Part of an ongoing discussion on the USA. Click here for other contributions
Martin Thomas continues to wriggle and elide, instead of rethinking the direction his new conception of fascism and his Democrat orientation are taking him.
1. My assessment of fascism is both concrete and modern. Any comrade who has mobilised against the far right will understand the argument. The left has to confront the fascists on the streets because they are out to physically intimidate and crush the labour movement, black communities and other targets. We oppose the fascists physically (“no platform”) not because of their ideas (as repugnant as these are), but because they are primarily about annihilating us. Our tendency distinguished itself in 1978 by organising at Brick Lane to confront the National Front, while the SWP ran its carnival. Comrades have organised repeatedly on this basis. This should be ABC among ourselves.
2. Martin’s new conception of fascism, conveniently stretched to include Trump, distorts the real history of Italian fascism. The examples of fascist violence between 1920 and 1922 will not go away, despite Martin’s efforts to ignore them. Fascists are what fascists do. The squads beat down the labour movement and intimidated the Italian state before they took power. They smashed the labour movement and democracy when they got into power. All the trimming and qualification will not change that. This is not reading Mussolini through the prism of Hitler. It is looking at fascism in Italy as it originally was and drawing conclusions.
3. Martin’s new definition of fascism is now so contorted as to include Erdogan and Bolsonaro. But why does he stop there? Putin’s Russia, China, India, the Philippines, Egypt – are more than half the world’s population apparently living under this “fascism”? If so, does Martin believe we are living through an epoch of fascist barbarism? Is it now the dominant form of bourgeois rule? The AWL has rightly emphasised the threat of right-wing populist, authoritarian governments. Martin’s position goes far beyond this to the point of disorientation.
4. Martin’s quip about the “learned Marxists” disarming US activists is cheap demagogy. American socialists, trade unionists, black activists and others have been marching against the fascists for years. Charlottesville and countless other mobilisations have taken place against the threat of the far right, the militias and white supremacists. They don’t require a wake up call from Trotskyists in Britain about Trump. Our role is not shrill and belated sounding of the alarm, since the US left are already on the streets. Our chief contribution from distance is political clarity.
5. Martin’s jibe about military juntas is also pure demagogy. I’m perfectly well aware that military juntas use violence. The distinction, if it were not already obvious, is that military juntas primarily use the forces of the existing state to crush the labour movement and democracy, while fascists start with their own paramilitary forces. For example, Pinochet was a military dictator, but not a fascist. Fascists seeking power try to infiltrate the army and the police. But they maintain their own squads (sometimes clashing with the existing state). When the fascists come to power, they integrate their stormtroopers into the army and the police. Spanish fascism had both the squads of the Falange and Franco’s base in the existing armed forces before they took power through civil war. This is a peculiarity, but not decisive. Trump is not Franco.
6. Martin’s missive against comrades who dare to mention the Labour Party is dire. The analogy he says is actually with the Liberals, as if this is suddenly a model to follow. Nowhere did Engels insist that the way to a workers’ party in Britain went through the Liberal Party. To elevate the mistakes of Keir Hardie to a policy for today is utterly ruinous. (Hardie played a terrible role against Debs in 1909 too, but that is a another story).
7. Martin is miffed because some comrades make parallels with the Labour Party. It is of minor importance in the debate. The germ of truth lies with the influence of Democrat politics on Labour Party circles. Two decades ago, Blairites talked about learning from Clinton. More recently many embraced Obama. Already the London Labour Party is doing training about Biden’s organising model. Beyond the confines of our debate, we will be arguing with Labour Party activists about why the Democrats are not our model and why the union link makes a difference. It is inconsistent to do that while advocating socialists in the US routinely participate in Democratic primaries, as Martin now does.
8. Martin seems to believe the DSA’s strategy and tactics are fine. He offers no critique, except to label them reformist. The issue today is not primarily whether tactical support for Sanders was right or wrong, but what we think the DSA should do next. The strategic question is how to build an independent workers’ party, opposed to both bourgeois parties, Democrat and Republican. The DSA is currently circulating a strategy document, “Toward a Mass Party in the United States (Electoral Priority)”, which essentially says carry on as before like the Sanders campaign. Their strategy is to stay inside the Democrats, it seems indefinitely. There is no conception of a break, dirty or clean. Martin offers no critique, only cheerleading for the continued, perhaps permanent adherence to the Sanders tactic.
9. I don’t lecture the US left on tactics from London. If I was living in the US, I would join the DSA. I would participate in their union activity. I would support any electoral activity involving independent workers’ candidates (and probably grassroots independent black candidates) against the two bourgeois parties. I would not generally support work in Democratic primaries. I would make propaganda for the DSA to break, because now, with the Democrats in office, there is political space to build an independent working class pole. The problem with Martin’s position is not that in certain limited circumstances, we might tactically support an intervention in Democratic primaries. The problem is that among a significant layer of the DSA, because of its history and because of the experience with Sanders, they have turned the tactic into their general, normal, good-for-the-period-ahead orientation. They do not appear ready or willing to break, whatever the circumstances.
10. Marxists are irreconcilable oppositionists when it comes to bourgeois politics. We stand in elections, but we don’t make a fetish of elections to bourgeois institutions as the primary form of our political activity. We’ve learned this by bitter experience over many decades, fighting fascism and trying to build workers’ parties. Our task now is to assess the situation and to work out the path from today’s conditions to an independent workers’ party in the US. Martin’s position uncritically endorses tactics that are now eclipsing this goal. The AWL’s stance should be sharper and more critical.