Red Star: Fascism’s echoes

Despite the political abuse of the term, fascism is defined by the actions of regimes in Italy, Germany and many Cold War US allies. In every case, fascists either seized control or won elections with corporate backing during times of crisis, often ousting a left-wing government, frequently with American support. They smashed unions and slaughtered communists and socialists.

As historian Michael Parenti documents “Minimum-wage laws, overtime pay, and factory safety regulations were abolished. Speedups became commonplace … Workers toiled longer hours for less pay. The already modest wages were severely cut, in Germany by 25 to 40 percent, in Italy by 50 percent. In Italy, child labor was reintroduced.” The fascists privatized solvent state enterprises, then came corporate tax cuts, slave labor, genocide and war. Corporate tycoons and land-owners flourished until military defeat gutted the fascist regimes. It was the revolution of the haves against the have-nots.

The origin of fascism lies in nationalist responses to economic crises joined with ruling class backing. When productive forces collapse or profits drop, the capitalist class has two choices: to intensify exploitation of labor or to concede to the working poor. They only choose the latter under threat of general strikes in countries with strong labor movements and strong left-wing parties.

There is one major difference between America, Germany and Italy. The ruling class is undisputed here. After the First World War, Italy saw waves of strikes and militant worker uprisings. Throughout the 1920s, Germany saw several attempted revolutions that armed hundreds of thousands of workers and brought to birth a movement capable of partially challenging the power of German corporate elites. Even in the twilight of democracy, tens of thousands of Germans fought heroic street battles against the brownshirts, also known as the SA, as part of the Red Front, an alliance of communists and socialists which savaged the Nazis in major cities. But even these left-movements were too weak to stop reaction or transform society for the many.  All we have is Shareblue and Woke Twitter.

The rich here broke labor and the left through a half-century of forgotten purges beginning with the Boston Police Strike and ending with the Black Panthers. They can destroy social programs, launch war after war after war, destroy the ecological basis of society and tear apart regulatory agencies without real opposition. Institutions can only constrain corporate power when they’re backed by an organized movement. There’s no obstacle to the development of American fascism.

Fascism is a rational choice for the ruling elite. The political situation in the United States offers us two paths: submission to the slow grinding of capital’s rule, or resistance of any kind. The rich won’t surrender their gains without pressure. They will continue to revoke right-after-democratic right and resurrect the worst features of capitalism, only now with apps to monitor your behavior. The absence of strong left resistance here makes the creation of a hyper-capitalist, authoritarian racial-caste system even easier. Fascism here would happen gradually, over several presidential terms, as society becomes more racist, less equal and less politicized.