their message of hate. At the same time the fascist movement has adopted some of the left’s language in an attempt to siphon disenfranchised and angry people into fascist groups. This manipulation of leftist rhetoric is not unusual in right wing populism. Furthermore, it is quite typical of fascist movements.
A recently published book, Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It, includes one of the better descriptions of how fascist movements take the language and organizing points of the left and use them to serve the fascist right. The book’s author, Shane Burley, calls this aspect of fascism the colonization of the left. During his exploration of this he describes how fascist manipulation of leftist revolutionary rhetoric directs the anger of the working class to serve monopoly capital.
According to Burley, the key difference between the revolutionary left’s understanding of working class oppression and the fascist right’s is in each philosophy’s understanding of inequality and nationalism. Fascism manipulates nationalist feelings to create a feeling among the population that certain members are true members of a nation while others are not. Therefore, it is only the true members of the nation who deserve the benefits of that nation. In the United States this has traditionally meant that people with white-skin are real “Americans,” while Blacks, indigenous peoples, and non-European immigrants are not. Of course, this perception is not limited only to fascist thought. Indeed, it is crucial to much of the US’s understanding of itself. However, fascists make this their foundation; the concept that informs every other thing they say and even do.
Burley’s premise is that fascism is very present in today’s world. It is a movement that he calls neo-fascism and describes as being composed of numerous “fascist projects without state power.” These projects run the gamut from inflammatory speakers like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos to more subtle preachers of racism and inequality such as Charles Murray. They include organizations from the so-called Patriot movement and organizations like the Oathkeepers. Other fascist projects include those with a history in the United States like the Ku Klux Klan and various Nazi organizations. Then there are the so-called alt-Right groups which include numerous groups and individuals, including the aforementioned Spencer. While Burley discusses all of these organizations, their linkages and their differences, he also introduces the reader to a number of cultural elements in the neo-fascist movement that many folks would not be familiar with. Burley begins this discussion by pointing out, that much of modern neo-nazism can be traced to the punk subculture of the late 1970s and 1980s in the US and Britain. Likewise, a fair amount of the current antifascist movement can be traced back to punks who fought nazi skinheads and their music during that time. Fascism Today updates the reader on neo-fascism’s current cultural assault in the alternative music world. It also discusses the movement to prevent fascist music from getting bookings, whether those bookings are in clubs or at festivals.
In what this reviewer considers the most important section of this book, Burley examines what is known as the third way. In this section Burley discusses anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist trends in the neo fascist movement. Besides commenting on how these ideas can be manipulated and misused by fascists to gain entry into traditionally leftist discussions and spaces, this discussion is important and useful in that it names the individuals and groups currently attempting to reconcile these philosophies with fascism even though fascism is a philosophy that has historically proven to be both imperialist and hyper monopoly capitalist. Complementary to this discussion are the contradictions within the right over issues of war and environment. Burley takes these on while also noting that the left has its own confusion around these zones of contention, even publishing proto-fascist and other right wing writers in left journals and websites. One example Burley provides to illustrate the latter has to do with Counterpunch occasionally publishing articles by right wing writers and writers who ignore fascist elements in movements they support.
In the year 2018, a neo-fascist movement exists without state power. In the United States, the rise of Trump and trumpism has given that movement a means to, at the least, get closer to state power. One can see this in the numerous attempts by the ultra-reactionary forces represented by Trump to limit immigration, restrict the freedoms of women, and encourage greater brutality and repression by law enforcement. One can also see it in the cozy relationships between the Trump administration and certain alt-right figures like Steven Bannon and the publications those figures own and work for. At the same time, those opposed to fascism are better organized than at any time since the late 1970s and 1980s. As noted before, this has helped put the fascists in a more defensive mode. However, they are not defeated. Shane Burley’s Fascism Today : What It is and How to End It is an intelligent and detailed look at the current fascist movement and its opposition in the US. Anyone involved in opposing fascism (or considering getting involved) would do well to read and share it.