Saturday’s lopsided standoff between fascist and antifascist demonstrators in Boston, in which the latter outnumbered the former roughly a hundredfold, has been occasion for some relief among liberals scandalized by images of Charlottesville. I would caution against any overhasty optimism, however: Claudio Segrè, biographer of Mussolini’s heir apparent Italo Balbo, reminds us that the first Italian fascists were initially viewed as clowns in November and December 1920, fringe elements that could hardly be taken seriously. “They suffered from unsavory backgrounds and reputations,” writes Segrè, “not the stuff out of which to create a mass movement.” Just two years later they were in power.
Quartz reports that linguistic analysis of billions of Reddit comments has shown a marked increase in the use of alt-Right rhetoric and conspiratorial dog whistles (about “globalists,” “Soros,” “cultural Marxism,” and “Zionazis”). A suspect sample set, one might counter, but the numbers are suggestive either way. With Trump’s presidency spiraling out of control, losing far Right credibility with the bombing of Syrian airbases and the firing of Steve Bannon, its former supporters might look for new outlets to express their political discontents. Outlets other than the carnival sideshow of the 2016 Donald Trump campaign. But are more feelgood mass rallies like Boston really the answer to right-wing radicalization?
Fifteen years ago, massive antiwar marches took place in major cities across the US and around the globe. Impotently, they proclaimed “not in our name.” The invasion of Iraq happened anyway; the demonstrations did nothing to stop it. Participants in these marches could comfort themselves with the thought that their voices had been heard, but they weren’t really interested in stopping imperialism. Evidence of this can be seen in the near total collapse of the antiwar movement in 2008, as the various “soft fronts” of the ISO and FRSO — e.g. the ANSWER Coalition, whose members marched arm-in-arm with Howard Dean supporters and other Democratic Party pacifists — were liquidated into vegan bake-sales for the election of Barack Obama.
I’d similarly contend that most of the people who showed up in Boston on Saturday are not all that serious about stopping fascism. Most of them were liberals eager to reassure themselves that “we’re better than that,” with a meatspace analog to the #ThisIsNotUs hashtag that briefly circulated on social media. Gus Breslauer points out in a note for the Guy Debord Club of Houston that “communists are the only ones who can make fascism impossible.” Antifascism on its own is not up to the task, as we indicated in the previous post: Opposition to fascism does not a communist make. “Communists are the ones best equipped to effectively fight it if it continues to grow,” Beslauer continues, “since they are the only ones who can confidently say they not only want to destroy fascism, but all of what makes fascism possible.”
So who else is mad as hell about the symbolic transfer of power between rival factions of the bourgeoisie? Remember all the demonstrations that spontaneously broke out eight years ago, when Barack Obama was first inaugurated? And then the acute sense of outrage we sustained throughout his two terms in office, holding regular protests as the government he oversaw deported a record number of undocumented immigrants?
None of that ever happened. In fact, the first issue of International Socialist Review released during Obama’s presidency featured one of his 2008 campaign slogans: “Yes we can!” Despite the fact his foreign policy platform was virtually identical to that of his predecessor (save some stuff about shifting focus away from the Middle East, toward East Asia), and although domestically he merely followed through on Bush’s bailout of the banks, most self-described Marxists sat back and cheered to themselves as Obama was sworn in. The lead editorial announced that
the election of Barack Hussein Obama as forty-fourth president of the United States is a watershed event. In a country where Africans were brought in chains, were slaves until 1865, where legal (or de facto) segregation was the rule, and where the majority of African Americans were not given the right to vote until 1965, Obama’s election is historic… Engagement is the order of the day.
By contrast, this same publication frowns upon any sort of engagement with the incoming Trump administration. “Resistance” is the order of the day: “Let the resistance begin. The churning fear and revulsion swirling inside us as we watch Donald J. Trump take the oath to become the 45th president of the United States will be at least somewhat balanced by the satisfaction of watching inspiring and unprecedented levels of protest rising up to greet an incoming president…” Conjuring up the ghost of fascism, anyone who entertains the idea of engaging with the new president is branded a collaborator.
What’s so different, though? You’d think that a Marxoid sect that traces its lineage to Lenin would remember his famous paraphrase of The Civil War in France (1871) in State and Revolution (1917): “Marx grasped this essence of capitalist democracy splendidly when, in analyzing the experience of the [Paris] Commune, he said that the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament!” Obviously it would be folly to argue that both major American parties are identical. Yet neither represents the interests of the working class, so why engage with either? Continue reading →