Category Archives: fascism

On Rwanda; or Wasn’t the law supposed to rescue our Trump wannabes, and if that isn’t happening, why not?


This is how I like to imagine the scene in the Court of Appeal, as that court was obliged to sit late and reconsider the lawfulness of the Rwanda flight. Counsel for the Secretary of State staring desperately into his black mirror, praying for instructions – anything. The Master of the Rolls spitting fury, denouncing the incompetence of the administration that had ruined his and his colleagues’ evening off.

The morning after Boris Johnson squeaked through his no confidence vote, his allies were already setting out his plans for survival. The Prime Minister would announce such a blizzard of new laws, regulations on the NHS, a statute for the Northern Ireland trade deal, laws on weights and measures, that with this new burst of energy his administration would be transformed.

Instead, every time Johnson legislates, it makes his government seem less competent than before. This is the failure at the heart of Rwanda: that the government wants prospective refugees to believe that the scheme is so heartless that they should not come to Britain, and the courts to find that it is so kind and generous as to make no difference. A better legislator might have drafted a scheme which plausibly lacks both ways at once; Johnson has neither the skill to draft rules of that subtlety nor the patience to wait and let his opponents exhaust themselves.

For years, his ministers have been promising crowd-pleasing measures, to abolish no-fault evictions for tenants and enhance workers’ right by introducing stable contracts for gig economy workers. Each has been subject to counter-lobbying from landlords and employers. The question becomes what the law will say in detail – will each clause help the people, or only Johnson’s people? The answers are difficult, require time and thought. Again and again, the Prime Minister loses interest, postponing legislation to a future which never comes.

Johnson believes ministers should be freed from parliamentary control, upon which they will be empowered to act with unprecedented speed in response to crisis. (Hence his criticism of the NHS as a “Blockbuster” service). Yet whenever Johnson legislate in haste, he repents at leisure. We have seen that over the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol, which Johnson now derides as a shoddy piece of drafting, unfit for purposes and needing to be scrapped altogether. Maybe so – but he wrote it.

It is the same with the Covid laws which are at the heart of Partygate. Johnson says it “did not occur” to him that holding social gatherings “might have been a breach of the rules”. It is true that the Coronavirus laws were complicated.

In the first year of the pandemic, Johnson’s government introduced 66 Coronavirus regulations. Together, they were in practice a single set of rules being changed weekly, at times daily. The government was just as much correcting its own previous errors as it was taking control of the Covid-19 crisis. In our unwritten constitution, only Parliament should legislate to create a criminal offence. Under Covid, we were governed by Ministerial decree.

The enormous health crisis of Covid gave Johnson the chance to rule in exactly the way he liked: without delay, without Parliamentary scrutiny. The laws he made in these conditions of executive freedom are the same rules whose breach now makes his position untenable, and cause that sense of chaos which with every new law he accentuates.

The essential point is surely this: in 2016, under the impact of Trump’s election and the Brexit vote, the opportunities were created for a new style of government, one in which economies would retreat within their national borders, international institutions would be dismantled, and the deep structures of government and law would have to change to catch up with this new normal. But that breakthrough has not yet been consolidated on the scale (say) of the neoliberal breakthrough of 1979-80 (after which the Reagan and Thatcher victories, really did seem to change the world). So that states which have turned fully towards the new politics (Brazil, Hungary, India) are balanced by others which considered turning national-populist but have so far pulled back from the brink (the United States).

So judges, whose job is to oversee the compromises on which any society is based, look back at the populists and find them incompetent. Not the spirit of the age but representaives only of is stupidy and chaos. Against the court’s instinct to uphold the legality of whatever nonsense that ministers put before them, the judges find themselves reluctantly playing the part of the sand whose grit causes the machine to explode.

Now let us see the same process, not from the perspective of the courts, but the social movements whose interests the radical lawyers serve.

The most heartening thing about the Rwanda flight was that for the first time in a year you could see an activist culture remerging: the demonstrations outside the Home Office, the people blocking the road outside the detention centre, the circulation of the details of the company which was going to host the flight and of the businesses which trade with it. That resistance was the one force capable of consolidating this victory and ensuring that it was not just one flight but all of them that stop.

The law may well be part of this story, but what will decide whether the Rwanda scheme is scrapped is ultimately not the courts – rather it is that mobilisation of people’s willingness, that democracy of the streets on which any lasting victory depends.

For people who are interested in longer thoughts on the law, what kind of laws social movements need, and why movements need to lead the law rather than follow it, my book Against the Law: Why Justice Requires Fewer Laws and a Smaller State is out with Repeater in July.

Trump-Biden: The 90-10 Election


As the election comes closer, it’s worth asking how much remains of the fear, which was widespread two months ago, that Trump would refuse to accept the election result? Or, indeed of the related concern that Trump is pushing the United States closer to fascism?

The answer I’m going to give is that this election is best understood as a “90-10” election; in other words it’s 90 percent likely that once the dust has settled on the Trump Presidency, we’ll look back at this time as an aberration in US politics: a moment when the abyss could be seen and people pulled back from it. There is still however something strange and hostile about how Trump operates. If you want, you can all it a 10 percent chance that something really unpleasant is just about to start.

The hard thing in the next day couple of days is going to be balancing these two kinds of possibilities: one which is unlikely but could be exceptionally bleak, and another which is more likely and reassuring but contains its own dangers.

The starting point, for me, is the argument I’ve just put in my book Fascism: History and Theory. What I say there is that if you read through the history of Marxist theories of fascism, a coherent understanding of that politics emerges.

First of all, such writers as Klara Zetkin, Antonio Gramsci, Leon Trotsky, etc, saw fascism as part of the political right. It wanted bosses to win against workers, the army strengthened, increased power for the police. It sought to deepen and entrench all the social privileges, of men against women, of “aryans” against racial outsiders, it sought to destroy the few organisations that protected workers against the poor.

Second, fascism was unlike mainstream conservative parties (or indeed the military dictatorships around it) in that fascism gave a much greater active role to a mass movement, whose members would listen to Hitler on the radio, or see him in the cinema, and take part in his parades. Its “activism” included shooting socialists off the streets, in hundreds of political murders, culminating in the fascist seizures of power.

Third, the real place at which fascism distinguished itself was that it kept this reactionary and this mass element in balance. Most far-right parties opted for state power at the expense of their own movement and ended up behaving much like other conservative parties just without elections. Fascism went much further, kept on radicalising, culminating in the war and the Holocaust.

The 90 percent chance

From that perspective, how different is Trump from an ordinary Republican candidate? After all, anyone with any knowledge of US politics will know that ever since 1945, the Republicans have been accusing the Democrats of being closet Communists, and the Democrats have been accusing Republicans of being actual fascists. From Nixon to George W. Bush, the left has used the same line of attack, and (until recently) its main effect has been to make Democratic candidates seem bolder than they were, while exaggerating the difference between them and their rivals.

Moreover, as I’ve pointed out on this site and elsewhere, the US state has not taken on new authoritarian power compared to 2016: deportations are running at half the rate they were four years ago, the border wall has hardly grown…

It’s in this context, especially once you factor in the extreme negligence of Donald Trump’s handling of the Covid crisis, and the way he has risked the lives of the most important part of his voting base, that the “90 percent” part of this 90-10 election emerges. Kit Adam Wainer has set out the dynamics which point to a “normal” handover: the lack of support from the military for American business or a coup (I’m pretty sure that’s right), the satisfaction of the Republican grandees now they have their Supreme Court majority (looking at their record, I think she’s being unduly optimistic).

Focussing just on the shrinking support for Trump and the continuity in carceral power between 2016 and 2020, by far the most likely result of the Presidential election is that Trump will lose, his plans to declare a victory will look like bluster. In three months’ times everyone will be thinking, why did we ever call him a fascist?

The 10 percent chance

On the other hand if you go back to my book on fascism the one thing, I argued, which distinguished fascist parties above all else from other far right traditions was what I called the “fascist style”, i.e. a leadership cult (think QAnon), an emphasis on violence (think of the Patriot and the Proud Boys). Normal conservative parties, I argued, didn’t have a relationship with people who used violence repeatedly against the left. On the other hand, Trump has built that movement, multiplied its audience, and (even now) still envisages a role for it.

It’s in this context that Trump’s plans for the election take on their most menacing overtones. The point is not just that he is likely to declare a victory on election night, even if the popular vote has gone against him, but an election where much of the voting is done postally gives him untold opportunities to do so. From that perspective, the most troubling things we’ve seen in the election campaign were Trump’s two comments during the first election debate: his “stand by” order to the Proud Boys, and his call for “poll watchers, a very safe, very nice thing,” in other words for his supporters to go the polling stations, harass the people voting, and those counting the votes. Those weren’t mere boasts, rather they’ve been listened to: just think of what happened in Texas to the Biden bus.

What that means is that, alongside the 90 percent chance that this election will end peacefully, in a clear victory for either camp (or, almost certainly, a clear victory for Biden), there remains a ten percent chance that the result will be close enough so that Trump will be able to derail the election count before it finishes, and that groups of his supporters will be involved in harassing voters and vote-counters, in a repetition of the 2000 election count, except this time with guns. And that this process of relying on Trump’s supporters in QAnon, the militia, etc, will so change Trump’s government that his next four years will be radicalised even compared to what went before. If you want to understand how bad it could get, with Trump losing controlling of his supporters, and the police backing them, read this piece by Adam Turl, then imagine those dynamics – which have shaped American and global politics – turned up to 10.

Fitting these two things together

What I’m encouraging people to understand, in speaking of this 90-10 moment is that both routes remain open. We have the impossible, unbearable, task of living these last few hours in the knowledge both of the overwhelming likely of relief, and the real possibility that politics in America is about to change for the worse. It’s not like watching a conflict you expect to win, or an argument that could end terribly, it’s both of them at once, and it could easily stay like this for days.

The last point I want to make is that if Trump wins, the political battle is going to be straightforward. Every cause in which I and you believe will have suffered a reverse but, at least, the immediate task will be obvious: take to the streets. You need to go there even in the certainty that the police will be against you – and that the Democrat governors will be on their side. We saw the BLM protests in the summer: we’ll need them and more of them.

But, if Biden wins, the American army will be in no way reduced. Any measures to reduce global warming will operate at a pace capable of stop ecocide somewhere only in such a distant future that hundreds of millions of lives will be lost. And, if Trump has been negligent in solving Covid, do not expect much better from a Democratic Party whose hostility to socialised healthcare is entrenched. Even if Biden wins this round, in other words, anti-fascist are going to be facing a far right whose leader will still have in his possession 90 million followers on Twitter and all the authority of his recent spell in office. His relationship to them will continue. They will still hold all their guns. They will have been told that his election defeat was illegitimate. And they will be looking for a new leader figure to take forward an increasingly unhinged right.

The civil war in American hearts and minds isn’t going to end this week.

Fascism: more articles, reviews


I’ve been writing about the themes of my book, mainly for the Truthout website. Here’s a piece on why Trump is more of a want-to-be authoritarian than he is a fascist:

And here’s a piece on why he’s most likely to lose the election (because Covid sets him against the older demographic which has the been voting bloc for right-wing populism):

There have also been a couple more reviews of my fascism book, by Alex Roberts for ROAR magazine:

And by Luigi Hay for RS21:

Fascism: articles, extracts, responses


A few articles have started to appear either with extracts from the book or attempts to apply its arguments to the crisis around us. Friends might enjoy:

‘The Lessons We Need to Learn From Europe’s Struggle Against Fascism,’ Jacobin, 29 September 2020.

‘When Trump defends armed rightwing gangs, his rhetoric has echoes of fascism,’ Guardian, 1 October 2020.

‘Trump Isn’t Keeping His Fascist Plan Secret. He’s Trying to Derail the Election,’ TruthOut, 2 October 2020.

Adam Turl has published a piece which engages seriously (and critically) with my journalism for Tempest.

A first – and very positive – review of my book on Fascism has also appeared in the Morning Star.

Fascism: first readers’ responses


Many thanks to the people who’ve read my book on Fascism and reviewed it for Amazon . I do want to emphasise that these are reviews written by people who were looking out for the book, knew it would be published, and had an idea of its contents. While I trust they read the book fairly and independently, obviously such readers are likely to be relatively kind. That said, hopefully, they give you a flavour of the book.

Susan J. Sparks comments on the interwar theories of fascism to which I refer, not just the best-known figures but “Clara Zetkin, Karl Korsch, Bordiga, Wilhelm Reich, Rudolf Hilferding and Walter Benjamin and others, as well as the odd piece of fiction (Jack London’s The Iron Heel), and a 1924 Plebs League pamphlet about Italian fascism.”

N. Rogall emphasises the book’s applicability to events far beyond the US or the UK: “This is an excellent read for all those troubled by the rise of far right politics from the US to India, from Brazil to Eastern Europe.”

Phil G writes, “His focus is on the twentieth century, but he sets the stage for understanding the growth of the contemporary far right, a topic that he has examined in detail in another recent book, The New Authoritarians.”

Charlie Hore sets out the book’s debt to David Beetham’s Marxists in Face of Fascism (this is true!) and writes, “pleased to see the Martiniquan poet and communist Aimé Césaire quoted on how fascism drew on habits learned in the colonialism: ‘Colonisation works’, Césaire wrote, ‘to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred.’”

Thais Yanez speaks of the influence of anti-colonial writers and says that I highlight “the shortcomings of the Left on the urgency to work as a unified front and apply these theories in practice, the somewhat individualistic and even nationalistic approaches that prevented an internationalist workers’ response or revolution to defeat both capitalism and fascism that did not become a bureaucratic oppressive regime like Stalinism.”

I’m particularly glad that these readers noticed the way I tried to integrate colonialism into my arguments – far more so than in the first edition of this book 20 years ago. If there was one thing about the 1920s and early 30s which the pioneer Marxists missed, it was exactly this.

Even a writer as keen-eyed as Trotsky failed to integrate the Italian colonial wars into his account of fascism, or grasp that colonialism had trained key parts of the German state in habits of racialised exclusion and killing. So that when Trotsky wrote that war would result in the mass murder of the Jews – this is a brilliant insight – something which he was almost alone to admit. And yet you never feel that he was capable of explaining how or why that disaster was possible, save in the most general terms that Hitler was a racist and the Nazi revolution incomplete.

“Ordinary” book reviews should start appearing from next week.

La amenaza que representa el antifascismo – en fantasía y realidad.


Todos los héroes esporeados de la derecha estadounidense están de acuerdo, desde Alex Jones hasta Tucker Carlson, desde Andy Ngo hasta Donald Trump: lxs antifascistas deben ser explusadxs de la vida pública.

Cuando las mujeres marcharon en Washington para protestar en la inauguración de Donald Trump se transformaron en la imaginación de la derecha extrema en ‘las heces de la humanidad’, “extranjeras” planeando “una guerra civil” para la “tiranía”

Cuando los fascistas marcharon por Charlottesville con pistolas y antorchas gritando ‘los judios no nos reemplazaran”, cuando uno de ellos mató a Heather, fox News llamó a lxs socialistas y anarquistas, a lxs liberales y feministas que bloquearon el camino para detenerles ‘domésticas… Antifa quema todo los que viene en contacto suyo”. La derecha proyecto sus fantasías espeluznantes en sus oponentes y declaró que lxs antifascistas habían sido lxs responsables de los “asesinatos de múltiples oficiales de la policía por todos los Estados Unidos”, abriendo el camino para que Trump declarara que había habido ‘gente muy fina en los dos lados”

En el lado antifascista, el insistio, “Tenias alborotadorxs, y lxs ves llegar con sus atuendos negros, y los cascos, y los bates de beisbol, tenias mucho mal, tenias mucha gente mala en el otro grupo…no tenian permisos”

Trump quería que todo el mundo viera lo que él veía en charlottesville, una guerra entre dos grupos de gente. Uno con sus armas y simbolos fascistas y sus fantasias de genocidio. Ellxs eran lxs que habían venido a ‘protestar inocentemente’ , y contra estxs estaba antifa quienes merecían cada bala que se les tiraba.

Una y otra vez, el reproche a ‘antifa’ se ha usado no sólo contra aquellxs que confrontan al fascismo, sino hasta contra lxs liberales más blandos. ‘No estarán segurxs en la América de Biden’ advierte Pence.

Incluso ahora Trump insiste que Biden controla “gente que de la que nunca has oido. Gente que está en las sombras oscuras… gente que está controlando las calles… bandidxs usando estos uniformes oscuros, uniformes negros con equipo.” Y de esa manera, se le está pidiendo a todos los Estados Unidos – a todo el mundo observando en desconcierto y miedo- que vea al mundo a través de los ojos de los Proud Boys, The Patriots, los teóricos de la conspiración del QAnon.

Pues es que, en la mentalidad paranoica y temerosa de la derecha, si hay mil personas en Portland aun dispuestas a tomar las calles para defender a Black Lives Matter, su presencia abruma todo. Cuenta con más de las 200,000 personas que han muerto por coronavirus. Y nunca más una sociedad pensante debería tolerar la posibilidad de que en ocasiones unas pocas personas valientes se pongan en el camino de los fascistas marchando por las calles de los E.U.

¿De qué se trata el antifascismo que lo convierte en un espectro en la mente de la derecha estadounidense?, tan vivido como el espectro del comunismo era?

Cuando el fascismo comenzó, casi nadie en la política estaba de acuerdo con él. La parte de la gente que eran antifascistas potenciales era muy grande, de hecho. Incluia liberales, conservadores, cristianxs, feministas e incontables más aparte. E incluia a la gente que vuelve a Trump salvaje de miedo: anarquistas y comunistas.

Aquí quiero hablar de una fracción de ellxs en particular: Lxs Marxistas. Eran parte de un enfoque común de la política la cual era compartida por por decenas de millones de personas.  El marxismo no era una cosa en singular sino una variedad de políticas. Llamaba a la gente que creía en la realidad de la revolución y que estaba determinada a llevar a cabo un levantamiento inmediato. Era empleado también por otrxs que no querían nada con ninguna idea de revuelta masiva pero que restringieron su deseo de cambio solamente al avance lento de los derechos de lxs trabajadorxs y otros grupos subalternos. El marxismo también tenía el apoyo de millones de gente quienes (como en los E.U. hoy en día) sostenían cualquiera de las posiciones entre estos polos.

Ya cuando se desgastó el siglo veinte, el marxismo fue destronado de su posición de autoridad (por ello es que es más probable que  lxs antifascistas estadounidenses de hoy sean anarquistas que comunistas) . Pero si nos enfocamos en el periodo del surgimiento del fascismo, solo los 1920s y los 1930s, esta subordinación pertenecía al futuro. 

En el libro que he estado escribiendo sobre la generacion que invento el antifascismo encontraran a Clara Zetkin quien habia sido editora del periodico La Mujer Socialista Alemana Die Gleichheit (Igualdad) y una patrocinadora de la resolucion que llevo al establecimiento de el actual Dia Internacional de la Mujer, Leon Trotsky, el anterior lider del Ejercito Rojo Bolshevique, o Daniel Guerin, quien vivio hasta los 1950s y 1960s caundo fue anaraquista, un miembro del del Frente Homosexual de  Accion Revolucionaria en FRancia y una de las figuras principales del movimiento de liberacion gay. En la izquierda moderna, lxs pondriamos en diferentes categorías: Zetkin tuvo una carrera de décadas como socialista y comunista. Trotsky fue bolchevique, Guerin se volvió anarquista. En la Europa de los 1920s y 1930s, y de cara al fascismo, compartieron un lenguaje común y tuvieron esencialmente el mismo enfoque para resistir el ascenso de Hitler.

Escribiendo para un público internacional sobre eventos en Italia, Zetkin advirtió, “Las masas en sus miles se unieron al fascismo. Se convirtió en un asilo para todxs lxs desahuciadxs politicxs, lxs desarraigadxs sociales, lxs destitutxs y desilusionadxs.

En los panfletos que vendieron cientos de miles de copias, instando a lxs alemanxs socialistas y comunistas a unirse, Trotsky escribió, “ En el Nacional Socialismo todo es contradictorio y caótico como en una pesadilla. El partido de Hitler se dice llamar socialista, y aun así lleva una lucha terrorista contra las organizaciones socialistas… lanza pernos a las cabezas de lxs capitalistas y aun así es apoyado por estas.

Viajando por Alemania en 1933, Guerin apunta las letras de una cancio, mitad comunista, mitad nacionalista, que prometia liberar a lxs trabajadorxs del yugo judio , “Nunca he escuchado gente cantar con tal fe… Estoy perdido en mis pies, estático en medio de esta masa que moriría sin interrumpir su canción. Ya hay rumores de que  secciones de los Stormtroopers (soldados de asalto) se están impacientando, hasta amotinado, yo pienso para mi mismo que será necesario satisfacer a esta multitud – o aplastarles, brutalmente”

Lxs marxistas de la entreguerra furosn lxs primerxs en formular lo que se puede llamar el programa antifascista. Este es la creencia que el fascismo es una forma de políticas de derecha extrema especialmente violentas y destructivas, que tiene la capacidad de crecer rápidamente en tiempos de crisis social y que si se ignora destruirá la capacidad de la izquierda de organizarse y revertirá por décadas las demandas de cambio de lxs trabajadorxs y otros grupos desposeídos. Si la apuesta es correcta, sigue que es repetidamente una prioridad de sus oponentes de confrontar el fascismo, aun cuando otras formas de discriminacion son endémicas, y aun cuando otras políticas de derecha extrema tienen más apoyo que el fascismo. Esta manera de pensar asume un presente en el que el trabajo aún es explotado y la discriminacion por raza y género son prevalentes.  Y aun en estas circunstancias, advierte, el fascismo es un agente caótico de cambio negativo. Puede hacer sistemático lo que hoy es limitado. El fascismo es capaz de extender el sufrimiento en una escala enorme. Asimismo, cuando el fascismo es vencido, las otras formas de opresión en las que florece también pueden ser debilitadas.

La apuesta antifascista no es una postura distintivamente marxista; todo tipo de gente la ha sostenido en la historia. Todo tipo de gente la sostiene hoy día.

Pero la primera vez en la historia en que un grupo significante la adoptara fue a mediados de los 1920s, cuando las personas de las que he escrito comenzarán a hacer campañas contra la amenaza del fascismo fuera de Italia.  Este enfoque reconoció el potencial de Mussolini para inspirar a imitadores incluyendo Alemania.

Al tiempo que estas advertencias claras fueron hechas primeramente, Hitler era solo un mero político regional. Cualquier ganancia electoral que había disfrutado había sido modesta, y se enfrentaba a una serie de competidores en una posición entre fascismo y conservatismo, varios de los cuales estaban mejor fundados, tenían mejor acceso a los medios y medios propios para emplear violencia paramilitar contra sus adversarios. 

El decir que el fascismo, a pesar de todas las debilidades y a pesar de la influencia mayor de sus rivales en la derecha, era el oponente más amenazador a la que enfrentaba la izquierda alemana era hacer una predicción de cómo el fascismo crecería y que haría en el poder.

La apuesta antifascista  de todas las otras formas de politica, hecha por esta generacion sontenia que el fascismo era diferente cualitativamente incluyendo la derecha y hasta la extrema derecha.

A diferencia de estas, busca crear una dictadura y una en la que todas las formas de expresión de todos sus rivales sean recortadas. El panorama de la derecha de los 1930s no era más complejo que el nuestro, con cada una de estos temas a continuación prominentes en discusiones públicas = monarquistas, seguidores del ejército de la iglesia, abogadxs por impuestos fijos, abogadxs por expansión imperial- y muchas otras formas de políticas de derecha aparte de estas.  A lxs antifascistas les desagradaban todas estas tendencias, pero no veían en ninguna de ellas el potencial violento del fascismo.  

Bajo esa teoría, había otras ideas sobre el rol del fascismo en relación a otros movimientos reaccionarios. El fascismo no era un movimiento con solo una causa. Era toda una teoría de vida que proveía justificación para la subordinación no solo de lxs oponentes raciales de Musolini y Hitler, sino también de sus enemigxs politicxs , y las mujeres, y lxs gays, y las personas discapacitadas. EL fascismo tuvo la capacidad de atravesar barreras en momentos de crisis y cuando lo hizo de propagar modos de pensar derechistas hasta que sus seguidorxs habían absorbido respuestas reaccionarias a todas las preguntas posibles.   

Aparte de la rol que jugaron en el asesinato de seis millones de judixs, Hitler y Mussolini tambien eran partidarios del genocidio contra lxs Roma y Sinti, abogados por un racismo colonial ultra-agresivo y acelerado, organizadores de la eutanasia de gente discapacitada y el asesinato de hombres gays, y las subordinacion de las mujeres, la destruccion de los sindicatos y el asesinato de lxs coministas. Cada uno de estos planes se reforzaban entre sí. Esta dinámica totalizadora hizo al fascismo un enemigo destructivo único.

Es útil escuchar a la gente que captó ese riesgo, en un tiempo en el que casi todxs en la derecha y el centro estaban en desacuerdo. Al restatarlxs de la economía de atencion del presente y al mandar a lxs lectorxs al pasado para aprender de ellxs, espero que su enfoque sea de interesarse en otrxs encando la derecha diferente de nuestros tiempos.

Ya que lo que mas atrae a lxs seguidores de Trump mas que nada son sus cuentos infantiles sobre manifestantes uniformadxs de negro juntandose en secreto para vencer sus planes. Es este secreto lo que lxs engancha – la idea de un plan escondido el cual solo ha sido descubierto por algunas almas valientes derechistas. Para la derecha contemporanea , el mito de una conspiracion antifascista es tan convincente como lo fue para una generacion de derechistas diferente, cien anos atras, que el mundo esta dominado por una conspiracion secreta de judixs que se esconden en lugares oscuros, mandando sus ordenes conspiratorias fuera, contralando a los Papas y Zares, conspiradores radicales y la policia que prtende echarles un ojo.

Pero la historia del antifascismo no es de ninguna manera secreta. Mas bien, es un libro abierto.

(trans. Faithais Yáñez)

Fascism; Theory and History – articles and events


For people who are interested in my new book on Fascism (which was formally published yesterday), I thought I’d share a quick set of links, just highlighting articles I’ve written for other sites about fascism, and about our present crisis:

RS21, 31 August, Fascism beyond Trump

Morning Star, 8 September, A new street movement

Tempest, 10 September, Right populism or neo-fascism

Pluto, The Anti-Fascist Wager

I’ll also be holding a couple of launch events for the book, as follows:

Independent Left, 23 September

London Anti-fascist Assembly, 25 September

Nottingham People’s Assembly / Five Leaves, 7 October

Radical Independence Edinburgh 14 October

If you’re interested in booking me for other events, drop me a line at davidkrenton [at] gmail [dot] com.

Finally, if you haven’t already, you can order the book here or here.

But what if it get worse from here…


A number of friends have written to me about the piece I put up two days ago on Trump and the difficulty of making radical left-wing politics central to an anti-Trump coalition. They have said to me that the passages in which I seemed to discount any possibility of him contesting the election result were too glib. Rereading the piece, I can see how it came over that way.

I don’t want to make predictions. Part of the story of fascism and of anti-fascism is of people who at one stage in their lives thought they were doing something recognisable (they were an ordinary conservative, a socialist…), but got caught in events beyond their control, found themselves trapped in the logic of their own rhetoric. The next you knew, historic had sent them off in quite another direction. At one stage Mussolini was a socialist; at another point, he was not. At one stage Mosley was the saviour of the Conservatives. And the list goes on Tasca, Silone… You can get moments when it feels like history is just slipping out of everyone’s hands. Then, worst of all, people find themselves comfortable in what they’ve become.

If you want to think through the chance that the worst parts of 2020 are ahead of us, I am willing to acknowledge that risk. Over several years, I have been arguing that we are in a process in which events are renewing and radicalising the right, and that it has not yet exhausted itself.

If history was to somehow “stop” tomorrow, then in terms of how he has governed Trump is not a fascist, he is not even close. (Save for one really *really* important respect, which I’ll go in to) he has governed more like every other Republican administration since 1948 – each one of which faced the accusation from Democrats that it would re-run fascism.

The essential way in which Trump has been unlike fascists is that he has accepted the political limits imposed by the liberal state. When judges have told him to stop; by and large, he has. He cast doubt on the possibility of elections; he accommodated to them in reality. He has not purged the state . On the stump, he promised to jail his opponents; in office, he left them at liberty. The whole theme of my new book on fascism is that it is a specific movement, with a unique trajectory, in that it does reactionary and mass politics in equal measure. Compared to that, Trump has governed like a “reformist” of the right (albeit an aggressive one), and not a “revolutionary” (or, more accurately, a counter-revolutionary).

There is one part of Trump though which is new i.e. the intensity of his relationship with people further to the right. In Britain, every single far-right group has been buoyed by Trump and if it is like that for us, god knows what it must be like for you. When I’ve tried to explain this in recent weeks I’ve often cited the example of James Allsup, a member of Identity Evropa (i.e. a fascist, but of a particular sort) who four years ago had an audience of less than 10 people but by the time YouTube cracked down on his account it had had 70 million views. That is what Trump has done – he has listened to American fascists, he has amplified their talking points and made an audience for them – and that is even before you get into this year and the change that’s taken place in Trump’s support, its paramilitarisation around the lockdown and BLM.

In the old days, Republicans might “dog whistle” (i.e. say things knowing parts of their right-wing base would hear them), but they would also “gate-keep” (i.e. keep these people out of institutional power). Individuals like William Buckley Jr (whatever other harm he did) made it their career to keep some people in the tent and others out – while there is no-one playing that equivalent role today.

Trump does not dog whistle, he shouts out racism through a loudspeaker. Rather than keep out the likes of Laura Loomer, he acts as her number one social media fan.

The US is heading towards an election, which looks like it’s going to be miserable. I’m not worried about what happens if Trump loses by ten percentage points (in those circumstances, he will leave). I’m more than willing to acknowledge the possibility though that the result is a mess.

It’s as clear to me as I’m sure it is to everyone, that the postal votes will take days, maybe weeks, to count.

The way that the electoral college works, by artificially increasing the weight of voters who live in smaller states, means that Trump can win the election even if he loses the popular vote (cf 2016), but there is a certain point beyond which – if he does loses the vote badly enough – he must also lose the election. There’s not exact figure for that, but let’s say it’s 5 percent.

What we do know is that in most opinion polls, Trump is about 7 points behind. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But it’s not enough – a lead that small makes a “messy” election result more than likely.

A larger proportion of voters than in any previous election are likely to vote in advance, because of Covid, and because Democrats are urging people to vote postally. And checking postal votes (i.e. Democratic votes) is much slower than checking votes in person. Some states even have laws preventing postal votes from being checked before election day. Oh yes, and postal votes are more likely to be rejected. When a postal vote is checked you have to confirm that the person is on the roll, that the form is signed, and that they’ve actually voted (cf 2000 and the “dimpled chads”). All of these are likely to be disputed.

So, if Biden really wins the popular vote by 7 clear points then, on election night, as the first results come in (i.e. before postal votes are counted), you’d expect Trump to be ahead and the true scale of Biden’s lead to become apparent only long after.

In other words, it’s more likely than not that in early November, Trump will announce that he “has” won the election, and his media (Fox, Breitbart, etc) will follow him in declaring Trump the victor. That’s even – as I keep on saying – if, in reality, Biden is heading for a comfortable win.

So we’re facing a real danger of a situation where the two American don’t even agree that either candidate has won, let alone which one, and where the election result is heading towards the courts to determine (with their inbuilt partisan majority).

You don’t need to see Trump as a fascist – even if he’s just a plain old braggart authoritarian, it’s easy to imagine scenarios in which his supporters take to the streets with a view to intimidating judges and Trump starts egging them on.

In Britain, our polling companies debate whether Labour is catching up with the Conservatives. In the US, the psephologists are debating how the scenario of an unclear election result will be resolved, and whether it will be by judges or with guns. To outsiders – this is not a good look.

What I guess we need to balance – which is hard – is the way in which history provides two clear exit points from here:

a) The administration is voted out heavily, and goes, and when in 10 years time American have to explain to everyone else, “We came this close to fascism”, we’ll think you were mad. We’ll say Trump was just a nasty, ordinary, right-wing creep with a big mouth. In government – he was all talk and did nothing.

b) Trump wins the election / loses narrowly enough to drive his supporters wild. And yes, at that point, all bets – however bad are off. Political murders are already taking place in the US at Weimar rates. You have to assume, they’d go up from there. After all, we had the trial run in the spring and summer, with armed supporters of the far right invading state legislatures. At a certain point in the 1920s, the guns of the far right were a mere boast, at another point they were for real. I don’t discount for a second the possibility of Trump being trapped by his ego, the demands of his supporters, his pathological desire to flatter them…

No doubt, friends will tell me there are other routes out. But from here, they seem the main ones.

Nothing in advance of the election determines which 2020 we’ll get. Whether it will be the genuinely revolutionary politics which were once reflected in parts of the US constitution, which was after all one of the most radical systems of government in its day (it’s amazing how any politics, stuck in stone for such a long time, goes stale). Or the reality of colonial oppression, slavery and genocide, which was structured in from the beginning. No-one knows which way history will bend.

The two things we do know are that Trump has a far weaker belief in the idea of democracy than any prominent politician for years.

And that if anti-fascist do take to the streets, they will have to find ways of confronting not merely Trump’s armed supporters, but the politics of the liberal mainstream who will seek to de-escalate the situation by sending in cops to confront the left first.

It follows the the only thing which can counterbalance the risk is when people organise – when they take the streets – and make it impossible for Trump supporters to march (of for the police to disperse them).

If I was in the States I’d be thinking – is there an anti-fascist coalition in my city? What have I done to build it?

And if one doesn’t exist already: well, I talked in my other piece about the sorts of movement that could prevent the right from dominating the streets; anarchists, the DSA… Neither is enough, you’d need to pull in surviving Trotskyist groups where they exist. Maoists, people at the left edge of the Democrats. Greens.

People need to be as principled as the moment will allow, and as broad as they can be – even while knowing that these two instincts aren’t easily held together. You just have to try.

Everyone one is afraid now, and probably everyone is going be angry – the trick is to make your hope and ideas as big as the situation demands.

Because otherwise, no matter how bad 2020 is now, there’s every possibility that we’ll be look back in two months’ time on the autumn and saying, “those were the good times”.

1990s anti-fascism: a balance sheet


One of the things I’ve written about in the last few weeks is the experience of re-reading my 1999 book on fascism, with a view to seeing how much of the analysis still stands up.

Here, I thought it might be useful to broaden my focus a little, and treat that book as reflective of a general approach towards anti-fascism. What I thought I was doing, at the time, was writing a conventional SWP-influenced “party line” guide to what fascism was and how to fight it. (Certainly, any number of reviewers took it that way). Twenty years later, it’s worth reflecting again – not so much on the book, but on the unspoken ideas of anti-fascist politics which informed it.

Joining the SWP as I did in 1991 was a natural step for any leftist to take. I’d been in the Labour Party for a year, suffered that organisation’s lack of interest in stopping the poll tax or the Iraq War. The SWP – because of its success in the 1970s (and the implosion of the Communist Party) – was able to present itself, quite plausibly, as the party of all the movements, so that if you were seriously against racism, sexism, homophobia, and if you were committed to organising in trade unions on a rank-and-file basis, or to stopping the Criminal Justice Act, the SWP was the group for you.

A great deal of the SWP’s credibility was down to the large number of people who’d joined the group in 1976-9 during the Anti-Nazi League. The SWP in that period had been able to renew itself, recruiting a younger generation of members who still led SWP branches 15 years later. They were experienced and articulate. They had a philosophy of the world which included art, science, and music. Soon after I’d joined, I went through experiences that seemed to justify my decision to join including the election of BNP councillor Derek Beackon in Tower Hamlets, the campaign to unseat him a year later, and the Anti-Nazi League carnival of summer 1994.

I met my partner at Welling. We’re still together, more than a quarter of a century later. The politics of that period shaped me – and continue to shape the socialism in which I believe.

I was in Oxford in 1992-5 and one of the campaigns in which I took part was in support of the family of a middle aged Somali man, S- G- A-, who had been killed in a racist firebombing. The police refused to treat it as a racist murder. The same attackers had, that evening, also attacked a synagogue (the rabbi depressingly, was later a prominent public supporter of Steve Bannon). Together with friends, I helped to take collections for the family, provide security for people afraid of being attacked again, spoke in schools, and helped to call a march in support of the family, attended by them and around a hundred other local residents.

These are some of the proudest memories of my life, and I want to be absolutely clear: if I hadn’t met the SWP or the Anti-Nazi League, I would not have had the confidence to believe I could be part of challenging that racism, the skills to organise a protest, or even the sense of obligation which forces you to act in other people’s defence. I owe that activism to other people’s prompting – and I am grateful to them for pushing me.

You can get a sense of the SWP in this period by thinking of just one high-profile member: Julie Waterson. The leader of the ANL on its re-launch, she was a working-class woman from West Lothian with a fierce sense of humour and an absolutely loyalty to the people around her. If you did something right, she’d tell you. And if you got anything wrong, she wouldn’t hold back from telling you. Julie inspired love and anger in equal measure. But if she had one virtue above all it was this – what you saw was what you got. What she said was what she believed; and if you were her comrade then she’d give all of herself for you. There’s no better example of that than events at Welling whe she was trying to negotiate with the police, and they responded by clubbing her. She kept on organising the crowd, defiantly, her jacket splattered with her own blood. Could you imagine the grey blurs who run today’s SWP putting their bodies on the line for their comrades like she did?

I remember Julie coming to speak to Oxford SWP in 1995; the local branch was ignoring the local Campaign to Close Campsfield – in practice (and without any ever having admitted this), because we didn’t run it and other groups did. “What are youse doing?” Waterson demanded. I also remember a couple of years later when I started writing for Searchlight magazine. At that year’s SWP conference, Julie took me aside. “We’ve had a discussion on the Central Committee,” she began. They’d had a vote and wanted me to stop writing for what was, after all, a rival leftwing publication. “If you listen to those bastards” (she meant her comrades on the CC), “I’ll never forgive you.”

Under her leadership, the anti-racist part of the SWP was in some ways recognisably like the sort of left you’d want to see nowadays – it actively cultivated the support of Jewish Holocaust survivors, it put them on platforms, it also tried to educate its members in something of the black Marxist tradition. We might not have known for the most part who Darcus Howe how was, or the origins of the Race Today collective, but we were expected to have read about Malcolm X, the Panthers, DRUM…

A surprising lot of all left-wing politics is about positioning, and the niche the ANL carved out was for “mass” anti-fascism.

Further to our left, although sometimes we pretended they weren’t there, were the “militant” anti-fascists of Anti-Fascist Action. (This is their term for themselves; we called them “squaddists”). AFA specialised in events such as confronting BNP paper sales, and physically turning them over. If a fascist was speaking in a town hall, AFA would insist on anti-fascists forcing their way in and preventing the fascist from speaking. The ANL, by contrast, emphasised numbers: winning the Labour Party and unions. The idea was to organise huge turnouts in order to physically confront and beat the far-right, but (AFA complained) there was a lot more emphasis on generating the numbers than there was on ever using them.

Meanwhile, on our right, we had the Anti-Racist Alliance, a campaign which focused much more on winning mainstream opinion to anti-racist and anti-fascist positions. It was broader than the ANL, with a much greater focus on eg all-black shortlists for Labour Party selections, a much greater opposition to institutional racism in the police. But at key moments, it was more “liberal” than the ANL.

So if you take events at Welling in 1993, the single major street confrontation in this period (albeit with certain previous AFA mobilisations, notably the “Battle of Waterloo”, not far behind it). Welling saw an alliance of left wing groups (SWP/ANL and Militant/YRE) temporarily agree to hold a joint march against the BNP. AFA and other forms of radical anti-fascism (eg anarchists, Class War) were there. At Welling, anti-fascists fought the police, defying batons, throwing bricks in return. Tens of thousands of people were there. Meanwhile, ARA were organising a rival, peaceful protest, barely a thousand strong, miles from the BNP headquarters.

Fascism: Theory and Practice was an attempt to express the perspective of my party and my left “generation” in book form. Reviewers understood that and tended to read the book either positively or negatively according to how they saw the SWP in general.

Of course, that organisation no longer exists. At the start of the 2000s, Julie Waterson was removed as the SWP link to the ANL. The SWP’s anti-racist work which was handed over to Martin Smith and Weyman Bennett, two individuals who lacked Julie’s sense of fun – or her honesty.

The ANL was folded into a different campaign “Unite Against Fascism”, whose methods of organising were both more liberal than the 1990s-era SWP, while also ceding to ARA the principle of black political leadership.

None of this was healthy for my old party. In 2004-6, the SWP put on a dozen events, including both concerts and traditional speaking engagements, for the Holocaust denier Gilad Atzmon. (One SWPer, Richard Seymour did speak out against Atzmon’s promotion; but years had to pass before anyone else in the SWP would agree publicly with him).

Black political leadership, exercised by a middle-aged white socialist, caused Martin Smith – and the people around him – to lose all sense of who they were. If you want to get a sense of what UAF’s anti-fascism became, then watch the five-minute film taken in 2010 of Smith speaking outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court after he had been convicted of assaulting a police officer. Smith had just been convicted for assault (kicking a policeman in the balls). It wasn’t part of any synchronised attack on police lines, still less on the EDL, but a juvenile piece of posturing: the sort of thing that someone might do if in their head they were Leon Trotsky, but life itself wasn’t providing the chances to lead anything real. Smith’s petulance was punished with a community sentence. Not the prison sentence it might have received had the prosecution been motivated by political malice, and the courts genuinely cracking down on anti-fascists.

Outside court, Smith told his supporters that he was in a tradition, “If you go back to the first black regiments in the American civil war, the black soldiers were sent back to become slaves and their white generals were shot … In Birmingham Alabama in 1963, people went in their thousands to prison to break the Jim Crow laws. So I stand in the best of company, with Malcolm [X], with Martin [Luther King]…” In his imagination, Smith had ceased to be like the great leaders of the past, he was one of them, as black and as poor and as unjustly victimised as all the others.

I’ve described before how the members of Martin Smith’s bodyguard behaved in 2013: the violence which they had threatened against the far-right was now turned inwards against a much more available target: a generation of young socialists who had had the temerity to argue that sexual harassment or rape were inappropriate conduct for the leader of a left-wing party. The people who were used to following Martin Smith’s lead repeated his explanation of what had gone wrong – his claims of victimhood, his sense that somehow “the state” or other dark forces were behind everything bad that had befallen him.

There is a reason why so many of the early 90s ANL generation had left the SWP by the end of 2013. We knew – better than the others who stayed were willing to admit – how far the group had fallen.

But imagine you could recreate it all – the good and the bad – highlight the former and dial down the latter. When you looked at what was left, would it be an anti-fascist politics worth salvaging?

These days, I don’t tend to see either mass or militant anti-fascism as singly “the answer”, but as successive steps the left needs to take. When fascist parties emerge from street movements (stage one of Robert Paxton’s five stages of fascism) and become electoral parties (stage two) the burden is likely to shift from “militant” to “mass” forms of protest. Saying that one form of struggle is the answer is like saying that a hammer is better than a paintbrush – you need them both, you use them for different things.

Moreover our anti-fascism has to broaden to a different kind of cultural work: not just the political struggle, including the street-fighting which Julie Waterson understood, but also that kind of free flowing and non-political campaigning in which (say) the original Rock Against Racism specialised, but ANL mark two could only ever copy.

Undoubtedly, there will be movements in future which are serious about anti-fascism and which have the same levels of support as 1930s or 1970s or even 1990s-style anti-fascism.

When they emerge, they’ll need to be better-rooted in culture – online and offline. I hope they find people to lead them with an honest sense of who they are and a commitment to the movements they lead. So yes, we’ll need more Julie Watersons, and more of the politics she lived by.


If you’ve enjoyed this piece, my new book Fascism: History and Theory is published by Pluto on September 20 – you might like it too.

On defining fascism


“There is a need to analyse all ideologies critically, and this is especially true of fascism, a political tradition which from its inception set out to kill millions. Indeed, how can a historian, in all conscience, approach the study of fascism with neutrality? What is the meaning of objectivity when writing about a political system that plunged the world into a war in which at least forty million people died? How can the historian provide a neutral account of a system of politics which turned continental Europe into one gigantic prison camp?”

“One cannot be balanced when writing about fascism, there is nothing positive to be said of it.”

I wanted to share again the above passage from Fascism: Theory and Practice, which I’ve seen lots of readers quote over the years (not least, Mark Bray – in his book Antifa).

You can only ever define anything by reference to characteristics which are external to it. A stoat is (in Dr Johnson’s words) a small-stinking animal; a metre is (less controversially) one 10-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator. Socialism is not simply the shared political consciousness of every working class person in history (even if, 20 years after Marx’s death that was what it briefly looked like it might become). Rather it is a specific set of ideas – a differentiated tradition, motivated by a shared conception of equality – sitting a distinct place on the political spectrum and with a recognisable history and trajectory.

You won’t, and can’t, understand fascism by simply collecting together the most memorable bits of Hitler or of Mussolini’s speeches. Or by telling yourself that “fascism = nationalism plus socialism”.

Above all, you have to connect together what the fascists said, and what the fascists did – and show what the common project was that joined them.