What is Fascism? Can the Left be Fascist?

We all want to prevent fascism from taking hold in America, but what is fascism? Is it only a right wing phenomena? What do we call extreme left wing politics?

Fascism is an ill defined term, we have to admit this, but there are a few things that commonly indicate fascism:

Coupling of the state with businesses/industry/institutions
Controlling people's beliefs
Controlling people's speech
Controlling people's behaviors
Demanding conformity, or else punishment

America is a young country, a bold experiment in people's ability to self govern. The creepings of tyranny are especially grating to the American spirit. But, is the "American spirit" still alive?

Lately, many of our politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have quoted Ben Franklin's famous exclamation:

"A republic! If you can keep it!"

What does that mean..."if you can keep it"?

It means not sliding into tyranny.

Fascism and tyranny are synonyms and of course tyranny can come from the right or the left.

Modern extremists on both sides of the political spectrum in the U.S. have passionate, deeply divisive movements around race, religion, and some or another "in group". This classic political wedging behavior is a canary in the coal mine. If we have learned anything from our bloodied histories, it's that politicians using some identity as access to cultural acceptance is a construct of deadly tyranny.

Identity politics' constant and lethal side-kick is one, or many, scapegoats. Scapegoats keep in-groups "good" and "clean", and provide the in-group an answer to every problem, often ending in violence or death for the scapegoats.

The Left is not Immune to Tyrannical Behaviors
It is concerning that so many insist that the left side of the political spectrum is somehow incapable of fascist behavior. That notion itself lends to the methods of fascists — demanding that one think a certain way, demanding that the "in" group not be criticized, and making reality impossible to describe. In fact, the political left in the United States has become extreme, and exhibits fascist behaviors.

As a country, and especially on the left, this seems counter-intuitive because we certainly are not experiencing the abuse of fascism — a controlling and punishing government — afresh. For those old enough to remember, the Bush II years were very frightening. When George Bush declared "you are with us or against us," he didn't just mean other countries, he meant Americans who dissented against his administration.

People were afraid to question or criticize the Bush administration as the government had just taken immense power through The Patriot Act (which we are still not free from) to round up and detain Americans who were deemed "terrorists", started mass surveillance, and took away our constitutional rights of privacy, freedom of association, and due process.

So, to suddenly have the fascist label turned around and put on "liberals" seems wrong, and counters the dynamics of recent history, but we cannot be so dogmatic or bigoted in our understanding of what fascism is and how tyranny can take a hold here in the US.

"Liberal" politics' embrace of tyranny has been astonishing of late. From wanting tech companies to censor speech, to labeling large groups of people "the enemy" and encouraging collective violence (like the MAGA hat attacks, the Covington High teens, ANTIFA, labeling CBP and other border agencies "Nazis" and "intentional killers of 'brown' kids"), to the unprecedented ousting of New York Times editor James Bennet.

I can't imagine any liberal supporting FOX News (our original state propaganda channel), employing political partisans, and running partisan shock-entertainment outlets, but since 2001, when FOX ramped up propaganda to drum up support for the farcical Iraq War, all of the other networks have followed suit.

We are living in a golden age of yellow journalism, where media are wedded to either the Republican's private political party, or Democrat's. Where can a journalist with integrity work today?

What path do most Americans have to a meaningful political voice, outside the tiny, factious private parties?

What does it mean to resist tyranny?
Onerously, it demands self-governance, and a vigilant eye upon our representatives.

I think we need to stop here, and reflect upon how our society has a significant power vacuum where the public's power should be.

We have gotten ourselves, as a society, into a Catch-22, the root of which is the public shirking responsibility for themselves and their communities, and the effect of which is control by a small cadre of influential people who have seized on the people's power vacuum and then maliciously locked the public out of the levers of government.

Or, put another way, by James Madison, in Federalist #10, "Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people."

We are lucky, in the U.S., to be in a position of defending individual rights, the dignity of all humans, and freedom. That position was fought for dearly and constant vigilance is the only way to keep it.

What takes freedom's place, as we lose it? 
We might think of "conservative" tyranny as direct and straightforward: "You! Do this! As I say!" An order of hierarchy, perhaps to the church or the state.

On the liberal side, we might think of institutions, like universities, which in some places have a political bias of 25 to 1 between liberals/conservatives; or non profit organizations that seize control of communities under the auspice of "helping". The leftist approach cloaks itself in passivity: "We, experts and authorities on the matter, believe the best thing for everyone is if you do this, as I say. Please cooperate...or else. We are trying to help you. You need help."

Citizens in poor, and especially "minority", communities get caught in cycles of  "helping" organizations that monitor, judge, and control them, moving people from program to program without ever making life any better in the community at large, but raking in money and prestige for themselves. These actors are pejoratively referred to as "carpetbaggers", because they horde opportunity and resources for themselves, taking special advantage of strife.

This community cannibalism repeats itself on a large scale in international institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the EU etc.

The common thread is lack of local control...lack of self-governance. Internationally, this political dynamic is called neo-liberalism, which ironically is what we domestically call neo-conservatism (think American Exceptionalism).

It is hard to tell the difference between right-wing and left-wing political extremists today.

Remarkably, those we call neo-conservative in the US were jokingly named so because the founders of that movement were jaded Marxists who wanted to reform the Democratic Party after attempts at a Utopian society failed miserably. As reported in The Week:

"As [neo-cons] alienation from the Democrats grew, they also moved to the right on domestic issues. Inspired by philosophers such as University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss, the neocons argued for a greater role for religion and morality in the public realm." But, "They remained attached to a basic tenet of liberalism: that the federal government could be a force for good," and that, "a welfare state, properly conceived, can be an integral part of a conservative society," though based on religion and "traditional" family values.

Neo-cons (again, called "neo-liberal" outside the US) are not the end all be all of tyranny, just an obvious example of how freely tyranny can move across lines in society to manipulate the levers of power once tyrants have captured that power from the people. 

Our Government Has Been Captured by Two Factious, Private Political Parties
We must be able to adequately define our reality, and identify attempts to unleash tyranny on our precious, and unique, opportunity to live in freedom.

If most Americans don't have a political voice, how can we accurately define our political landscape?

Our "red and blue" framework for US politics is not adequate to understand the big picture, and it provides rich fodder for political elites to pit the people against one another.

The same people behind the War on Terror (James Clapper, Paul Brennan, Michael Hayden, John Bolton etc.), over which 4 million Muslims have been killed, have been pushing for war against Russia and China while trying to take down party outsiders like Donald Trump, Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders, the Green Party etc.

Most Americans are not affiliated with any party, yet the only political voices we hear are hallway fights between tiny private party factions.

The Democratic and Republican parties have legislated themselves to be the gatekeepers of the United States government, and are the main vehicle through which tyranny has penetrated our country. Even though they are only 18% of the electorate each, they monopolize all branches of government, and our election system.

Here again is our Catch-22: a small cadre of "leaders" control everything, and not much more than a power vacuum where the people should be exercising theirs.

In fact, no one seems to have meaningful access to the presidential ballot or choosing our candidates unless they are in (and favored within) one of these two private clubs. Even at the local level, when the people try to get involved outside the two parties they are bullied away.

In this dynamic — where the people are locked out of power by their own representatives, and representatives are captured by self-interested factions or extremists — no one is in control, not the people, nor their representatives, and the opportunity is ripe for institutional or strongman takeover.

We seem oblivious to the fact that the Democrats and Republicans are small factions, weak internally, while at the same time monopolizing government power. Extremists have gained control - Democratic Socialists and communists on the left, neo-conservatives and the Tea Party on the right.

However, even before these extremist movements took over the private partisan clubs, Democrats and Republicans had developed fascist relationships with certain industries and institutions, shifting power from the people to their networks and getting donations in return.

It is extremely dangerous for our democracy to give so much power to these two, tiny, fractious private political parties. Each is equally vulnerable to being taken over by tyrants, and in turn taking over America's government.

The answer is people power...self-governance.
A free people do not want the government, partisans, or institutions to be powerful. That is the essence of our constitution — limiting governance to the consent of the governed. When the people rule themselves, they will not need to be ruled by a strongman, the state, nor institutions.

Tyranny from the left might be more passive than a strongman coming right out and demanding that people obey, but corrupt institutions and sweeping populist political campaigns can be just as dangerous as a strongman, or an advancing army on an unarmed public.

It took just a few weeks for politicians in the Balkans to turn the people against one another with an "us against them" ethnic wedge, and unleash mass slaughter upon a civil society, resulting in over 100,000 deaths.

Don't think it can't happen here, it certainly can. As the BBC say in their documentary, The 5 Steps to Tyranny:

"Tyranny is carried out by ordinary people, like you and me...The ability of normal people to do evil acts is in our psychology."

So, what are their 5 steps to tyranny? According to BBC's documentary:

1. "Us and them"
2. Obey orders
3. Do "them" harm
4. Stand up or stand by
5. Exterminate

If we dare to look, we can see these steps being taken by many actors in our country, including private political parties, religion, the tech industry, media, and institutions.

We cannot dogmatically ignore this and take to our corners. If we do, we advance ourselves down the path of tyranny.

Across the Political Spectrum, We Agree - Go Local!
Our Constitution intentionally creates systemic remedies to the threat of tyranny. It decentralizes power through states, counties, municipalities, to individual power — limiting government and empowering the people to rule themselves.

If we do not govern ourselves, we are begging for someone to rule over us. If we don't use our power granted to us by the constitution and so much blood of our ancestors...we will lose it.

One thing people in America agree on across the political spectrum is going local — local control, and local resources and infrastructure to keep our communities sustainable, independent, and self-guiding.

Institutional control is central to fascism — whether it's the state coupled with private political parties, businesses, or institutions.

If we are strong in our communities, if we have the skills to self-govern, we can resist tyranny. This is what Franklin meant by "if you can keep it".

No country is safe from tyranny, it takes constant vigilance and public virtue.

Being civil is a conscious act.

Originally published 6/15/20