As the globe enters the sixth month since the World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 as a pandemic, cases and death rates in countries led by far right authoritarians continue to surge. The vast majority of nations have sought out the advice of experts and coordinated internationally to implement safeguards, yet the right-wing nationalist leaders of the U.S., Brazil, India and Russia have intensified the pandemic — creating more death and uncertainty.
Each leader’s response has been marked by the rush to protect economic activity and promote the normalization of a deadly plague over the livelihoods and health of working people. Ultimately, these ultra-reactionaries share an ideology that is incapable of shielding common people — including some of their supporters — from mayhem and death. With the Trump administration and its ideological allies plunging the world further into chaos, it must be recognized that the emerging neofascist worldview — which whittles down to cynical contempt for the lives of the “ordinary” — is the catalyst behind an explosion of cases and deaths.
Far Right Authoritarians Are Exacerbating the Pandemic
As of August 13, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tallied 5,119,711 COVID cases and 163,651 lives claimed in the U.S., making it a leader in the world on that score. With an eviction moratorium and unemployment benefits now expiring, 23 million Americans face homelessness and 30 million remain jobless while some received a one-time check for a meager $1,200 — meant to tide them over for the duration of the crisis. While other countries move toward bailing out the average taxpayer, the majority of Americans are struggling with rent, mortgage and debt obligations. The Trump administration has opted to shelter corporations and the financial elite to weather the economic shockwaves. The administration has also aimed to appropriate funds to pandemic-related benefits by circumventing the legislative process. While likely not to be implemented due to its unconstitutional nature, the ploy serves to conjure up popularity and positive optics for Trump as the 2020 election quickly approaches.
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With families facing burgeoning uncertainty, Trump and his congressional allies — along with some Democrats — have worked to pass nonessential legislation and a stimulus package that has been rife with fraud. While shifting a mammoth redistribution of wealth upwards, Trump has also vowed to withhold funding from schools.
Ignoring the pandemic and economic meltdown, the Trump administration has descended further into experimentation with fascistic policies in recent months — deploying unaccountable, secret federal police to carry out abductions of nonviolent demonstrators — and are currently working to delegitimize and possibly delay the 2020 election. Trump’s fascist-minded policies previously came into play after the administration began placing migrant children in concentration camps and enacting an immigration ban on Muslim refugees.
The Trump administration has also attempted to skew reality, promoting QAnon conspiracy theories while likely covering up COVID case data through a politically motivated ploy. The words of the renowned linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky sum up the converging crises: The U.S. is “becoming a pariah state.”
Not far behind the U.S.’s weak response and crumbling society is Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil. A Trump-modeled authoritarian, Bolsonaro contracted COVID on two occasions — now claiming he has mold in his lungs. Brazil’s leadership has responded to the pandemic by parroting policies of the Trump administration — leaving crisis management to resource-starved local governments, while focusing on public-private schemes. Bolsonaro’s rhetoric also mirrors Trump’s — repeatedly minimizing the gravity of the situation, calling the virus a “little flu,” while promoting the debunked use of hydroxychloroquine as treatment. The authoritarian has rejected WHO recommendations, criticized social distancing and used a homophobic slur in referencing those wearing masks.
As the pandemic rages, Brazil now comes in second for COVID cases and deaths. Bolsonaro’s pandemic response has been marked by a turn away from Chicago-school austerity economics — as the government struggles to contain transmissions and manage an economic implosion. The country experienced 55 days without a minister of health this spring after Bolsonaro fired his original pandemic official and the successor resigned after both butted heads with the far right authoritarian for implementing evidence-based recommendations.
Bolsonaro’s free-market authoritarianism previously came into focus after calling for the executions of Indigenous and LGBTQ+ people, supporting the imprisonment of political opponents and openly praising the former military dictatorship — infamous for the torture and “disappearing” of thousands who defied the U.S.-sponsored junta. Bolsonaro’s regime has also incentivized massive deforestation in the Amazon, selling off land and resources to private interests while wealth inequality rate ranks as one of the world’s worst.
Behind Brazil is far right ethnonationalist Narendra Modi’s India, which has rushed to third place as a top epicenter. Modi’s rise to power was fueled by sectarian zeal, resulting in the Hindutva reactionary cozying up to ideological allies like Trump and Bolsonaro. While stifling media watchdogs, Modi has scapegoated and encouraged violence against Muslim Indians. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has worked to crush working-class power — attempting to privatize publicly owned firms, including Air India and Bharat Petroleum Corporation, while suspending labor laws in BJP-held regions. As a world leader in pandemic cases and extreme inequality, the subcontinent’s people have seen little help from Modi’s far right regime.
Under Vladimir Putin’s brand of far right nationalism, Russia ranks just behind India as the fourth leading hotspot of COVID cases. Putin’s policies in response to the pandemic, like Trump’s in the U.S., have largely relied on delegating power to local authorities and scheming with oligarchs and private industry. Although Putin maintains widespread popular support, many working-class Russians received little relief. Furthermore, it’s no secret to Western audiences that the regime has consolidated power by silencing media and opposition voices, ginning up the right’s divisive causes of misogyny and homophobia, while enriching the Russian aristocracy.
According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers, this grouping of reactionary-led countries makes up the vast majority of the world’s COVID-19 cases. The connection between the utter disdain for liberties, equality and humanity manifests from the goals of consolidating power and protecting capital’s interests which derive from the ideological constructs and tactics of a fascist worldview.
Emerging Neofascism Will Continue Killing People Post-Pandemic
Since the international turn toward neoliberalism in the 1980s, an undemocratic economic system has promoted the advancement of wealth concentration in the hands of a few while living conditions and occupational mobility for a skeptical working class have become increasingly precarious. In response, a new brand of right-wing nationalism has emerged. This ideology attempts to diagnose and treat the failures of skewed economic hierarchy, advances the cures of imagined cultural pathologies and seeks to dissect the collapsing state of liberal institutions with a dulled scalpel. Amid the intersection of monumental health, financial and political crises, this ideologically aligned group has adopted policies and rhetoric that are now resembling a modernized form of fascism, which similarly arose out of the conditions created by global depression and austerity in the 1920s and 1930s.
Fascism has morphed since the days of Mussolini, the Third Reich, and the numerous U.S.-backed Cold War dictators. The political programs of old have been transformed to be sleeker and more adaptable to the mainstream of today, while delivering the conspiracy-minded dogmatism and state-promoted violence of traditional fascism. Blackshirts aren’t rounding up trade unionists and you’re less likely to hear overt anti-Semitic conspiracies from leaders, but the program has evolved — its language has grown more coded, while political violence has regressed into disorganized vigilante “patriot” groups.
This group of emanating authoritarians — while distant from the totalitarianism of Mussolini and Hitler — still share many of their characteristics; most notably unquestioning loyalty from their adherents, rallying around imprisonment of adversaries, intertwining religion with the corporate state and invalidating critical media as conspiratorial propaganda. These authoritarians dubiously promote redistribution, yet rely on an economic program plagued by appeasement to corporate profits while scapegoating through racist identitarian pitches — sowing diversion from the true mechanisms of alienation and exploitation. The commonality shared between these leaders also clings to the goals of consolidating power and further delegitimizing failing liberal institutions by creating a false mythos that promises revolutionary change to restore a fabled past (“Make America Great Again”). They sidetrack from their corruption and rejection of human rights while hiding behind religious extremism and the flag. They bring the violence, exploitation and austerity of imperialism back home. Historically speaking, these characteristics are consistent with elements of fascism.
The emerging neofascist doctrine does not seek to protect a diverse working class over the consolidation of capital and political power, hence the explosion in COVID cases and disdain for humanity that reactionaries have enabled and practiced. Dissidents must recognize that the shared ideology of these leaders is ultimately a ploy to divide on arbitrary differences and purge and segregate society of those deemed undesirable or burdensome. These leaders and their supporters wish to expel and silence the opposition’s coalition; labor power; critical media; those perceived as ethnically, genetically or religiously impure; and those they consider an economic strain on society. The neofascist worldview, drawing from its traditional roots, is a ruse to concentrate power and maintain the economic hierarchy, as capitalism becomes more volatile, failing to deliver security for the masses. With no end in sight to three compounding calamities, those opposed to fascism must put aside differences, and by any conceivable means, ensure that the fascist threat doesn’t grow to claim the lives and liberties of more people.
A Democratic and Egalitarian Coalition Will Defeat Fascism With Solidarity
As modern life becomes progressively pseudo-apocalyptic, fascism is now coaxed back into the mainstream. Like a genie summoned out of a lamp, the doctrine cannot be shoved away or ignored. Neofascists — due to their penchant for violence and conspiratorial dogmatism — also cannot be debated or reasoned with and should not be dismissed as a fringe element or non-threat. Fascism does not respond to online petitions or peaceful demonstrations, and its further poisoning of the right’s consciousness cannot simply be voted out of office or remedied through the crumbling institutions that led to it.
Fascism is to be fought in self-defense and struggled against to protect those deemed undesirable. Its heinous tenets are defeated when common individuals unitedly build a coalition of solidarity, engage in diversification of tactics and recognize the shared values across the left-liberal spectrum of creating a more democratic and egalitarian society.
Anti-fascist coalitions that cast wide ideological nets and promote left-liberal solidarity have posed better odds in rejecting fascism. In 1936, Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists were largely quashed after the Battle of Cable Street. The 3,000 Blackshirts — escorted by 6,000 police officers — sought to march through and intimidate a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in east London. The Nazi sympathizers sparked blistering outrage and inspired a broad coalition of 20,000 members of the working class — including communists, socialists, anarchists, Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews, Irish dockworkers, trade unionists, liberals and social democrats — to collectively confront the fascist menace and their police protectors in the streets. The Blackshirts, now giving bigoted action a second thought, ironically found themselves as the ones subjected to intimidation.
Portland, Oregon, now stands as a contemporary example of an eclectic anti-fascist coalition and solidarity in action. After the Trump administration unleashed secret federal police to crack down on “violent graffiti,” Portlanders — from a variety of political backgrounds — demonstrated in droves to resist the latest goose step toward autocracy. The anti-fascist, anti-racist uprising resulted in a fury across corporate and independent media, along with most of the public, as Trump’s fascistic moves were widely condemned. The solidarity and media scrutiny were followed by the administration’s backtracking and removal of the unidentifiable federal officers.
Conversely, the rise of Hitler and Nazism was enabled by a splintered opposition. The Nazis were partly fueled by ineffective liberal and social democrat appeasement and rudderless opposition, while trade unionists, socialists, communists and anarchists joined forces — setting aside differences — to oppose barbarism. The fragmented opposition was crushed, leading to the systematic genocide and torture of millions. Much of the opposition — both those that outright opposed or worked to appease the Third Reich — ended up in concentration camps or were executed.
History shows that common, working-class liberals and social democrats need communists, socialists, trade unionists and anarchists to defeat fascism, and vice versa. A divided opposition to fascism only serves to unleash power grabs, further wealth concentration and bolster state-sanctioned sadism.
Although societal critiques and economic visions differ in the left-liberal spectrum, preconceptions espousing democracy, anti-racism and equality are held in common — albeit under different extents, methods and structures. While economic and political differences are meaningful and worth exploring, fascism is an imminent threat to those shared values. Anti-fascists across the spectrum hold the belief that a better, egalitarian world should be strived for, while rejecting far right authoritarianism and identitarianism. It is under these ideals that a politically and culturally diverse, and effective coalition is organized.
The establishment of a coalition based on democratic, egalitarian and humanist values can defeat fascism and reactionary leaders by practicing a wide array of tactics. Fascism will be more defeatable by stoic acts of solidarity and when decent people outnumber the violent neofascists and enforcement arms of the state in the streets. Economically speaking, anti-fascists can withhold labor power and practice boycotts of fascist-sympathizing capitalists.
While solidarity is needed with liberals and social democrats, it is incumbent for the left to correct the material conditions that led to fascism’s genesis by creating alternative power structures. The left can better exhibit fascism’s emergence to anti-fascist liberals who mistakenly conceptualize its origins. Establishing alternative institutions for the democratic distribution of commodities and services — outside of the failing mechanisms that created the conditions for fascism’s rise — would put in practice and demonstrate an alternative to the current system. The left can further oppositional power by joining unions to hold labor leadership accountable, promoting independent media and journalists, establishing a big-tent workers’ party to democratically set an organized national agenda, and leveraging localized mutual aid networks.
With neofascism developing rapidly across the globe, the political challenges of today and tomorrow seem horrifying and surreal. Yet out of that trepidation, a movement that looks to anti-fascist history, wishes to mutually struggle for stronger democratic institutions and form a more egalitarian society while opposing fascism is currently being made. Unlike the fascists in government, their capitalist backers and their base of supporters, the left-liberal coalition fortunately has the masses and morality on its side. At this historical precipice, fascism will only be further relegated to the history books after individuals collectively stand in solidarity for equality and democracy while fighting back by any means necessary.