Two Clarifications on What it Means to Meaningfully Refuse American Fascism

Image of a pro-Trump sticker on a wall.

Image by Jon Tyson.

This might be a good moment for some clarification.

I have spent a lot of time describing Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors” Trump and his backers and party as fascist over the last seven years. I’m serious about that description. I’ve published numerous essays and book chapters explaining how Trump and his party have checked off the boxes that mark them as fascist. And I started doing this well before January 6, an actual if sloppy putsch attempt that should have ended any serious debate about whether or not Trump and Trumpism were fascist.

As my in-box and social media accounts have demonstrated over the years, many “left”-identified people have drawn some wrongheaded conclusions about what I’ve been saying on this score.

One such conclusion is that mine is a mainstream liberal/neoliberal argument aligned with the Democratic Party and its electoral agenda. This is woefully incorrect. As I have shown again and again, the mainstream liberal/neoliberal media and politics culture aligned with the Democrats has been remarkably reluctant, all things considered, to properly acknowledge and call out the fascism of Trump and his party. It has both downplayed and normalized the fascisation of one of the nation’s two dominant political organizations, which it insists on absurdly describing as “conservative,” “populist,” and even “working class.”

My own writings, talks, and agitation and that of my friends and comrades in Refuse Fascism and in the revolutionary communist movement have consistently criticized the bourgeois-imperialist Democrats for their Weimar-like enablement of and complicity in the American fascisation that has been spearheaded by Trump, his party, and the broader Republifascist movement. Throughout the fascist Trump presidency, which predictably ended in a coup attempt, we called for Trump’s removal not through voting but through mass popular action and disruption of business as usual in the nation’s streets and the public squares. The goal and method were stated loudly again and again: shut shit down under the demand “Trump-Pence OUT NOW.”

This was never embraced by any top or elected Democrats. And the aim was not merely to remove the Trump-Pence regime but to set entirely new political terms for the nation imposed from the bottom up by a mobilized populace fed up with all the noxious bullshit and oppression – including the Trump regime – imposed at the end of the day by the entire US ruling class and its capitalist-imperialist system.

When the American System’s fascist Trumpenstein was not in fact defenestrated by the masses in the way we a Refuse Fascism desired, it was no surrender or “change of line” to tell people to take two minutes to vote Trump out if possible. It was just a basic concession to the cold reality that a second fascist – and please recall, pandemicist – Trump term would have been an epic catastrophe and that at least a small bit of bourgeois-democratic and public health breathing space was required for mass movements to grown and survive. Electoral College ballot fetishists, for whom “left” politics is all about who you mark a presidential ballot for once every four years (once every 1,459 days), have a difficult time processing this concession to reality. They are so hung up on the voting booth as to be incapable of imagining what a socialist movement and revolution would look like. And here it should be added that the US presidential version of “bourgeois electoral bullshit” (what RCP leader Bob Avakian calls “BEB”) is an especially preposterous variant to be hung up on, with its Monty Python-esque, democracy-flunking, and right-tilted Electoral College.

In any event, the goal was always and remains in my part of “the left” a mass popular revolutionary movement beneath and beyond the capitalist masters’ quadrennial big money major party candidate-centered electoral extravaganzas, which are seductively sold to the masses as “that’s politics” – the only politics that matters. Nothing against voting, but for me and those with whom I’ll do political work, it’s never remotely been about sheep-dogging or (a better term) Judas-Goating the masses into that “coffin of class consciousness” (Alan Dawley) and “graveyard of social movements” that is the US voting booth, whether in the name of a “lesser evil” Democrat or a third-party contender like Henry Wallace, Barry Commoner, Ralph Nader, Jill Stein, or Cornel West.

A second wrongheaded conclusion about my analysis of Trump, his party, and Trumpism as fascist believes that my perspective should induce a sense of jubilation over the four indictments – two by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and two at the state level – handed down against Herr Donald this year.

Not really. Let’s be clear: Any decent non-fascist human being should want the sadistic eco-cidal Hitler fan, racist and multiply accused rapist Trump locked up and silenced for all time. Of course. Noam Chomsky has been oddly wrong to stand back from describing Trump and Trumpism as fascist, but he was right in January of 2020 to call the nation’s 45th president “the most dangerous criminal in human history.”

Good for all of us who loathe the tangerine-tinted tyrant Donald “I am Your Retribution” Trump. Rabid dogs need to be put down. But here’s the thing: the new US Amerikaner Republi-fascism that we are confronted with in the third decade of the 21st Century is bigger than its current Dear Leader and will find new maximalist wannabe Fuhrers to rally behind if Trump is somehow silenced by prosecution. Christian white nationalist Amerikaner neofascism has been embraced by a significant section of the American ruling class and by a chillingly vast swath of the US populace. It holds down half of the nation’s powerful state governments and the powerful US Supreme Court. It is popular among the nation’s vast army of police state gendarmes. It is embraced by numerous of militia groups and lone wolf psychotics in a nation that is saturated by guns including more than 15 million military-style assault rifles.

And it is not at all a slam dunk that the indictments and trials will silence and defeat Trump. They are fundraising gold for his campaign and richly feed the Trump martyrdom narrative that is so potent among millions of his followers. Trump is tied in match-up polls with the unpopular and charisma-bereft capitalist-imperialist president Joe “Status Quo” Biden. The 2024 Republican candidate (almost certainly Trump even if he is convicted before the Republican National Convention) enjoys the usual right-tiled Electoral College advantage: the Democratic candidate must win the popular vote by 4 to 5 percentage points to gain or retain the White House.

None of the belated charges against Trump would prevent him from becoming president upon conviction. He has not yet been charged with insurrection, conviction for which would ban him from holding public office under section 3 of the US Constitution’s post-Civil War 14th Amendment. Yes, the justly esteemed Harvard emeritus constitutional law professor Laurene Tribe and the retired federal judge J. Michael Luttig have recently shown that 14th Amendment should ban Trump from state-level presidential ballots regardless of the indictments. That’s nice to know but the enforcement of that banning would ultimately fall to the Supreme Court, which is in Christian fascist hands. It is hard to imagine that Trump-and Mitch McConnell-appointed Court ordering the removal of Trump’s name from ballots next year.

To make things more complicated for revolutionary socialists like myself, to make it harder for us to do cartwheels over the indictments, the DOJ and the state-level and federal prosecutors and courts indicting Trump are parts of the same criminal injustice system that enforces the racially disparate mass jailing, imprisonment, and felony branding of Black and brown people for largely nonviolent crimes that are nothing compared to Trump’s epic transgressions – crimes for which he will never serve a day in jail or prison under US bourgeois law. They are parts of a racialized class rule legal superstructure atop a capitalist-imperialist system that will keep generating fascism, war, and ecocide with or without the current cast of leading neofascist reptiles, including Trump, his fellow 2020 election subversion conspirators, Ron “DeFascist,” Greg Abbott, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Tucker Carlson, Roger Stone, Ron Johnson and the rest of the most notorious arch-reactionary dirtbags.

We can’t indict, convict and/or sue our way out of fascism, whose historical seedbed is capitalism-imperialism. Capitalism produces fascism by (among other things) recurrently creating great crises that require big government intervention while de-legitimizing “democracy” in the eyes of millions of people through the corrupting and democracy-cancelling impact of concentrated wealth on politics and policy. The door is thereby recurrently opened again and again to authoritarian big government “solutions” and maximalist leaders who claim to be the “chosen ones” who “alone can fix” broken nations. The “populism” selected to rally masses to the support of the Leader must (under the bourgeois system) be of the revanchist kind that relies not on “working-class democracy” and egalitarian sentiments but rather on the reactionary collective sentiments of racism, patriarchy, xenophobia, nativism, Social Darwinism, hyper-masculinism, ultra-nationalism, conspiratorialism, anti-intellectualism, anti-urbanism/-cosmopolitanism, anti-socialism, fundamentalism and other key parts of the political pathology that is fascism. And, to make matter worse, under the distinctive US Minority Rule version of bourgeois “democracy,” shaped by an 18th Century slaveowners’ constitution packed with authoritarian “checks and balances” – the ridiculous Electoral College, the absurdly powerful and malapportioned US Senate, the lifetime appointed and God like Supreme Court, “states rights” and more – neofascists can gain and keep power without their reactionary “populism” having to win a majority of voters (which of course hardly stops them from undertaking numerous measures and employing intimidation to suppress and cancel votes for the nonfascist party).

I have no idea if the lethal US imperialist warmonger Joe “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change” Biden can hang on to the White House in 2024-25, but I can guarantee that if he does he and his party will do little or nothing of substance to save humanity from four mutually reinforcing nightmares that capitalism has inflicted on humanity: the capitalogenic climate catastrophe (the biggest issue of our or any time); inter-imperialist and potentially nuclear war; pandemicide (intimately related to climate change); fascism. Only a real, actual socialist revolution reaching down into the material mode (technical forces and social relations) of production and back up into a radical transformation of how we as a people relate to each other and to nature – only that can bring us back from the precipice.

Sorry to be so dramatic but that’s how it is now. As Che Guevara once said, “it’s not my fault that reality is Marxist.” The center cannot hold. Radical outcomes are already baked into the historical cake and the only question is will they be radically liberating and beautiful – socialist revolution – or radically oppressive and terrible: eco-cidal capitalism-imperialism with a racist, sexist, and ultra-nationalist boot on our necks, that is, fascist.

If it’s any “consolation” (if that’s the right word) to liberals and progressives, I can promise them one among many other good things about a Socialist Republic of North America: if he’s still alive by the time we take revolutionary socialist power, Donald Trump and his ilk will be silenced in no short order under Marxist rule. It’s one of the many ways we’ll deliver justice that bourgeois democracy American Style never would or could.

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