On the Far Right
Strategy and Tactics in the Struggle Against the Far Right
(Adopted Oct 22, 2020)
The purpose of this document is to put forward some ideas on the strategy and tactics that can be used in the struggle against fascism and the far right, not to offer an exhaustive history and analysis.
Matt Lyons, author of Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire (2018), provides a useful framework for understanding today’s far right. He tells us that in the 1970s and ‘80s a significant section of the right began to “withdraw their loyalty from the US government. This marked a sharp break with the right‘s traditional role as defenders of the established order.” Today, the part of the right with these views includes a broad spectrum of forces that defend social inequality and increasingly reject the existing political order. This includes various stripes of white supremacists and white nationalists, the Christian right, and so-called Patriot militias.
Lyons notes the contradictions between the different elements of the far right arguing that an increasing number of these elements—white nationalists, militias etc, are anti-system. While they support Trump or Trumpism, we should not mistake that for support for the state. They see the state as something that has brought them neoliberalism, “special rights” for minorities, women and LGBTQI people and the so-called deep state. Trump offers them cover and room to breathe.
Fascism arose in the 20th century as a capitalist response to its own crises and the rising threat of the communist movement after the Russian Revolution. Fascism is a symptom of capitalism in decay based on the ruined petty bourgeoisie and declassed workers. Trotsky provides some of the most incisive analysis on the phenomenon.
In “Democracy and Fascism” (1932), Trotsky writes “At the moment that the ‘normal’ police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium — the turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat — all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.”
The bourgeoisie uses the fascist movement as a weapon against the workers’ movement. The triumph of fascism requires the defeat of the working class and the destruction of its mass organizations. The bourgeoisie only turns to the fascist movement when all other methods of suppressing the workers’ movement — co-optation or state repression — fail. Fascism is, as Trotsky wrote in Fascism: What It Is and How to Fight It, the “party of counter-revolutionary despair.”
In Whither France?, Trotsky writes “It may be said that fascism is the act of placing the petty bourgeoisie at the disposal of its most bitter enemies. In this way, big capital ruins the middle classes and then, with the help of hired fascist demagogues, incites the despairing petty bourgeoisie against the worker.”
The Trump administration is neither fascist nor proto-fascist. Trump winning the 2020 elections will not bring fascism to the US. However, we need to better articulate this question in our propaganda to workers on this question. This is especially true in our trade union work. Many “progressives” and liberals are going to be campaigning for Biden not on the basis of the excellence of his program, but to prevent Trump from winning a second term because he is a “fascist threat” to this country.
We need to explain and differentiate, however, two ongoing and important developments in the U.S.:
- The first is the ongoing political polarization in the working class and middle classes, and the relative growth of proto-fascist and white-supremacist groups that are violently attacking the protests against racism and police brutality, often with the collusion of police forces. Black community defense guards offer an important example of the beginnings of organized fightback against right-wing militias.
- The second is the nature of the Trump administration, the role it is playing in the ongoing class struggle, and its relation with the bourgeois democratic regime.
Regarding fascism, we need first to start by saying that the Marxist conception of fascism 1) refers to a particular kind of regime, not only a government or a cabinet. That is to say, it refers to a drastic restriction of the institutions of bourgeois parliamentarism in favor of institutions such as the military and fascist militias; 2) it emerges in the context of extreme economic and social crisis, combined with a class struggle that has deepened to such an extent that the survival of the capitalist system may be threatened; 3) it is defined by the participation and organization of wide sectors of the middle class into militant strata that attack the organized left, the labor movement, and sectors of the working class in struggle, and that are based upon chauvinistic ideologies (white supremacy, anti-semitism, etc.).
The far right in the US today
Capitalist restructuring and austerity set the table for the current situation. As the lives of working people become more precarious and the petty bourgeoisie slip further down the economic ladder, the right offers them an easy answer – it’s the immigrants, Muslims, Blacks and Latinos, LGBTQI people, and/or Jews who are at fault. White nationalism appeals to this unease by exploiting the demographic changes in the US that will make whites a minority just 20 years from now. This milieu also thrives on conspiracy theories to help bolster their narratives. Alongside the 2008 elections, sections of capital including oil magnates and Koch Industries began funneling money into the right-wing “grassroots” organizations that became the Tea Party movement. Tied in with an underlying racial backlash against the first Black president, proponents of this anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-austerity movement went on to capture positions inside the GOP. Anti-government militia groups and other hate groups grew during the Obama years. It was in this period that the so-called alt-right emerged as a reboot of the far right with more mainstream messaging and appearance.
Groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, the National Socialist Movement, Identity Evropa/American Identity Movement, Patriot Prayer, and other white-nationalist, fascist, and militia groupings have achieved a certain level of operational unity. This unity in action has been forged from a turning point in Charlottesville and has been hardened in street fighting in Portland and Kenosha. Militia groups have been successful in attracting military veterans and former police officers who are familiar with weapons. This underscores the need for the left to orient toward winning layers of the petty bourgeoisie and returned veterans, in order to forestall the right wing’s ability to recruit from these layers.
The red-baiting, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric of Trump and his supporters has given these groups the confidence to act under the broad aegis of Trumpism, although we do not believe Trump and his administration are fascists. No wing of the ruling class is ready to deploy fascist goon squads to break up union meetings and smash up union halls. Today, they give encouragement but not massive funding to far-right militias with far more limited aims. The ruling-class faces no powerful immediate class threat to its plans. However, keeping small groups on the far right in play is one tool in their effort to roll back the Black Lives Matter, anti-fascist, and immigrant rights movements. These groupings comply as they see a threat to the white-supremacist underpinnings of the current system coming from the mass explosion after the murder of George Floyd.
The deployment of right-wing militias can be expected to increase as the mass of unemployed workers who face ruin go into motion to demand an end to evictions, mass unemployment, and income loss. Most of the historic lessons about how to fight fascism apply in a general sense to our current tasks. While we understand that fascism is not the order of the day, we do everything in our power to limit the violence meted out to our class and to mitigate the attraction of these groups to the lower middle classes and declassed workers.
Though a fascist regime is not on the immediate horizon, fascist forces are finding fertile ground and a willing mass audience for their ideas among far-right conspiracists like the QAnon movement. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories like these may constitute a mass base for the future fascist movement that emerges as crisis and resistance deepen. Already the QAnon movement has attracted hundreds of thousands of sympathizers and has inspired individual acts of terror. Far from dismissing this movement as conspiracy-minded cranks, we take this movement seriously as a dangerous step towards a mass fascist movement in the future.
This struggle to defang and limit the damage from these forces is international, as proto-fascist and right-populist forces surge worldwide from Russia to Ukraine to Brazil. US neo-Nazis go to Ukraine for military training and return. In western Europe and the US, the Russian bourgeoisie has provided support for far-right organizations. They have also fostered alliances between the “campist” left and right-wing political forces.
Cops and fascism
In Portland, Minneapolis, Kenosha, and countless other places, we have seen collusion between police and the far right. The police are part of the raw material of fascism. In Countermobilization:A Strategy to Fight Racist and Fascist Attacks, Farrell Dobbs noted about the ruling class:
Their tactic is to protect the rights of the fascists while at the same time using fascist forces to try to keep others from exercising those rights. One of the forces used to implement this is the most malevolent of all the repressive instruments of capitalist rule, the police forces. The police structure is of a character that makes it a breeding ground for fascists.
You don’t only have an army of capitalist cops that represses opponents of capitalism, you have a ripe recruiting ground for fascism itself. You not only have cops implementing ruling-class orders in aiding the fascists, you have a police force that is honeycombed with fascists.
We already covered the nature and role of police extensively in Our Analysis of the Police and the Movement Against Racism and Police Brutality, so we won’t comment further here.
How not to fight fascism and the far right
First, we cannot rely on the cops, courts, and liberal politicians to protect us. Also, voting for one capitalist party to stop the other—lesser-evilism—won’t work. Reformist and class-collaborationist strategies like the popular front are a recipe for defeat. Revolutionary socialist analysis of the 1930s shows that attempts to use a popular front to respond to fascism led to disaster after disaster. Similarly, the failure of the German communist party to organize united-action fronts with the social democracy signaled to Trotsky that there was no reforming the Stalinized Third International and that revolutionaries must break with it once and for all.
History tells us that we must also avoid adventurist and substitutionist tactics that isolate us from the masses. In general, we must caution activists against bringing guns to demonstrations. Such actions by unorganized individuals can expose the movement to repression, especially given the frequent lack of centralized leadership. On the one hand, it can give police and right-wingers a pretext to use deadly force, perhaps even planting provocateurs as happened at Kent State before the National Guard killed three student activists there. Needless deaths and defeats will only demoralize our class, demobilize the movement, and teach the false lesson that if we fight back, we will lose.
Even a very temporary and conjunctural “victory,” such as the retreat of a right-wing group from the streets due to the “military” action of a few freelancing militants, teaches the equally false lesson that fascism and the right can be defeated by combatants operating independently from the political organizations of the class. And the result of substitutionism is most often repression against the most defenseless part of the class.
How to fight fascism and the far right
Central to the struggle against fascism are proletarian methods of struggle.
- United front mass action counter-mobilization is one of the central methods our movement has used. By this we mean the mobilization of the broadest possible social forces against the fascists. Crucial to this is the participation of the mass organizations of the working class and oppressed peoples. While the unions may be slow to move, we should continue to call on the unions to act and stress that if they don’t stand against fascists, they are the next victims.
- The Philadelphia community response to the announced Proud Boy protest on September 19, 2020 in a multinational, progressive neighborhood is an example of how such a mobilization can be built. With Black activists in the lead, more than 1,000 anti-fascists turned out to drive the fascists from the neighborhood. The response was so overwhelming that the Proud Boys chose not to show up.
- We must develop the organized self-defense of our class, our marches, and our meetings. One first step is developing regular and accountable protest marshalls, who seek to protect our marches from individual and organized far-right disruption and help to drive these forces out. Organized defense guards can protect meetings from provocateurs. However, steps on this front must not be taken lightly or in isolation from the organizations of the working class and its allies.
- How we discuss the question of force is important. The capitalist state won’t hesitate to victimize anti-fascists and will ignore the violence of the right wing. We use defensive formulations – advocating for the right to self-defense of workers and the oppressed. We must know the balance of forces and the capabilities of the enemy.
- Far-right individuals and fascist organizations also use “doxxing” and other digital tactics to intimidate and target members of oppressed groups, socialists, and working-class activists. Digital security is an important element of strategy, but must be organized in concert with mass defense campaigns.
- When faced with right-wing or fascist speakers on campus, rather than ask the administration to ban them, we counter-mobilize against them, in the largest numbers possible, organizing students and faculty to make them unwelcome and to show their lack of support in the school. In this way, we demonstrate the power of students to fight the right without giving the administration the precedent to limit socialist and working-class speakers proposed by student groups.
- We favor broad, nonsectarian, defense campaigns when militants are victimized by the far right and the state. While we favor independent working-class action, this does not mean that we narrowly craft defense campaigns to be strictly working-class in character. A defense campaign needs to be a working class-led campaign that seeks to win the broadest layers to our defense.
- Fighting fascism requires independent organizing by the working class and oppressed people, including a clean break with the Democrats and the construction of an independent workers’ party with a militant class-struggle program. In today’s political climate it is essential to counteract those in the movement who urge us to vote for the Democrat to defeat the “fascist” or “pro-fascist” Republican. Thinking that a career neoliberal, imperialist politician or their party will protect us from fascists is a fantasy.
- Consideration also has to be given to how to win sections of the petty bourgeoisie to a working class political program. The higher echelons of the petty bourgeoisie are closer to the capitalists in social station, while lower layers of that class are closer in composition and lifestyle to the working class. Propaganda and demands must be aimed at these social layers who might otherwise constitute the social base of fascism. This requires a decisive and resolute working-class leadership and no watering down of the party program to win these layers.
- In “Fascism and Big Business,” Dan Guerin wrote: “In short, the proletariat cannot win over the middle classes by renouncing its own socialist program. The proletariat must convince the middle classes of its capacity to lead society onto a new road; by the strength and firmness of its revolutionary action. But it is precisely this that the inventors of the ‘Popular Fronts’ do not wish to understand.”
- The fight against fascism is primarily a political struggle bound to the question of revolutionary socialist party-building and mass activity of the labor movement and movements of the oppressed. Political shortcuts are not an option. Every aspect of anti-fascist action from counter-mobilization to the building of defense guards must be considered carefully. The slogans we raise to bring workers, the unemployed, oppressed nationalities, and youth into motion have to be formulated to push the struggle forward.
- Only the construction of a revolutionary socialist party that looks capable of solving the crisis by taking power and is seen so by not only the working class, but discontented middle class layers as well, can ultimately defeat fascism.
Postscript: Why does it matter if we call Trump a fascist?
An important part of this statement on how to fight fascism, is the Marxist view of what fascism is and how we define if the Trump regime is fascist or heading toward fascism. Why does it matter whether we call the Trump regime or the U.S. in general fascist? We all agree Trump is a vicious bigot with extreme authoritarian tendencies. Isn’t this dispute just a tempest in a teapot about terminology and definitions that have no impact on activity?
There are a few reasons this argument is important:
1. It directly influences strategies.
If we actually now live in a totalitarian society like Nazi Germany or fascist Italy, the Left needs to go underground ASAP. In those societies, once actual fascism was consolidated, open opposition was virtually impossible. There were no unions to organize class struggle openly. There was no open opposition press. There was no protection for the right to demonstrate in any way. All left organizing in those societies had to be underground. Acceptance of the Trump regime as fascist implicitly calls for those methods to be adopted now. For those who think fascism is imminent, preparation for underground methods is imperative now. Adoption of that perspective would divert energy from what is possible now—open propaganda and open organizing of the class struggle and social movements. Large sections of the population are open to Marxism. For revolutionaries to head to the underground is to abstain from the most effective strategies now. It is to separate Marxists from the growing struggles today. Those who accept the “fascism now” or “fascism soon” prediction also may be tempted to adopt terrorist tactics which would further isolate revolutionaries from the mass of people struggling for progress.
Others who adopt the fascist designation flip the other way and in desperation run to the courts and Democrats to defend them. Either of these strategies would be disastrous for the Left.
Finally, another possible response is complacency in relation to the actual fascist threat. If we already live under fascism, why pay attention to opposing the small fascist groups that could lay the basis for actual fascism in the future? If the government is already Fascist, why build united fronts to oppose the Proud Boys, KKK, Nazis etc.?
Misunderstanding the distinction between fascism and bourgeois democracy disorients the left toward ultra-leftism or accommodation to liberal capitalism or complacency about the real fascist threat and sometimes all three at once!
2) Labeling the current regime or developing regime fascist is a formulation that leaves bourgeois democracy off the hook.
“Fascism” is not primarily a moral designation. It is a precise, scientific analysis which implies a strategic perspective. Bourgeois democracy has been capable of outrageous inhumanity and is still today. The U.S. was founded on genocide and slavery. Millions of Africans were killed in the slave trade. This too was surely a holocaust.
The genocide of native people and the complete destruction of hundreds or thousands of unique cultures and languages has to rank high on the list of the inhumanity of the human species. These happened before fascism was even thought of.
Today, bourgeois democracy is leading the way to a climate catastrophe that could destroy civilization if not the whole human race.
The history of the U.S. is a history of vicious class struggle by the rulers against workers and the poor. The suppression of the rights of women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, racial minorities etc. was replete throughout U.S. history and continues today. Much of this happened well before the rise of Mussolini or Hitler.
Those who designate today’s regime as fascist or near-fascist are using it as a slur. They are defining all that is evil as fascist. But in doing so, they are saying that normal bourgeois democracy is not evil or certainly as evil. Would the survivors of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Vietnam or Iraq agree with that?
Accepting bourgeois democracy as morally superior to fascism leaves the door open to accomodation to the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie. It leads to popular frontism which actually leads to the success of fascism. In today’s election, it leads to those on the left surrendering their principles and supporting the moderate wing of the bourgeois dictatorship. It puts a barrier in the way of independent working class organizing.
None of this is to imply that Marxists don’t prefer bourgeois democracy to fascism. Of course we do. The reason we prefer it is because bourgeois democracy makes it more possible to openly organize against the capitalist system, but we don’t accept bourgeois democracy as a positive good. We oppose fascism because it is an obstacle to overthrowing capitalism which includes bourgeois democracy. We fight alongside supporters of bourgeois democracy against fascism but always with the goal of turning that fight into a fight against capitalism in general.
cover image: Ted Low and community groups, Battle of Lewisham mural, 2019