In past difficult times, some Marxist analysts have made dire predictions of imminent economic depression, world war and fascism that proved to be wrong or at least decidedly premature. Famously during the time of McCarthyism in the early 1950s, such predictions overlooked the complexities and remaining potential of capitalism. As well, they underestimated democratic influences and the underlying capacity for popular struggle for civil rights and liberties and against war.
Would it again be crying “wolf” to sound the alarm of fascist danger in today’s political environment?
The term “fascism” should not be used lightly. It’s not a label that describes the capitalist system in general, even as its evils in this time of crisis spread extreme inequality and misery everywhere. History has defined fascism in all its brutality as dictatorship that destroys democratic rights and institutions, including trade unions and opposing political parties. Where there is fascism, there is a direct alliance of the ruling political party with the most reactionary sections of corporate and financial power.
Taken as a whole, politics and government in the United States have moved to the right in this new century. That is the reality despite the hopes that came with the historic election of Barack Obama in 2008. Not to overlook some hard-won progress in health care, Gay rights, and (to a lesser extent) immigrant rights, progressive gains are outweighed by the assault on jobs, education, unions, social services, and civil liberties. Even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approach a messy ending, executive powers have been seized for waging CIA wars and assassinations anywhere at the President’s command. Against the backdrop of the “Great Recession”, futile wars in the Middle East, and the decline of “superpower” control in world affairs, Wall Street’s multi-billionaires are more aggressive than ever in using unlimited financial power to corrupt politics, the media and “public opinion.”
While big money influence taints the political process at all levels of government and in both major parties, something special is on the horizon that does indeed raise the alarm about nascent fascism. It is possible that the GOP, powered and controlled by the most extremely reactionary moguls of finance capital, could take over the presidency and the Congress. They already dominate the Supreme Court and most courts, most governors and state legislatures.
This is not just the traditional back and forth exchange that has characterized elections under the two party system. The GOP has moved to the extreme right, further even than under Reagan, Nixon and the Bushes. Above all, the Koch brothers, Adelson, and other fascist-minded oligarchs are wielding their colossal wealth to control and advance the fortunes of the GOP. With the injection of the Tea Party into its midst, there is no tolerance for even “standard” Republicans like Bennet, Lugar, and Snowe. Within the fold, there is room only for those who agree to fall in line. Empowered are race haters, gun idolizers, science deniers and warriors against women, unions, the poor and the elderly. The centerpiece of the agenda is to demolish Medicare and reverse every social gain (“entitlement”) achieved during and after the New Deal.
The point is not that the results of the November election could usher in fascism. Democracy cannot easily be destroyed, and the more it is under assault, the more certain is a rising struggle to preserve civil liberties and constitutional rights. It’s no small consideration, however, that the type of reactionary political and financial alliance characteristic of fascist regimes would have unprecedented control over the levers of power. That’s scary in this period of turmoil, imperial decline, and deep economic insecurity. Brutality is the hallmark of fascism, and recent history affirms that popular uprisings often meet ruthless police, military and vigilante violence.
Even a defeat for the GOP in November will not produce a fundamental progressive change of course. That can only happen as millions of people embrace struggle for their vital interests, against the greed and privilege of the 1%. It would be no small step, however, to thwart the fascist-prone alliance that aims in November to complete an historic monopoly over all branches of our government.