XXXIII. THE FUTURE PHYSIOGNOMY OF AMERICAN FASCISM
ASSUMING that fascism as a political tendency will sooner or later make its appearance in the United States as a serious force, the question remains, what are the national peculiarities that this movement will show in this country? American fascism does not have to take the name “Fascism” or “National Socialism.” Differing from the European brands, it can simply take the name “Americanism” and appear on the scene as the “American Party.” If it is to hold true to Americanism, it will blazon forth as its goal the magic word “Utopia,” where planned social science under the direction of the technician will be assured.
Like the English variety, American fascism will not be able to exaggerate racial theories of chauvinism based on race; that is, so far as white people are concerned. The fact is, there is no American race unless thereby we mean the American Indian. America has been peculiarly the melting pot of the world, where all white races come together and have been assimilated. To emphasize racial peculiarities now would be, far from uniting the entire nation, but the surest way to throw it into incessant turmoil. Therefore, in this respect American fascism will have to take a completely opposite stand to German Nazism which stresses race.
In this country, if any racial angle is put forth at all, it probably will be on the ground of non-assimilability, rather than the rejection of any race as such. Such a reason given will excuse the attack against the Chinese or Japanese or Negro, or even the Jew. On the other hand, those people who are willing to assimilate themselves with America, to identify themselves with this nation and to lose their old European traits, will be accepted willingly. Of course, there still will be room for thrusting out “aliens” where they make themselves inconvenient to authorities by joining subversive movements or where unemployment necessitates such pressure.
In the nineteenth century, the “American Party” or “Know Nothing Party” had already enunciated the ideal that only native-born Americans were to hold office. While this may be continued as a program of fascism, certainly it would be suicide for any native group to attempt to win the country with any program that would create hostility to all those born on the other side who number today fifteen million, and with their descendants forty million, in the United States. The attitude of embracing the foreign-born and alien, moreover, is a policy that fits in well with the past of the country, with the imperialist pretensions of the United States, and with America’s general role.
Always America has appeared as a sort of New World where the Old World racial combinations, national prejudices, and class struggles could play no part. America as a whole stood for a new deal, for a new social order, for the forgotten man. It seemed, moreover, that the West was destined to counter and to reverse all the social, processes immemorably ingrained in the East. If in Europe there were many races, each antagonistic to the other, here all races could fuse into one.
The unbridled nationalism of the cultured members of the ruling classes of Europe did not necessarily prevent them from having their own type of internationalism. European internationalism, however, was an internationalism that emphasized national differences. In so doing, the most reactionary variety of such internationalists could support the claims of its particular ruling class, proving that its rulers were better than all the others, and must conquer and subject the others. The best of these internationalists were willing to admit that Europe would be much the loser should any race such as the French or German or Italian or Hungarian be subjected completely and broken over the wheel of oppression. These people conceded that the worth of Europe consisted precisely in that the continent was a variegated blend of composite parts, each different from the other. To this latter school of thinkers, each nation of Europe should have its own independence and culture to make the European as richly cosmopolitan as possible.
Yet both types of European internationalism insisted that each nation should know its place, and strongly marked the differences among them in regard to habits, customs, ideals, etc., rather than their similarities. The Frenchman was French in exactly those aspects in which he was not German, and vice versa. The historical destiny of each nation was to emphasize and to exaggerate precisely those traits which separated it from other groups. Thus the internationalism of the European on the whole was of a merely negative nature that rejected adulteration of the races and their mixture and tolerated other races only if they were separate and outside of their own country.
American internationalism was just the opposite. It did not reject the other races. It took them all into its bosom and remade them in its own image. The internationalism of America was really a supernationalism. Apparently, just as the United States was greater than one country geographically, but equal to the whole continent of Europe in area, so it was more than one nation socially but a whole world in itself, ethnically and sociologically. In Europe, too, racial struggles were bound up with class struggles. In America, just as there was a general classlessness, so all races were fused into one.
Just as convenient as the theory of race is to the German ruling class would be the American theory that Americanism embraces the whole world and is a world philosophy that can take in and assimilate all peoples. It is with this theory that American imperialists can go out to conquer and digest the world, and, scorning the chaos of old Europe, cut across all its antagonisms.
Since, historically, Europe is dying as a progressive force, America can now step out and take leadership. At any rate, such will be the imperialist objective of the future fascist “American Party,” with its program of “Americanism.” Europe has been a failure. It could not bring peace and prosperity into the world, but only conflict and war. It is made up of a lot of little decadent nations whose heads have to be cracked together so that they will listen to reason. In this way, too, can the door be shut to communism and class war. Just as Germany, before the War, felt compelled to organize Europe, so America under the fascists will feel it its duty to organize the world. Here, then, is the program for American fascism—the organization of the world, planned economy for the world, utopia for the world.
Utopia always has been connected intimately with the ideals of America. By its newness, by its uniqueness, by its apparent violation of historical laws, by the intrinsic experimentation of its life, America always has appeared as the new Jerusalem. The idea of being able to violate the traditional has gone hand in hand with the widespread belief in luck that prevails in this country, whether in the form of Santa Claus who hands out something for nothing, or in the general pass-word of “Give us a break.”
Utopia is the magic pass-key that brings hundreds of thousands of voters to the plans of Upton Sinclair. It is the program of various fascistic movements that already contain hundreds of thousands, even millions, of adherents. In this country, then, utopia becomes not a sneering name for a dream impossible to realize, but the daring scientific experimentation and pioneering that has always characterized America and that has permitted this country to accomplish the apparently impossible. With an unconcealed program of utopia, American fascism may well gather into its folds the mass of petty bourgeois elements that it needs.
The utopianism of America will be not the dream of the poet, but the ideal of the scientist; it will propose not a sentimental return to the past, but a well-organized and planned social order. The industrialism of American life, the extremely well-developed technique of American engineering prevents utopianism from having anything but a scientific character. On the other hand, the general immaturity of social life in this country has, at least up to now, prevented the scientist from being anything else but a social utopian. The phenomenal rise of technocracy with its “planned” economy of plenty under the rule of scientist and engineer is a harbinger of the type of theoretical program that our future “American Party” will try to advance.
In other countries, fascism has fought openly the slogan of the French Revolution, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,” using its own passwords, “Order, Discipline, Hierarchy.” In the United States, however, an incipient fascist movement may well use these very liberal terms for its own purpose. There is nothing more conservative in America than these traditional concepts. Fascism could not overthrow them.
It must be borne in mind that in America the government has never been controlled directly by Big Business men; that is to say, the extremely wealthy heads of corporations have not sought political posts in order to take charge of the government. Big Business rather has operated by utilizing the ubiquitous and decisive middle class. In the United States, it is the middle class that has historically taken the initiative in things political, where petty bourgeois equalitarianism always has been a predominant feature precisely because of the general classlessness that prevails and because of the fact that the nation as such was always identified with the middle class. For these reasons, every political party and administration has paid so much attention to the middle class, that class, so to speak, from whose loins both capital and labor have sprung.
The fascist movement must rely on this middle class. Slogans of equality and fraternity go hand in hand with the slogans against class war. If the fascist movement arises in this country it will not be so much because there is an open threat of communism uttered by mass organizations of half a million members or more, but rather in order to prevent this class struggle from even appearing in such a revolutionary formation. Fascism in Italy sprang up in order to crush communism. Fascism in the United States will appear in order to prevent a native communism from rearing its head.
This is also true since once the American proletariat really moves in the direction of communism, the end for world capitalism will soon be in sight. There will be no long process between beginning and end in America, as there has been in Europe. The American tempo, if nothing else, guarantees directness and speed in social evolution. Therefore, the chief job of the American ruling class must be to prevent the masses from even starting to move in the direction of communism.
European fascism stresses self-sufficiency, autarchy, empire, etc. America, being more self-sufficient than any other country, does not need to stress this. In its role of conquering and organizing the world, it will have to emphasize other features more in harmony with its supernationaiism. As it puts Europe further on the dole, as it injects its mighty force in the wars and conflicts of Europe, it must rationalize its processes with the theory of extending the United States of America to become the United States of the World under America. American fascism indeed can be the creature to try to carry out Karl Kautsky’s theory of ultra-imperialism. (*1)
For the same reason American fascism, unlike the European varieties, will be able to employ not jingoistic, but pacifistic phrases. It is Europe that is always at war and engaged in interminable internecine fights. An end to this chaos; an end to eternal wars! Peace and plenty; planned economy for the world! These are the catchwords that American fascism can use, and in this way American supernationalism will offer itself as a substitute both for the anarchical internationalism of the European bourgeoisie and the Marxist internationalism of the proletarian communist.
European fascism has been born in a struggle against the existing constitution and framework of government that has permitted communism and the labor movement to grow. In its attack against communism, fascism has also blamed the liberal constitutions which had allowed the subversive movements to advance to such strength. In America, however, fascism can arise well within the framework of the Constitution, through a Constitutional dictatorship. After all, the Constitution arose without a labor movement in America and has continued until today without much of a labor movement. Under the Constitution, dictatorial powers of the President may be provided, company unions formed, criminal syndicalist laws enacted, thousands of Negroes lynched, etc. Such a Constitution of theoretical classlessness and pragmatic lynching of labor need not be fought by fascism. The Constitution may have to be modified in interpretation and even in letter, but American fascism may well advance against communistic labor with the slogan “Obey the Constitution” on its lips.
As in economics and in politics, so in general philosophic theory and method. If fascism in Europe needs a State religion and to achieve it has to revert to Catholicism or paganism, the United States can turn to nothing. It cannot reproduce in this country the old forms of a passe Europe. Rather, the problem in America will be how to embrace all religions. Deism does so and Deism is the Traditional religion of the leaders of America. At present, many moves for the unification of all Protestant Churches have been launched and prove again that the American bourgeoisie begins where the European ends. By means of Deism, that is, by insisting in the belief in a God and a divine power over all, American fascism can unify all the groups within the country and the nations outside of it. With Deism as its religion and pragmatism as its method, American fascism can be inspired to lead the world.
The fascist movement must take an irreconcilably hostile attitude to the Negro and will immeasurably burden his lot. German fascism burned books; American fascism will burn men. Lynching is too old a genuine American custom not to be indulged in by fascism when it becomes a force in this country. In all critical moments in American life there has been a tendency for the propertied elements to come together in citizens’ vigilante committees to take the law into their own hands. This is perfectly understandable in a country where the State has been despised and is corrupt, while individual business men have been so strong.
The formation of these vigilante committees need not necessarily be secret. This can be seen, for example, in the records of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilantes formed in 1851. Here the Vigilantes Committee met openly and passed a resolution: “Whereas it has become apparent to the Citizens of San Francisco that there is no security for life and property, either under the regulations of society as it at present exists or under the laws as now administered, therefore the Citizens whose names are hereunto attached do unite themselves into an association for the maintenance of the peace and good order of society…. We are determined that no thief, burglar incendiary assassin … shall escape punishment either by the quibbles of law, the insecurity of prisons, the carelessness and corruption of the police or the laxity of those who pretend to administer justice--…”
“… and if in the judgment of the member or members of the Committee present it be such an act as justifies the interference of this Committee … the Committee shall be at once assembled for the purpose of taking such action as the majority of the Committee when assembled shall determine upon.” (*2)
The Committee then calmly records how it handled ninety-one cases, of which four were hanged, three of them being merely for larceny. Such lynching traditions have been kept fresh in the Far West, and in the South against the Negro. The fascists will gladly take to this method of operation against the Negro. The Negro is too dangerous an element of social life. He is too much a representative of unskilled labor and of the existence of classes not to be made to feel the full brunt of fascism. The fascist way to eliminate class struggles will take the course of the physical extirpation of the black man.
That American fascism will declare the Negro undesirable and launch its most ferocious attacks against the black worker becomes clear the moment we compare the relative standing of the communist to the Negro in America. In other countries, communists have been the most hated, feared, and persecuted by the ruling class. In order to crush communism, fascism rises and comes to power. In Europe, classes exist as a fact, and the oppressed class can be prevented from seizing power only if the leadership of these lower classes, namely the Communist Party, is destroyed.
In this country, however, the problem always has been posed differently. It is not the communist representative of the class that is alien to American soil; rather, it is the class itself, as a class. What the American bourgeoisie fears is not the communist, but the mere organization of the workers into class formations. Since it is the Negro who has always symbolized the class of labor and whose black skin casts its shadow upon the capitalists’ dream of classlessness, we have here the reason for the traditional ferocity against him, while the communist is not even taken seriously. These communist groups are still mulling over the played-out European problems and are composed of elements still alien to the native proletariat; the Negro, on the other hand, has no other problem but how to fight his American masters.
If we compare the two groups, Negro and communist, we can see the reasons why the bourgeoisie of this country fears the Negro rather than the communist. First of all, the Negro is rooted in American life and history; the communist merely flirts around the fringe. Second, the Negro is the most exploited and propertyless section of the American toilers; the communist has been generally of foreign-born extraction, and often has a good job and high pay. Many of them are Jewish intellectuals. Third, the Negro has a long history of actual rebellion and insurrection behind him; the communist has never tried his hand at insurrection in this country. Fourth, the Negro once held State power in some of the states after the Civil War and demonstrated there his revolutionary character; the communists have been only talkers. They have not dared seriously to undertake the penetration of the South. Their ranks are filled with white chauvinist poison. They would not even understand, most of them, the present lines that are being written. Fifth, the Negro has a long history of illegal and conspiratorial work; the communists of this country would not know what to do in periods of illegality, but would flounder helplessly.
Let us compare the difference in treatment which the two groups have received up to now. Since the Civil War, over five thousand Negroes have been lynched; the writer does not know of one communist who has ever met such a fate. Daily, the American bourgeoisie carries on the ferocious war against the Negro. Compared with this, the treatment given the American communist is relatively mild. Communists like Corliss Lamont, or John Strachey, of “noble” blood, can get into the best of society, not to speak of the lesser lights such as Mike Gold and Sydney Hook who would be barred rather because of their Jewish origin than for their communism. On the other hand, the Negro is treated like a beast.
The American white worker has had the rankest illusions about equality, liberty for all, no classes, rich and poor are alike, etc.; not so the Negro. The Negro knows very well that there is a line which he can cross only after a fight. Generally, the white worker lives off the exploitation of the black; the black worker lives off no one. Is it not clear from these facts how far more dangerous and potentially more revolutionary is the "unconscious" Negro than is the “conscious” communist in the United States?
All this, however, is not to say that fascist power would not attack the communist movement. Quite the contrary. The communist also will feel the heavy lash of the fascist’s knout. As a matter of fact, at the first breath of fascist victory, the regular Communist Parties will run to cover and disappear. Fascism is not to be fought by workers who are imperialistically minded or by soft-headed intellectuals, both of which types now infest the revolutionary organizations. These communist movements will simply shatter themselves into so many atoms.
An entirely new communist movement will have to arise. This time the elements will be different, made up mainly of American workers, to a very considerable extent of Negroes. It is only then that communism will have a chance of becoming Americanized.
Since fascism cannot assimilate the Negro, the future in the United States is posed by the problem, fascism, or Negro liberation, which is another form of saying, fascism or communism and the permanent victory for labor.
The lines on the physiognomy of future American fascism will grow clearer if we consider more closely the unique circumstances characterizing the social and political life of this country. Fascism is essentially a movement of order. It carries out the old Prussian dictum: "Ruhe ist der erste Pflick des Burghers,"---quiet is the first duty of the citizen. Each man is to have a place and to be put in his place. In America, however, such a philosophy would be absolutely fatal to all the traditions and sentiments that go to make up Americanism. For every man to have a place presupposes a society of classes, each class mutually dependent on the other, or it presupposes a definite stratefication of functions. The son of the shoemaker takes up shoe-making; the son of the laborer is a laborer, etc. Such a philosophy never had any place in this country.
It has been the boast in the United States that fortunes have been made and lost within three generations, grandfather and grandson both starting in shirtsleeves. (*3) In short, whereas in Europe classes have always existed under the leadership of the aristocracy, or bourgeoisie, in America the job has always been to prevent the formation of classes. Thus, class struggles will arise in this country on the principle that classes should not be formed. The fascist movement in this country cannot adopt a philosophy of every class or every man in his place. Quite the contrary; it must reaffirm the old doctrine of opportunity for everyone.
As we have repeatedly stressed, in America, capitalism has been compelled to work through the wide strata of the middle class whose representatives took charge of the government machine. And just as the bourgeoisie became typified by the tremendously powerful captains of industry, so the little man became symbolized in the powerful political figure of the President, who has never failed to acknowledge his allegiance to that middle class. Thus, in Europe the fascist movement is a mobilization of the middle class by a frightened bourgeoisie that wants to maintain its control by crushing the workers; the situation is the opposite in the United States. In Europe, the bourgeoisie is already in direct control, while the lower middle class is not; it is the reverse in this country. The middle class, traditionally, has furnished the members of the government. If big business should want to take over the government in the United States, above all it would have to fight the middle class, which would refuse to give up its hold on the juicy posts which have belonged to it for so long and which are needed especially now. Evidently, then, fascism in this country will have to rely upon the middle class, not only to form the main army of fascism, but also to be its leaders to transform the government.
Fascism has symbolized the intimate fusion of trust capital with the State and the formation of State capitalism. In America, since the State has been controlled by the middle class while the trust, on the contrary, was controlled by the big bourgeoisie, the fusion between State and trust must precipitate a clash as to who will control. It is clear that, should the State take over the industries of America, such as the railroads, or the banks, or the mines, the pragmatic functionary, typical member of the middle class in control of the government, will do his best to control the trust. Thus, instead of “bust the trust,” now the middle class will adopt the theory of taking over the trust and using it for its own benefit and for the re-establishment of classlessness. Hence the establishment of State monopoly will appear to the middle class as the termination of monopoly of the industrialist, since the State will be controlled “by the people.”
Now it is precisely this middle class that feels itself choked by any thought that it must be put in a definite place. In America it has always lived in the hope of advancement, and was never satisfied merely with maintaining the status quo. The economic attitude of the American middle class was the opposite to that of the European. In Europe, for example, if the middle class family wanted a piano, the income was carefully saved until the funds were sufficient to purchase the instrument. In America, the breadwinner simply went out and hustled harder to get the extra money. The European petty bourgeois economy was a saving economy, a husbanding of limited strength; American middle class economy was always an aggressive one, one that knew not its limits and had never been checked. A fascist theory that would tell the middle class that it must know its place and that its place was a subordinate one would be bound to meet with overwhelming resistance. For the Americans, there must always be kept the illusion that “there is plenty of room on top.”
German fascism has developed a theory denouncing all speculative capital. Such a theory never could be supported in America by the middle class whose very essence has been twined around speculation, horse-trading, pioneering, gold-mine hunting, real estate investment, etc. Consider, for example, the difference between the farmer in America and the peasant of Germany, where the Nazis have passed their Hereditary Homestead Law forbidding the alienation of land. Is it conceivable that American fascism could take such a position to prevent the farmer from selling his land, forcing him to remain in one spot forever? Such an idea would be absolutely abhorrent to the American farmer. The American farmer is no peasant. He is not and never has been rooted to the soil. There is an immense difference between land hunger and love of soil. The American farmer has often enough been land hungry, but he never has had a true love for the soil. He has treated his farm as others treated their business; he was always ready to pack up and leave if a new and better opportunity showed itself. Often the land was held merely for speculation, and millions of members of the middle class have been able to exist as long as they have, simply because of the booming land values. The purchase of land in the countryside for practically nothing, the holding on to it while big cities arose on every side, increasing the value of the land, the cashing in of the land when prices reached their highest point, when the family can then betake themselves to California, or elsewhere, for new speculative adventures,—this was the routine for many a shrewd Yankee.
It must never be forgotten that, in the main, agriculture in America was developed after capitalism had become powerful in England, the mother country, and thus agriculture did not precede capitalism, but borrowed all capitalist features in its production of land products. The American farmer was a capitalist adventurer, going where profit was high. He had no feudal traditions. He migrated from New England to the Middle West, and from the Middle West to the Far West. Within each state, the mobility of the farmer was notorious. Even among the Negro share-croppers it is estimated that their migration within the South was far greater than even their extraordinary trek to the North.
In short, European fascism means immobility and stationary life. But the Americans are an uprooted people who have their tentacles in no particular spot. In this respect they have much in common with the Jews. America has symbolized mobility. Incidentally, there is no country where the automobile prevails that as yet has swung to fascism. Italy and Germany are the land of the bicycle. In America there are close to thirty million automobiles, constantly moving. To take these exceedingly active energetic atoms of the middle class who drive the automobiles and to place them in some stationary category would be indeed to transform the bright blue sky of America into the dungeons of Europe.
No, fascist claims in America must not take the form of the advocacy of hereditary land laws and the creation of an immobile stationary society of classes and occupations. It must be a philosophy that will open up still greater opportunities for the middle class to replace those which are being closed by the trusts. Thus the schemes of Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and Doctor Townsend are schemes to give money to the middle class so that they may continue their speculation, their initiative, their driving around the country in automobiles, and similar customs.
All fascist philosophy has been a turning back to the past, but America has no past to which to turn back. Fascism is a sign of a defeated country, a country slipping, a country afraid. The Americans know no fear. They have never been defeated. They do not appreciate their limitations and would not recognize them if they saw them. Why should the American middle class turn back? What force is oppressing it? Who dares to order it? In Europe, fascism is the sign of the weak and desperate; in America, it will take on the Messianic feature of saving the world.
Old World fascism is a movement that proposes to the middle class that it can keep its security and position only by crushing the working class; in America such a theory of progress by crushing others never has been adopted. In general, the philosophy of Meliorism and expansive humanitarianism has been particularly deep-seated in this country. There has been generally wealth enough for all, so that one did not have to bother his neighbor. Wealth came from one’s own initiative and hard work rather than from pushing others down. At least, the contrary was never admitted by the middle class of the United States, where the class struggle was still in an unconscious state. Here, the middle class always idealized labor, and it has been from the middle class that the native laboring elements have come. On the other hand, the native labor movement always has been closely allied to the middle class. It is hard to believe that the millions of middle class members can adopt as their philosophy in America that their position can be secured only if they trample those who are under them still further down the scale.
From all these considerations we may conclude that the fascist movement in the United States, that is, the movement towards complete governmental control, collectivism in all forms of life, destruction of the labor movement, and compulsory abolition of classes, will take on forms in this country entirely different from those anywhere else.
The mere formation of fascist groupings, the continued centralization of the State, and the wiping out of political democracy and parliamentarism are bound to create a profound reaction in the ranks of labor itself, leading to open class formations in the interests of labor. Once the labor movement will have organized on its own account, it will clear the political atmosphere. The middle class is floundering today precisely because it has no one to whom to took for aid. The labor movement, strangely politically silent, with no adequate program and organization of its own, makes no attempt to fight for power.
When labor does begin to move, however, it is bound to show such strength as to win to its side large numbers of the middle class whose interests labor really carries forward. If fascism results in the stimulation of the labor movement to counter with its own mass organizations, then it will have accomplished the setting off of the spark of the struggle for power between capital and labor in America. From this it can be seen that fascism can have no long future in America.
So virile, so energetic, so intrinsically unspoiled is the American laborer that his mere organization and first timid steps towards power will shake the entire structure. There can be no long period of time between labor’s awakening and labor’s victory; it is the awakening that is slow and painful. Contrary to the Russian, the American has a hard task to reach power; he will have an easy task to hold it. And if the task to reach power is difficult, it is because the task of awakening the worker is difficult. Once on the road of class consciousness, his pace will be terrifically fast until the goal is completed. He will advance with the same spirit that makes him a foremost sportsman, with a whirlwind release of his pent-up energy.
As Friedrich Engels put it: “To expect that the Americans will start out with the full consciousness of the theory worked out in older industrial countries is to expect the impossible.” (*4) “Once the Americans get started it will be with an energy and violence compared with which we in Europe shall be mere children." (*5)
1. “If we can learn to adjust out interest to the rights of others, we stand to knit the world into an economic federation to which war would be the supreme calamity and to spread a Pax Americana over the greater portion of the globe. If we can take the nations into partnership with us, it is our manifest destiny to control the world as it has never been ruled before; informally, unobtrusively, invulnerably.” (J. Carter: Conquest-America’s Painless Imperialism, pp. 267-8.)
2. Papers of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851, edited by M. F. Williams, pp. 1 and 2.
3. One American writer has put it: “The commonest axiom of history is that every generation revolts against its fathers and makes friends with its grandfathers.” (L. Mumford: The Brown Decades, p. 3.)
4. The Correspondence of Marx and Engels, Letter of Engels to Florence Kelley Wischaewetsky, No. 203, pp. 453-454.
5. The same, Letter of Engels to Schlueter, No. 222, p. 497.