What do fascists do before fascist dictatorship?

BY:Marc Brodine| January 12, 2017
What do fascists do before fascist dictatorship?

We have a clear idea of some steps the Trump administration will take -already telegraphed by the bizarre list of Cabinet nominees, a cabinet of billionaires, conspiracy theorists, and generals (and those categories are not mutually exclusive—for example, General Flynn is a certifiable conspiracy nut). It is obvious that for many of them, their job will be to either destroy the departments they head, hobble the regulation-setting and enforcement apparatus of the agency, or to just be incompetent at their jobs (does anyone really believe that Rick Perry will do a credible job heading a department he forgot he wanted to eliminate?). What is going to happen next?

It is also clear that the Republicans in Congress, led by McConnell and Ryan, are planning a legislative blitzkrieg in the first 100 days of the new administration – and their list is filled with budget cutting, privatizing, and various anti-people measures, alongside “defense” spending increases, tax cuts for the super-rich, and dog whistles for the conservative base.

All this we know. But what is the framework for understanding these moves? What do fascists do before they manage to establish a fascist dictatorship?

The most important thing to know is that even with fascists in government doing terrible things, that does not mean we have fascism yet. There is still room for protest, for civil disobedience, for mass demonstrations, for picketing, for petitioning, for public exposes of the corruption, incompetence, and loony-tuneness of Trump and his minions. There is still room to organize, and we need to take full advantage of that political space as long as it remains open.

No doubt the Trumpistas want to eliminate that political space. But it is not (yet) just up to them.

So what will their approach be? They have four main moveable aspects of their strategy to balance.

First, they have to maintain the pretense of normalcy—that this will be just another peaceful transfer of power, endorsed and supported by most Americans. They will go through all the motions of democratic government, as much as possible, in order to maintain this pretense, to hold on to whatever threadbare legitimacy they have. This is the meaning behind the calls to “give him time,” “give Trump a chance,” “nothing to see here, keep moving.”

Second, they have to maintain and if possible expand the mass base for their policies and leadership. This is the real meaning behind the “victory” rallies. Certainly, they are in part about Trump’s megalomania and egomaniacal posturing. But even more they are to keep the fire burning among millions of Trump voters, especially those who turn out to his rallies. This is about demonstrating to other Republicans that he still holds sway over his voters, in spite of polls saying that even many of those who voted for him do not like and do not trust him. It is part of the smoke-screen of fervent support, so he has a base to point to, and troops to call upon to lambast any Republican who dares to stray from obedience to the new overlord.

Thirdly, they need to be seen to reassure parts of the capitalist class which did not support him during the election that he is no threat to their profits. They need to unify the ruling class, or at the very least neutralize potential opposition. This is the real meaning behind the meeting with tech company CEOs. It is certainly evidence of corruption to have his children sit in on such meetings, but too many focus on that while ignoring that he is suckering these powerful  potential opponents—and giving them a chance to feel like they are suckering him by playing to his ego – hence Bill Gates saying, stupidly, that Trump could be like JFK.

Trump wants to send a message to all parts of the class that he is listening to them, that he is no threat to their business models, that he will operate within the traditional constraints of U.S. economic policy. Of course, he doesn’t intend to be hamstrung in any way, but he needs them to feel safe for the moment.

Fourthly, among the reasons for all the PR efforts to seem like this is a normal transition is to give the fascists time to maneuver behind the scenes, to bully all Republicans into line, to line up support from all parts of the capitalist class, to scheme and conspire to attack democracy in as many ways as possible (without ever admitting that that is what they are doing).

These conclusions come from looking at the history of the fascist ascent to full power. Even when they first seize control of a government, they have to engage in a lot of maneuvering to overcome opposition, to consolidate their power, to change the rules of the political game in their favor. Looking at the history particularly of Germany, we can see the outlines of what they will be trying to do in our country, in our time, in our political system.


What do fascists do to prepare the way for fascist dictatorship?

  1.     As we have already noted, they try to shore up support from all sections of the capitalist class, or at least neutralize opposition—providing access, reassurances, tax cuts, contracts, appointments and other sticks and carrots to force corporations and corporate leaders into line.
  2.     Continue to spew demagogy, to keep the base fired up, to keep the base united in support of their actions (without even admitting the real meaning of those actions), to baffle and confuse the media. For example, when Kelly Ann Conway appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show, the host saw her job as having a civil conversation and debate about serious issues, and confronting Conway with facts. And she did an admirable job of it. However, Kelly Ann Conway had different objectives: to appear normal, to present arguments that could seem to make sense if you didn’t look at the closely, to offer meaningless reassurances that she and her ilk are engaging in normal U.S. politics, and to never lose her fake smile  when confronted with facts, corruption, and nonsense from her candidate.
  3.     Continue the process, already well underway, of chipping away at democratic and civil rights. In some cases, this is being done in the separate states, changing election laws, changing laws about governing (as happened with extreme rapidity in North Carolina once it became clear that the Democrat had won the governorship), limiting the possibilities of protest, demonizing opponents, working to create the space for the fascists to accrue more power and change more rules to limit or abrogate democracy (as in Michigan, where the governor has the power to set aside elected city leaders and place cities under direct control of the governor, called “emergency managers” ).
  4.     Under the guise of normal appointments and nominations, turn over control of parts of the government to billionaires and the military.
  5.     Let more “traditional” Republican politicians feel like they are using the victory of the fascists in the Electoral College to advance their own agenda, while taking advantage of every opportunity to force these supposedly mainstream Republicans into line whenever necessary. The group around Trump will maintain a laser-like focus on power, and let Ryan and McConnell play at legislating the right-wing agenda. Trump’s puppet masters will jettison any Republican effort if it gets in the way of their accruing more power, but act as if they are leaving power in the hand of Congressional Republican leaders whenever it advances the Trump agenda or when it doesn’t matter to questions of power. If Republican efforts to privatize Medicare create too much opposition, Trump will run the other way as fast as he can, condemning his allies without compunction. If there isn’t enough opposition, Trump will let them have their pet legislation—his approach has nothing to do with principle or belief and everything to do with shifting the balance of forces more in his direction.
  6.     Having said that, Trump’s advisors, nominees and appointees will act with audacity and speed. They will unleash a legislative and administrative blitzkrieg of attacks on rights, programs, norms of political life, regular administration of government functions, and more. Their hope is to make enough changes quickly enough that the opposition doesn’t have time to unify, to gather opposition forces, to build the necessary alliances, and to get in the way of the fascists as they, often behind the scenes, accrue more power. It is not only about right-wing policy objectives, it is about throwing up such a mass of problematic changes that at least some of them will stick, in the process drawing attention away from the accrual of power. The fascists understand, in a way that no mainstream politician does, that crushing democracy is the real prize.
  7.     Both in policy and in public utterances, lay the groundwork for restrictions on protest, for limits on public opposition. The lawsuit by Melania Trump against a minor ultra-right loony-tune blogger has little to do with whether or not they hope to win any actual money—the Trump coterie is demonstrating to all media the price of opposition. The limitations of where and when demonstrations can happen is part of the chipping away at democracy—and as soon as they think they can get away with it, they will start chopping away at democracy, all in the name of protecting democracy!
  8.     The attacks on science will continue and escalate. We should be clear—this has nothing to do with whether or not any individual actually believes in science, it has everything to do with finding excuses to cut away at the authority of facts and experts who might offer opposition. They are afraid of the economic consequences of what really tackling climate change would involve, how much profit would be lost to the fossil fuel companies, how much additional regulation the government would have to institute. The attack on scientists and on the very collection of data, is but one part of a broader effort to start the blacklisting of opponents – what they are doing in trying to get the names of scientists who work on climate change is no different from the attempt to get names from the State Department of everyone working on international women’s issues or working on combatting right-wing terrorism. They will start persecuting anyone they think they can get away with persecuting – this is a testing of the waters, a series of trial balloons to see how far and how fast they can move to force all the apparatus of government to line up behind them, or at least to shut up and stop opposing the fascists.


  1.     The fascists will either wait for a terrorist provocation which they can take advantage of in order to institute restrictions on democracy, or they will create a provocation themselves- like the Nazi orchestration of the Reichstag Fire.


  1.  They will continue to attack any sources of institutional strength for opposition and protest. The attack on ACORN several years ago, the attacks on union rights, the attacks on Planned Parenthood, the attacks on scientific institutions – these are all just aspects of weakening sources of opposition strength.


  1.  In all of their actions other than the phony reassurances they offer to the media and to sections of the capitalist class, the fascists seek to increase chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. This gives them many opportunities to rationalize their attacks on democracy, to offer themselves as the solution to chaos, as the only “responsible” leaders against terrorism. We in the opposition must understand that the fascist benefit from anarchy, from pointless acts of destruction, from actions by protesters that provide an excuse for stepping up police powers and abrogating civil rights.

I hope this sketch of likely fascist strategy helps to clarify what they are up to, to help see behind the headlines and superficial punditry to what is actually going on. We too must learn that preventing democracy from being crushed is our main prize, to which all other aspects of strategy and tactics must contribute. Resistance, organization, and truth are our weapons.

You can do so by getting involved: Here’s a list of upcoming events.


    Marc Brodine is Chair of the Washington State CPUSA. A former AFSCME member and local officer, he is currently an artist and guitar player. Marc writes on environmental issues and answers many web site questions. Marc is the author of an extended essay on Marxist philosophy and the environment, titled Dialectics of Climate Change.

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