I’ve never been comfortable with the description of the Trump administration as “authoritarian.” Why? One reason is that the concept, taken by itself, is classless. In today’s world, governments as varied in outlook, social system and democratic practice as capitalist Turkey and socialist China are routinely called authoritarian.
In the not-too-distant, past Baby Doc’s dictatorship in Haiti was authoritarian as was Mobutu’s reign of terror in the Congo. But were they same as the regimes of, Salazar in Portugal, or that of Pinochet in Chile?
Not really. One major difference is that the dictatorships in Europe and Latin America were fueled by racism, anti-Semitism and last, but not least, anti-communism. They also represented the capture of the state by specific sections of the ruling class.
Each of these elements is extremely important, but all three are given little attention in even the best analyses of the Trump administration. Marxists have always pointed to the emergence of fascism as a particular feature of capitalism’s rule. They have drawn attention to the role of the banks in particular. Can we do less today?
The classic definition of fascism was offered by Georgi Dimitrov at the 7th World Congress of the Comintern in 1935. “Fascism is the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary sections of finance capital,” he said.
Here, Dimitrov was speaking of fascism full-blown, a situation not now present in the U.S., as many correctly point out. Some raise the point to dismiss the applicability of Dimitrov’s analysis to our current circumstances. But it’s the processes in motion that are important here. Imagine how Dimitrov would have responded if someone had said three years before that Hitler wasn’t a fascist or that fascism wasn’t a threat.
Both Trump’s campaign and administration have direct ties to reactionary sections of finance capital
Both Trump’s campaign and administration have direct ties to reactionary sections of finance capital, as witnessed by the support of the New York hedge fund Mercer family and Trump’s appointment of their agent, Steve Bannon, first as his campaign CEO and later as his strategist-in-chief. Bannon, of course, remains a sort of prime minister of the so-called “alt-right” (read neo fascist) Breitbart news crowd.
Then there’s there’s the feature of white supremacy (or white nationalism, as it’s commonly called these days). Even conservative Joe Scarborough admits that ruling class racism is a central organizing principle of the Trump administration.
Anti-socialism and anti-communism remain foundations of domestic and international policy.: Witness the recent red-baiting by Trump of even the Democratic Party – let’s not forget that he was a protege of Roy Cohn. And then there’s the recent news about attempts to intervene militarily in Venezuela.
Yale professor of philosophy Jason Stanley’s recent book,How Fascism Works, points to some of its basic distinguishing features: the conjuring of a mythic past (“Make America Great Again”); sowing racial and national division; and an attack on the truth, in other words, the Big Lie. A deadly trifecta.
Stanley correctly points to the danger of normalizing these features, in other words, of folks getting used to it. A New York Times reviewer of his book writes, “By calling Trump a ‘fascist’ … Stanley is trying to spark public alarm. He doesn’t want Americans to respond to Trump’s racist, authoritarian offensives by moving their moral goal posts. The greater danger, he suggests, isn’t hyperbole, it’s normalization.”
By using the “F” word, instead of authoritarian, to describe Trump, the Yale professor is sounding the alarm. Luckily, others are striking that bell as well. Adele M. Stan, writing in the American Prospect an article entitled “Trump and the Rise of 21st Century Fascism” importantly points to some of the financial interests involved:
“With Rupert Murdoch’s media empire (which owns Fox News) and the Koch brothers’ donor network of private capitalists bought into the Trumpian project, you have another element of fascism: the promise of protection for capitalist elites, which in this administration is displayed in the massive deregulation project the White House has undertaken.”
This is key, even with the Koch brothers most recent dissatisfaction with Trump.
If it walks like a dog and barks like a dog, it’s a dog
Thus, some things haven’t changed, e.g., the location of emerging fascism’s base among banking capital and sections of the lower middle class. Studies – both just after the election and more recently – have given lie to the notion of Trump’s support being based mainly among economically distressed white workers.
As Anita Waters recently pointed out, authoritarianism is not a working-class characteristic. It is, however, a feature of class rule. Fascism, on the other hand, is clearly class rule, a horse of another color.
In the U.S., fascism is not fully formed, but it is present in the corporate boardrooms, in the mass rallies, in the online forums of Breitbart and Fox News, and in government. In New York, it was located in the Proud Boys beating of protestors on the upper East Side. The Proud Boys, by the way, were celebrating the anniversary of the murder of a Japanese socialist leader.
As the old saying goes, “If it walks like a dog and barks like a dog, it’s a dog.” And this dog’s got teeth.
Some, looking to Germany as a universal model of fascism’s rise to power, argue that in the U.S. there’s no direct threat to capitalist rule. However, they seem to have forgotten that when Mussolini marched on Rome, capitalism was not under siege notwithstanding the Turin factory occupations. Rather, Italian fascism’s rise was more of a preventative measure.
However, historically, there are no universal models of fascism, fit for every situation. Rather, there are trends, tendencies, patterns. What all have in common is capitalist crisis and attempts by ruling elements to manage it, some by “fair” means, others foul. In the U.S., one would do better by looking for this foulness in Birmingham in the ‘30s, instead of in Berlin.
Authoritarianism is a symptom. The disease is fascism, infecting a terminally ill patient: late-state monopoly capitalism and rule by the most reactionary elements of the .1 percent. Finance capital – that’s what we’re fighting.