Today’s main enemy—fascism or neoliberalism?

BY:Michael Arney| October 20, 2020
Today’s main enemy—fascism or neoliberalism?


Bradley Crowder, in his “Beating Trump Isn’t Enough,” takes issue with my People’s World article entitled “Progressives and the Left Can’t Hesitate in Advocating a Biden-Harris Vote.”

Confounding our disagreements is Crowder’s headline, which implies that I argued that beating Trump “was enough.” Actually, my article deals with the necessity of Trump’s electoral defeat and the broad front required to ensure it, not a new phase we enter if he is defeated. (First, we must defeat him.)

In essence, my disagreement with Crowder concerns his identification of the main enemy and the relationship between neoliberalism and fascism (or creeping fascism, neofascism, protofascism). He liberally quotes Dimitrov, thus implying that fascism is the chief problem, but he more often identifies neoliberalism as the major challenge. On the other hand, I think the immediate goal is to defeat Trump, and even if this is achieved, fascists will continue being more active and visible than before. Hence, the popular front against fascism must stay active and fight until all fascist elements are subdued.

Crowder writes with tacit approval about “clear-sighted democratic socialists” who argue that the “main class enemy” is neoliberalism. He later mentions the working class cannot have “neoliberal allies” (against fascism). He argues the failure of the people’s movements in “the class struggle against neoliberalism” conceded popular outrage to the extreme right (Koch brothers). He closes by writing, “The stench of fascism will remain in the air until neoliberalism is defeated.”

Who exactly represents neoliberalism? Crowder tells us it was, at least within the Democratic Party, the “New Democrats,” President Clinton, and former Vice President Biden, not a “mere participant in this process, but a leader of it unto himself.” President Obama’s victory, on the negative ledger, resulted in “an unbroken continuation of New Democrat policies. The dominance of finance capital remained uncontested.”

Let us achieve the immediate challenge: defeat Trump and the Republican majority in the Senate.

This brings us back to the issue I originally wrote about. Is there a threat of fascism? If yes, do you adhere to the theory of the popular front against it? Or, instead of a fight to preserve democracy, is it a class war? If electing the “neoliberal” Biden means the stench of fascism remains, then why should activists work for Biden-Harris, and why should people waste their time voting for them? We must convince millions of voters to pick Biden-Harris, not Trump. The slogan “Vote out Trump by voting in the source of Trump” will not work if our class and its allies are to win this immediate battle. With only weeks to go, criticizing Biden serves no progressive purpose and instead plays into the hands of Trump. Let us achieve the immediate challenge: defeat Trump and the Republican majority in the Senate. We must do this before we can possibly shift our criticism to the errors of a Biden-Harris administration.

Though the Clintons and Biden represent neoliberalism, I think they can be included in the anti-fascist (which is not an anti-capitalist) front. After all, they are working against Trump and his following, not for it.

Dimitrov wrote of parties and organizations that would be part of the anti-fascist popular front. The majority were “under the influence of the bourgeoisie and follow it.” The groups included “big businessmen . . .  agents of big capital” who controlled most anti-fascist parties. Indeed, the pro-capitalist Radical Parties of Spain, France, and (often ignored) Chile were members of Popular Front governments that included Communist, Socialist, and other parties.

That was Dimitrov and the 1930s, when many countries had mass, popular Communist and Socialist parties, which were elected to parliament and other offices and were participants in left-led union and social equality movements. Only a decade and a half prior, revolutions succeeded in what became the Soviet Union and were attempted but failed in Germany and Hungary.

What about our country today, in our conditions and molded by our history? What is the balance of forces, and how strong are the labor and national equality movements? Can they alone do the job? Not even close. These movements organize their own constituents but need much help, including from capitalists (but also intellectuals, small contractors, family farmers, small capitalists). In 2009, Daniel Rubin wrote of “a more moderate and realistic sector” of the transnationals that favored granting some concessions to the working class, was “less militarily aggressive,” and was inclined to concessions on “social welfare programs and racism.”[i] Our Party Program speaks of the same.

Survival, not social progress, is on the agenda in fascist regimes.

There is already an unorganized popular front in existence. The labor movement is there, as is “a constellation of non-profit and civic organizations fighting for the democratic rights of women, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, Black people, the environment, and more,” as Crowder writes. But it is undeniable that Biden is also opposed to Trump. (We should look at how Biden has changed over time, too.) So is Jeff Bezos, the multi-billionaire who founded Amazon and owns the anti-Trump Washington Post. The McCain family, George Will, David Frum, Bill Kristol and, yes, the Lincoln Project. Not tight allies, but members of a loose front against what some call Trump’s extremism and others call his fascism. If these personalities and institutions neutralize some of the Republican vote, that works in the objective direction of anti-Trumpism, that is, anti-fascism. Capitalist democracies are far better for the quality of life of the working class and its allies and as a favorable terrain for democratic, social, and economic progress. Ask Communists and other activists who have experienced fascist regimes. Survival, not social progress, is on the agenda there.

Identifying who is where is not the same, however, as wanting to tail, or bow down to, or kneel in front of. Crowder claims that I want the working class to be on its knees, “bent to the neoliberal forces indefinitely.” Instead, I wrote, “But if the fascist hazard is real, it won’t go away in months. So regardless of who wins in November, neoliberal allies will still be needed after the inauguration and the new Congress, especially against a Republican Party gone mad.” Not just the neoliberal forces, but all the players in an anti-fascist popular front will be needed beyond the defeat of Trump.

The convening of the new Congress and then the inauguration, in the past a mere lullaby (with the exception of Barack Obama’s), will be pivotal achievements that will signal Trump’s electoral defeat (should it happen). With the exception of George W. Bush in 2000, contending parties replacing each other’s governments has been “seamless,” to use a business world cliché, in our country and essentially all of the advanced capitalist democracies since at least the end of World War II. However, we could easily have a Trump victory in the early morning hours of November 4 that is legally changed weeks later, after all mail-in ballots have been counted. Or rather, after all the mail-in ballots that will be counted are counted, because there will be many tossed aside over technicalities beyond the control of voters. Far more Democratic than Republican voters have indicated a preference to vote by mail, if given the option, versus showing up at the polls on election day.

Besides, can we predict what Trump and his hardcore followers will do after the inauguration of Biden-Harris? We must think hard about who these people are. Trump told them during the live televised presidential debate to “stand by.” He has said they are “very fine people.” Some of them, armed with automatic rifles, shut down the Michigan legislature earlier in the year, and some plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, transport her across state lines, and hold her on trial. Must we guess what her guilty verdict sentence would have been? Is that equal to the pain of a neoliberal Clinton presidency? Is it even close? Only if we conflate extreme rightist rule that openly courts violent, heavily armed racists with having the first Black and East Indian woman as our vice president.

Preserving democracy, not achieving socialism, is on the agenda right now. 

I think stopping Trump and thus electing Biden-Harris with the necessary Democratic Senate majority must happen if any social progress is to be made. (That at a minimum can stop the GOP takeover of the federal court system — something the Right has been working on for years but the Left has neglected.) Preservation of a capitalist democracy and a stable White House is far less a threat to the working class, its democratic allies, and world peace. Preserving democracy, not achieving socialism, is on the agenda right now. Showing a greater concern with defeating neoliberalism tomorrow is a terrible downplaying of the Trump threat today.

It seems that Crowder and many other left and progressive voices feel obligated to assure people that what we oppose is much more than Trump, and if we don’t say and write that every time, we somehow lose our credentials. When leaders and organizations do this, they are misreading the time of day in our country. Over 60 million people voted for Trump four years ago. In the land that elected Nixon during the height of the Vietnam War and then reelected him, and did the same for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Look up “Trump supporters say the darndest things” on YouTube—hear the thinking of those attending Trump rallies. Realistically, examine where dozens of millions of people are politically. Try to analyze their political understanding. It is rather messy out there.

The task for electoral victory involves pulling out enough voters to ensure Trump doesn’t win via the Electoral College (because the Republicans no longer can win the popular vote). Examine the maps of 2008, 2012, and 2016. Look at the number of counties that went from Obama to Trump. Despite older voters who died and younger ones who came of age, many individual voters made the switch. Does that look like the masses are ready to take on neoliberalism?

Doesn’t the call for a near-immediate class struggle against neoliberalism downplay the necessity and difficulty of defeating Trump? Communists, of all forces, cannot minimize how bad Trump and the most reactionary elements of finance capital have been for the working class, how he has ignited a horrifying uptick in racist violence, become a wild threat to our democracy and also world peace, and is now a super spreader of coronavirus.

Defeat Trump and continue the popular front for democracy and against fascism—these are the necessary steps to greater struggles of the future. Defeating capitalism is not on the horizon.

[i] Daniel Rubin, Can Capitalism Last? A Marxist Update (New York: International Publishers, 2009), 126.

The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the positions of the CPUSA.
Image: Rick Obst (CC BY 2.0).



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