More than simply hard right or viciously racist, we must grasp that fascism has specific characteristics, says Tomáš Tengely-Evans
A sinister collection of Trump supporters, far right conspiracy theorists and outright fascists were in the crowd that broke into the US Capitol building. There is no doubt Nazis were at the core.
They included men with hoodies reading, “Camp Auschwitz” and “6MWE”—six million wasn’t enough—references to the mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust.
To confront it, it’s necessary to understand the nature of the threat.
Having a clear definition of fascism isn’t about having a tick box list—or playing down how dangerous other right-wingers and racists are. It’s about understanding what makes fascism unique in order to better fight it.
Fascism isn’t just a nasty form of authoritarianism, racism or bigotry. It strives to build a mass movement on the streets that can inflict violence and terror on political opponents and minorities.
And, ultimately, fascism’s aim is to destroy all democratic rights.
Fascism was born out of the profound social crisis that followed the First World War. In “normal times”, the capitalist class can rely on their state and the police to keep threats in check.
They justify their rule through the facade of parliamentary democracy, a media that pushes ruling class ideas, and “safe” opposition parties that act as a safety valve when anger erupts.
In times of crisis, the usual methods aren’t always enough. In the decades after the war, ruling classes faced militant, mass workers’ movements and the threat of revolution. Sections eventually looked to another mass movement—fascism—to crush the workers.
Fascists contest elections to gain legitimacy, but they have never won state power through democratic elections. Whether it’s Adolf Hitler in 1930s Germany or Benito Mussolini in 1920s Italy, the ruling class has handed them power in the hope of restoring order and stability.
This doesn’t mean that fascism is just an appendage to the ruling class or a ruling class movement. It has its own mass roots and dynamic and uses fake “revolutionary” or “anti-establishment” language.
Fascism’s social base is rooted in the “petty bourgeoisie”. These middle class layers include small capitalists, shop keepers and some professionals who run their own businesses.
They lack the wealth and power of capital and the working class’s ability to fight back collectively. When crisis hits, these layers are often badly squeezed. If there’s a strong workers’ movement, they can look leftwards. But without it, they can lurch to the right, which provides scapegoats for their distress.
This was the case with the Nazis in 1930s Germany. But it has held true more recently. In Hungary, for instance, the fascist movement Jobbik grew in the wake of a heavily-indebted middle class being smashed in the 2007-8 financial crisis.
Fascist movements gain their strength through street mobilisations—and that means they have to be confronted.
Today the US ruling class is not looking to a fascist movement to restore order.
But that doesn’t mean fascists are not dangerous. And Trump openly courted fascists in the White House at the beginning of his term.
He has given succour to far right conspiracy theories, and during the election hinted at them being useful boot boys.
He has also pulled a section of the Republican base further to the right, giving fascists a substantial audience. Within a far right or racist movement, there is often a Nazi core surrounded by softer racists.
These sorts of right-wing movements can be pulled in a more “mainstream” direction or the Nazi core can grow and seek to harden up the movement politically. That’s what fascists in the US are seeking to do.
The scenes in Washington were not a serious effort to seize state power.
But to build their movements, fascists have sometimes opted for bold, declarative actions. Mussolini’s fascists, for instance, smashed up socialist newspaper presses and murdered 39 people in Milan in 1919.
At that point the fascists were a small force. But the violent action was declaration of intent and propaganda for the movement, with Mussolini hailing it as the “first incident of the civil war”.
The US Capitol riot was the last gasp of the Trump presidency. But it also a clear declaration that the fascists and far right are not going away.