The Left’s Failure to Understand Creeping Fascism

To defeat the forces of reaction opposed to humanity, socialists must also understand them. Rowan Fortune argues that there has been a failure of left theory, borne out of a fatal weakness and misdiagnosis on the left, but that there is still time for us to get serious.

2 June 2020

In April of 2019, Neil Faulkner, Seema Syeda, Phil Hearse and Samir Dathi co-authored and published Creeping Fascism through Public Reading Rooms. This book remains one of the most penetrating and important diagnoses of the current crisis available to the left. In part Mutiny formed around these insights, as a group of socialists who perceived a chilling passivity on the broader left (especially in the Labour Party and left sects) to the threat of the far right.

That passivity translated into wilfully ignorant responses to the book. In reviews that were either consciously misinforming or deliberately obfuscating, the claim was made over and over again that to describe the current far right as being in continuity with the far right of the past was alarmist at best, and completely inaccurate at worse. The tone of these ‘criticisms’ was often personal and slanderous of the authors.


Key to many of these bad faith reviews was the argument that Trump et al could not represent fascism because the forces they mobilised lacked the street militias that have come to define so much of our historical memory of one fascist regime, Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. However, central to the argument advanced in Creeping Fascism was that fascism a. is not historically always defined by paramilitary street violence (it was not to the same extent in Italy), and b. that this form of street violence will occur only when progressive class forces present a target for the reactionaries.

Fascist militias are not a defining feature of fascism, the book argued with numerous historical examples (and even more detailed examples can be found in Walden Bello’s book Counterrevolution). Rather, they represent a specific tool in the arsenal of fascist politics that is deployed only when the right historical circumstances appear. This argument was already chillingly vindicated by regimes such as Modi’s in India (as both Faulkner et al. and Bello demonstrate), but it has now also been vindicated by the Trump regime too.

The Philadelphia Police are deputising groups of armed white street thugs to mete out violence against protesters, themselves challenging the police’s daylight lynching of black people. Even now, too much of the left remains asleep to the real threat, lost in dreams of nationalist exceptionalism. As Trump declares Antifa a terrorist organisation (it is neither, but rather a strategy of direct action against fascism), and deploys the bloated military might of the US army against its own people, the left must look back on decades of compromise and theoretical lethargy.

In the UK the situation is not much better either. While our creeping fascism has yet to find a large enough target for street violence, a far right government under the obscene leadership of the clownish Johnson has allowed senior advisers to stand above the law while unleashing the pandemic in a tide of death against Britain’s care homes and the BAME community. Fearing the anger of the BAME community, inspired by examples in the US, in quick succession our government has now mangled, supressed and discounted a report into these deaths; a report already compromised by the involvement of a noted Islamophobe.

Much of the left finds itself looking at a crisis it lacks the theoretical tools or integrity to face. Every regressive compromise; every retreat from the culture war; every insistence that ‘class’ can meaningfully be demarcated from oppression; every failure to insist on a working-class that's contingent, political and encompasses all humanity, helped bring us to this dreadful impasse. We should still expect worse. The crystallisation of the anti-woke left decimates the chance of any emancipatory movement when it's needed most. If we see a continued and risible failure to challenge creeping fascism, those who should be injecting ideas of an alternative to capitalism into spontaneous movements will instead be hopelessly isolated from those movements.

It is time, once again, for the left to get serious. We must counter the new reactionary forces in every possible way. Where they are uncompromisingly opposed to acknowledging the humanity of the oppressed, we must be uncompromisingly in solidarity with the oppressed everywhere in the world; whereas they are straightforwardly nationalist, we must oppose nationalism; whereas they exult in conspiracy, we must produce robust theory, to be tested in reshaping this world into one fit for human beings.

The present, overwhelming struggle is the struggle for black lives. Every form of oppression finds reinforcement in every other oppression, and so when one struggle takes centre stage it must be prioritised at all costs. If we are not working alongside our black comrades to dismantle the systems of racism that uphold capitalism, we are of no use to humanity or socialism. We are at best irrelevant, and at worse bolstering the very forces of reaction we must destroy.

Ahead of us remain the deeply interwoven crises of capitalism and climate change. Allegedly progressive nationalism has no answer to either of these crises, since they are global in nature. Worse, the attempts to form social democratic national responses to these crises, which we have very little time left to redress, have catastrophically failed in the cases of Corbyn and Sanders. Creeping fascism, in the form of eco-fascism (as we have already seen developed through Green-Brown alliances in Austria and Denmark), offers only false and inhuman solutions, scapegoating and death.

The type of resistance we are now seeing in the United States and the world, formed in response to the US police murder of George Floyd, represents a final hope for us all.

It is Time to Mutiny!

Rowan Fortune is a West London activist, student of utopia and editor of Citizens of Nowhere, an anthology of utopic fiction that demonstrates the genre's enduring relevance.

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