With Donald Trump's selection as President of the United States of America, cries of “fascism!” again fill the air. However, as we shall see, although Donald Trump is a crass, bigoted, billionaire businessman, he is not a fascist. The secret to his win is not that he rode a mass fascist movement to power, but that the lesser-evil policy of the labor leaders and the “left” ran out of steam. With no class-independent alternative provided by the unions or Bernie Sanders, uninspired Americans stayed home in droves and the balance of victory was handed to Trump by rust-belt workers sick and tired of the decades of betrayals by the Democrats.
The real lesson of the 2016 election is that the working class needs its own party. Millions of people in states hammered by the capitalist crisis wanted a "populist" and only the Republicans had one on offer (against their will). The real meaning behind the somewhat disdainful and dismissive term "populism" is the fact that millions of ordinary people—i.e. workers, who make up the vast majority of this society—want real, fundamental change. They want universal jobs, healthcare, education, childcare, infrastructure, security, a shorter workweek, and a better quality of life for themselves and their loved ones. They want an end to the domination of their lives by big business and the professional politicians.
The anger against the status quo is being expressed in different ways. Nearly half of all voters abstained from voting altogether. Others wrote-in Bernie Sanders or voted for a third party candidate. Others voted for Trump despite his racist rhetoric, including 29% of Latinos and 53% of white women. For these voters, Trump’s promise of jobs and economic stability outweighed all other considerations. Not surprisingly, given this country’s peculiar history and contradictions, and without a clear lead by the labor leaders, many Americans have fallen under the scapegoating sway of the racists.
The fight against racism
The scourge of racism, ever-present just beneath the surface of American society, has been given an outlet and legitimation not seen in decades. Swastikas have appeared across the country; school children chanting “build a wall!” have taunted their Latino classmates; hijab-wearing Muslim women have been verbally and physically assaulted; the KKK has announced a victory parade in North Carolina; former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke called Trump’s victory "the best day of his life"; and WWII-era internment camps for Japanese-Americans have been referred to positively as a “precedent” for the future.
Anger has already turned into action and defiance. But for many, there is also a sense of foreboding. Not everyone who has shed tears over the election’s result is an apologists for Clinton and the liberal wing of the capitalist class. Millions of immigrants, Muslims, LGBT individuals, the disabled, and others targeted during Trump’s campaign fear for their futures, safety, and even their lives. As traumatizing as all of this is, there is more than a silver lining. Life experience is the most effective teacher, and it is now crystal clear to millions that if we want a better world, we are going to have to get involved and fight for it ourselves.
Racism, xenophobia, and sexism are a terrible thing to experience or witness. Bigotry is a dehumanizing, corrosive poison that cuts across working class unity like nothing else. Marxists stand for genuine equality for all and are at the forefront of the struggle against all forms of discrimination. We understand that the root source of bigotry is material inequality, which is a result of the class divisions inherent in capitalism.
Humanity possesses the resources and know-how to build a world of superabundance. But under capitalism, with its market economy, relentless drive for profits, and ownership of the key levers of production by a tiny handful of the population, we are constrained from reaching our full potential. It’s not that enough means of consumption can’t be produced, but that the there is not enough demand on the market for those products to be sold at a profit. This artificial scarcity, in turn, is used by the ruling class to turn us against each other, fighting over scraps, blaming each other, instead of the system, for our misery.
Unfortunately, many on the “left,” who limit themselves to solutions within the bounds of capitalism, fall into this trap as well. For them, the solution is to propose, for example, that "white, male" workers should make do with less to "make room for others"—i.e., that society should simply divide up capitalist-imposed poverty differently. It should come as no surprise that ordinary people, no matter what their background, will resist this to protect “their own”: their families, loved ones, “race,” gender, religion, and so on.
Capitalism no longer has a historically useful role to play in organizing human society. In the richest country on the planet it can only make use of 75% of existing industrial capacity, forces millions to endure the enforced idleness of unemployment, and allows millions around the world to starve, while farmers are paid not to grow crops and warehouses burst with “unsellable” goods. By harnessing the full productive potential of society, we can provide universal jobs, healthcare, and education, shorten the workweek and raise everyone’s standard of living. Instead of fighting over scraps, there would be more than enough to go around and the material basis for bigotry would be deeply undermined. With no fertile ground for it to fester, bigotry would wither away as new generations raised in a world without want or need take the place of those scarred by their experience under capitalism. This is why we say: to fight racism, fight capitalism!
However, we cannot simply wait until we begin building socialism to confront this problem. Defeating the centralized state and vast resources of the capitalists will only be possible on the basis of maximum working class unity. Such unity can only be forged in the heat of common struggle against our common oppressors. It is in the course of such struggles that the power of workers’ unity will be experienced in action, not merely theorized. Real solidarity requires a bold lead and a willingness to fight to the end, not mere words. The labor movement must do more than denounce racism in speeches. It must break with both of the bosses' parties and fight in the interests of all workers in every workplace, neighborhood, and campus, as well as at the polls through our own class-independent party. We must use the time-honored and proven weapons of the working class: mass demonstrations, workplace occupations, strikes, as well as economic and political general strikes.
As the Black Panthers' Fred Hampton famously said: "We say you don't fight racism with racism. We're gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don't fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism!"
Is Trump's America fascist?
On the surface, plenty of "evidence" can be given to "prove" that the US is now fascist. However, merely asserting something doesn't make it so. The same was said of Nixon, Reagan, and both the Bushes. A superficial case can be made for almost anything. Our task is to go beyond surface appearances to understand the real contradictions and processes in society. Marxists insist on scientific precision in our analysis so as to more effectively fight against our oppressors.
Fascism arose historically in Italy, Germany, and Spain due to the total impasse of capitalism and the failure of several attempts at socialist revolution. Due to its class-collaborationist leadership, the Italian, German, and Spanish working class missed several opportunities to seize power and transform society. In each case, a "strong man" emerged to fill the vacuum of power with a peculiar form of "Bonapartist" military dictatorship.
What made fascism different from a "normal" military dictatorship was the mass base of support provided by the "enraged petty bourgeoisie"—the small shopkeepers, professionals, medium-to-large peasants/farmers, and their children in the universities. In the 1920s and 30s, these made up a much larger layer of society than they do today. Desperate for a way out of the grinding crisis, and without a lead by the working class, these "middling" layers were willing to try anything. Gangs of thugs were mobilized to smash the labor unions, the Communist and Socialist Parties, and racist scapegoating was used to deflect blame from the capitalist source of the crisis.
Some people think that something similar is happening today. But similar is not necessarily the same—there are many crucial and decisive differences. Capitalism today is indeed in serious crisis, but it is not yet threatened with immediate overthrow by the working class. The ruling class preferred Clinton, but even they still have a firm grip on political and economic power. This is made possible above all by the current trade union leadership, which offers nothing but the failed dead-end of lesser evilism.
Nonetheless, despite the numerical decline of the unions over the last few decades, organized labor remains a mighty and decisive potential force. From transportation and communications to education and healthcare, unionized workers hold tremendous power in their hands. The unions have not been illegalized, dismantled, or cowed by violence. The broader working class may not yet be organized, but over 100 million Americans are wage and salary-earners, and along with their families and dependents, make up the vast majority of the population.
It is precisely the demographic changes that have taken place over the last 80 years that make the recurrent cries of “fascism!” unproductive. Most Americans, including those living in more conservative rural areas, are working class. The number of farms in America has fallen from 6 million in 1935 to just 2 million today. While many small farms remain, massive corporate farms have squeezed out the medium farmers—of the social pillars of fascist reaction. Far from a nation of Jeffersonian "independent yeoman farmers," the largest 10% of farms now account for 70% of cropland. Though the illusions of a "Golden Age" past remain, they are quickly being burned out through experience, and eventually, the core class questions are increasingly coming to the fore.
Professionals such as bank tellers, teachers, and even many doctors have been proletarianized to such a degree that a majority of them identify more with the working class than with the super-rich. Many are now organized in unions and professional associations and are active in the organized labor movement. As for small business owners, squeezed by the big banks, manufacturers, and importers, many supported Trump and his "Make America Great!" populism because of his "I'll fight for the little guy!" rhetoric. Sanders's success in the primaries and caucuses shows his call for a "political revolution against the billionaire class" could have won many of them over in the general election if he had run as an independent. And the campuses, which were once hotbeds of reaction and fascism—since most students came from the ranks of the rich—they are now flooded with the deeply indebted children of workers.
So are there fascist individuals and groupings in the US today, including in the government? Are there small groups of enraged petty bourgeois and armed vigilante groups? If the American working class fails to overthrow capitalism and exhausts itself through its revolutionary efforts in the coming historical period, is it possible that some form of military dictatorship could arise? Absolutely. But the social basis for fascism as such no longer exists, and a period of outright reaction is not in the cards for the foreseeable future.
Those who wish to explore all of this in more depth, should refer to the work of the great revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who offered a series of brilliant insights on the origins and genesis of fascism, summarized in this short article by Fred Weston. We also elaborated on the question of Trump, fascism, and more in the article, What Trump Is and How to Fight Him, written before the election.
Donald Trump is a wretched mediocrity selected through an outdated electoral system resting on a senile and decrepit mode of production. He was elected by less than 25% of the voting-age population and a minority of actual voters. He will be unable to deliver fully or at all on most of his promises, and his base of support will get restless in a hurry—especially once the next, inevitable economic slump kicks in. As a result, he will be compelled to lean on the most confused, backward, racist, and misogynistic layers of society to deflect attention from the real issues and maintain some semblance of support.
But the youth will not stand for it, particularly after the experience of Black Lives Matter. Since the murder of Mike Brown, the role of police brutality in defending the interests of the ruling class is understood by broad layers of youth. The spontaneous protests against Trump show the fighting spirit of this layer, and it is only the beginning.
If fascism truly ruled the roost, The Donald wouldn't be Tweeting about the "unfair" protests converging on Trump Tower and hounding him everywhere he goes. Instead, armed gangs supported by the police would have cleared the streets, lynch mobs would have smashed up immigrant shops and trade union offices, the bodies of murdered labor leaders and lefties would be piled in the morgues, and martial law would have every major city in the country on lockdown. That has obviously not happened and will not be happening anytime in the near future.
The simple fact is there are far more workers than there are capitalists. All the police in the country could not subdue New York City and Los Angeles for long once the workers begin to move—let alone the 100-plus other US cities with populations of half-a-million or more. The class balance of forces is not at all favorable to the capitalists, which is precisely why they want to avoid an open confrontation with the working class. They must instead rely on trickle-down austerity, political shell games, "divide and conquer" tactics, and the labor leadership to do the dirty work. But the laws of the class struggle will eventually assert themselves, even in the United States.
The way forward
The truth is, the United States is no more racist, sexist, or homophobic than it was before the election. As Malcolm X explained, "You can't have capitalism without racism." The filth has merely been drawn to the surface. Now that it is coming out in the open, we will fight it with all the tools at our disposal, and above all, the most powerful weapon of all: the struggle to unite the working class against capitalism.
Most people don't realize that Britain also saw the rise of a fascist movement in the years before World War II. Oswald Mosley and his “blackshirt” shock troops hoped to follow in Hitler and Mussolini’s wake. But the British workers took Trotsky's advice to heart—that they should "introduce the fascists' faces to the pavement.” At the Battle of Cable Street, the united workers built barricades and shut down the threat of reaction through mass action. That nipped the menace of fascism in Britain in the bud. In 1948, Ted Grant wrote a brilliant piece on fascism in which he explains this experience in great detail.
Let us be clear: Marxists are not in favor of violence. We understand that once the working class realizes its own strength, nothing on earth can stop it. As a result, a peaceful, bloodless revolution is entirely possible. However, we will not stand idly by while our sisters and brothers are insulted, humiliated, assaulted, murdered, or driven to suicide. The labor movement must meet any violence or threat of violence with the overwhelming power of the united working class, up to and including solidarity strikes and the formation of armed workers' self-defense guards to protect ourselves and our class brothers and sisters.
The American working class will have many opportunities to end this system before the danger of mass reaction rears its head. Similar conditions lead to similar results, and the United States is not immune to revolution. The crisis of capitalism will eventually lead to a concerted fight back by the workers. Just one victorious strike can change the whole complexion and mood of the labor movement and set off a firestorm of struggle. But as important as fighting against this or that boss or politician is, it is not enough. What we need is a revolution.
A revolution represents the united struggle of the entire working class against the concentrated power of the entire capitalist class. But the success of the revolution is not guaranteed in advance, no matter how many sacrifices the workers make. The lesson of the 20th Century is that it all depends on what kind of leadership stands at the head of the workers’ organizations once the decisive showdown begins. This is why it is not an exaggeration when we say that the success of the socialist revolution depends on what we do to today to build the forces of revolutionary Marxism.
There is no room for complacency or standing on the sidelines in a world such as this. We believe the interests of billions trump the interests of the billionaires! If you agree, join the IMT!
Top image by Gage Skidmore, Flickr CC-by-2.0