By Aldous Reno and Orlando Torres
A Rising Tide/Déjà vu?
The era of Trump and the disarray of the Republican party represent an opening for the reemergence of U.S. Fascism. Capitalism assumes infinite natural resources to fuel indefinite growth of markets. In the United States, a pseudo-democracy has been the preferred economic system of the ruling class to maintain the labor for the growth of markets. But in times of deepening economic crisis, such as the Great Depression, when it is increasingly difficult to extract profits from people’s labor and there is the threat of a social revolution, the ruling class will do away with its pseudo-democracy. It will employ a fascist regime to destroy the threat of revolution, and coerce the masses into believing that capitalism and the State can be saved if only the minorities are slaughtered and a great leader is followed. In the cases of the United States, Germany, and Italy, fascism was a response to a very real threat of proletarian revolution already underway in Russia. Fascists received monetary support from the magnates of the steel and textile industries, were extremely hostile to working class organizations, scapegoated the ills of capitalism to ‘othered’ peoples, and held mystical cults of personality around their leaders. Additionally, in Italy and Germany, fascism was able to attract a mass base in the middle class, allowing Mussolini and Hitler to seize political power of the State, creating a fully fascist society. In the modern Alt-Right we see many similar elements, which could descend into full on fascism if we don’t take action.
A Brief History
To fully assess whether fascism is imminent today, it is necessary to look back into its cradle, the United States. The eugenics, or scientific racism, used to justify immigration quotas for the National Origins Act of 1924 directly inspired the genocidal pseudo-science in Nazi Germany less than a decade later. The communist revolutions of Russia in 1917, Germany in 1918-19, and the surge of power from socialists in Italy and Germany in 1919, made revolution in the United States a real possibility, especially in light of the International Workers of the World (IWW) whose U.S. membership swelled to 150,000 in 1917 . The gains of the working class in this time (better wages and work hours) increased the buying power of the average consumer, and brought technologies like the radio into more U.S. homes than ever before. The radio outgunned the newspaper as the main source of media in the United States.
When 15 million people crashed into poverty a decade later during the inevitable (under capitalism) Great Depression, the radio was an instrument of influence on millions of working class people. From the center, Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats tried to convince the American people that capitalism could be saved through New Deal reforms, which involved strict government regulation of production in agriculture and other sectors and mandated work on public infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, fascist cults of personality like that of Nazi-sympathizer Father Coughlin (funded by Wall Street investors) took to the airwaves to try to convince the working masses of the United States that the state should control Unions and beat out the communists, who he and all capitalists blamed for the economic downturn in the first place. Using the term “social justice”, Coughlin attracted millions of members to his fascist church, but was luckily forced off the air in 1939 once he had begun to strongly oppose Roosevelt.
Meanwhile in Europe, a similar story unfolded to a much graver end. Power surged among the Italian proletariat in 1919-20, when three major strikes took place among the dockworkers, textile workers, and ironworkers. In 1920 a 600,000 worker strike forced industry to concede better wages and an 8 hour work day, as well as recognize collective bargaining agreements. Industrial capitalists, feeling the chill of expropriation on their necks, responded with the recruitment of Mussolini’s fascist gangs to destroy all workers organizations through mass beatings, arson, and murder. By 1922, fascism had become an independent political party and Mussolini was pushed into power by the major capitalists.
In Germany multi-sector revolution from the exploited classes occurred in November 1918 when workers’ and soldiers’ councils, much like the Russian Bolsheviks, seized power following the collapse of Prussian militarism. The counsels immediately forced concessions for factory and agricultural workers, shortening the workday to 10 hours, raising wages, and winning recognition of union contracts for many workers. This political transformation, combined with a failure of German imperialism abroad, put the feudal boss families of Germany (the Junkers, most infamously) into crisis, and they began to directly fund fascist gangs to build a political movement to destroy workers’ groups. What they did not anticipate was that Hitler’s Nazism would grow beyond their control after they put him into power.
In all cases, fascism emerged as a response to a surge of power in the working class, when big businesses realized that a half-baked democracy was no longer better for their interests than fascism, or state enforced slave labor. The most major capitalists funded groups of fascists to beat down workers’ organizations, and funded the state with fascist politicians to implement forced labor (enslavement) policies. In the cases of Germany and Italy, cult-of-personality leaders with ideologies of racial supremacy took state power. Today, this has yet to occur in the United States, despite the fact that collusion between the state and Big Business is as American as apple pie.
Is the Alt-Right Fascist?
In the United States today, most of these “fascist” elements are emerging from both the Right and the alt-right. Nearly a decade of scapegoating policies against Muslims has increased the surveillance apparatuses of the State so that any person’s private information is available to the government. There was at some points in the last two years a cult-of-personality around the ultra-capitalist Trump, who was elected on a populist campaign that criticized the government for being anti-U.S. worker, though he’s actually done more to strip U.S. workers of jobs and workplace rights in his first hundred days than either Obama or Bush Jr. His appointment of 5 CEOs/investment bankers to his cabinet marks an unprecedented infiltration of the ruling capitalist class into the state, along with the increasing presence of white nationalists, such as Steve Bannon, from local to executive political levels.
The main difference between what’s happening in the United States today and Nazi Germany is that as of now, fascism does not have a mass base in the working class. Though Trump was elected by hopeful masses, and supported unanimously by the alt-right, his current approval ratings are more abysmal than any President in history ever, at 38% of the whole US population. However, if the organs of the ruling class such as major news outlets, schools and universities, and the military were put directly in the service of the Alt-Right, it would only be a matter of time before the masses were moved over to fascism through propaganda, coercion, and terror. That is unless we are able to organize a workers’ movement that will not only beat back fascist attacks, but mobilize our class as an unstoppable power that will transform our society to one in which all people are free of the violence of exploitation. From the middle of the 21st century to two months ago, there are lessons to be learned about how to build this movement.
The Milo “Riot”/Incident and before
The controversy of the shutdown of the UC Berkeley Milo talk in February demonstrates a critical weakness of our class in responding to the far Right. As an organization, we in La Voz believe that tactics should be subservient to their strategic outcomes. This belief means that we consider what a given tactic will achieve, and how it will advance people’s confidence in a struggle for taking state power, in and for working-class communities and marginalized people collectively. As socialists we believe in creating an egalitarian society fueled by political and economic democracy where all people are free because they will control their own means of production. Sections of the alt-right have posited themselves as champions of free speech and nearly anything you can stick ‘freedom’ to, but this is a weak smokescreen over promoting Islamophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, white nationalism, and its ugly twin fascism. Meanwhile, they claim communists are the real totalitarian thugs, and that by saying no to hate, we are the ones suppressing free speech.
This argument against the left is old as dirt. It is socialists who have historically always advocated for people’s freedoms against oppressive conditions, meanwhile we are labeled as ‘chaos-loving thugs suppressing the free speech of the Right’. This same argument occurred against the counter-demonstration to a similar neo-Nazi speech at San Francisco State in 1975 , and there’s a lesson to be learned: We do not argue for the limitation of anyone’s free speech, including the regular fear-everyone trolls like Ann Coulter or Milo, because this tactic has only ever resulted in the suppression of our own right to protest fascism. Rather, we call out racists and neo-Nazis for who they are and we use our rights to counter-mobilize against the hate, xenophobia, and racism that they represent.
Casual promoters of slavery and genocide are an inherent element of our current society. As socialists with a rich history of struggle for people’s freedom from these vitriolic ideas, we know that any attempts by the state to suppress people’s free speech have not been directed at these far-right ideas, but against those struggling against them. In the 1920s, the International Workers of the World were the first socialists to organize the most marginalized people in the United States; garment workers, miners, farmworkers, and the unemployed. As a response to IWW Local 13’s attempt to organize a railyard owned by Gen. H.G. Otis in 1912, the magnate owner of the Los Angeles Times, the Times encouraged people to murder IWW members who had been jailed, calling the socialists “excrement…absolutely useless in the human economy”  For months, posses of vigilante racists raided the railyards where the Wobblies were organizing, murdering dozens and savagely torturing the hundreds of people captured. This violence was promoted by leading capitalists like Otis as well as contemporary cult figures, such as the infamous Father Coughlin, a fascist radio priest whose broadcast and megachurches were funded by Wall Street profiteers.
The state has always been on the side of figures like this, not against them. Thus, again we do not think it is a useful tactic to say anyone’s free speech should be limited, because we know that these limitations will be disproportionately applied against the left. However, that does not mean nothing should be done about it, and what response does come should be based on what is at stake, or the political outcome.
It was an extremely good thing that Milo’s event was shut down. Milo, a self-declared fascist, came to the UC Berkeley campus to publically declare, before a crowd containing other fascists and neo-Nazis, the names, faces, and personal information of undocumented students of color who are politically active on campus. Milo had fully disclosed his intention to doxx (dole out the private information, such as names, photos, addresses, phone numbers, and personal details), and thus incite general violence, knifings, harassment, and murder against members of our community. UC Berkeley made it clear that they were willing to spend thousands of dollars (literally $15,000) in security to make this event happen. If Milo had doxxed these students, it is very likely they would have faced harassment and physical violence. First and foremost, we support that the event was shut down.
However, as described in our previous article Making A Balance, we’re constructively critical of how our comrades in Antifa shut it down. When it serves the broader strategic goal, we are not against smashing windows and destroying police surveillance equipment. However, there was no public mass engagement of working class people to bring them to the politics of the left. Although 2000 people attended the event, there were no attempts to organize them beforehand, or educate them on fascism, or follow up with the attendees afterward. The tactics of the shutdown resulted in hugely negative publicity for the left, and did not lead to a strengthening and education of our political perspective. The groups did not attempt to publicly organize with anyone else (the university’s workers, the Muslim Student Association, the Black Student Union, the undocumented students, the queer students, etc.) or to promote a political program. We as leftists missed an opportunity to shift the moment to a more radical vision, the terrain of “the commons”. Because of the lack of organization and messaging from us, many students who could have been educated and politicized were left floundering in the mud of Free Speech vs Hate Speech.
Imagine if our organizations had responded to the event with organizing for community self-defense, education around the dangers of incipient fascism, and a mass assembly attended by hundreds of people that publically voted to shut down the event through tearing down the barriers and smashing the Amazon store windows. Imagine if all the groups of the left had come together to plan this. The process of this struggle would leave us better organized and more able to defend our tactics to working-class people against mainstream media, which we know will always be skewed against us because it is an institution of the state. Nonetheless, we consider the Milo event a victory against a real threat, and in many ways we should consider it a lucky shot that our increasingly repressed comrades in Antifa provided a strong arm in the shutdown.
In the case of an average bigot like Ann Coulter, we know that alt right trolls and even more dangerous elements such as knife-touting Nazis who would show up to hear her speak, would feel emboldened by her racist, transphobic speeches, and might even feel entitled to propagate these ideas on the UC Berkeley campus. If the goal of our struggle is to make a society that is safe and free for all people, then we must win over the masses to the perspective that racism and transphobia are unacceptable, and that it is our duty as the builders of this world, as stewards of our campus, to demonstrate that these ideas are despicable and unwelcome. This is an infinitely more powerful and long-term strategy than just arguing that Ann Coulter shouldn’t speak. Despite the fact that no mass mobilization was planned, the UCPD used the potential speech as an excuse to hyper-militarize the campus and harass students of color walking to and from class. Of all the neo-Nazis milling around campus, they profiled and arrested a Latino graduate student who is an active member of the Underground Scholars, a campus organization supporting formerly incarcerated students, charging him with suspicion of possessing a weapon, though the student was completely unarmed and merely walking to class .
There are unfortunately a number of upcoming opportunities to more effectively combat this proto-fascist upsurge. Since the Milo shutdown chagrined the alt right, a number of macho “Freedom Rallies” with increasingly overt white nationalist themes have happened in Berkeley, disgustingly in Martin Luther King Jr. Park, a space where black community gathers across from Berkeley High School. These events are not morally neutral exercises of free speech; they are attempts to recruit sectors of the white working class to genocidal fascist ideologies, just as the Nazi party heavily recruited among the German middle classes in the 1920s. Fortunately, white nationalism, Trumpism, and the alt-right do not yet have a mass base in the U.S. working class. However if left unaddressed, this movement could grow from a fringe ideology to one which many Americans accept as the explanation for the social and ecological illnesses that capitalism has created, especially under the increased pressures of economic downturn and with the funding of big business on its side. To ignore the reality of this threat would be to repeat the mistakes of liberals in Nazi Germany and Pinochet’s Chile, who denied that capitulation to fascist leaders was possible, literally until it happened.
Ignoring the fascists is not an option, and knowing that police and the state are forces inherently against the left makes constant street brawling an unsustainable tactic, not to mention that it is also politically unpopular amongst working class people. Our task is to educate and win over the support of the masses to a well-articulated political program that is fundamentally opposed to what the alt-right supports. Additionally, we must build a strongly organized self-defense for our class, because we take history and the present police state seriously. We stand for a democratic society in which the workers control the means of production, in which all people are educated, engaged, and have their needs met. Rather than trying to shut down events that the university and other institutions are hell-bent on staging, we should put our energy into engaging with students and workers on what we do stand for, on organizing mass assemblies to discuss and vote on our collective response to fascists, hold forums educating people on the history of socialism and its opposition to fascism, organize an event on the same day as the so-called “freedom rallies” at a nearby location and draw in numbers that will put the fascists to shame and demoralize them, not with the intention to brawl but with strongly organized security that will keep everyone safe from the sick violence that we know fascists have and will continue to commit.
It’s do or die this close to midnight.