A recent Atlantic article by David Brooks, “The Terrifying Future of the American Right: What I Saw at the National Conservative Conference” lays out the latest thinking on the Right that contains some revealing language echoing the rhetorical techniques embraced by Hitler and the Nazis. The article cites examples of the “line” now being taken by the Republican Party that suggests, even to an old time conservative like Brooks, that the Republicans are now running full tilt towards fascism. Counterpunch readers who have paid attention to Paul Street’s great articles exposing this turn might see more evidence to reinforce his view that with today’s Republicans we are facing a fascist party and movement.
These US Rightist “intellectuals” have in fact manufactured a “Left” that they can hate. It has almost nothing to do with any historical Left but is a convenient label for their fascistic attacks. It seems tailored to take advantage of some of the more divisive ideas of the Democrats, especially their “identity politics.” (More on this below). David Brooks points none of this out.
Brooks’ focus is on the fact that these current younger “conservatives” have abandoned any idea that political differences can or should be worked out with rational or practical assessment of policies. What once might have been seen in our two-party system as political disagreements about how best to serve the American people, have been turned into irreconcilable antagonisms that cannot be compromised. Brooks quotes their spokesperson, Rachel Bovard: “Woke elites – increasingly the mainstream left of this country – do not want what we want. What they want is to destroy us.” Who are these “woke elites”? They are a “totalitarian cult of billionaires and bureaucrats….” Thus, the Right’s target is constructed for broad appeal to a mass of generally poorly informed individuals. Anyone who is concerned with racism and police murder, and who might have considered the long history of these tools of rule is “woke.” Billionaires and bureaucrats – who doesn’t abhor these people? Yet there is no mention that their new leader, Donald Trump, is an authoritarian billionaire who fits this bill, and has constructed a cult around himself.
It’s all about “the American People” of course. Yet the Right has chosen to see them largely as a homogeneous group of “whites,” aligning themselves with a long history of white supremacy, while increasingly “demonizing” the Democrats with charges of “socialism” despite a history in the early 20th century of Republican support for “progressive” reforms. Recently even policies that derive from Republican sources like Mitt Romney’s ideas for what became Obamacare are attacked and repudiated. If Democrats are for it, no matter what it is, or how many people may also favor it, Republicans are against it. Compromise is out; tribalism is in. Trump feeds on this with his demands for loyalty above all else. It is a clear example of the Nazi leadership principle.
The Republicans have become a party of the far-Right and like the Italian fascists and German Nazis have taken on a war mentality against their putative enemies, because they are the ones who are truly being threatened. They have embraced and defended Trump’s white supremacy and authoritarian moves, along with his penchant for reciting whatever self-serving lies that come into his head. Their activities have begun to resemble the early fascist movements in Germany and Italy. Armed gangs operate in the streets in cooperation with and protected by the police (Portland is a prime example, but recent events in Kenosha also stand out). The message coming from government and corporate media is that these neo-fascists can use violence with impunity, whether in groups or as lone vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse. They will be protected and legally exonerated when they commit murder. This was also the pattern in post-World War I Italy and Germany. In both of those countries the majority was much better organized than we are here – so far.
Moreover, today’s Right is recycling some of the same rhetoric that Hitler and the Nazis used to try to recruit “the lower classes” to their movement. But the primary Nazi focus was on “the Jew” as the demonic force behind everything, supposedly including the biggest capitalists, from whom the Nazis were getting money and state protection. Hitler never spoke without making his antisemitism the central message of his orations, with “the Jew” responsible for everything wrong with Germany. Jews were the centerpiece of Hitler’s racism, but of course plenty of other “non- Aryan” peoples like the Slavs were classed as inferior, fit only for slavery. These people occupied an enormous land area to the east, coveted by German imperialism.
David Brooks deals with none of this history. In fact, few on the Right want to look at the actual historical record that shows the world-shattering consequences produced by the international capitalist competition that led to World War I, in particular the Russian Revolution and the later rise of fascism. In the US. there is little written or produced visually for public consumption that gives an honest and thorough treatment of all the implications and tendencies of this First World War. Jacques Pauwels’ superb book The Great Class War is an exception. It shows how a world war was launched by the aristocratic and big business rulers of rival countries, each seeking to defend or expand their empires and to quell and contain a restless working class that was seeking a greater share in the wealth produced by their labor. These workers were expected by their rulers to do the fighting for “their” respective nations. They did indeed fight and die in large numbers, but not without resistance.
The Russian Revolution was the most successful example of this resistance, though clearly an unintended consequence of the war itself, one not intended, that is, by the rulers of the countries who prepared and launched the war. Nevertheless, in Russia it produced a mass upheaval from below that took that country out of the war. It ended the rule of Tsarism, the landed aristocracy, and the big bourgeoisie despite continuing attacks by Germany and the Allies that included an invasion by American troops. In other words, the world’s capitalist powers, which had been fighting each other for empire, nonetheless came together to try to crush the Russian Revolution, viewed as a powerful threat to capitalism. Western rulers remained hostile to the USSR throughout its history, even during the brief World War II alliance against Germany during which the Russians engaged the bulk of German divisions on the eastern front and smashed the Nazi armies. This cost the Russians over 20 million people! The Russian Revolution set Russia on a course of economic development that made the USSR into a great power that rivaled the US. This success was dearly bought by the labor of the Russian masses in a remarkably short period of time. Today we learn almost nothing of this, and anti-communism prevails, even on too much of what passes for “the Left.” The Right foregrounds its hostility to “Marxism,” just as Hitler did.
Brooks expresses his concern about the Republicans’ abandonment of the old style of conservatism but can’t bring himself to criticize their now open embrace of racism. Neither is there any discussion of white supremacy, except in implied fashion via reference to a film by John Ford, The Searchers, viewed by the Right as a positive version of the conquest of the west, with white heroes like John Wayne. Despite this, the Right includes in its attacks on its mortal enemies, an alleged Hollywood “elite” of Liberals aligned with the Democrats. Ignored by Brooks and the young right-wingers he criticizes is the actual historical record: American slavery, segregation (look around; has it been ended?), and the continuous murderous violence against black people; these never put in an appearance. Nor does the history of settler colonialism’s genocidal attacks on Native Americans, or the violent seizure of Mexico’s northwest, conveniently projected as “The Mexican War.” Above all, class as an analytical category revealing a world divided between capitalists and workers, remains the invisible man. This is the heart of fascist opposition to Marxism, and what Hitler sought to eliminate from public discourse — any discussion of class — while at the same time rhetorically trying to attract workers into a Nazi movement whose aim was to deprive them of leverage against capitalism and prepare them to be cannon fodder for Germany in the next war.
All the real social fault lines, especially the stark divide between the 1% multi-billionaire class and the huge majority of workers, are removed and replaced with a melange of attacks against social media and “big business,” with the added twist that these elements are supposedly being led, most implausibly, by “Marxists.” Here we have the continuing ubiquity of anti-communism enshrined in this ludicrous equation that is no more supported by any reality than was Hitler’s rhetorical yoking together of finance capital and socialism. But due to German workers’ long experience with social democracy, and after WWI with communism, Hitler recruited few of these organized, class-oriented workers. In the end, he did not need to because the majority of German workers stuck with their party leadership. The Social Democrats claimed to be Marxist but had settled for a role in the German parliament. They voted for war credits against Lenin’s advice, and continued to cooperate with the Army after the war and with the Weimar Republic, essentially disarming themselves. The new post war communist party influenced by the Russian revolution, the KPD, lost its leaders right after the war when the Army-sponsored rightist Freicorps militia murdered Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Thus, no consistent working-class unity against fascism was forged, and Hitler won out.
For the Right in the US today, Hitler’s “Jewish bankers” and “Jewish Bolsheviks” have morphed into “Marxists” collaborating with and protecting a “left wing” big business elite. This is what passes for original thought on the Right today. It is pure demagogy! But it can work on a population that is kept ignorant of how capitalism actually functions. These people can see the deterioration in their lives and are looking for those responsible. The Right gives them both a vague power elite that they characterize for their petit-bourgeois followers (including unorganized predominantly rural white workers) as “the Left:” “Communist Democrats” (Trump’s absurd words) working for big business while mainly serving racial minorities but opposed to “ordinary Americans.” It’s the Brooklyn Bridge!
What is being relied upon here is what Hitler pioneered: the enabling of the big lie technique through control of media and continuing institutional protection for fascist activities that include assaulting and murdering anti-racist, anti-fascist protesters.
This new, uncompromisingly hostile Right, characterizes social media and the universities as captives of “the Left.” In a crowning case of big lie reversal (or projection), it is “the Left” that threatens to eliminate “conservatives,” not the other way around. Republicans have been attacking the “left wing media” now for decades, successfully. This is part of their program to push the American population further to the right by undermining potential or actual sources of information that might contradict the Right’s line or expose their lies, and thus amp up their “cancel culture” war against free and open communication. This is mordantly ironic, since the vast majority of today’s mass media is owned by a tiny handful of giant corporations that could hardly be further from left wing. Furthermore, universities may have more left-wing faculty than right wingers. They are still run by conservative Boards of Regents staffed by powerful capitalists, with administrations that do their bidding.
In fact, this openly fascist Right is stepping up its work on several levels, from militias and Proud Boy would-be Brown Shirts, to vigilante killers like Kyle Rittenhouse. Nor do they neglect grass roots politics that ensure them influence in local, state, and national institutions, all the way to the Presidency. Do we need reminding of their unprecedented efforts to make Trump a permanent president? Just what we need, Trump der Fuhrer!
When this criminal crew gets power, what do they do with it? The Republican Party stands firmly against anything that might aid the majority of the American people of any color who have to work for a living. Republicans oppose higher wages, single payer health care, free public education, a “defense” budget that might be scaled down to what is needed for actual defense instead of endless wars, any real measures to address climate change. Historically, the post-Civil War Republicans earned their label as the “party of Big Business.” In this respect are they any different today? They have just learned how to mis-lead and deflect from their true purpose with an amped-up racism and fascist demagogy that has largely gone unchallenged in the corporate mass media discourse.
The Democrats have certainly played a role in all this. Their leadership is beholden to big business donors, and it has only taken a couple of diehard corporate shills like Manchin and Sinema to stop the Dems from enacting policies that might cost big capital more than they are willing to pay. (What are they willing to pay? Anything at all? Give us deregulation and tax cuts!) When pro-working-class leadership does emerge, like Bernie Sanders, whose message of “socialism” turns out to be widely popular, the leadership sabotages him while the corporate media defames him.
Above all Dems’ use of identity politics is a huge gift to the Right. It replaces a focus on class, where multi-racial unity is a primary source of strength in the working class’ struggle, literally, to survive the onslaught of the current capitalist crisis that is reverberating throughout the world. The crisis runs from climate change to the continuing drive of US Imperialism to hold on to world empire, and to the current covid pandemic. This encompasses an incipient cold war with China and a non-stop Pentagon budget that includes money for a nuclear arsenal that portends a growing threat of nuclear war. Add to this: continuing unemployment, disrupted supply chains, monopolistic price gouging, widespread poverty, exploitation, and authoritarian repression thrown in to keep the workers beaten down and divided, up to and including open fascism. Dems’ identity politics allow the Republicans to pretend to be for white people (the vast majority of whom are working class), on a racial or ethnic basis that pits one group of workers against another and disables both. Workers need multi-racial, multi-ethnic, international organizational unity (historically, communism). For the Right, from Hitler to Trump, it should be clear that they serve(d) big capital. In opposition to working class internationalism, they promote the idea that it’s all about “America.” Hitler ranted about Deutschland Uber Alles, for which he was prepared to sacrifice 35 million Germans, whom he then blamed when the war was lost. The US Right spouts the same garbage about “America first,” regardless of how many “Americans” (not to mention the rest of the world’s people) have to suffer and die for the continuing dominance of US corporate power. And how many from the billionaire class are among the casualties in America’s wars? Even Confederate soldiers had it right (the only thing they had right) as far back as the Civil War when they complained that it was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight!
If these fascists win out, what will be in store for the working class? Hitler made sure that any independent workers’ organizations in Germany were destroyed, their leaders jailed or killed. This was the true purpose of Nazism – a dictatorship in favor of big German capital and in pursuit of its goals. Nor, apparently can we look to the Democrats to end capitalism’s constant drive to expand the wealth of the few at the expense of the many that has already led to two world slaughters, and portends a third.