Emergent Fascism and the Fragmented Left

The fascist right has been on the rise for years, crawling out of the sewer where it was hiding and festering. But only now that Donald Trump, the grossest symptom of this resurgence, has claimed the presidency is the mainstream willing to accept that fascism is a problem. Just a year ago this same mainstream was ignoring the “alt-right”, dismissing it as niche politics, refusing to see Men’s Rights Activism for what it was, and failing to take Islamophobia seriously. When the Parti Québécois proposed laws that targeted Muslims, when groups like PEGIDA held conferences, when the old Harper regime spoke about “barbaric cultural practices”, when misogynist groups infiltrated campuses, the liberal media mocked activists for using the word fascism and instead argued that all attempts to oppose this reactionary political sequence constituted “fascism” since militant activism was seen as tantamount to censorship. The liberal establishment has always and falsely believed that censorship is the true fascism and thus to even suppress fascist ideas is more fascist than the fascists!

So now when the same mainstream and its media, because of the Trump presidency, are beginning to see the same practices that preceded the Donald’s rise to power for what they always were (though without, it needs to be said, abandoning their liberal understanding of anti-fascism), we might content ourselves with blaming them for failing to recognize what they should have recognized years ago. The juvenile response, which so many of us cannot help but make on social media, is a snide “we told you so” and “look at your fucking house that’s been on fire for years.” The problem, however, is that the growing strength of fascism in the imperialist metropoles is mainly our fault.

Of course, on an abstract level we can lay the fault of rising fascism at the feet of the fascists themselves. “Trust a fascist to be fascist” is a truism: it is not as if the neo-Nazis, whether they be the Soldiers of Odin or the alt-right, were ever hiding what they were. At the same time, though, this statement is a tautology: fascist ideologues are fascist ideologues and they have long been a populist cesspit. The bigger question is why their right populism has been gaining clout to the point of being able to push someone like Trump into power in an imperialist country that has long (and falsely) imagined itself to be the enemy of “totalitarian” fascism. The answer to this question is beyond the bounds of this article though it is worth pointing out the ways in which attempts to answer it signal the failure of the broad left: some of us, even now, are trying to find a solution to this dilemma by arguing that certain [white] factions of the middle- and working-class, due to their alienation from neoliberalism, had good reason to gravitate towards fascism and thus, in response, we should court fascist logic. Sam Gindin, for example, has argued that working-class fear of precarity enabled Trump’s rise to power and thus the left should abandon, or at least hide, its commitment to open borders and anti-racism. Others, following his example, think the left should drop its militant language altogether, embrace a “left” settler-nationalism, and steer would-be fascists towards social democracy. Those who deliver these arguments with utter sincerity are partial proof that the broad left is responsible for the rise of fascism: even now, as Mosques are burned and anti-immigrant orders signed, some of us demand that we court this impulse and somehow transform it from within.

It’s also easy to blame the liberal establishment for enabling fascism. After all, for years they dismissed this resurgence and even participated in its groundwork. The American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU], for example, still prides itself in having defended the right of Nazis to express their noxious opinions. The ACLU, which proclaimed itself an anti-fascist champion after Trump’s election, is thus an easy target; its hypocrisy is apparent. Moreover, the US election is a perfect example of the ways in which the liberal establishment strengthened fascism: run a candidate who is only one or two meaningless shades to the left of a fascist, belittle everyone who demands more, imagine that an “I’m with her” politics actually matters, and blame the electoral loss on Russians and the actual left. Better yet, classify the real left as “the alt-left” and pretend your liberalism is somehow anti-fascist while simultaneously complaining about anti-fascists who punch Richard Spencer in the face.

But liberals cannot be blamed for being liberals. The left should know that the liberal establishment has always been an expression of the capitalist order and is thus the “nicer” side of a capitalist coin it shares with fascists. United under capitalism, liberals and fascists determine each other. In times of stability, as the old adage goes, capitalism is a liberal democracy; in times of crisis it closes ranks and becomes monolithic, i.e. fascist. These liberals who were more than happy to promote multiple fascist orders around the world as long as it was profitable are annoyed by the fact that it has rebounded upon themselves but are unable to explain why. They were always part of the problem though they prefer to deny this fact by pretending that fascism is little more than anti-liberal censorship. Around a century ago we called them social fascists for precisely this reason. And you can’t really blame a social fascist for fascism, can you?

So if anyone’s to blame it’s those who should have known what fascism was because they were the ones who led the fight against it before. In the Spanish Revolution and in World War Two it was the anti-capitalist left who initially came out against capitalism. The liberal order was eventually dragged along but only when Germany threatened other national-economic interests, not because of a dedication to anti-fascism. And it was this same anti-capitalist camp, that understood that fascism was one face of capitalism, who assured the victory of the Second World War. Anti-fascism is the job of the left because it is the left that must be anti-fascist by definition. We haven’t been doing our job very well.

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When the first protests against Trump’s inauguration broke out, Trump officials began claiming that this was proof that they were right. The argument, here, was that the resistance of those they classified as enemies proved they were on the right track; if they weren’t on the right track then their enemies wouldn’t oppose them. Such an assessment will of course be familiar to Maoists: “To be attacked by the enemy,” Mao Zedong once proclaimed, “is not a bad thing but a good thing.” Communists and fascists draw similar friend/enemy distinctions, and it is not by accident that Mao’s Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society begins with the question of the friend/enemy distinction around the same time that the Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt was asking the same thing. A militant politics always demarcates itself; communism and fascism are both militant but for different class reasons—their friends and enemies are diametrically opposed.

So when the people in Trump’s camp decided that it was good to be attacked by the enemy they were making their politics clear: their enemy was the masses; their friends were those dedicated to the most reactionary articulation of the capitalist order. Most importantly, they were making a declaration of hegemony. The attacks on their politics were treated as a galvanization of their fascism against those who oppose this fascism; the anger of the masses demonstrated that their anti-people politics were on track. Such declarations indicated that they understood the need to pursue hegemony, to foster a particular ideological hegemony against its discontents.

Unfortunately, the broad left that existed before and during the rise of today’s hard right has been largely incapable of making the same distinction. We the left, in all those decades since the fall of the Eastern Bloc, have become complacent. We have spent many years rejecting the kind of politics that seeks a unified political hegemony; we have treated the necessity of demarcating friends from enemies as the business of an interior identity politics rather than a political line. That is, we have quibbled amongst ourselves about who has the right to be properly left while, at the same time, resisting the kind of partisan politics that would promote hegemonic political unity… Or, by the same token, we have downplayed these internal problems in order to promote a false unity. Whatever the case, we now lack the political unity that is necessary to fight fascism.

In some cases the mainstream left has argued that the concept of political hegemony is outdated and thus embraced fragmentation. Now, after years of fragmentation, we are facing a hegemonic right without a counter-hegemony that can oppose it on any meaningful level. We spent years imagining that diffusion was a strength, that affinity groups and movementist praxis could make a difference, but meanwhile the right has become more unified. As yet, there is no left organization that can counter this unification in a meaningful matter. A random punch of Richard Spencer, as justified and celebratory as this might be, is not a counter-hegemonic movement.

When the reactionary right re-emerged at the heart of imperialism the broad left, the only force capable of understanding its meaning, was incapable of dealing with this re-emergence because of its own political practices. We like to crow about the contradictions within the alt-right, as if it will explode without our intervention, but fail to recognize the even more damning fragmentation within our own movement.

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When the most recent crisis erupted near the end of the first decade of the 21st century the PCR-RCP argued that, due to the objective circumstances, it was necessary to re-initiate a revolutionary communist sequence in order to produce the subjective circumstances for overthrowing capitalism. We knew that in times of crisis the ruling class, in order to defend its exploitative order and oppressive form of life, would close ranks and drift towards fascism. The policies that would soon be called “austerity” were indeed signalling fascism; right populism was already manifesting so as to recruit, in lieu of an organized left, factions of a disenchanted “middle class”. This middle class, whose consciousness was orientated towards capitalism, who did not want to lose their supposed “right” to a petty-bourgeois lifestyle, and who had been weaned on anti-communist ideology for years, was open to fascist organization. Enraged by the possibility of being proletarianized, despising the exploited and oppressed masses, large swathes of this strata were primed for reactionary explanations of their experience: terrorists, job stealing immigrants, “big government”, women, an imaginary war on the cishet white male.

In such a context we claimed that a comprehensive fighting party was indispensable. The only way to successfully confront and defeat the fascist possibility would be to organize and solidify counter-hegemony. Indeed, our conception of Protracted People’s War was theorized as part of this necessity: we believed that we needed an organization that would be capable of developing a people’s army that could wage war upon the kind of capitalism that was not only defended by the institutionalized police and army but could also produce “rhizomatic” fascist paramilitaries thus transforming class war into a struggle on innumerable fronts.

Moreover, we saw the bourgeois electoral arena as a space that was complicit in the fascist drift. As all of the parties moved right in an effort to preserve the capitalist order—signalling fascism with austerity measures, harsher mechanics of surveillance, and anti-immigrant policies—the practice of bourgeois democracy continued to drain the energy of the broad left, inspiring a lesser evilism. No matter how narrow the choice between one party or other was becoming, broad swathes of the left wasted their resources trying to mobilize the masses to vote for the best of the worse instead of building counter-hegemony. Nearly half of the country’s voting population was already boycotting these elections, left behind by the pitiless reality of the crisis, but their plight was largely ignored despite possessing the potential to resist the growing tide of reaction. Hence we argued for an explicit boycott so as to break with the bourgeois legality through which fascism was plotting to emerge.

Of course liberals like to imagine that a rejection of elections is what permitted fascism. Refusing to admit that they are part of the problem—that they have enabled fascism at every moment of their existence by continuing to endorse the fascist drift of the entire bourgeois system—they now spin fairy tales about Russian conspiracies, mock those who have historically confronted and resisted fascism by calling us the “alt-left”, and pretend that their peaceful non-resistance is an anti-fascist high road. Yesterday the ACLU poured its resources into defending the right of Nazis to spread their noxious propaganda, today they pretend this contributed nothing to an ascendant fascism. Yesterday the US Democrats declared open season on New Afrikans, allowing “Blue Lives Matter” legislation to be passed; today they claim they are the champions of those they once called “super predators”. Yesterday the Canadian Liberal Party told Indigenous land protectors to fuck off, today they see themselves as a bulwark against Trumpism. Yesterday the entire Canadian liberal establishment permitted the passing of Bill C-51, now they have the gall to express anxiety about “totalitarian” control. Yesterday Canadian politicians passed or attempted to pass Islamophobic laws, today they express horror when a mosque is violently assaulted by a white supremacist that the liberal establishment, even now, is dismissing as a misguided “lone wolf”. What a rotten hegemony; it was always ready to drop the veneer of liberal hypocrisy and reveal its putrid fascist face.

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If there is to be any hope of resisting this fascist tide and moving one step closer to socialism we need to break with the style of work that has left us defenseless. We need to return to building revolutionary hegemony, the kind of unified political movement that is as unified as the fascists and thus able to confront them in every arena. While demonstrations and online performative declarations are useful, without a coherent strategy of hegemony they will serve to exhaust the movement.

We should recall the massive mobilizations against imperialism that greeted the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001: thousands upon thousands of people took to the streets, the energy of the resistant masses was drawn into the anti-war movement; within a few years the demonstrations dwindled, the unorganized advanced and intermediate forces drifted away, the left returned to being the same marginalized left it had been prior to 2001. The movementist fascination with the spectacle of marches, demonstrations, and fragmented actions did not end the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, nor did it build a stronger and more disciplined anti-capitalist movement. Today the left is starting from the same place it started from before 9/11 and is again beginning to draw more people into participating in its demonstrations. But if this left had succeeded in producing a successful counter-hegemonic movement fifteen years ago then it would be starting from a stronger position with a strategy to transform today’s demonstrations into a further strength.

I am not arguing that the entire left except the PCR-RCP is to blame for our current level of strength. Those of us in PCR-RCP circles are also to blame for failing to build a comprehensive fighting organization quickly and thoroughly; some of our own efforts have been marred by the movementist experience and practice we hoped to escape. Other organizations that seek to be revolutionary parties have also failed to produce such counter-hegemony for reasons that are partially similar. Altogether, those of us who proclaim fidelity to various types of party hegemony politics have failed to figure out the way in which to construct a viable united front: either we have wasted our time on sectarian disputes that justify the worst kind of dogmatism, or we have erroneously classified all principled differences as “sectarian” and have attempted to build useless refoundationalist spaces that cater to the lowest common denominator of unity. Going forward, those of us who understand the need for revolutionary hegemony must not only continue to organize on such a basis, and draw clear lines of demarcation between our practice and the movementism that will take us nowhere, but also find a way to co-construct meaningful united fronts with other like-minded radicals and even those movementists who, despite the failure of their practice, are still on the side of the masses against fascism.

As anti-capitalists we have always been in it for the long haul but, now that this long haul is about to enter a phase of fascist attrition, we must again realize that we cannot treat our struggle like a game. The ruthless critique of everything existing must also be a ruthless struggle in the streets against an emergent fascist order.

-Tomas M.-