Don’t let up: Fascism isn’t dead yet

Even if Joe Biden had won the U.S. presidency by the expected landslide, the threat of fascism would remain. And not simply because Trumpites are not going away anytime soon.

Donald Trump doesn’t have the intelligence or sufficient ruling-class backing to actually become a fascist dictator. His desire to be one, however, has been more than sufficient to necessitate the widest possible movement against him and the social forces he represents, and there is no doubt his authoritarian impulses would have become still worse had he won a second term. What little democracy is left in the United States’ capitalist formal democracy would have been further reduced.

It might be better to understand Trump as the Republican Party’s frankenstein — the culmination of the Republican “Southern Strategy.” Richard Nixon was an open racist who developed the strategy of sending dog whistles to White racists; Ronald Reagan promoted “states’ rights,” well understood code words for supporting racially biased policies; George H.W. Bush exploited racial stereotypes with his Willie Horton campaign ads; George W. Bush’s presidency will be remembered for his callous ignoring of New Orleans and its African-American population in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; and the roster of Republicans hostile to civil rights is too long to list. Moreover, the Republican Party, with very few exceptions, has been an eager promoter and enabler of Trump’s virulent pro-big business policies with most not even bothering to pretend to challenge Trump’s racism and misogyny.

It was no surprise that a billionaire con man whose business plan has long been to screw his real estate empire’s working-class contractors and use every trick imaginable to not pay taxes or his creditors was going to stick it to working people. 

Protesters in Portland, Oregon, on the Morrison Bridge on June 3, 2020 (photo by Henryodell)

The Trump administration has been the worst U.S. presidency in history with an extraordinarily fierce approach to class warfare. But let us consider what fascism is: At its most basic level, fascism is a dictatorship established through and maintained with terror on behalf of big business. It has a social base, which provides the support and the terror squads, but which is badly misled since the fascist dictatorship operates decisively against the interest of its social base. Militarism, extreme nationalism, the creation of enemies and scapegoats, and, perhaps the most critical component, a rabid propaganda that intentionally raises panic and hate while disguising its true nature and intentions under the cover of a phony populism, are among the necessary elements.

Despite varying national characteristics that result in major differences in the appearances of fascism, the class nature is consistent. Big business is invariably the supporter of fascism, no matter what a fascist movement’s rhetoric contains, and is invariably the beneficiary. We often think of fascism in the classical 1930s form, of Nazis goose-stepping or the street violence of Benito Mussolini’s followers. But it took somewhat different forms later in the 20th century, being instituted through military dictatorships in Chile and Argentina. Any fascism that might arise in the U.S. would be wrapped in right-wing populism and, given the particular social constructs there, that populism would include demands to “return to the Constitution” and “secure the borders.”

Formal democracy vs. fascism

United Statesians have indeed suffered through four years of militarism, extreme nationalism, the creation of enemies and scapegoats, the imposition of “constitutionalist” judges and demands to “secure” borders, complete with open racism and misogyny. But the Trump administration and its followers constitute a movement with the potential to bring about a fascist dictatorship, not actual fascism. Should the U.S. ruling class — industrialists and financiers — decide they would no longer tolerate the country’s limited, corporate-constrained variety of “democracy,” the militias and assorted far right street gangs that “stand by” on Trump’s command would be unleashed without constraint. And they would be openly joined by police and security agencies in fomenting violence rather than being tacitly supported as they are at present.

Nonetheless, fascism is the last resort of any capitalist ruling class. Instituting a fascist dictatorship is no easy decision even for the biggest industrialists, bankers and landowners who might salivate over the potential profits. For even if it is intended to benefit them, these business elites are giving up some of their own freedom since they will not directly control the dictatorship; it is a dictatorship for them, not by them. It is only under certain conditions that business elites resort to fascism — some form of formal democratic government, under which citizens “consent” to the ruling structure, is the preferred form and much easier to maintain. Working people beginning to withdraw their consent — beginning to seriously challenge the economic status quo — is one “crisis” that can bring on fascism. An inability to maintain or expand profits, as can occur during a steep decline in the “business cycle,” or a structural crisis, is another such “crisis.”

A rally against Donald Trump in New York City on March 19, 2016, organized by the Cosmopolitan Antifascists

Industrialists and financiers have an iron grip on U.S. politics (witness the dreadful choice the two corporate parties have just offered), and the overdue economic downturn triggered by the pandemic has not hurt profits for most big corporations, with bailouts provided for those who have taken a hit to their bottom lines. Financiers and speculators are doing quite well, and because Wall Street values stability, financiers likely were more behind Joe Biden than Trump. As the Democratic Party favors financiers (while the Republicans favor industrialists), Wall Street will have no problem at all with a Biden administration. Some industrialists likely have tired of Trump’s antics, or calculate that they have gotten all the services they can reasonably expect from him; some among this grouping probably don’t mind a change. And given Joe Biden’s decades of loyal service to corporate interests, in particular the banking industry, little gnashing of teeth is likely to be found in corporate boardrooms.

There was no need for U.S. capitalists to institute a fascist dictatorship during the Trump administration and there won’t be any need in the near future. So, to circle back to the opening of this article, why should it be said that the threat of fascism is undiminished with the ouster of Trump? That is because as long as capitalism exists, the threat of fascism exists.

The rule of capital

The system is called capitalism for a reason — it is the rule of capital. The owners of capital. Those who have capital generally divide into two camps, industrialists and financiers, as alluded to above. Industrialists own or are the top managers of enterprises that produce tangible goods and services, while financiers trade, buy and sell stocks, bonds and other securities, continually inventing new instruments to profit off virtually every aspect of commercial activity. The two compete fiercely for the bigger half of the profits and thus have sometimes conflicting interests, but there is considerable overlap between the two sectors of capitalists. Crucially, their class interests are completely aligned. 

Employees are paid far less than the value of what they produce; this is the source of corporate profit. The bloated salaries and profits generated by exploitation of employees is far greater than can be thrown into spending on luxuries or used for business investment, so these massive piles of money are diverted into financial speculation, swelling an already bloated financial sector, which grabs large amounts of this speculative money for itself. Top managers of industrial firms in turn are paid largely in stock so that their interests are “aligned” with that of finance capital, to use Wall Street lingo.

This is the ordinary and routine working of capitalism. As long as people consent to this arrangement — and thus consent to their ongoing exploitation — all is well for industrialists and financiers. But what if consent begins to be withdrawn? What if an economic downturn is so severe and sustained that it becomes difficult to extract profits? This is when capitalists begin to think about putting an end to formal democracy and instituting authoritarian rule. At the most extreme, this authoritarian rule can slide into fascism. Such a scenario is always a possibility because capitalism is inherently unstable. Twenty years into the 21st century, we’re already living through a third economic downturn, each worse than the previous one.

United Statesians, for now, have pushed back against a potential slide toward fascism by ousting Trump. But the recent global trend is unmistakable: Far right authoritarian ideologues remain in office in countries around the world, among them Brazil, the Philippines, Hungary and Poland, and the U.S. has a history stretching back to the 19th century of installing right-wing dictators and overthrowing democratically elected governments. Capitalists have a variety of economic tools at their disposal to maintain their rule, the armed force of governments to enforce their rule, and a variety of institutions and control of the mass media to reinforce ideologies upholding their rule. Elections in capitalist countries decide who gets to govern, not who gets to rule.

Formal democracy is the preferred method of ruling, but if violence, ranging all the way to fascism, is the only way to maintain their power, that is what industrialists and financiers will insist their governments impose. Fascism can’t arise or be raised to power without a social base, a badly confused bloc that supplies support and the shock troops. This social base has to be maleducated enough to believe the obvious lies spewed by the leader and be enthused by the permission granted to openly display their hatreds, be those racism, misogyny, nativism, homophobia or anti-Semitism, permission wrapped in virulent nationalism. The millions of fanatical Trump followers are a monument to the lack of education in the U.S., a pervasive propaganda system and the product of decades of relentless Republican Party ideology. There can be no potential fascist movement without such a social base.

Given this fanatical support of Trump despite the massive failures and undisguised class warfare of his administration, both the followers and the shock troops remain even when Trump leaves the White House. Will they be called on in the future? If you don’t want the threat of fascism to hover in the background, you’ll have to get rid of capitalism.

7 comments on “Don’t let up: Fascism isn’t dead yet

  1. agentofthor says:

    This is another good post, and does a good job of explaining how fascism from the far Right typically operate and how Trump was a text book example. But why is there no mention of the equally serious threat of the pseudo-Left, such as the SJWs that *very openly* promote hatred towards anyone that is white, male, and cis-heterosexual to the point of attacking the principle of due process itself? People of this ideology, who mostly stem from the upper middle class, have largely taken over the entertainment industry, academia, and “liberal” media. They are also openly promoted by the Democratic Party, much as the Republican Party often promotes the opposite side of the identity politics coin to keep the working class divided and angrily competing against each other on the basis of race, gender, etc. and to focus working class attention away from economic issues that should unite us as a class. The Authoritarian Left and their own brand of anti-white racism, misandry, and heterophobia are as ripe a threat for fascism as are their flip side on the Right. Let us not ignore or downplay their participation in this mess to keep the working class divided and authoritarian rule a continuing possibility.

    • Thanks for the compliment, Agentofthor. I will have to disagree with your thesis on so-called “social justice warriors,” a term that is most frequently deployed by the Right to attack liberals. You are using that term in the same context, albeit from a much different perspective. You are certainly not the only person of the Left to raise the arguments you have made. I believe that pointing out that People of Color and women are historically disadvantaged, and that White men are advantaged through systems of structural inequities, is not “hatred,” but rather pointing out what is clearly a reality.

      If we say “Black Lives Matter,” that is because Black lives haven’t mattered and are valued less than other lives, something that should be obvious from the never-ending killings of Black people by police and the institutional racism that maintains this pattern, among other inequalities. So White people participating in Black Lives Matter marches are doing necessary work. Those of us who benefit from our skin color or our sex do have to acknowledge this and join the work of dismantling discrimination, knowing that the end of those structures means the end of the benefits we receive. It is not up to People of Color only to eliminate racism, it is not up to women only to eliminate sexism, it is not up to Jews only to eliminate anti-Semitism and it is not up to the LGBTQ community only to eliminate homophobia.

      It is certainly true that “identity politics” can be, and sometimes is, used to downplay or obscure class politics. We of course can’t transcend capitalism and bring about a better world without a deep analysis of class and the central role class plays in capitalist hierarchy. And capitalists have always tried to divide working people on racial, ethnic, national and sex lines. But at the same time, there are people who are more oppressed than others, and it is long past time to stop saying to people “wait your turn and we’ll solve your problems after the revolution.”

      All the divisions among us need to be acknowledged and worked on, together. If all of us are to be free in a better world, then all of us need to be free — and equal.

  2. Excellent analysis. So important to tie fascism to capitalism and up the fight against racism.

  3. “fascism is the last resort of any capitalist ruling class”. You could not be any more incorrect. Fascism explicitly rejects materialism and capitalism and would end the existence of corporate entities all together. In Fasicm there is no room for anything other than the State. Please at least read The Doctrine of Fascism before writing with such ignorant confidence.

    • Fascism is the subject that I write about that draws the most critiques. Most everybody else, other than you, offer their theories with knowledge and respect, and so those thoughtful readers and I can conduct a useful dialogue. Challenging one another is a good thing, because either we sharpen our arguments or find we have to abandon or modify them. Informed dialogue with knowledgable people is how we learn.

      You, on the other hand, are an example of an ignorant person who peddles uninformed ideas with extreme arrogance. I’ve often been struck by how frequently arrogance and incompetency go together, but let’s set that aside. Because you are so arrogant, there is no point in attempting a conversation with you. I will instead school you, because that is what you need. And I am doing that more for the benefit of others who are reading over our shoulders.

      Two books that would set you straight are The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany by Leon Trotsky and Fascism and Big Business by Daniel Guerin. There you will learn what fascism actually is, and who benefits from it. I’ve also written on this, comparing Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile and the “Process” of Argentina. The results are clear and unmistakable. A brief summary:

      • In Germany, corporate profits more than doubled in five years, while from Hitler’s ascension to power on January 30, 1933, to the summer of 1935, wages dropped 25 to 40 percent. In 1935, a “labor passport” was instituted in which the employer wrote reports on the holder. The employer could confiscate the passport at will, without which employment could not be taken, effectively making it impossible to change jobs. In 1938, it was formally made illegal for a worker to change jobs.
      • In Italy, from 1926 to 1934, industrial wages were reduced at least 40 to 50 percent, while agricultural wages were reduced 50 to 70 percent. Unemployment meant the specter of starvation, and as a further whip to keep wages down, children were regularly used in agricultural and factory work as substitutes for fired adults. From 1935, many factory employees were placed under direct military discipline; missing more than five days of work was a penalty subject to nine years’ imprisonment. All workers had to carry a “labor passport.”
      • In Francisco Franco’s Spain, real wages in 1949 were 50 percent of those in 1936. Rationing lasted until 1952; the rations alone were insufficient to maintain human existence. The historian Paul Preston, author of two books that closely examine Franco and his regime, quoted Hitler aide Heinrich Himmler as calling the Franco regime “more brutal in its treatment of the Spanish working class than was the Third Reich in its dealings with German workers.”
      • In Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, the majority of workers earned less in 1989 than in 1973 (after adjusting for inflation). Labor’s share of the national income declined from 52 percent in 1970 to 31 percent in 1989. The minimum wage dropped almost by half during the 1980s, and by the end of that decade, Chile’s poverty rate reached 41 percent and the percentage of Chileans without adequate housing was 40 percent, up from 27 percent in 1972. One-third of the country’s workforce was unemployed by 1983.
      • In Argentina, the main union federation was abolished, strikes outlawed, prices raised, wages tightly controlled and social programs cut. As a result, real wages fell by 50 percent within a year. Tariffs were reduced deeply, leaving the country wide open to imports and foreign speculation, causing considerable local industry to shut. For the period 1978 to 1983, Argentina’s foreign debt increased to $43 billion from $8 billion, while the share of wages in national income fell to 22 percent from 43 percent.

      Who benefited from these developments? It was capitalists and the corporate entities they owned and controlled. It is well known that numerous German corporations profited from the use of slave labor. The arms manufacturer Gustav Krupp use the slave labor of 100,000 concentration-camp inmates, including those at a fuse factory inside Auschwitz. An estimated 70,000 of Krupp’s slave laborers died at the hands of camp guards. I.G. Farben, the chemical giant, even built its own concentration camps to eliminate the “waste” of time it took prisoners to march to work. There are plenty more examples.

      The “state” (government) is not some abstract entity sitting above society, it is an expression of the strength of the composite forces within a given society.

      It is fine not to be knowledgable about a subject. What is not acceptable is to have a lack of knowledge and then attack others from that lack of knowledge. How else can we learn other than by accepting our lack of knowledge and setting out to learn from those who know more? So it is now time for you to run along and do your homework.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s