by Ellen Isaacs
August 17, 2020
What is fascism? Is it a separate political system, distinct from capitalism or communism? Is it a set of practices like the SS and concentration camps that we associate with Nazi Germany? Is it the result of Trumpism? Or is fascism something that we might experience even if Trump is no more? Most certainly, yes, even without Trump.
Fascism is actually a stage of capitalism, capitalism that is unable to meet the basic aspirations and requirements of citizenry: capitalism that can no longer hide its own racism, cruelty, and ineptitude from enough citizens to quell resistance; capitalism that cannot avoid the necessity of inter-imperialist war to protect its needed resources and cheap labor; capitalism that cannot cease the destruction of the planet in its need to maximize profits. As R. Palme Dutt said in his seminal work, Fascism and Social Revolution, first published in 1934, “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) Lawrence Britt, of The Council for Secular Humanism(Free Inquiry, 23:2,3/31/03), analyzed characteristics of six fascist regimes from Pinochet’s Chile to Suharto’s Indonesia. Some of the characteristics he found in common were:
- Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism
- Disdain for the importance of human rights
- Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause- racism and sexism
- The supremacy of the military/avid militarism
- A controlled mass media
- Obsession with national security
- Power of corporations protected
- Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
If we accept this notion of fascism, then it is clear that removing Trump does not erase the danger that our nation will head in this direction.
Nothing Biden or any other Democratic or liberal president could do can sufficiently change the fundamental downward direction of US capitalism. Even before the pandemic exposed the racism, inequality, and lack of a functional health care or public health system, the US was in a declining economic and political position in the world. The producer of over half of the world’s goods after World War II, the US now manufactures only 18% while China accounts for 28%, according to the United Nations Statistics Division. Once the controller of world currency and the main arbiter or development or lack thereof in most of the world, the US is now being outdone by China through its One Belt One Road policy and its establishment of competitive international banking systems in Asia, Africa and even the Americas.
Only in its military armamentarium is the US still preeminent, but defeats in Vietnam and failure to obtain victory in Afghanistan or Iraq have shown that the power to destroy is not enough. What the US lacks is the ability to field an ample occupying army or win the loyalty of those it invades. Ever since the debacle of Vietnam, the US is afraid to impose a draft and demand the loyalty of black, brown, immigrant young people or many students.
The Democrats, allies of large banking interests and internationally operating corporations such as Exxon, may well wish to mitigate racist police violence and anti-immigrant policies in order to quiet dissent and attract more young people into the military. The latter is less a priority for Trump and his isolationist backers, like the Kochs and hedge fund billionaire Mercers, whose investments are chiefly domestic, and who use racism and xenophobia more overtly. However, it would be folly to believe that any US politician of any stripe would or could erase the huge differentials in wages and services between white and non-white workers, which so effectively keep workers divided and reap huge profits. White workers, the actual numerical majority of the poor and underserved, are also facing much increased stress in this pandemic, and it is more important than ever to keep them divided from potential black or Latin allies. To the extent that the current rebellions are multiracial, more so than any others of recent times, they are fearsome to Democrats and Republicans alike.
Lessons from Recent Democratic Administrations
Although Biden loves to deny that he ever held any positions other than those he is espousing at the moment, we must no forget his long history of:
- Opposing school busing for integration and allying with segregationist Senators
- Authoring the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that led to an increase of 100,000 police, longer prison sentences, 60 new death penalty offenses, and the three strikes you’re out rule that enabled a life sentence even for committing three minor crimes
- Co-writing the Anti-Drug Abuse Act during the crack epidemic which caused much more severe sentences for mostly black users of crack cocaine as opposed to mostly white users of powder cocaine.
- Backing the Hyde Amendment which barred federal money, federal health benefits or Medicaid being able to pay for or encourage abortion, even in cases of incest or rape
- Expanding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allowed secret surveillance by the government without a court order
- Backing the Iraq War and refusing to believe there were no weapons of mass destruction
- Supporting the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, that required restrictions on government aid for immigrants and indefinite detention of undocumented immigrants convicted of minor crimes and their rapid deportation
- Voting to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, a post-Depression measure that had separated investment and retail banking and made it illegal for banks to make risky investments with their customers’ money
- Supporting $50 million in aid to develop Ukrainian shale gas (2014) and supporting Obama lifting a ban on crude oil exports and opposing a ban on fracking
Obama, whom many liberals wish they could elect again, was stellar at promoting the interests of the US ruling class. To name a few of his actions, he:
- Bailed out the big banks but not homeowners
- Froze strikes at auto plants and froze the wages of federal workers
- Cut spending on food stamps, aid to black colleges and oversaw a 10.9% decrease in black median income
- Allowed a public option to be dropped from Obama care
- Did nothing to stem the tide of racist police murders
- Dropped over 26,000 tons of bombs in Asia and Africa, ordered over ten times more drone strikes than George W. Bush, massively increased the defense budget, expanded the CIA’s paramilitary forces, doubled funding for the US military in Africa and invaded Libya
- Expanded the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan
- Supported Israeli strikes on Gaza and increased arms sales to Saudi Arabia
What the Near Future Holds
If Biden becomes President, which seems likely, he will surely try to improve on Trump’s devastating response to Covid-19, which has left the economy in deep distress and facing a possible 32.9% decrease of GDP. However, by January, tens of thousands more will be dead and millions will likely be evicted, unemployed and even starving. Schools will be unable to function, hospitals may well be overwhelmed again, and millions will lack health insurance or adequate health care. Such a scenario may well lead to much broader rebellions, involving workers of all wage levels and ethnicities, even forcing unions to act.
No politician will have the ability, let alone the desire, to attach the massive wealth of banks and corporations in order to plug the gaping hole in workers’ lives, although some moves in that direction may be made. The mechanisms to actually house, feed, and care for millions without massively interfering with profits simply do not exist. Most important will be the need to pacify an aroused working class. Partly this will be done through an appeal to patriotism and mutual sacrifice, but that can only go so far when millions are already living on the edge. As the weakness of the US is more exposed, threats from competitors like China and Russia will increase. To the degree that mass indoctrination with racism, nationalism, sexism, religion and militarism does not work, to the degree that workers, students and soldiers resist, then repression is the only option. That is fascism. Democrat or Republican.
The main danger the working class faces is that in the face of devastation, many are won to seeking a solution in the electoral process. Instead, the necessity is to organize ourselves as an unbeatable multiracial force of workers- white and blue collar, employed and unemployed, soldiers and students – to do away with the capitalist system which is threatening all life on earth. We can be sure that the capitalists will use whatever repression and force that is necessary and that they can muster to try and remain in power. But we are the great majority, we are the ones who build the infrastructure and man the guns. We have the power to install a system we run, one without profit or privilege, based on maximizing the quality of life for all. We must make that our goal and our rallying cry, even as we fight for our immediate needs. We must rely on ourselves, not politicians or the system they have installed to choose between themselves. We choose us.