Fascism in the US Today

Our Anti-Racist Feminist Action Team (AFAT) created an informative guide on fascism in the US today with three sections: Fascism 101, Patriarchy and Fascism, and Class and Fascism. The goal of this guide is to create an accessible, easy to read, informative site on Fascism in the US today, because education is the first and most important step in being actively anti-fascist.

FASCISM 101

What is right-wing and left-wing? Where does fascism, capitalism, and American politics lie in that spectrum? 

Left-wing and right-wing are terms used to describe the political spectrum. Generally, the left believes that social and economic inequalities are solvable or able to be reduced. The right seeks to maintain social hierarchy and oppose the liberating policies of the left. The term “conservative” refers to the right’s belief in maintaining and conserving existing social order. On the extreme left, there is socialism and communism. Socialism is a system of government where the state owns and operates means of production and common property (for example, public schools fall into the socialist category). Communism is more left-wing than socialism, and is a system where all property is community owned with the end goal that all people have social and economic equality. Capitalism is an economic system where production is privately owned. While capitalism is an economic system rather than a political one, the economy and government of a society are so interlinked, that Capitalism is relevant on the political spectrum. Capitalism lies on the right because it inherently promotes social and economic inequality. Fascism is a form of far-right government because it is an oppressive, almost dictatorial, approach to government that seeks to not only maintain social order, but to revert back to a previous, glorified social order via nationalism and racism. Fascism works to support and maintain Capitalism in society. 

What is fascism? 

More extreme than conservative political ideology, which aims to maintain social order, or the far right, which wants to restore social relationships that are perceived to be lost, fascism is a form of counter-revolution whose goal is to return society to a mythical state of previous “purity” and enforce oppressive social hierarchies. A fascist government has a charismatic, authoritarian leader who relies on the support of a populist movement. Historically, the most notable instances of fascism were the Nazis in Germany, Mussoilini in Italy, and the Franco regime in Spain.

Fascism refers specifically to a system of power, but there is a certain ideology that is characteristic of a facist state. Cultural-theorist Umberto Eco, who lived in Italy under the regime of facist leader Benito Mussolini, created a list of fourteen general characteristics of a facist state in his essay Ur-Fascism, urging us to recognize and stop new manifestations of it. Some of those characteristics include: 

  • Cult of tradition: Traditionalism is important to a facist regime since it is an attractive form of ideology that the regime can promote. Many facist regimes focus their appeals to the public on a return to ‘the good old days’. In facist regimes conformity is expected, specifically conformity to these traditional ideals. It fits into other characteristics of a facist state since traditionalism implies a rejection of modernism, and a rejection of those who do not fit into the traditional views.
  • Rejection of modernism: This rejection of modernism does not refer to the rejection of technological advancements, but instead refers to the rejection of modern or progressive ideas and ways of thinking. The example that Eco uses in his essay is the Nazi view of The Enlightenment and the Age of Reason as “the beginning of modern depravity”.
  • Appeal to a frustrated class: Though Eco references a frustrated middle class specifically, more broadly he states “a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.” This definition does not just apply to the middle class, but rather to any class that feels unheard or unsupported by their government. 
  • Exploitation of the fear of difference: As Eco puts it, “The first appeal of a facist or prematurely facist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.” It is easy to unify followers under a common enemy. For Nazi Germany, the Jews were a convenient target to label as the enemy of a prosperous Aryan Germany.
  • Nationalism: Facist states rely on a strong sense of nationalism to remain in power and influence those under its regime. Brainwashing those you have control over to believe that they live in the greatest country in the world is a way to ensure that support for the regime continues.
  • Disagreement as treason: Any disagreement to the ideology of the facist state is a threat and therefore must be eliminated. Disagreement is seen as a sign of modernism as well as a sign of diversity, both of which directly challenge the characteristics of a facist state. In general, this refers to a contempt for an open-dialogue and rejection of ideas that do not promote the regime.

Though these characteristics are not exhaustive of what a facist state looks like and what ideologies fascism holds, they are important characteristics that allow one to easily recognize actions that are reminiscent of fascism. 

Where does fascism derive its power? 

Fascism derives its political power from two main outlets; A populist movement’s support and the co-optation of the truth. 

A populist movement is a movement led by a charismatic leader who can connect with and gain the support of “the people” in contrast to “the elites”. For example, this is seen in Trump’s large working class support base. A fascist regime operates by taking advantage of this populist support and “enlists the citizens themselves to cooperate in their own oppression”, meaning, the group that supports the fascist regime is the same group that will be harmed by it’s extreme capitalistic and hierarchical agenda (Fogarty, 6). Another author writes, “If fascsim is going to succeed in rooting out political and social democracy, it needs the support of millions of people, and yet the transformation which fascism offers its supporters is no more than cultural or spiritual; it fights any measures to redistribute wealth downwards. It has to mobilise, in other words, the very people whose social advancement it exists to oppose.” (Renton, 16)

Fascism also heavily relies on the distortion of the truth to remain in power. It is important to note that the attack on the concept of truth is special to fascism– while almost all political systems incorporate miss information and lies, none distorts the truth at the level of Fascism. In A Brief History of Fascist Lies the author writes, “In fascism, mythical truth replaced factual truth” referring to the alternate reality of national greatness and cultural purity that Fascism aims for (Finchelstein, 9). Additionally, a fascist government consistently rejects reality in favor of the regime’s own truth, because they view their leadership as the epitome of power, knowledge, and ability to determine the truth. When truth is questioned to this extent, it loses its power. 

What is ANTIFA and what are their goals?

Antifa is a non-violent, decentralized political movement against fascism in the United States. The name “Antifa” is an abbreviation for “Anti-Fascism”. Right-wing media has blamed Antifa in recent months for looting and rioting in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement, but in reality, Antifa is closer to an ideology than a “terrorist organization” as it has been referred to. Antifa is made up of local activists throughout the country and abroad who “campaign against actions they view as authoritarian, homophobic, racist or xenophobic” (New York Times). The Southern Poverty Law Center defines Antifa as “a broad, community-based movement composed of individuals organizing against racial and economic injustice”. 

How can I be actively Anti-Fascist?

One of the best ways to be actively anti-facist is to educate yourself. Educating yourself about things that are affecting you and others around you, especially marginalized peoples, is important so that these issues are not able to pass quietly into effect. Educating others is important as well to promote widespread understanding of actions and policies that may be racist, xenophobic, or homophobic. Another way to be actively anti-racist is to attend protests or support grassroots movements that are actively working to promote change in their communities. 

Further research:

Work Cited: 

Eco, Umberto. “Ur-Fascism.” The New York Review of Books, 29 Aug. 2020, www.nybooks.com/articles/1995/06/22/ur-fascism/?lp_txn_id=997678

Bogel-burroughs, Nicholas, and Sandra E. Garcia. “What Is Antifa, the Movement Trump Wants to Declare a Terror Group?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Sept. 2020, www.nytimes.com/article/what-antifa-trump.html

Fogarty, Brian E. Fascism Why Not Here? 1st ed., 1st ed., Potomac Books, 2009. 

Renton, David. The New Authoritarians : Convergence on the Right. Haymarket Books, 2019. 

Finchelstein, Federico. A Brief History of Fascist Lies. 1st version, 1st ed., University of California Press, 2020. https://ccl.on.worldcat.org/oclc/8560678466

“Designating Antifa as Domestic Terrorist Organization Is Dangerous, Threatens Civil Liberties.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 2 June 2020, www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2020/06/02/designating-antifa-domestic-terrorist-organization-dangerous-threatens-civil-liberties

PATRIARCHY AND FASCISM

What is patriarchy, hyper masculinity, and feminism, in the context of fascism?

Patriarchy is a system of society, government, economics, religion, etc. that institutionalizes concepts of gender such that cisgender men hold primary power and are dominant to those of other genders. 

Feminism is widely interpreted, but at large, feminism aims to empower subordinate genders prescribed through patriarchy to achieve equality for those of all gender identities. Feminism is also inherently intersectional and is influenced by matters of racism, ableism, economic oppression, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc. Gender equality cannot be achieved as long as communities within those of marginal gender identities continue to be oppressed on other levels. 

Patriarchy plays an important role in fascism. Historically, gender-based oppression has been used to dominate communities and empower cisgender men who adopt strong masculine roles. At the core of fascism are aims of re-establishing traditionalist systems, such as patriarchy, in the family, government, and society. Eugene Weber is an eminent historian who frequently writes about the role of patriarchy in fascism, claiming that fascism is the response to the rising power of women

For more information about these terms or the role of patriarchy in fascism, you can read the next few questions or visit the following links:

·  Intersectional Feminism defined by the United Nations: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/6/explainer-intersectional-feminism-what-it-means-and-why-it-matters

·  Article on Patriarchy by Linda Napikoski: https://www.thoughtco.com/patriarchal-society-feminism-definition-3528978

·  Blog Post about Fascism and Patriarchy by Theo Horish: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/01/fascism-is-always-patriarchal-anti-feminist/

What role does patriarchy play in fascism historically?

Historically, fascist regimes have aimed to reinstate patriarchal ideology in all facets of life: the government, society, and the structure of family, to name a few. Often, fascist regimes are built upon the destruction of progressive attitudes. Prior to Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, Berlin witnessed the materialization of experimental art, gay acceptance, and liberation for women and children. The Nazi party had initially founded themselves on traditionalist values, reforming the radical attitudes that supported such progress and reestablishing patriarchy. Similar trends have been identified in the development of many fascist regimes across history. During the French revolution, the concept of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” hallmarked the fascist party, as subscribers called for the return to stable male dominance. Though still in place today, fraternity ideals often refer to the distribution of power across exclusively male networks and were formed in response to the infiltration of male-dominated spaces by women. 

Fascism has a critical relationship with feminism and the rise to power of women and gender-oppressed peoples. Exploring this reactionary element of fascism is very much relevant to the rise of fascism in the US.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of fascism as it relates to feminism and patriarchy, you can visit the following sources:

·  Blog Posts and articles about Fascism and Patriarchy by Theo Horish: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/01/fascism-is-always-patriarchal-anti-feminist/

· https://www.aljumhuriya.net/en/content/fascism-forced-regression-patriarchy

·  Fascism and Patriarchy by Anuradha Gandhy:  https://www.marxists.org/archive/gandhy/2001/00001.htm

·  “Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party: Domestic fascist networks and their effect on U.S. cold war politics” by Eugene Weber (Goodreads link provided): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/633705.Old_Nazis_the_New_Right_and_the_Republican_Party

Who are the Proud Boys and other ‘brotherhoods’ in the United States, and what are they doing?

When thinking about fascism today in the US, you’ll often come across groups such as the Proud Boys, the KKK, and other white supremacist organizations. These groups have many oppressive ideals, but they often unite as ‘brotherhoods’ to perpetuate their discriminatory beliefs and practices. And even more broadly, you’ll often find branches of the government and military who refer to themselves as ‘brotherhoods’ or ‘brothers in arms.’ The concept of brotherhood has been long established in the United States, and such groups exist through many domains with various beliefs and gravities. For example, the Greek fraternity is a seemingly trivial collegiate tradition, yet its foundation is the same as that of the Proud Boys or the KKK. At their core, each of these groups aims to harbor a sense of male dominance and reinstate patriarchal ideals as a reaction to the infiltration of marginalized genders or communities in their previously male-dominated spaces.

As discussed in the previous question, fascist regimes have a historical tendency to rise to power in response to the demand for equality by those of marginalized genders and with progressive ideologies. Moreover, the relationship between these groups and Trumpism proves their interests lie in reclaiming power and reinstating the patriarchal ideals on which their groups were founded.

To learn more about Trumpism and the role of these groups in modern US fascism, refer to the Q&A guide or visit the following links:

·  “Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party: Domestic fascist networks and their effect on U.S. cold war politics” by Eugene Weber (Goodreads link provided): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/633705.Old_Nazis_the_New_Right_and_the_Republican_Party

·  Article on the alt-right and US fascism:  https://itsgoingdown.org/rich-kids-fascism-alt-right-didnt-start-trump-wont-end-either/

·  Fascism in America: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/fascism-america/

·  Swiping Right: The Allure of Hyper Masculinity and Cryptofascism for Men Who Join the Proud Boys (Kutner, 2020) https://icct.nl/publication/swiping-right-the-allure-of-hyper-masculinity-and-cryptofascism-for-men-who-join-the-proud-boys/

CLASS AND FASCISM

How has the GOP historically appealed to the working class?

(sourced from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/09/17/why-white-blue-collar-voters-love-president-trump/)

In the 1970s, concentrated efforts to appeal to the blue-collar/working class — through media and political messaging — became commonplace in an attempt to mobilize a new voting bloc. Such messaging was often thinly-cloaked racialized language; Timothy J. Lombardo writes that the bloc felt “under siege” as the civil rights movement grew in reach and influence, and that its members felt threatened by the prospect of desegregation, as existing racial boundaries by and large benefited them and blue-collar livelihood. This often manifested (and still manifests) in language that upheld the value of “hard work” and “family” — terms that call upon the ideals of the nuclear family and American Dream-constructed meritocracy  — in an effort to eschew proclaiming racist beliefs. We still see these euphemisms at work today, in the form of stereotypes of deadbeat Black fathers or descriptions of majority-minority neighborhoods as “ghetto.” Indeed, one large conflict during the 70s revolved around the construction of public housing, which many blue-collar whites wished to prevent believing that it would invite low-income populations and racial minorities.

In the late 1970s and 80s, President Ronald Reagan employed populist techniques that leveraged this existing vocabulary and blue-collar resentment. Upon his 1981 election, he harnessed their growing unrest by promising that he sided with them and the ideals of “family, work, and neighborhood.” Using this language, Reagan converted typically-Democratic-aligned voters into “Reagan Democrats.” Lombardo notes that his appeal was not the result of carefully-explained policy, but rather one based on pathos and ‘empathy’ for the blue-collar voting bloc’s discontent — one stemming from their belief that “welfare queens” had robbed them of their livelihoods and their culture.

How does this manifest today/in the Trump era?

(sourced from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/09/17/why-white-blue-collar-voters-love-president-trump/, https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/34864122/BJS_Trumps_Electoral_Speeches.pdf)

Donald Trump employs similar populist techniques and leverages the “racially rooted but class-forward” (Lombardo/The Washington Post) sensibilities and priorities of the blue-collar population. Even now, the messaging is far more one based on emotion than on logic. Reports show that, in fact, Trump-era policies often actively work against economic blue-collar interests. Trump rhetoric has managed to recapture and foreground the racial divides and racist values that are foundational to working-class identity. Where the bloc felt ignored and downtrodden (e.g. in the 70s and in the face of transformative or progressive policy), recent years have seen the GOP strengthening blue-collar loyalty by using these tactics. What’s more is that Trump has actually managed to secure this support in non-white populations, simultaneously being “class-forward” and further harnessing American white populism for the sake of a) further radicalizing white supporters and b) dodging accusations of racism by way of his encouragement of the Hispanic/Black working class. 

Harvard students Bo Yun Park and Elena Ayala-Hurtado also analyzed Trump’s campaign trail speeches in an effort to deconstruct his appeal to the white working class. In particular, they outline five tactics that he used to boost class morale:

  1. Willingness to vocalize sympathy with a class that feels shunned by globalization and diversification
  2. Echoing their resentment for “more privileged” and respected populations, such as establishment politicians and the economically-advantaged
  3. Continuing moral judgment of refugees/immigrants and Muslims
  4. Asserting that racial minorities (if legal residents), especially Black and Hispanic populations, are included in the blue-collar population that he supports
  5. Positioning working class men as “protectors” of marginalized populations

What role do upper-class Americans play in the political climate?

Political opinion polls can be used to predict what issues and potential policy an elected official will address based on voter interest.  However, these polls only survey middle and working class citizens.  In doing this, the views of wealthy individuals who provide large campaign donations are hidden.  While this is not surprising, seeing as billionaires are very hard to contact and some stay out of the public sphere completely, the absence of vocalized political views from upper-class individuals gives the impression that they are not involved in politics.  

In a Jacobin interview from 2019, Professor Matthew Lacombe argues that U.S. government policy caters more towards wealthy Americans and discusses a study of the political activity of the wealthiest 100 Americans over the course of a decade.  The group consisted of predominantly older, white men.  The findings of the research concluded that they are silent around politics in public, but they are extremely politically active.  Lacombe also saw that a majority of the billionaires aligned with far right-wing values, specifically on economic issues.  Although some of the members lean more liberal on social issues, they likely do not have public interest at heart.  Billionaires with many employees view immigration as an economic issue and often advocate for immigration rights in order to obtain more workers that will work for less compensation.  

 Complete transparency from both government officials and upper-class individuals needs to be called for.  Without some level of accountability, billionaires will continue to hold an advantage over working and middle class citizens and the government will appear untrustworthy for engaging in secretive and discriminatory communications.

What are upper-class conservatives so afraid of?

Lacombe briefly introduces the concept of ‘stealth politics,’ a strategy in which billionaires manipulate public policy in a direction favorable to them in opposition to the beliefs of average Americans.  Through large financial contributions and involvement in organizations, these wealthy individuals are able to advance an agenda that may not be popular among those affected without having to sit through public discussion.  Engaging in stealth politics is more common for a person whose wealth came from inheritance or a consumer-facing industry, in order to protect the family name from scrutiny.  For example, the Koch brothers, inheritors of the Koch Industries company and adamant criticizers of the Affordable Care Act, are conservatives, though that was not always clear as they would stay out of the spotlight and make few controversial public comments.  After gaining electoral success following both Presidential and Congressional elections, many policy changes involving reductions of pensions and Medicaid and Obamacare in several states ensued.  

Super Rich Irony, an article from the New Yorker writes about the criticism Wall Street financiers had for President Obama, even going as far as to compare his administration to “Hitler’s Third Reich” and describing their feelings of being victimized by the president.   Apart from calling for higher taxes on the upper-class and questioning the fairness of Wall Street tax rates, Obama had not done much to negatively impact them and had even given them a relief package and shielded them from criminal prosecution, but they still feel that they have been vilified.  In building hostility towards Obama, billionaires are able to transfer some of their guilt without acknowledging their own behavior.  

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