Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “November is about defeating fascism.” She’s right.
While we shouldn’t take anything Trump says at face value, since he often says things that are lies, distortions, or just outrageous in order to distract, the fact that he has already repeatedly cast doubt on the results of the fall elections is worrisome. He is anxious to prevent anyone not part of his base from voting by mail, the safest way during a pandemic; he and his press secretary have already promised that he may not accept the results of the election; the “remarks” that he deserves a third term and that he should be “president for life” are stunning — all point to his certainty that he will lose a fair election.
These comments don’t amount to a plan, and they don’t indicate what he will actually do after November 3rd, but they may be trial balloons to test what he can get away with.
However, there are other actions by the administration we must take more seriously:
- The attacks on the viability of the Postal Service — not just removing mailboxes but destroying sorting machines so that even if there were a court order to put them back, it wouldn’t work.
- Dispatching armed, masked troops to our streets to attack peaceful protesters, to spread fear, to use violence to accomplish Trump’s political aims, and to bring chaos to fuel the anger that animates his base.
- Many attacks on voting rights, escalating the long-standing Republican efforts at voter suppression — from voter ID laws, closing polling places, massive purges of voter rolls, threatening to send police to polling places to intimidate voters, demanding that states not engage in legal efforts to promote voting by mail, and ridiculous gerrymandering.
These are among the signs of creeping fascism in the actions of the Trump administration — chipping away at Constitutional rights; ignoring norms of U.S. political life; destroying democratic institutions; promoting lies; attacking science and scientists; violating laws; encouraging racists, misogynists, and fascists; threatening states and cities that don’t bow down to Trump; tearing kids from their parents and incarcerating them in cages and denying them adequate food, health care, and legal representation; delaying justice through dubious legal strategies in an effort to avoid the truth being presented to the voters; and so many more insults to the body politic.
These actions are despicable enough on their own, and they must be resisted and defeated. But the threat of full-blown fascism promises much worse. As Michele Obama said in her Democratic Party Convention speech, “It can get worse.”
We live with, and suffer from, many injustices and crimes, but it can get worse. The fight for democracy is not only a fight for our Constitutional rights, it is a fight to protect our rights to protest, to petition for redress of our grievances, to demonstrate, to assemble with others, to speak freely, to engage in peaceful civil disobedience, and to work for change.
The fight for democracy is a fight for our ability to be active citizens, to participate in governance, to create and build organizations of resistance, to flourish as full human beings.
The cages forced on small immigrant children are the precursor to what the fascists plan for millions of us — cages, concentration camps, mass arrests of demonstrators, summary executions for anyone Trump deems an “enemy of the state,” violence at previously unimaginable levels, the replacement of our flawed and limited democracy with nothing but the words of democracy hiding the iron heel, the fist of fascism striking down all who fight for freedom and justice.
Fascism is about the elimination of the ability of millions to work for change.
As Dimitrov said, the replacement of bourgeois democracy by fascism is not the simple substitution of one form of capitalist rule for another, but the elimination of the ability of millions to work for change. It is the replacement of even the possibility of peaceful change with brutal militarism and violence in domestic affairs. Protecting and saving the public space for protest is protecting our ability to protest such actions as the murder of George Floyd, the Muslim ban, the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and their families, the effort to make protesting illegal in many states, and so many other atrocities.
Some leftist critics point out, correctly, that voting alone is not a sufficient way to prevent fascism. Fascists will not respect electoral losses; they will do all they think they can get away with to stay in power. But a stinging defeat at the ballot box this fall is a necessity no matter what Trump does in response. A massive vote is a crucial part of saving democracy, saving Constitutional rights, saving hope for a better world.
Some on the left give lip service to the danger of fascism but use whatever intellectual firepower they have for condemning Biden and Harris. Biden and Harris are of course deserving of criticism from the left, and no one should have illusions that a Biden victory will result in freedom and justice everywhere. U.S. foreign policy will still be an imperialist foreign policy, will still use military force including drones to kill indiscriminately wherever they are employed, and still serve to promote the financial interests of U.S.-based multinational corporations. Biden and Harris are not the socialists that Trump pretends to think they are, in his effort to reanimate anti-communism as a potent force in U.S. politics.
However, focusing on such criticisms downplays the danger of fascism. Dimitrov said,
In our ranks there was an impermissible underestimation of the fascist danger. . . . In a number of countries, the necessary development of a mass fight against fascism was replaced by barren debates on the nature of fascism “in general” and by a narrow sectarian attitude on formulating and solving the immediate political tasks of the party.
He went on, “By destroying the relics of bourgeois democracy, by elevating open violence to a system of government, fascism shakes democratic illusions and undermines the authority of the law in the eyes of working people.” But he warned that “fascism will not collapse automatically. Only the revolutionary activity of the working class can help to take advantage of the conflicts which inevitably arise with the bourgeois camp in order to undermine the fascist dictatorship and to overthrow it.”
Many actions of the Trump administration are fascist actions, but we shouldn’t conflate those with full-blown fascism that has a firm grip on state power. When Pinochet led the fascist revolt against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, his armed forces rounded up thousands of opponents, incarcerated them in a sports stadium, and engaged in mass killing. When Hitler felt he had sufficient power shortly after his appointment as chancellor, his agents destroyed the unions, the youth organizations, the progressive women’s organizations, and all institutions of popular resistance. We should have no delusions about how swiftly or decisively the fascists will move, when they are emboldened or threatened.
One of the lessons from Germany in the early 1930s is that street fights don’t defeat fascism.
Many are asking, “Is it moral to punch a fascist?” Of course it is, since fascists are by definition violent, oppressive, antidemocratic, and vicious. But that is the wrong question. The main question is, how do we defeat fascism? One of the lessons from Germany in the early 1930s is that street fights don’t defeat fascism — all the major parties in Germany, including the Communist Party, had associated paramilitary organizations, and those organizations engaged in pitched street battles with the fascist paramilitary groups. The fascists welcomed those battles, they welcomed the chaos in the streets, even when they lost a battle. Hurting individual fascists doesn’t defeat fascism. Chaos in the streets gets used by the fascists to portray themselves as the necessary protectors of society. It gives them arguments to their wealthy supporters that promoting fascism is necessary to protect their profits, to maintain order. Punching individual fascists in the face doesn’t stop the fascist juggernaut.
That said, once fascism gains full state power, then most often violence is the only way to evict them from power — this was true in Germany, Italy, Japan, and elsewhere. In other cases, it required many decades of struggle and even the death of a fascist leader, to bring about a fundamental shift — in Spain, in Portugal. In other cases, it didn’t require a civil war but did require many years of determined struggle — in Chile, Greece, Brazil, and many other right-wing authoritarian countries. The suffering of millions that happens under fascism is not necessary if we can prevent it now.
Right now, the fascists have a foothold on state power, but not full state power. They are trying to use their control of too much of our governmental apparatus to maintain and expand their hold.
A massive vote against Trump is essential to preventing fascism. Voting out Trump’s Republican co-conspirators, including Mitch McConnell, flipping the Senate, sending more Democrats and more progressives to the House, and flipping more state legislatures are all pieces of our struggle.
But these are not the only steps. They are necessary but not sufficient by themselves.
We also need to strengthen our organizations of struggle and resistance. We need street protests, legal challenges, institutions of popular resistance, progressive policy proposals, and electoral defeats for fascists and those who facilitate them. We need education and culture as part of our movement.
An electoral defeat of Trump and his ilk is necessary, essential, vital. An electoral defeat for Trump and McConnell will not by itself create the solutions we need, but it will grant us the space to fight for that creation ourselves.
Defeating Trump in November is one piece of our struggle, one of the building blocks of the new future we can create if given the opportunity. And the threat of fascism is in large part an effort to take that opportunity away from us, the vast majority.
Some people, both left and center, seem to feel that their vote is a test of political purity. But a massive vote against Trump is a manifestation of the broad coalition of forces required to stop fascism, a broad coalition that must continue after the election no matter who wins the popular vote, no matter who wins the Electoral College vote, no matter whether or not Trump “respects” the election results.
Dimitrov, in discussing the correct strategy for Communists living in fascist countries, advises them that Communists must of necessity work in fascist-led organizations, like the fascist-led unions the Nazis set up after destroying the German trade unions.
We can lead the masses to a decisive struggle for the overthrow of the fascist dictatorship only by getting the workers who have been forced into the fascist organizations, or who have joined them through ignorance, to take part in the most elementary movements for the defense of their economic, political and cultural interests. It is for this reason that the Communists must work in these organizations, as the best champions of the day-to-day interests of the mass of members.
He was not endorsing the fascist organizations, he was not urging support for fascism; instead he argued that “Communists in the fascist countries should be wherever the masses are to be found.” He went on,
He who fails to understand the necessity of using such tactics in the case of fascism, he who regards such an approach as “humiliating,” may be a most excellent comrade, but if you will allow me to say so, he is a windbag and not a revolutionary, he will be unable to lead the masses to the overthrow of the fascist dictatorship.
We are not yet in such a dire situation, and we still have the opportunity to defeat fascism through peaceful means, but it requires that we join with the tens of millions disgusted with Trump, the tens of millions who see, correctly, that the only way to defeat Trump and his minions at the ballot box is by voting for Biden. That is not the end of our struggle, it is but the next crucial step.
The election is about having a real impact in the real world at a moment of great danger.
This approach, of participating in the broad movement to defeat Trump, is not an endorsement of corporate Democrats or about cooperating with neo-liberal imperialist foreign policy prescriptions. It is about cooperating with the workers and movements who understand that this election is not about political purity, not about a revolutionary option, but about having a real impact in the real world at a moment of great danger.
If Trump tries to ignore the results of the election, the biggest electoral rejection of him will put our movement in the best shape to defeat whatever he tries. If Trump loses the popular vote by a slim margin, or in the unlikely event he wins the popular vote, that will be used by his supporters to claim a mandate for his policies, for an escalation of efforts to distort and destroy democracy, for Trump to use military force to invalidate the results.
It is an encouraging sign that elements of the military and intelligence agencies are speaking out against the reelection of Trump. We should not have illusions that these elements are allies of the progressive movement, but they offer resistance to the efforts to enlist the military against the U.S. populace, against efforts to use the military as a support for the moves towards fascism.
But the real resistance is in the streets by the millions. Starting with the massive Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration, tens of millions have acted against his agenda. Those acts range from writing postcards, to demonstrating in support of science and scientists, to the uprisings following the police murder of George Floyd, to state attorneys general filing suit against many actions of the administration, to cities and states declaring themselves sanctuary zones, to the election of a majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives in 2018, to anti-pipeline demonstrations and the battles of water protectors, to young people suing to demand action on climate change, to the climate strikes (the biggest international coordinated demonstrations in the history of the world in September 2019), to the increasing numbers of DSA members (Democratic Socialists of America) being elected to local and state offices, and to Congressional seats.
In addition to living at a time of the growing threat of fascism, we also live at a time of growing movements, of millions in the streets demanding an end to racism, of increasingly militant union struggles, of women fighting for their lives and choices, of communities working to create a better future for all, of cities welcoming immigrants and providing sanctuary. We live at a time of growing support for socialism as a real solution to the problems facing our class, our people, our country. We live at a time when the old ways no longer work and millions are looking for new answers, new possibilities, and new hope.