Salvage Magazine is one of a number of Marxist journals that have sprouted up in recent years joining Jacobin, N+1, and Endnotes. I am sympathetic to all of these publications even though I reserve the right to criticize them as the need arises. This is one of those occasions prompted by Salvage’s editorial on the Donald Trump campaign, which unfortunately exaggerates its fascist potential. I have been struck by the tendency of British Marxists, such as Salvage’s editors and some FB friends, to line up on this question with American liberals at places like Salon.com that has been pushing the Trump as fascist line as if it were Germany in 1931.
The editorial is titled “Lèse-Evilism: On the US Election Season”, a pun on lesser evilism that is a bit lost on me since I don’t read French. I took a stab with Google translation and it seems to mean “injured evilism” for what that’s worth. Leaving aside the politics, there is a certain archness in Salvage’s prose that puts me off a bit. For example, this is badly overwritten, reminding me a bit of a Social Text article:
Of course it’s sensible to start from an assumption of the rationality, Machiavellian rigour and strength of our enemies, and their power to push forward their (sometimes conflictual) agenda(s). But Trump is not part of grand Republican strategy. Nor is he precisely a pathology of it. He is an unintended consequence, no ex-nihilo Event but the culmination of a trend. He is an excr/essence thereof – essence and excressence in superposition.
I would have written: “Trump’s candidacy is a challenge to the Republican Party establishment” and left it at that. But that’s a mere peccadillo compared to the article’s main problem, which is to talk about Donald Trump and fascism with little regard to American realities.
Salvage puts its cards on the table: “Our position is that rather than Trump being just another bombastic right-winger or some strange anomaly of this moment, Trumpism is (potentially) nascent fascism. And that both theorising and organising should proceed on that basis.”
To start off, I am not sure if there’s much difference between “potentially” and “nascent” except as a belt-and-suspenders hedging device. “So what are you banging on about with this Trump fascism stuff?” “Well, we said it was only potentially nascent…”
The Salvage editors take exception to what ISO member Jennifer Roesch told Jacobin readers in December 2015: “For these establishment figures, charges of fascism are a cynical ploy to distance their own rhetoric and policies from Trump’s open displays of racism and bigotry. … [I]f our side succumbs to panic about Trump, we miss the greater dangers we face.” Dylan Riley, a UC Berkeley sociologist and author of “The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe: Italy, Spain, and Romania 1870-1945” agreed with Roesch: “[W]e should reject absolutely the hysterical lesser-evilism implicit in calling him ‘fascist’ … because it plays into the logic of supporting whomever emerges from the Democratic Party primary”.
So what is Salvage’s response to Roesch and Riley? It is: “But this is a logical fallacy: right-liberalism calls Trump a fascist; we are against right-liberalism; ergo Trump is not a fascist.” Actually, the debate should not pivot around “hysterical lesser-evilism” but the historical antecedents for fascism and whether we are in a period that has anything to do with the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Salazar. There is an attempt to engage with that question that is honest enough to admit that it is breaking with Marxist attempts to understand the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 30s:
Too many on the Left are driven by their opposition to this blackmail [of lesser-evilism] to rely on the comforts of outdated theoretical givens on this question, usually as post-facto justification. Especially in the chaotic political context of today, the procrustean bed of ‘classical Marxist’ categories by reference to which the existence or otherwise of some ideal-type ‘classical Fascism’ can be ascertained is decreasingly useful, if indeed it ever was.
Outdated theoretical givens? Procrustean beds of “classical Marxist” categories based on ideal types? Gosh, who wouldn’t want to avoid such tendencies especially given how nasty a procrustean bed was. Know what that was, folks? Procrustes was a figure from Greek mythology who used to cut off the feet of people who were too tall for the beds he kept for his unfortunate guests.
To answer those who insist on Trump being measured against a “Trotskyist check-list”, Salvage says that the standard of comparison for the 20s and 30s should be the KKK rather than the Nazi party. Now this would be an interesting discussion if the Salvage editors were willing to host it. It gets rather complicated in fact. In the 1930s FDR, the Bernie Sanders of his day, was in a bloc with the politicians in the South whose social base was identical to that of the KKK. Was FDR therefore worse than Donald Trump? A social fascist, so to speak? Inquiring minds would love to know.
What it all boils down to is this:
Though there is no official Trumpian black-shirt movement, it seems too sanguine and formalist not to consider the role of Trump-encouraged violence against the left at rallies, and the armed militias which are explicitly supporting him, such as ‘the Oath Keepers’, as potentially nascent forms of such organised violence. In this context, we should not be at all surprised by the announcement in mid-March 2016 of the formation of ‘The Lion’s Guard’ – the name itself redolent of inter-war kitsch – a militia ‘to provide security protection to innocent people who are subject to harassment and assault by Far-left agitators’ at Trump’s rallies. At the time of writing, the group is debating ‘uniform suggestions’.
This sort of febrile fear-mongering is hardly worth commenting on. Once again resorting to the hedging strategy of calling the Oath Keepers a “nascent” fascist group, there is no attempt to put this rightwing group into context. Unlike Golden Dawn or any other European fascist movement, they have yet to violently attack a single African-American. In fact, Morris Dees, the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an alarmist outfit of long standing, told Salon that he does not even consider them to be racist.
In terms of the Lion’s Guard, that was disbanded days after it was announced. In fact, it never amounted to anything except a Twitter account. On Twitter, I could have formed an account called The Communist Workers Militia but that does not mean it has any substance. It sounds scary but on the Internet nobody can tell if you are a dog, after all.
Salvage believes that unlike what happened in Europe in the 1920s and 30s, Trumpism could triumph without ruling class support and then rule with their “accommodation”. People like Lindsey Graham might badmouth Trump on CNN or Fox News but once Trump is settled into the White House, he will go along to get along.
I wonder if the Salvage comrades have ever taken five minutes to think of what it would mean to have something roughly equivalent to Nazi Germany with Donald Trump as the American Führer.
These are the sorts of changes we can expect to see:
- The constitution would be suspended and the USA would be ruled by a single party called The Iron Fist or something along those lines. Centrist Republicans and virtually the entire Democratic Party would be arrested and put into concentration camps along with every “civil society” figure that defended democratic rights. George Soros would be picked up in the middle of the night and hauled off to Rikers Island where he would be put into a cell and beaten mercilessly until he made a confession on TV that Donald Trump was essential to preserve the vital bodily essence of the country as General Jack D. Ripper said in “Doctor Strangelove”.
- A new government agency would have to be created in order to “purify” the educational system and the information available to the population. All the leftists would be removed from Columbia University, NYU et al and send to prison or killed including Eric Foner and Gayatri Spivak. The media would have to be revamped totally. The NY Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, et al would be taken over by Trump loyalists who would now write articles that extol the maximum leader’s every policy decision. Amazon.com would be put under the control of a government official who would go through the database and delete every “dangerous” book starting with Noam Chomsky and drilling down to those that are even a bit questionable like The Hunger Games novels or Allen Ginsberg’s poetry books.
- The military would be brought into line with new fascist realities. Those Generals who have made statements about refusing to carry out illegal orders under a Trump presidency would be rounded up and either imprisoned or killed. They would be replaced by those who were obedient to the maximum leader and willing to carry out his instructions that NATO be liquidated. (Of course, there are any number of CounterPunch authors who might cheer over this.)
- The cops and army would invade Latino neighborhoods and round up people without proper papers and send them back to where they came from. Ooops. I forgot. That is current policy under Obama.