By Angus McFarland and T.R. Whitworth
This article was originally published in the September issue of Socialism Today! Subscribe here.
Across the United States, and in many parts of the world, the far right is on the attack. Stirred up during the 2007-08 recession, encouraged and emboldened by the Trump administration, and driven to a frenzy during the lockdowns, recent recession, and the 2020 election, groups such as the Proud Boys, Nationalist Social Club (NSC) 131, and Patriot Front are preparing to carry the torch of reactionary violence into the future. Events like the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and the January 6th riot at the Capitol periodically thrust these groups into mainstream consciousness, but in between events that appear in the corporate media, some far right groups are recruiting and growing. With economic conditions continuing to worsen, the downwardly-mobile sections of the middle class and some working-class people are looking toward what they perceive as some sort of political alternative to what the two parties of big business are offering.
In New England, for example, there is ample evidence of increased far-right activity. In June, about 100 uniformed Patriot Front members marched through Boston carrying flags and shields. NSC 131 marched in Jamaica Plain, Boston in July to intimidate a drag queen story hour event. The Proud Boys continue to meet in Portland, Maine and racist propaganda stickers and flyers are appearing more and more frequently. It’s time to ask ourselves how the far right continues to spread, and what we can do to fight back and shut down any public appearance of fascist groups.
Republicans Embolden the Far Right, Democrats Do Nothing
The Republican Party has embraced and emboldened the growing far-right movement. There is a long history of cooperation and overlap between political conservatives and members of white supremacist and other reactionary right groups in the U.S. In order to gain votes, Republican politicians often appeal to and encourage racist, sexist, nationalist, homophobic, and transphobic beliefs. The Republicans’ most recent swing to the far right started with the emergence of the Tea Party in 2009–a supposedly “grassroots” conservative social movement that was actually funded and organized by super-rich capitalists, particularly the Koch brothers. Tea Party-inspired politicians promoted a brand of right populism that critiqued government, taxation, and corruption, and incorrectly blamed immigrants, women, LGBTQ people, and people of color for these problems.
Right populism’s rise culminated with the election of Trump as President. The Republican Party has embraced Trump and other even more extremist politicians, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, along with him. Trump appointed three new Supreme Court justices during his four-year presidency, cementing the Court’s right wing majority, which has further shifted the political landscape. Open appeals to white nationalism and verbal, physical, and legal attacks on women and LGBTQ people have become central to the message of the Republican Party. For example, Florida Republicans recently passed a bill–dubbed “Don’t Say Gay”–that prohibits public school teachers from even mentioning that LGBTQ people exist.
Unfortunately, the Democrats offer no real solutions when it comes to fighting the far right, especially at the grassroots level where it matters most. Historically, the Democratic Party has at times supported the far right. For example,The Jim Crow south was dominated by the Democrats, and far-right racist violence and terror were used to enforce racist laws through fascist groups like the KKK. In the 1970s, Joe Biden was vehemently opposed to bussing to integrate schools. Throughout most of his political career, Biden often collaborated with Southern politicians who had supported Jim Crow policies and Biden was personal friends with Senator Strom Thurman whose political career was dedicated to opposing integration and civil rights. Today, Democratic Party politicians act concerned about the increasing popularity of white supremacist and fascist ideas, but only as an abstract bogeyman against which to run election campaigns. In reality, they have no plans to combat the far right. Sometimes Democratic Party politicians dismiss the influence of the far right as fringe conspiracy theories, not worth seriously engaging with. For example, Hillary Clinton famously dismissed Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Other times, Democratic Party politicians look to law enforcement (the police, FBI, etc.) to provide protection from violent white supremacist and other far-right groups despite racist police violence and policies rooted in U.S. law enforcement. For example, the FBI continuously underestimates the threat of domestic right-wing extremism and police departments in the U.S. have a known problem of officers belonging to white supremacist organizations.
More broadly, though, the Democratic Party actually encourages the growth of the far right in multiple ways. First, by their incessant refrain that everything is fine in the U.S. Whereas Trump claims to want to “make America great again,” the Democrats insist that everything is already great. This rings false to tens of millions of U.S. workers who are drowning under the burdens of low wages, high inflation, unaffordable housing, crushing student loans, poverty, racist violence, and discriminatory laws. Second, the Democrats are actively funding far-right politicians–spending over $44 million so far–in certain Republican primaries, arrogantly believing that far-right candidates will be easier to beat in the general elections than more “moderate” Republicans. Several of these candidates claim Trump won the 2020 election and support QAnon conspiracy theories and have now won their primary elections. The Democrats think that they will be able to beat these right extremist candidates, just as Clinton was convinced she would beat Trump in 2016. But if their funding of right wing Republicans fails, they will have helped fund the far right’s electoral advance–a cynical strategy when so many people’s rights are on the line.
The History of the Fight against the Far Right
Aside from electoral games, the capitalist political parties have another reason not to curtail the far right. Far-right movements and organizations do not threaten capitalism. Instead, they offer to prop up capitalism when it is under threat. Both corporate political parties promote more capitalism as the answer to capitalist economic crisis. Right wing violence is useful to the super-rich and the corporate sector as a weapon against the left and organized working class. Socialist and other left movements, especially those rooted in the working class, have been a real threat to capitalism. When the capitalists feel their system is losing legitimacy and faces mass, left-wing opposition, the capitalists will use Skinheads, klansmen, and neo-nazis as a volunteer goon squad to try and divide and crush the left and the workers movement. Fascists typically target oppressed groups like immigrants and racial or ethnic minorities, but they also target workers’ organizations like unions, using racism to sow mistrust and division within the working class. This makes union and socialist organizing more difficult and helps insulate the capitalists’ bottom line from labor disturbances.
Historically, the capitalist class has turned to fascism as a less preferable, but viable, political system. And while far-right forces in the U.S. are still small and disorganized today, funding and encouraging their growth provides the capitalist class with easier access in the future to the “emergency release valve” of fascism. The recent anti-racist, Black Lives Matter movement, the current explosive growth in union organizing, and increasing support for unions in the U.S., worries the capitalist class and makes it likely that they will turn more and more in the future to more repressive measures including openly fighting the current rise of labor and the growth in the popularity of socialist ideas..
Given that most of the corporate political forces are happy to either encourage or ignore far-right activity, what are the forces that can and will oppose it? History may have an answer. If we go back to the beginnings of fascism in Europe, we see again and again that in every country where it reared its head, socialists were among the first to fight back. From the Arditi del Popolo in 1921 Italy, to the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War, to the French Resistance and partisans in many nations, socialists joined with other left groups and unaligned workers to resist the common threat of the far right.l We have to shut down far-right organizing anytime it goes public, building working-class movements to stop the fascism before it can grow. The only way to do this is to make it clear, in large numbers, that our communities will not tolerate them. Fascism pre-WWII did not take hold in England, despite the fact that there were organized fascists there. In October 1936 in London’s East End, a fascist march was met by 300,000 working people in the Battle of Cable Street. Jewish people, Communist Party members, Irish Catholic dock workers, and youth organized an overwhelming resistance and threw up barricades to prevent the Blackshirts from marching through their town. The fascists were forced to retreat, showing the world that the working class of London did not believe their lies.
The Fight Continues Today
In Boston in 2017, 40,000 people came together to oppose and shut down a far-right rally inspired and stoked by the Trump administration and the fascist march and attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Boston demonstration that drove the fascists off of Boston Common, and other mass anti-fascist mobilizations in the past, show us there is the potential for broad, deep, and active working-class opposition to the right wing ideals of racism, antisemitism, islamophobia, misogyny, and authoritarianism.
The winning strategy for mass anti-fascism is a united front movement. All political organizations, whether socialist, anarchist, green, liberal, or unaligned groups and individuals who oppose the far right need to organize together, openly, in public, at the grassroots, street-level to defend themselves and each other from immediate threats and any growth of fascist groups. The real political left, and also progressive groups, may have very serious differences of opinion and action on many points, but we have this in common: alone we are vulnerable. In a united front, socialist groups and parties should be open with their politics, program, and organizing as they work together with other groups to shut down the far right.. Without mass protest movements in the streets, the far right will tend to grow in numbers and capabilities, something that should be alarming to all working people, youth, and anyone who doesn’t want to witness a recurrence of the horrors of 20th century fascism in Europe.
The corporate media often equates the “far left” and far right, but they could not be more different; while the left seeks to help protect vulnerable communities and organize the working class, the far right seeks increasing violence and destruction against organized labor, anti-racist organizations, progressive groups, and the left. We should not allow a public platform for far-right organizing anywhere. This may mean many different kinds of action, from countering their online recruiting, to mass counter protests, to actual barricades and confrontation. Far-right groups and those who they would recruit must be made to see that their ideas and violent threats, intimidation and attacks won’t work against us and won’t get a base in our neighborhoods, towns, or cities. Only militant, mass action can successfully convey this message, shrink the far right movement as a whole, and force it off our streets.
The longer-term solution to the threat of the far right is to build the working class left, including the crucial task of organizing a mass political party for working people. We need a political party free from corporate money and capitalist influence. A workers’ party could present a clear left alternative for working people and youth who are desperate for change, including any working people who are being swayed by right populism and far-right propaganda. In order to fight the far right, we must develop a socialist program that a workers’ party could campaign on to address economic and social issues that make life worse for working people. These include opposing high taxes on workers, low-paying jobs, unaffordable health care, and outrageous government spending on corporate subsidies, tax breaks for big business, ever-increasing war spending, and other policies that help the super rich but never end up benefiting ordinary people. Poverty, declining living standards, and rising inequality are problems caused by the profit-maximizing mechanisms of capitalism and class rule. While in the immediate term we need mass counter-protests to stop far-right organizing, we must also move beyond simply stopping the right and turn towards real, socialist solutions to our problems.