How to be on the Right Side of History in a Semi-Fascist State

Caption: White Rose flyers that were dropped on Germany in 1943 by the RAF.

Recent developments in Gaza – a genocide that Israel is perpetrating against the Palestinian people – should serve as a wake-up call to everyone that US imperialism exists. Israel, of course, is not a mere extension of the United States. If that were the case, US presidents would not have to go through the ritual of one-by-one confirming their loyalty to Israel. However, the strategic connection between the two countries through the imperialist project – which has economic, political, and historical dimensions – is more than evident. In any case, Israel would not have the advanced arms, nor economic development, nor geopolitical free hand it has, if it were not for the huge amounts of money along with the essentially unconditional political, ideological, and military support emanating from the United States.

This raises the question: if we oppose the genocide in Gaza, must we not also oppose what makes it possible? If we do not want bombs to fall on a civilian population, half of whom are children, must we not work to cut off the source of those bombs? If we do not want Israel to have a permanent blank check and carte blanche to carry out the genocidal slaughter of Palestinians, must we not struggle against the entity that signs off on them: the US government and its two major parties who concur in supporting the genocidal project? The answer to all those questions is an unequivocal yes, we must.

However, most likely that is not enough. If the “we” in the phrase “We must struggle against the US and its support for Israel” refers to people in the Global North or so-called Occident, it is important to recognize that the chances of internal forces alone turning things around in the United States or any major European country is minimal. The reason for this needs some explanation, which has to do with the fascistoid character of the US state apparatus and that of most major European countries today.

A Fascistoid State Apparatus

To be clear: the United States is not an outright fascist state. However, it is close to being one and shares many essential characteristics with such a state (beyond, of course, the apparent and ongoing disposition for evil). There is an economic basis for the fascistoid turn that has happened in capitalist states: most Marxist theorists would agree that the historical development of late capitalism, especially the falling rate of profit and structural crisis of capital that dates from around 1970, has narrowed the governing options that are currently available in that system. This means that what were once quite distinct options for capitalist governance – Liberal Democracy versus Fascism – have become extremely close kin, and the Global North’s neoliberal regimes now have clear fascist, dictatorial characteristics.

One point of comparison with historical fascism is the systematic social control, similar to Gleichschaltung, that is being exerted in the United States and Europe. Gleichschaltung, meaning “making same” or “making similar,” was the Nazi term for the process of homogenization of the state apparatus, schools, and civil society organizations that was an important step in Nazification. It sought, in the words of Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, the “extermination of heterogeneity.”Today, while there are no outright fascist Gleichschaltung purges occurring, the mass media and universities are indeed systematically being disposed of dissident elements, especially anti-Zionist ones. This can be seen, to take just a few recent examples of a widespread phenomenon, in the BBC and MSNBC’s respective recent firings and suspensions of reporters who sympathized with Palestine and in the censorship of pro-Palestinian talks at universities.

A second similarity is the social base. As with historical fascism, widespread middle- and working-class support has been mustered in the US and Europe for internal repression and external military ventures. True, we have yet to witness a tightly organized fascist social movement that hegemonizes the society: that is, the middle and working classes mobilized in a racist, ultra-nationalist, xenophobic social movement that completely dominates the country and erases its democratic institutionality. This is, of course, what the Trumpist movement aspires to, but it has not yet attained the kind of societal hegemony achieved by 20th-century fascist movements. However, if the truth be told, there is no need for this to occur, since the same political benefits for the ruling class and monopoly capital that were achieved in historical fascism – meaning a free hand in internal repression and external wars – are now obtained by the very broad-reaching social phenomena (including but not limited to Trumpism) of a bought-off working-class aristocracy and complacent, manipulable middle class, who become partners in the imperialist project that is by its very nature racist, xenophobic, and genocidal. (Witness, for example, the relative unwillingness today to explore options such as not paying taxes, options that were relatively common among anti-war protestors of the previous generation.)

Third and finally, fascism has generally been averse to multiparty systems and has seen them as a hindrance to advancing its plans. The US seems to have two parties, but since the 1980s their rivalry has been mostly over questions of power and style, as they converge around a single project. The currently coordinated, essentially complementary nature of the two parties that dominate the scene in the United States is the stuff of innumerable jokes, memes, and neologisms. However, beyond the gallows humor, their de facto unity on strategic issues is a reality that people seeking change come up against every day. Recently, this has been evidenced in the unwillingness of the Democratic party’s “left-wing” squad to rock the boat by openly challenging the party leadership. As a complicit subsector, the squad will not do so, since it knows that this would shatter the illusion of disagreement between the two major parties and reveal their essential unity.

What to Do in this Situation?

The economic and ideological incorporation of most of the US population into the imperialist project, the coordination and convergence of the two major parties, and the efficiency of de facto Gleichschaltung in civil society institutions together mean that internal resistance to the imperialist project will continue to be up against the ropes in the foreseeable future. In a similar situation of a tightly controlled state, the White Rose and other German antifascist groups tried their best but could not defeat Nazi-fascism. Their work remained symbolic and inspirational. Nor could the Italian partigiani, whatever their levels of commitment and sacrifice, have defeated Italian fascism alone. Today, as in the past, it is only by collaborating at least tactically with outside powers that oppose the US imperialist, semi-fascist state that we can successfully defeat it.

The alliances and partnerships in this antifascist project must be forged with a practical and political spirit, meaning that one cannot apply the Goldilocks principle of looking for the bed or chair that is “just right” before we sit in it. If the USSR or the Western Allies had applied that principle when faced with the threat of Nazi-fascism, they might well have lost. Today, China, Russia, and Iran all show a clear disposition to oppose US fascistoid imperialism, and hence are potential allies in this cause, which – we reiterate – does not mean ratifying their quite varied political projects (China’s project being, in our view, a solid and hopeful one that might lead to socialism).

The US establishment is fully aware that internal forces of resistance to its project, if isolated, will be ineffective. Precisely for that reason it preemptively works to satanize any initial glimmer of such collaborations. (Witness the aggressiveness with which The People’s Forum, Code Pink, and the Tricontinental Institute were recently attacked.) This is an old story, earlier chapters of which were the two Red Scares, both that of 1917-20 and McCarthyism. The serious left, meaning the anti-imperialist and antifascist left, should brace itself for more such attacks, as it lays the ground and builds the alliances that are needed to make its project of resistance and transformation effective. The stories of overcoming fascist or fascistoid governments in Germany, Italy, and South Africa all depended on outside support. In the latter case, heroic Cuban internationalism played a decisive role in bringing down the Apartheid regime.

When fascism or something sharing its key characteristics seizes the masses in a country, they need to be saved from themselves. A huge number of Germans in the 1930s and 40s supported Hitler, just as the majority of people in the United States seem to support US imperialism and Zionism now. After their defeat, the vast majority of Germans recognized their error and became grateful for the outside intervention to end a genocidal project. It is the historical responsibility of the serious left in the US and Europe today to work so that in the not-too-distant future, people in their countries will be able to recognize their errors and the importance of outside support in having saved them from themselves.

Chris Gilbert is professor of political science in the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela.