by Ellen Isaacs
The word is being thrown around glibly now, but is Trumpism really fascism or isn’t it? And exactly what is fascism?
Most of us tend to think of Hitler and Nazi Germany as typifying this phenomenon, complete with the SS and concentration camps. We also think of fascism as a separate political system, distinct from capitalism or socialism. But both of these formulations are incomplete and decrease our ability to discern the true direction of our society.
In his seminal work Fascism and Social Revolution, first published in 1934, R. Palme Dutt tries to define fascism. He points out that fascism has always come to be when capitalism is in a period of decay and threatened revolt. “Fascism, in fact, is no peculiar independent doctrine and system arising in opposition to existing capitalist society. Fascism, on the contrary, is the most complete and consistent working out, in certain conditions of extreme decay, of the most typical tendencies and policies of modern capitalism.”(p 92) When capitalist society can no longer meet the expectations of workers, professionals, managers and small business owners for a certain quality of life, there is discontent and the likelihood of revolt. In a society like the U.S. that enjoyed economic pre-eminence in the world since 1945 but is now in competition with China, Russia and other emerging nations, workers’ livelihoods have become much less secure. Increasing international competition also means the likelihood of major war, a ratcheting up from the almost continuous smaller conflicts of the last 25 years, which will require mandatory military service and make possible the use of nuclear weapons. In addition, there is a new element of impending climate disaster, which competing capitalists cannot afford to control.
More recently, Lawrence Britt, of The Council for Secular Humanism(Free Inquiry, 23:2,3/31/03), analyzed characteristics of six clearly fascist regimes in addition to Nazism: Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. He found fourteen characteristics in common:
- Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism
- Disdain for the importance of human rights
- Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause
- The supremacy of the military/avid militarism
- Rampant sexism
- A controlled mass media
- Obsession with national security
- Religion and ruling elite tied together
- Power of corporations protected
- Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
- Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts
- Obsession with crime and punishment
- Rampant cronyism and corruption
- Fraudulent elections
It is clear that many of these conditions exist in the U.S. today or that we are headed in that direction. We are certainly getting accustomed to “America First” pounding in our ears. We have evolved from slavery to mass incarceration and “broken windows” policing, and militarization of the police is accelerating. There is a massive campaign to label immigrants and Muslims as the source of present and future crime and terrorism. Of course, African Americans have been demonized since slavery as the cause of crime, urban decay, drug use and every societal evil. Never has sexism been so celebrated from the White House.
Some may quibble about the controlled mass media, but we must recognize that 6 corporations now control 90% of what we read, watch and listen to (http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6). Only a small segment of the population reads an independent analysis. It seems like some of the prominent news organizations, like the NY Times and MSNBC, are presenting an alternative view to the current regime, but they are also owned by the corporate elite, who do have divisions among themselves at this point.
To continue down the list, there is no doubt that security is the catchword for immigration bans, deportations and walls. Trump has already declared an end to the separation of church and state by allowing churches to engage in political activity. Corporations have already had their power vastly increased through the Citizens United and Hobby Lobby rulings.
The suppression of labor has not yet reached the outlawing of unions, but only 10% of workers are now unionized, and the leaders of these few rarely fight militantly and settle for measly or no gains for workers. Trump favors right-to-work laws, which would be the final nail in the coffin for unions. Trump is also threatening to decrease funding for the arts, such as cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts budget and National Public Radio.
The U.S. already imprisons more of its citizens than any nation on earth, with no decline in sight. Now we also have an executive branch of billionaires, many with a history of dubious dealings, and a President whose wealth and investments are unprecedented, even in a society always run by the rich. Some may say that our elections are not fraudulent, but the winner of the popular vote has lost twice in the last 14 years due to the rigged electoral college system, and almost 6 million voters are disenfranchised by racially biased felony convictions. Rezoning and ID laws hinder many other poor and minority voters.
What is important is that many of these rightward trends did not just come to be under Trump. We have had racist and xenophobic explanations for crime and unemployment since our nation’s founding. Mass incarceration of blacks and Latinos is a phenomenon since Nixon’s war on drugs, and unpunished police killings and abuse are as old as slavery. Union busting and right-to-work laws burgeoned since McCarthyism in the 50s. Total open disdain for science, the arts, indeed the facts, may be new with Trump, but the underfunding and stupefaction of education, especially for the poor and nonwhite, is an old story. Anti-Muslim rhetoric to justify foreign wars for oil has been present since 9/11, as has mass government surveillance. These trends have grown under conservatives like Bush and liberals like Clinton and Obama.
But it is also true that many of these conditions have yet to fully flower. It has not yet become illegal to propagate anti-government positions, to take job actions, to meet or to protest. Military service has not yet but will certainly become compulsory, and education and health care may be cut even more. Racist laws affecting Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, and immigrants are sure to increase. So at this point, we can say we are well on the way to fascism, but it sure can get worse.
Clearly, a fascist regime cannot fully take hold unless a majority of citizens are won to racism, nationalism, and a suppression of liberties. It is encouraging that millions are protesting today and that over half of the population in the U.S. is in opposition to the most egregious of Trump’s policies, but it is a fragile majority. Could another large-scale terrorist attack on American soil or breakout of hostilities with a major power change the balance in Trump’s favor? Not unlikely.
Despite the fact that many Americans hold racist and xenophobic ideas, another point that Dutt makes is that fascism does not grow up from a citizenry that holds right wing views. It is always imposed from above by the capitalist ruling elite, who promote the ideas that justify their regime. Even the capitalist class must be disciplined. There are members of the ruling class, like the Koch brothers, who earn mostly domestic profits and promote right wing social ideas, sponsoring movements such as the Tea Party. Others, like Exxon, have huge international interests and favor an aggressive policy to maintain resources and markets overseas, leading them to support wars such as that in Iraq. At the moment, Trump has a mixture of supporters in both camps, a contradiction that will have to be resolved by empowering one wing of capitalists over the other.
Right now, Trump seems so out of control and poorly informed, that he may need to be disposed of through impeachment or some other mechanism, but this will not change the ultimate direction of U.S. society. If a Democrat or another Republican were to take over, the declining position of the U.S. in the world will guarantee the further development of fascism. It is going to take a massive popular movement that looks beyond these two parties, beyond capitalism, to turn the tide. Moreover, that movement will not be strong enough to succeed unless it unites workers and students of all genders and ethnicities together as a class, fighting for a new system in their own interests.