Fascism & its Opposition in the United States
Fascism and its Opposition in the United States
September 24, 2020 / 6320 AFK
In response to anti-police brutality protests and other forms of political dissent, law enforcement routinely carries out crackdowns on such dissenters. This is why political expression comes with risk. Now that middle class and wealthier, white people in the United States are getting more involved in such dissent, the traditional police crackdowns on this less black, less poor population are deemed unacceptable by more of civil society. This is a credit to the strategic involvement of white allies in the movement against systemic racism, but it is also a sad commentary on liberal sensibilities about who is and isn’t an acceptable target of fascism. In fact, many liberals and conservatives alike have a hard time even acknowledging that historical and ongoing political suppression and police violence against black people and indigenous people is also fascism. There is also a tendency among liberals to attribute too much of this fascistic behavior to the current President or to Republican or conservative culture. This attribution is so narrow that it is dangerously misleading. Neither major party has a monopoly on fascism and yet this narrow analysis of fascistic current events allows Democratic political candidates to present themselves as the enlightened, compassionate solution to police brutality, systemic racism, illegal foreign policy, political suppression and other manifestations of fascism. Those of us who have experienced police harassment or have seen the Democratic Party’s political suppression firsthand are troubled by the false, but popular, notion that one of the two, major political parties could be an effective defense against fascism in the United States. US fascism is not fueled primarily by one political party, but by the economic requirements of capitalism and its public policy support system, neoliberalism. The cultural justifications for fascism sometimes come from socially conservative, Republican politicians and they sometimes come from socially liberal, Democratic politicians. However, what remains constant is the economic necessity to use law enforcement, the military and intelligence agencies to secure stolen or cheap land, stolen or cheap labor and stolen or cheap natural resources and to suppress political expression for the benefit of the capitalist class. Both capitalist political parties abide by this economic necessity for fascism. Treating the fascism of “liberal” capitalism as a safeguard against the more overt fascism of conservative capitalism does not protect anyone, but the ruling class. A genuine challenge to fascism requires more than a cosmetic shift from one capitalist political party to another. It requires an economic evolution towards egalitarian, anti-capitalist enterprise and a political vision that abandons capitalism and neoliberalism, which are the financial motivation and the philosophical justification underlying fascism.
Fascism in the Democratic and Republican Parties
Fascism is bipartisan. Denver’s Democratic District Attorney recently carried out highly militarized arrests, targeting leaders of anti-police brutality activism. Some of the charges, like attempted kidnapping, are obviously contrived attempts to slander the activists. Contrary to the Democratic Party narrative, this fascistic behavior is not unique to Republican politicians and it is much older than the presidency of Donald Trump. Denver has a Democratic District Attorney and a Democratic Mayor. Colorado has a Democratic Governor. Black people and indigenous people have always lived with this degree of injustice whether we live in Republican-controlled or Democrat-controlled cities and states. Of course, white people are also victimized by state violence and political suppression for reasons other than their race.
Liberal voters would be less shocked by President Trump's fascism if they took a closer look at the actions of his predecessors. President Bush oversaw torture and implemented domestic, warrantless surveillance. President Obama refused to prosecute those torturers and continued those warrantless, domestic surveillance programs. He even prosecuted the very people who raised the alarm about these authoritarian programs. This is fascist. President Bush’s Administration told lies to go to war in Iraq. Presidents Bush and Obama authorized dozens of airstrikes for every week of their sixteen years in the White House. In 2010, one of Obama's airstrikes assassinated a 16 year old, US citizen at a barbecue in Yemen. He hadn’t been charged with or convicted of any crime. President Obama sent Americans to war in Syria and Libya without declarations of war. Millions of people were killed or turned into refugees because of these actions. This is fascist. Presidents Bush and Obama implemented unilateral (illegal) economic sanctions around the world exacerbating poverty and malnutrition for millions of people and causing thousands of deaths. They provided military and financial aid to some of the most authoritarian governments in the world, like Israel and Saudi Arabia. Facilitating religious apartheid against Palestinians is fascist, but support for such policies enjoys broad, bipartisan support in every White House and Congress.
There are many, many political parties in the United States, but independent and political candidates are routinely excluded from political debates, even by public television and public radio. This is political censorship and political suppression, which is fascist. During the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, the FBI famously spied on, infiltrated, sabotaged and assassinated black activists for exercising their right to bear arms and airing their independent political views. This racist, fascist sabotage occurred under multiple Presidents including the liberal darling, John Kennedy. And when the Black Panthers, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated by the Chicago Police Department in 1969, it happened under a Democratic City Council and a Democratic Mayor.
Policing is another institution with staunch, bipartisan support, despite its fascist origins and its continued usefulness in carrying out a fascist agenda. Policing in the US was not designed to protect the general public, but to protect “private property”. Property, in this sense, refers to privately owned business property, like land, labor, natural resources, equipment and any assets that generate profits for the largest holders of capital. Instead of being charged with protecting the general public, proto-police forces in the form of private detective agencies and slave patrols were charged with controlling the worker class. To this day, the police will probably not be able to prevent you from being robbed in the street, from being burgled at home or from being assaulted by a partner or family member because you are not who police departments were designed to protect in the first place. But they do have a history of successfully undermining workers’ labor movements, protecting the interests of major capitalists, maintaining slavery and maintaining prison slavery. And every time the masses mobilize themselves to demonstrate for justice, a healthy ecosystem or a sustainable economy, the police are always there to shut down protest on behalf of the wrong side of history. Policing epitomizes the fascist merger of corporate and state power. If policing actually protected the interests of people power or community power, then its historical roots and present form would be entirely different.
At no point in US history has an attempt at police reform ended the disproportionate killing and incarceration of black and native people by law enforcement. Institutions have systematic inertia or "memory" and US law enforcement institutions remember well their fundamental purpose of race-based and class-based control. Now that we are over half of a century beyond the Civil Rights Acts, it is becoming increasingly apparent that continuing to advocate for police reform has the equivalent effect of doing nothing but protecting systemic racism and opposition to social movements in policing. It may be that elected Democrats are such champions of police reform because they represent an economic class that finds it convenient to feign opposition to racism and social inequity in order to maintain policing in its current form. If ending racist law enforcement were truly a priority, then politicians would not simply regurgitate "new" reforms to policing. Instead, they could put the power to police black communities into black communities' hands or they could eliminate the irreparably unjust institution altogether. State governments could give primarily black communities control of policing in their communities. State governments could abolish policing. The federal government could recognize black people's sovereignty and grant us political autonomy. However "out there" these ideas may seem, at least they have not failed black generation after generation after generation for centuries. Reform advocates can't even make this unimpressive claim. Black community control of the police and police abolition are not as "out there" as is continuing to rely on a broken, racist, lethal system that has been endangering black people's public safety for centuries. Unfortunately, the political culture of classical liberalism was founded on minimizing the catastrophe of fascism against black people and indigenous people. As such, elected Democrats can maintain a policing system that kills and incarcerates black and indigenous people unjustly and still be seen as adequate representatives of black, indigenous and marginalized people. In the minds of liberals, Democrats are too intelligent or too socially conscious to engage in fascism. Elected Republicans tend to support the continuance of anti-black fascism in the form of more heavy-handed policing. In the minds of conservatives, anti-black and anti-indigenous fascism are too justified or too immaterial to actually be fascism. The major parties take turns and nothing changes.
Those claiming to confront authoritarianism by encouraging support for a typical, Democratic Party candidate should examine the history of fascist policies coming from that party. While they may sincerely want to combat fascism, they may inadvertently be defending a liberal flavor of fascism. Treating US fascism as a four years-old phenomenon, ushered in by Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, sanitizes US history, including recent history under Presidents Bush and Obama and local governments. It turns President Trump into a scapegoat for an entire class of people and institutions who require state violence and political repression in order to maintain their anti-democratic control of finance capital and large scale industry. Most dangerously, once Donald Trump leaves politics and liberal outrage resumes its quiet selectivity, this shallow opposition to Trump's flavor of fascism will evaporate and quickly as it came. It will leave people vulnerable to the boilerplate, bipartisan police brutality, political repression, war and oligarchic control that persists under every two-party President who maintains the same fascist power arrangement, but with more palatable rhetoric. In order to truly confront fascism at its root, leaders first need a theory of the economic drivers and philosophical underpinnings of fascism, not just condemnation of its most obvious personalities. Then, they need to provide an economic and philosophical vision that undermines those economic drivers while democratizing power in favor of everyday people, particularly oppressed peoples and the environment. Such an anti-fascist vision is an anti-capitalist vision, which is directly opposed to the agenda of the two major political parties.
Capitalism, the Economic Root of US Fascism
The political ideology that the Republican and Democratic parties share is neoliberalism. The spectrum of ideas coming from Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz falls within this one political ideology. It has dominated American political thought since the era of the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 (a United Nations conference). Prior to neoliberalism, liberalism was the prevailing ideology of the dominant political parties in the US. (The international protectionism of the late 1800s and early 1900s is arguably an exception.) Liberalism came from Western political philosophy during the Enlightenment Era. Ironically, implementing this political philosophy required the barbaric, unenlightened, racist practices of slavery, genocide and colonial displacement. George Washington and his colleagues didn’t create a democracy, they implemented a white nationalist oligarchy that relied on incredibly violent fascism. Without genocide, the (ongoing) theft of indigenous land, enslaved labor, political suppression and state violence, capitalism as we know it in the US could not have been established. In fact, Germany’s Nazi Party got their fascist playbook from run-of-the-mill authoritarianism in the “land of the free”.
Neoliberalism is essentially public policy’s complement to capitalism in the private sector. Capitalism is anti-democratic, both in its internal style of business management and in its external tendency to produce oligarchy in government. Capitalism requires anti-democratic control of workers and natural resources through fascist means - police brutality, prison labor, bipartisan political suppression and corporate domination of public policy. In the US and in many NATO countries, capitalism has even developed interests in controlling workers and natural resources globally through imperialist means – wars of aggression, illegal economic sanctions, meddling in foreign elections and corporate domination of foreign policy. As a class, capitalist owners require violent control over labor and political muzzling of non-capitalist ideas in order to maintain their anti-democratic power. This isn’t necessarily because they're mean people or because they're motivated by interpersonal racism or xenophobic nationalism, but because it’s an economic necessity of a capitalist social order.
This necessity was exemplified in the 1930s when the financial interests behind a failed fascist coup in the US were revealed. Leading up to the 1930s, during the Progressive Era, people in the US made greater demands for economic justice. The Labor Movement won political victories for white workers, their unions and workplace protections. In response to this social movement, capitalists reacted by devising a now-notorious plan to take over the US government in order to increase authoritarian crackdowns on workers, political suppression and social control. This plan would bring authoritarianism into the mainstream, beyond its typical targets in black communities, indigenous communities, leftist political organizations and colonized people around the world. This plan to hijack part of the US military and to implement an overtly fascist federal government would be known as the “Business Plot”. The plan was disrupted and revealed by General Smedley Butler. This may come as a surprise to the Democratic Party’s social justice warriors of 2016, but this fascist plan didn’t originate with poor white people, with white people who were primarily motivated by interpersonal racism, with uneducated white people nor did it originate with white people who were extremely enthusiastic about their socially conservative values. According to General Butler, the plan originated from Wall Street. These major financial institutions had the power and the financial interest to use the government’s capacity for violence, political suppression and social control. Their purpose was to protect major, corporate shareholders' dominion over cheap and stolen labor, land and natural resources from what they deemed to be growing threats – ideas and actions in favor of economic justice, economic democracy and deeper political democracy. Increased fascism was simply in the financial interest of the owner class of the US in the 1930s. These fascists weren’t necessarily upset about sharing the country with black people or immigrants. They weren’t too uneducated to understand the merits of democracy. They certainly weren't so frustrated by their poverty that they became susceptible to the hope offered by an authoritarian leader. These fascists from Wall Street and the financial interests that they represented probably gave generously to the arts, education, social services and were probably very pleasant people to know on a personal basis. But, the root of fascism isn't cultural, it's financial.
Cultural appeals to racism, patriarchy, xenophobia, nationalism and a cult of messianic leadership are only tools to popularize a fascist agenda. Most of the people who are attracted to such cultural appeals are unlikely to be part of the small class of capitalists who actually have enough power to financially benefit from providing corporate interests with even greater social control over the labor class. A political effort to oppose fascist cultural appeals is not meaningful if it does not oppose the economic force driving the fascist cultural appeals. In fact, it protects the source of fascism from the people who genuinely want to oppose it, but cannot distinguish the cultural rhetoric from class-based, financial interests. Arguably, the effect of the Democratic Party is to counter right-leaning, fascist cultural appeals with left-leaning cultural appeals while maintaining the same oligarchic, economic agenda - policies that favor big finance, major owners of large corporations and exploitation of workers. By maintaining the same class-based, economic agenda, most elected Democrats maintain "more acceptable" applications of fascism against non-white communities, against undocumented communities, against leftist political parties and organizations and against US war zones and unilaterally sanctioned communities around the world. Ultimately, the liberal capitalists who present themselves as political opposition to right-wing fascism serve the same financial interests as do the right wing capitalists. Fascism is the natural child of a private sector that is dominated by capitalism and public sector dominated by liberal or neoliberal economic thought. When its parents are threatened by socialism, economic democracy, deeper political democracy or organization among the communities that capitalism disenfranchises, then the child gets more protective of its parents.
Defenders of neoliberal ideology have varying levels of guilt and pride about the history of Western capitalism in the US. However, the guilty liberal and the unapologetic conservative are unified in their belief that, ultimately, colonization, genocide and systemic racism have been worth the human cost. They necessarily affirm this by asserting that capitalism is worth maintaining and that elected officials and public bureaucracy should not stray from neoliberalism. This is fascism normalized. Trumpism is not an aberration, but a continuation, of mainstream US political economy.
Political Will to Oppose Fascism
Those of us who studied neoliberal politics, but no other political frameworks, are often so well-“educated” that we have great difficulty with even envisioning any standard of governance outside of the Washington Consensus. Those who studied structures of law and business wherein private property is king and collectively-owned property is almost never heard of are similarly well educated. (The university system is hardly as liberal, in both senses of the word, as some might think.) Such a narrow education makes it very difficult to believe that any economic order but capitalism is possible. But other arrangements become more possible as we expand our minds. Our minds can be led to expand by the light of possibility and they can be forced to expand by the dark magnitude of destruction taking place.
On the dark side, learning about systemic injustice can be saddening, angering and generally disturbing. And yet, the wars, the mass killings, the police brutality and the political suppression are non-issues for many people. Neither major party can chastise the other for their authoritarian behavior because they’re both complicit, so the general public rarely hears about it. When we do hear about such dark things, we tend to have one of, at least, two responses.
One response is to tune it out. The enormity and mundanity of the US government’s bipartisan violence and political suppression can be overwhelming. For many of us, the problem is so overwhelming and negative that we may not have the emotional capacity, let alone the political education, to effectively reason through ways to confront fascism. Deciding to become numb to the darkness is a normal response. But denial is a poor sedative. Our conscience doesn’t allow most of us to ignore the nagging feeling that something is terribly wrong. Considering the trends of environmental destruction, poverty, racism, patriarchy and war, capitalism is not close – or even on track – to solving our most urgent problems. In many ways, it is a driving force behind these negative trends. Once we've given ourselves some time to try denial and to tire of it, then we may find that the much more rewarding path is to get curious about a better way forward and to take action. By throwing ourselves into a solution, we remind ourselves that we do have agency and that we are powerful, particularly when we combine our efforts with others.
Another response to the dark realization of rampant fascism is to decide that, because both major parties are engaged in such behavior, there is no alternative and this is the way it has to be. Resistance feels futile. So, people rationalize the violence and political suppression as permanent evils and decide that our best choice is to support what we think is the slightly “lesser” evil. However, as many Buddhists understand, nothing in life is permanent. A fruit fly may live for one week and an empire may last for one millennium, but nothing is permanent. This level of fascism may be on a multi-century streak right now, but that streak had a beginning and it will have an end. The culture of cooperation, justice and peace can grow into a period of dominance, even if we’re not already there right now. It will take generations, but an understanding of impermanence tells us that a new paradigm will inevitably emerge, so the clear choice we have is to get comfortable with evil or to choose to hasten a brighter paradigm.
Some of us don't need to be motivated by darkness and instead may be motivated by the light of better possibilities. There are entire economic arrangements outside of capitalism that don’t require the authoritarianism that some anti-communists and anti-socialists fear. This means that there are also public policy alternatives to neoliberalism and its class-based, structurally embedded, fascism. If we are motivated by such possibility then we will need this political will to leave capitalism behind and to re-educate ourselves and each other about how we manage our financial enterprises, how we structure our economic power and how we decide on our public policy priorities.
Defeating fascism comes down to creating community-controlled, economic institutions, including cooperative control of financial capital. We can develop democratically-controlled economic institutions that do not replicate a class-based society in which the wealthy few hoard resources and use state violence to suppress the many. These democratic entities can help us meet our economic needs, while making us less dependent on anti-democratic, capitalist economic institutions.
Defeating fascism also requires political organizations that are rooted in a governing ideology that names capitalism as the systemically violent, classist, racist, ecologically destructive ideology that it is and point toward a more promising political philosophy. For example, we can use community-based, micro-democracies to develop political platforms that reflect community priorities. We can randomly select and rotate through political representatives who will carry these collectively-created political agendas to local, regional and national representative bodies that make laws. We can also do something entirely different.
Whatever we do, in order to generate the collective will to oppose fascism, we have to come to terms with how deeply embedded it is in mainstream American economics and decide for ourselves that it is actually possible to eliminate it and make a better world.
Genuine Opposition to Fascism
Genuine opposition to fascism requires movements that oppose private domination of politics, finance and economics and it requires that we create political, financial and economic institutions that support the democratic empowerment of the masses and for the health of ecological systems. In 2011, there was an historic, international demand for a financial industry that was more connected to the real economy and the welfare of everyday people. Across the US and around the world, people took to the streets in a popular, leaderless movement that demanded economic practices that served the needs of everyday people, not just the wealthiest “one percent”. General assemblies around the US formed to discuss issues, make proposals, engage in debate and to make democratic decisions. The liberal poster child, President Barack Obama could have met with these assemblies to envision a financial system that didn’t generate so much poverty, war and pollution. Instead, neoliberal politicians like, then Mayor, Michael Bloomberg and Obama, chose to have the police crack down on the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Movement and to treat this mass movement as a passing inconvenience. Today, eleven years after the 2008 financial crisis, the “too-big-to-fail” banks are now even bigger than they were when the public was forced to socialize the bad assets of the financial sector.
OWS challenged the class-based, capitalist structure of the financial sector and in doing so, it challenged fascism. This movement brought together thousands, if not millions, of people and many of them have continued to work together in pursuit of a better world. This constituted a genuine challenge against fascism and it didn’t require working within “the system” of Democratic and Republican political parties, think tanks, advocacy nonprofits, campaigns, etc. In the US, most major politicians were either not seriously supportive of OWS or they opposed the movement outright. Given that the major parties rely so heavily on Wall Street and large corporations, there was a direct clash of class interests between the OWS agenda and the capitalist agenda of most Democratic or Republican politicians. A political party or political movement that is funded by major banks and large, capitalist enterprises is not a defense against fascism. It is structurally bound to the private interests of the capitalist class and fascistic, state violence. Anti-fascists can build financial power by moving our money away from private banks and insurance companies into credit unions and mutual insurance companies that are collectively owned and controlled by their customers and by injecting anti-capitalist education, anti-racist education, anti-patriarchal education and ecological education into such institutions.
Political suppression is commonplace in two-party politics where the goal is not democratic diversity of opinion, but exclusion of political perspectives that offer an alternative to neoliberalism and capitalism. In 2012, Dr. Jill Stein and Cheri Honkola were the Green Party candidates for President and Vice President. When they attempted to bring their eco-socialist agenda to a presidential debate at Hofstra University as official, ballot-qualified candidates, they were arrested and handcuffed to chairs for eight hours before being released to President Obama’s Secret Service. This is fascism. The Stein-Honkola campaign challenged fascist political suppression when few other politicians would.
In 2016, Dr. Margaret Flowers was an official, ballot-qualified candidate to represent Maryland in the US Senate as a Green Party candidate. Dr. Flowers appeared at the senatorial debate to debate her peers, but the debate moderators had the police remove her from the debate forum so that the voters would not hear from all of the candidates. Members of her staff, including myself, objected and were also removed from the forum by police. This is fascism. Dr. Flowers' 2016 campaign was routinely excluded from debates in the Maryland-DC region, including debates on public radio, but her policies and her campaign presented a genuine challenge to political suppression and the use of state violence to protect capitalist interests at the expense of human rights.
Capitalism’s private profit motive drives climate collapse, systemic racism and state violence in order to secure revenues for the capitalist class. Consider the fossil fuel industry. After decades of consciously and unflinchingly destroying the planetary ecosystem, the fossil fuel industry has demonstrated that the private profit motive is incapable of convincing the industry to stop their destruction. And yet, both capitalist political parties would sooner send out the police to fascistically steal indigenous people's land and build even more fossil fuel infrastructure than they would support indigenous people's right to protect the environment from greenhouse gases and oil spills. This is what happened in 2016 when militarized police invaded indigenous people’s sovereign treaty territory on behalf of the fossil fuel companies that wanted to construct an oil pipeline through the Standing Rock Reservation. In the interest of protecting capitalist interests, neoliberal politicians, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump took positions of neutrality and active facilitation, respectively. Police sprayed water on indigenous water protectors in sub-freezing temperatures and used attack dogs against unarmed people.
Over five hundred US treaties with indigenous people have been broken including the Fort Laramie Treaty that covers Standing Rock. There is no rule of law when the law stands in the way of private profit. This is fascism. However, eco-socialist, Green Party candidates for President and Vice President, Dr. Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka, demonstrated their class loyalty, anti-racist conviction and anti-fascist conviction by standing with the water protectors and being arrested for their civil disobedience. The Stein-Baraka campaign challenged the capitalist economic system and proposed a vision of ecological socialism. They exemplified true anti-fascist opposition to police brutality, anti-fascist opposition to corporate land theft that was aided by law enforcement and anti-fascist economic proposals.
Casting a ballot within an oligarchy every two years has, at best, some potential to oppose fascism. Even if this is the least that one can do, it is still worth doing. To vote against fascism effectively, we need to vote for a political and economic ideology that is actually different than the currently dominant ideology, which has been fascist since its colonial beginning. Look for candidates who explicitly oppose neoliberalism and support democratic, communal control of economic activity. This requires us to learn about independent and small party candidates in spite of political censorship by debate forums, network television, public television and public radio. Use the internet. In every election year, at almost every level of government, we can vote for independent and small party candidates who actually challenge capitalism, racism, imperialism and ecological destruction. We can vote for what we actually want instead of merely voting against the latest personality in neoliberal politics who we don’t like.
The strongest way to confront fascism is by building democratic, economic, people-power on an ongoing basis, not only on a ballot. Join or start a cooperative business that engages in political education around black power, indigenous power, socialism and ecology. Join a local, anti-capitalist political organization that is led by black or indigenous people. Develop democratic financial and economic institutions like housing cooperatives, food cooperatives or worker cooperatives that will eventually produce and control anti-capitalist, anti-fascist political candidates. And if you identify as black, African, African-American or indigenous, then contact the Ujamaa Works network for information about joining a socialist investment cooperative, the Liberation Susu.