Beyond Passive Resistance: Against Democratic Surrender in a Time of Fascitization

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Sixty percent of the U.S. populace backs Roe v. Wade and just 27 percent back its undoing even as the nation’s right-wing Supreme Court is strongly predisposed to reverse the decision by next summer. Where is the call for millions in the streets to defend women’s right to control their bodies over and against this anti-democratic outrage? Where is the uprising against a government structure and social order that permits this and numerous other forms of authoritarian insanity? It’s shocking to hear liberal talking heads say (basically) “oh well there goes Roe v. Wade for a generation, until we can get the votes and a better court back some day.” Are these shrugging accommodationists aware that the nation’s right-wing Minority Rule party is actively and effectively working (in the name of “stop the steal”) to permanently suppress and nullify votes and elections and policies that don’t go their patriarchal, white-nationalist way? How do they not understand that, as the leading feminist and communist Sunsara Taylor notes:

“the assault on abortion is not taking place in isolation…[it] is part of a larger fascist remaking of society…Already, fascist mobs are invading every sphere of public life. They are threatening school board members, public health officials, election workers and more. And the Republican Party has not only purged itself of anyone who firmly opposed the violent coup attempt by Trump’s supporters on January 6, it has been moving aggressively to so thoroughly corrupt the election processes that they will either win regardless of the popular vote or be able to unleash violent mobs to nullify an election they lose. A win for them in decimating abortion rights would accelerate their momentum. The idea that the ‘pro-choice movement’ could then just retreat into local elections and build up power over years and decades (a ‘strategy’ put forward by Amy Littlefield…as well as by many ‘pro-choice leaders’…) a complete fantasy out of touch with what is really going on.”

Big Pro-“Life” Lies

Many pro-abortion rights liberals are sharp and eloquent when it comes to deconstructing the hypocrisy of the Christo-fascist right’s claim to be “pro-life.” As liberals rightly observe, it is two-facedness on steroids to (absurdly) denounce vaccine and mask mandates as authoritarian government assaults on Americans’ freedom to control their own bodies while supporting government turning women into incubators through forced motherhood. In the Orwellian world of the Republifascist right, public health mandates to stem a deadly pandemic that has so far killed 5.3 million people including 790,000 US-Americans are “authoritarian” government tyranny, but state-mandated forced motherhood is not. At the same time, as progressively inclined liberals observe, the “pro-life” right opposes family cash assistance, the expansion of Medicaid, Food Stamps and other government programs to protect lower- and working-class- kids against the nation’s extreme inequalities. Once a poor kid is born, especially a Black or brown one, the “pro-life” right could care less about the quality of his or her life.

Liberals and progressive are skilled at pointing these contradictions out. But, given the broader neofascist assaults on the rule of law and on what’s left of bourgeois democracy that the right is undertaking (more on this below), there’s little chance of reinstating Roe in future decades without a massive protest movement on behalf of the nation’s 75 million-plus women of child-bearing age. And given the capitalogenic ecocide currently underway, a problem that the right wishes to escalate, it’s not clear that there will be a future worth saving and rights worth advancing in coming decades. A truly sophisticated critique of the absurdity of “pro-life” politics would note that that politics is linked to anti-environmental policies that are hastening the literal end of livable ecology – of material life itself.

The “Stench” of “a System of Governance That Has Been the Envy of the World for 240 Years”

And more to the main point of this essay, why should we put up in any timeframe with the open farcicality of a “democratic” government that is prepared to wipe out a key social, human right, and health protection backed by most of the nation’s citizens? The liberal Supreme Court justice Sonya Sotomayor worries that the Supreme Court might not survive “the stench” of a Roe reversal that will be the transparently partisan-political outcome of Donald Trump appointing three right high court justices. Let’s hope it doesn’t. It isn’t just the likely coming anti-Roe decision in Dobbs v. Jackson (more proof that we are still living in the Trump era under Biden) that stinks. Another foul odor surrounds the absurdly powerful Supreme Court having the power to cancel a hard-won human right like the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy in the first place. What sort of functioning popular and democratic government would allow such a thing?

Would we ever like to truly confront and replace our foolishly venerated 18th Century charter, which was crafted by and for slaveowners, merchant capitalists, and wealthy publicists and politicos for whom popular sovereignty was the ultimate nightmare? That US Constitution grants God-like “judicial review” power to an unelected body appointed by an undemocratically elected national chief executive and approved by an upper legislative branch that is apportioned in open defiance of the basic democratic principle of one person, one-vote (right-wing rural and white states like Wyoming, Montana, Iowa, and South Dakota have the same number of US Senators as giant and diverse states like California and New York). All this and of course much more about the U.S.-American charter is absurd from a pro-democracy standpoint. (The system was already tilted well to the at once patriarchal, white-supremacist, fundamentalist right long before the Republicans started their nonstop post-2020 attack on voting rights and election integrity.)

This is what Joe Biden idiotically considers a shining, world-leading model of popular self-rule. Just days after winning a presidential election that remained in question as the pandemofascist party of Trump continued their long rolling coup attempt, Biden, a  died-in-the-wool defender of the status quo, offered these fine words of conciliation and appeasement: “Democracy’s sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well. But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that’s been the envy of the world.”

Patience? Seriously?

This was an offensive and inane comment, a slap in the face of the multiple millions of Black Americans who endured more than three generations of torturous and murderous chattel slavery after US-American independence and who in the South were thrown into the century long neo-slavery of Jim Crow terrorism. The reparations due Black Americans for four centuries of racial oppression have yet to be even slightly paid,

Patience? Black people didn’t win the right to vote in the US South until 1965, eleven generations after the first Black people were brought to North America, in chains, and one century after a massive Civil War brough a formal end to slavery. This right is had been getting rolled back by the Republicans for years. It is being attacked with special virulence in “red states” since the 2020 election – Amerikaner revenge for how nonwhite votes cost the racist Trump a second term. The franchise wasn’t extended to women until 1920, nearly five generations after the country was founded. The powerful and malapportioned US Senate wasn’t directly elected by voters until 1913. Workers weren’t granted the legal right to organize unions until 1937 (when the corporate-liberal National Labor Relations Act was ruled constitutional) – another right that has been savagely rolled back over subsequent years. Women did not win the basic human right to medically safe abortions until 1973 – this after decades of feminist struggle that the partisan and patriarchal high court is now poised to noxiously cancel.

Three of that court’s members were appointed by the openly misogynist, multiply accused sex offender and open fascist sociopath Trump. One of the three right-wing Trump-placed jurists, Brett Kavanaugh, is a credibly accused rapist. Another is Amy “Coat Hanger” Barrett, a literal “handmaid” who was a member of People of Praise, a right-wing “charismatic Christian group” that calls female members’ advisers “handmaids” and gives men authority over their families.

And now we have bourgeois feminist leaders calling for patient activism to restore Roe’s protection against the de facto female bondage of compulsory pregnancy sometime in the hopefully not-too-distant culture. As Taylor notes:

“…instead of calling forward furious outpourings of the millions of people who do not want to see women forced to choke on their dreams as their bodies and futures are hijacked by a patriarchal state that coerces them into bearing children against their will, the so-called women’s movement is largely doing the opposite. Shamefully, many are promoting feel-good fairy tales and the deadly delusion that all this isn’t really that bad and we have a lot to celebrate anyhow. You really can’t make this shit up…Listen to what Amy Littlefield, a pro-choice writer who makes a big deal of the fact that her views are informed by and reflect her conversations with at least 50 abortion rights activists, had to say on Democracy Now!: ‘I think the most important thing that I saw was not what was going on inside the Supreme Court which is sort of confirmation that they’re going to do what the Christian Right has been planning for decades, but what I saw outside was an abortion rights movement that was really emboldened, that was prepared, that was debuting the messaging that is going to be needed to rebuild a mass movement to change the culture and to reshape the fight in the years to come after the right to legal abortion falls.’…While it is posed mostly as an afterthought in her comments, it should not be missed that Littlefield is explicitly capitulating in advance to the fall of legal abortion rights. She, like almost every “pro-choice leader” these days, is looking at the fascist majority on the court as a reason to accept a fascist ruling and work within its limits, rather than as a reason to reject and step outside of the terms of this system and its institutions. This is all the more damning right now as there are examples all over the world—from Mexico to Poland to Argentina—of women standing up in society-shaking outpourings of mass fury against abortion restrictions and in some cases wrenching victories from even viciously patriarchal states…Is anything less needed here now? We are talking about the enslavement of half of humanity” (emphasis added)

In an especially pathetic part of her Democracy Now! appearance, Amy Litttlefield, the liberal-bourgeois Nation’s “abortion access correspondent,” suggested thar the right-wing “can’t stop” abortions because abortion pills are available. Littlefield quoted the activist Amelia Bonow on how “Republicans might have the courts, but we are out here having abortions. They can’t stop them.” Sorry, no: a government taken over by the neofascist Gilead party (the Amerikaner Republicans) can and will use its monopoly on the legitimate use of force to severely punish those who access abortion pills (pills that don’t actually cause abortions, it should be noted.)

“The caveat to [Bonow’s argument], and it’s a huge caveat obviously,” Littlefied said, “is that what the state can do and has done is criminalize people for involvement in self-managed abortion. We are likely to see that even further when Roe falls.” A big qualification indeed: masses of US-Americans are incarcerated, their lives ruined, for small-scale marijuana possession.

Could we please get serious here? To even remotely insinuate that it won’t matter for the government to make abortions illegal is indefensible advance capitulation. It helps keep people off the streets and thereby increases the likelihood of Roe’s reversal.

“The Prospect of Democratic Collapse”

Littlefield’s submissiveness and false hope are symptomatic of the Weimar-like surrender culture that pervades what passes for liberal and left politics as the nation falls further down into the authoritarian abyss. Barton Gellman has recently taken to the pages of The Atlantic with some harsh truth-telling about the grave state of US-American bourgeois democracy. As Gellman explains:

‘Trump’s next coup has already begun. January 6 was practice. Donald Trump’s GOP is much better positioned to subvert the next election. Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect…The prospect of this democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already. “The democratic emergency is already here,” Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine, told me in late October. Hasen prides himself on a judicious temperament. Only a year ago he was cautioning me against hyperbole. Now he speaks matter-of-factly about the death of our body politic. “We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024,” he said, “but urgent action is not happening.”

For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party’s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft. Elected officials in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states have studied Donald Trump’s crusade to overturn the 2020 election. They have noted the points of failure and have taken concrete steps to avoid failure next time. Some of them have rewritten statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They are driving out or stripping power from election officials who refused to go along with the plot last November, aiming to replace them with exponents of the Big Lie. They are fine-tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters.

By way of foundation for all the rest, Trump and his party have convinced a dauntingly large number of Americans that the essential workings of democracy are corrupt, that made-up claims of fraud are true, that only cheating can thwart their victory at the polls, that tyranny has usurped their government, and that violence is a legitimate response…Even in defeat, Trump has gained strength for a second attempt to seize office, should he need to, after the polls close on November 5, 2024. It may appear otherwise—after all, he no longer commands the executive branch, which he tried and mostly failed to enlist in his first coup attempt. Yet the balance of power is shifting his way in arenas that matter more.

Trump is successfully shaping the narrative of the insurrection in the only political ecosystem that matters to him. The immediate shock of the event, which briefly led some senior Republicans to break with him, has given way to a near-unanimous embrace…Trump has reconquered his party by setting its base on fire. Tens of millions of Americans perceive their world through black clouds of his smoke. His deepest source of strength is the bitter grievance of Republican voters that they lost the White House, and are losing their country, to alien forces with no legitimate claim to power. This is not some transient or loosely committed population. Trump has built the first American mass political movement in the past century that is ready to fight by any means necessary, including bloodshed, for its cause.’

Sleepy Time with Weimar Joe (Thanks, Obama)

Who is standing up to this authoritarian (I would say fascist) trajectory, which feels almost locked in and creates this strange sense that the Amerikaner (Republican) Party is still very much the ruling political organization even as the other major ruling class party holds the White House and (slim and doomed) majorities in both houses of Congress? Not the Democrats. For all the buzz one can pick up on the “existential” menace to democracy and the rule of law one can pick up in the more liberal sections of corporate media (e.g., The Atlantic), “Democrats, big and small D,” Gellman writes, “are not behaving as if they believe the threat is real. Some of them, including President Joe Biden, have taken passing rhetorical notice, but their attention wanders.” The “inauthentic opposition” Democrats are the party of passive and hollow resistance, junior partners in the nation’s ongoing fascitization. As he introduced a two-day virtual White House “Summit for Democracy,” with 100 nations participating, meant to highlight the danger of authoritarianism around the world, Joe “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change” Biden could barely bring himself to scratch the surface of the authoritarian threat in his own country. “Weimar Joe” mumbled standard and evasive bourgeois pablum that must have caused some participants to wonder if he any idea of where the supposed “world’s greatest democracy” itself is headed:

“In the face of sustained and alarming challenges to democracy, universal human rights, and all around the world, democracy needs champions…I wanted to host this summit because … here in the United States we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort….American democracy is an ongoing struggle to live up to our highest ideals and to heal our divisions and recommit ourselves to the founding idea of our nation captured in our Declaration of Independence, not unlike many of your documents…[it is] the defining challenge of our time.”

Sleepy Time Joe added that though democracy can be fragile, he believed it is “inherently resilient” and capable of “self-correction” and “self-improvement.” Really? Then why can’t Biden and his party call out the white nationalist Amerikaner Party of Trump, Gosar, Boebert, Gaetz, Carlson, Hannity, Rittenhouse, Taylor-Greene, Flynn, Gallagher, Arpaio, and Q for what it is, a fascist political organization with its political operatives and AR-15s aimed straight at the hearts of democracy, constitutional rule of law, social justice and livable ecology? Why haven’t Biden and the dismal dollar Dems made serious efforts to slash student debt, raise the federal minimum wage, re-empower union organizing and collective bargaining, reign in police brutality, cancel the arch-reactionary Senate filibuster rule, and pass major voting rights protections? Why the pitiful capitulation on the sadistic bourgeois butchering down of the Build Back Better bill? Why the pathetic delay and half-heartedness in punishing the “fascist traitors” (Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin’s accurate language) who tried to carry out of a coup on January 6, starting with Trump himself? Why the refusal to expand the Supreme Court to dilute its utterly preposterous 6-3 right-wing majority, far to the starboard side of public opinion? And why the continuing frankly ridiculous calls for bipartisan cooperation with a political party that has gone fascist and says in no uncertain that it wants to eliminate all opposition, which it calls “scum” (and the like), by violence “if necessary”?

“America[ns] First…We’re Actually All on One Team”

We owe the doddering Wall Street plaything Biden’s tragicomic presence on the center stage of history to the ultimate hollow man, the “vacuous to repressive neoliberal” Obama, who knew privately that Trump was a “fascist” and then said this in the Rose Garden right after Trump won the democracy-flunking Electoral College in November 2016:

“Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country. That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that. That’s what the country needs — a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion; a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law; and a respect for each other. I hope that he maintains that spirit throughout this transition, and I certainly hope that’s how his presidency has a chance to begin…The point is …that we all go forward, with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens — because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years…It’s how we have come this far. And that’s why I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on as Americans will go on…, I think of this job as being a relay runner — you take the baton, you run your best race, and hopefully, by the time you hand it off you’re a little further ahead, you’ve made a little progress…I want to make sure that handoff is well-executed, because ultimately we’re all on the same team (emphasis added).”

What a F’ng joke. Another great “Thanks, Obama” moment!

Consistent with his vapid Rose Garden bromides, the asinine pacifier and newly minted oligarch Obama is now beseeching the Republifascists to show more respect for democracy because that’s “what makes America exceptional.” You really can’t make up shit like that. But that’s Barack Von “Hollow Resistance” Obombdenbug, a high school bench-warmer and Citigroup Dem whose neoliberal ex-presidency is turning out even worse than his neoliberal presidency, if that’s possible.

A Sea Change in Class Rule Form?

Just to be clear, bourgeois democracy is a cloak for class dictatorship, with democracy tolerated only insofar as it does not interfere with profitable capitalist control of the means of production, investment, and distribution. Fascism is a real and relevant, indeed horrible break in the dictatorship’s form, one that makes it immeasurably more difficult if not impossible to resist that underlying class dictatorship. The US-American variant of bourgeois democracy has been fading and declining little by little for decades (see Carl Boggs, Fascism Old and New: America at the Crossroads for a masterful historical and institutional analysis of how and why). In 2016-2021 the fascist cat was let out of the bag like never before (see my new book This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America for an in-depth discussion of how this is true and why it happened) Anyone who denies the menace after January 6th and what’s happening in the Amerikaner GOP and the “red states” now is simply not paying proper and informed attention.

It’s not clear that the ruling class is prepared to stop the new white nationalism from consolidating power in 2024-25 or frankly that it even could stop that if it so desires. And does it so desire? Do the nation’s owners really want to keep the fascism at bay? Some parts of the bourgeoisie are white-nationalist Darwinian monsters themselves, virulently revanchist in relation to the social movement gains won for and by Black, brown, immigrant, female, and gay people during and since the 1960s. Much, perhaps even most of the contemporary ruling class would prefer to retain the democratic and rule of law cloak. But so what? As long as the parasitic profits keep flowing, the wealthy Few probably couldn’t really care less on the whole.

Perhaps the nation’s rulers can read the handwriting on the wall: the planet is full, the frontiers are closed, a new potential hegemonic power is on the rise. There’s no more Great Evasion[s] (William Appleman Williams) of the nation’s savage contradictions of race and class. It really is “barbarism or socialism.” Long subjected to what Henry Giroux rightly calls The Terror of Neoliberalism, the nation is now so savagely and insanely unequal – the top US thousandth possessed nearly as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90% even before COVID-19 increased upward concentration – that the “democratic” cloak is perhaps seen as no longer possible or desirable for Superpower’s owners.

A US-American superstructural sea change beyond (what’s left of) bourgeois democracy to a type of consolidated if nationally distinctive fascism does not have to be all at once or “revolutionary” (a key point in Carl Boggs’ aforementioned book). It does not have to follow in strict accord with European models from a century ago (again, see Boggs). Contrary to something I have heard over and over again from a certain kind of fascism-denying Marxist over the last six years, it does not require an actual revolutionary Left and proletariat – the classic first enemy of 20th Century Italian, German, and Spanish fascism. At the same time, much of the Amerikaner base of one of the nation’s two and only two viable political parties (the more structurally empowered of those two parties by far) actually believes (has been led to believe) that a radical Left Marxist threat is real. And you can almost see why they would, with Fatherland (FOX) News and the Tucker Carlson the Hour as their windows on the world. A major party presidential candidate who called himself (inaccurately) a socialist (Bernie Sanders) made remarkably strong and popular nomination runs in 2016 and 2020 and we saw the biggest mass popular rebellion in US history (the remarkable George Floyd-Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake summer of 2020) last year. These hopeful progressive developments and the public health measures required to stem the capitalism-hatched pandemic provide some seeming credibility for the anti-Left, neo-McCarthyite paranoia driving fascism. Add in white Amerikaner fears of a declining white population percentage and the incredible saturation of this nation by guns, including military style weapons, and this is no time to be citing European history to downplay the far-right menace in the USA. Bear in mind that classic fascism wasn’t just about crushing radical Left threats. It was also very much about race — about white nationalism — and about a related sense of national decline and so much more. Read Mein Kampf and Hitler’s 1930s speeches.

Radical Change is Already Locked In: Which Kind do You Want?

The situation is very dire. Trump or some other and potentially more competent and disciplined white nationalist Gilead authoritarian seems likely to hold the White House with an Amerikaner Congress and judiciary in his pocket in coming years. It is bad, really bad, but perhaps also an opportunity: many of the older constitutional and rule of law ways of ruling are going away but perhaps the old and failed passive resistance can also disappear and be replaced by a revolutionary movement.

Dire, but perhaps it is also a moment of revolutionary opportunity. We have run out of time and space NOT to think and fight big, beyond single-issue and reformist silos. There are no non-radical resolutions for the current, many-sided social, political, and environmental crisis, of which the undoing of Roe – the reimposition of the female slavery of forced full pregnancy – is one albeit big and important symptom. The only question will be if the coming radical resolution will be (a) barbarian, fascist, unequal, hierarchical, patriarchal, ecocidal, arch- reactionary, terminal, and pro-death or (b) popular, democratic, egalitarian, eco-socialist, revolutionary, pro-life (differently understood!), and a prologue to real human liberation.

And here the ball is significantly in the court of the big soft liberal and progressive center. “The best lack all conviction,” the British poet William Butler Yeats once wrote, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” I spend a lot of printer ink and some vocal energy on the “worst” (the Republifascist right), but I strongly suspect that “the best” — with all their fatalism, resignation, individualism, and withdrawal — are actually the bigger and more determinant problem. How to get “the best” over and out of themselves, up from their (understandable) couches and ghettoes of despair, and out from their internal exile? Anybody who has the magic formula, please share. It would be a game-changer

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).