Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution.”
George Jackson (1970). “Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson”, p.25, Chicago Review Press
It is not easy to configure this moment. Many of us speak loudly in private spaces, and fall back in public. We know what we want, but can’t quite figure out what we need. Many of us, so many of us, don’t really know what to believe anymore. We look to new ideas, new movements, but history repeats. We have been here before, 50 plus years ago.
In July of 1969, The Black Panther Party held a meeting in Oakland, California called the Conference for a United Front Against Fascism. Here, a white man with both a confederate-flag and a black power embroiled beret would get on stage to state, “We come from a monster...And the jaws of the monster in Chicago are grinding up the flesh and spitting out the blood of the poor and oppressed people, the blacks in the South Side, the West Side; the browns in the North Side; and the reds and the yellows; and yes, the whites — white oppressed people.” William Fesperman, nicknamed “Preacherman,” was a member of the Young Patriots Organization, a group of poor white people who stood in solidarity with communities of color in their common struggle against police brutality, gentrification, and poverty. The Young Patriots would later denounce the use of the confederate flag in recognition of the Confederacy's dark, racist history and symbolism.
Fred Hampton, a Black Panther who helped organize the conference and build multiracial coalitions of poor community activists, would shortly after be murdered by the Chicago Police Department, and his murder would be done so under the guise of a “war on gangs,” where they were trying to seize illegal weapons. The modern-day initiative called “Operation Legend” is eerily reminiscent, officially being labeled an effort to curb inner city violence (and specifically gun violence) in places like Detroit and Chicago. This has indirectly allowed the Trump administration, Department of Homeland Security, and local and federal law enforcement to perform covert surveillance on protests that have been occurring in both cities since the end of May after the murder of George Floyd (and countless others). On a federal level, the DEA was permitted to explicitly perform covert surveillance on protesters, until it became public and faced congressional scrutiny.
The Chicago police shot Fred Hampton at point blank range in 1969 and falsely claimed it was the Panthers who fired first, and the acting deputy attorney general covered up the fact that the FBI was behind the effort to assassinate Fred Hampton. Mr. Hampton had been doing the most for his community. Between building unlikely coalitions of the working class in Chicago, articulating the needs and concerns of poor people, helping build revolutionary survival programs, and as the FBI called it, was someone who “unified and electrified the masses,” Fred Hampton was a revolutionary for love, no different than MLK or Gandhi. Yet, the white supremacist power elite and the capitalist class saw him as a threat, because he recognized them as one.
In 2020, just as the racist Sheriff Joe Woods from Cook County, Illinois did back in 1969, we have seen the police allow, and actually encourage deadly vigilante mobs to deal with “riots” in several parts of the country. In Portland, Oregon and Kalamazoo, Michigan, we have seen neo-fascist groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer initiate physical violence against protesters, while the police focused on arresting and detaining Black Lives Matter and Antifa activists. This violence has faced little to no denouncement from Trump and the Republican Party, while the alleged self-defense killing of a Patriot Prayer member in Portland, Oregon by a self-proclaimed anti-fascist faced bipartisan denouncement.
Both BLM and Antifa are primarily movements, with numerous different grassroots organizations taking up the cause of fighting for human rights, and against encroaching fascism and systemic racism. This fascism is not welcome by all police forces, but the FBI historically has used a disproportionate amount of surveillance, infiltration, and repression against left-wing activists in the Black Panther Party, SDS, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and in Standing Rock. These activists have been responsible for far less violence than fascists and other right-wing extremists for at least the past 20 years.
Calls to “defund the police” have been met with vicious disinformation, with the far-right accusing liberals and newfound leftist movements of conspiring with so-called “deep state actors” to establish a Democrat-ruled dictatorship (while they are also protesting against it, albeit for different reasons). If they are referring to the concerning ties between the Clintons and Jeffrey Epstein, or the numerous CIA and FBI officials who are getting praise by liberal-media establishment figures like Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow, one could definitely argue that liberals, not leftists, are in bed with high-up government officials or the “Deep State.” The far-right, of course, knows that Donald Trump has done as much to roll back civil liberties and rights as any Democrat in recent history has (including on gun control), but resisting tyranny is not the far-right’s true motive.
The liberal elite and moderate right have launched a conspiracy theory of their own, blaming BLM protest violence and looting entirely on “outside agitators” who come from outside the city to cause mayhem. This outside agitator narrative was similarly used in the 1960s to discredit participation in civil rights protests. While there have been incidents of white supremacists infiltrating the protests to commit violence or spread discord, much of the property destruction and violence has been against corporate and government property, or in defense against police and far-right violence, not the homes and livelihoods of the poor or middle class. Both Biden and Trump have said that they will not only go after arsonists and rioters, but specifically against anarchists and communists. Anarchists never seem to catch the same sort of attention from the ruling class and media establishment when they’re helping out with local mutual aid relief efforts, or providing food for the hungry.
If civil war between the working classes does not break out in the next 10 years, or if the Democratic Party cannot successfully tame the disenfranchised youth and working class by giving them a few concessions (as they did in the 60s), white supremacist institutions and the cultural “values” that uphold them will begin to be dismantled, and totally destroyed by a multiracial proletariat (lower class) revolution. To ensure that civil war happens (as opposed to working class, revolutionary war), white supremacists and their allies in the far-right, and even in China, Iran and Russia, have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to blast misinformation into every part and parcel of the internet, on social media and in the mainstream. But as the saying goes, all lies have a little bit of truth to them.
Some white supremacists, who now call themselves nationalists to avoid the negative connotation of the former phrase, claim to speak out against the same things that politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez do; political and economic elites who are offshoring and outsourcing all of our jobs away, unjustly interfering and aiding conflict in the Middle East, and seeking to surveil and control the populace. Fascists once openly called themselves “national socialists,” opposing both global capitalism and communism for being controlled by “Jewish Forces.”
The fascist movement of the Nazi Party, just like the rise of Trumpism, is a bourgeois (ruling class) phenomenon, but the United States has never had a truly united working class (because of patriarchy, xenophobia and racism), and its media worships celebrities as if they are gods. We refuse to vilify the ultra-rich because we live vicariously through both them, and the cultural institutions, narratives and commodities that they package and present to us. The haute (or high-up) bourgeoisie takes advantage of power dynamics whenever there is mass unrest or economic insecurity, using both racialized propaganda and middle-class consumerism to divide, conquer, or pacify both the proletariat and petite bourgeoisie (middle class).
The reality today is what MLK, George Jackson, Fred Hampton, Assata Shakur, and countless others knew back in the 1960s: poor people of all races (and in all nations) are struggling, colonial racist violence is an American tradition, the preservation of “law and order” in American society is valued over the presence of justice, and fascism, conservatism and liberalism are uncomfortable allies of each other. Today, you could find data point after data point that gives weight to this argument; the poor are not calling for class warfare against the rich, the ruling class is waging class war against the poor. Today, both the left and the right-wing of the working class think they are standing up against government tyranny, protesting everything from gun control, to COVID-19 lock downs, police violence, evictions, corrupt University administrations, lack of healthcare, public school re-openings, pedophilia, and human trafficking (just to name a few). Young folks who are fed up with both major parties are being targeted by powerful psychological and media operations into either accepting liberal-centrist apathy and “lesser-evilism,” or right-wing conspiracy, bigotry and their own brand of lesser-evilism.
In a time where suicide and drug overdose rates for young and poor people are at near record highs, rent is becoming increasingly unaffordable, transgender folks are delegitimized and dehumanized, black folks continue to face racist police violence, racial and class segregation is roughly as bad as it was in the 60s, wealth inequality continues to grow, anti-semitism and islamaphobia grow globally, automation threatens job security for millions of workers, wars and likely genocides wage on with open U.S. support, climate change is already destroying ecosystems and the natural world, microplastics have invaded every aspect of our atmosphere, and surveillance technology by both corporate and government actors are now dangerously intrusive and all-powerful, we need to make ourselves heard, stick together, stay in contact, and keep listening and learning.
Voting cannot change this situation alone, we must seek to build and/or maintain alternative, community-based structures like free food programs, health clinics, and other mutual aid efforts. We also have to prepare; materially, psychologically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically, because fascism is just around the corner, veering in.
If you want to learn more about the socio-political underpinnings of fascism (and its direct counterpart, anti-fascism), you can find the book “Fascism Today, What It Is and How to End It” by Shane Burley on akpress.org, or an excerpt of the book for free here.