A Measly and Collaborationist Defense of Trump-Fascism: On Gary Leupp’s Unprincipled Attack In Counterpunch

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Editor’s note: On August 13, Counterpunch published “The RCP, Fascism, and Chairman Bob’s Endorsement of Biden for President” by Gary Leupp, an attack on Bob Avakian’s statement, ON THE IMMEDIATE CRITICAL SITUATION, THE URGENT NEED TO DRIVE OUT THE FASCIST TRUMP/PENCE REGIME, VOTING IN THIS ELECTION, AND THE FUNDAMENTAL NEED FOR REVOLUTION. The following is a reply to Leupp.

Gary Leupp’s apologia—or defense—for Trump-fascism on the website Counterpunch is intellectually dishonest, morally contemptible and dangerously harmful. Five points: 

* Leupp claims that Trump is too incompetent to be a fascist. Wrong. While Trump may say many stupid things, he has now assembled an efficient team of fascists and “accomplished” much of the fascist agenda.

Leupp states, “…Trump has had four chiefs-of-staff (one acting), one of whom, John Kelly, famously called him ‘unhinged’ and an ‘idiot.’ He has had four secretaries of state (two acting), of whom Rex Tillerson called him ‘a fucking moron.’ He has had six national security advisors (two acting), of whom Jim Mattis likened him to a ‘fifth or sixth-grader,’” and goes on to argue, “The man has shown himself incapable of managing the White House, much less imposing martial law or a New Order.”

Contrary to Leupp, this is precisely symptomatic of the sledgehammer approach taken by Trump—his revolving door of staff who were not sufficiently primed or willing to bust the norms of liberal bourgeois democracy as required by fascism or implement the fascist program and agenda with gusto—until he got the people who are!

Leupp does not mention Bill Barr, a Christian fascist Attorney General who is willing to enshrine Trump’s word as law and bend the law to Trump’s will; or Chad Wolf, the head of Homeland Security who is assembling and retooling federal law enforcement into paramilitary forces deployed into cities controlled by Democratic lawmakers; or Ken Cuccinelli, the head of U.S. Immigration who has forged and unleashed thousands of Gestapo-like ICE and Border Patrol agents against immigrants, a qualitative escalation documented, for example, in the Netflix series Immigration Nation; or Mike Pompeo, his Christian fascist Secretary of State, who champions the ultra-chauvinist America First policy. 

This is the assembling of a fascist cabinet ready to implement the program, to do Trump’s bidding unconstrained by law or opposition within society or from other sections of the ruling class. It is precisely the departures of more mainstream conservatives and generals like Tillerson, Mattis and Kelly that further reveal the fascist mission that determines the cabinet and the regime.

In terms of Leupp’s statement that Trump has “shown himself incapable of managing the White House, much less imposing martial law or a New Order,” there is complete ignore-ance of what Trump and his fascist regime have already done! Contrast Leupp’s wishful thinking with what Bob Avakian (BA) describes: 

Already we have seen Trump, in flagrant violation of Constitutional principles, send occupying storm troopers, from various federal government agencies, to criminalize dissent and suppress people protesting in Portland and other cities, and to add to the reign of terror against masses of people in the inner cities of Chicago and elsewhere.

In addition, Trump has effectively stacked the federal courts with an army of reactionary judges. Spare us your crowing, Leupp.

* Leupp claims that because Trump is not literally like Hitler in every aspect, he poses no threat. Wrong again—absurdly wrong.

Leupp informs that Trump has “legions of potential supporters among the neo-NAZIs and Klansmen,” but he immediately reassures us that “they do not constitute a disciplined fascist party like Mussolini’s National Fascists1 or Hitler’s National Socialists.” We suppose that fascist thugs mobilized and manifesting nationwide, including at Stone Mountain, Georgia, and in Kalamazoo, Michigan, this weekend in defense of the Confederacy and open white supremacy—or against Democratic lawmakers in Michigan—are simply not “disciplined,” even if armed to the hilt with automatic rifles, dressed in full combat gear and backed by the highest office of the land. They get support from police and law enforcement, whose unions overwhelmingly back Trump. 

Leupp prophesizes that “No Reichstag fire or Kristallnacht looms,” referring to nodal points of fascist consolidation in NAZI Germany with Hitler.This is an almost textbook case of Avakian’s examples of “…arrogant dismissal by those who could not, or would not, see the reality and the trajectory of this regime; who dismissed the danger by ignoring or downplaying many of the terrible things this regime had already done; and who then pointed to whatever had not yet been done by this regime as supposed ‘proof’ that it would not do those things.”

Avakian goes on to say: 

Now, at this late and crucial hour, to treat as “alarmist exaggeration” the fascist nature of this regime and its very real parallels with the horrors perpetrated by previous fascist regimes—this is to ignore not only vital lessons from history, but also the extremely dangerous reality of the current situation, including the significance of the fact that Trump—fulfilling his promise to Christian fascists—has stacked the courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court, with legions of Christian fascists and other extreme right-wing judges, who will move to “legally legitimize” the whole horrific program of the Trump/Pence fascist regime.

Leupp, in his ridiculous soothsaying that “No Reichstag fire or Kristallnacht looms,” poses as an oracle of serenity against and in the face of the widespread concern and alarm2 about Trump attempting to postpone or steal the elections with an “October surprise.” There is concern about him calling out his fascist thugs to stay in power in the event of an electoral loss if the elections were to be held. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, has described this possibility on Bill Maher’s Real Time show as leading to “blood in the streets.” 

Leupp’s apologia for—indeed, his facilitation of and collaboration with—fascism would be a joke if it was not so dangerous, downplaying the danger of fascism consolidating in the U.S. with the fascist Trump/Pence regime, and the stakes for humanity. Leupp’s screed in a progressive site is aimed to “calm the masses” and rationalize paralysis and inaction. As such, it is morally bankrupt. Methodologically, by saying that one historical phenomenon must literally track another in every aspect, Leupp would make it impossible to draw lessons from things with similar dynamics that would obviously and naturally differ in certain particulars.

* Leupp implies that Trump is some kind of a secret pacifist—despite breaking or pulling out of three nuclear or nuclear-related treaties, stepping up the drone wars, assassinating a general in a country with which the U.S. is not at war, and other unprecedentedly aggressive acts.

Leupp asserts, “Through his tweets he daily exudes misogyny, racism and ignorance. But what about war? Trump (not necessarily knowing what words mean) proclaims himself the ‘most militaristic’ president ever. But this has been all words, no action.”

First, it has to be said in reducing the misogyny and racism to tweets and rhetoric, Leupp has nary a word about the millions of immigrants in terror from the thousands of ICE agents hired to cleanse this nation of what Trump called Mexicans in his campaign announcement, “rapists.” Not a word about his anti-women programs and policies against the right to abortion and birth control, or stacking the federal judiciary across the board with Christian fascists. 

On Trump being “all words, no action”on military and war, as demonstrated in the accompanying expose by Raymond Lotta, The Absurd and Dangerous Fantasy That Donald Trump Is Not a War Monger,” this notion of Trump as a secret pacifist would be farcical were it not so dangerous. 

Trump is led by his America First agenda with its rhetoric of “restoring” American supremacy in the wake of supposed “cheating” and taking advantage by other powers, with an underlying compelling necessity and logic. He has escalated military spending including on new generation nukes, and is reported to have asked, “If we have nukes, why can’t we use them?” He truly is a demented bully with a finger on the nuclear button, as Avakian called him—a danger especially heightened in the wake of his withdrawing from arms treaties and escalating aggression and war threats against Iran and even China. On actual acts, what about Trump’s tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, ratcheting up of sanctions causing horrific suffering for millions, and the blatant assassination of Qassim Suleimani, the high-ranking Iranian official, that could have escalated to all-out war?3 

* Leupp’s definition of fascism: “ummm, it is what I say it is… except when it isn’t.”

Leupp asks: “What is fascism? …. Fascisms generally seek to merge corporate and state power, suppress democracy, promote racist ideologies, and MAKE WAR. Some say fascism requires a mass-based party, and a charismatic ruler. Through class discussion [that Leupp teaches] we note what aspects of European fascism pertained or didn’t in Japan; it requires some intellectual exertion. This is what’s missing in the RCP.”

What a fucking joke! For all the talk of intellectual exertion, has Gary Leupp read anything that BA has written about fascism going back decades—not only on what is fascism, but what its roots and underlying driving forces are, what its particular forms and manifestations are in America in Christian fascism, concentrating open white supremacy, misogyny and American chauvinism? As a mere sample, here is a basic primer with some of the works: Bob Avakian on: The Need to Drive Out the Fascist Trump/Pence Regime and the Fundamental Need for Revolution.

But let’s go back to Leupp’s definition as criteria and apply them to this regime:

  • seeks to merge corporate and state power, CHECK
  • suppresses democracy, CHECK
  • promotes racist ideologies, CHECK

If you add in Leupp’s criteria of making war, by which he presumably means invading countries, by this logic NAZI Germany would not have been fascist until 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, nor would Mussolini’s Italy. And Franco’s Spain,4 which sat out the war, would fail the test altogether!

In the statement, Avakian writes: “… it is not just a matter of horrific policies but of qualitatively different form of rule, based on brutal repression and violation of what are supposed to be the most basic rights.” As Avakian writes:

In the whole of what Trump is currently doing—including his open calls to overturn Supreme Court decisions and precedents (for example, to outlaw abortion and punish flag burning), along with his repeated violations of the law and due process of the law and his insistence that he is the law—we can see the looming shadow of even more overt fascist dictatorship. For that is what fascism is: open and aggressive dictatorship, trampling on and perverting the rule of law, relying on violence and terror, on behalf of the predatory capitalist system and as an extreme attempt to deal with profound social division and acute crises (both within the country and in the global arena). And with the moves by Trump’s “Secretary of Education,” Betsy DeVos—who is herself a Christian fascist whose ultimate goal is to replace public, secular education with schools based on Christian fundamentalist indoctrination—we can see the outline of the Trump/Pence regime version of “official (Christian fascist) ideology.” We can recognize the looming shadow of a situation where not just school children, but everyone in society, will be required to pledge allegiance to a white Christian fascist America.

What makes Leupp blind to this reality? For all his invocations of history, perhaps Leupp has such a deeply held American-exceptionalist belief in liberal bourgeois democracy and its institutions that he viscerally believes that it—fascism—can’t happen here, and remains fundamentally locked into the confines of bourgeois democracy with its choices?! 

Perhaps unable to see beyond his own entrapment in the logic of bourgeois elections, Leupp seems to be misinterpreting Bob Avakian to be putting Biden forward as better than Trump in the narrow terms of that contest. 

Actually, in stating the need to vote for Biden, Avakian states: 

The question is not whether Biden and the Democrats represent something “good,” or whether, in fundamental terms, the Democrats are “better” than the Republicans. Both of these parties are ruling class political parties, and none of their candidates represent anything “good” in the most basic and essential sense. Biden is not “better” than Trump, in any meaningful way—except that he is not Trump and is not part of the move to consolidate and enforce fascist rule, with everything that means. 

To approach this election from the standpoint of which candidate is “better” means failing to understand the truly profound stakes and potential consequences of what is involved. The fact is that there can be one—and only one—“good” that can come out of this election: delivering a decisive defeat to Trump and the whole fascist regime. Doing this would create far better conditions for continuing to wage the struggle against everything represented by the Trump/Pence regime and all the oppression and injustices of this system, and would be a great gift to the people of the world.

But Leupp does not reference or quote this, and no reader of Leupp’s screed would know this!

* Leupp: not only wrong, but intellectually dishonest and unprincipled.

Leupp’s intellectual dishonesty is starkly manifest in his complete absence of any actual reference to or quote from BA’s actual statement, ON THE IMMEDIATE CRITICAL SITUATION, THE URGENT NEED TO DRIVE OUT THE FASCIST TRUMP/PENCE REGIME, VOTING IN THIS ELECTION, AND THE FUNDAMENTAL NEED FOR REVOLUTION, even as he claims it to be a refutation of BA’s position. The entire statement with a comprehensive analysis of what we confront with the fascist Trump/Pence regime and the upcoming elections, and what is to be done, is reduced merely to “vote for Biden,” a simplified distortion that Leupp shares with the fascist media and petit-bourgeois social democratic reformists whose visions and horizons shrink even further as history accelerates.

No reader of Leupp’s screed would know of Avakian’s emphatic and repeated calls for mass political resistance to drive out this regime, including early in this statement:

If this regime is able to further consolidate its power and make further leaps in implementing its horrific objectives, this will result in a devastating setback for any attempt to resist injustice and oppression, and will very likely lead to the brutal repression, and even annihilation, of defenders of democratic rights and proponents of any meaningful progressive reforms, as well as any organized forces fighting for fundamental revolutionary change.

In the most essential sense, the urgent need to mobilize masses of people around the demand to force the removal of this fascist regime is not in conflict with the mass outpouring against institutionalized white supremacy and police terror, or other mass movements against the outrages of this system, but is in basic unity with and is crucial for all these struggles, and all this can and must be understood, and built, in a powerful mutually reinforcing way.

Simply relying on voting to oust this regime will almost certainly lead to very bad, even disastrous results. This is especially true given what this regime is already doing, and what Trump is saying, in relation to the election.

It is a sad state that this complete lack of intellectual standards, rigor or integrity can pass muster in today’s discourse. 

Leupp’s distorted evocation of the RCP’s former position on homosexuality is another case in point. First, this is gratuitous non sequitur.5 Second, it is an utter distortion of the actual positions and the rigorous excavation of the methodological errors by the RCP under Avakian’s leadership, going back and continuing further for 17+ years, which is available here and here. Third, the actual point of including this early in Leupp’s hit-piece is cynically targeted slander in the age of “cancel culture” to discourage engagement with the actual content of BA’s statement. 

This is intellectually and morally dishonest at a moment of great danger.

In sum, Leupp’s attack does a grave disservice to humanity. At a time of acute danger, when Bob Avakian has come out with a deep analysis of the character of that danger and how to fight it, Leupp uses his platform to turn readers away from and distort Avakian’s statement. It is a harsh term that describes this, but it must be said: active collaboration.


1. Mussolini waged war against Libya and Ethiopia in the 1930s (and fascist Italy was involved in World War 2). But Mussolini had been in power—and his fascist regime had been ruling in Italy—for some time before these wars in the 1930s, having come to power in 1922 and consolidating fascism through removing political opposition in about five years after that. Fascists are fascists—and fascist regimes are fascist regimes—before, or even whether or not, they invade other countries. [back]

2. See This Presidential Election A “Dozen Floridas,” a “Vast Array” of Lawsuits, a “Lot of Mischief”... at revcom.us.  [back]

3. See “America—the Lying, Deal-Breaking Aggressor in the Persian Gulf” and “On the U.S. Assassination of Soleimani and the Heightened Danger of War” at revcom.us.  [back]

4. Francisco Franco was a general who led the overthrow of the Spanish government and headed a fascist regime from 1939 to 1975.  [back]

5. Non sequitur, Latin for “it does not follow,” means a conclusion or statement that does not follow logically from the argument or statement made previously.  [back]

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