System Crash: An Activist Guide to the Coming Democratic Revolution.
On 3 November 2020, far-right US President Donald Trump was defeated at the polls. During the following week, it looked as if he and his supporters in the Republican Party and beyond might attempt to overturn the results and carry out a judicial-political coup, perhaps using the right-wing majority in the Supreme Court to invalidate the votes in several states. Eventually, though, the gap in the popular vote between Trump and Biden was too large, and the street mobilisation of his stunned supporters too weak, for it to be a runner.
Trump’s huge mobilisations of support in mass rallies, his brutal governmental style, his support in the right-wing media, all seemed suddenly to count for nothing. Had it all been an aberration, an illusion of threatening dictatorship and modern fascism? Can we now expect a return to democratic ‘normality’?
Actually, the reverse is true. The Far Right and creeping fascism – on the streets, at the polls, in government, in police departments – are not going away. Not in the US and not around the world. That is because it is rooted in the capitalist crisis and the political polarisation that are eroding the foundations of ‘moderate’ centrist liberal-parliamentary rule across the world.
Supporters of the centre in the US and Britain imagine that the extremist demon has been vanquished. Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland wrote: ‘It’s clearer every day that in electing Biden and rejecting Donald Trump, Americans are moving to undo the great error they made in 2016.’
But are they? Was Trump just an ‘error’ of judgement? Can such unfortunate mistakes now be avoided? Is it all that simple?
In the last decade, there has been an astonishing rise of the Far Right and fascism internationally, starting well before the Trump bid for the US presidency. Thirty years after Francis Fukuyama’s famous End of History predicted that, with the fall of the Soviet Union, capitalism and democracy would be victorious everywhere, the balance sheet is in: capitalism has been victorious – an exceptionally predatory, destructive, anti-social brand of it – but democracy has not. On the contrary, a modern form of fascism has emerged, re-enacting the racist, xenophobic, and nationalist themes of the Nazi and pro-Nazi movements of the 1930s.
How could this have happened? How could the neoliberal world created by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s under the banner of ‘freedom’ have given rise to historical monsters in the form of Donald Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan? How could we end up with thousands of desperate migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, and armed fascist militias patrolling the streets of large American cities?
The key to understanding this lies in the form of capital’s victory in the 1980s and 1990s. As explained in Chapters 3 and 7, the neoliberal world created by Thatcher and Reagan produced a deeply dysfunctional economic system that devastated the lives of billions of people across the world. Then the 2008 financial crash – a direct consequence of the permanent debt economy created by neoliberal policy – was followed by programmes of austerity that ratcheted up the social crisis to a new intensity. In Paul Mason’s words, rebellion ‘kicked off everywhere’ – in the United States and Greece, in Turkey and Britain, across the Arab world, and in dozens of countries around the globe.
Sections of the capitalist class re-learned an obvious lesson: you cannot keep social desperation and mass rebellion in check over long periods of time simply by repression. Something more popular than riot police and soldiers on the streets is needed to stabilise the social order – an ideology capable of heading off popular revolt against the bankers, the rich, and the system by turning mass anger onto other targets.
This has been the context for Donald Trump, the Vox party in Spain, the Lega in Italy, the Alliance for Germany (AfD), Bolsonaro in Brazil, and numerous other far-right movements worldwide
The crisis of capitalist democracy
The stability of capitalist democracy after World War II was built on relative economic prosperity and rising living standards. Destroy prosperity and welfare systems, and capitalist democracy, one way or another, is liable to flounder and collapse.
Robert Kutzer, in his book, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? answers his own question in the negative. More precisely he says:
Democratic capitalism today is a contradiction in terms. Globalisation under the auspices of finance-capital has steadily undermined the democratic constraints on capitalism. In a downward spiral, popular revulsion against predatory capitalism has strengthened populist ultra-nationalism and weakened democracy.
Because Kuttner is a social-democrat, he poses the issue as controlled capitalism versus authoritarian dictatorship. We pose the choices differently. Like his mentor Karl Polanyi, Kuttner sees the Far Right as much better able to benefit from economic crisis and social collapse than the Left. This is because the Far-Right defends the power and prerogatives of capital, while the Left faces endless hostility from the defenders of the system, including right-wing and centrist politicians and mainstream media. Political polarisation is therefore liable, in the first instance at least, to benefit mainly the Far Right.
Kuttner is surely right about neoliberal capitalism and democracy. It is not just a matter of undermining democratic rights of demonstration and assembly. It is about destroying every form of dissent and resistance. This involves ending public ownership and control, manipulating and rigging elections, attacking public-service broadcasting and critical media, purging the universities of radical teachers and content, and privatising national and local government functions so they escape popular oversight. This process inevitably leads to widespread corruption, and the dictators are often themselves immensely rich and self-serving (Turkey’s Erdoğan, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and China’s Xi Jinping are all billionaires).
So the first part of our argument is that the massive and intractable crises we face are, in the long term, incompatible with capitalist democracy. This should not surprise us. Capitalist democracy has existed for a much shorter time than capitalism itself. Francis Fukuyama’s prediction that capitalist globalisation would lead to the victory of democracy everywhere has proved wrong on all counts.
The second part of our argument is that simple repression is rarely sufficient to defeat popular resistance. It is also necessary to build a mass reactionary base. This is the genius of the project of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He has used the mass electoral base of the Islamist AKP Party as his route to power, and then used his presidential position and parliamentary majority to successively purge the police, the army, the judiciary, the civil service, and the universities of all opponents and possible opponents in a classic process of gleichschaltung – literally ‘synchronisation’, the German word used to describe how the Nazis gradually bent the existing apparatuses of the state to their will after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933. Combined with this, Erdoğan has engineered the most brutal repression of all popular movements, especially the Kurdish-led People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Tens of thousands have been killed, hundreds of thousands jailed, many tortured, raped, and otherwise brutalised.
Robert Kuttner brands both Erdoğan’s Turkey and Putin’s Russia as ‘soft fascism’, because although some of the forms of democracy, like managed elections, continue, these are rendered largely meaningless in practice. There are differences: Erdoğan has a mass party of immense power behind him (the AKP has 11 million members), whereas Putin’s United Russia (two million members) relies much more on the central state apparatus itself. But these are differences of degree, not type.
There are obvious differences, too, with interwar fascism. In the 1930s, a mass reactionary electoral base backed up armies of street-fighters needed to physically defeat the Left and the workers’ movement on the streets. Nowadays, the surveillance state and militarised police forces have relegated armed fascist militias to a secondary role.
Central to our argument is that the existing state is the primary instrument of fascist-type repression. Fascism has never come to power by overthrowing the existing capitalist state, only ever by winning state power – by both legal/electoral and illegal/extra-parliamentary methods – and then bending that power to its own purposes. This was even true of the most extreme version of fascism, the Nazis in Germany. Socialism involves the revolutionary overthrow of the existing state; fascism does not. In most cases, existing police and military forces can be used to crush the Left and the popular movements.
Creeping fascism defeated?
The economic and social crisis that creates the opportunity for the Far Right and the slide towards fascism creates a polarisation. Everywhere, there is mass resistance.
The most dramatic example in 2020, in the United States and internationally, was the Black Lives Matter movement, which had the active support of millions – workers, oppressed people, young people – and which, of course, was met with vicious state repression and involved head-to-head confrontations with armed fascist militias.
The last part of 2020 also saw: an upsurge of rebellion against the far-right regime in Poland, led by young women and focused especially on resisting new anti-abortion attacks; the sweeping left victory in the referendum in Chile, aimed at ditching a constitution that enshrines privatisation and neoliberalism; the return to power of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) in Bolivia; and an exceptionally militant uprising against corruption and repression in Peru.
Karl Polanyi tended to pose the alternatives as liberalism or fascism. More precisely, he argued, if the liberals and social-democrats do not introduce regulated capitalism, then the fascists will come to power.
If that is the real choice, we are in trouble, because the aftermath of the 2008 crash showed clearly that liberals and social-democrats are not prepared to challenge the prerogatives of capital; in or out of power, they stick with neoliberal austerity. More than that: they continually attempt to head off the fascists and the Far Right by stealing their clothes, especially on immigration.
The main recent exception, of course, was the Jeremy Corbyn movement in the Labour Party. The campaign against him waged by the capitalist class and its allies on the right of the Labour Party was really about his radical programme. Bernie Sanders in the United States was also a partial exception; he too was the recipient of fierce hostility from the capitalist class and the right-wing of the Democrats.
The emerging forces of rebellion – workers, the youth, women, minorities – are the basis of a real alternative, that of anti-capitalist revolution. The stakes really are that high. We are not going back to the 1970s or the 1950s: either we open up the road to anti-capitalist transition or we risk fascism, militarisation, and ecological and social collapse.
A vivid example of the sustained danger of creeping fascism is the growth of Vox in the Spanish state. Vox has built itself out of opposition to the national demands of Spain’s regions, in particular the Catalonian demand for independence. The party raps itself in the colours of reactionary Castilian nationalism. It has highly reactionary positions on women (defending soldiers accused of gang rape, for example) and promotes dog-whistle homophobia. It self-consciously resumes the tradition of former dictator Francisco Franco in its reactionary Catholicism and xenophobic nationalism. It has stolen most of the electoral base of the allegedly middle-of-the-road Ciudadanos (Citizens) party. Now it is trying to put itself at the head of anti-lockdown demonstrations in Madrid and elsewhere. Regrettably, it has, by clever use of social media, won a base among young people.
It is impossible to analyse parties like Vox with a template derived from the 1930s, checking for similarities with and differences from Nazism to decide whether or not they are ‘fascist’. Vox is a modern analogue of 1930s fascism. It is a movement in process, and its dynamic and programme is towards the crushing of capitalist democracy; it is one variant among many of creeping fascism.
War on socialism
It was no surprise that during the US presidential election the Cuban-American population of Florida was showered with anti-socialist messages by the Trump campaign. Mainly this is a reactionary ex-patriate community, consumed with hatred of the Communist government in Cuba and, more recently, of the Chavist regime in Venezuela.
But the Republican onslaught on ‘socialism’ went much further. In his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, Donald Trump said: ‘This election will decide whether we save the American dream or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny.’
Throughout the US election campaign, attacks on socialism were constant, as were attempts to paint Biden and Obama as socialists in league with Cuba and Venezuela. The content of these attacks was absurd – Biden and Obama have nothing to do with socialism – but the very fact of this discourse is significant.
What is glided over in the discussion is the difference between socialism, social-democracy, and liberalism – that is, respectively, between the revolutionary transformation of society, a substantial programme of social reform, and limited government action on things like health, welfare, and the environment. Non-socialist Democrats like Biden and Obama fall, at best, into the latter category.
On the other hand, in the United States, recent polls show majorities, especially in the 18-34 and over 55 age groups, with a positive image of socialism, as opposed to capitalism. Many of these people probably have in mind state-regulated welfare capitalism on the European model. But the hostility to actually existing capitalism is significant – and dangerous for the ruling class.
The attack on ‘socialism’ in the US is a pre-emptive campaign against the emergence of a hardened socialist and class-struggle opposition to neoliberalism and the Far-Right – against the sort of politics represented by growing union militancy, mass BLM protests, and the Democratic Socialists of America.
The fascist and semi-fascist forces are far from finished in the United States. They include a range of forces from the Republican Party to the tens of thousands of members of armed right-wing militias. In the present period of endless crisis, it is unlikely that these forces will disappear. It is unlikely that Trump himself will quietly leave the stage. The hard-right politics of Trumpism will probably continue to dominate the Republican Party, providing an extremely powerful echo-chamber for far-right mobilisation.
An immediate focus may be the campaign to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe-versus-Wade judgment that legalised abortion across the country. In this case, the Far Right will be able to draw on America’s massive reserves of Christian reaction, mainly Evangelical, but also Catholic.
Europe: waiting in the wings
The rise of the Far Right in Europe has been particularly shocking, for this was the continent that gave rise to the Nazis and the Holocaust. Modern fascism does not re-enact the symbolism and street-fighting militias of the Nazis. Parties like the French National Rally and the Alternative for Germany present themselves as mainstream organisations but with a strong line on nationalism and immigration. But they all have a hard fascist core.
They aim to come to power through the ballot box. But what happens when they do is vividly demonstrated by events in Hungary since Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party came to power in 2010. Orbán calls his system ‘national co-operation’, a phrase eerily similar to the ‘national consolidation’ demanded by 1930s fascists.
Hungary shares many features with the ‘soft fascism’ of Turkey. It has become a de facto one-party state. The electoral law has been gerrymandered so that in the 2014 elections Fidesz won 44% of the vote and 66% of the seats in the national parliament. The media has been brought to heel, either closed down or consolidated into the Press and Media Foundation, effectively a pro-government cartel. The judiciary has been intimidated and purged. Opposition media, parties, and NGOs face arbitrary tax demands.
Government contracts increasingly go to Orbán’s family and friends. Like most authoritarian regimes, Hungary under Fidesz is riddled with corruption and theft of public funds.
This mix of authoritarianism and crony capitalism is topped with an ideology that Orbán calls ‘illiberal democracy’ – with nationalism, anti-migrant and anti-Roma racism, and rampant anti-Semitism to build and sustain a reactionary electoral base. Hungary is now deep into the process of gleichschaltung, with some of the forms of democracy maintained, but, in reality, a one-party dictatorship.
In Italy, Germany, and France, the far-right parties – the Lega, the AfD, and the National Rally – are not currently in government, but they are all powerful political forces. They have not gone away. They are waiting in the wings. The fall of Donald Trump will not stymie them. And support for them is being fed by the liberal and social-democratic centre.
Nothing could demonstrate this more starkly than the anti-Muslim outbursts of French President Emmanuel Macron following the gruesome murder of schoolteacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist terrorist in November 2020. Macron’s attack on French Muslims has been reminiscent of attacks on French Jews by Second World War President and Nazi collaborator Marshal Philippe Pétain. Macron’s threat of restrictions against, and policing of, Muslim communities and their religious practices echoes the demands of National Rally leader Marine Le Pen. Far from ‘outflanking’ Le Pen, the effect is to endorse her politics.
Migrants and Muslims: the ‘Jews’ of modern fascism
We have argued that fascism and the Far-Right represent a distinct response to the crisis by sections of the ruling class eager to undercut the class-struggle alternative. But dig deeper and we discover the presence of right-wing forces whose long years of ideological warfare and organisation are now bearing fruit in the new faces of fascism.
The first of these are the small fascist organisations themselves, which have never gone away, even if they have changed their political clothes several times. An example is the Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), the junior brother to the Lega party in the Italian electoral Far Right. The Brothers of Italy are the re-baptised form of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), founded immediately after the Second World War to uphold the tradition of Benito Mussolini. Other major European parties of the Far Right, like the Nationally Rally (formerly National Front) in France, the AfD in Germany, and Vlaams Belang (formerly Vlaams Blok) in Belgium, all have a hard core connected in one way or another with the old fascist tradition.
Fascist and semi-fascist movements need high-profile issues around which to build support. The most important of these is, of course, anti-migrant racism and xenophobia. This is the cutting-edge of a broader ideological attack on multiculturalism, seen as an ideological flagship of the Left.
The anti-multiculturalist turn is rooted in Islamophobia, defence of the ‘Judeo-Christian’ West, seen as the crux of world civilisation and progress. The fight against multiculturalism was taken up by British-American academic Bernard Lewis and his student Samuel Huntington. Lewis originated the notion of ‘the Clash of Civilisations’, stressing the alleged centuries-long battle between Islam and Christianity. Huntington popularised this idea, adding ‘Confucian civilisation’ (i.e. China) as a third element in the mix.
For Lewis and Huntington, Islam represents an instinctively imperialist ideology bent on world domination. It is no wonder then that Lewis and especially Huntington became world famous after the 9/11 attacks in Washington and New York. The caricature of Muslims as the uncivilised ‘other’ was deepened in the West by the so-called ‘War on Terror’. The Anglo-American attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq had a massive impact on news media and political debate.
Technology was in the backdrop of interwar fascism, shadowed by a world war that unleashed a carnage previously only latent in modernity. Some fascists, the Italian Futurists, aesthetically lauded such horrors. Innovation – for good and ill – has not since ceased; it continues to change the social and political world, including fascism.
The internet is both fast-moving (giddyingly frictionless) and, counterintuitively, a perfect time capsule (preserving all it touches). The strangeness of such a ‘fast fixity’ adds to an impression that ‘virtual’ cyberspace is immaterial, less real than the world. Everything is throwaway, but, on the other hand, online-time’s detritus proves eternally recoverable.
Today’s ‘human dust’ (Trotsky’s term for interwar fascism’s mass base) hunches over computers anonymously bemoaning their neoliberal proletarianisation. Both skilled, unionised, well-paid jobs in industry and stable white-collar jobs in the service sector have been exported to the Global South. Oppressed, marginalised, often migrant minorities pick up low-wage jobs that no-one else wants. This has produced a distinctly neoliberal hyper-alienation, whose victims struggle to process their new precarity. Meanwhile, ‘the shit of ages’ (Marx’s term for the reactionary cocktail of right-wing politics) is uploaded, digitised to flow freely through a leaky online sewage system.
Alienated millennials, raised online and on the meritocratic fantasies of a 90s bubble economy – falsely promised they would enjoy better lives than their relatively privileged parents – find in recovered prejudices the scapegoats for their diminished circumstances. Ancient hatreds are thereby given web 2.0 twists.
The so-called ‘manosphere’ illustrates this. At its core, the ‘men’s rights movement’ (MRM) perceive ‘misandry’ (the opposite of misogyny) in gendered social problems (higher rates of criminalisation and suicide among men, for example). And while racialised misandries do exist – for instance, directed at Black American men – MRM is in fact misdiagnosing the toll class society’s patriarchy takes even on men; as well documented by feminist theory. However, rather than turning to their true allies – feminists – they blame women.
This is the least obscene face of online misogyny. Deeper into the sewer we find: misanthropic ‘Incels’ (involuntary celibates) with their pseudoscience of female hypergamy (women forming relationships with men of higher social status), which at worst can inspire mass murder; the separatist ‘Men Going Their Own Way’ (MGTOW); and, at the other extreme, pick-up artists (PUAs), who encourage men to manipulate and cajole sex through techniques like ‘negging’ (i.e. emotional abuse).
The ‘manosphere’ overlaps alt-right and alt-lite subcultures, containing even more myriad subgroupings. The pseudo-philosophical Dark Enlightenment of Curtis ‘Mencius Moldbug’ Yarvin and Nick Land’s imagining, for instance. Or neo-Nazis clustered around anti-Semitic conspiracies such as ‘Cultural Bolshevism’, which attributes Communism to a Jewish plot, repackaged as ‘Cultural Marxism’, i.e. the idea that Jewish Marxist academics conspire to corrupt the West with multiculturalism. Or the Boogaloo, who dream of apocalyptic violence, a mainstay of 80s Hollywood. Meanwhile, online far-right micro-celebrities and more mainstream right-wing political commentators (from white supremacist Richard Spencer to Fox’s insidious Tucker Carlson) give a hipster or respectable veneer to fascist nostalgia.
Trump is not unique in drawing on the internet’s power to motivate his social base, merely the most successful. From the Left, this was deliberate, if unsuccessfully, attempted by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. Tellingly, however, it was Ron Paul’s 2008 Republican primary campaign – a racist, pro-border, pro-life, isolationist libertarian – who trialled social-media campaigning to draw in an online grassroots movement. His legacy fed directly into the online Far Right, with notables such as Spencer cutting the teeth with Paul’s bid for the US presidency.
Today, there is an entire ecology of far-right YouTube channels and podcasts, documented by grassroots anti-fascist journalism such as Daniel Harper and Jack Graham’s podcast I Don’t Speak German. As they explain, even ‘alt-right’ can be misleading. In the online world, coded language and labels constantly shift. Self-published ebooks, legions of amateur talk-shows droning as long as seven hours an episode, the latest murderer’s manifesto, or a novel genre of racist memes, form a culture that – borne of ‘fast fixity’ – defies easy comprehension.
Different conspiracy theories are central to other fascist demographics online. The older ‘boomer’ fascists, unlike their millennial counterparts, waste time on Facebook (rather than Twitter and anonymous online boards) trading anti-vaxx or QAnon myths – positing a global paedophile network being fought by a heroic Trump. In the age of Covid, they find a leader in anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist David Ike; this contingent even contends that the pandemic is a fiction, an authoritarian plot to further the goal of mass micro-chipping and 5G implementation (re-imagined as a sinister technology that alters human brain-waves).
Since the 9/11 attacks, the trickle of increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories has become a torrent. Television shows in the 90s like The X-Files mainstreamed the idea of elaborate government plots (with episodes about vaccines used to track and trace). Later, less mainstream documentaries such as Zeitgeist: The Movie (2007) fixed these ideas. And after the Occupy demonstrations fractured, even some of the anti-capitalist movement joined in.
The superficial diversity of online ideas belies the fact that – serving the same counter-revolutionary ends – they always come back to the same old enemies (globalists, a code for Jews; metropolitan liberals; Muslims; the aggregated oppressed) and remedies (some return to an idealised past when powerful nation-states were corruption-free). The most extreme reactionaries deliberately blur themselves with naïve, more moderate associates (who might believe vaccines are dangerous, but not that George Soros encouraged Third-World migration to ‘the West’ in preparation for world government – an idea encouraged by mainstream far-right leaders Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán, and Donald Trump).
Fascism energises the middle strata of society and decayed sections of the working class as a defensive capitalist bulwark against mass resistance; its political function is to drain support from emancipatory projects and provide electoral fodder and shock-troops for reaction. This is why class collaboration is at fascism’s core, and why it is both absurdly optimistic (a thousand-year Reich) and pessimistic (depicting oppressors as victims).
Filtered through the ‘fast fixity’ of the internet, fascist ideology has found new, dizzying obscenities, an organisational spontaneity, and a renewed capacity for fantasy. Badly cohered but difficult to identify, fragile (as demonstrated by the alt-right collapse after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia) but quickly regrouping (with a huge potential social base), online fascism is distinct and has shaped a culture war that revolutionary socialists must understand and overcome, rather than blithely ignore.
So what is fascism?
Fascism is a mass movement of the Right. It is the active mobilisation of reactionary class forces and atomised ‘human dust’ around the right-wing nexus of nationalism, racism, sexism, and authoritarianism. Fascism arises when capitalism is in crisis, and the property, power, and privilege of the ruling class is under threat.
The ruling class – the 1% – is a small minority. It rules through a mix of concession, consent, and coercion. Concessions are granted when the working class and the oppressed are on the offensive and it is necessary to assuage social discontent and stabilise the social order by addressing some of the injustices of class society. This helps to achieve consent, where sections of society are bought off, convinced of the legitimacy of the system, or at least persuaded that it cannot be changed; a way of marginalising and isolating any radical vanguard. Coercion, using the repressive state apparatus of army, police, prisons, courts, and surveillance, sometimes today reinforced by fascist auxiliaries, is necessary to crush mass resistance when it arises.
When the system is in crisis, and ever more people’s lives are torn apart, united resistance from below becomes more likely. Mass unemployment, wage cuts, evictions, collapsing public services – especially when this contrasts with wealth and corruption at the top – leads to a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ for capitalism. The crisis limits the slack available for concessions. Consent withers. More coercion is necessary. ‘Bobbies on the beat’ become militarised riot police.
But social crisis combined with intensified state repression deepens the crisis of legitimacy. The system shits on you then clubs you when you protest.
So consent, in one form or another, remains necessary – lest the entire mass of the working class, 85% of the population, rises as one against the system and overwhelm its repressive apparatus.
But consent can no longer be based on public well-being. The crisis means people’s lives are getting worse, not better. Consent then becomes a matter of shifting the blame for social decay onto scapegoats. And because of the anger at lives falling apart, the scapegoat politics of the Right in a period of crisis become hyper-charged with rage. Here we find the inner core of fascism.
People who organise, mobilise, and fight as a collective force from below, in their own interests, against the system, against the real enemy, against the super-rich, the corporate profiteers, and the racist police state – such people are drawn instinctively to left-wing ideas about solidarity, democracy, and equality.
But the atomised and alienated, those outside class-based forms of organisation, capitalism’s ‘human dust’, are open to what Marx called ‘the shit of ages’ – the mass of prejudices and superstitions festering in the depths of capitalist society.
This social raw material can be fashioned into a counter-revolutionary mass movement to protect the system from the explosive potential inherent in society’s accumulating discontents.
Formed of human dust, spewing the shit of ages, bloated with psychotic rage, fascism is a political mechanism by which a deeply dysfunctional, crisis-ridden system of exploitation and oppression generates social forces capable of smashing democracy, civil liberties, and any effective resistance to the rule of the rich and the corporations.
This inner essence is common to both ‘first-wave’ interwar fascism and ‘second-wave’ creeping fascism today. But there are differences of form. This was true, of course, in the 1930s. There were notable differences between Italian Fascism, German Nazism, Japanese Militarism, and Spanish Nationalism; and further differences with fascism in Austria, Hungary, Romania, Vichy France, and elsewhere. The variety of forms in which fascism appears is equally apparent today.
We can identify four main components of contemporary fascism: the role of far-right parties in building a mass reactionary electoral bloc; the role of the internet in disseminating far-right propaganda and in creating, consolidating, and mobilising the fascist core; the role of the bourgeois state, especially increasingly militarised police, in the implementation of authoritarian and nationalist-racist policies, and in the repression of popular movements; and the role of fascist militias and mobs as auxiliaries.
To return to Robert Kuttner’s question: can democracy survive global capitalism? Our answer is no. In the long term, the road to fascism and reaction remains open as long as an anti-capitalist alternative is not built. And that alternative can only be built by direct confrontation with the major weapons of division deployed by the fascists and the Far-Right—racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia. It is only in that fight that we can shut the door to a repeat of the fascist disaster of the 1930s.
Anti*Capitalist Resistance will soon be publishing this new book on the world crisis and the popular resistance in print format. Because of the urgency of the political situation, however, we will be publishing the book chapters as a series of long-read online articles over the next month or so. This is the sixth chapter.