With the approaching national rally by the National Socialist Movement (NSM) in Lansing on April 22, 2006, Confronting Fascism: Discussion Documents For A Militant Movement, presented itself as a worthwhile read in light of discussions that many have had about not only how to respond to the Nazi rally but also the nature of fascism and white supremacist movements in the United States. Many on the left have argued that these groups are fairly inconsequential and often seem as though they are vulgar clowns that parade around in Nazi uniforms and alienate the majority of people in the country—both those on the right and left. However, the four essays in this book, Don Hamerquist’s “Fascism and Anti-Fascism,” J. Sakai’s “The Shock of Recognition,” “Notes on the Battle of York,” and “Revolutionary Anti-Fascism: Some Strategic Questions” make compelling arguments that fascism is a serious threat in the United States and the world and that there is a need to take the threat seriously as an ideology and movement that anti-fascist work should be a part of anti-capitalist work.
Underlying this contention is an argument made by Hamerquist and Sakai that fascism, rather than being simply a way of describing things that are “bad” or “very bad,” is an active movement that is working to appeal to the mass of working people (primarily white ones, although it is argued at various points that vulgar racism is not always a direct feature of fascist organizing) who are becoming increasingly disaffected with capitalism. Hamerquist sees this as a very serious threat given that the left in this country has both failed to recognize this and has failed to learn from the historical lessons of how fascism has taken hold. Instead, Hamerquist argues that leftists have seen fascism as system of hyper-developed capitalism through coercion rather than examining its origins as a radical revolutionary movement. To this end, both Hamerquist and Sakai examine the history of fascist movements around the world, an exercise that not only reveals the nuances of fascism but also dispels many of the myths that have prevented the left from effectively dealing with the fascist movement around the world. The history of fascism shows that while many corporations did benefit from fascism, that in order for it to be established it generally had to make an appeal to the class anger and envy of the lower classes in society in order to channel anger against the state and the bourgeois classes. This anger is in turn, while distorted by fascist movements, prevents corporations and the ruling classes from “controlling” fascism.
An outdated view of both what fascism is and how it functions has led the left in this country to miss the fact that in many respects, contemporary fascism is working to appeal to some of the same base that the revolutionary left is working to appeal to, albeit on a far different basis. Hamerquist argues that whereas traditional fascists were largely “stupid” the contemporary fascist movement now has several people that can be describe as “thinking groups” that can actually organize and craft appeals that resonate with segments of the working class. In this sense, groups such as the National Alliance are working to establish “fascism from below” that builds off of popular discontent and appeals to the right-wing of politics in this country by developing a rhetoric that challenges both the right and the left. These fascists, often called “third position” fascists, believe that they can appeal to a right-wing base and incrementally build a movement for fascism by showing that they can “get things done” and that they are not afraid to take chances. Indeed, some of the more troubling revelations in the book are that Matt Hale and other fascists were interested in the militant street protests at the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in 1999 and have argued that fascists should begin to adopt such tactics. The actual organizing work of such fascists may be able to achieve inroads in the white working class which may see fascism as a viable option in light of the paucity of alternatives offered by the left.
Anti-fascism organizing can, according to the authors, be used to develop a revolutionary movement against capitalism that is firmly rooted in the left and unites people from oppressed races and classes. In “Notes on the Battle of York,” the anonymous author(s) argue that what was unique about the York demonstration in January of 2002 was not that it was the first militant street protest since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but that the protest brought together white radicals and local African-American, Puerto Rican, and poor white youth. Expanding on this point, the author(s) go onto say that while important, simple military victories are not enough and that ultimately the strategy to oppose fascism must be one that builds functional anti-capitalist alternatives to the current society. This point is echoed throughout Hamerquist’s essay and while he touts militant antifascist work as beneficial for developing military skills desperately needed by the left, he makes it clear that if it is not used effectively that it will inhibit organizing by increasing state repression and increasing the level of internal security needed to the point where the capacity to work with potential allies will be diminished. Hamequist argues that not only does the left need to develop a revolutionary anti-capitalist alternative, but that it needs to build an alternative that appears realistic rather than simply utopian.
Confronting Fascism offers a compelling examination of the contemporary fascist movement and the left’s response to it and as such is a worthy read for those seeking a better understanding of how fascism functions both contemporarily and how it has functioned historically. The insights presented within, while occasionally somewhat underdeveloped, provide the starting points for numerous discussions that should take place among those organizing against fascism and seeking to build a revolutionary anti-capitalist left. However, the book tends to present many of these arguments in a fairly bland style that will likely turn off many readers while others will be disappointed at the lack of practical organizing tips. Aside from calls that fascism cannot be ignored, that militant confrontation is beneficial to the movement, and that it is necessary to build a left-leaning anti-capitalist movement, there is no discussion of how to actually organize against fascism. This is by far the book’s greatest weakness as an evaluation of organizing against fascism over the past ten years would have been invaluable for those doing organizing work today.
Don Hamerquist, J. Sakai, et al. Confronting Fascism: Discussion Documents For A Militant Movement, (ARA Chicago/Kersplebedeb/Arsenal, 2002).