To consider this question, it is necessary to understand the role fascism plays in a capitalist society, and why the capitalist class has an interest in facilitating the rise of fascism. Such understanding is provided in the essays in Radical Perspectives on the Rise of Fascism in Germany, 1919-1945.
In the aftermath of World War I, a democratic parliamentary political system was set up in defeated Germany as the “Weimar Republic.” Capitalists were divided into three major factions: heavy industry (iron, steel, mining) focused on domestic economic development; export industry (dynamic, technologically more advanced and prosperous) led by machine, electric, and chemical industries as well as textiles and commercial interests; and agriculture (the landed aristocracy, particularly the “Junkers” of Prussia). The “middle class” consisted of shopkeepers, commodity producers and salaried employees, as well as the peasantry. The working class had strong labor unions, a strong political party (the Social Democratic Party of Germany, or “SPD”), and a German Communist Party (“KPD”)—greatly weakened by abortive revolutionary uprisings following World War I.
At first the export-industry faction of the bourgeoisie dominated in representing capital For some time, labor unions and the SPD were able to work with this faction to improve workers’ lives. In the early 1930s heavy industry achieved hegemony over the export industry and refused to collaborate with workers’ organizations. Simultaneously, the political system had become so dysfunctional that the Weimar parliament lost most of its popular support in spite of efforts by heavy industry interests to revive it.
The strongest political parties at that point were the fascist NSDAP (Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party, whose strength was in the “middle class”) and the SPD (with some help from the KPD). The capitalists tried to use the NSDAP as a junior partner in parliament—a substitute for their lack of mass following—but Hitler refused any deal other than one making him Chancellor. The capitalists capitulated: the NSDAP appeared to be in decline and they feared that it could fade away.
On January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. He moved quickly to destroy labor unions, and banned other political parties, relying on a huge army of streetfighters (the SA, or “stormtroopers”) which the NSDAP had built up. He created a special referendum to declare himself the sole ruler of Germany and by 1938 he had replaced the old state bureaucracy with his own followers. Anti-Semitism was eagerly implemented in Germany, with Jews deprived of political and social influence and even of their livelihood. This was a prelude to the Holocaust which the Germans carried out in eastern Europe after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939.
Understanding authoritarianism in the United States is critical to comprehending the possibilities for implementing fascism here.
A comrade has kindly provided the following analysis of authoritarianism in our history, with the key reference points being slavery, the Civil War, the rollback of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and changing demographics in the contemporary period.
In the pre-Civil-War period and the Civil War, a whole section of society, anchored in the slaveowners but extending to a cross-class white bloc, viewed their civilization and “way of life” as dependent on slavery. Consequently, they used “any means necessary” to try to defend and expand that way of life. The pro-slavery bloc officially lost the Civil War, but they came back in force via racist terrorism and an assault on black voting rights.
This rolled back Reconstruction and put in place Jim Crow for a hundred years. This was essentially apartheid. Blacks in the South “had no rights the white man needed to respect” and the system was enforced through lynching—i.e. through open terror.
Now we are living through a rollback of the gains of the 1960s (and the ‘30s as well). Because of demographic changes, the US population in 30-40 years will have a majority of people of color. For the first time since the Civil War, a whole layer of society—again rooted in the most reactionary sectors of capital and encompassing a broader white bloc—believes that if democracy and majority rule exist in the US their whole way of life (white Christian American civilization) will go under.
They are prepared and even enthusiastic to put in place a system for long-term rule by a minority of the population via authoritarian means. Big sectors of capital—not all, but highly important ones such as energy corporations and the military-industrial complex—are behind this because they know their ecoholic and energy policies (climate change denialism) are unpopular not just with communities of color but also with young whites.
There is a massive force moving toward what could be called neo-apartheid, a racialized authoritarian state, “illiberal democracy” or something which while not quite classical European fascism is still essentially a form of fascism. This is what Trumpism is about: the absolute determination of roughly 30% of the US population to organize for and resort to explicit authoritarianism in which immigrants and Blacks are not “real Americans” and have no rights that “real Americans” need to respect. My next column will consider the question of to what extent Trump is implementing fascism in the United States.
Dave Jette is the author of A Reformation of Dialectical Materialism, which incorporates feminist theory into a traditional Marxist framework.