Anti-fascism in the age of Trump
Platypus Review 107 | June 2018
On October 17, 2017, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a panel discussion entitled "Anti-fascism in the Age of Trump” at Berkeley City College. The event’s speakers were Eugene Ruyle of Peace and Freedom (Democratic Socialists of America), Luma Nichol of Freedom Socialist Party, Victoria Fierce of East Bay for Everyone (Democratic Socialists of America), and Ramsey Kanaan of PM Press and founder of AK Press. The event was moderated by William Lushbough of Platypus. What follows is an edited transcript of the discussion. The original audio is available at https://archive.org/details/berkeley-antifascism-panel.
Eugene Ruyle: It is clear that fascism is a form of imperialism. There are some misconceptions floating around which mistake Hitler’s National Socialism as a form of socialism, as though Stalin and Hitler were two forms of the same phenomena. That is a profound misunderstanding of both people. In Stalin: A Political Biography, Isaac Deutscher discusses explicitly this issue of Stalin versus Hitler and whether they are equivalent or not. He points out that Hitler came to power in the most technologically sophisticated and arguably most cultured society in Europe, with claims to such luminaries as Hegel, Beethoven, and Einstein. Yet, Hitler left Germany in ruins. It was devastated by war. And it forever had this stigma which it will never lose as having initiated the Holocaust. So, he was a complete disaster for Germany. Whereas, Stalin was born in the most backward country in Europe. However, he civilized Russia by “barbaric means,” as Deutscher says. He tore the wooden plow out of the hands of the peasants. He forced them to drive tractors and build tanks and airplanes in order to defeat Hitler. Moreover, he forced them to go to school, not only to learn technology and political indoctrination, but to read the classics of Russian literature such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pushkin, and world literature as well. William Faulkner sold more books in the Soviet Union than he did here in the United States, though that is not saying much. When Stalin died, every Soviet citizen was guaranteed a job, guaranteed free healthcare, guaranteed affordable housing. There was guaranteed equality for women and a whole series of other things that we are still struggling for. They may not have been as wealthy as Americans, but they were cultured. They read more books, saw more plays. A woman could go to the Bolshoi ballet for five Kopeks without her husband. By contrast, Hitler was disastrous. Fascism has been around for a long time. No one has been able to stop it except the Red Army. It was Stalingrad that stopped fascism in 1943–44. By comparison, in the U.S. and the rest of the imperialist world, the battle against fascism has always been lukewarm. We need to prevent that.
We are all familiar with what has happened in Charlottesville recently. On Democracy Now! Amy Goodman had an interview with Cornel West that I thought was very illuminating. Cornel was at the University of Virginia when fascists were attacking people with torches and pepper spray. He was among a group of religious students, preachers, and Rabbis. They were surrounded by the most hateful people he had ever encountered: the fascists, the white supremacists. Yet, the police pulled back from the confrontation. Cornel recalled, “We would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the antifascists who approached 300 to 350. We just had 20 and were singing “This little light of mine.” And the antifascists came, crucially, because they saved our lives. We would have been completely crushed, and I'll never forget that." I will not forget that either. Moreover, I refuse to criticize or condemn antifascists for the work they do.
It is not about free speech. The fascists—the white supremacists—are planting seeds which will bear strange and bitter fruit. Billie Holiday sings about the "...pastoral scene of the gallant South with black bodies swaying in the Southern breeze, with the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." This is the fruit of white supremacy and Nazism.
In Berkeley the far right portray the problem as one of free speech. I do not know what the right thing to be done in all this was, for my own part. They held a “No to Marxism” rally. I hang out at the Marxist library and so for our Sunday morning event, which was at the same time, we did a little session on “Yes to Marxism.” That was our way of showing solidarity with those who are resisting this. I passed around a pamphlet that I wrote on behalf of the Oscar Grant Committee in solidarity with Yvette Felarca and the other protesters that were arrested in Sacramento. Though, I would not, myself, join By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). We have disagreements with some of these tactics, but it is crucial that when the state attacks these people that we support them in solidarity. She was not only attacked by the state but by the fascists. You have heard about doxing: They went after her job, and then they got the Berkeley police to arrest her on a trumped-up, phony charge.
Luma Nichol: Trotsky analyzed the rise of fascism in the 1930s in Europe. And we believe that his analysis holds true today because we still live under capitalism. In the 1990s I co-coordinated United Front Against Fascism, which was an anti-Nazi organization in the Pacific Northwest. We started after an Ethiopian immigrant, Mulugeta Seraw, was bludgeoned to death by White Aryan Resistance skinheads. Aryan Nations decided that the Pacific Northwest was going to be their homeland and we protested. For a decade, we protested from Simi Valley to Vancouver, Seattle to Coeur d'Alene. We brought together people from all groups targeted by the bigots in bold, direct action—the “United Front.” And we won. It took a decade but they were pretty much shoved back underground. They did not disappear, as we see today, but that is because we are still living under capitalism. Our starting point in fighting the fascists is that we have to build a counter-movement to stop their would-be counter-movement. It is important to remember that Hitler was elected into power on the basis of a mass movement, primarily of the middle class. And we believe that building up that movement begins with countering the fascists face-to-face. We have to do this because we have to show that we are resolute in defeating bigotry. We have to inspire like the Civil Rights movement inspired. This also discourages their would-be recruiters. We have to counter the fear, which is one of their major weapons. We also have to learn how to work together across our differences. And we believe in mass, orderly mobilizations because we have to convince the majority to join us out there in the streets. Liberals like the mayor of Berkeley advised us to ignore the fascists and they will go away, which is a totally discredited strategy.
He is progressive.
LN: He is still a liberal. I would argue that the strategy of meeting in a park, blocks away from where the fascists are going to gather, is just a variation on this liberal theme. The Bay Area Rally Against Hate did a great job of bringing people together in August, but this was around a defeatist strategy. It was good that our call to protest the Nazis got at least a part of the Bay Area Rally Against Hate to march to the park. We would like to work more closely with this group and direct counter-demonstrations. I would say to the Bay Area Rally Against Hate folks, "People are showing up where the Nazis are supposed to gather. We need to provide organization, numbers, boldness, nerves to back up their correct expression of resistance." To the Black Bloc, we would say, "Yes, we are in a physical war with the Nazis, but primarily we are still in a war of ideas to win the 99%, to educate about what fascism is and how to defeat it." The mistakes of the 1930s, as analyzed by Trotsky, were the mistakes of the Stalinists and Social Democrats who would not work together. They were at loggerheads, and the United Front was the vehicle that Trotsky thought of for us to learn how to work together. You agree on one point to work together to stop the fascists. We do not give up our ideas, our newspapers, or our political positions, but on this one issue, we agree.
There is some disagreement about whether we are living under fascism today and I would say resolutely we are not. But the roots of fascism are economic. Big business funds the ultra-right in a desperate attempt to save profits—can anybody spell “Trump?” It is capitalism's ultimate solution. To succeed they have to remove all opposition—that is where we all come in as fighters. The Nazis started out as gangs of thugs whose intent was to frighten away resistance and to recruit. That is where we are at today, that is what we are seeing. It is a serious mistake to discount them as a small, insignificant group because they can grow into a powerful force really rapidly. Hitler himself said that the Nazis could have been stopped when they were still small. And that is our job today: to crush them in the shell and grow a movement of resistance.
Is Trump a fascist? No. He is a mega-businessman with right-wing sympathies and connections. Certainly, his America First movement, Make America Great Again, is an ultra-nationalist ideology that stirs up feelings for the homeland and nostalgia for the good life of the 50s that did not exist for women and people of color at the time. It is a way of scapegoating our multi-cultural society and vision for a better future. It is a classic substitution of nationalist ideology for class identity. Our problem is the 1%, not immigrants. However, it is trendy today to say that Trump is a fascist. Certainly, there are a few problems with this. First, it lets the Democrats off the hook. They offer no meaningful opposition to what Trump is doing. Frankly, in their last several presidencies they laid the ground for a lot of the anti-immigrant policies that now exist. They are part of the capitalist system, and, as I said, capitalism is the root of the problem. It also leads people to think that we live under fascism now. We do not.
We want to build an anti-capitalist civil rights movement that is capable of defending the majority. It is really important to note that the fascist movement is international. Look at what’s happening in Europe: There is this belief that strongmen like Duterte in the Philippines can save society like Trump in the U.S. We must counter all this through education and by boldly standing up to these Nazis. We have been working with Communities Against Racism and Fascism, which we want to continue developing as a United Front. The group is neither pacifist nor does it advocate provoking the Nazis. Our stance is that we have the right to self-defense. We recognize that the targets of fascism need to be in the leadership of this United Front. Labor is especially key because the fascists necessarily oppose the working class. They have to neutralize unions and labor. We do not call for banning the fascists. We do not agree with the demand “no-platform for fascists.” Fascism is a political movement. You cannot ban it, you cannot outlaw it, you cannot order the police to arrest the political movement—not that they would. It is not about hate. It is a political movement; it is not a horrible emotion that we are fighting. Think how powerful we would have been at that August demonstration at Civic Center park if we had all been together in the park—the Black Bloc and Bay Area Rally Against Hate. That is what we really should be working towards for the future. Unfortunately, we are going to have many opportunities to practice uniting, but we need everybody in this fight. And we hope people will join because that is the only way that we can win.
Victoria Fierce: I am a housing organizer. A lot of my anti-fascism comes from the approach of housing and land use. This is frequently overlooked by a lot of anti-fascist organizing. I go out to city council meetings in cities like Piedmont and confront people who show up to say, “We don’t want people of color to live here. We don’t want such and such living here.” And I argue that this is a form of fascism that we have today. Fascism is fundamentally defined by denying people the right to exist. This is true whether it is denying a person the right to exist in the world generally or in any certain country—you can have fascism in one country similar to the idea of “socialism in one country.” Or there could be fascism in one city, or in one state, or one neighborhood. Fascism comes in many forms. That considered, we need to look at things from the broader perspective including housing and territorial disputes, ownership of land, and borders more generally. Big corporations are a huge driving force behind the rise of fascism. At the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations there are ads that portray working for the San Francisco police department or the Berkeley police department as a good job. That costs a lot of money for that to come out. And all this is integrated into our society today to such an extent that I would actually say that we are living under some degree of fascism. I would not say complete fascism. Though, we have been living under some degree of fascism since this country was founded. That is in part because of the way that we use property rights as a tool to exclude certain people from living in certain places.
We need to start doing better at fighting fascism in today’s anti-fascist movement. Whether or not it is effective is still up for debate. A lot of anti-fascist organizing seems to be holding onto the past in a certain way. It is holding onto the old versions of what Black Bloc was back in the 90s and how the anti-fa was organized during the Nazi regime in Germany. Today's fascism is still the same, but it comes in very different forms. We need to adapt our technology, techniques, tactics, and strategies. We need to think about ways to dismantle the system at a broader scope. Antifascist movements need to be tied to a broader political goal. More than just destroying fascism.
There are levers of power in our current society right now whether we agree with them or not. We do not live in a complete democracy, but we still live in some kind of democracy. Anti-fascists’ work is a lot more than just showing up and denying a platform to fascists. And it is more than showing up and punching Nazis in the face, as a lot of new people to antifascist organizing would be led to believe. It includes dismantling white supremacy through exclusionary zoning, de-corporatizing our public services, removing this whole concept of the public-private partnership. We have non-profit corporations building ostensibly “affordable housing.” These are all just symptoms that we have all collectively ignored for a while. Millennials are disaffected by politics. The two big parties, the Democrats and Republicans, are really one big party. They do not represent people, especially not people my age. You have people out here who want universal healthcare and people like Nancy Pelosi saying, “No.”
Right after the 2016 election, a lot of young people suddenly became politically activated. And a lot of people wanted to do something. This is because they experienced oppression: They have experienced the world turning against them and the world pushing them back. They are disenchanted by the American Dream. We need to make a new American Dream, which includes organizing against fascism in a way that builds a world that we want to see.
The recent Rally Against Hate was a mixed bag. On the one hand, it did not confront the Nazis—the white supremacists. Part of that is because white supremacists did not really show up that day. There was not really an enemy for us to go against. It sputtered out for whatever reason. On the other hand, I think the reason they did not show up that day is that we scared the shit out of them. I think this allowed for more moderate, left-of-center people to be in this environment without putting them in significant danger, and it pushed them a little more towards the radical side. They saw how we just took over the street, how you do not have to follow the rules, how you can, in fact, say “fuck the cops” to their face. In a big enough crowd, it is pretty hard for a white person to get into trouble for that. After that event, my friends were convinced that there is a point to punching Nazis and fighting against fascism. They are more “woke” now. They are open to the idea of more radical antifascist organizing and integration of anti-fascism into their day-to-day lives. I think all of us should aim for this because fascism has been in this country forever.
Our country is based on fascism. If we are going to fight it, we have to fight it at the root and fundamentally change the way that people perceive the world around us, especially the younger generation that is just now getting involved. They do not necessarily understand some of the history around anti-fascist organizing. They are new to this. They are new to working with other groups. They are new to having disagreements with people. That is our responsibility, as well-versed anti-fascist organizers, to teach these folks how to work with other groups. They maybe do not agree with them on everything. And what one panelist was saying earlier is this technique of finding a single thing that you can agree to disagree on and then moving from that. I think that is really important and we need to start teaching the new generation tactics and things like that. And from that, I think, we will come up with a better vision of what anti-fascism looks like in the future.
Ramsey Kanaan: What is fascism? My other comrades on the panel have all had a stab at it. I would posit that fascism is a particular response, both historically and, more importantly, economically, to a particular crisis that capitalism finds itself in at a certain juncture. Fascism is the response of capitalism to that particular crisis. Fascism itself has many forms. It is a mass movement.
To illustrate my point, there is a particular ruler of a particular country who came to power on the back of a mass movement and who has utilized modern technology, in particular, social media, as a way of disseminating information. He has staked out his position and, in effect, his raison d’etre was anti-Islam. His prognosis is a form of economic nationalism and a way of bringing the state together. Of course, I am not talking about the President of the U.S., but, rather, Narendra Modi, the current ruler of India. Many have claimed he is an excellent example of fascism. Though I would argue, again, that is actually not the case. He is a particular form of an authoritarian ruler, but that is not fascism. Similarly, fascism does not necessarily have anything to do with white supremacy. Arguably, Pinochet in Chile in the 70s was a fascist and meets, again, the criteria that I was talking about and, last time I checked, his regime was not based on white supremacy.
What have been the responses to fascism, historically and otherwise? There has been much talk tonight about the Black Bloc, and I would like to reiterate that the Black Bloc is a tactic. The Black Bloc is not a set of organizational principles, far less is it a political movement or an ideology. It is purely and simply a tactic. People who need to remain anonymous have used the tactic from time immemorial. One could say bank robbers historically were masked up, so as not to be recognized. You would not say, however, that Jesse James was a member of the Black Bloc. The Black Bloc itself, of course, has a long and storied history and is a part of militant anti-fascism. It originated in Europe, particularly in Germany, in the late 60s and early 70s. It was part of a mass movement initially motivated by anti-nuclear sentiment, involving squatting, and its original definition was so-called "anti-fascism" against what they saw as the fascist German state. Those tactics and those movements were copied across most of Northwest Europe, particularly in Holland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The original progenitors of the Black Bloc were definitely not anarchists. The fact that people often identify Black Bloc with anarchism is certainly not historically accurate. They were self-styled and called themselves "Autonome," or autonomous politics, and they were a very eclectic mix of Maoism, anti-imperialism, and particular single-issues which they chose to focus on.
If we cannot so define fascism, then what is anti-fascism? Perhaps, anti-fascism is an organized response to organized fascism. For instance, the movements in Italy and Spain in the 30s were a response to the "golden age of fascism." Such a response was equally organized and mass in character. It consisted of several organizations, to varying degrees, such as the SPD and the KPD in Germany, or the Austro-Marxists in Austria who, like the anarchists of the CNT in Spain, not only physically confronted the fascists but waged war against them. The anarchists very successfully initiated it, defeating the attempted coup by Franco in 1936. The Austro-Marxists rose up against the Austrian fascists in 1932 and unleashed their workers' self-defense militias in the Austrian Civil War.
In an era where there is truly no fascism, nevertheless, there are fascists. Fascism is not currently a mass movement, here or anywhere else in the world. Moreover, even though the Left since the Second World War is not really a mass movement in most countries, I suppose they might be called that in India. Anti-fascism typically has not taken on the role of a mass movement, though most of the people involved in militant anti-fascist activities wish that they were part of a broader mass movement.
What is militant anti-fascism? Militant anti-fascism is confronting fascism. Again, I give the examples of the Spanish anarchists and the Austrian Marxists. Militant anti-fascism consists of actual physical confrontation with fascism. That is what distinguished the German Autonomen in the 70s and the 80s. What defines the so-called Black Bloc or “Antifa” is confronting the fascists. In my youth, I was involved in militant and physical confrontations with fascists. It is worth discussing the strategy and the tactics involved. When you get a batter of fascists or the concept of “no-platform for fascists” that means we are not going to let them appear or speak in public, we are going to confront them physically, we are going to physically stop them from doing so. The logic behind that is not to change their minds. It is not an educational purpose or an educational strategy. That is because we have an understanding that fascism is not a good thing. That fascism by its very existence is an assault on the rest of us. And hence, call it “self-defense” if you will. Physically starting it with them, and hopefully finishing it with them, is part of that rubric. I repeat: We are not doing it to change their minds. We are doing it as a strategy to stop them from organizing. Successful organizing is predicated on winning. If you turn up unopposed or if you turn up in large numbers, you are winning. That is attractive to your ideology. The role of militant anti-fascists is to win. Meaning we are going to stop them from turning out, we are going to stop them from doing their thing in public with equanimity. If they show up to flaunt their ideas, there will be a cost. Hopefully, the cost will be so great that it is no longer attractive to them or those who are sympathetic to the idea. That is a very different strategy and tactic than organizing a mass movement. Though, I would say that a mass movement is essential to win a wider struggle against the forces that breed fascism. But let us not confuse strategy and tactics and what we are doing and why.
Fascism is undoubtedly not on the rise today. Trump is not a fascist any more than the Indian chap, Narendra Modi, is a fascist. However what right-wing regimes do, in general, is embolden fascist elements. Undoubtedly, the rhetoric of Trump has emboldened a tiny minority—a dwindling amount of people—that may or may not identify themselves as “fascists.” Meaning these people apparently feel free to voice their opinions or feel free to assault people. But, let us be honest. People have voiced their opinions and assaulted people from day one. The main entity which impacts the most people, voices its opinion, and assaults people on a daily basis is the state. Sure, occasionally, fascists will assault people. But, I recall Black Lives Matter started to resist the state and its agents that are killing black people every day. Not just once a year, some fascist will fire-bomb a synagogue or some skinhead will stab someone. But, the state does it every day. The same state which happened to be Democratic at the time that Black Lives Matter was formed. The same state under Obama was deporting 3,000 immigrants every day. Now, again, I would posit that is not fascism. But, if we are talking about threats and how to organize against it, fascism is in many ways a sideshow. Again, the right in general, the extreme right, the insurgent right, the militant right assembled in Charlottesville. That was a national mobilization. It was all kinds of groups coming together. Most of them hate each other and before Charlottesville and after Charlottesville were involved in all kinds of internecine fighting, often physically. The same has characterized the right in the UK for the last 40 or 50 years. Or South Africa the last 40 or 50 years or any other place you can care to mention. Let us just say all 1,500 people that turned up in Charlottesville were fascists, which, undoubtedly, they were not. The alt-right are not fascists. But, again, let us entertain it for the sake of argument. That is pathetic for a national mobilization. The right is not growing. When we are talking about anti-fascism, we are talking about organizing, we are talking about priorities. Let us be honest and let us be realistic.
ER: It seems like we are all in agreement in several areas. One is that the Democrats are not the solution to Trump and to the fascists. We cannot rely on the bourgeois state—or the capitalist state—to protect us. We need to rely on ourselves, and I think that generally it is the Left that has the responsibility to address this issue.
I want to talk a little bit about what happened here in Berkeley because I was an alumnus of the University and very close to what is going on there. Charlottesville was a public relations disaster for fascists because even Republicans were denouncing what happened. Many were actually sincere in denouncing the display. When we came out to Berkeley, I think the fascists won the public relations issue. Many people came away from this with the perception that the alt-left wants to shut down anybody that disagrees with them and as though they do not want free speech. They physically attack people who disagree with them, such as with Milo. Even when the fascists hosted the “No to Marxism” rally, the Left still appeared to be trying to destroy free speech. While I do not agree with that, many people have said this to me. So, we do need to figure out what to do. We need to be united to the extent that it is possible. But how to do it, I am not sure.
The irony is they must have spent somewhere between $800,000 to $1,000,000 to provide protection for this guy who I would not think deserved to talk. They spent that much money to give him a platform. At the same time, they shut down the peace studies program at UC Berkeley. It no longer exists. Do they need to spend that much money providing a platform for people who, it turns out, never intended to have a “free speech week”? It was all phony. If I were in charge—which I am obviously not likely to be— when Milo said he wanted to come to campus, even though he is uninvited and no one wants him here, I would have told him to come at his own risk. He should have been advised that should he come on campus and incite a riot, he would be arrested for inciting a riot and would be taken down to Santa Rita where they would give him a mental examination because he is a danger to himself and to those surrounding him. That would be my approach. Of course, I would not last very long as chancellor of UC Berkeley.
As I said, I do not think there is anything wrong with fighting fascism. A large part of this is public relations: who comes out ahead. And we know the media is stacked against us. The state is stacked against us. But we have known those are the odds, and we still need to struggle against it. I remember, though not firsthand, what happened in Nazi Germany. I know what was going on here in the U.S. for hundreds of years. We need to keep these things in mind and keep the struggle going.
LN: There have been many points of agreement and a few disagreements. Fascism is a danger like no other. If fascism comes to power, we would not be able to have this panel. We would not be able to discuss whether or not the state was worse or anything else. You have to remember what happened in Germany, which was the worst example. That is why it is so crucial that we figure out how to work together. Yes, the current state on a daily basis represses, discriminates, recriminates. It is horrible. But fascism is the current state on steroids. There is oppression. There is oppression in housing, in everything that we see under this system, and we have to fight against all of that. But if fascism comes to power, that fight is stopped cold. And all of our efforts or movements are put back into the Dark Ages.
We cannot underestimate that these small gangs of thugs can turn into a mass movement and gain support. That is why we have to both physically stop them and win the war of ideas. And the war of ideas is aimed at convincing someone such as Richard Spencer to become a civil libertarian and a civil rights activist. The war of ideas is over the folks out there—the “99%”—that we have to convince to our side. History has shown that if the working class does not win over the “middle class,” the middle class turns to and becomes the base of fascism. We have got to win over those people to our civil rights movement and platform. That is what the fight is about. It is to stop fascism, and the only way we are ultimately going to stop fascism is with a mass counter- movement.
I agree with Victoria that it would have been better if the Bay Area Rally Against Hate directly confronted the fascists. I agree with what you are saying about the power of the movement to win more moderate people over. What worries me is that, when Yiannopoulos came the second time, the liberals and the Bay Area Coalition Against Hate and Rally Against Hate folks, they were not there. There was an event the day before the rally. I was not there, but I heard that some of the Black Bloc folks decided to march in that out of uniform. But why not confront the fascists? You must have heard what Yiannopoulos has done to some women on the internet? It is horrible. Not to mention, he works with Steve Bannon. That is the problem. You have to look at the program that is bringing all these people together. Maybe it is important. Perhaps, it is a rally against bigotry. But are they actually brought together to counter the fascists?
I'm not sure I understood the point about white supremacy. Technically we are dealing with fascism. It is not about white supremacy. It takes the forms it needs to. In Germany, it was throwing the Roma people, “gypsies,” into concentration camps, along with everybody else. Well, today that would be a non-starter here in the United States. A fascist movement in the U.S. has to be a white supremacist one, or it is going to go nowhere. It needs that racist base.
Fascism has an economic basis, rooted in capitalism. We will face recurring attempts by fascism to come to power because capitalism is in a continued crisis. Fascism is its big guns. Ultimately, we have to get rid of capitalism and replace it with a humane, democratic system, which I would argue is socialism. Until we do that, we are going to be facing a greater or lesser threat of fascism today. It is as high as it has been for decades. We better take it seriously and come together to stop it now.
VF: I agree with much of what the other panelists have said. I think Eugene's proposal, to warn Milo that he could come to campus, but he would not be given protection, is a fantastic idea. That is what a truly liberal democracy looks like. Not “liberal” in the way we use the term to define political people today. I do not think it is the state’s role to facilitate platforms, but it is also not the state’s role to prevent people from bringing repercussions against fascists who have a platform.
I agree with what Luma said about the war of ideas. The Millennial generation has been disaffected because the American Dream has been shattered. In response to this, young Leftists in coastal areas, such as New York and Berkeley, have focused a lot of discussion on critical theory. We are not just embracing the idea of class consciousness and mutual aid, which I think is important for fighting against fascism. We are, also, bringing these conversations into the so-called “flyover” states. There are lots of people between here and New York, people in the middle of the country, who would benefit from hearing these ideas and having more panels like this. There are leftists out there struggling to get organized, to push back against this disaffected working class—this disaffected white working class to be more specific. They have been left behind by the Democratic Party and neoliberal policies. And they want something. Leftism, socialism, and communism—are the answer to that.
We should be addressing bread and butter issues. People want jobs, people need housing. They want healthcare, they want a happy life. To go to the issue at the heart of Trump’s support, he did not win by wooing California. He did not win by wooing the state of New York. He won by wooing all these red states. Inside those red states, there are a lot of people who are not subscribing to this idea. We need to find those people, uplift them, raise up their voices, and give them the tools that they need to organize against fascism.
I have learned through political organizing that it is a lot easier to find somebody who already agrees with you than it is to convince someone to join you. We must find these people who already agree with Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism, and all the other “isms” of Leftism. Then we can send people into their areas to work with them to organize and provide mutual aid. Think about the stereotypical redneck mechanic who is working in a shop in rural Ohio. He does not care too much about Marx. He may not even know what Marx is. He does not even know what critical theory or critical thinking is, but he still wants to have a happy life for his kids. We need to address that. That will be a more comprehensive solution than de-platforming fascists. Then it would be a distributed resistance, where people outright refuse to listen to that racism. They will already have this kind of consciousness about it.
RK: For those involved in militant anti-fascism, anti-fascist organizing and the need to organize against capitalism, more generally, are indelibly connected. The first organized militant response to fascism here in America came together from the anarchist movement. In the 90s they perceived that fascism was a growing threat amongst young people, typically in the “punk” youth cultures because of a growing presence typified by skinheads. So, the anarchists organized against skinheads to shut down their so-called “white power” organizing. Your typical skinhead, like your typical punk rocker, comes from a working-class or middle-class background, particularly, in the flyover states. The heartland of the anti-racist action was in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois.
One of the strategies used was what we called in the UK, “no-platforming,” though it was not called this here in the U.S. at the time. It was the same logic. Wherever they show their face, we go to make sure they do not do it again. We are not just going to quietly picket. We are not just going to confront them. We are going to battle. We are going to be violent. The second strategy was better for the war of ideas. Skinheads pass around their leaflets: “Come and join the Hammerskins" or "the White Aryan Resistance." Wherever they go to leaflet, whether it is high schools, music venues, or wherever, we are going to do the same. Moreover, we are going to go into the areas they are recruiting from, and we are going to proffer a different message. These strategies were more or less successful. Basically, by the mid-to-late-90s, anti-racist action ceased to exist because it had won. There was no longer any white power sub-cultural music organizing.
What were the limits of anti-fascism? If anti-fascism just appears to be two rival gangs fighting, whether physically or otherwise, then that has real limits since it is going to be ignored by most people. This is the same way most people generally view the Left. They view the Left as another bunch of random nutters who are doing their thing as opposed to anyone else. This happens when anti-fascism is divorced from building a mass movement. If we want to win, if we want to defeat fascism, that is going to require us to organize a mass movement. Hence, we need to be forward thinking in all our organizing.
Are your struggles reformist or are they revolutionary? A reformist struggle is one that might win its struggle. We shot down a venue that hosted right-wing bands, and we managed to stop the venue from booking more of those bands. That would be a reformist victory because it does not impact anything else. If we win a $15 minimum wage, that would be a reformist victory. It does not necessarily mean it is bad. Everyone should be paid at least $15. But, if only a certain segment of the population gets $15 an hour, that does not challenge the entire system that prevents people from making, say, $50 an hour. Such struggles must be part of a mosaic of broader struggles.
Luxemburg would have understood these concerns in revolutionary terms, as a question of "socialism or barbarism?" In the face of historical regression of revolutionary possibilities, the United Front was, of course, not a principle, but, rather, a tactic of Trotsky's. The principle was the party of the working class to overthrow capitalism. When we are talking about fascism, is it the case that opposition to fascism is inherently a diminishing of our horizons from revolution?
RK: Any single-issue taken on its own is at best very limited and at worst very reactionary. For example, the German Autonomen in the 70s and 80s were not only the poster-child for the Black Bloc but, also, were wildly successful. They were involved in massive confrontations with fascism. I witnessed it, firsthand. I was in a punk rock band that toured Europe and I went on Autonomen demonstrations. The first time I went on one was in 1987. Germany in the 80s and early 90s had a violent fascist skinhead street presence. People were being attacked in the streets whether they were counter-cultural types, politicos, or immigrants. There was a massive demonstration in Hamburg. I was wearing a green combat jacket and I suddenly found myself in the middle of this huge Black Bloc: Everyone else was dressed all in black and wearing crash helmets. I suddenly thought all eyes were going to be on me in the middle of this demonstration. A few years later, shortly after the wall came down, I went back and visited my comrades in Hamburg, which was the epicenter of all this. I found myself cruising around the streets of Hamburg, jumping out of cars and battering skinheads. This was how they carved out these areas that became no-go areas for fascists in immigrant working-class districts. However, in the fascist’s strongholds in Hamburg they were openly leafleting, going door-to-door. Fascist leaflets were appearing in your letterbox. And to me, that epitomized, in a very literal way, the limits of anti-fascism. The Autonomen were explicitly a counter-cultural drop-out group. They thought that the wider society in general and the working class in particular, that was not them, was brainwashed, stupid, was simply going along with this system.
These limits of single-issue-ism became very apparent when the wall came down, and there was a massive influx of these ignorant ex-communists whom all became fascists and started organizing openly. So, the Autonomen basically lost at that point and have never recovered since.
LN: There will be no revolution if we do not stop fascism. It is our job to make it clear that when we oppose fascism, we are opposing capitalism and fighting for revolution. In my experience, fascism is multi-issue. It goes after Muslims, women, people of color, Jews, and unionists. Our anti-fascist movement has to address all of those issues, or we will get nowhere.
ER: We are in a two-party system. That sucks, and everybody knows that. If the alternative to Trump is that woman, I do not know if that is any improvement. Sure, Trump is obnoxious. We know that. He stimulates people to get upset and so forth. But concerning deportations, the Democrats were doing more than Trump. In terms of bombing every country, who was in favor of bombing Libya and getting involved in Syria? The Democrats' position on foreign affairs is, if anything, worse than the Republicans. Trump is sporadic. I am not convinced they would even let him near “the so-called button.” We need to deal with the concrete situation and understand the solution is not the Democrats. I do not know what the solution is. But, it is not the Democrats. I know that much.
VF: The solution is the people. I agree and disagree that opposition to fascism is a diminishing of horizons. Focusing only on anti-fa and anti-fascism does shorten our horizons. We should be considering how to tie anti-fascism to broader political ambitions. I think the Black Bloc, anti-fa “no-platforming,” and all these other things people do are just tactics. They can be effective tactics, but they are not a part of a broader strategy that speaks towards these bread-and-butter issues that are turning people onto fascism. We should be building tactics to shut down Nazis from having public platforms and, at the same time, educating about the alternative to barbarism: that is, socialism or communism. I see anti-fascism as a cultural immune system. When we have an infection of fascism, anti-fascism becomes very visible and public, especially in the East Bay. When fascism goes away, there is not much left to fight against. Anti-fascism subsides. I think that is alright so long as we keep our sights towards new horizons by tying anti-fascism to broader political ambitions.
What is the importance of the history of fascism today? Why did the rise of fascism in Germany occur? It was the end of the imperialist First World War, they carved up Europe irrespective of ethnicity, and Germany was squeezed dry to pay for it. Historical circumstances like that are seeds. Seeds grow. Do the panelists agree that history is of vital importance? Is this history relevant today? Trotsky emphasized the importance of history because it is through history that we learn. By God, may we never have to endure what Spain, Germany, and Italy did throughout the Second World War.
Victoria characterized fascism as an infection, as though it were the body's reaction to what I consider our cancer, capitalism. Why are people turning towards fascism today and what can we do to prevent that? Was Trump speaking to what voters hold dear, certain cultural, societal values? As Ramsey noted, liberal politics and, especially, the media tend to blow everything out of proportion. Consequently, we tend to ignore what these people’s discontents are. Immigration seems to be defended on the basis of capitalism since it is beneficial to the economy. It helps large business most. Moreover, the Bay Area is, indeed, experiencing issues of overcrowding. How can socialism help solve these issues, and how will that transition come about?
VF: History matters especially when considering why people are turning to fascism. You can trace a timeline of the development of anti-Jewish and anti-gypsy laws in Nazi Germany. Today, people point to the security cameras on the BART as a sign of rising fascism. However, this is not a precursor to the rise of fascism. People are concerned with bread-and-butter issues. They turn to fascism because it promises them a safe future. We should absolutely be rebelling against an invasive police state. But, we should also be going beyond just pushing against it by circumventing it all together. We need to make people feel safe, do mutual aid to support people, and thereby teach people compassion. It is reciprocal: If you take care of your neighbor, your neighbor will take care of you. This is currently absent. We try and encourage it, especially, in the fly-over states. Fascism rises because people are dissatisfied with current conditions. They want a better world and they falsely believe that fascism is the answer. We need to give them a better answer: namely, socialism.
ER: I am a historical materialist. Of course, I understand that history is important. I am also a dialectical materialist. We need to understand interconnections between things. The question of immigration was brought up. It is not because people hate their country that they want to come here. Imperialism has created situations in their countries where they can no longer sustain life there. They have to flee these countries, whether it is in Latin America where corporations have taken over their land. Or whether it is in the Middle East where the U.S. has bombed them to hell. We have more refugees now than any time since World War II. We are not the only guilty party. Saudia Arabia is doing a pretty good job at creating refugees, too. They are our ally, we fund them and so forth. There are other problems in Burma that might be a little less directly connected. We have to understand these connections. We have created the conditions that have forced them out of their countries, and they are simply trying to survive.
LN: Fascism grows in times of severe economic crisis. People are hurting, and the economic recovery is a joke. People are afraid for the future, that the next generation is going to have a much lower quality of life than they have had. A major factor is the weakness of the labor movement. It is not putting up a great alternative to bigotry. And fascism has always relied on scapegoating. On some of these far-right sites, people blame everything on the horror of multi-culturalism and women and so on. I do not need to go into it. If we do not counter their scapegoating, their ideology, they have a chance. Right now, we are winning. Believe it or not. Boston, 40,000 strong. Charlottesville was a big loss for them. However, we cannot pretend that the battle is won. It is especially people in rural communities who provide most of the soldiers for the wars that we are involved in everywhere. We have to address these issues. We have to keep raising the alternative and say over and over and over again the following: The problem is not people of color; the problem is not that blacks are kneeling at NFL games; the problem is racism in our society and capitalism which is bound up with that. We need to get rid of both.
RK: Why I do read history is to reiterate that fascism is a particular social form. It is a response by capitalism to a particular set of circumstances, perhaps, the most important of which is that it is a response to a very powerful Left. What did all the countries that we just discussed have in common that we don’t have today? Germany had a massive Left. Italy had a massive Left. Spain had a massive Left. And Austria had a massive Left: Red Vienna. Those were the particular conditions that capitalism was responding to when it decided to make the alliance with fascism available. Fascism cannot exist without the Left. It is a particular response by capitalism. It is not some strange beast that appears when people are bigoted, racist, or are economically deprived. Today, there is not a fascist threat. Fascism is not rising. It is just nonsense. There are all of these other bad things happening. But it is not fascism. Let us be honest. If we are going to actually understand what is going on in society, we actually have to understand it and that means using terms correctly and understanding them correctly.
How do we respond to these threats if they are not fascism? We need to get organized. However, as I said before, the biggest obstacle today is that there is not a massive Left of any description. Where the Left does exist, it is isolated. It is pathetic. And, the message it gives out is typically the complete opposite of what the Left pretends to be doing. The Left berates working people for being stupid, for being fascist, for being sexist, for being racist, despite supposedly having all these fantastic analyses of why these things might be prevalent in society. Trump is definitely not a fascist. If you actually analyze what Trump said in all his speeches you will find that he talked about economics. If the Left wants to appeal to people, it has to stop patronizing people as if they only needed the correct line or as if they needed to learn they are exploited. Of course, normal average people understand that they are being exploited because they are the ones being exploited. Give me a break.
Why is it strategically better to put hands on another person knowing that there is a maelstrom to follow in the media that will, potentially, marginalize and weaken the movement?
We all recognize that we must empower the working class—to get them to recognize their conditions. How is everyone mobilizing? How we can work together?
The end goal among the panelists is system change—whether towards communism, socialism or anarchy. With Hillary, it would have been business as usual. There would not have been so many people emboldened to come out. Is not Trump our best chance for system change, as horrific as he is?
The Democrats and the Left groups that tailed them called Republicans “fascists” going back to when Truman called Dewey a “fascist” for opposing the New Deal. The New Communist Movement said Watergate was evidence of “encroaching fascism.” George W. Bush was ostensibly a “fascist.” Trump is arguably the least faithful candidate to the party in modern American history. How does framing the conversation in this way serve to clarify the changes that are currently happening in politics, beyond neoliberal politics, which are really the shifting and restructuring of the center? How could we critically account for this instead of bolstering the Democrats’ electoral strategy, yet again?
VF: I think what is missing from the anti-fascist movement right now is that it is not really tied to a broader political strategy. Laying hands on a person in the form of violence is a tactic. And it is a tactic in service of a broader strategy. And we need to find that strategy and figure out what it is that will get us from wherever we are today to the wonderful leftist utopia that we all want to be in.
LN: We have to continue to figure out how to work together. The Left is not the problem. The capitalists are the problem. And I do not know the Left that you were referring to before, but that is not my Left and the leftists that I know. Let us keep trying to find those pathways. Leon Trotsky’s tactic of a United Front worked and can work again.
RK: The fact that several folks keep referring to “us” and “them” when we talk about the working class is one of the problems of the Left. Concerning violence being a bad media strategy, I think in the immediate world that we live in, anything that the state or capital does not like will be given bad press, regardless. That is not a strategic concern. Against the Gulf War, millions and millions of people were mobilized, and it did not achieve anything. It was not lauded by the media. In fact, the media was completely against it and supported the Gulf War. I am not a member of a mass movement, but I do cling to the possibility that maybe ideas matter. Without ideas, history, and understanding, we are going to continue to be utterly irrelevant as far as most people are concerned. |P
Transcribed by Audrey Crescenti.
 Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography (Oxford University Press, 1978).
 Amy Goodman, interview with Cornel West and Rev. Traci Blackmon, Democracy Now!, August 14, 2017. https://www.democracynow.org/2017/8/14/cornel_west_rev_toni_blackmon_clergy