Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 9, 2020

Fascism, Trumpism, and the left

Filed under: Counterpunch,Fascism,Trump — louisproyect @ 2:32 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 9, 2020

Ever since the 1964 election, liberals and many radicals have referred to the Republican presidential candidate as a fascist threat. When Goldwater accepted the Republican nomination, Democratic California Gov. Pat Brown said, “The stench of fascism is in the air.” Those worries continued through the Nixon years, abated somewhat under Bush ’41, then waxed again under Bush ’43. Today, they loom larger than ever, with Donald Trump’s outside chance of being re-elected in November.

Invoking the 1932 election in Germany, some leftists urge a vote for Joe Biden to keep Trump from consolidating the fascist regime he began constructing in 2016. While not mentioning the word fascism, a letter  signed by Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West and 52 other notable leftists insists that we vote for Biden, especially in swing states. Chomsky probably spoke for the entire group when he told The Intercept:

“Failure to vote for Biden in this election in a swing state amounts to voting for Trump. Takes one vote away from the opposition, same as adding one vote to Trump. So, if you decide you want to vote for the destruction of organized human life on Earth. . . then do it openly. . . . But that’s the meaning of ‘Never Biden’”.

Even before Trump’s 2016 victory, Chomsky fixated on the threat fascism posed. When Chris Hedges interviewed him in 2010, he compared the U.S.A. to Weimar Germany: “It is very similar to late Weimar Germany. The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”

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13 Comments »

  1. major piece to clarify where we are luis…the over-drumming of Trump the fascist only serves ro divert attention from the vacuity of the Dems and Biden…their inability to pose a real difference in policy…my piece in CP: https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/09/02/authoritarian-anarchism-meets-autocratic-soul-searching/

    Comment by John — October 9, 2020 @ 3:04 pm

  2. I think this is missing a few different things. First, I would agree with the claim that we cannot argue that Trump is an outside fascistic force intent upon taking over the organs of the state via a March on Rome or alternatively a process of “Nazification” wherein Hitler overnight converted the Weimar state government systems into those in service of the Nazi Party, thereby ending their independence.

    But I also disagree with the claim that a fascist development is by default dependent upon a rather mechanistic dialectic whereby the antithesis is a “Communist threat.” This is mistaken because it seeks to impose the norms of the European parliamentary system upon the American Federalist system. Even though European parliaments and American Federalism share as a norm of governance elections, they are radically different in almost every other regard. Conflating the two is a foundational failure of radical analysis in this country. The divergences are far more numerous than the similarities. As just one instance, the norm of the parliamentary system after an election is for the victors to begin a process of form a government. By contrast, in the USA the inauguration of a new president transfers power to a new Chief Executive within what has been one continuous, singular government dating back to 1789 when George Washington took power.

    This is important because it relates to the reality of American power relations and fascism. The folks at Black Agenda Report have made the very cogent argument that a fascistic take-over has taken place within the past 50 years as a response to the movements of the 1960s. But rather than being in the form of a coup, it took place in the realm of the police/security agencies and manifested in the mass Black incarceration GULAG archipelago. Ergo the “Communist threat” did and does exist, even if it does not manifest in an organized vanguard party at this moment.

    Finally, the desire to use the word fascism in America simply misses the point entirely, that fascism was modeled on American settler colonialism and the Monroe doctrine. Hitler sought to make Germany more like America and failed whereas America succeeded in further consolidating its position in the world system. Trotsky’s words might have some insights but that oversight renders him hopelessly deficient in key ways. Robert Paxton is no radical by any means but at least he acknowledged in his book on fascism the key role played by the US as inspiration of the European fascist projects.

    Comment by stew312856 — October 9, 2020 @ 5:52 pm

  3. Sorry, Stew, I can’t agree with you that the Monroe Doctrine helped to “model” Fascism. It was originally an anti-imperialist statement that colonization of the New World was at an end. And while current (i.e., 1820s) European possessions were acknowledged by the USA, it was declared that any new colonization efforts would be looked upon as unfriendly acts. It also originally served as a justification for off-the-record American efforts to support the South American bourgeois revolutions against certain of the colonial powers (e.g., building battle-cruisers for Gran Colombia Navy, against Spain, etc.)

    Now, it’s true that as early as the Polk administration of the 1840s the Monroe Doctrine was being distorted to justify American intervention in its “backyard.” But that was a distortion of its original intent. Today, of course, it has been transformed into its opposite, so that Monroe would likely not recognize it.

    Comment by Kurt T Hill — October 9, 2020 @ 6:28 pm

  4. “If Trump poses the same threat as Hitler in 1932, the only conclusion you can draw is that it is a counter-revolution without a revolution…… Today, such genuinely fascist-like states will likely not reappear for the simple reason that Communism and leftwing socialism of the Allende variety disappeared.”

    Although this piece correctly points to plenty of relevant differences between the US in 2020 and previous cases where leftists have used the term “fascism,” there wasn’t even an attempt to show that we are safe from any such dangers. That is the only thing I would have found reassuring. Whether the term “fascism” applies obviously depends on how broadly you want to define that term. There are plenty of times I’ve joined people in shouting “fascists!” at the police or calling a policy or law “fascistic” whereas, if you had asked me afterwards, I would have denied that the term properly applied. Forget the term; do the actions that will be taken against the left threaten our very existence as occurred in Nazi Germany and Indonesia under Suharto? If someone could convince me that the ruling classes’ adoption of far-right tactics and ideologies in the US, Brazil, Russia, Hungary (etc.) will automatically be prevented from passing some threshold, then please do and I will sleep much better at night. But I haven’t seen it yet.

    By talking about a “counter-revolution without a revolution” and the lack of explicitly socialist/communist movements among the working class in these countries, the same error, in which the course of history is determined by the scope of a word’s definition, is applied to the working class and oppressed. There are plenty of reasons that working class movements might avoid terms such as “communist” or even “socialist” in the US (which is thankfully changing). And there are many reasons that people who are communists don’t use that term in their political agitation, contrary to the 1930’s. But so what? When Trump and his likes hear “Defund the police” it means exactly the same to them as revolution, inasmuch as the police are the main direct instruments of state power. The more ideological right-wing (yes, fascist) movements DO understand these terms and see everything from BLM to abortion rights as communist-inspired, and DO fear a worker’s revolution even if most of the activists involved haven’t reached that conclusion themselves (yet). If they take pro-active action to prevent us from reaching the points where classical fascism came to the fore, then they may well see themselves simply as having succeeded more quickly than Hitler was able to. And I’m afraid I’d agree with them 😦

    Comment by Jeff — October 9, 2020 @ 7:48 pm

  5. The reason IMO why it is important–even when the president of the US covertly encourages an armed plot to kidnap and murder the governor of a US state–to draw a distinction between historic fascism and quasi or crypto-fascism or bonapartism has less to do with some definitional shibboleth than with the problem posed by the erroneous and strategically disastrous idea that antifascism is the whole duty of the Left. The central importance of antifascism in the past lay precisely in the fact that fascism stood squarely in the way of a world revolution that actually threatened to happen. Today, this is not the case. So antifascism becomes the error of the manichean tendency, who cannot see a terrifying political reality for what it is, but insist on abstractly moralizing a conflict without a revolution, substituting conspiracism and a “fascist” enemies list for the desperately unequal last ditch struggle that the people must actually wage.

    The continuation of capitalism threatens the extinction of life itself. It is actually comforting to think that the fascist-like (and professedly fascist) adherents of Trump are the sole enemy and their defeat in physical or electoral conflict the only thing needed to “restore democracy.”

    So much more is needed, and the menace posed by the continuation of capitalism is so catastrophic in its implications, that focusing on antifascism as the whole struggle or even as the most important aspect of the struggle, is a sure guarantee of ultimate defeat.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — October 10, 2020 @ 12:20 pm

  6. It seems like an odd time to publish a piece like this considering a major conspiracy by a fascist militia to kidnap the governor of Michigan was just uncovered. Especially with Trump claiming in advance he won’t accept the outcome of the election and will mobilize federal law enforcement and fascist militias to physically “put down” any “leftists” who oppose his planned seizure of power.

    Some other things don’t make much sense either.

    In what way is Amazon “the most important” aspect of the American economy? How does this fit into Marx’s critique of economy? How does calling something “outside the production sphere” as “the most important” fit into the labor theory of value?

    If all one million Amazon employees called in sick tomorrow life would go on.

    If all meat packers, farm workers, canners, coal miners, oil and gas drillers (yes, including the dreaded “frackers”), train engineers, power plant workers, truck drivers and bus drivers went on strike tomorrow, all of society would grind to a screeching hault, even if they are outnumbered by white collar criminals in New York and San Francisco.

    Unlike such a general strike, adding another bourgeois party to the mix won’t help working people in any way. Whether there are 2, 3 or 115 bourgeois parties in contention, capitalism will continue on. It doesn’t matter if they’re red, blue, or “green”. It only matters that they uphold capitalism and capitalist class rule, reformed, “normal”, or “fascist.”

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — October 10, 2020 @ 3:58 pm

  7. In what way is Amazon “the most important” aspect of the American economy?

    —-

    I have no idea, especially since I didn’t say this.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 10, 2020 @ 4:50 pm

  8. So how do we interpret this?

    “Unlike the 1960s, when auto, steel and coal were industries that revolutionaries ‘colonized’, the most important sectors of the American economy are outside the production sphere. Amazon has one million workers but they produce absolutely nothing. ”

    Especially when the U.S. manufacturing industry employed 2.56 million in December 2017.

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — October 11, 2020 @ 6:53 am

  9. https://www.backgroundchecks.com/community/Post/5836/Top-10-Largest-Employers-in-the-USA
    Top 10 Largest Employers in the USA
    By Michael Klazema on 11/21/2018

    From retail to food service to package delivery, the ten largest employers in the United States span a range of different industries. Whether you are seeking a job or running a business and wondering what the biggest competitors in your industry are doing, it can be instructive to look at the characteristics of the ten most massive U.S. employers. Below, find the ten biggest employers in the country plus links to the background check and hiring policies for each of these companies.

    Note that employee numbers for each business do not necessarily reflect the number of employees in the United States alone—most of the companies on this list have global footprints.

    The Company: Walmart

    Number of Employees: 2.3 million

    Walmart occupies the number-one position on many lists. In 2018, the retail chain reported more than $500 billion in revenues. That figure makes Walmart the largest company in the world by revenue—a fact reflected in the company’s number-one position on the Fortune Global list. Walmart’s 2.3 million global employees make it the largest private employer on the planet. In total, Walmart operates more than 11,700 stores in 28 countries around the world—though they don’t all go by the same name: Walmart also operates Sam’s Club retail stores. Roughly 5,350 of Walmart’s stories are located on United States soil.

    The Company: Amazon

    Number of Employees: 541,900

    Amazon sits at number eight on the 2018 Fortune 500 list but clocks in at number two regarding employees. Since it was founded in 1994, Amazon has reshaped the retail landscape not just in the United States but around the world. Amazon can be credited for the rapid rise of internet shopping and is today the largest internet retailer in the world. In addition to selling virtually anything you could think of through its website, Amazon also operates a publishing division, a film and television studio, and numerous electronics lines.

    The Company: Kroger

    Number of Employees: 443,000

    Founded in the 1880s in Cincinnati, Ohio, Kroger stands as the largest supermarket chain in the United States. The company has more than 2,700 grocery stores spread across 35 states and Washington, D.C.

    The Company: Yum! Brands

    Number of Employees: 420,000

    Yum! Brands is the collective name given to the company that operates American fast food restaurants Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, and WingStreet. Yum! Brands is based in Louisville, Kentucky, but has restaurants located in 135 countries and territories throughout the world. Most of those stores (more than 43,000) are franchised, with fewer than 1,500 being company-owned. These counts reflect many restaurants in the United States, including 5,600 Taco Bell locations and 6,500 Pizza Hut locations. WingStreet shares locations with Pizza Hut in roughly 5,000 restaurants throughout the United States and Canada.

    The Company: The Home Depot

    Number of Employees: 406,000

    Based in Atlanta, The Home Depot operates home improvement stores in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam. The company also has stores throughout Mexico and Canada. In total, the company has more than 2,200 stories in North America, most of them (1,980) in the United States.

    The Company: IBM

    Number of Employees: 380,000

    International Business Machines Corporation is a company with its hands in many pots. IBM holds more patents than any other U.S. business, credited with inventing the ATM, the hard disk, the magnetic stripe card, and SQL programming language among other innovations. IBM is a manufacturer of both hardware and software and a provider of IT services in addition to its role in technology research. The company owns an array of other businesses, including PwC Consulting and The Weather Company.

    The Company: McDonald’s

    Number of employees: 375,000

    Perhaps the most iconic fast food restaurant in the world, McDonald’s has more than 37,000 locations worldwide. More than 14,000 of those restaurants are in the United States, where McDonald’s was founded in the 1940s and where its headquarters remains today. While Subway has more store locations, McDonald’s stands as the world’s largest restaurant chain regarding revenue.

    The Company: Berkshire Hathaway

    Number of Employees: 367,700

    Berkshire Hathaway is a conglomerate holding company that owns many recognizable and well-known companies. Berkshire Hathaway holdings include GEICO, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, Pampered Chef, and BNSF Railroad. The company also has majority stock holdings in numerous companies (including Kraft Heinz) and minority holdings in several others (including American Express, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola, and Apple). Berkshire Hathaway is perhaps most famous for its chairman and CEO: influential billionaire Warren Buffet.

    The Company: FedEx

    Number of Employees: 335, 767

    Founded in 1971, FedEx is a delivery services company based in Memphis, Tennessee. The company is known for providing fast (often overnight) shipping. FedEx created the package tracking technology that other carrier services—from the United States Postal Services to UPS—now use regularly.

    The Company: United Parcel Services

    Number of Employees: 335,520

    Speaking of UPS, the United Parcel Service has almost the same number of employees as FedEx. Like FedEx, UPS is known primarily as a package shipping and delivery service company. However, UPS also has a hand in the broader logistics market and offers services to businesses seeking assistance with supply chain management.

    Jobs with these companies range from warehouse work and retail store floor positions to jobs in the corporate boardroom. In most cases, the most common jobs with each business on this list are on-the-ground positions, including cashiers and sales associates in retail and food service businesses; delivery drivers for UPS and FedEx; and individuals in charge of order fulfillment for Amazon. Based on the wide range of potential open positions with each company at any moment, salaries, benefits, hiring standards, and other factors differ significantly.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 11, 2020 @ 12:15 pm

  10. That’s a list of the largest employers in the US. What does that have to do with my questions?

    Is the largest employer “the most important”? How do you reconcile this with Marx’s critique of economy? How does this fit into the labor theory of value?

    Where do you think profit comes from sir? Or even commodities?

    C-M-C’ remember? Of course there must be circulation. This doesn’t discount production.

    What would UPS and Fed Ex move around without production workers? What would Amazon, Kroger, the HomeDepot or Yum sell without production workers and farm workers? In what way is a Fed Ex driver “more important” than the worker who made the thing he delivered?

    Thank you for the clarification.

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — October 13, 2020 @ 11:59 am

  11. Over 40 percent of Amazon’s goods are made in China, for example. In the 1930s, all cars sold in the USA were made here. Now, it is 65 percent. The ability of the capitalist class to shift production overseas hangs like a sword over trade union organizers here, especially in the south where workers are easily intimidated. American steel companies produced 111 million tons in 1973, a peak amount. Last year it was 87 million tons. Overall, U.S. manufacturing employment has declined steadily as a share of total employment, from around 28% in 1960 to 8% in March 2017. What this means is a loss of class power. The only recourse workers have is to internationalize their struggle, with Fedex and Amazon workers launching joint actions with Chinese, Mexican and others. That can only happen when a new, class-struggle tendency emerges globally. Given the nationalistic tendencies of the labor aristocracy everywhere, this is no simple matter.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 13, 2020 @ 12:20 pm

  12. This may be a statement of the obvious, but …

    The actual producers (workers on the production line) create the *potential* surplus value, but it is still the case that the *potential* surplus value remains only a potential and still needs to be REALIZED.

    That only happens when the product is sold and delivered to the consumer.

    The act of selling/delivering has become far more complex with the supply chain and production having been disbursed throughout the world.

    The role of the Amazon workers (either in the warehouses, fulfillment centers, drivers, etc.) is therefore as central to REALIZING the profits as was the act of simply selling a product, in the 18th or 19th century. In both cases, just producing goods that sit around unsold brings no profits to the capitalist.

    Comment by Reza — October 13, 2020 @ 6:04 pm

  13. Beautifully said Louis, Nothing to add to that. However, the “colonization” of trade unions, or workplaces, was well underway since the organic creation of Unions, intimately Marxist: politicalization and leadership sprung from their raw material conditions. The 1950s, 1960s turmoils were against corruption of Unions, eg. Internationals became oppressive to non US ‘nationalistic’ Union activity. Fighting Communism was the most accurate way of describing it, since both Unions and Communism were synonymous. ‘Colonization’, as a tactic, has always been there, but a vanguard doesnt come from outside: more a sophisticated analysis, focus, politics and power that can be transferred, learned and developed. But, as you seem to say, that is when the working class had class and felt their own power..

    Comment by mike — October 14, 2020 @ 2:22 am


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