Fascism-Denialism, Part Two: Left-Wing Bankruptcy in the Pages of Jacobin

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Editors’ note: This is the second in a series of articles and polemics on fascism-denial in sections of U.S. society, including progressive intelligentsia with disproportionate influence. This, even as the fascist Trump/Pence regime moves rapidly to consolidate fascism, including now giving backing to white supremacists and gun-toting militia to mobilize and manifest in state capitals across the country.

One specific form of fascism-denial is seen recently in Jacobin, an online journal that claims to be socialist while opposing the need for an actual revolution to overthrow the current system. A recent polemic in its pages by Daniel Finn, “An Open Letter from SDS Veterans Haranguing Young Socialists to Back Biden Was a Bad Idea,” gives a sense of this fascism-denial.

Finn attempts to answer1 an open letter2 to the Nation by some former SDS members. These one-time radicals had called for electorally backing Joe Biden because of the grave danger represented by Trump, whom they call a “proto-fascist.” Finn argues the following in response to the open letter that evokes, in his words, “the specter of fascism.”

It requires no soft-soaping of Donald Trump’s atrocious political record to describe this as melodramatic hyperbole. Trump has been in power since 2016: if he had both the will and the capacity to crush his opponents in the style of Hitler, Franco, or Mussolini, he would have done so by now.

The most likely outcome if he wins reelection is not a crude dictatorship, but further erosion of civil liberties within the existing political framework. Opposition parties and media will still be able to function. The people who suffer the worst forms of oppression under Trump will be the immigrants and ethnic minorities whose rights are routinely violated under Republican and Democratic presidencies alike. A Biden administration won’t close detention camps for refugees, or take down the surveillance state. (Emphasis added)

There’s so much wrong—and harmful—here that it’s hard to know where to start. One place might be to look at the example of the sub-continent of India, where the Hindu-fascist Narendra Modi recently won re-election. Armed with a “mandate,” Modi put the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir under a total martial law lockdown for months, jailing oppositional figures and sweeping masses off the streets. Modi proceeded to institute new citizenship laws that threatened to render millions of Muslims stateless by stripping them of citizenship. Trump’s visit to his brother-in-arms Modi in February was accompanied by a horrific and terrorizing wave of lynchings of Muslims, aided and abetted by police, as well as the jailing of progressives and dissidents. Oh, but no worries—the rights of Muslims and especially those in Kashmir were “routinely violated” anyway, no matter which bourgeois party ruled in democratic India. Yes, it can happen here. Does “American exceptionalism” so blind Finn that he cannot draw a warning from India?

To say, as Finn does, that because opposition parties in the U.S. have not yet been crushed—to say in effect that because some bourgeois-democratic norms continue to exist, we do not face a fascist regime in power and bent on consolidating fascism—is to minimize and erase the following:

  • the continuing attacks on rule of law, the separation of powers, and the norms of liberal bourgeois democracy, typified, for example, in trumpeting calls to “lock up” his political opponents and calling sections of the press “enemies of the people”;
  • the unprecedented attacks on those who pose obstacles to the fascist program in all institutions of government, including the intelligence agencies and the military, and bringing them to heel;
  • the existence of concentration camps at the border and the vicious “ethnic” cleansing carried out by ICE;
  • the ways in which the judiciary has been packed with Christian-fascist judges up to the Supreme Court; the assault on abortion rights;
  • the anti-science and climate-change denial, a cause which Finn upholds as dear; and, finally, 
  • the bogus notion repeatedly asserted by Trump that the U.S. Constitution grants Trump “total authority” was both a defense against impeachment and was validated by the fascist-run majority in the Senate.

It is, in short, to mislead on the motion and underlying dynamics of what is going on.

The Chauvinism of Casual Dismissal—and the Big Dismissal of History

A word has to be said about the tone of casual dismissal of the fact that “the worst forms of oppression” will come down on “immigrants and ethnic minorities” but “their rights are routinely violated” under both parties anyway!

Imagine this logic applied during the period of the crushing of Reconstruction3 after the Civil War and the imposition of semi-feudal sharecropping, along with convict labor, enforced by lynch-mob terror and Jim Crow. Should “radicals” or “socialists” of the time have taken the position that because the rights of Black people had been “routinely violated” during Reconstruction itself and, of course, before that during slavery, it made no difference that the form of rule over a whole section of people had radically changed for the worse? Did it make no difference that the form of bourgeois rule over a whole section of people had radically changed for the worse just because the same capitalist system was in effect during the period of Reconstruction as its reversal?

The oppression of Black, Native American Indian, and Latino people, and of immigrants, IS built into fabric of this system and society, and is carried out and enforced by Democratic and Republican politicians alike. This is a major reason why this system must be overthrown—through an  ACTUAL revolution. Eliding this, Finn adopts a “more radical than thou” stance. In cursorily equating the Democrats and Republicans, Finn minimizes and negates the grave danger of the fascist Trump/Pence regime. He shrugs off what is happening now under Trump and what will very likely take a leap with his possible re-election (à la Modi).4

The Democrats ARE a machine of war crimes and crimes against humanity, a ruling class party like the Republicans, and enforcers of the same system of capitalism-imperialism. As such, they cannot be relied on to stop or even resolutely oppose fascism—as they have proven over the past 50 years of accommodation, conciliation, and now active facilitation. But wielding this fact to downplay and even cancel out the dangers of fascism—an even more monstrous and grotesque form of rule of the same capitalist-imperialist system—is to be complicit in its horrors.5

To avoid looking at how these fascists have already further unleashed the police, how they have further sharpened the edge of ICE, how they have fanned the flames of white chauvinism even more and now celebrate armed white mobs parading swastikas, nooses, and Confederate flags and boasting of their allegiance to Trump, to not see the dangers of what a Trump and his followers could do if they were either to be “mandated” by a re-election or alternately took up their arms to prevent an electoral defeat, is a dangerous myopia, with real consequences.

Finn’s blithe dismissal calls to mind what Bob Avakian said nearly three years ago and which is even truer today:

The terrible truth is that, with some notable exceptions (including the very significant exception of the generation that came of age in the 1960s), white people overall have either been directly involved in, or have supported or at least passively accepted all this throughout the history of this country. During the whole time of slavery. During the decades of Jim Crow segregation and Ku Klux Klan terror, when repeatedly Black people, in particular Black men, who did not “know their place”—or sometimes without even knowing why, angered some white person—would be lynched, while crowds of white people would gather in a “picnic” atmosphere, vying to get parts of the mutilated body of the Black person hanging from a tree, and photographs of this were turned into postcards that were sold throughout the country. Yes, this is true—the ugly, shameful truth. Today, with the repeated murders of Black people by police, in the rare instances when the murdering cop is indicted, there are white people who sit on juries and refuse to convict. And still too many white people who claim to care about justice, and will take to social media to denounce far less outrageous and sometimes even trivial acts, cannot find it in themselves to be outraged and moved to act about this! If the police wantonly shot down dogs, over and over again, there would be a huge outcry throughout society, including from people who are silent, or make excuses, when this is done to human beings of darker skin.

Now, it would be wrong, and harmful, to ignore the fact that there are white people, in particular younger white people (but others as well), who have taken to the streets to protest these murders, and who have put forward the stand: white silence is violence, it is complicity in murder. This is, of course, a good thing—and it needs to happen much more, on a much greater scale. But, given the actual history of this country, down to today, does it really make sense to insist, as some people still stubbornly do, that “fascism couldn’t happen here, not in this country, with our democracy and our great traditions”?! (Emphasis added) From THE TRUMP/PENCE REGIME MUST GO! In The Name of Humanity, We REFUSE To Accept a Fascist America, A Better World IS Possible. A Talk by Bob Avakian.

Yes, it can happen here and IS happening here.

The Real Dynamics of Fascism—and Exceptional Blinders on Reality

Finn betrays here a very stereotyped view of how fascism advances, mechanically comparing the Trump/Pence struggle to consolidate power with Hitler’s and missing the larger patterns. Revcom.us regularly posts the following definition of fascism:

Fascism is the exercise of blatant dictatorship by the bourgeois (capitalist-imperialist) class, ruling through reliance on open terror and violence, trampling on what are supposed to be civil and legal rights, wielding the power of the state, and mobilizing organized groups of fanatical thugs, to commit atrocities against masses of people, particularly groups of people identified as “enemies,” “undesirables,” or “dangers to society.”

At the same time—and this can be seen through studying the examples of Nazi Germany and Italy under Mussolini—while it will likely move quickly to enforce certain repressive measures in consolidating its rule, a fascist regime is also likely to implement its program overall through a series of stages and even attempt at different points to reassure the people, or certain groups among the people, that they will escape the horrors—if they quietly go along and do not protest or resist while others are being terrorized and targeted for repression, deportation, “conversion,” prison, or execution.

Finn, like all too many others, seems to think that just because the Trump/Pence regime has not replicated the same exact steps of Nazi Germany or Mussolini, it cannot truly be fascist. Finn in fact misreads the history of Germany. While the particular conditions of Germany allowed Hitler, after his election, to pull off a coup and quickly outlaw major opposition parties, the Nazis did—and did have to—proceed through stages. Hitler himself had to crush opposition within the Nazi party and neutralize opponents in the ruling coalition in June of 1934 (the “Night of the Long Knives”). The Nuremburg “racial” laws, which excluded Jews from Reich citizenship and institutionalized other anti-Semitic policies, only came into being in 1935. Things were relaxed during the period leading up to the 1936 Olympics. In fact, the form of denialism in Germany ran so deep that some Jews who had emigrated from Germany returned at different times in the hopes that things were easing, and that the traditions of German enlightenment were acting as a brake on Hitler. It was only after Kristallnacht in November 1938, five years after Hitler’s election, and a subsequent set of new laws against Jews were put into effect, that the reality fully became clear to people; at which point it was too late. A little over two years later, with Germany having conquered territory in Eastern Europe that contained millions of Jewish people, the plans to transform concentration camps into extermination camps was decided upon. To draw on the particularity of Nazi history to effectively say that fascism can’t happen—and is not happening—here combines American exceptionalism with an ignorance of how things actually proceeded in Germany.

To fully come to grips with the extreme acuity of the danger is NOT to propose throwing and funneling everything into the election of a Democrat; it is, in fact, to see that extraordinary measures going outside the norms of bourgeois democracy and its normal channels are urgently required, as called for by organizations like Refuse Fascism, of sustained nonviolent mass mobilization to drive out the regime from power. Right now, this fascist Trump/Pence regime is an immediate danger confronting us—and all of humanity—and needs to be driven out... and in a more fundamental sense, the system that gave rise to it needs to be swept away through an ACTUAL revolution.


1. While Finn makes a number of other arguments in his response, including Biden’s track record, what we are focusing on here is the fascism-denial, which while secondary is intrinsic to his response and approach, far too illustrative of the so-called “Left.”  [back]

2. We intend to address this open letter in this series shortly—stay tuned to revcom.us.”  [back]

3. The reversal of Reconstruction involved a reign of terror that in 1877 alone took over 4,000 lives in the South. The rights to vote, to be in public space, to get an education were all torn from Black people. Black people were “routinely” arrested on bogus charges (vagrancy, etc.) and put to work as virtual slaves to build the industry of the South. All this was backed up by massacres in places like Colfax, Memphis, and Wilmington, NC. This inaugurated the reign of Jim Crow in the South. Indeed, recent research has come to light on how the Nazi judges and legal scholars studied U.S. law while formulating the infamous Nuremburg statutes of 1935 that deprived Jews in Germany of many legal rights. See Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, by James Q. Whitman.  [back]

4. It is also to be noted that Finn completely omits the oppression of women and differently gendered people, a crucial plank of the Christian-fascist program that constitutes a central pillar of the Trump/Pence fascist regime and program.  [back]

5. Finn posits climate change as “the most urgent moral and political issue of the day.” As we have written extensively, this cannot be resolved under this system of capitalism-imperialism, and it will take an ACTUAL revolution for us to even have a shot at dealing with this existential threat to humanity. The Green New Deal, which social democrats in the U.S. largely advocate, does not even come close. But the fascist Trump/Pence regime has actually accelerated this crisis, fanning the flames. Not recognizing this is being stubbornly obtuse. The actions of this regime involve not just withdrawing from the Paris agreement, however weak and ineffectual it was in the first place, but doing so on the platform and rationale of climate-change denial and anti-science. It involves loosening regulations and letting fossil fuels run amok. It involves giving a green light to countries around the world to do the same, like Brazil’s Bolsonaro who did little to stem the “burning” of the Amazonian forests, which are a precious check on carbon emission accumulation in the atmosphere. And the list goes on and on…  [back]

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