How can we defeat the fascist ‘militias?’

Demonstrators near the University of California Berkeley on Sept. 1, 2019, protest Amber Cummings, a known fascist organizer, who was planning a “Rally Against Marxism” event. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)


Far-right and neo-fascist groups announced several major actions in recent days, which received attention in the national media. But all of the events turned out to be duds as protesters out-mobilized the fascists.

The Proud Boys, a rather loud white nationalist, misogynistic group, boasted that they would bring some 20,000 people to Portland, Ore., on Sept. 26. Instead, only about 200 Proud Boys and members of other far-right organizations (like the paramilitary Three Percenters group) showed up, where they were met by anti-fascist counter-protesters.

On the same day, about 50 Proud Boys marched through center city Philadelphia. At one point, the group crossed paths with the March Against Rape Culture. As MARC participants chanted “Black Lives Matter,” the fascists responded with “Blue Lives Matter”—and then the cops gave them an escort back to their cars. This reactionary gathering was a rather pathetic attempt at a comeback from the previous week, when the Proud Boys had announced that they would target a multi-ethnic and progressive Philadelphia neighborhood for a Sept. 19 rally. When the date arrived, more than 1000 anti-fascists turned up to drive the Proud Boys out of the neighborhood. The response was so overwhelming that the Proud Boys chose not to show up at all.

What is fascism?

Fascism arose in the 20th century as a capitalist response to its own crises and the rising threat of the communist movement after the Russian Revolution. Leon Trotsky provides some of the most incisive analysis on the phenomenon.

Proud Boys in Portland, Sept 26. (Jim Urquhart / Reuters)

In “Democracy and Fascism” (1932), Leon Trotsky writes, “At the moment that the ‘normal’ police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium—the turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat—all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.”

Trotsky points out that the capitalist class uses the fascist movement as a weapon against the workers’ movement. The triumph of fascism ensures the defeat of the working class and the destruction of its mass organizations. The bourgeoisie only turns to the fascist movement when all other methods of suppressing the workers movement—co-optation or state repression—fail.

In “Whither France,” Trotsky writes, “It may be said that fascism is the act of placing the petty bourgeoisie at the disposal of its most bitter enemies. In this way, big capital ruins the middle classes and then, with the help of hired fascist demagogues, incites the despairing petty bourgeoisie against the worker.” 

The far right in the U.S. today

Capitalist restructuring and austerity set the table for the current rise of the far right. As the lives of working people become more precarious and the middle class slips further down the economic ladder, the right offers them an easy answer—it’s the immigrants, Muslims, Blacks and Latinos, LGBTQI people, and Jews who are at fault. White nationalism in the United States appeals to this unease by exploiting the demographic changes in the country that will make whites a minority just 20 years from now. This milieu also thrives on conspiracy theories to help bolster their narratives.

Alongside the 2008 elections, sections of capital including oil magnates and Koch Industries began funneling money into the right-wing “grassroots” organizations that became the Tea Party movement. Tied in with an underlying racial backlash against the first Black president, proponents of this anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-austerity movement went on to capture positions inside the GOP.

Anti-government militia groups and other hate groups grew during the Obama years. It was in this period that the so-called alt-right emerged as a reboot of the far right with more mainstream messaging and appearance. 

White nationalist and fascist groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, the National Socialist Movement, Identity Evropa/American Identity Movement, and Patriot Prayer have achieved a certain level of operational unity. This unity in action has been forged from a turning point in the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” event in August 2017 and has been hardened in recent street fighting in Portland and Kenosha, Wis. Militia groupings have been successful in attracting military veterans and former police officers who are familiar with weapons. This underscores the need for the left to orient toward returned veterans, offering a working-class program in order to forestall the right wing’s ability to recruit from that layer.

The red-baiting, racist and xenophobic rhetoric of Trump and his supporters has given these groups the confidence to act under the broad aegis of Trumpism, although we do not believe Trump and his administration are fascists.

Many “progressives” and liberals are going to be campaigning for Biden not because of the excellence of his program but to prevent Trump from winning a second term—supposing that he is a “fascist threat” to this country. However, Trump’s winning the 2020 elections will not bring fascism to the U.S. No wing of the ruling class is ready to deploy fascist goon squads to break up union meetings and smash up union halls, much less bring a fascist regime into power.

The ruling class faces no powerful immediate class threat to its prospects. However, keeping small groups on the far right in play is one tool in their effort to roll back the massive Black Lives Matter movement and the nascent immigrant-rights movement, and to help forestall an even bigger upsurge by the working class. The deployment of rightist militias and goon squads can be expected to increase as the mass of unemployed workers who face ruin go into motion to demand an end to evictions, and the loss of jobs and income.

Cops and fascism 

In Portland, Minneapolis, Kenosha, and countless other places, we have seen collusion between police and the far right. The police are part of the raw material of fascism. In “Countermobilization: A Strategy to Fight Racist and Fascist Attacks,” an educational bulletin published by the Socialist Workers Party in the 1970s, Farrell Dobbs noted: The ruling-class “tactic is to protect the rights of the fascists while at the same time using fascist forces to try to keep others from exercising those rights. One of the forces used to implement this is the most malevolent of all the repressive instruments of capitalist rule, the police forces. The police structure is of a character that makes it a breeding ground for fascists.

“You don’t only have an army of capitalist cops that represses opponents of capitalism, you have a ripe recruiting ground for fascism itself. You not only have cops implementing ruling class orders in aiding the fascists, you have a police force that is honeycombed with fascists.”

How to fight fascism and the far right

We cannot rely on the cops, courts, and liberal politicians to protect us. And likewise, history has shown us that we must avoid adventurist tactics by free-lancing militants, which can isolate us from the masses and lead to repression and demoralization. The capitalist state won’t hesitate to victimize anti-fascists and will ignore the violence of the rightists.

United counter-mobilization by the broadest possible forces is one of the central methods to fight the far right. Crucial to this is the participation of the mass organizations of the working class and oppressed peoples. While the unions may be slow to move, we should continue to call on the unions to act, and stress that if they don’t stand against fascists, they could be the next victims.

Similarly, we favor broad, nonsectarian, defense campaigns when militants are victimized by the far right and the state. While we call for independent working-class action, this does not mean that we should craft defense campaigns to be strictly working-class in character. A defense campaign needs to be a working-class-led effort that seeks to win the broadest layers to our defense.

When faced with right-wing or fascist speakers on campus, rather than ask the administration to ban them, we counter-mobilize against the speakers in the largest numbers possible. We organize students and faculty to make the reactionaries unwelcome and to show their lack of support in the school. In this way, we demonstrate the power of students to fight the right without giving the administration a handle to set up a policy to limit left and working-class speakers proposed by student groups.

At the same time, we must advocate the right to self-defense of workers and the oppressed. Organizing defense guards (and ultimately, workers’ militias) are essential when right-wingers use or threaten violence against the movement. But this is not a step to be taken lightly or in isolation from the organizations of the working class and its allies.

Consideration also has to be given to how to neutralize sections of the middle class (the petty bourgeoisie). The higher echelons of the petty bourgeoisie are closer to the capitalists in social stations. The lower layers are closer in composition and lifestyle to the working class. Propaganda and demands must be aimed at these social layers, who might otherwise constitute the main social base of fascism. In his 1939 book “Fascism and Big Business,” French revolutionary scholar Daniel Guérin wrote: “In short, the proletariat cannot win over the middle classes by renouncing its own socialist program. The proletariat must convince the middle classes of its capacity to lead society onto a new road; by the strength and firmness of its revolutionary action. ”

To be fully effective, fighting fascism requires independent organizing by the working class and oppressed people, including a clean break with the Democrats and the construction of an independent workers’ party with a militant class-struggle program. In today’s political climate it is essential to counteract those in the movement who urge us to vote for Biden to defeat the “fascist” or “pro-fascist” Trump. Thinking that Biden, a career neoliberal, imperialist politician, will protect us from fascists is a fantasy.

The fight against fascism is primarily a political struggle. Ultimately, only the construction of a revolutionary socialist party that appears capable of solving the crisis by leading the working class to take state power—and is seen so by not only the working class but by discontented middle-class layers as well—can lead to the defeat of fascism.

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