The announcement that Bob Avakian, chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, is urging party members and supporters to vote for Joe Biden in the upcoming election is surprising, even shocking to those familiar with the group. But maybe not so difficult to understand.
Since its founding in 1975 the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA has—appropriately, in my view—denounced bourgeois elections as a farce. Its longtime chairman Bob Avakian has emphasized the similarity between the two (ruling capitalist) parties in this country, and the role of elections in legitimating capitalist rule. The party has taught that time spent in electoral politicking is wasted, and better spent building towards revolution. Which is also true, actually, in my opinion.
When Trump was unexpectedly elected in 2016, the RCP had him pegged from the outset as a “fascist.” This regime, they announced immediately, is different from those before it. Immediately after the election, the generated ed a group—Refuse Fascism—to oppose the Trump-Pence administration. (My daughter in LA sent me a photo of herself with one of those posters at a demo.)
Prominent party activist Sunsara Taylor explained in 2017: “Trump has openly promoted white supremacy, encouraged police brutality and brought back mandatory sentencing. He has demonized and unleashed terror against immigrants and torn thousands from their families. His Muslim ban is largely in effect. Trump has threatened the courts and the press. The Trump/Pence regime has muzzled scientists, accelerated the destruction of the environment and threatened the world with nuclear annihilation. Pence opposes abortion in all circumstances and would completely deny the rights of LGBTQ people.”
(I can’t resist the temptation to here note that between 1975 and 2000 the RCP itself not only denounced homosexuality as a type of bourgeois degeneracy alongside prostitution and drug addiction but harassed Brigade members about their sexuality. Then–almost overnight— the RCP went from an extremely homophobic line to one furiously denouncing infringements on LGBTQ rights as “fascist.” The change wasn’t marked by real analysis or self-criticism, just a wordy and pretentious treatise explaining that the party had been under the influence of backward ideology, tailing behind the working class with its biases. Plus it needed to challenge the idea that gay sexualities are the solution to patriarchy—not that anybody had ever seriously argued such. The party’s “self-criticism” itself was a total embarrassment and the RCP has yet to live down its homophobic past.)
But how all the stuff referenced above by Sunsara constituted “fascism” (any more than—say—the policies of the Bush/Cheney administration) wasn’t obvious to me at the time. It appeared clear that Trump was an unusually unpleasant personality; he did seem to be a malignant narcissist. But fascist? I would have to see his actions in power.
(Full disclosure: In 2007 Taylor requested from me a testimonial as she was emerging as the RCP’s main figure appearing in the mainstream media. I wrote for her general promotional use: “Sunsara Taylor is simply the perfect voice for the genuine antiwar movement in this country, the movement that distinguishes criminal aggression from mere ‘mistakes,’ deliberate lies and disinformation from ‘intelligence flaws,’ imperialism as a system from imperialism as mere policy…She is a powerful weapon of the movement to end the war, to thwart the moves towards an assault on Iran, and to drive out the Bush regime.” I believed that at the time, and admired her appearances on Bill Reilly’s show on Fox News. I have always supported the RCP in its anti-imperialism.)
After the 2016 election, it seemed to me that (once again) the RCP that postures as a party of “scientists” applying “the science of Marxism” was positing a dubious thesis expecting its followers to accept it as scientific truth. The fact that the RCP was raising the specter of fascism at precisely the same time that the former secretary of state Madeleine Albright (arguably a fascist herself) was doing so (imputing fascism to Trump) should tell you something. Opposition to fascism takes many forms,, including Marxism and liberal-democratic capitalism. “Antifa”—whatever else it is—is a vaguely defined movement.
What is fascism? I teach Japanese history. Every year I teach about the 1930s in Japan and discuss the questions: was there a fascist mass movement in Japan? Did the state itself ever become fascist? While the German and Italian cases aren’t problematic, there are scholarly debates about the issue of Japanese fascism. Fascisms generally seek to merge corporate and state power, suppress democracy, promote racist ideologies, and MAKE WAR. Some say fascism requires a mass-based party, and a charismatic ruler. Through class discussion we note what aspects of European fascism pertained or didn’t in Japan; it requires some intellectual exertion. This is what’s missing in the RCP.
So the RCP declared Trump a fascist in 2016. Since then, Trump has had four chiefs-of-staff (one acting), one of whom, John Kelly, famously called him “unhinged” and an “idiot.” He has had four secretaries of state (two acting), of whom Rex Tillerson called him “a fucking moron.” He has had six national security advisors (two acting), of whom Jim Mattis likened him to a “fifth or sixth-grader.” The man has shown himself incapable of managing the White House, much less imposing martial law or a New Order.
Trump has the Republican Party firmly behind him, and legions of potential supporters among the neo-nazis and Klansmen. But they do not constitute a disciplined fascist party like Mussolini’s National Fascists or Hitler’s National Socialists. No Reichstag fire or Kristallnacht looms. Trump during his three and a half years in office has pursued racist and inhuman policies towards immigrants, excluded U.S. entry to certain Muslims, appointed far-right judges to the Supreme Court. Through his tweets he daily exudes misogyny, racism and ignorance.
But what about war? Trump (not necessarily knowing what words mean) proclaims himself the “most militaristic” president ever. But this has been all words, no action.
During his first term in office Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada. George H. W. Bush invaded Panama, then launched a war on Iraq. Bill Clinton in his first term bombed Bosnia, later bombing Serbia to create the state of Kosovo. George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, on the basis of lies. Barack Obama led NATO in destroying Libya. (One should always recall that it was the first part-African American president who led the way to destroy the African continent’s most prosperous and independent country. Yes it’s ironic that the supposedly anti-war Nobel Peace Prize winner would—on the appeal of Hillary Clinton—okay the slaughter of Libyans and the destruction of their independent state because Gadhafy didn’t sufficiently kiss ass after giving up his WMDs and indicating to the rest of the world especially the North Koreans that they must never repeat that stupid error.)
Donald Trump in contrast has invaded no country. If this is a fascist credential, he lacks it. He dropped a MOAB bomb on Afghanistan (April 2017) to prove what a man he is, klling reputed ISIL militants. But he is withdrawing from Afghanistan—to the alarm of the Democrats!
He blasted a Syrian air force base (supposedly to punish Syria for use of chemical weapons) but has withdrawn most troops illegally sent by Obama into Syria—again, to the fury of the Democrats who demand continuation of support for “our allies, the Kurds”!
He is withdrawing 12,000 troops from Germany, where the people are happy to tell them Auf Wiedersehen, and the Democrats wail that he is giving another gift to Vladimir Putin!
He is perhaps about to announce the withdrawal of troops from South Korea—and if he does so maliciously, complaining that Seoul doesn’t pay enough for their presence, it would still be a positive thing for the world. These are not fascist moves. Not at all.
Over 275 DNC delegates have written to Biden (8/5) calling his foreign policy team “a horror show” with a record of backing “disastrous” military operations. High on Biden’s VP list is Susan Rice, Obama’s UN ambassador who finessed the UNSC resolution 1973 authorizing the humanitarian intervention in Libya that quickly turned into a vicious regime-change effort. (China and Russia had been persuaded to abstain from the vote but when they realized the US/NATO effort was to destroy the modern Libyan state they regretted their abstentions.)
During the Arab Spring, when youth throughout the Arab world sought democratic reforms, toppling dictators, Obama’s secretary of state Hillary Clinton saw opportunity for U.S.-induced regime change. Hence the U.S. covert and overt activities in Syria, and the destruction of Libya.
Following the criminal regime-change war, as Libya descended into complete chaos (such as continues, producing infinite misery for the people of what was in 2011 North Africa’s most prosperous country) some U.S. diplomatic personnel in Benghazi were killed by local people in 2012. (Such things happen when you invade and occupy countries.)
This minor footnote to the tale of Libya’s ruin became a Hillary headache, as she first (through Susan Rice) attributed the deaths to local outrage at an anti-Muslim Youtube video, and then had to admit that the issue was not a video but the invasion itself. It was a matter of acknowledging that the invasion had NOT been popular, and that U.S. diplomats in an invaded, occupied country were in fact vulnerable to mass rage. (Recall how Republicans were outraged by Hillary’s alleged cover-up but not about the U.S./NATO bombing and the murder of Moammar Gadhafy.)
Susan Rice has never to my knowledge expressed regret for her role in the destruction of Libya. She will surely if the presidential pick face questions about Benghazi (why didn’t you do more to protect our diplomats?) but not about the war itself. Rice has condemned the U.S. pullout of troops from northern Syria, condemning Trump for “betraying the Kurds.” One surmises this is Biden’s opinion.
Another woman on Biden’s VP list is Tammy Duckworth, a half-Thai American military veteran who lost both legs in the Iraq War in November 2004. (TV rules ensure that she is thanked for her service at every interview.) What was she doing when she lost her legs? She was co-piloting a Black Hawk helicopter and trying to kill Iraqi people (“insurgents”) in their invaded country. Trying to make the people submit to occupation, in a war based entirely on lies, resulting in half a million deaths. And suddenly in those commanding heights, a rocket-propelled grenade hit her six- million dollar whirlybird. Fancy that! The heroism of bombing with glee, exulting in your impunity, and then suddenly taking fire! How unfair, for people to be so unappreciative of your bombers that they try to blow them out of the sky and do you harm. Enough on war hero Tammy.
Neither party has ever come to grips with the magnitude of U.S. war crimes in this century. They can’t, given the national culture of military adulation. The corporate media avoids reportage on the ongoing suffering caused by the U.S. wars on and interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan. It cannot present a coherent anti-imperialist critique because it is beholden on the military-industrial complex for advertising support; to ask MSNBC to report about capitalism and imperialism objectively is like asking the Vatican to report about Catholicism objectively. The RCP of course knows this.
Yet, giving no attention to the issue of war, not acknowledging its absence in this period, the RCP says Trump is a fascist, thus must be voted out (by all non-fascists) by all means. Oh! And let’s not talk—as the RCP has not—about the Cold War-style Russia-baiting that has characterized the Democrats’ main attack on Trump all along! The Nancy Pelosis of this world are not energized by anti-fascism but some form of rehashed “anticommunism” as they rage at Trump for delaying the delivery of arms to Ukraine to help it resist the Soviet invasion. (Sorry, I mean Russian invasion.) Or actually, ethnic Russians who have always lived in Ukraine but oppose the current regime (which as you know includes neo-fascists).
And then the RCP thinks that Biden, leading a (presumably non-fascist) administration, will be sufficiently malleable by the mass movement that we will somehow progress towards greater justice and equality.
Really? Let us think beyond this country and about the world. Who is more likely, Trump or Biden, to accelerate military intervention in Syria? To push for Ukraine’s admission into NATO? Who is more likely to accept a multilateral world, avoiding war with Russia or China?
I am not advocating a vote for Trump of course. I am questioning participation in the electoral farce in general (as the RCP has done consistently until now), and support for Biden on the specific ground that he is somehow less “fascist” than Trump. The RCP’s analysis as usual is wooden, dogmatic. Whereas it once disparaged the idea that “fascism” was a form of capitalism requiring united fronts of democratic opponents, it now identifies “fascism” as the reason for mobilizing the people to back Biden.
Something happened, you see, in 2016: a FASCIST came to power. And now, says the RCP, if he gets a second term, it will be worse. So we must—after all, after all these years—vote for the lesser evil! Are you convinced yet?
Fox News is having a field day with this of course. They want to embarrass Biden, reinforcing the perception that he’s being controlled by the Democratic Party’s progressive (“radical”) wing. The big picture is that the U.S.’s only enduring (self-defined) Marxist-Leninist-Maoist party has morphed into a reformist antifascist party without ever really grasping what fascism is.
Who first even identified and defined fascism as a new stage of capitalism, requiring united fronts to contain? Marxist thinkers! In 1935 the Communist International called fascism “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” The Soviet Union was prepared to act with France and Britain to check Hitler in Czechoslovakia but the European governments did not see Nazism as an existential threat to themselves. The Soviet people waged a heroic Anti-Fascist War, smashing the Nazi Wehrmacht while the U.S. hesitated to launch an invasion of Europe.
The communist movement internationally saw fascism as a particular evil and led in the struggle against it, while the British and U.S. dithered about its emergence after World war I. The Soviets had an analysis of what fascism was, as a new evil, while Joseph Kennedy (U.S. ambassador to U.K.) among many other western admirers touted the achievements of Herr Hitler (our barrier against communism) and Mussolini who got the trains back running on time.
Antifascism is a precious legacy of the historical Marxist-Leninist movement. It made sense for the RCP in 2016 to found Refuse Fascism (as it had founded “Not In Our Name” and “World Can’t Wait” mass organizations earlier), striving to unite anti-Trump sentiment around the anti-fascist theme. (Refuse Fascism explicitly calls itself an “Antifa” organization denying any affiliations.) But if you’re merely using “fascist” as a pejorative, without analysis, and urging people to actively vote for a known warmonger surrounded by known warmongers against someone whom—whatever their mental, moral and political qualities—is for whatever reasons NOT a warmonger, you may be misleading the masses. This is worse than your normal “lesser evil” bourgeois politics. It’s a statement of indifference to the historical record (in which Biden cheer-led the Iraq War). It’s also a statement of unconcern for the world awaiting the next administration’s first attack.
Benvolio’s oath remains valid: “A plague on both your houses!” Whoever is elected must be resisted. But to choose which to resist…preferring one of these thugs to the other…no. You have to draw the line somewhere. I draw the line between myself and the Wall Street capitalist-imperialist parties. I am invited to an election, as I might be to a home party; I decline because there’s nothing there for me. No reason in my adult life to vote for Ford over Carter, Reagan over Mondale, Bush over Dukakis, Bush over Clinton, McCain over Obama, Romney over Obama, Trump over Clinton. And now, probably: Trump versus Biden.
Why should you or me be expected to CHOOSE between these offered vermin? The RCP reasons that somehow in 2016 we entered a new era in which BA’s “new synthesis of communism” was threatened by Trump’s fascism, such that an even newer new synthesis (embracing bourgeois democracy) was needed. And now—even though we’re not quite yet under fascism yet in this country—we need to PREVENT it by voting for Biden with the Chairman.
I think it most likely that Biden will win, although as his recent comments about Latinos and African-Americans remind us, he doesn’t think well on his feet. He’s abrasive, thin-skinned, famously gaffe-prone. Most of all his record his hard to justify. The 1994 Crime Bill Biden he co-authored was the culmination of many efforts. “The truth is,” Biden had declared on the Senate floor in 1993, “every major crime bill since 1976 that’s come out of this Congress, every minor crime bill, has had the name of the Democratic senator from the State of Delaware: Joe Biden.” The Rev. Jesse Jackson declared that the 1994 law portended “the most fascist period of our history.”
Question for discussion: What law has Trump signed more fascist than the 1994 Crime Law? And what is the relationship between institutionalized racist police murder, fascism, and the police unions that Biden has doted on throughout his career? The Wall Street Journal reports “Joe Biden spent years cultivating close relationships with police unions” in the 1980s and 90s while he was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, backing moves to protect cops from prosecution. His emphatic rejection of “police defunding” reflects this longstanding connection.
Is this really a clear-cut conflict between fascism and democracy? Or is reality more complicated than that?