Creeping fascism – the term we coined four years ago following Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election and Farage, Johnson, and Cummings’ victory in the Brexit referendum – no longer fits. Events are now unfolding at terrifying speed.
We do not yet know the outcome of the current US presidential election. But there is much we do know.
The opinion polls were wrong. Instead of a Democratic triumph, we have a knife-edge election. The vote split is roughly 50:50, which means, with a much higher turnout (around 67%), many more Americans have voted for Trump this time than in 2016.
This despite everything. Nothing seems to have mattered: the fact that Trump is an imbecile, a narcissist, and a serial liar; the fact that he is a tacky billionaire businessmen whose ‘man of the people’ act is a transparent fake; the fact that he is a racist, a sexist, a bully, an abuser of women; the fact that 230,000 Americans (and counting) have died of coronavirus thanks to his denial and negligence; the fact that he openly incites bigotry and violence and contempt for others, and has green-lighted killer cops and fascist militias. Despite all this, it looks like slightly under 70million Americans have voted for him. Or, still more scary, in many cases, because of all these things.
This is an upsurge of unreason, a return of the repressed, an eruption of what Marx called ‘the shit of ages’ from the sewers of capitalist society. We have seen nothing like this since the 1930s.
We will have more to say about the meaning of the US elections as a clearer picture emerges, but right now we wish to share the following thoughts:
1. Bourgeois democracy is breaking down
Trump is routinely violating the procedures and protocols of liberal parliamentary democracy. He is not only doing this with impunity, but with the active support of his core base, and the passive support of a growing number of Americans.
Pushing continually at the limits of the possible, and gradually normalising ever more breaches of liberal-democratic practice, we are now at the point where, for six months, Trump has been threatening to override the outcome of a presidential election, and right now, with the count continuing, he has, in effect, called on his core base to act as if the election were fraudulent should he lose; in other words, he has called for what amounts to an open violation of bourgeois democratic norms.
It is explicit, for example, in this tweet: ‘It’s only a matter of time before the Democrats try to steal the Election and manipulate the results. We need your help to ensure we have the proper resources to protect the Election.’
The possibility now exists that the US will collapse into political chaos. He is trying to stop the count before it is completed and is likely to attempt to use the reactionary bloc in control of the Supreme Court to rule himself the winner. Another possibility is that he will insist that the vote was fraudulent, refuse to leave the White House, and call on his core base to come to his defence.
These possibilities are being openly discussed by mainstream commentators. No-one is ruling them out. That alone tells us that bourgeois democracy is disintegrating – whatever the outcome of the immediate electoral crisis.
If Trump should eventually lose the election and depart the White House, the possibility then might be that, instead of lurking in Washington, he would take to the road to mobilise his base to besiege the Biden government and confront Black Lives Matter and other radical protestors.
A 78-year old presidential candidate in 2024 is not very credible, and the Republican party bosses may want to move on. The loyalty of his voters is overwhelmingly to him, and not the Republican Party. Trump could become the leader of a mass, violent, racist movement that would look very similar to fascism in the 1920s and 1930s.
This re-mobilised Trump base could also be used as the shock troops of a renewed campaign against abortion, welfare rights, civil rights legislation, and the position of minority ethnic and LBGT+ communities.
2. Modern fascism is emerging as a key political form of neoliberalism in crisis.
Modern fascism has become crucial to the politics of neoliberal crisis for three reasons. First, the breakdown of the post-war ‘welfare’ consensus – based on economic growth, full employment, strong unions, rising living-standards, and high levels of public expenditure on housing, education, health, pensions, and benefits – has largely destroyed the foundation for consensual bourgeois rule. The decline of traditional industries, permanent under-employment, stagnant wages, decaying public services, rampant corporate power, and grotesque levels of social inequality have created a crisis of legitimacy for the system. Fascism is the organisation of social rage into a reactionary political force directed at scapegoats – lest it be directed against the ruling class.
Second, the effect of the crisis is to polarise society and politics. The danger remains that there will be explosions of struggle from below. Fascism can then become an actively counter-revolutionary force, the armed activist core giving direct support to police repression of dissent, the passive reactionary mass acquiescing in escalating levels of state violence against people fighting back. All this was obvious during the Black Lives Matter protests in the States this summer.
Third, the military-industrial-security complex is becoming an increasingly important fraction of a world capitalist system beset by a long-term crisis of over-accumulation and under-consumption. Massive and rising levels of state expenditure on armies, police, prisons, borders, security guards, electronic spying and data-collection, etc mean lucrative contracts for giant transnational corporations at the heart of the system.
3. The working class has become critically, dangerously fractured.
In the 1930s, core fascist support was provided by a) the middle class and b) backward, unorganised sections of the working class. The bulk of the working class remained loyal to its own organisations (the unions, the socialist parties, the communist parties) until the fascists had taken power and smashed them.
The situation today is different, and potentially even more dangerous. Working-class organisation has already been degraded by 40 years of neoliberal attrition. Trade union membership has fallen dramatically, workplace organisation is virtually non-existent in many parts of the advanced capitalist world, and the strike rate is rock-bottom, especially in Britain. This sharp decline of ‘class-for-itself’ – an organised, combative, class-conscious workers movement – has created a huge space for fascist advance inside the working class. The working class has been split, and the mass base of nationalist, racist and xenophobic forces – and second-wave fascism – is more heavily working class.
In a sense, the process of fascism is reversed. Instead of a ‘battering-ram’ to physically smash a militant socialist working class, we have a ‘seeping’ fascism flowing through a working class that is atomised, alienated, and therefore open to an far-right politics of nationalism, racism, sexism, violence, and authoritarianism.
First-wave fascism appealed to the atavistic urge of a decaying middle class – that is, the urge to return to an imagined past of security and prosperity. Second-wave fascism appeals to similar urges in large sections of the working class, especially (but not exclusively) the older, white, male working class displaced from the stable, well-paid, unionised jobs of the immediate post-war period.
4. The cops are the primary instrument of fascist repression.
The existing bourgeois state is always the primary instrument of capitalist repression. This was true of all first-wave fascisms, including the most extreme example, Nazi Germany, where the process of transforming the state – where public employees were indoctrinated, purged and replaced, intimidated into compliance, or simply kept their heads down – was called gleichschaltung.
This is even more apparent today, where the weakness of the labour movement means that mass fascist militias are less necessary than they were in Italy in 1922, Germany in 1933, or Spain in 1936.
All studies show that bourgeois-state police forces – in the 1930s and in the 2010s – represent an extreme concentration of reactionary ‘shit of ages’. This is for two obvious reasons: a) the police tend to be recruited from the most backward sections of the working class; and b) the role of the police in protecting property from both petty crime and revolt from below, that is, in containing social discontent, brings it into conflict with the working class and the oppressed on a daily basis and cultivates a ‘canteen culture’ of bigotry and brutality. The police are natural fascists.
The balance of forces was clear during the Black Lives Matter protests in the States, when the main work of repression was performed by militarised police using helicopters, armoured cars, water cannon, rubber bullets, and pepper spray, but with auxiliary support from armed fascist militias (whose membership, in any case, overlaps with that of the police).
5. The end of the reformist road.
Our argument is not that mass reformist consciousness and organisation is at an end. Clearly it is not. Millions look to the Labour Party for an alternative to the Johnson/Cummings regime. Tens of millions have just voted Democrat to get rid of Trump. Progressives who think in terms of revolutionary change remain a small minority; progressives who are members of revolutionary organisations are an even smaller minority.
Our argument is this. The world is sinking into chaos. The crisis of neoliberal capitalism – the worst crisis in history – a compound of pandemic, eco-system collapse, economic stagnation and social decay, rampaging corporate power, unprecedented and fast-rising inequality, mass impoverishment and displacement, and growing militarisation and violence – this crisis threatens the well-being, indeed the very survival, of humanity and the planet.
The international bourgeoisie, the lords of capital, the super-rich – and the political elites and state apparatuses that are instruments of their rule – have no solution to crisis except fascism, which is no solution, merely an accelerated descent into the abyss.
It is ten minutes to midnight. Time is running out. Time has already run out for the ‘long road’ of reformism, of piecemeal reform, of tinkering about. We have about ten years to turn the world around.
That is why we say – staring reality in the face – that the crisis of humanity and the planet is the crisis of revolutionary organisation. That is why we have committed ourselves to the project of trying to build a new revolutionary organisation, one based on internationalism, eco-socialism, democracy, struggle from below, and solidarity with the oppressed, one that aims at nothing less than complete social transformation through the self-activity of the working class and the oppressed.
Neil Faulkner and Phil Hearse are joint authors, with Samir Dathi and Seema Syeda, of Creeping Fascism: what it is and how to fight it.