Charlottesville was not the first time in recent memory the Nazis, the Klan and other “white nationalist” organizations have marched in the streets brazenly proclaiming their vile creed of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and race hatred. Yet, the events in Charlottesville seemed to mark a qualitative difference: A torch light rally accompanied by openly Nazi slogans of “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us” on August 11 was followed by a daylight rally of hatred which culminated in James Fields, a neo-Nazi who was photographed marching with the Vanguard America group, ramming a car into a crowd of counter-protesters murdering a protester, Heather Heyer.
The Klan was once a powerful force in American politics boasting over 4 million members with senators, governors and even a supreme court judge among its members. However a decades-long decline has reduced the Klan to squabbling factions; explicitly Nazi organizations have never been more than a momentary blip on the news feed. Yet, here were emboldened rightists, seemingly in ascendance. What could account for this resurgence? Perhaps the belief that one of “their” supporters was in the White House. Former Klan Imperial Grand Wizard David Duke, who was present in Charlottesville, remarked that the neo-Nazis were in Charlottesville to “To take our country back. To fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. ”
But is Trump a fascist? Certainly Trump’s chauvinist “Make American Great Again” and “America First” rhetoric echo the far-right’s nationalism, and Trump’s seemingly bottomless narcissism is reminiscent of the fascist cult of the leader. In addition, Trump has shown an eagerness to engage in dog whistle politics for his base: his defence of Confederate statues as (white) heritage and the continued use of the term “globalism” (eerily reminiscent of Nazi code for Jews) have only encouraged the far-right. Yet, Trump remains within the framework of bourgeois democratic politics albeit with an authoritarian bent.
For bourgeois politicians, pro-forma denunciations of explicitly Nazi or racist groups is not unusual, even though successive Republican and Democratic politicians have felt free to plunder elements of the program to suit their needs as well as engaging in nudges and winks to their supporters. The Republican National Committee unanimously adopted a resolution against white supremacy August 25, yet its platform contains many of the same ideas.
Trump however has broken with this unofficial policy. Much to the delight of the neo-Nazis, such as the Daily Stormer Trump’s initial response was to equivocate between the neo-Nazis and Antifa, arguing that there was violence in Charlottesville, “on many sides.” Responding to the pressure from the media his own party, and even within his administration, a tight-lipped Trump read a stronger statement on August 14 denouncing the Nazis and the Klan. This obviously forced-upon statement stood a single day before Trump went back to his original position statement, but went further, arguing that there were “very fine people on both sides” and reiterating the notion that rightists were simply defending history and the heritage of the south. This, like the rhetoric around state’s rights, is a talking point for White supremacists who argue that statues of Lee and his ilk represent the (white) south’s history – a history of lynching and white supremacy. David Duke tweeted to thank Trump for his remarks in identifying the “terrorists” of the left.
The reaction of the media and the political establishment was swift and savage, denouncing Trump for his even-handed equation of the two sides. Yet, this was a curious reaction, and certainly not an expected one. While in the period since the Second World War, the US has shown revulsion for fascism, it has only been when it suited its purpose to do so. Indeed, the US has shown a marked preference for authoritarian and neo-fascist regimes ever since the war; instead a revulsion for “communism” or leftist regimes has been a much more consistent policy.
So why then, did the US ruling class react so strongly against this position? A significant section of the US ruling class, extending beyond the Democratic Party, does not support Trump and would rather have him, if not replaced by a more malleable figure such as Mike Pence, then at least have Trump’s authority reduced in favour of trusted elements within Trump’s administration such as the military.
Since the events of Charlottesville, the state has presented a front of ‘democratic citizens standing up against fascism,’ idealizing and glorifying the Second World War and America ever since as leading the struggle for democracy against fascism. When John McCain is able to write in The Washington Post on September 1, “Most of us share Heather Heyer’s values, not the depravity of the man who took her life, ” there can be no other conclusion.
By concentrating criticism on the neo-Nazi right, the capitalist state (and here we mean not just the state itself, but also the media, the political parties, business, the unions etc.) seek to further cement that alliance by drawing in protest groups such as Black Lives Matter or Antifa – the embrace of a BLM leader and the Mayor of Boston prior to an anti-White nationalist rally in that city illustrates the point.
With the visible resurgence of organized fascist groups, the flood of patriotic and nostalgic anti-fascism across the internet and social media has been inescapable. Yet, the Second World War was a war between imperialist powers; it was not a war to fight fascism, not a war to save the Jews, not a war to save the world for democracy, but rather a war to divide the world into new spheres of influence. The workers on all sides were merely cannon fodder.
The real enemy of the state is not neo-Nazi elements. Rather they are being utilized as a pretext to reinforce the state with democracy as the “glue” that holds it together.
What then of Antifa? In a sense it is wrong to speak of Antifa as an organization since, beyond a common commitment to confronting fascist groups, Antifa is locally organized into collectives in a national network. With its current media prominence, Antifa may become a shorthanded for a broad opposite to racism or fascism, an ideology as ultimately supportive of the liberal state democratic despite Trump’s continued efforts as demonstrated by his bellow at a rally in Phoenix:
“They show up in the helmets and the black masks and they have clubs and everything. Antifa!”
Yet, Fascism is not a mass movement in the United States. Nor is it likely to become one. Trump uses racism, and the cult of a strong leader not to undermine democracy but to divide the exploited and to reinforce nationalism. His friend Steve Bannon, now supporting Trump from outside the government, is not an ideological brother of the Nazis of Charlottesville, whom he was quick to dismiss as “clowns” and “losers, ” but that should give us no comfort. Trump and Bannon are using democracy and all its tools to push the US and the world further on a path towards greater exploitation, more war, more ecological destruction.
The choice today is not fascism or democracy. Both are tools of capital; both are murderous and repressive. The fight against white supremacist and other racist ideologies bears only a perspective of liberation if it’s connected to the struggle to end capitalism. Otherwise, it will be recuperated and turned into an instrument to purify democracy and thereby to reinforce the capitalist state.
When Insurrections Die (1998)
“The essence of anti-fascism consists in resisting fascism by defending
democracy: one no longer struggles against capitalism but seeks to
pressure capitalism into renouncing the totalitarian option. Since
socialism is identified with total democracy, and capitalism with an
accelerating tendency to fascism, the antagonisms between proletariat
and capital, communism and wage-labour, proletariat and state, are
rejected for a counterposition of democracy and fascism presented as the
quintessential revolutionary perspective. The official left and far left
tell us that a real change would be the realization, at last, of the
ideals of 1789, endlessly betrayed by the bourgeoisie.”
NOTE: A version of this article posted last week, incorrectly identified Heather Heyer as an IWW member. Read the IWW ‘s statement on Heyer.