On the Incapacity of Capitalism to Confront the Crises it Creates
On the Incapacity of Capitalism to Confront the Crises it Creates
by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)
Anyone who imagined that the threat of naked fascism in the US would depart, disappear or even diminish with the defeat of Donald Trump suffers from a lack of understanding of the real nature of fascism or of the US social, political and economic system. What we call fascism has always been deeply rooted in the nature of the white supremacist, settler colonial capitalist order in the US. This is a system based on land-theft, genocide, enslavement, and the cultivation of a mass base, beyond merely the rulers, for such depradations.
Trump trod squarely in the footsteps of Andrew Jackson, the slave-owner, military colonizer, and killer of Native people in order to seize their land; of Woodrow Wilson, arch-segregationist, invader of Mexico, launcher of the first red scare, the Palmer Raids and mass deportations of “subversive aliens”; of Franklin Roosevelt, whose New Deal removed Black people from all its programs of labor recognition, agricultural reform, and social security, and whose anti-Japanese prejudices were enforced by confining tens of thousands of Japanese Americans in concentration camps; of Harry Truman, whose political career was launched by the backing of the KKK, and who launched the Cold War, the CIA and the national security state, incorporating German Nazi scientists and agents into US military weapons projects and intelligence agencies. (And of course, all those predecessors are iconic Democratic Party presidents).
The notion that capitalism seizes upon natural (or man-made) disasters to impose its most destructive, authoritarian and exploitative reforms has been widespread since it was popularized by Naomi Klein with the catch-phrase “disaster capitalism.” But what has become increasingly clear is that capitalism is incapable of dealing effectively with the crises it is generating. Biden’s claims to be confronting COVID or climate crisis may be more soothing to some ears than Trump’s denialism, but seems to be no more effective. With their tenuous grip on slim majority control of the House and the Senate, the Democrats are still having enormous difficulty in passing even the weak tea of Biden’s infrastructure and social welfare programs (even while massive military spending passes easily, along with another billion dollars in armament for Israel). Biden’s package does nothing about Medicare for All, about forgiving student debt, about massive decarbonization, decarceration or demilitarization of police, about ending the white supremacist super-majority requirement imposed by the filibuster in the (utterly undemocratic) US Senate, about banking re-regulation, about taxing wealth or improving the rights and capacity of labor unions to organize, or any of the other hardly-radical proposals championed by so-called democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren, or even by Biden himself in some of his more effusive campaign promises.
These failures offer both a challenge and an opportunity to revolutionary-minded people and to the mass popular movements.
The opportunity is to fill the vacuum with the self-organized effort to create grassroots solutions, to build an alternate power to that of the state and the bourgeoisie, the corporate rulers, the 1/10th of 1 percent.
The challenge is that such incapacity and insecurity is likely to intensify a turn towards a more authoritarian state and more openly fascist “solutions” by both the rulers and sectors of broader white society.
In the face of growing and intersecting crises in the political, economic and environmental spheres, fascism presents itself in a multi-faceted way. There are five main forces competing, contending and colluding in building a fascist response and “solution” to the problems of the Empire. Anti-fascist forces committed to human liberation and planetary survival must simultaneously challenge the Empire itself, develop solutions for the problems fueling the fascist response, and disrupt the fascist forces. To do so, we need to get a clearer picture of the fascist elements and the contradictions among them.
Self-proclaimed Nazis, though not necessarily the largest threat, are a place to start. This is the element with the most naked racist approach, based on open white supremacy. They incorporate traditional nazi/fascist or Klan symbolism, and classic scapegoating of Jews. Particular groups within this tendency suffer setbacks, and ego drives rivalries between various “leaders.” But this faction has an opportunist tactical flexibility. It benefits from effective use of the media to magnify its forces and appeal. Nazis seize on every sign of racial friction. They appeal to younger whites, both male and female, with a sense of grievance about lost entitlements. They often present themselves as anti-establishment or even anti-capitalist, yet usually seek protection by the cops. They use methods of physical intimidation, as bullies do. But like all bullies, they are highly susceptible to organized physical resistance.
Clerical fascism is a second major component, also connected to an element of traditional fascism. It is based in religious fundamentalism, and often incorporates well-established and well-funded religious organizations, whether churches or lay fraternal groups. They base their appeal on a sense of moral decay under the Empire, but they are otherwise often more than happy to operate within the mainstream and existing political institutions. In the U.S., we are speaking mostly about Christian fascist groups, which focus on anti-woman and anti-gay organizing, opposing abortion and other reproductive rights, gay marriage and similar issues. But in a global context, Jewish fundamentalism linked to a more secular, but still religiously-justified, Zionism is an important element of this tendency, and in the U.S., Christian and Jewish Zionists make common cause. In the colonized and semi-colonized Muslim world, Muslim fascist fundamentalism plays a role more similar to that of western Nazism, presenting itself as the voice of grievance, with an anti-establishment, “anti-imperialist” politics. The recent ban on abortions in Texas, now spreading to Florida, reflects the existing incorporation of these elements within the state apparatus.
Direct action “patriots” have fed a resurgence of the worst components of the old militia movement. They’re most interested not necessarily in supplanting but in supplementing the power of the state. Although some elements engage in anti-corporate or anti-politician rhetoric, this faction, like the Christian fascists, are generally content to seek entry into, and work with, mainstream political power. Thus such vigilante projects work with the Border Patrol, or run for elective office. They sponsor propositions targeting immigrants, particularly Mexicans, and work closely with Republican office-holders. While sometimes professing not to be racist, they also provide a convenient conduit and nesting place for Nazi and white supremacist forces. Anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican and anti-Asian stereotyping and violence have been a growth area for a mass base for fascist solutions.
An element within the military, law enforcement, and state security forces, operating independently of the official chain of command, is a fourth component of a fascist movement. This aspect has leaped to the forefront with the storming of the Capitol and the role of the Oathkeepers and various active duty cops and military in the break-in there. But the increasing use of mercenaries by the Empire, as well as concerns within the ranks and the brass about the inadequacy of current domestic and international counter-insurgency efforts, is also resurrecting it. Continued setbacks in and withdrawals from Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts of the “endless wars” could increase this component dramatically, with a possible appeal among demobilized and disoriented veterans unable to find a productive niche in civilian life.
Fascist elements within the state, the corporate parties and the ruling economic and political elite are the fifth element, since fascism is built from above as well as below. The GOP has been increasingly willing to seek one-party rule through voter suppression and claims of electoral fraud, raised to a fever pitch by Trump. They provide red meat and marching orders to the clerical and vigilante fascists, and reward or protect fascist elements within the military and law enforcement. Multimillionaires and billionaires have funded proto-fascist organizing and various “alt-right” and “alt-light” transmission belts. This will grow as the disastrous consequences of Empire, and the inability of the rulers to “deliver the goods” to anybody but an increasingly narrow stratum of the wealthy, erode popular support. The Democrats offer at best token alternatives to, if not outright reinforcement of, these approaches. This shows the systemic nature of the crisis, and the limited options available to the rulers as the crises deepen. The commitment of both parties to confrontation with China, whether couched as a trade war or a new Cold War, make it clear that we are in a pre-war, or inter-war, period, with the US enacting what the Dulles brothers (at the CIA and State Department) used to refer to as brinksmanship — taking the US to the brink of war with China today, as it once did with the Soviet Union. Fascism and war almost inevitably march together.
The turn to fascism implies a change in the composition, structure, powers and rationale of the state, and in the forms of domination and exploitation of the metropolitan working class. The types of oppression and exploitation that have been directed at the (internally) colonized population begin to make themselves felt against the settlers as well, even as they are being courted and propagandized to adopt a new and more intimate and totalitarian identification with the rulers and empire. I think this continues to describe what is happening in the US today. The process of fundamentally transforming the nature of the US state, not merely quantitatively in terms of repression, but qualitatively in terms of its fundamental modes of operation and social contract, is happening simultaneously from the top down — orchestrated by the neo- and paleo-cons and a supportive faction of the bourgeoisie — and from the bottom up (by clerical fascist forces and neo-confederates closely allied to the rulers, and by working class and petty bourgeois elements of white society who are drawn into openly and expressly neo-Nazi and other armed and violence-prone formations). What we are seeing today is an integration of those groupings facilitated by the Trump phenomenon and its takeover of the GOP, which is being converted to a nakedly fascist party by the Trumpists. But corporatization, intensified state surveillance, public-private partnership and other elements of state reconstitution are proceeding within the neo-liberal state apparatus and the Democrats as well.
That means we must seriously prepare for situations of much more naked repression, perhaps akin to those which have pertained in the colonial and semi-colonial areas — the dirty war in Argentina, the Pinochet regime in Chile, the death squads in Central America, the Israeli Occupation Forces in Palestine, etc. That such repression may sometimes target open, self-proclaimed fascists does not negate its fascist character. Since the rulers’ goal is stabilization in crisis, threats to stability are unwelcome.
Withstanding Fascism & Brutality
If we are facing anything close to that type of repression and death squad activity inside the US today, we need to adjust our organizing dramatically, as the Black Panther Party tried to do in the 1970s. Fascism, however we define it, has meant a particularly brutal and harsh form of governance within imperial metropoles, a much more active pursuit of genocide, a more naked and totalitarian form of domination of labor and other mass organizations. Other forms of social and political organization are also capable of excesses, but fascism distinguishes itself by seeking to reconstitute the individual personality and the state in a ‘revolutionary’ fashion.
The current political context in the US, whether we label it fascist or not, calls for a whole range of things connected to the idea of more clandestine struggle (I am not thinking necessarily of illegal or armed action). We need to incorporate the same sense that “from-below” fascist forces have long grasped – that independent political action must make use of all forms of struggle and all means of exerting countervailing power.
The abiding lesson of the previous history of fascism seeking power is that the alleged state monopoly on armed power is a polite fiction aimed at disarming the oppressed. Particularly in the US context, where armed settlers operated independently of the state to capture land, suppress slave rebellions, and carry out other colonial functions, it is fatuous to believe that only the state acts as an armed agent. Class fractions, regional networks and other social elements have always been armed, and used arms to advance their interests in the U.S. Pacifism is exclusively a pathology of the left. We need to develop the capacity to defend ourselves and our communities.
Conscious internationalism (or inter-communalism) is essential. Leadership in anti-fascist struggle has always come from people of color, particularly Black and indigenous people for example in the role of Pan-Africanists in opposing the Italian fascist invasion of Ethiopia, or the National Committees to Combat Fascism created by the Black Panther Party. The centrality of anti-Blackness to almost all varieties of racism, fascism and reaction means that anti-racism and solidarity with the Black freedom struggle must be central to any definition or practice of anti-fascism. Similarly, any legitimate form of anti-fascism must oppose capitalism, empire and US militarism and intervention in “Latin” America, Africa and Asia, as well as the continuing US land theft and oppression of indigenous people, or US colonialism in Puerto Rico, Guam and elsewhere.
Alternatives to corporate media, including social media, are happening. The Internet, however, is closely monitored, a tool of surveillance capitalism, and subject to being choked off. Similar to what happened under Clinton, the Democrats are moving to eliminate Pacifica Radio as a medium of grassroots dissent now that they control the White House and both chambers of the federal legislature. They won’t countenance independent forces to their left. Democracy at Pacifica, and openness to radical, community oriented voices from people of color, must be defended and extended. I have been engaged in that struggle as an ally to communities and broadcasters of color for a long time, and it is at a critical stage right now, with an effort to eliminate democratic governance and impose a top-down, chain-of-command control of station staff by centralized management.
We also need our own media. I have persisted in publishing Turning The Tide as a print newspaper (as well as on-line, and expanding to a separate weekly e-newsletter with the pandemic). We distribute thousands of copies over the course of a year to prisoners around the US, who are now grappling with the deadly consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of the general repressive nature of prisons and the targeting of political and politicized prisoners. The paper is also simultaneously a way to communicate, to the larger movement, anti-fascist and anti-racist initiatives and lessons from the prisoners.
We need to cultivate relationships with media that serve people of color. In NY, Chicago, LA, Atlanta etc. there are Black, Spanish-language, Asian and other “minority” oriented media outlets that still provide an outlet that is unavailable in general-audience print and broadcast media. The recent attacks on Keith Malik Washington, who upon being released from prison took the helm of the San Francisco Bay View national Black liberation newspaper, is a critical case in point. [Subsequent to publication, the SF Bay View revealed that Malik has been functioning as an informant to the Feds — a devastating example of the penetration of our movement, the need for greater security consciousness, and the importance of non-hierarchical pro-feminist understandings of leadership.]
The pandemic has made it all the more important to focus energy on less public forms of organizing than rallies and demonstrations, including mutual aid. We need to organize deeper and more sustained initiatives of our own away from public scrutiny, not only reacting to state and fascist provocations. We need to listen more, as a means not only of intelligence gathering on the enemy, but also of understanding what’s on the minds of the people we want to work with and among. We need to develop community-based grass roots anti-racist and anti-empire work that has endurance, promotes sustainability and environmental restoration, and that rewards people in the doing of it. We need to think about methods of infiltration and subversion of state and fascist initiatives, as well as counter-organizing a base for anti-racist culture and resistance among people who would otherwise be drawn to the nazi “solution.” This will require more than cyber-warfare and hacking, though those are certainly useful tools, as recent hacks and leaks of the racist right’s platforms and of the police have shown.
We need to build a legal/self defense component into all our work, anticipating busts, frame-ups and harassment. We need to build stronger outside networks of support, materially and otherwise, for people locked down. There needs to be thought about safe houses, cultivation of supporters who never do anything public to identify themselves with the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement, secure means of covert communication, transportation and dissemination of information. In other words, we need to adopt some methods of organization that are better suited to conditions of occupation or fascism. To the extent we can get at all ahead of the curve on this, it will be a lot easier to do, and a lot likelier to survive the repression. We need to think about building redundancy in all those mechanisms.
Organizing and outreach into the prisons and the military are vital. These spheres, along with workplace organizing, have always had some of the characteristics of occupation or fascism that impede open organizing and require more secretive methods. This is also true for work with high school students, for many of the same reasons (especially given the penal character of a lot of public schools and as the military increasingly penetrates the schools for recruitment). They are vital areas in which to work. The degree of state and bourgeois repression applied in these arenas under “normal democracy” are a measure of their strategic importance. They are also vital to eroding the power of the state and the elite, and building our own countervailing power. They are an important proving ground of our ability to organize under such conditions as well as our capacity to craft a message and practice that engages the people we want to reach. Political prisoners and hunger-striking resisters of solitary confinement can teach us how to withstan torture.
One key to understanding fascism, even though incels and other “men’s rights” masculinists are some of the most notorious recent recruits to fascism, is to grasp, and counter, the appeal fascism makes to women. The male-dominated left tends to discount the revolutionary potential of women, the need for a strategy to deal with the role of violence in the lives of women and children, and the efforts of fascists to present themselves as the answer to women’s problems. A fuller discussion and an attempt to develop practice based on a deeper understanding of those issues must take place in a sustained way.
The state has moved into this arena in various ways. The use of Afghan women as justification for waging war on Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Muslim forces is one clear example. Another notable one is creation by the Pentagon of a network of organizers out of “army wives,” whose job it is to maintain morale and support for the war efforts among the families of the troops. Recruitment of female (and LGBTQ) soldiers, sailors, pilots and police officers is yet another aspect.
Faith-based groups, some of whom are hard-core pacifists, must be addressed in an anti-fascist strategy, just as “White Rose” Catholics formed one base of anti-fascist resistance in Hitler’s Germany. Such groups also have a long history of civil resistance, sanctuary-type activities regarding unjust immigration policies, and otherwise breaking the law or doing secret work for reasons of conscience. I think we might be able to learn a great deal from them. It is not coincidental that it was followers and associates of the Berrigan brothers who carried out the burglary of the Media, Pennsylvania FBI office that exposed the existence of a widespread FBI snitch network, suborning civil servants, college registrars, postal workers and others to spy on every Black college student in the US, and other potential “subversives.” It was this break-in that eventually led to the revelation of the existence of COINTELPRO, a domestic warfare program against the Black Panther Party and other elements of the Black freedom struggle, and against the Puerto Rican, Chicano/Mexicano, American Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander and other movements, including various communist, Trotskyist and New Left groups. It would be nonsensical to imagine that such efforts at infiltration, disruption and surveillance are not taking place today.
We need to begin operating as if fascism were fully in place. This is not defeatism, because only acting in this way will we be able to turn the dynamic around and use the crisis as a basis for a truly revolutionary transformation of society. We also need to build community based efforts to live under the harsh environmental conditions that will prevail over the next decades. Anything less is suicidal.
We have no more time for betrayals, or learning from defeats. In other words, we need to take the current political, economic and environmental crises as the breeding ground, not for fascism, but for an independent, revolutionary anti-imperialist offensive.