Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Of Trump and Fascism

In 1940, a left-wing academic Harold J Laski wrote, in his book WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?, a long essay on What Fascism Is. In the way the Fascist leaders came to power, their background, and their exploitation of a sense of grievances to arouse a sense of national prestige, there are obvious parallels with Trump and his backers, and his political ‘base’.

The Fascists in seeking mass support made large promises for the discontented about a renewal of national pride - like Trump’s campaign slogan Make America Great Again:
Fascism begins with the formation of a little band of adventurers, whom no one takes very seriously... at its head a demagogue of genius. Its influence grows because it is able to exploit every grievance of a diseased society. It is careful to have no coherent doctrine... It offers the assurance of a renewal of that national pride which has been humiliated (Laski, Penguin ed. 1940, p 51).

Laski also argued that these “adventurers” are of an outlaw, gangsterish type, with contempt for the masses, and at the same time hatred for privilege and for the society’s rules. Again Trump seems to fit that description uncannily well.

The makers of the Fascist movements were fundamentally uneducated men, wholly unconcerned with the building of a logical system. They were men who ... were at once driven by ambition, avid of power ... they hated [society’s] rules because these rules stood in the way of their success ... Around a central group there gathered an army of the underworld, men who, in America, would have grouped themselves around the racketeers ... They were careful not to put forward any coherent programme... their technique was the simpler one of exploiting grievances and insisting they had sovereign remedies for them. The grievances were whatever men were capable of hating upon a scale wide enough, and with an intensity deep enough, to win support. They personalised their enemies in the sure knowledge that the masses are always interested by concrete symbols of hate (ibid., pp 60-61).

As Laski saw it, a Fascist movement was built on hatred. Both a hatred of privilege which made “rules which condemned them to failure.” and at the same time:

... contempt for the masses who accepted a rule in which they got most of the toil, and little of the gain of living; they had contempt for the masses because, as outlaws, they had rejected a rule which normally, confined them to poverty and failure (p63).

It is this contempt you hear in Trump when he refers to people as “losers”. And it was only by evading the law and norms of honest business –by shafting his contractors, workers and creditors, by walking away from an unsuccessful business, a failed casino, from all the conned who had hopefully signed up to join his fraudulent ‘Trump University’– that he could claim to be a successful businessman.

Again Laski pointed to another feature of the Trump presidency – its lack of a coherent settled policy, its disorder and frequent changes of personnel. If there is a clear policy, it is to undo any reforms made by previous administrations.

An obvious example of this is the dismantling of environmental controls, with water pollution left to the tender mercies of Big Industry and fracking, while experts on climate change find themselves assigned to managing the payroll of the EPA. This in a country whose rotting infrastructure means that rusting water pipes, in many industrial cities like Flint, are delivering water contaminated by lead, mercury, zinc etc.

In his study of Fascism, Laski also explained the Fascists’ lack of policy:

The only values they understood, the only values ... which had meaning for them, were those which consisted in the exercise of power by themselves. If it be asked for what end they proposed to exercise power, the answer is for the sake of power itself ... Their view was the simple one ... that, as fear and deception had gained them the state, so fear and deception would maintain them in possession of it (ibd..pp 64-5).

The logical outcome was a totalitarian state, with a complete obliteration of all independent social institutions - from the press and the media and the trade unions to the independent judiciary. Trump’s authoritarianism, his attacks against the media as “enemies of the people”, his insistence that only his will counts: these are all in that Fascist tradition.

It is possible that the US political tradition will mean that further steps down that path would be resisted. But many conditions needed to bring Nazis and Fascists to power, in the hungry inter-war years, are present now. Trade policies – free trade agreements with Canada and Mexico led to factories re-locating; technological development and increased competition from low-wage countries like China: all these have contributed to a sense of being “left behind”.

Add to this a witches’ brew of racism and white supremacist entitlement, fed by Trump’s divisive xenophobic rhetoric, and his movement was able to sweep all before them.

But to what end? Imagine all the migrants and asylum-seekers suddenly deported: would that guarantee jobs and prosperity for American workers? No! - workers in all lands face the same wretched problems, how to feed and house and clothe themselves on wages paid by employers, while these same employers benefit from convenient loopholes and concessions in tax laws, and live the life of Riley on the back of their sweat-force, off the unpaid labour of the great unwashed, those that Tsar Trump looks down on as “losers”.

The wage-slave class everywhere is subject to competition: the employers will remove their factories to anywhere they can find a cheaper workforce, a more profitable operation. Such is the way global capitalism works. And the question of just which set of gangsters controls the state, whether intelligent, highly educated public servants or the uneducated, unscrupulous, self-serving “stable genius” that is Trump, whether democratic or authoritarian, is beside the point.

The real point for workers everywhere is to be conscious of why the capitalist system is one of class exploitation, which simply cannot be made to work in the interests of the working class.

The Trumps of this world rely, for their power and mass support, on aggravating divisive nationalism and racism. So the solution is for the working class to unite, on the basis of our shared class interest, and put an end to the wages system. Nationalism leads to militarism and wars. Socialism alone can mean an end to war, and to all forms of class exploitation. And a movement of class-conscious and democratic Socialists has no need for any so-called ‘leaders’.

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