The news regarding Donald Trump’s policy of ripping children from their parents and imprisoning them indefinitely in what can only be called concentration camps has been fast developing, and many on the left have rushed to consider what the implications of these developments are in our fight for the right of immigrants to live prosperous, fulfilling lives free from barbarous state harassment, limited job opportunities, and imprisonment. We’ve previously written on the Phoenix about Trump’s fascist rhetoric regarding immigrants, and the continuity of Trump’s practice with Obama’s historic deportation rates. But each account we hear of what is happening inside these camps, from the suicide of a father separated from his family, to forcing children to recite the pledge of allegiance, the fascist murals quoting Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal reminiscent of Hitler’s “Arbeit macht frei,” to Trump’s ineffectual executive order that has so far failed to reunite families or eliminate the basic premise that immigrants deserve to be in concentration camps, demands a sober analysis of the development of fascism in the United States.
Early analyses of the nature of Trump’s camps have fallen into both right and left deviations. To the right, American moderates and Democrats see the brutalization of children as something un-American or new to the history of the United States—a preposterous claim. From the criminal boarding schools for Native American children ripped from their parents arms and put at the mercy of physically and sexually abusive instructors that forced them to adopt white-anglo culture, to Japanese internment, to 400 years of slavery, ruthless abuse and brutality is at the heart of American history in every era. We’ve written previously on the Phoenix how Trump’s fascistic rhetoric against immigrants has precedence in the 19th century and even the Obama presidency, that saw record deportation rates and the creation of many ICE “detention centers.” Liberals are right to be horrified by the cries of infants for their parents, and the deeply disturbing coerced patriotism occurring in the camps, and many of the reactions from moderate elements are likely authentic. But it is essential that the left unflinchingly underlines the history of this behavior, suggesting that the horror and pain liberals do and claim to experience has been experienced by the victims of American racism and imperialism for centuries. Atrocities benefit and have benefited the American ruling class, and that is exactly why we must aim to fundamentally alter American society through a socialist movement.
We expect the moderates to deviate to the right, they have been doing so for decades, but some sectors of the left have deviated to ultra-left positions in response to the news regarding Trump’s terror campaign against immigrant families. A common reaction from leftists has been to write off recent developments as simply more of the same from the American state, underlining Obama’s record highlighted above. While it is essential to point out both parties’ complicity in the inhumane treatment of immigrants, to render American political life as a monolith of crimes that cannot meaningfully move to the right blinds us from accurately identifying the rise of fascist trends in the US that imperil all progressive people. As Communists and immigrant rights activists, it is paramount that we listen to immigrants and immigrant rights movements. On college campuses, large movements in support of DACA students have arisen since 2017, and ICE recently conducted the largest arrest in recent history of immigrants working in a meat plant in Ohio, the second large raid conducted in the state in just a month, together totaling nearly nearly 250 arrests—an experience a local preacher described as “terrorizing.” Something has shifted, and immigrant communities and rights movements have taken notice. Refusing to acknowledge and listen to these observations with a wave of the historical hand does not serve our movement to empower working people, of all origins, in the country, and dangerously prevents the left from reckoning the peril such fascist practices represent.
Both deviations are rooted in a skepticism fascism is growing in the United States. Understandings of fascism, from both left and right, often see it as necessarily being coexistent with death camps, mass executions, and the extermination of all political dissenters. Such an understanding makes an analysis of the development of fascism very difficult, as fascist states seemingly go from legal bourgeois democracy to illegal wanton fascist dictatorship in an instant. But we know from the history of Italy, Germany, Chile, Haiti, and others, that fascist dictatorships often rely, to the very last, on legal backing for their actions. Nazi officials at the Wannsee conference, dedicated to deciding the best way to murder millions of people, still invoked legal precedence for their action, and most tellingly of all, often understood their actions as realizing the law’s true meaning. It is remarkably similar to the rhetoric of the Trump administration, that routinely argues that they only enforce the law as it is written, and they, unlike the weak liberal establishment, have the courage to enforce its true nature, as Attorney General Sessions argued in a press release announcing the “zero tolerance policy.” Fascism clearly develops through the decaying legal apparatuses of the bourgeois state, and uses its legitimacy to justify their crimes against humanity. A fascist state does not become fascist only when it commits those crimes, it begins its fascist development when it builds the apparatuses, legal and non, and political dialogue necessary to carry out those crimes.
A more comprehensive definition of fascism is needed, then, in order to see if recent developments in the United States constitute the growth of a fascist movement. In an overview on Trump’s fascist sympathies published in the run-up of the 2016 election, the American Party of Labor defined fascism as follows, relying significantly on Georgi Dimitrov’s 1935 definition:
The American Party of Labor, and Marxism-Leninism in general, defines fascism as the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinist and most imperialist elements of a ruling class exercised through a fascist political party or organization having a mass base.
The rise of fascism, in such a definition, needn’t be identified only when mass killings occur and congress is dissolved. Fascism arises when the “most reactionary, most chauvinist, and most imperialist” elements hold state power and garner a mass base, and use these things to exert a terroristic dictatorship on targeted groups. In the United States in 2018, it is clear terroristic policing against immigrant communities has increased to a point of no return. From audio tapes of screaming children, to the immediate disappearance and deportation of family members without a word, to Trump-inspired and even endorsed (as in Charlottesville) mass shootings and acts of terrorism, a more open terrorism against immigrants, people of color, and leftists is clearly developing in the United States. Obama’s crimes against immigrants were great, but Trump is presently galvanizing a mass anti-immigrant movement that has committed the most acts of extremist violence on American soil and that openly endorses, justifies, and celebrates putting immigrants indefinitely in concentration camps. The left must acknowledge that this is a significant shift in American politics towards the construction of a fascist state on the ruins of a failing bourgeois democracy and legal system.
Trump is building a fascist foundation in the United States, and it is the responsibility of all leftists, all progressive people, to dismantle it by any means necessary and appropriate. It is essential that leftists critically analyse the growth of fascism in the United States and avoid ultra-left and right deviations that seek to downplay the terror campaign being carried out by the Trump administration against immigrants. The tens of millions of people who died to defeat fascism to first time, and the thousands of children being cruelly ripped from their parents by soulless ICE agents and put into inhuman camps watch our every move in these critical moments in American history. Left forces in the United States must proceed with forethought, analysis, and most importantly, collective action. The future of all those targeted by fascists, the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, women, jews, and countless others, our future, depends on our actions in this moment. The future will not forgive us if we fail to dismantle American fascism now before its terror completely consumes the nation.
Join the American Party of Labor on the streets this Saturday across the country in the Families Belong Together Marches: Find a March Near You