It’s high time for a new United Front Against Fascism
Sporting a red Donald Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and using a smartphone encased in a Ku Klux Klan flag, a woman snaps a photo at a neo-Nazi Proud Boys event in Portland, Ore., on June 30, 2018. | John Rudoff / Sipa-USA via AP

So many Americans, from lukewarm liberals to many on the left, and even some of the few honest conservatives that remain on the playing field, are in a mood of despair right now. We sense that the slow coup ushering in fascism is already in full swing and is inevitable. The United States, as well as a number of other countries, is backsliding away from free elections and other democratic norms.

As columnist Berry Craig says, Donald Trump and the Trumpian Republicans—and there really aren’t any others at this point—are steering the country straight toward white supremacy and authoritarianism.

With his three appointees (two of whom many Americans consider “stolen”), Trump’s Supreme Court is laying the groundwork for rescinding hard-won Constitutional rights for the first time in U.S. history with abortion as the model case, leaving “rights” to the states, and entrusting enforcement basically to vigilante individuals and groups. We can easily predict where this is going: voting rights, labor rights, marriage rights, the right to free speech, the right to peaceably assemble, the right to public education, prisoners’ rights, immigrant rights, housing, and so much more.

In their blindered eyes, many Democrats, liberals, progressives, media commentators, even some on the self-defined left, have assumed an “It Can’t Happen Here” attitude, still holding onto a fantasy bipartisanship when the evidence is all but 100% around us that the GOP has no interest in democratic governance whatsoever.

A Communist Party-sponsored rally in support of Abraham Lincoln Brigade volunteers fighting for democracy against fascism in Spain in the 1930s. | People’s World Archive

Back in 1935, as the fascist movement in Europe was reaching its apogee, with the takeover of democratic Spain next on the horizon and troubling echoes at home in the KKK and Liberty Leagues, Sinclair Lewis wrote the dystopian novel It Can’t Happen Here, turned into a well-known film and play. What today’s readers might not recall is that in that work, It Did Happen Here! The novel ends just as the resistance is beginning to organize, with a highly uncertain outcome.

It’s been said that the best predictor of a successful coup is a failed coup. In other words, from the failure of the January 6, 2021, attempted coup in Congress, which would have invalidated the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the fascist movement has learned some lessons. Perhaps the violent coup was premature a year ago, but the slow coup occurring before our eyes right now is being well planned, the pieces of the puzzle all laid out on the table ready to be assembled.

What are some of those pieces?

Let’s begin with a clear and simple reminder of the classic definition of fascism: When the capitalist class as a whole has determined that it cannot stay in power following the usual norms of democratic governance, such as free elections, unbiased courts, and a depoliticized military, it resorts to extra-parliamentarian measures to secure power and place the reins of government in the hands of a corporate- and monopoly-dominated, totalitarian-minded administrative sector usually beholden to a single leader—a Führer or Duce or Generalísimo. In our case, a President, or maybe a President-for-Life.

The pieces of that movement are already in place and some are well advanced.

Christian Monterrosa / AP

Donald Trump came into office only by virtue of the Electoral College, which is one “parliamentary measure” that the capitalist class instituted way back at the outset of our nationhood in order to keep the riffraff, both free and the enslaved, down. So in many ways, the “democratic” system we have (the Electoral College, the disproportionate function of the Senate, the power of state legislatures to gerrymander House districts, the racism baked into every institution, etc.) has always favored the privileged white male ruling class. That’s our starting point.

Trump campaigned on the promise that with the breakdown of infrastructure, public trust, law and order, “only he” could set our country straight. What he accomplished was only to sow more chaos. The infrastructure rusted even more, the proliferation of weapons boomed, class divisions heightened, social cohesion frayed, public education deteriorated, unidentified armed units answerable only to the president went wild on the streets, judicial appointments became totally politicized, personal corruption, nepotism, and kleptocracy on the president’s part and on the part of his cabinet members soared, the country’s accountability to the world by treaty and international accord was banished, and mass death and sickness in a pandemic the administration could have effectively contained turned the country into a graveyard of the fearful, isolated un- and underemployed. All the while, corporate and monopoly interests’ profits multiplied as the public mourned.

But that was all just to increase the general despair. There’s much more than that to laying the groundwork for the slow coup. Trump’s Big Lie of the “stolen election,” which almost no Republican dares to contradict, plays a critical role.

What with voter suppression laws, intimidation at the polls, gerrymandering, and outright mob violence, in the coming election cycles of 2022 and 2024, democracy itself is on trial. Already the fascist party—you can read that as the Republican Party or more generally as all those interests favoring fascism—is asking its adherents to staff and oversee election precincts, to run for office as state secretaries of state (with Trump’s endorsement and financial help), to run state election boards, to pass laws empowering state legislatures to overrule the popular vote, so that what happened in 2020, i.e., both the popular vote and the Electoral College clearly favoring the Democrat, can never happen again.

Well-known comedian and HBO host Bill Maher analyzes the GOP’s slow-moving coup, ending with his warning, “I hope I scared the shit out of you. Yes, we should all be scared.”

Speaking of elections, how about this wave of recalls against sitting, duly elected Democrats (and yes, it’s always against Democrats)? A recall is in theory intended to remove from office someone who has seriously, legally abused the public trust, not just to replace them because they voted on this or that bill in a way you didn’t like. These recalls are masterminded to install a right-winger in office who could never have won a fair, scheduled election, also serving as a warning to anyone, especially in a swing district, as to just how vulnerable they are. Recalls are expensive, a waste of both public and private money, and in the vast majority of cases unnecessary, since the next election is only a year or two away. The big corporate funders only laugh at the amounts progressives are forced to spend to beat back these recalls, monies that could otherwise be spent for charitable purposes or to promote future progressive candidates in other races. In the meantime, the masterminds know that turnout is generally extremely low for single-item special elections, so the chances of tossing out a sitting officeholder are multiplied exponentially.

We’ve mentioned that abortion rights are in the Supreme Court’s sights, and it must be underlined just how consequential this issue is. If the right to control one’s own body is under the gun, and Roe v. Wade is effectively abolished as a constitutional principle, that in itself represents not only the first time rights won by the people have been explicitly rescinded, but a new imposition of the private morality of six Republican appointees on the entire nation, and a whole new generation of women and men whose resources and energies must necessarily be diverted to overturning the effects of that decision on what had been settled law for almost half a century. Control of reproduction and of women’s rights in general is one of the hallmarks of patriarchal, totalitarian society.

Legal cases around gun ownership and use (Kyle Rittenhouse!) are encouraging vigilantism and the breakdown of the right of the people to freely and peaceably assemble. If you fear that any demonstration you attend is going to be surrounded by armed Rittenhouses, you just might prefer to stay home and spare yourself the honor of becoming the movement’s latest antifa martyr. You might even fear to send your kids to school or go out to a night club or to the mall, where you’d face more terror, chaos, and death.

It’s been said that the best predictor of a successful coup is a failed coup. In this Jan. 6, 2021, photo, Trump supporters rally in front of the White House with Trump before they launched their deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol. | John Minchillo / AP

The anti-vaccination movement baffles many Americans. Are that many people truly so “religious” as to oppose being vaccinated against a deadly epidemic, when every major religious movement has endorsed vaccination previously? They don’t seem to oppose vaccinations against smallpox, typhus, polio, measles, etc. This is a transparent subterfuge. The real reason is political, a fanatical partisan movement to deny the Biden administration any success at combatting COVID-19, especially as their own standard-bearer, Trump, had been so grossly (and perhaps one day it will be determined, criminally) incompetent. This is also part of the movement to sow chaos. And it goes far beyond individuals claiming their sacred “rights.” Now mobs of anti-vaxxers are storming statehouses and city halls, and the offices and private homes of public health officials who are trying to do nothing less than save these fools’ own lives! Again, intimidation and fear of physical harm to oneself or to one’s family and kids are keeping honest professionals from seeking to be public servants, to the detriment of the larger community.

Finally (though really there are no limits to what fascists will do to gain and hold onto power), consider this (from Common Cause): “A handful of wealthy special interest groups are just a few states away from calling a new constitutional convention. Under Article V of the Constitution, Congress is required to convene a constitutional convention if two-thirds of state legislatures (34 states) call for one.” The pro-democracy organization goes on to explain:

“Many constitutional experts believe this is the least known but greatest present threat to our democracy—and it’s being organized right now, behind closed doors and out of the public eye. Wealthy special interest groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are spending big money to lobby state lawmakers, demanding they vote to ratify the convening of an Article V Convention to radically reshape the U.S. Constitution. If allowed to succeed, unelected, unaccountable delegates will have a chance to write their far-right-wing agenda into our Constitution.”

Throughout this whole crisis, beginning with their free, eye-catching coddling of candidate Trump in 2016, the mass media have played a largely destructive role, giving equal valence and legitimacy to “both sides” as if the struggle to retain even a semblance of our democracy were a sophomoric pissing contest, a lively “controversy” ginned up to guarantee 24-hour eyeballs on their multi-layered platforms.

What is to be done?

It’s the classic question. Where do we go from here?

There is certainly cause for alarm. But there are those on the defeatist left who only see reason to despair, as if the fascist coup has already all but succeeded. One expression of that kind of despair in the 1970s was the urban guerrilla movement (not only in the U.S.), which produced nothing but more repression.

Read Georgi Dimitrov’s classic analysis of fascism and the outlines of the original united front in Against Fascism and War, available from International Publishers.

For most others of us on the left, it’s in our DNA not to be pessimistic but to offer sober yet positive, confident, constructive hope—though we can’t fail to acknowledge sometimes it seems harder and harder to muster it. But yes, there are positive things happening: mass demonstrations against racism, for women’s rights, for labor organizing drives, for environmental protection, some real progressives elected to office. The work of Stacey Abrams and her team in Georgia is nothing short of inspiring. Democrats are counting on Build Back Better to convince broad sectors of the the voting population that Democrats get things done for the people.

But is all this enough to combat the despair and the manufactured anger? The carefully manipulated wedge issues (Critical Race Theory, books in school libraries, “Marxism,” abortion, trans people) seem to be more important to vast swaths of the voting population, and win elections.

Hillary Clinton was correct in 1998 when she called the attacks on her husband’s presidency a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Although she’s often cited for that phrase, she didn’t invent it—it’s been around for many decades. But we mention her by way of saying that America at this critical juncture needs a new United Front Against Fascism similar to what existed globally in the 1930s. It should be noted that by 1969, the Black Panther Party was also using anti-fascist analysis as a theoretical framework in its critique of the United States, defining fascism as “the power of finance capital.” A new anti-fascist front has to include all forces from the Democratic Party leftward, including major religious movements, the labor movement, environmental movement, as many as possible who will pledge their sworn allegiance and treasure to the fight against fascism.

We may not personally like or appreciate some of these people—it’s not necessary to mention any other names, but we’re talking about bankers and corporate leaders, waffling politicians, even military. The stakes at this moment are simply too high. Let’s not kid ourselves: A socialist transformation, not even to speak of revolution, is not on the current historical horizon. We must devise an approach for reaching out far beyond our existing circles to bring the broad masses, everywhere, around to an organized, anti-fascist, pro-democratic solidarity way of thinking. We do not have the luxury of nurturing our small-group individualism, at least not in such a “principled” way as to damage the larger solidarity. The larger solidarity, indeed, has to become that overriding principle.

Let the solidarity of the Warsaw Ghetto be our guide, the unity of the Second World War Allies, the strategic alliance between the Chinese Communists and the Kuomintang against the Japanese occupiers, the political coalitions (Portugal comes to mind, among many other examples) that have brought democratic governance to formerly dictatorial states.

The right wing—heavily funded by fascist-minded individuals, corporations, and think tanks—is also such a broad coalition that does not necessarily agree point for point, but they are well organized, from the intellectuals in the academy and the courts down through the politicians and on to the lumpen elements carrying guns in the streets.

We too, the broad but so far disunited movement of anti-fascists, must similarly pull ourselves together and fight back. We have our differences—big ones!—but we also have our points of unity. It is urgent that all these forces, without struggling internally for dominance, coalesce for the sake of democracy itself, into a new United Front Against Fascism.

The longer we delay, it will be more and more difficult to organize under ever greater strictures as the fascist noose tightens.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon, People’s World Cultural Editor, wrote a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein and co-authored composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. He has translated all nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, available from International Publishers NY.