by Davey Heller, 26th November, 2020
Whilst Trump’s attempt at overturning the election continues in the weeks following the US election, there is a state of paralysis both in the US working class and in the revolutionary left, in particular. The crisis of leadership is reducing the working class to passive bystanders while the two factions of the ruling class attempt to resolve the crisis of bourgeois rule.
Classconscious.org isn’t a party but a small propaganda-based Trotskyist website. We have, however, attempted to play our role by publishing “March separately, but strike together! For a united front against fascism in the US! General Strike now!” on October 13th and followed up on November 12th with, “A call out to the Marxist movement – the time to act against Trump’s fascist coup is now!” These posts have drawn over 300 members to the Facebook page but have been met with hostility by many Marxists. The article and its author were labelled: petty bourgeois, opportunist, liberal, demoralised, a conspiracy theorist, a CIA psyops, supporting the Democrats, Biden supporters, and febrile fantasists.
Despite the glibness of our critics the stakes could not be higher in this debate. If we are right and they wrong, they will have played a role in chloroforming the working class as fascism seeks to consolidate itself in the nerve center of world imperialism without a shot being fired. If we are right and the critics wrong, then we will have witnessed a failure of leadership by the revolutionary left of historical proportions.
Firstly, it must be stressed that we base our definition of fascism on the writings of Leon Trotsky, the great Russian Revolutionist. In 1932, Trotsky, addressing the German working class by calling for the formation of a workers United Front against the Nazi menace. He defined fascism and its class purpose as follows:
“Fascism is not merely a system of reprisals, of brutal force, and of police terror. Fascism is a particular governmental system based on the uprooting of all elements of proletarian democracy within bourgeois society. The task of fascism lies not only in destroying the Communist vanguard but in holding the entire class in a state of forced disunity. To this end the physical annihilation of the most revolutionary section of the workers does not suffice. It is also necessary to smash all independent and voluntary organizations, to demolish all the defensive bulwarks of the proletariat, and to uproot whatever has been achieved during three-quarters of a century by the Social Democracy and the trade unions”
Trotsky writes in the same article that the time for fascism arises when:
“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…And the fascist agency, by utilizing the petty bourgeoisie as a battering ram, by overwhelming all obstacles in its path, does a thorough job. “
I will attempt to refute the major criticisms made of our articles:
1) The US ruling class does not “need” fascism as there is no mass based socialist party on the offensive
It is true that Italian and German fascism arose as movements under conditions of capitalist crisis where large, well organised socialist or communist parties existed. Under conditions of deepening economic crisis and in the shadow of the Russian Revolution the ruling classes viewed these parties as threats to capitalist class rule. It is true that no such parties exist in the US today. The Democratic Party is a bloody handed capitalist party, and in terms of membership, the existing socialist tendencies are minuscule.
However as Marx and Engels wrote, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles…….carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight”. The dynamic of the class struggle under capitalism has not changed since the 1920’s and 30’s despite the absence of mass working class parties. Fascism is a product of crisis! As Trotsky insisted, it comes into being when the “normal” forms of rule used by the bourgeoisie no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium and they can no longer be relied on to contain the working class. Surely the crisis facing the global and US ruling class today is every bit as deep as the one faced a century ago.
Globally, the rate of profit remains depressed ever since the great Financial Crisis twelve years ago. This has fuelled mass resistance in uprisings and protest movements in one country after another. None of these has resulted in socialist revolution due to the lack of socialist leadership. But they have shaken bourgeois rule deeply and have intensified inter-imperialist geopolitical rivalry.
This has been particularly acute for the US ruling class which struggles to offset its relative economic decline through floundering military means. We are witnessing the return of the era of “great power conflict” with Russia and China once again in the nuclear cross hairs of US imperialism. Domestically, in the US there is unprecedented levels of inequality with the top 1% of Americans have a combined own 30.4% of all household wealth while the bottom 50% holds just 1.9% of all wealth. The growing ecological crisis fuelled by climate change is contributing to unprecedented fires and other calamities. All of these processes were at play before covid 19 exploded across the US wreaking economic and public health havoc.
Therefore it is shortsighted to argue that fascism can arise only and exclusively to smash mass based socialist parties. Fascism is brought forward due to a structural capitalist crisis. This is indeed the situation in the US today.
2) Where is the equivalent to the Nazi Party and the brownshirts today in the US?
This crisis is generating enormous class pressure but as yet there is no mass base for this pressure to flow through. However, as with water pressure, if one pathway is blocked, class pressure will find another path.
The class faction seeking to impose fascism in the US has not as yet been able to start a genuine fascist party along Italian or German lines. Because of the living memory of a working class whose grandparents were enlisted to fight fascism in defence of democracy that notorious “brand” of fascism is simply too toxic to revive openly. Instead it has worked to take over one of the two existing bourgeois parties— the Republican Party. In fact, the project to shift the Republican Party to the far right has been in earnest since the Koch brother funded Tea Party Movement. By the 2016 election primaries, billionaires like Robert Mercer and Sheldon Adelson have worked with the alt-right fascist, Stephen Bannon in search of a candidate to advance this project. Mercer’s money went to Ted Cruz until Trump and his MAGA rallies burst onto the scene. At that point they had found their man. Since 2016 the Republican Party, once the party of anti-slavery, has morphed increasingly into a fascist party as Donald Trump asserted his control.
Whilst it is true that Trump does not command an organized brown shirt movement, he has been able to create his own fanatical and mass of crazed petty bourgeois and armed lumpen fanatics. Trump “campaign rallies” didn’t stop once he was elected. MAGA rallies may have more of the aesthetic of a pro-wresting spectacle than the Aryan grandiosity of Nuremberg, but they have been essential to whipping up a fascist base. Combined with his Twitter megaphone, Trump has crystallized a mass movement out of the existing reactionary shards of decaying US capitalism. Outside the state structures this includes Christian evangelicals, white supremacists, libertarian and far right militias, the gun lobby and the hardcore anti-communist Cuban “gusanos.” Inside the state, Trump has cultivated personal support within the police, Special Forces, ICE, Homeland Security and other armed Federal bodies such as BORTAC.
The “work” of such forces has already been seen in those injured or killed when run over, or gunned down by fascists while protesting police killings. The most infamous fascist shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, was recently granted bail after the far right raised $2 million to free him. The “work” was seen when Trump sent Federal forces to snatch people off the streets of Portland in unmarked vans. The “work” was seen in the police execution of Michael Reinoehl, which was hailed by Trump. The “work” was seen in the brutality of caging immigrant children as ICE escalated the repression of the Obama regime.
The left is reluctant to grasp the importance of social media today, compared to the 1930’s, which facilitates decentralised organising.. Social media and the internet has played a key role in facilitating these “leaderless” protests around the world including the Arab Spring which was sparked by the revelations from Wikileaks. We see this clearly in the US with the thousand fold explosion of Black Lives Matter protests.
However, it is also true of the far right which utilizes everything from the dark corners of the internet like 8 Chan to Trump and his Twitter bullypit. Kyle Rittenhouse responded to a Facebook call the night he murdered two protestors. Trump made his famous “stand back and stand by” call during the Presidential debate which was quickly amplified across social media. This is not to mention the entire far right ecosystem that supports Trump from Alex Jones to the Mercer funded and Bannon run Breitbart News The Mercers were recently revealed to be the funders of the fascism friendly Twitter, Parler. In today’s world, to communicate and organise a fascist movement, a centrally organized and developed formal brownshirt movement isn’t required. The technology has changed.
3) Trump is not a fascist
The most common criticism of my analysis is that it is utter hyperbole to call Trump a fascist. If Trump were a fascist wouldn’t all the socialists and trade unionists already be in jail is a common question. Firstly, I have not been arguing that Trump has been running a fascist regime for the last four years. There is a distinction between fascism as an ideology or perspective, and as a form of political rule. Hitler was a fascist when he and the fledging Nazi Party launched the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. He was a fascist when he wrote Mein Kampf in 1925. However, he was not able to rule as a fascist until he was handed the Chancellorship by Hindenburg in 1933.
Likewise Trump is a fascist politician with a fascist political perspective even if the balance of class forces existing in the US has not allowed him to rule over a fascist government in his first term.
The 2nd and related criticism is to deny that Trump’s perspective is fascist but is rather that of a conventional right-wing populist. Firstly, I would refer back to my previous arguments that Trump has whipped up a fascist layer as his base. Secondly, Trump does read directly from the fascist playbook. He is reported to have a copy of Hitler’s “My New Order” speeches in his bedroom, and the Trump speeches have been scripted by conscious fascists such as Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Trump’s perspective surely ticks all the fascist boxes. He is “the outsider” who is the only one who can represent the “little guy” against the corrupt “elite”. This elite is a shadowy group of globalists determined to destroy America and stop it from becoming great again. He will save the nation from being over run by criminal immigrants. He has launched a racialist war against socialism and the radical left. Trump has endorsed the “racehorse theory” of eugenics, telling a rally in Minnesota they have “good genes”. Trump has not written his own Mein Kampf. He didn’t have to because he could tweet his own Mein Trumpf 280 characters at a time! If one treated his tweets from the last four years as “collected works” you would find all the filth of fascism in bold caps and poor grammar, but there none the less!
Trump and his backers have created an enormous personality cult. There are now tens of millions of fanatical “Trumpers”, not just in the US but around the world. Fueled by psyops operations like Q Anon which cast Trump as leading a struggle against a global satanic paedophile ring run out of Hollywood (code for Jews) and including leading Democrats, Oprah and Tom Hanks! Trump has gained more irrational and fanatical support for calling out the “coronavirus hoax” with deliberate lies about the nature of the deadly pandemic. We know that ordinary bourgeois politics has “left the building” when healthcare professionals speak of patients refusing to believe in the reality of covid19, even as they take their last dying breaths. This recalls Orwell in 1984 when he wrote, “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” This denial of reality based around the Trump personality cult is how so many his supporters have swallowed that the election has been “stolen” despite the complete lack of any evidence to support this claim.
So whilst Trump has not been able to implement fascism in his first term, he has used every opportunity to espouse a fascist ideology, to whip up a fascist base inside and outside the state, and to undermine bourgeois democratic norms of rule. His denial of the election result is just his latest effort in this regard.
4) Biden is the real enemy of the working class – social fascism reborn.
Perhaps the most common criticism of the General Strike call is that it entails denying the reactionary nature of the Democrats and Biden, or more seriously, offering them political support.
The call outs were clear in identifying the Democrats as a party of reaction, capitalist imperialism, and as a faithful servant of the bourgeoisie. However, to draw an equals sign between the Democrats and Biden and Republicans and Trump, borders on recycling the Stalinist policy of social fascism. The policy adopted by the Stalinized Comintern equated social democracy and fascism as “twin brothers,” and that in reality social democracy was just a variant of fascism. Trotsky eviscerated the policy of social fascism instead, arguing for the united front with social democrats against fascism.
As Trotsky explained whilst fascism and social democracy are both tools of the bourgeoisie that does not mean that they are the same in relation to the working class. Fascism is dedicated to wiping out the organising capacity of the working class, whilst social democracy is a tool to control the working class through reforms or the false promise of reforms under capitalism. Ultimately, both must be defeated if socialist revolution is to occur. However, as Trotsky stated:
“When one of my enemies sets before me small daily portions of poison and the second, on the other hand, is about to shoot straight at me, then I will first knock the revolver out of the hand of my second enemy, for this gives me an opportunity to get rid of my first enemy. But that does not at all mean that the poison is a “lesser evil” in comparison to the revolver.”
Let me quickly clarify that I acknowledge that Democratic Party is not the same as the SPD in Germany, and is not a social democratic party. The Democratic Party is the oldest capitalist party in the world. However in the US context, where there has never been a mass social democrat or labor party, the Democrats morphed from the party of slavery into the party of “progressive reform”. They have played an analogous role to that of Labour in the UK, serving to trap the working class behind the dead end of parliamentary reformism and away from revolutionary socialism. They have been labelled the “grave yard” of progressive social movements for a reason. Like the social democrat parties in the UK, Australia, France and elsewhere, the Democrats rely on their relationship with the parasitic trade union bureaucracy to maintain these illusions. Even though the economic nationalism of the likes of AFL-CIO President Trumpka may have led them to flirt with support for Trump, when it came round to the 2020 election, the union bureaucracy fell in 100 percent behind Biden and the Democrats.
I don’t contend that any of this makes the Democrats “progressive”, or anything other than arch reactionaries. Biden has already made it clear by his choices for his cabinet, that if he is able to take office, he will preside over a right-wing, hawkish government of austerity hostile to the working class. The days when the Democrats could even offer up the thin gruel of mild reforms has long since passed.
Whilst the Democrats are backed by and serve finance capital and large sections of the military-intelligence complex, they rest for popular support on the trade unions and the oppressed minorities, offering them the illusion of reforms. Whilst such illusions have been dashed for many and, in fact, the Democrats are indeed hated by many workers, the recent huge vote for Biden shows they have not completely exhausted this class function. They might be a zombie party— but until a mass socialist movement can kill the zombie, it will lumber on as if still living.
Relying for support on the trade unions and the broad mass of working people means that the Democrats cannot morph into a fascist party in the same way that the Republican Party has. They can be authoritarian war mongers, but they cannot beat the fascist drum in the way Trump can even if they wanted.
It is therefore a mistake to equate the two major parties in the US in relation to the working class. To do so is to repeat the same disorienting “social fascism” mistake of the Stalinists but in modern form. To do so is to “miss the fascist forest for the trees of reformism”.
5) There is no need to organise against Trump’s coup because it will not succeed
Many Marxist commentators take the rationalistic position that since the dominant faction of the ruling class backs Biden, and wants to avoid the social chaos that would follow an electoral coup, there is no need to organize for such an eventuality. This line of thought sees all Trump’s efforts since the election as little more than a tantrum thrown by an unstable, isolated political figure.
So Marxists need not work to mobilize the workers against Trump because Wall Street, the military brass, the FBI etc will ensure that he leaves office on January 20th, one way or the other. He will walk, be carried, or ushered out of office by the bourgeois state itself.
This is dangerously naive and complacent. Firstly, the fact that one of the two capitalist parties has openly opted to try tom overturn an election is, in and off itself, a threat to the democratic rights of the working class. The threat is none the lesser simply because the coup attempt may not succeed. The Republican Party, working through the Supreme Court already overturned one US election just 20 years ago. However, to overturn the results of the 2020 election, would mark a qualitative leap in terms of brazenness. The very act of launching this effort has dealt a massive blow to the entire edifice of bourgeois democracy.
Even should Biden takes office, Trump’s launching of these efforts now has seeded the ground for a classic “stab in the back” trope for the millions in his MAGA movement who sincerely believe that Trump won in a landslide. This will only fuel further violence and instability, and lay the groundwork for a future attempt by the fascists to seize power in 2024.
These reasons alone would have justified a mass mobilisation of the working class to demand the election result be respected.
Once again, even should Trump be removed due to pressure from the dominant section of Wall Street or the military brass, this will not affect the rightward trajectory of US politics. Whichever faction of the ruling class prevails by January 20th, nothing will be resolved for the working class. Only the political intervention of the working class to demand that Trump leaves would strengthen it as a class, as it prepares to fight the increasingly bitter class war ahead.
It is true that Trump has lost the vote, he has not gained traction through the courts, and has faced resistance from state Republicans to flip the electoral college slates. It’s also true that Trump has powerful ruling class forces aligned up against him. However, to assume he is “down and out for the count” is still, I believe, dangerously complacent.
And most importantly, Trump and his fascist cabal still have full control over the executive of the United States. This is no small asset! Trump still has the legal authority to launch a war, and war on Iran has been openly canvassed since the election. Trump still has control of all the armed bodies of men under his command. He has elevated loyalists to the top of the Pentagon including making Christropher Miller, the former Special Forces commander his new Secretary of Defence. In terms of the Judiciary, Trump has his majority now cemented by the addition of Christian Pentacostalist fanatic, Amy Coney Barrett. Trump also still controls the Senate via the Republican Party he dominates. Trump can sill can call on his lunatic MAGA base. Although not backed by the dominant capitalist faction, he is backed by a section of finance capital. So whilst not underplaying the forces arrayed against him, it is wishful thinking to cast Trump as an “isolated loner”.
In summary, it comes as a shock to me that what seemed like a simple call for Marxists to play a role in uniting the different political tendencies in joint struggle to prevent an fascist electoral coup has provoked not just so just so little support, but outright hostility. Since November 3rd, all factions of the ruling class have worked to keep the working class paralysed as they fight for control of the White House. Small actions such as the passing of a motion by the Vermont Labor Council on November 21st to authorise a general strike if needed, shows that splits will open up in the camp of the social democracy as this crisis continues. These splits can be exploited by Marxists to mobilise the working class. It is time that Marxists stop acquiescing to these machinations and to do everything in their power to mobilize the working class to intervene in its own interests. How about it? For united front organizing for a General Strike, and for workers defence committees against the fascist thugs.