Written by: Steven Lazaroff
This essay originally appeared in Midwest Socialist on January 8th, 2021.
On January 6, 2021, 500 fascists took the US Capitol.
We socialists were in the streets over the summer of 2020, fighting police murder of Black lives. We felt the police pepper spray burning our eyes & skin, the police batons crushing our bones when we demanded police stop killing Black people, that cities take down Confederate or imperialist statues.
In response, comrades in many of these cities took up movements to Defund the Police. Those movements are good and right and must continue. However, January 6, 2021 presents us with a bubbling, building tension that has been on our minds from throughout Trump’s presidency: we urgently need a national, locally mobilized anti-fascist movement. If Black and brown workers or poor people had stormed the Capitol on January 6 they would have been massacred.
I open with this, not to exaggerate the threat to the US state these 500 fascists posed, but to present three points:
- US media is following the state’s lead in presenting the raid on the Capitol as a security lapse or a lack of police preparation, but it was made possible by a police strike in complicity with the fascists President Trump has been organizing during his presidency. January 6 was the action of a young fascist movement, piecing together power from Trump in the executive branch along with growing popular alienation in economic insecurity, in racial insecurity which manifests itself here as white supremacy.
- Sean Larson, a comrade in Chicago, has said, “Fascism must be confronted, humiliated, and demoralized in organized fashion, and this task needs to be made a priority across labor and the Left in the US starting now.”
- This is a developing fascist movement. We need to think about the lessons of the past as we develop politics, strategies & tactics in the US, in Central IL, in Bloomington-Normal to fight fascism: we need to make anti-fascist organizing an on-going, indefinite priority.
We need an anti-fascist league.
In the wake of January 6, German comrade Stefan Bornost wrote:
“On November 8, 1923, Hitler carried out his ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ in Munich. The putsch failed, Hitler was jailed, and was ridiculed throughout the country as a clown in the press. The effects within the radical Right were very different: the fledgling NSDAP [National Socialist German Workers’ Party] showed that they were serious about disposing with parliamentary democracy and were able to build on the foundation of this mystique for ten years until they finally succeeded. History is always teaching, will it find students?”
If we are Marxists, we are materialists constantly studying history, not to discover pre-made lessons, but to assess the conditions of the world that made those events necessary, to think through the actions that motivated them and the folks who fought against—and in turn to think about the unique conditions of our world, made from the past but presenting new crises and new opportunities. Our work is not to find an answer in the past, but to invent and to make new solutions.
Where is the development of fascism today?
Where are our anti-fascist organizations of power today?
As Richard Seymour argued in “Is It Still Fascism If It Is Incompetent”, “This is inchoate fascism, fascism in its experimental, speculative phase, in which is forming a coalition of minoritarian popular forces with elements in the executive and the repressive wing of the state.”
We would be wrong to take the failure of the coup on January 6th as evidence of fascism’s inertia or impotence. Fascists have been expressing themselves more and more openly. The events of January 6th will likely only energize the fascism brewing in the US, the fascism expressed at the Capitol today which ended in four potential martyrs for their movement. This fascism, like Seymour says, is in development, it’s playing around, it’s following its desire, it is seeing what works. Today was a corroboration of the populist fascism Trump’s presidency has always relied on: a fascism that is growing in people and in government.
Rosa Luxemburg famously said we are faced with socialism or barbarism—and this is still our work today as socialists. Fascism, like socialism, is a response to the failures of liberalism to manage the inequities & violences—the economic, racial, gender, and sexual conflicts that capitalism relies on.
Our work as socialists, first and foremost, always, must be to oppose fascism wherever it organizes and expresses itself. Fascists seek to organize folks around a similar phenomena as socialism: the failure of capitalism & liberalism. Fascism is our principle enemy. We cannot lose sight of this, and not losing sight of the threat of fascism means always orienting our socialist organizations against fascism.
Mike Davis wrote in article published yesterday before the coup, “The Left needs to face the fact that despite the huge popularity of its ideas and the dynamic example of BLM we remain clueless and disorganized as a national force. We need to stop looking for electoral silver-linings and get ourselves together. Renew our commitment to BLM and work like hell to build a multi-issue national coalition for life and justice.”
This is exponentially more true today than it was the few days ago that Davis wrote it. We need a Left that fights deeply and openly against fascism, that shows millions of people in the US there are folks fighting, that there is a Left that outmobilizes & outpowers fascism wherever it exists.
In our organization, DSA, this fight is necessarily local. Despite our large membership (80,000+ people nationally) and position as the largest socialist organization in a century, we are relatively early in our own development. The Left as a whole is still coming out of retreat. We don’t have organizational structures to allow for the kind of centralized, rapid mobilization which our urgent political developments demand. We can only pursue this work in the cities in which we organize and then connect those struggles along the way. This article is a step in the direction of formalizing and connecting struggles so we can build the local and national organization to be able to confront and defeat fascism.
Our work is not simply to call for an anti-fascist demonstration in response to the failed coup on January 6, 2021. Our work as socialists is to always and openly organize as anti-fascists, to confront fascism wherever it is: to outnumber them, to humiliate them, to defeat them. This work cannot be one-off or reactive. In order to fight fascism, we are going to need permanent inter-organizational structures. We need an anti-fascist league across organizations that can assess the full force of our power and moblize that power against fascism.
We in Central Illinois (where I organize now), in Chicago (where I organized for many years), in the US as a whole, know how difficult a task this is. It calls for us to reprioritize our work, to think through how we can imbue our existing campaigns with anti-fasicsm—but this difficulty does not take away the objective conditions. Fascism is here. We must respond to the conditions emerging around us. We cannot continue to act fatalistically as if fascism will just wither and die on its own. Fascism is a collective power seeking to annihilate the possibility of solidarity. Fascism can only be defeated with greater force, with greater collective power.
We as socialists need to take organizing an opposition to fascism as our urgent, everyday work. This work is at once local as much as it is national. We need to grow our organizational power and the only way we do that is rethink our existing local campaigns in this light. We can’t afford to subordinate anti-fascism to other struggles because anti-fascism is as integral as our struggle against capital, as integral as our struggle against local government. There is no way to extricate one from the other.
The capitalist struggle to maintain control of the state and of the means of production is not separate from the struggle against fascism. As the liberal state and capitalism fails to manage racism and class inequalities, fascism grows as its natural secretion. As socialists we can’t put anti-fascism to the side for a moment. Every action we take, every demonstration we organize must take anti-fascism as a formative principle. We need to locally organize against fascism today in order to build a mass national organization of anti-fascist socialists tomorrow.