Anti-fascism is not the way; popular education is. The new form of fascism that has emerged in the United States is a consequence of the fact that a sector of the people is angry about the decline of the nation from its once dominant position as an economic, political, and military superpower; about the increasing percentage of the population is that not white and not Christian; and about the apparent incapacity and indifference of the political establishment in the face of these developments. Many of our people are angry about these phenomena because they do not understand them. They do not understand the sources of the nation’s spectacular ascent and recent decline; the causes of uncontrolled international migration; and the narrow class interests that shape the actions of the elite. They have formulated a neofascist discourse that scapegoats immigrants, persons of color, Muslims, gays, and liberals; and that advocates military strength and economic nationalism. When they organize demonstrations to promote their causes, the necessary response is not counterdemonstrations, but the education of the people.
When I speak of education, I do not refer to what occurs in schools, colleges and universities, which cultivate a fragmented and distorted understanding of the nation and the world; nor do I refer to a media advertising campaign with the same limitations. Rather, what I have in mind is the development of people’s schools, which would conduct classes in homes, churches, temples, mosques, community centers, and other public buildings, with teachers who lead the people in on-going discussions of readings. The people’s schools would create a cadre of well-informed citizens, comprising fifteen to twenty percent of the people. The members of the cadre would be present in places of work and study and in neighborhoods, constantly present among the people, explaining and exhorting. If this educated vanguard can be effectively present among the people, modeling exemplary citizenship and informed understanding, the influence of neofascist tendencies would decline. Some members of the cadre could present themselves as candidates for public office at all levels, representing an alternative political party that is dedicated to popular education, modeling an alternative form of political leadership.
Anti-fascist counterdemonstrations escalate the conflict; they do not help the people to acquire the necessary understanding of the alternative road that the nation must find. At their best, they generate the competitive shouting of alternative slogans; and their worst, they degenerate into violence. Our strategy must not be to shout, and even less to fight; we must seek to explain, based on a lifetime commitment to deepening our own understanding of the contradictions and challenges that humanity confronts.
Nearly one hundred years ago, Lenin wrote of what he called the infantile disorder of the Left. It is an infirmity characterized by radical action based on superficial understanding. Lenin believed that infantile, unreflective extremism was causing serious harm to the communist movement, which at that historic moment had taken control of the state in Russia and had a significant presence among the political parties in Germany, England, Holland and France (see “The infantile disorder of the Left” 12/19/2016). In our time, infantile extremism is one of the principal sources of the limited influence of the Left in the nations of the North. Unfortunately, it is occurring during a historic moment in which the emergence of an intellectually mature and politically effective Left is an objective possibility in the North, given the profound and sustained crisis of the world-system and the renewal of the Third World popular movements.
When neofascists announce a march, progressive organizations should not organize a counterdemonstration, and they should call upon the people to stay away. They should use the occasion to disseminate well-formulated critiques of the assumptions and stated objectives of the march. They should negotiate with law enforcement agencies, ensuring the protection of all citizens from neofascist violence. They should make clear their respect for the right of the marchers to peacefully assemble and speak, as long as violence does not occur and the march respects legal restrictions. Similarly, progressive organizations should deemphasize efforts to restrict so-called hate speech, for this enters the murky ground of freedom of speech, and it can place the Left at a disadvantage in what Fidel Castro called “the battle of ideas,” which he defined as the most important struggle of the current historic moment. In this battle, the Left ought to be able to establish a clear scientific and moral advantage. Although direct confrontation appears to be more decisive action, it is less politically functional in the long run, for it does little to lead the people toward the necessary road. The strategy of the Left cannot be endless battles with the extreme Right, while the contradictions that humanity confronts remained unexplained and thus unattended.
Nor should we attack Confederate monuments, especially in a violent and illegal form. Let neofascism have its heroes and its public spaces; every cause celebrates its heroes, and this cannot be suppressed. We should focus on identifying our own heroes and public spaces, formulating a narrative that teaches the important role of leaders of popular movements of all popular sectors in expanding and deepening the meaning of democracy. With an informed and comprehensive narrative, we should be able to establish a political upper hand over right-wing populism as well as liberal elitism with a politically effective and scientifically informed discourse, efficiently disseminated among our people.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, progressive organizations are being drawn into a confrontation with the extreme Right. This temptation should be avoided. The Left should explain the inadequacies of the proposals of the extreme Right, standing above, rather than being drawn into, confrontation. The Left should focus on the long-term goals of educating the people and leading them toward the necessary road of cooperation and solidarity with the peoples and nations of the world, standing in opposition to the common enemies of humanity, including imperialism, the unconstrained exploitation of labor and of nature, violence, exclusion, and poverty.
For further reflection on the failure of the Left and its implications for the emergence of Trump, see my various posts in the category Trump. For further reflections on these and other relevant themes, see my book, The Evolution and Significance of the Cuban Revolution: The light in the darkness.