PART’s Perspective: Do Fascists in Government Mean That Fascism Is In Power?

by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)

     There is no question that there has been a qualitative and quantitative change in regard to the reality and threat of fascism. There is a greater necessity for anti-fascism as a central aspect of a strategy and practice for thoroughgoing economic, social and political transformation. Grasping the full extent of this development requires taking off the blinders that Euro-centrism, “American exceptionalism,” and other forms of white supremacist thinking impose.

      Fascist-rooted parties have either come to power and lead government, as in Italy, or are an essential part of a government coalition while not technically in the government, as in Sweden. Fascist forces in Germany have been arrested in sweeps over an advanced plot to topple the government. Fascists are part of the government and military/state security apparatus in Ukraine, with the full backing of the US and NATO.

     Fascist backers of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil have stormed and damaged government and judicial offices in an effort to reverse the outcome of the recent elections there. With ‘centrist’ support, Lula, the former Workers Party president of Brazil, defeated Bolsonaro. Lula took the presidency, but Brazilian fascists are also well-represented in the Brazilian legislature. In India, Modi’s fascist Hindu nationalist forces seem to have a lock on the government, if not the entire society.

     But we need to recognize that a nakedly fascist government has also been installed in settler-colonial Israel under Netanyahu. Based on reactionary Jewish fundamentalists and rabid settlers and expansionists, it faces no restraints or consequences in response by the US or other Western patrons of Zionism. Arab reactionaries are perfectly willing to accommodate and do business with it.

     In the US, pundits in the media focus on the narrow margin of GOP victory in the House of Representatives, and the spectacle of the “historic” multiple ballots for the speakership. But this obscures the reality that “divided government” means that a major political party openly committed to misogyny and white supremacy has taken control of part of one branch of government. In parallel with the more parliamentary systems in Europe, the Republicans are dependent on an openly fascist element for their majority.

     Fascism, despite its anti-establishment rhetoric and “revolutionary” pretensions, is deeply rooted in capitalism, imperialism and (settler) colonialism. It’s also true that those material realities and organizing principles of the US and other societies have been guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Capitalism of any variety is a system of immiseration and impoverishment of the masses of humanity, of looting the planet and the future for the enrichment of the few. Nevertheless, there are both threats and opportunities that arise from the coming to power, within supposedly democratic and normalized states, of openly fascist forces.

     The willingness of fascists to embrace and apply violence, up to the level of civil war, either to supplement or to substitute for state power, is reaching a level not seen in decades. We must take these realities into account in any dynamic class analysis and strategic visioning process by those committed to liberation. They also underscore the need for physical, organizational, and technical security measures and for community self-defense capacity.

     The “culture wars” are not a figure of speech but an element of low-intensity civil war already underway. The same is true about the concept of “class war.” Imperialism and settler colonialism always represent a state of war by the empire and settlers on the planet and on those the system is trying to subjugate, dispossess, or exploit. But fascism and the glorification of violence by fascists, in or out power, ups the ante on that war. Fascism brings the war home to every aspect of life and every part of the social terrain.

     We cannot afford to repeat the errors of anti-fascist forces the last time fascism began to take power in various European societies. There are a host of lessons from the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. One of them is that the Communists targeted the Social Democrats as “social fascists”. (This was not without some justification, as it was the Social Democrats who carried out the execution of the Spartacists after World War I). But the partisan splits of the workers divided and weakened opposition to the Nazis. Such sectarianism and partisanship prevented a “united front from below” of anti-fascist and anti-imperialist working people. The Nazis were thus able to build a cross-class alliance that appealed to and organized sectors of the German workers.

     The left never advanced a revolutionary alternative to fascism and the German imperial state (that might also have embraced Catholic anti-fascists, Jewish bundists, anarcho-syndicalists and others). A similar analysis can be made of the errors on all sides in the anti-fascist struggle in Spain to defend the Republic against Franco’s military/Falangist forces, backed by Hitler and Mussolini.

     In that same historical period, the Vietnamese communists began a peoples war strategy against the Japanese, which continued against the French and then the US. The Chinese Communists carried out a similar people’s war strategy against the Japanese invaders, which enabled them to win a subsequent civil war against the repressive Kuomintang government. The Eurocentric left was incapable of a similar strategy of uniting all who could be united in a political-military struggle, even where there was a clear civil war going on, as in Spain.

     A protracted people’s war approach is not primarily about pitched street battles with fascist forces, though that may be inevitable. It is about organizing and uniting people, especially poor and working people, around a struggle for freedom and for a better future. It means building that future and exercising that freedom in the here and now to the extent possible, so that people are fighting FOR something real and tangible, not just AGAINST fascism.

     Anti-fascism and anti-imperialism have each had historic weaknesses of class collaboration in one form or another. Many anti-fascists have sought to unite with supposedly democratic elements of their bourgeoisie against the fascists. Many anti-imperialists and advocates of national liberation have sought to unite with allegedly patriotic elements of a national bourgeoisie. Divisions within the left (broadly defined) between anti-fascist and anti-imperialist analyses and tendencies has also been a source of weakness  and an obstacle to unity.

     Those weaknesses and divisions can and must be overcome. A clearer understanding of the roots of fascism in colonialism, particularly settler colonialism, is necessary. So is an understanding of the inherently patriarchal and racialized nature of “actually-existing” capitalism. These understandings are also critical to block any sort of “red-brown” alliance between left anti-capitalists and allegedly anti-elitist fascist groupings. These anti-colonial understandings also prevent the so-called fascist creep, in which ideas migrate into leftist circles from fascist thinkers, and then leftists start to migrate into fascist formations, as Mussolini famously moved from the Italian Socialists to the Fascists.

     An authentically revolutionary analysis and practice must be anti-fascist and anti-imperialist, anti-racist and anti-patriarchal, but it also cannot be defined solely by what it is against. It requires a revolutionary imagination and vision of what we are fighting for, of an egalitarian and sustainable society recognizing indigenous sovereignty and a communal, respectful relationship with the land, water, air and biosphere we are part of. We need to envision, and begin to bring into existence, a world free of expropriation, alienation, exploitation, and oppression. Such a  vision can cultivate solidarity and love, and mitigate fear and hate, and demobilize and disintegrate the base for fascism, for empire, and for capitalism.