A FASCIST IN THE WHITE HOUSE?
(Followed by an International Dialogue)
BY GARY ZABEL @AUTONOMIA75
I’ve studied fascism on and off for the past forty-five years. In college I thought that New Leftists were using the word much too loosely. For example, it was common for student activists, underground newspapers, and left-wing publications to refer to Nixon and even Humphrey as fascists. But the problem with using the word as shorthand for any political opponent at all is that it makes it difficult to recognize the real fascists when they arrive. However, we are no longer in the 1960s. We now face the question, are they here in 2016? Donald Trump’s election to the presidency on November 8 poses the question of fascism with a stark and pressing immediacy that it has not had, in the United States at least, since the 1920s and 30s.
Classical fascism is a European phenomenon. It began in Italy, in the aftermath of a failed workers’ revolution, the occupation of the metal-working factories in 1920 in the “northern triangle” of Milan, Genoa, and Turin. The onset of fascism consisted in the formation of right-wing paramilitary squads, the fasci di combattimento. Consisting largely of disgruntled war veterans as well as common thugs, the fasci (literally bundles, but in this case squads), battled with communists, socialists, and trade unionists, beating many, killing some, and setting fire to the homes and headquarters of others. The rise of fascism continued with the former socialist, Benito Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922, his appointment by the king of Italy as head of the Italian government, and his slow and uneven consolidation of power over the following five or six years. When finished, all political parties other than the fascist party were banned, legal protections against abuse of police power were removed, special political courts were created, and Mussolini reigned supreme as il Duce. The fascist state took control of all means of mass communication, pioneered in the development of a modern propaganda apparatus, using the recently invented media of cinema and radio, and subordinated Italian culture in general to the fascist quest for a unified authoritarian state. The official purpose of that state was to solve the problem of class antagonism by developing “corporatist,” guild-like structures integrating proletariat and bourgeoisie into the overarching unity of the nation; reinvigorate the dynamic, expansive life-force at the root of all personal and national greatness; and expand both the domestic territory of the nation and its colonial possessions by means of heroic warfare in which soldiers would exhibit their contempt for comfort, pleasure, and other “bourgeois” values by courting death as an alternative to mere animal existence. All of this would be unified by an established hierarchy of command and obedience, and by the charismatic leader in whom the “totalitarian” (Mussolini’s own word) state was personified. Except for a handful of communists, socialists, and labor activists working underground, the enemies of the regime were either dead or rotting in prison after the fascists consolidated power. Probably the most brilliant mind of his generation, the Communist Party leader, Antonio Gramsci, was imprisoned for sixteen years, and finally released only to his hospital deathbed. Nevertheless, Gramsci was able to write his magisterial Prison Notebooks during this period, which his sister-in-law smuggled out of jail. They are indisputably one of the great contributions to twentieth-century political thought, and include an analysis of the history and politics of fascism that bears re-reading in light of our current situation.
Hitler was inspired by Mussolini, the only man he regarded as his equal, at least until il Duce became a client of the Nazi regime when the American army landed in Sicily in 1943. Adolph Hitler, of course, was a bum, the impoverished son of a government clerk in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, who lived in Viennese men’s hostels, and never held a substantial job. But World War I gave him the opportunity to transcend his miserable existence by facing death on the battlefield. This would also place him in the ranks of disgruntled war veterans, from whom he would recruit his earliest and most fanatical followers. In the wake of Germany’s humiliation with the Treaty of Versailles that ended the First World War, and then the Great Depression that began with the stock market crash of 1929, Hitler’s uncanny oratorical and mimetic ability to embody the resentment and rage of his lower middle-class supporters enabled him to emerge at the head of the new National Socialist German Workers Party. Following Mussolini’s example, the party got its start by organizing paramilitary squads that battled the Left in the streets (the Sturmabteilung, or SA — Stormtroopers), and, somewhat later, conducted the first Nazi pogroms against German Jewry. Hitler’s rise to power was also similar to Mussolini’s in that it began with a parliamentary victory — his election as deputy to the Reichstag (the German parliament) and his subsequent appointment as Chancellor by the president of Germany, Hindenburg. Like Mussolini, it also took Hitler a few years to consolidate fascist state power, an effort that he accelerated by having the SA set fire to the Reichstag building, while blaming the arson on the communists. Soon after the Reichstag burned to the ground, Hitler rose to a status equivalent to that of Mussolini as il Duce; he became der Führer (both expressions mean “the leader”). Hitler proceeded to construct the Nazi state on the model of Italian fascism, but with an even greater ruthlessness, and with the significant addition of a program of racial purification that was foreign to Mussolini, and that ended in the annihilation of six million Jews.
Besides Italy and Germany, there were significant fascist movements in Austria, Hungary, England, Romania, Spain, Flanders, and Finland in the interwar period, though none of these gained control of their governments (except in Spain, in minor alliance with Franco’s Falangists). France had its own native quasi-fascist movement even before the Italians, the extreme right-wing Catholic, Action française that rallied anti-Semitic forces during the Dreyfus affair.
Fascist parties continued to exist after the defeat of Italy and Germany in World War Two, but as largely marginal phenomena, getting nowhere near state power. A partial exception is the Italian fascist movement, which, backed clandestinely by state security forces, fought against the worker and student Left from 1968 to 1977. It took a page from Hitler’s book, pursing a “strategy of tension,” i.e., blowing up public and civilian buildings and blaming it on the Left. Mussolini’s granddaughter, Alessandra Mussolini, also achieved some political success as a parliamentary deputy through her thinly veiled fascist party, Social Action. This postwar version of fascism is marked by its diminished ability to rely on mass rallies as instruments of mobilization as well as its substitution of a terrorist underground for publicly visible squads such as the fasci and SA. Let’s call parties of the Social Action variety, “neo-fascist.”
But we need to consider a more recent development. Over the past twenty years or so, parties have emerged, once again in Europe, that clearly have their historical origin in classical fascism, but renounce racism, anti-Semitism, and totalitarian revolution (at least for the moment) in order to operate in the relatively stable environment of representative government. By so doing, they have come close to winning state power. In fact, we are likely to see the election of one or more of these post-fascist parties soon in Germany (AfD), France (FN), or perhaps the Netherlands (PPV). The parties are nationalist, anti-immigration, anti-globalist, and anti-Islam, normally demanding, not only an end to new immigration, but the expulsion of the existing immigrant population as well, many of whom are from former colonies in Africa and the Middle East. The Brexit vote, including the party that led it, UKIP, can also be seen as a slightly muted version of this new development.
Now the question that concerns us is: Does Trump belong in this collection of classical fascist, neo-fascist, and post-fascist movements and parties, and if so, where precisely ought we to locate him? It seems to me that the best way to approach the question is to list the basic characteristics of the classical fascism of the interwar period, namely Italian fascism and German National Socialism, and to see how many of them Trump and his “movement” embody. One of the problems with the usual discussion of fascism is that people are looking for all or nothing answers. But fascism can be a matter of degree, as recent developments in Europe demonstrate. So, I am going to present a checklist for recognizing fascism and locating it on a scale of more and less fascist phenomena, with the stipulation that exhibiting one or two items on the list does not a fascist make. Fascism overlaps with many political movements. A fully fascist movement — one that repeats classical fascism — must have a check alongside each of the twelve items on this list. The fewer items that are checked, the less fascist is the person, party, or movement under consideration, and conversely, the greater the number of items checked, the closer the object of inquiry comes to the classical fascist paradigm.
There is one complication, which should already be evident from the above accounts of Italian fascism and German National Socialism. As the Marxist sociologist and political theorist, Nicos Poulantzis pointed out, there are three phases in the history of successful fascist movements: the mobilizing phase, the phase of achieving state power, and the phase of consolidating state power and its subsequent expression in a fully fascist regime. Now if Trump turns out to be some species of fascist, he has completed what must be seen as the mobilizing phase, and is now in the second phase of achieving state power (i.e., the period of presidential “transition”). Although these are the only phases for which we currently have evidence, I will nevertheless follow the analysis of Trump by speculating about the crucial third phase of consolidation.
Classical fascism involves:
1) Mass politics. Fascism brings people out in the streets, especially in large rallies. In this it differs from traditional conservatism of the William F. Buckley-National Review variety, which shuns the masses and is distinctly elitist in character. Although Trump’s rallies were part of his presidential campaign, they were also large, boisterous political mobilizations that made his talk of a mass “movement” something more than wishful thinking. A full point for Trump.
2) Hostility to banks and big corporations. Fascist ideology sees these as tools of underlying and more nefarious forces; Jews, Globalists, the Trilateral Commission, the Masons, the Illuminati, etc. The situation changes when fascist movements win state power, because they must then reconcile with their former big-business enemies. Trump made Wall Street a political target in his rallies, especially following release of the Access Hollywood tape, claiming that it was part of a globalist conspiracy to prevent him from becoming president. Another full point.
3) Populist reforms. Extension of pensions, jobs programs, and the right to employment were part of the Nazi agenda, while workers’ representatives were included in Mussolini’s “corporations” (labor-management councils), though limited by racial criteria in the first case and ideological criteria in the second as well as the first. Trump embraces populist reforms, including Social Security, Medicare, public works programs, and parental leave, but has not proposed racial or ideological restrictions. He would, however, withhold benefits from those without US citizenship. Let’s give him half a point.
4) Idea of Revolution. Italian Fascism and German National Socialism regarded themselves as revolutionary movements. The idea of revolution involved two things: the conception of fundamental social transformation and the notion that violence in achieving it is both necessary and desirable. Trump has not adopted a revolutionary perspective. He is the opposite of avant-garde. Instead of fundamentally transforming society, he wants to return to an idealized past, i.e., to “make America great again.” Zero points.
Items 1–4 are examples of what we might call “stealing the clothes of the Left.” There is an old saying that goes back to the late 19th century: “Anti-semitism is the socialism of fools.” Fools’ socialism is evident in the name chosen by the German fascists, National Socialist German Workers’ Party. But there are two caveats. First, it is important to recognize that the socialist elements incorporated into fascist programs and ideologies are parodies of genuine socialism. Racial limitations to social programs are never found on the Left, and conspiracy theories are found there less frequently and more marginally than is the case with fascism, unless you consider the critique of capitalism a form of conspiracy-mongering. A significant part of the Left in many countries and historical periods thinks of itself as revolutionary, but there is a long-running dispute among leftists about whether violence is necessary to achieve radical social transformation. Even in the case of armed left-wing revolutionary movements, the revolutionaries normally regard violence as an unfortunate necessity rather than the virtue of warriors and the vitality of the state, a common fascist position. The second caveat is that fascism jettisons its leftist elements (except mass rallies and some social programs), when in power. That is also when fascist leaders move to annihilate the “fascist Left,” as when Hitler destroyed the SA — which took the Socialism part of National Socialism seriously — in the Night of the Long Knives. The destruction of its “Left” faction clears the way for the fascists’ rapprochement with banks and big companies.
5) A largely middle-class base that is downwardly mobile or at least afraid of falling. The base can also include relatively well-off blue-collar workers subject to similar conditions. But in general, the majority of the industrial or manual working class tends to support the Left or centrist parties. In spite of news reports that suggest a mainly blue-collar base for Trump, most Trump supporters are middle class, although he does have the support of a good number of fairly well-off blue collar workers, especially in areas hit hard by industrial flight. A full point for Trump.
6) Paramilitary groups under the control of the fascist party and its leader that wage a violent struggle against the movement’s political enemies (the SA in Germany, the fasci in Italy). White supremacist militias, the KKK, and neo-Nazi groups supported Trump in the presidential race, threatened violence in case he was defeated on November 8, and have since held rallies and marches celebrating his victory. But since the militias etc. are not under Trump’s command, I give him only one-half of a point.
7) Rejection of representative democracy, although this does not prevent fascists from running for office, as the history of National Socialism demonstrates. But fascists use their elected or appointed positions to destroy representative institutions. The jury is still out on this matter with respect to Trump. However, his claim that the presidential election was rigged (when he thought he was losing) and his intention to weaken the libel laws so he can sue newspapers for opposing him ought to leave us very uneasy. One-half of a point.
8) Cult of the leader. Followers regard the leader of the fascist movement as having nearly superhuman powers of intelligence, courage, perseverance, and so on. I think we have to give Trump a full point for this. He is certainly convinced of his own multifaceted superiority, and the people attending his rallies seemed to agree with him.
9) Authoritarianism. Rejection of liberal restrictions on the exercise of state power; veneration of the military, the police, and the traditional, male-dominated middle-class family. Assertive heterosexual masculinity. The political love affair between Trump and Putin seems to pivot around their shared authoritarian styles. This may have extended to Russian interference in the Presidential race as well as post-election celebrations in Russia of Trump’s victory. Full point for Trump.
10) Aggressive nationalism. The nation takes on the role the working class plays in genuine socialist movements. But unlike socialism, which seeks the transcendence of class society in a new, egalitarian international community, fascism renounces moral universalism. It seeks only the salvation of a specific nation-state. And that nation-state is defined by what it excludes, i.e., foreign and especially domestic enemies. According to fascist ideology, domestic enemies “stab the nation in the back” by making it possible for foreign enemies to defeat it. Trump is very much in line with this aspect of fascist ideology. For example, according to him, the political elite in both parties has weakened the nation. Clinton and Obama created ISIS. Clinton wanted to allow tens of thousands of Syrians into the US, an enormous Trojan Horse. The Republican leadership in Congress is spineless. Full point.
11) Anti-communism. The fascist movements of the period between the two World Wars were reactionary in the literal sense that they were reactions against the communist revolutions or near-revolutions in Russia, Germany, Hungary, and Italy, and to the threat of such revolutions elsewhere. To say the least, the collapse of the Soviet bloc has weakened communist movements in Europe and the US. Some groups on the Right in the United States still see communists under every bed, especially the one in the White House master bedroom where Obama sleeps. But they have little influence. There is no communist movement or viable communist party in the US (or Western Europe). But if a socialist movement emerges, say out of the Sanders campaign, we can be sure that many right-wing organizations, not all of them close to fascism, will accuse it of being communist. Trump never mentions communism except as something wholly in the past. Zero points.
12) The Party Principle. Finally for fascists, the party is the necessary expression and instrument of fascist politics and ideology. In its capacity for historical longevity, it even transcends the charismatic leader. Right now, the Republican Party is in disarray. Trump has not only defeated but humiliated his establishment enemies, such as Paul Ryan. He now essentially owns the party. We don’t know yet what he is going to do with it. Shaping it in an overtly fascist direction is not beyond the realm of possibility. But since he has not yet taken any steps in this direction, Trump gets zero points.
I have given Trump full points for items 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, and 10, while giving him half-points for 6 and 7, and zero points for 4, 11, and 12 for a total of 8 of 12 possible points. So what does this make him? He does not meet all the criteria necessary to count as a classical fascist. He is not a neo-fascist of the post-war Italian variety because he has no underground terrorist apparatus, and was able repeatedly to mobilize thousands of supporters at. rallies. And he is also not a post-fascist of the contemporary European sort because he embraces rather than avoids racist tropes, however much he might preserve a margin of plausible deniability. Trump represents a unique kind of non-classical fascism rooted in the specific history of the United States as well as the social, economic, and political conditions of the present. His racism draws from a tradition of repression of Black people that goes back to antebellum slavery, an anti-Latino sentiment older than the Mexican-American War, and an anti-Muslim attitude that is especially appealing to the revanchist Christian Right. His aggressive masculinity is consonant with the similar posture of Italian and German fascists, especially the SA and fasci shock troops, and the German Freikorps before them. But it also appeals to the desire of the US Christian Right to undo the advances made in recent decades by women as well as the gay, lesbian, and transgender populations.
Under our current historical circumstances, it may be impossible for fascist movements to repeat themselves in classical interwar European form. If that’s the case, then no viable movement will exhibit all twelve items on the list. But that does not prevent the idea of fascism from being an indispensable tool of political analysis, especially in the current period.
Let me end by pointing to some developments to watch for as Trump enters the period of consolidation of power that may indicate a move toward institutionalized state fascism:
1) An attempt to distance himself from his populist program in the interest of rapprochement with Wall Street and the world of Big Business in general. I hasten to add that this does not necessarily mean that he will abandon all of his reforms. But a shift in allegiance to the economic establishment he railed against in his campaign is to be expected. Indeed Trump has already appointed Wall Street figures to key White House positions.
2) Attack on liberal protections against the exercise of repressive state power. Alteration of the libel laws, allowing repression of newspaper and other reporting. End of the right of Democrats in the Senate to filibuster. Maximization of rule by presidential decree. Use of the NSA surveillance apparatus against political enemies. The end or significant erosion of protections against police violence. Purge of the general staff of the army and other branches of the military. Appointment of Supreme Court justices whose principal charge is to engineer a return to the heterosexual, male-dominated family.
3) Increasing significance of the party. Political elimination of establishment opposition within the Republican Party (Ryan, McCain, etc.). Transformation of the party in Trump’s image.
4) Domination of the means of mass communication. Development of a state-friendly media apparatus. Public money for Breitbart and Fox News perhaps, or significant private funding brokered by the state. Increased sophistication in propaganda in response to the need to reach the majority of the U.S. population. Trump’s appointment of Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon, a racist and anti-Semite, to the elevated position of Chief Strategic Advisor is already a step toward the construction of a propaganda apparatus. Bann0n as Trump’s Joseph Goebbels?
We need to be aware that we are moving rapidly, from the mobilization stage, through that of acquisition of state power, to the very dangerous period of its consolidation. It is important to remember, however, that the United States includes a multiplicity of diverse political and civil-society institutions that are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to subordinate to a single totalitarian principle or power. In addition, an active anti-Trump movement in support of those threatened by Trump’s nativism and racism is already in the early stage of development. Finally, Trump’s blue-collar supporters will be judging him on his ability to restore jobs to devastated industrial areas as well as reverse wage-stagnation for those already employed. It would be disastrous for the Left to make the liberal error of rejecting these people as uneducated or immoral “white trash.” Many of our future supporters are among them, as long as we abandon the posture of moralistic condemnation or condescension, and make a concerted and respectful attempt to win them over.
I have posted this article and opened it to comment on Academia.edu as well as my political blog in Facebook, Zabel Reports. Here are some of the exchanges I’ve had with academics and independent researchers from Portugal, Brazil, Iran, and the United States. It begins with the most recent exchange and proceeds backward:
Robert Paxton, an American historian, states in his book The Anatomy of Fascism (New York: Vintage Books, 2005) that fascism arises through five stages. In the first stage, a movement emerges in search of some kind of nationalist renewal. This is the case of the United States in the face of a difficult economic crisis, such as the current one, of the commitment of the American way of life and the loss of its world hegemony to China. Paxton argues that the success of fascism depends on the weakness of the liberal state that condemns the nation to disorder, decline or humiliation, and lack of political consensus. Paxton adds that the depth of the political and economic crisis induces the elite to cooperate with the fascists. This situation happened in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. The third stage — the transition to an openly fascist government — begins. According to Paxton, this moment of the alliance among elite and fascists of the third stage is decisive when there is an escalation of protests that result in beatings, assassinations and the application of labels in certain social groups for elimination, like the Jews and Communists in Germany, all directed by people at the top of the power structure. What is the danger line? Paxton states in the above-cited work that the fascists as Tea Party are rooted in the Republican Party which represents large corporate interests with wide influence on the political scene in the United States. According to Paxton, History tells us that when the alliance among corporations and the fascist shock troop is formed it can destroy the last vestiges of a democratic government. In stage four, when the duet (corporations and shock troops) take complete control of the country, political struggles will emerge between the fascists and the institutions of the conservative elite — church, military, professionals, and entrepreneurs. The character of the regime will be determined by whoever wins this dispute. Paxton characterizes stage five as “radicalization or entropy”. Radicalization occurs when the new regime gains a major military victory that consolidates its power and sharpens the appetite for expansion as it did in Nazi Germany. Noam Chomsky, a philosopher and professor at MIT (Massachusets Institute of Technology), warned that fascism could happen in the United States (See article Chomsky Warns of Risk of Fascism in America! available on website <http: //socioecohistory.wordpress .com / 2010/04/16 / chomsky-warns-of-risk-of-fascism-in-america). Chomsky drew a parallel between the Weimar Republic in Germany and the present-day United States. The Weimar Republic was crushed by Nazism in 1933. The same will happen again with democracy in the United States?
Fernando, Paxton makes interesting points about the history of classical fascism, but I don’t think that is what we are now dealing with in the US or Europe. The reason is that there has been no major advance by the working class in either region in terms of new unionization, party-formation, or revolutionary upsurge, that might induce the financial and corporate powers to abandon the representative-democratic state for a much riskier totalitarian regime, as they did in Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s. There is, however, a political crisis in which major classes and class fractions have become detached from their traditional parties of the center-left and center-right, largely as a result of the Great Recession and crisis in the Eurozone. In the absence of significant alternative parties to the left of center-left, what I prefer to think of as post-fascism is filling the void — Trump in the US, the FN in France, AfD in Germany, etc. Unlike the classical interwar fascists, none of these explicitly renounce representative government. Of course that does not mean that they pose no danger or that, given intensified economic crisis, they couldn’t evolve in the direction of classical fascism. But at the moment they seem content to function within the limits of the bourgeois-democratic state. Their ascension to state power, however, may give the genuine socialist left an opportunity to emerge as a serious political force. But that requires a revitalization of labor and other popular movements, and a plausible programatic alternative to neoliberalism on the one hand, and electoral fascism on the other.
I completely agree with the analysis and conclusions of Gary Zabel’s article A Fascist in the White House? On the basis of Donald Trump’s campaign in the presidential elections it can be seen that the fascism is in formation in the United States. Donald Trump presented a campaign based on the defense of law and order in which they show their traits of authoritarian personality. It is rumored that Donald Trump’s entire political strategy was drawn up by Stephen Bannon, head of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, who will be the chief strategist of his future government. Prior to the election campaign, Bannon established through its website the Breitbart News, a “platform for the alt-right” — the “alternative right,” umbrella for neo-Nazis. Bannon will set the tone for the future Trump government that will certainly have fascist connotations as evidenced during the election campaign. It is a huge political catastrophe for democracy in the United States. The world and the United States are now threatened by a dangerous phase of instability. Donald Trump will make a government in which the Paris Agreement on climate change and the hard-negotiated nuclear pact with Iran and various trade agreements will be abandoned. Trump will work to endow Saudi Arabia and Japan with nuclear weapons, weaken the “obsolete” NATO by forcing European allies to pay for US military protection, thereby creating the risk of a Russian incursion into the Baltic states, begin trade war with China through protectionism, build a 3,200-mile-long wall along the Mexican border, bar Muslims in the country, renegotiate all major trade agreements, and raise military expenditures a great deal. This will trigger significant conflicts, incite new rivalries and motivate new crises in the world. Trump is prepared to launch his attack against liberal democracy. Is it possible to control Trump with a mostly Republican Congress? Of course, there is still hope that the US political system will be strong enough to curb a president with fascist tendencies. But there is no guarantee of anything.
Very precise comments, I totally agree. As I follow events in the news, I’m toying with a new theory about him. Trump sometimes looks pretty much like Gaddafi (They both nominated their son-in-laws to access top security info, they wanted their children to be on top of their countries’ affairs, they both wanted to tear apart international agreements and they are both (sorry to say that) offenders to women). Fortunately public opinion does have enough power to make him change some of his decisions, but if in the international level he undertakes to walk out of important agreements and disrespect the votes and opinions expressed by Security Council or general assembly, then what is the difference between him and Mr. Kim of N.Korea? Another point is the fact that Mussolini and all other fascist or neo-fascists in history had at least a certain philosophical doctrine, they had a world view, and they have read some books or papers and based on some devil knowledge become fascist. But it seems that Trump is literally uneducated and if you put his statements beside each other they seem contradictory enough that you couldn’t even expect to hear them from a kid. Obama was a president who put unprecedented economic pressure on Iranians’ shoulders, yet everybody here remembers him with respect. But you should come and see how ordinary people in my country create jokes about Trump, comparing him with WWE wrestlers who curse and threat each other before their matches. As we get closer to January and his strange decisions are more revealed, I think we need to open a new category in the fascist criteria: “Illiterate Neo-fascism”. Unfortunately, Bakhtin’s “Carnivalesque” could also be applied to today’s America. Carnivals in middle ages used to reverse the King’s order: a fool was crowned as the king and a limited chaos would govern the country. But this carnival was for one night. How could the world tolerate Trump for four years?
Thanks for addressing this issue. Perhaps America has had a long lasting infatuation with right-wing authoritarianism that now, in this post-truth era, Mr. Trump seems to embody. Fascist, however, is a simplistic moniker. In post-revolutionary 1970’s Portugal (my country) everything that was not revolutionary was called fascist. At one point news anchors stopped wearing neck ties because ‘ties were things of fascists’. Shortly after the revolution, a very influential Portuguese left-wing intelectual called Eduardo Lourenço (I suppose there are no translations into English) published a text called “Fascism never existed”, referring to the Portuguese case. He analysed how the Portuguese dictator, António Oliveira Salazar, exploited the idea of authoritarian rule within the constitutional boundaries of the Portuguese Republic and, although creating a very tough, arbitrary and oppressive regime, it could never have been — strictly speaking — a fascist regime, though it operated within some of the lines that define classic fascism. Salazar’s regime was created in 1933 and ended in 1974, thus being the longest lived right-wing dictatorship in western Europe. You failed to mention that — sorry to point it out like this. Bearing this in mind I suppose that what Mr. Trump embodies is a fascist-like ideological framework that is about to move into the White House, i.e. the symbolic address of western style democracy. And, like Mr. Hitler before him, and Prof. Salazar as well, there was democratic legitimacy. And that is a frightening thought.
I was in Portugal in 1974, shortly after Salazar fell and have a wonderful medal from that period commemorating the fall of fascism, including PIDE, the political police. I agree that the Salazar regime was not fascist, but it did incorporate elements from fascism, including extreme anti-communism, an assertive imperialist ideology, and of course PIDE. On the issue of the various kinds of exceptionalist regimes, I recommend the work of Nicos Poulantzis, who draws careful distinctions between military dictatorships, Bonapartist, and fascist regimes. As to Trump, he is in only the early stages of forming a regime; and institutionalized state fascism is unlikely in the US because of its constitutional tradition. But he drew on fascist themes during his election campaign (including racist ideas, anti-Semitic imagery , and the “stab-in-the-back trope), relied heavily on mass meetings with undertones and some overt acts of violent repression of the opposition, had his base in the anxious or declining middle class, and enjoyed the support of the American Nazi Party, the KKK, and the white supremacist militias, in part because of his use of their imagery. I think all of this justifies looking at him, not as a classical fascist of the inter-war sort, but as part of the post-fascist movement that is now poised to come to power in France, Germany, and so on.
Again, thanks for tackling this issue. I was not aware that you’d been in Portugal during the revolution and I realize that I was a bit rough in pointing out the absence of Salazar’s regime in your text. I hope you were not offended in any way.
Not at all Francisco. I value your comments.
The list of ‘features’ of fascism: I would suggest that ‘race’ as criteria can in fact be added if the category of race itself is understood in a manner that does not lead to biological essentialism. Recent works on race that put forth an understanding of race as something more than just a person’s skin colour — a genealogy of race, Kant onwards, would be worth looking into, I think. So too would Foucault’s use of the term to denote a category of people classified ‘unworthy’: his meditations on biopower could be relevant, for instance.
Thanks for this suggestion. The issue really is to what extent are such concepts of race applicable to Italian fascism, since the Third Reich was clearly a racist regime?
In my mind, the current wave of populist/fascist thought in America parallels that of the American fascists of the 1920s and 1930s. Being a Jew, my father taught me about these movements at an early age. Until recently, most Americans had no idea that America was choosing between Fascism and Socialism. I’ve ready some of the literature from the Fascists of that time, and it’s very insightful. All of them thought Capitalism had failed the worker and that it was time for a change. The Silvershirts, the German-American Bund, Father Coughlin — the whole machine has been repeated with the Alt-right, the Mercers, and Alex Jones. Trump’s strategy follows the same plan that Arendt outlined in Origins. The difference (ironically)(is that Corporations will play a larger part in preserving social equality.
Excellent point. Trump does not come out of nowhere. There is a tradition of proto- or quasi- fascism in the US that surfaces especially in the wake of economic crisis — the stock market crash of 1929, the financial meltdown of 2008.
Although you mention it a few times, I don’t see that you put a great deal of stock in the notion that Fascism is a coalition between big business and big government. One of the frightening things in the past few decades has been the use of the Business Model for Government. The President is seen as the CEO, Congress is seen as the executive staff, the senate is seen as the Board of Directors, SCOTUS is seen as the legal staff. I suppose that you might discuss this phenomenon as a symptom of Authoritarianism. If anything, should we employ a business model to Government, it should be an Employee Owned Business, and not one which is beholding solely to stockholders as with most publicly traded corporations. Perhaps much of the admiration of Trump with Putin is in reality an admiration for an Oligarchical system of government which is typical of the Corporatist view of government’s role in society.
Interesting comment. If I am reluctant to make the big business-big government link central to Trump’s version of fascism, it is only because it has been in place in the US for quite a long time in both Republican and Democratic presidential regimes. However, Trump may be in the position of attempting to strengthen that link by co-opting popular opposition to it by the declining middle class.
Given his outspoken admiration of Putin coupled with the Russian intervention doesn’t it remind you of Hitlers admiration of Mussolini, as well as when Mussolini praised Hitlers rise to power, again similar to Putin, along with the recently announced US/Russian military alliance to take down Syrian regimes, which again seems similar to Mussolini’s SS / paramilitary cooperation in the 20’s. Shouldn’t his admiration of a fascist(I don’t know your opinion on Putin but would find a paper interesting) give him a point at least?
Good point about Putin. I’ll work him in. Thanks for the suggestion. Remember that the evolving piece is now on Medium through the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.
Austen, I’ve modified point 9 to read: 9) Authoritarianism. Rejection of liberal restrictions on the exercise of state power; veneration of the military, the police, and the traditional, male-dominated middle-class family. Assertive heterosexual masculinity. The political love affair between Trump and Putin seems to pivot around their shared authoritarian styles. This may have extended to Russian interference in the Presidential race as well as post-election celebrations in Russia of Trump’s victory. Full point for Trump.
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” (Alexander Pope) Dear Professor Zabel Thank you very much for your detailed analysis. I believe in what you elaborated and share your views on the issue. In this regard I’d like to propose a possible solution. Deleuzoguattarian rhizome theory might be one of the theoretical and even practical means to criticize, monitor and resist Trump’s neo fascistic adventures. In what follows I have tried to propose some of Rhizome’s key principles as counter fascist moves: “Mass Politics”: Rhizome uses a molecular doctrine that prevents brain wash mechanisms that bring about such cancerous movements. Rhizome theory instead invites network activities which depend upon individual knowledge and responsibility and resists fascistic mass politics. “Populist reforms”: The sixth Rhizomatic principle is Cartography. This principle invites individuals to act like map surveyors and to stay vigilant toward possible dead ends. Populist reforms on the other hand are superficial maneuverings that in long term not only benefit people but also might prove to be harmful. A rhizomatic cartographer is due to be careful and sensitive to such populist slogans that might result in social and economic dead ends. “Largely middle class base”: Rhizome theory invites us to think asubjective and asignificant. In such horizontal arena, class division gives way to intensities. This single characteristic of rhizomatic network is enough to deTrump the situation. To think intensive, is to celebrate differences and Trump is the one who attacks minorities and as a neo fascist privileges middle class white people over other groups in society. Therefore if we chose a rhizomatic doctrine, the participants in rhiozomatic network would naturally reject his speech as well as his actions. Instead we might gain grounds in all levels of society. “Cult of the leader”: Deleuze and Guattari directly oppose this notion. Unlike arborescent model, rhizome is anti-genealogy. It assigns every constituent equal value, therefore does away with leadership and structural priorities. “Authoritarianism”: Rhizome’s third principle is Multiplicity. It hails multitude of voices and stimulates us to speak and to resist. Multiplicity is the spirit of micro-narratives that can act as nomadic war machines in undermining Trump’s possible maniac decisions. D & G’s rhizome therefore proposes theoretical and practical solutions to resist authoritarianism. “Aggressive nationalism”: Rhizome supports a nomadic doctrine in which the sovereign powers and nation states are to be confronted with nomadic war machines that seek lines of flight to penetrate state’s borders. In this sense, the spirit of rhizome theory is a deterritorializing and emancipatory force which stands against reductionist and reterritorializing gestures like nationalism, constructing walls, and expelling immigrants. At the end, I’d like to add that I agree with you that calling Trump’s supporters as white trash only worsens society’s standoff and might even result in more riots which we as academicians do not support. Instead I believe rational and philosophical discussions might be helpful in inviting these people to have a wider (and perhaps a rhizomatic) worldview. Sanders could have been a more successful candidate, yet angels didn’t have a chance to tread, so Trump was elected, but I’m sure we can prevent such catastrophic errors in future.
No doubt it is quite an effort, though it seems to me that the question is: is it quite useful? As a matter of fact, if «75% fascist» does not make a «classical fascist» (it is 75%, or 9 out of 12, not 11; curiously enough, the same level is supposed to be reached by the current European communist parties, at least the Portuguese one: items 1–4, plus 7–9, 11 reading «anti-fascist», and 12), maybe we should choose other criteria to take the pulse of our political societies, and yes, notice the neo-fascists around the corner or just in front of us. As the Spanish catholic newspaperman and writer Juan Arias wrote in 1998 (in “Un Dios para el 2000”), «the root of all fascism nests in the belief the diverse, and therefore the foreign, the other, is inferior», and I beg leave to link this pragmatic thought to the article, i.e., the prophecy about the consumerist totalitarianism and the role of television thereto, that the Italian “conservative communist”, also journalist and writer, Pier Paolo Pasolini published in the Corriere della Sera on September 9, 1973; this is its final paragraph: «Fascism was not substantially able to even scratch the soul of the Italian people: the new fascism, the new means of communication and information (especially, of course, television), not only has scratched, but has torn, broken, dirtied (“non solo l’ha scalfita, ma l’ha lacerata, violata, bruttata”) forever». Just one more thing: following some criteria rule of 100% or nothing, the Istanbul correspondent for Le Monde, the newspaperwoman Marie Jégo, could not have written, as she did on the 21st last July, that «Erdogan installe sa “démocrature” en Turquie». Carlos C. de Matos
That’s right. The 11 was a type o. Also I’v e since revised my piece to take into account the very point you make by locating Trump more precisely in the spectrum of classical fascist, neo-fascist, and post-fascist forms, as well as referencing briefly the historical context of his racism. I’m familiar with Pasolini’s comment and have written about it in “The Ashes of Pasolini,” which is on my Academia.edu profile page. But I do think that, like many people, Pasolini’s use of the term fascism is so broad that it robs the word of the ability to designate anything specific. In addition, there are plenty of ways to reject or marginalize the “other” that are not fascist. If the term is to have any definite meaning at all, it has to be connected historically — through derivation or substantial repetition — with the classical fascism of the early twentieth century. Here’s the link to the revised version of the Trump and fascism piece.
I wrote this piece over the last few days in an effort to make historical, political, and ideological sense of Donald Trump’s election to the US Presidency. It includes references to the history of classical, neo-, and post-fascisms as well as to the work of Antonio Gramsci and Nico Poulantzas.
It is quite an effort — patient, lucid, and to be frank, horrifically scary! Thanks for the piece! Bill
Gary Zabel is a senior lecturer in philosophy at UMass Boston, and longtime labor activist.