The House January 6th Committee Hearings come at a very critical point in time, not just in regard to the future of American politics but also along the evolution of my personal political behaviors. During undergraduate I was one to keep C-SPAN on in the background while refreshing social media feeds, watching Senate filibusters and political commentators as if it were a sporting event. I know for certain that if I were still early in my studies, I would be eagerly watching the hearings out of excitement and fascination. However, today I watch the hearings out of anxiety, meticulously calculating what our future may hold.
The contents of the Hearings are not surprising to me, nor would they be to most who have been following along with the rise of fascism in the United States. It certainly is laid out clearly in front of us what transpired that day, yet we’re all too familiar with this violence and collaboration (especially those on the ground and actively involved in community events). The contents of the Hearings then are not what I am focused on. Rather, it is the result of these Hearings that are important to watch. I am not holding onto much hope that the results will push back against fascist forces and individuals, and I am especially fearful that individuals wielding power and status will face little to no consequences. That will be a massive blow to what little democracy exists in America today.
A lack of consequences for those who rallied far right groups and supported their efforts, both financially and politically, sends a clear message to fascists across America that only with slight delays and weak pushbacks can they utilize violence and suppression to intimidate opponents and popularize nationalistic tendencies across society. That with a disorganized left and an ineffective government, nationalistic groups are the means by which society’s economic and political concerns are resolved. Those of us on the left and engaged with our communities know the devastation and violence fascism will bring. It is then that this article is not a persuasive piece meant to change the minds on the left or shift the focus onto the current administration’s actions, but to motivate groups and organizations to come together and build a strong foundation for what the future may hold. We are in a period where left unity is not just a slogan, but a necessity for survival.
Notes on Fascism by Paul Sering
When examining the rise of Christian Nationalism in America, we can not only look at recent trends and sociopolitical conditions but also the past conditions of other nations that saw a rise in nationalism and far right rhetoric. What has been an interesting read in light of our current predicament is Paul Sering’s Notes on Fascism (title supplied by Irving Howe, editor of Essential Works of Socialism). In his writings, Sering discusses the blending of capitalism with imperialism that facilitates capital’s influence and inclusion in government’s decision making. This is certainly relevant to our current situation, but his observations on the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy deserve greater attention and review. Specifically, how has fascism’s social base given power to fascist political campaigns.
Sering notes that both Italian fascism and German National Socialism organized mass social movements that aided in their ascent to power. They appealed to a broad section of society, not just one specific class or group interest, through “three main slogans: nationalism; attack on parliamentary democracy; and struggle against the workers’ movement.” Both movements took advantage of the political and economic instability in their homelands, highlighting how ineffective and elitist government officials only worsened the economic conditions and created burdensome circumstances for businesses and family structures. The state needed to step in and eject all forces that appeared to actively subvert national and social stability. The failure to make substantial transformations and economic overhauls in the wake of a global depression gave fuel to fascists groups to exploit the frustration and suffering of the masses and direct their anger not towards the capitalists but towards the socialists and their allies.
Where 1920s Germany and Italy certainly differ from America is the fact that the former nations had not enshrined a long history and practice of democracy. Anti-democratic groups still held a strong foundation in the political arena and had stronger justifications for removing the newly implemented political system. This is not to say that fascism cannot happen here in America, but that the transformation into fascism in Germany and Italy may have been greatly facilitated by that lack of democratic history and engagement. However, fascists, both then and now, greatly used antisocialist tactics to mobilize the masses and oppose any efforts to dismantle capitalism and the power structure that benefited workers and marginalized communities.
Early fascist groups in Germany, as Sering writes, were more than just propaganda machines exploiting society’s despair. They were “terroristic fighting organizations with a centralized military structure, adapted for demonstrating their strength, intimidating their enemies, and taking over the state apparatus as soon as the party entered the government.” Fascists were able to back up their propaganda and speech through the organization and use of physical violence against groups it saw as weak or counter to their goals. We’ve seen bits and pieces of this in America but have started to witness a substantial growth in far-right militia groups, from the January 6th insurrection to the Proud Boys attempting to intimidate LGBT groups and Pride events. We cannot view these instances as isolated cases of far-right individuals and groups falling into a frenzy. We must acknowledge the formation and actions of these groups as an arm of fascism, eager to take part in the fascists’ plans to hijack government and societal control.
We must also remember that fascism and capitalism are intrinsically connected and benefit from one another’s existence, namely in the construction of socio-political hierarchies and suppression in workers’ movements and the rights of minorities. Profit and power with the ability to direct the masses in their preferred direction has been the goal of both fascism and capitalism. I certainly encourage others to read this section, as there is so much that can be learned from the rise of fascism in 1920s Europe and its comparison to today’s socio-political environment. But I will include Sering’s final remark, that the Marxian prophecy (that the alternative to socialism would be a decline into barbarism) “became terrible reality in the nihilism in the Third Reich. The wanderer between two worlds became a wanderer into nothingness.”
Midterm Elections and Beyond
Anyone engaged in American politics is aware of how telling Midterm Elections tend to be. We saw the Tea Party movement organize in 2009 ahead of the ’10 Midterms and the “Blue Wave” in 2018 in response to a Republican dominated government. It’s no secret that Biden is merely a temporary solution to Trump, although his election does little to nothing to address systemic issues and dismantle the failed economic system that is Capitalism. But the key thing to focus on is not what a Democrat or a Republican can do in office but how the makeup of political institutions reflects political thought in America. Midterms then serve as a litmus test for what we can expect in the following election, typically the election that sees the highest turnout. Certainly, one can get into the data and analyze the makeup of voters during the Midterms, especially in conservative states where Republican voters far exceed Democratic voters in turnout, but the success of nationalistic candidates in their primaries and general election should still serve as a warning of the power and influence of nationalistic rhetoric with American voters.
We can look at two different tactics utilized by each party. As I have touched on in my previous article “On Political Participation in Conservative States,” we’ve seen Democratic leadership support centrist and conservative incumbents over progressive challengers, with Henry Cuellar v. Jessica Cisneros being the most recent and obvious case. The justifications given by both party members and conservative Democrats vary, from minimizing intra-party conflicts to maintaining a big tent status to attract dissatisfied Republican voters. There is a prevailing assumption that regardless of what the Democrats do or don’t do, progressives and anyone left of center will vote for them. Paired with “Vote Blue No Matter Who” voices who shame anyone who does not vote Democrat, even if they are anti-choice and anti-worker, the mainstream Democratic Party has little reason to appease progressive concerns or allow greater progressive presence in leadership and decision-making. And no, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and others may appear progressive to the average American voter (as moderate Democrats have claimed) but their policies have failed to reduce America’s imperialist nature or it’s harsh treatment of lower-class Americans. They offered bandages when we need surgery.
The Republican Party continues to feign concern and disappointment in public when asked about far right nationalistic candidates unless their actions are more costly to the Republican image than beneficial (as we saw with Madison Cawthorn). Certainly, the party has radicalized far beyond what we’ve seen in previous elections, at least outwardly. Republicans have continuously supported deregulation in an already underregulated capitalist economy and the promotion of going to war for the sake of “Democracy,” but the 2016 election has condoned the use of Christian Nationalism and even encouraged the formation of grassroots fascist groups for the sake of taking political power and minimizing any left leaning groups (or moderate conservatives for that matter). And Republican leaders have little to no desire to actively combat the rise of fascism, especially when this frenzy encourages a greater number of registered Republicans to turn out and vote them into power. It’s a fantastic fundraising tool and political weapon, but sooner or later it will backfire on anyone deemed sympathetic to the old guard and the state. Former Vice President Pence can certainly attest to that.
Given the declining popularity of Biden among the left and the lack of significant progress in socioeconomic conditions (low wages, high costs of health care, college, etc.) paired with the frenzy of far-right candidates calling for a return of Trump-era politics, the 2022 Midterm Election will be a bloodbath. Even in a best-case scenario, conservatives will certainly gain seats in the House of Representatives. But the composition of Congress in 2022 and 2024 is insignificant to what a surge of Christian Nationalist politicians entails. It emboldens nationalists to continue their efforts, it signals to them that political offices and the means of exercising power is within their reach. And their elected representatives do not have to lift a finger, what with blaming the “Deep State” and “RINOs” for any difficulties or inabilities to get policies passed. A hallmark of fascism is that enemies are both formidable and all knowing yet weak and unintelligent. It’s endless fuel for an extremist campaign.
As long as we maintain a two-party system in American politics that profits off of reactionary movements and leadership that heavily sways elections, meaningful reform is near impossible. We may navigate the American political system and pass relief and some reform that benefits working class Americans, but it is incorrect to assume that at this point in time we are able to make significant political transformations through the system itself. There are too many safeguards in place that uphold the capitalist system and too much of the American public see elections as the primary method for any form of reform or change. We must encourage class consciousness, awareness of the limitations of our current political system, and the formation of mutual aid and support networks.
Importance of Left Unity
Anyone participating in leftist spaces, especially online, is aware of the divisions within American leftist groups on specific policies, tactics, positions, and management. And this is not a new phenomenon. It’s often a challenge to unify leftist groups, from Social Democrats to Communists, into one large, organized force fighting together for change and protections for the most vulnerable among us. We’re all working towards the same goal, but the fractures that exist often leave groups working parallel to each other as opposed to together. We can recognize the vast differences between ideologies and political parties, but none of that matters in the immediate future.
We are watching in real time the rise of fascism in the United States. We are seeing the formation and strength of far-right nationalistic groups that are actively seeking to harm marginalized groups and suppress any form of left leaning movements. We certainly recognize that America has historically supported right wing policies both domestically and internationally and understand how the system perpetuates exploitation and violence from Philadelphia to Palestine. However, we are witnessing a political crisis in front of our eyes that demand our attention and our efforts. Call it what you will, but now more than ever we must push for left unity. We have millions of Americans facing socioeconomic crises and growing political movements that call for cutting public spending, the construction of more prisons, censorship and closures of public schools, and the allowance of corporations to continue exploiting workers. We must fight this however possible.
This may be done through the establishment of local mutual aid systems, city wide tenant unions, supporting labor strikes and informing workers how to take power into their own hands, and other methods of community and worker empowerment. It may be offering security to vulnerable populations, offering self-defense courses, and creating safe environments for those facing violence or fearful of their surroundings. It may be running for political office and building class consciousness or passing some form of relief. It may be educating the masses, holding book clubs, and providing easy to access information. There is so much that we can do to help our communities and build working class groups both political and non-political. But we face a daunting task of getting these projects done when we fail to unite and work together as one.
We can certainly discuss the pathway towards socialism in America, but that pathway becomes obfuscated should nationalism take hold and destroy our communities. Left unity then is necessary for our survival as well as the survival of marginalized communities at this point in American history.
Jordan Shepherd is a community organizer and local activist currently in Northwest Arkansas. They have worked with local Socialist Alternative, PSL, and IWW chapters as well as a diverse group of leftists and poverty alleviation groups. Jordan has a Bachelor's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies and a Master's Degree in Political Science with an emphasis on marginalized communities and the American political system. They have worked on local level political campaigns in Arkansas and continues to work with both non electoral groups and progressive political candidates to advance working class policies.