Trumpism is not a uniquely American phenomena. It is the local variant of an ultra-right anti-establishment ideology that has a worldwide manifestation. In Europe there are right-wing anti-EU parties growing in many of the member states in the EU based on anti-immigrant policies and appeals to nationalism and economic protectionism to preserve jobs for native born citizens, as well anti-Islam propaganda , and paranoia over terrorism. The term neofascism has been used to describe these movements and to differentiate them from traditional conservative and liberal, including social democratic parties.
There are also left-wing objections to the EU as an antidemocratic neoliberal institution for the concentration of capital and the more efficient exploitation of the working class for the benefit of monopoly capitalism. This allows the right to pirate legitimate concerns and demands of the workers to build their own faux populist base. This explains the appeal, in the US, of Trump’s denunciations of Wall Street bankers on the one hand to gain popular support, and on the other to appoint these same bankers to positions in his administration to allay suspicions within the ruling class that he might be a real threat to the capitalist system.
Unique circumstances in the US allow us to understand the differences between Trumpism and European neofascism. After WW2 Communist states ruled in Eastern Europe allied with the Soviet Union. Western European states were reconstructed on a social democratic model with many social benefits to placate the workers and the middle class so as diminish the lure of Communism which promised full employment and universal medical care, subsidized education, affordable housing and other social “safety net” features.
With the collapse of Communism the Western European ruling elites no longer saw the need to maintain social benefits at the pre-collapse level and with the economic crisis beginning in the US in 2008, and quickly spreading world wide, austerity programs began to be instituted that negatively impacted the general population. These programs were instituted by the traditional ruling parties, conservative or liberal, and have resulted in a backlash against establishment rule, immigration, and the European Union which is the transnational governing political entity the European ruling class has constructed to better solidify and institutionalize its dominance.
Neofascism is a throwback to the nationalistic authoritarian populist political movements of the pre WWII era which had developed as a result of the economic failures gripping Europe as a consequence of the destruction caused by WWI. Left populist socialist and Communist movements are also being energized in the wake of the fightback against austerity instituted by the social democratic as well more traditional pro capitalist parties as the ruling class eliminates the post WWII gains made by the working class in the wake of the Soviet victory over fascism in 1945.
Trumpism has a different origin. It is based on the historical development of US capitalism and the slave system and the virtual genocide of the native cultures and societies found within the territories settled and conquered by Western Europeans who founded and expanded the US. Defeat in war and the growth of Communist political power within its borders were not the causative agents of its appeals. Its base is rooted in the endemic institutional racism of American society and the demagogic appeal to the ignorance of masses of deliberately under educated people whose jobs and incomes are threatened by the continuing crisis of the collapse of the neoliberal economic policies instituted by the two major political parties, Republican and Democratic, of monopoly capitalism.
These policies enrich the 1% at the expense of the mass of working people and are maintained by fostering ignorance of the true causes of the economic crisis through ruling class control of the media, education system, and circuses (without the bread) provided by the entertainment and sports complex created to induce intellectual narcolepsy in the population at large. These policies seek to cast the blame for the economic woes facing the working people on minorities, immigrants, radical movements demanding unrealistic labor changes (higher wages, more unionization at the cost of jobs), Islamic terrorism, illegal voting fraud, climate change hoaxes, fake news, gay rights, and repression of religious freedom.
These are the issues both Democrats and Republican focus on taking either liberal or conservative sides but neither party questions the fundamental basis of the capitalist society based on the private appropriation, by a small minority, of the socially created wealth sweated out of the vast majority of the American working people who stand outside and starving without decent housing or medical care or education midst the wonders they have made.
Trumpism, the subspecies of neofascism peculiar to the US, has come to power prematurely. It, along with the Tea Party were nurtured for a future contingency of a breakdown of the establishment parties and their ability to rule in their accustomed manner. The Sanders movement and distrust of HRC, however, panicked elements of the ruling class into to supporting Trump (some now have buyers remorse) and the freakish Electoral College system of determining the presidency allowed the executive branch to fall into Trump’s hands while the Republican Party also captured both houses of Congress.
Updating Georgi Dimitrov’s explanation of the victory of Fascism in Germany and Italy in the 1930s (Main Report: Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, 1935) we can cast some light on the nature of Trumpism today. Here are the relevant quotes from the opening of his report. Keep in mind they have reference to the economic crisis of capitalism in the 1930s and the need to keep the masses of working people in a repressed state so they would not be attracted to radical movements questioning the capitalist system and the right of the ruing bourgeoisie to plunder not only the domestic population but to engage in military adventures and wars abroad.
It is also important to note that these quotes describe full blown fascist governments set up by the ruling class to replace constitutional democratic governments which could not solve the economic crisis of capitalism by normal parliamentary methods and needed Draconian measures to maintain control of the population. This is the situation that the US was headed for but had not yet matured to the extent that a fascist government was called for and a Clintonist corporate center right alliance masquerading as a progressive coalition was the perfect solution for the contemporary problems facing US monopoly capital. The unexpected appointment of Trump as president by the Electoral College disregarding the popular vote was thus a premature assumption of power of a crypto-fascist movement whose role was not to win the election but to prepare the way for a more stringent and intelligently structured future fascist government should the Clinton alliance fail to reestablish the uncontested sway of US imperialism.
Dimitrov maintained that fascism was needed because: “The imperialist circles are trying to shift the whole burden of the crisis onto the shoulders of the working people.” So far the ruling political establishments of the “free world” have been able to do this without fascism but ultra-right and neofascist political movements have been growing in the expectation of achieving future political power.
“They are trying to solve the problem of markets by enslaving the weak nations, by intensifying colonial oppression and repartitioning the world anew by means of war. That is why they need fascism.” The beginning of this stage is well underway with the US involvement in trying to realign the entire Middle East to its interests and thus being forced to confront Russia’s interests (thus the trumped up charges against Putin “hacking” our elections to fuel a new Cold War). We are also challenging Chinese regional interests in the South China Sea (not a US Mare Nostrum). We are likewise building up NATO forces along the Russian border in retaliation to Russia’s push back against a US sponsored ultra right coup in Ukraine.
Finally, the Trump victory is a modern day exemplification of the weakness of both the working class and the ruling establishment in the face of deteriorating conditions of world capitalism which can only maintain its profitability through military spending and environmentally destructive industrial practices that threaten the continuing existence of civilization as we know it. When capitalism is squeezed fascism and human destruction drip out as naturally as orange juice from an orange.
The growth of fascism is related to the disruption and disorganized behavior of the working class due to “a policy of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie”(the result of poor leadership) as well as “the weakness of the bourgeoisie itself, afraid of a united struggle of the working class” and afraid of its loss of power (Sanders political revolution?) it finds itself “no longer in a position to maintain its dictatorship over the masses by the old methods of bourgeois democracy and parliamentarism.” Well, these old methods worked for the Republicans in this last election for the Congress and on the state level, but the premature and unexpected Trump victory has put the working and progressive people of America on notice of what the future portends. We have two years to organize and fight back to regain the Congress and many of the states in the 2018 bi-elections: la lucha continua!
Thomas Riggins is a university lecturer in philosophy and ancient civilizations and former book review editor of Political Affairs online.