After the election when it seemed clear that Biden/Harris had won, a friend, and a long time anti-fascist activist said, “looks like we dodged a bullet”. I agreed. But the events of January 6 proved us to be, despite our longstanding denunciation of Trump as a fascist, and someone working to build up a fascist social base, quite naive. We dodged a bullet only to be confronted by a fusillade.
Whatever else might be said of Trump’s presidency, it succeeded in coalescing a robust, militant, armed, swaggering fascist movement.
Hitler led a coup attempt in Munich 1923 that failed when conservatives in the Munich government refused to follow through with promises of support, and so enough police were available to stop it. Hitler was arrested, tried and jailed. But the Nazi movement survived. When conditions ripened after the crash of 1929, the Nazi Party grew from its core of committed followers and by 1933 it was positioned to take power.
The fascists in DC with their confederate flags, their crosses and nooses, their pepper spray, pipe bombs and other weapons seemed at first not to be a well-coordinated group with a clear plan. Evidence is emerging to show otherwise. Clearly, they could have wreaked a great deal more havoc and perhaps even succeeded in creating conditions for the imposition of marshal law. They had support and sympathy and assistance from police forces; other armed state institutions; Republican congressmen who gave tours of the Capitol building on January 5 to would-be marchers. With greater preparation and coordination, or even a bit more “luck,” the rioters could have taken hostages and held the capitol building while their associates in other cities stormed state capitols. A fascist grouping massed in Sacramento, for example, and listened to Trump instruct them from DC. Fascists also stationed themselves in many other state capitols, and more undoubtedly would have been called out in other places.
Surely some of them are, at this moment, summing up their failed coup and discussing what to do differently next time. Thinking ahead to other possible scenarios.
At a recent press conference sponsored by the group Refuse Fascism, Reverend William Lamar of the Metropolitan AME Church in Washington DC spoke of how his church was attacked at a rally in December by Trump supporters who pulled down and then burned a BLM banner. He described how in the morning of that protest, while one rally member, an older woman in a wheelchair, was moving past one of the church security people, she looked up at him and said, “We’re here because we hate n_______”.
She and others in U.S. society’s cesspool of bigotry, with its blatant and now even more belligerent white supremacy, contains all the necessary nutrients for a fascist movement.
Germans in the aftermath World War II came to the conclusion that if they were to consolidate and maintain a stable political order, they would have to come clean about their past transgressions. Think of what would have come to pass if they hadn’t? Imagine traveling to a Germany where statues to Himmler, Goering and Hitler were installed in public parks and outside government buildings, and where Germans rode around in cars with swastika flags flapping? Imagine how stable that society would be?
Yet the equivalent exists here of this country. Displaying a swastika is a criminal offence in Germany. So is erecting monuments to Nazis. Holocaust denial and seig heiling carry criminal sanctions. Instead of monuments to dead fascists, Germany promotes remembrance of the communities brutalized and murdered by the Nazis. Young Germans are educated about the history and horrors of fascism. Visits by German school children to former concentration camps is obligatory.
The names of some of my own relatives are written on monuments and plaques in German cities and towns. Historians have written books memorializing Jewish communities in different parts of Germany, in many small towns and in large cities. I learned recently of a woman named Gretal Bergmann, a Jewish girl from southern German town of Laupheim, where my grandmother was born, who was, in the early 1930s, a world class high jumper. In 1936 the German Olympic authorities kept her from being part of the German Olympic team. She left Germany that year and swore she’d never go back. In the 1980s someone made persistent efforts to reach out to her from Germany and invite her to come to an event at which her achievements were recognized. She finally acceded. Now there is a sports facility in Berlin named after her.
Even today, more than 150 years after the Civil War, the Confederacy, hangs like a deadly specter over this society. There has been little effort to come to terms with the horrific injustice, or to rectify the damage done. Instead many Americans glorify that era and the apartheid that followed. And not only those who are pro-Confederates, we all continue to live in a nation whose centuries-old racial caste system is forever being reinforced and defended.
When I was in Munich a few years ago I had a conversation with a distant relative through marriage, who works in the German government. I told him I was in Germany to do research for a book about the broader German history, its fascist era and my family’s relationship to it. When I confessed my doubts about the project, wondering whether the world really needed yet another book on the Holocaust, he was adamant: “You need to write it”, he said. “There is a persistent effort to whitewash and romanticize Nazism, aimed especially at the youth. The Nazis must be continually exposed for the criminal thugs that they were and the horrors they committed”. In fact, memorials to those murdered by the fascists are still being unveiled. German historians are still digging up details of little-known aspects of that era and getting them published. Interesting to me was his insistence that the decision to open Germany’s doors to one million Syrian refugees was made as a conscious effort to oppose, in practice, the tendencies towards xenophobia and German nationalism.
Contrast this to what we witness here. In various places Confederate flags and symbols are still visible. Mississippi only very recently replaced that symbol in their state flag with a magnolia blossom surrounded by stars. Yet in other public spaces monuments to Confederate soldiers and politicians are still prominently displayed. According to Wikipedia there are more than 1500 public monuments to the Confederacy and its defenders in the U.S.
There is an ongoing need in this country to continue to expose our history of racial oppression from many angles, so that we know how we have been led to where we are today. The metastasizing of a fascist movement in this country makes this effort all the more urgent.
But this project to prevent fascism has urgency on another, even deeper, level. Fascism is not only a political and social ideology it is also an epistemology. Fascism is a radical rupture from the concept of truth. Its ruling authority denies and replaces objective reality with its own false dictates. Fascism denies objective truth and therefore inhibits society from being able to act on the basis of objective necessity. Science is denied. Pragmatism, opportunism and relativism replace the scientific method. For Trumpian fascists, truth resides in the racial leader, the patriarch who embodies “white manhood” – in this case, Donald Trump. A fact-free environment and anti-science environment are essential elements in forging a fascist movement. With fatal consequences.
The most essential lie that undergirds Nazi and Trumpian fascism has to do with race – that there is such a thing. Race is a social construct. In fact, all humans belong to one “race”. After usurping political power in Germany in 1933, the Nazis engaged in an intense effort to find a scientific basis for their theories of racial superiority and inferiority. They failed. In 1934 after a conference was held to forge the legal justification for what would become the Nuremberg racial laws of 1935, these laws removed citizenship from Jews and others deemed racially inferior. They also prohibited sexual contact between Jews and other Germans – so-called “blood laws”. For weeks legal authorities engaged in this effort, only to bemoan the lack of evidence to justify their racial theories and the laws they sought to embody them. Finally Roland Feisler, one of the conferees, a militant Nazi who would go on to head the murderous “People’s Court”, cut through the impasse. Citing the U.S. Jim Crow laws as both a model and inspiration for their work, Feisler argued that the Nazis’ racial laws possessed so much practical value within the social order they aspired to forge, that their mere existence was sufficient justification. In his argument he cited the example of the U.S. It was an argument that won the day.
There is an urgent need today to relentlessly expose to debunk racial lies. And also to uphold the strides recently have been made in this regard. To name just a few, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist exposes with powerful evidence the origins of U.S. capitalist/imperialist empire in slavery. Isabel Wilkerson’s recent book, Caste is a very important exposure of white supremacy from many angles, including, importantly, its psychological impact on people ensnared in its ideology. The 1619 Project developed for the NYT by Hannah Nikole-Jones has challenged the dominant mythology of U.S. democracy and exposed its real historically oppressive roots that defined this country from the very beginning of its colonial days. By exposing the truth, the liberating truth for those who aspire to a better world, these works cut the ground out from under the white supremacists who are amplifying the desperate anger that motivates their movement. Much more, and much more relentless exposure, needs to be done.
In basing our assumptions on science and in achieving a deeper understanding of our history, we need laws that criminalize the flying of Confederate flags and the erecting of monuments to slavers – among much else. Without undermining and eliminating the system of racial apartheid—or as some refer to it, the racial caste system—any idea of a really democratic society, a progressive society, is an illusion, a pipedream.
Is this possible to do away with racial oppression within the framework of this capitalist order? I would argue no. Those who understand the urgency of digging up the roots of racial oppression, regardless of their present understanding of society, need to follow that thread of resistance. Be true to your morality. If a radical transformation of economic and social relations is necessary to get there, that’s where we need to go.