Is it too late to stop fascism in the US?

(Image from this old post by Nick P, it’s NOT from a Tea Party rally)

First thing first, Robert Paxton’s definition of fascism:

Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline. […]

A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

Now, Sara Robinson on the question “Are we there yet?”:

And every time this question got asked, people like Chip Berlet and Dave Neiwert and Fred Clarkson and yours truly would look up from our maps like a parent on a long drive, and smile a wan smile of reassurance. “Wellll…we’re on a bad road, and if we don’t change course, we could end up there soon enough. But there’s also still plenty of time and opportunity to turn back. Watch, but don’t worry. As bad as this looks: no — we are not there yet.”

In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world’s pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist. In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn’t by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together. According to our reading of Paxton’s stages, we weren’t there yet. There were certain signs — one in particular — we were keeping an eye out for, and we just weren’t seeing it.

And now we are. In fact, if you know what you’re looking for, it’s suddenly everywhere. […]

All through the Bush years, progressive right-wing watchers refused to call it “fascism” because, though we kept looking, we never saw clear signs of a deliberate, committed institutional partnership forming between America’s conservative elites and its emerging homegrown brownshirt horde. We caught tantalizing signs of brief flirtations — passing political alliances, money passing hands, far-right moonbat talking points flying out of the mouths of “mainstream” conservative leaders. But it was all circumstantial, and fairly transitory. The two sides kept a discreet distance from each other, at least in public. What went on behind closed doors, we could only guess. They certainly didn’t act like a married couple.

Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips’ Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas — the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer — being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We’ve seen Armey’s own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process — and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We’ve seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to “a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress.”

This is the sign we were waiting for — the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America’s conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country’s legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America’s streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won’t do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It’s also our very last chance to stop it.

Alternet: Is the U.S. on the Brink of Fascism?

Robinson has 2 follow-up posts: 7 Ways We Can Fight Back Against the Rising Fascist Threat and 5 Ways to Build a Fascist-Proof America

I don’t share Robinson’s faith that we can pull out of this. I don’t have her faith in the Democratic Party, which I think plays the role of “good cop” in what’s actually a one party system. I think the entire establishment media, not just Fox News, is a party of that system and can never be made to “get the story right.” I don’t think we can rely on the police to do the “heavy lifting.”

I have, however, been considering what can be done. I will share my thoughts and conclusions eventually (unless of course I do decide there really isn’t anything that can be done).

In the meantime, here are some other things to consider.

Naomi Wolf in her own piece claiming we’re in the late stages of a fascist shift: (from 2007)

A friend emails me a story from USA Today about a 24-year-old college graduate who testified before Congress about her family of immigrants and the difficulties they face; shortly afterward, the entire family was arrested by immigration agents. Another online piece reports that Blackwater is setting up operations along the US/Mexico border and an insightful post on Daily Kos describes how the TSA list will revert from the airlines to the management of the Department of Homeland Security shortly and that by February we may well face the need to apply to the State for permission to travel. If this proposed regulation goes through, we will move from 1931 to about 1934–when the borders started to close– with the stroke of a pen. Jews in America have hardwired into their DNA a sense of the distinction between those who got out before the borders closed and those who waited a moment too long.

And these thoughts about life during totalitarianism from William S. Burroughs and RU Sirius.


  1. If you think the Democratic Party is a bulwark against fascism, there’s no way to stop it. Building a movement in the streets can… or maybe it can’t, but it can at least try.

  2. Last chance? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, let’s not miss this chance. We know fascism isn’t in place yet, because no one has carted off Klint and others yet, but of course, at that point, it IS too late. How close to the edge are we? Hard to say. Historically, it’s always later than we think.

  3. I don’t think the Democratic Party is a bulwark against fascism. More accurately, I think it could become a bulwark against fascism, just as socialists virtually took over the party in the last depression. There is indeed something to build on there. It means putting the pressure on elected officials, mounting serious primary challenges against blue dogs, and somehow making inroads in the news media, giving exposure to the voices pointing out the corporate corruption and language of hate so prevalent in this country. Shifting the dialogue of the center, publicly and loudly addressing fascism as a crime against freedom, justice, and the American way. Which it is, of course.

  4. Some source material to help readers decide if fascism is here now, coming to or impossible in the USA…
    The Manifesto of Fascist Struggle.
    National Socialist Program.
    Mein Kampf.
    100 Questions.
    Definitions of fascism.

  5. Point of order: “Socialists” did not join the Democratic Party during the last Depression. Stalinists joined it as part of their role as Moscow’s PR agency in the states. Socialists- in the Socialist Party, the Workers Party, and the Socialist Workers Party- always agitated for the political independence of the working class.

    While there certainly is room for united front action against fascism with liberals, urging the established liberal parties to move to the left and “get tough” with fascists was a recipe for disaster in Germany, and will be a recipe for disaster here.

    See: Leon Trotsky’s Fascism: What It Is and How To Fight It

    It is also worth noting that while fascism has historically used populist rhetoric, this rhetoric falls by the wayside almost immediately after the fascist take power and start making deals with bankers and industrialists.

  6. A relevant selection from the 100 Questions with Oswald Mosley:

    “What are the differences between Fascism in Britain and Fascism in Italy and Germany ?
    The main difference is that they are Italian or German and that we are British. From this all other differences follow. Fascism in essence is a national creed finding a different national expression and method in each nation. For this reason, Fascist Movements in each country vary more than Socialist or Communist Movements, which are international.”

    Nationalism is the key component of fascism, not the various social programs proposed by various fascist parties of the past, and it is the stream flowing through all the various disparate components of the right-wing populist movement. Their current strategy of the right is to obfuscate their own fascistic tendencies by drawing comparisons between left wing social programs and fascist social programs.

  7. Well pardon my imprecise language, but the point is that there was a significant shift to the left by the democrats. What’s more, the democrats were able to achieve dominance over the right in the US for over thirty years and largely halt the menace of the fascist corporate elite that was so bold as to even conspire to assassinate the president. The American breed of fascist was not so different from the current generation, and yet WAS quite different from the Nazis in terms of economic policy. Then, as now, the economic policies of Nazi Germany were not so different from those of the liberal Democrats, or frankly, from the liberals the Nazis so demonized in their own country. Given those key differences, why do you think embracing the left and speaking out against the fascists would be as disastrous for the majority party in the US as it was in Germany? What is so different this time? Wasn’t there widespread populist right-wing organization last time, aided by abuse of the near-monopolistic power of the dominant news media of the day? And didn’t liberal forces make heavy use of the new media (radio) to promote their own agenda? The liberals won, man. Why not this time?

  8. My article on the matter:

    To address Uriah’s question, the Democrats aren’t capable of opposing fascism in any meaningful way in the 00s, and I suspect they weren’t in the 30s other than being forced to by a highly militant labor movement. The short answer is that America is a declining power and fascism is going to look VERY attractive to many layers of the American ruling class.

  9. Just as generals are always ready to re-fight the LAST war, most liberals fear a resurgence of 1930’s style fascism. If you wish to oppose current fascism, you must read “Friendly Fascism” (South End) by Professor Gross. FYI, Prof. Gross was a paid consultant to the Rockefellers, for many years.

  10. I’m familiar with some of Gross’s arguments, but I haven’t read his book.

    Just found this collection of excerpts:

  11. Best parody/satire I’ve seen in a while – and the rest of your commenters either believed you were serious, or were in on the joke. Especially Nick P – intimating that the Democrats would OPPOSE fascism instead of promoting it? Hilarious!

    Keep up the entertaining fiction.

  12. Alan – You misinterpreted Nick’s comment.

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