Practice is the test of theory. Three years ago, a small group of us advanced the theory of creeping fascism. We were either ignored or ridiculed by most of the Far Left. On the basis of the theory, we advanced a number of predictions. These have been, to a large degree, confirmed by events.
Let me summarise our argument and its relationship to events:
The election of Donald Trump in the US and the Leave victory in Britain’s EU Referendum formed part of a rising global tide of nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and authoritarianism.
In the absence of a strong labour movement with its own armed militias (as in the interwar period), we should not expect paramilitary organisation to feature heavily in modern forms of fascism.
Fascism is a political process, not a done deal. Anyone who takes a tick-box approach to defining it belongs in a sociology seminar. Activists engaged in the class struggle have to grasp that everything is motion: it is the dynamic and trajectory of mass political phenomena that matter.
The principal agent of fascist repression has always been the existing state apparatus. There are no historical examples of fascism overthrowing the liberal-bourgeois state and creating a new fascist-totalitarian state. Without exception, fascism takes over the existing state and, by a process of purge, coercion, and indoctrination, turns it into the main instrument of its dictatorship. Therefore, if fascists can take control of the state by electoral means, they will do so.
Nor does fascism necessarily require its own party form. Just as the state can be transformed and made fascist, so might existing right-wing parties be taken over and made fascist. There are many historical examples, but in this regard we do not need to delve far into the past. The Far Right has now taken over both the Republican Party in the US and the Tory Party in Britain.
The EU Referendum and the Leave Campaign represented the first stage in a slow-motion coup by the Tory Right. The second stage was the election of Boris Johnson as Tory leader and prime minister. Long before his election, we argued that Johnson was the British Trump in waiting.
For anyone on the Left to back Brexit is a catastrophic mistake. It means, at a time when the labour movement and the Left are very weak, supporting the flagship project of the Far Right instead of challenging head-on the nationalism and racism at its core. It means, in practice, abandoning internationalism, anti-racism, and solidarity with the oppressed.
By peddling Lexit, the degenerated sects of the Far Left have cut themselves off from the progressive vanguard of the working class. Far worse, by attempting to ‘triangulate’ between reactionary Leave voters and progressive Remain voters – a policy engineered by backroom Lexiters – the Labour leadership has a) failed to challenge the nationalism and racism of the Far Right, b) split the progressive vote (facilitating, in particular, a massive Liberal-Democrat surge), and c) laid the basis for possible electoral collapse
As soon as Johnson was elected, we made a further prediction: that he would be forced to go for a general election to secure a stable working majority, and that he would fight this on a ‘People versus Elites’ platform. The proroguing of Parliament is preparation for that: for stage three of the slow-motion coup that began in 2016.
Some sort of lash-up with Farage and the Brexit Party remains highly probable, and if this is done, Labour, on current showing, is liable to be smashed. At the moment, we have an unstable Far Right regime. If the Johnson regime crashes out of the EU on 31 October and then wins a general election, we could have a stable regime able to govern for a full term. The implications of that are spelt out in the Public Reading Rooms editorial ‘Defend Democracy: Stop the Coup’ (https://prruk.org/johnsons-coup-fight-for-mass-action-to-re-open-parliament/).
The prospect would be fast tracking towards a low-wage sweatshop and tax-haven in the edge of Europe; becoming a colony of American-based corporate asset-strippers and privatisers; turning into a country where wages stagnate, public services are sold off, the poor are left to rot, and minorities are hounded by the police in a context of moral panics around crime, migration, and terrorism; evolving into a nationalist-racist silo filled with hate, repression, and misery.
Is this what fascism looks like?
Despite the creeping fascism thesis, and the accumulating evidence of its accuracy, I have generally avoided applying the term ‘fascist’ to politicians like Trump, Johnson, Farage, Le Pen, and Salvini. I have tended to assume that they represent stages on a road towards fascism, and that other, harder, nastier, more fully-fledged fascists would in due course emerge. I no longer think this.
Modi, the Hindu chauvinist leader of India, has put mainly-Muslim Kashmir under military occupation. Erdogan, the nationalist-Islamist leader of Turkey, has shut down the independent media and sacked tens of thousands of academics, teachers, and lawyers. Bolsonaro, the racist-misogynist leader of Brazil, is destroying the Amazon rainforest.
Tens of thousands are held in concentration camps on the US-Mexican border. Thousands more are held in detention centres elsewhere. Seven US states have made abortion effectively illegal, and the Far Right is poised to try and extend this to the rest of the country.
Tens of thousands more are held in concentration camps in Libya, Turkey, and Europe. These include detention centres in Britain, where people deemed by the state to be ‘illegal’ are incarcerated by private security firms in deference to a nationalist-racist definition of who is and who is not entitled to their liberty.
These things are happening now. They are being normalised, and then augmented in further attacks, by a global Far Right that is surging, confident, empowered. Creeping fascism is not a matter of moving slowly towards a still-distant destination; it is a matter of gradually implementing the fascist programme in the here and now.
So when Ilhan Omar, the Democratic congresswomen for Minnesota, says that Trump is a fascist, she is right to do so. This is not casual abuse: it is an accurate description of Trump’s politics, in theory and practice.
To describe the new generation of Far Right politicians as ‘fascist’ is not to describe their power, but a) their intent, b) their base, and c) their trajectory. Their power is not yet absolute. It is not the power of Hitler in 1934, let alone in 1944.
By advancing directly on state power by electoral means, the new fascists find themselves confronting the deeply-embedded liberal parliamentary systems of the post-war era without having the assistance of an activist mass party of hundreds of thousands like the Nazis and the Brownshirts of 1932.
Though they have gathered the ‘human dust’ of capitalist crisis into a electoral base motivated by ‘the shit of ages’ – nationalism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, authoritarianism, militarism – they lack the means to batter their liberal opponents into immediate submission. Events unfold more slowly.
But they are playing a carefully calculated game. It is a new game, with new rules, and they are playing in deadly earnest for the highest stakes. Everything is discussed, planned, thought through. Nothing is left to chance. And in this regard, in relation to their opponents, the new fascists are way ahead of the curve.
What is to be done?
In this sense – in the only sense in which the term becomes meaningful in the early 21st century – Johnson is a fascist. He is now leading an acceleration in the slow-motion coup that began in 2016. To repeat, it is the process, the dynamic, the trajectory that define the project. To repeat, it is the state that is the main enemy, the main instrument of repression, the main mechanism for increasing authoritarianism, nationalism, and persecution.
The label matters, because if Johnson is, to all intents and purposes, a fascist, then building active mass resistance by any means necessary becomes an immediate and overriding political priority. Before it is too late. Before we are in Putin’s Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey, or Sisi’s Egypt, where resistance is effectively illegal.
The liberal centre will collapse. This is what happened in Germany and everywhere else in the 1930s. The liberals never fight. In Germany, in March 1933, in the Reichstag, they voted for the Enabling Act that made Hitler a dictator.
The Left must lead the resistance. The workers, the renters, the women, the minorities, the whole mass of the exploited and the oppressed, must be organised and mobilised in all-out struggle.
But that requires leadership, and that is so woefully lacking. The leaders of the Labour Party and the TUC should be calling for and organising for mass resistance. But they are not. Corbyn has appealed to the Queen. A modern socialist leader, confronting a Far Right coup, turns to a feudal relic. Others place their faith in legal challenges and constitutional manoeuvres.
What is perhaps most pitiful is the craven submission of the liberal political elite in the face of the prorogation order. It is the act of an unelected prime minister who is a rank political chancer, a serial liar, and a man who owes his position to the votes of 90,000 members of an ageing party of Islamophobic bigots. It has been underwritten by the ludicrous anachronism of the British monarchy, a racket currently run by a family of reactionary toffs with a long record of racism, snobbery, and sleaze. Why does the liberal political elite not do the obvious thing: ignore the prorogation order and continue sitting as the leadership of the popular resistance?
More specifically, why does Labour not propose this, setting itself up as the leadership of a popular, progressive, pro-democracy, anti-Brexit mass movement? The fascists have a plan and a goal. The Left is in desperate need of leadership that is equally serious and determined.
Neil Faulkner is the author, with Samir Dathi, Phil Hearse, and Seema Syeda, of Creeping Fascism: what it is and h