Smash Illusions: Power and the Struggle Against Fascism

This document is being published in advance of the first conference of Against Fascism sections. It presents the perspectives of the Revolutionary Communist Party towards how to build the anti-fascist movement in Canada.

 

Now is a Time of Monsters

Capitalism is in decay. It’s decaying right before our eyes. Any semblance of a post-war “labour peace” –once a reality for white workers, never for colonized workers – is increasingly stripped away as capitalism seeks to re-entrench itself after the 2008 economic crisis. American capitalism is in particular crisis: facing defeat in its last two wars, crushing debt, and new challenges from rising Chinese, Russian, and increasingly independent European imperialisms, the American ruling class finds itself at an impasse. If the 2016 American election showed us anything, it showed us that the American capitalist class is facing a crisis of governance as it struggles to maintain its leading role in the world: the only representatives it could put forward to manage the “executive committee of the whole bourgeoisie” –one a vicious war-hawk, the other a fascist –were two of the most unpopular politicians in American history. The result of this situation is instability everywhere: as imperialism increasingly pits different imperialist countries against each-other raising the spectre of another world war, at home the contradictions of capitalism bust into the fore resulting in increased repression from the capitalist state. And in turn, fascism –long since defeated, living only in the cracks and fringes of society – has emerged as a mainstream political force. White supremacy is openly parading itself in a way that would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago.

In Canada the situation is more muted, but ultimately the same. The Canadian ruling class took advantage of the 2008 economic crisis, and bolstered the position of Canadian imperialism internationally. Yet it was only able to do this due to attacks on workers and colonized in Canada: the social-safety net disappears, contradictions between the state and indigenous nations increase, and in turn, the Canadian state has increased its repressive response to any challenges to the power of the capitalist class. We think here, for instance, of the historically unprecedented response to the G20 counter-mobilizations in Toronto, and the increasing surveillance, disruption, and open use of force against indigenous resistance. The Canadian ruling class, however, does not face the same crisis of governance that the American ruling class faces: with the 2015 electoral victory of the Liberals under Trudeau, the “natural governing Party” has returned to power. The pompous celebrations of a triumphalist capitalist class became only too apparent during the Canada 150 celebrations this year, where the Canadian capitalists attempted to paper over the contradictions of Canadian society in the interests of “the nation.” And in this context, where the working class is under attack, where there is increasing instability, and yet where the Canadian capitalist class feels confident, the objective conditions in Canada are less conducive to the rise of a domestic fascist movement. We are lucky in that the far-right forces which organize in Canada –Quebec excluded- are, for the most part, farcical copies of their American versions.

There is great chaos under heaven. The situation is excellent.

In the face of these horrifying conditions, the people have not been silent. Thousands are being drawn towards revolutionary politics for the first time: the capitalist class’s concern about “radicalization” is a testament to this fact. An entire generation is being steeled in the struggle against fascism. Despite declarations of the “end of history” and the “end of ideology”, nothing could be further from the truth. The people know that we have reached a “breaking point,” that society is set up for the benefit of the rich, that the police are our enemies, that fascism is on the rise, and that things cannot continue like they used to. Millions of workers and oppressed people across Canada, during breakroom conversations with fellow workers, during heated discussions with friends and family, state some variation of the need for change. First quiet and tepid, it becomes louder, angrier. First scattered, it becomes more articulate. First directionless, it quickly becomes directed at the principle enemy: the capitalist class and their state. Who would have thought, even six months ago, that the public conversation would have been the extent to which it is acceptable for the extreme left –now enough of a force that capitalist media was forced to identify them as communists and anarchists – to use violence against fascists? At one time the revolutionary movement wondered what type of practical activity it needed to engage in; now the problem is that we do not have enough cadre to intervene in every contradiction which is busted open. While we are far from a revolutionary situation, revolution is again on the agenda. It is the end of the end of history.

It is in this context – increased instability, decreasing living conditions, rising fascism, rising appeal of revolutionary politics – that the practical question of anti-fascism has been brought to the fore. The entire left, both revolutionary and reformist, scrambles to figure out how to respond to the rise of the far right. For us, the answer is simple: while the fight against fascism is an important new avenue of struggle, it is not fundamentally different from other aspects of our work. At its base, the question of anti-fascism is a question of power: the power to smash fascism, the power to survive its counter-attacks, and ultimately the power to transform the struggle against fascism into the life-and-death struggle against the capitalist class and their state. The question of power in anti-fascism is really the question of the revolutionary power of the working class.

The Question of Power

“Everything is illusory except power.” Lenin wrote these words in the context of the 1905 revolution in Russia, where the question of power –who has it, how to wield it – was an immediate life-or-death question. While we are not currently in a revolutionary situation, the question of power is no less important for revolutionaries now. Power, fundamentally, means the ability to control the actions of others and direct the course of events, of society, of history. Power is primarily wielded by classes: currently the capitalist class has nearly all of the power, and so it can produce and reproduce society according to its own desires, with the goal of continuing and increasing exploitation. But this doesn’t have to be the case: the working class is also capable of wielding power, of changing the course of events, of smashing capitalism, of building communism.

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” The basis of power is force. While the capitalist class has built up elaborate structures to maintain its rule –from schools, to the media, to religion – every institution of the capitalist class is backed up by its repressive apparatuses: the army, the police, alongside less formal organizations such as armed far-right groups. Capitalist rule is fundamentally a question of force. Using force, the capitalist class can literally decide who lives and dies: any opposition to capitalist rule which extends beyond the bounds of the “loyal opposition” (the NDP, other moderate leftists) will be met with repression and attempts at smashing it by the capitalists and their lackeys. There are countless examples of this in the long and tumultuous history of the class struggle in Canada. The power of the capitalist class is upheld because the capitalist class currently has a monopoly on the use of force: class power is a material question.

The capitalist class is not the only class capable of wielding force. The working class can also wield force in order to build its power, building capacity to overthrow the power of the capitalist class. The working class has three main ways, all necessary, of gaining the ability to wield force and therefore conquer power: organization, mass support, and fighting capacity. While this may seem like a truism, much of the so-called left, those who function as agents of the capitalist class within the revolutionary movement, have forgotten this simple fact. On the one hand there are those who fetishize spontanaeity –either those who believe in the transformative power of “mass” movements of bureaucrats, or those who don’t think any organization at all is necessary – and on the other hand are those who are afraid to use force, violence, to achieve ends, both pacifists and right-opportunists of various stripes.

The working class has three principle weapons in its war against the capitalist class: the party, the united front, and the people’s army. The party is a highly organized, disciplined, and centralized organization which is able to politically direct the entire struggle against the capitalist class. It is only in the party that the various struggles which emerge organically out of the contradictions of society come together, and the political lessons of this convergence are then synthesized and used to direct further work.  The party serves as the vanguard of the entire struggle against capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism. The Revolutionary Communist Party is such a party. The united front gathers together all those struggling for the overthrow of capitalism –communists or not- and brings them together in an organized and systematic way. It is here that the masses are able to plug into the life-and-death struggle against capitalism and the capitalist state, extending organization to every sphere and sector of society. And finally, the people’s army is the highest expression of the working class’s ability to wield force. Through revolutionary violence, it materially attacks and tears down capitalist society bit by bit, before finally going onto the offensive and violently smashing the capitalist class once and for all. If it is true that political power grows from the barrel of a gun, and it is true that everything except power is an illusion, then it is doubly true that “Without a people’s army, the people have nothing.”

Traitors Among the People

The primary enemy in the struggle to overthrow capitalism is the capitalist class, and the repressive apparatuses –the police and army – which maintain capitalist rule. However, another enemy in the struggle to overthrow capitalism are the agents of the capitalist class, conscious or not, who infiltrate the revolutionary movement in order to demobilize and defang the working class. Here we must draw a line of demarcation: between revolutionaries and those unable or unwilling to rise to the task of revolution, between revolutionaries and those who do everything they can to force the working class into a position of defeat. There are different types of agents of the capitalist class within the left: each is worth critiquing in turn.

First, there are those who argue against the necessity of organization. There are movementists: those who believe in the spontaneous transformative power of mass movements. Movementists, often bureaucrats, professors, NGO staff, and other “middle class” elements, argue against the necessity of a strong, centralized, disciplined vanguard Party, peddling tripe about the dangers of “authoritarianism” or expressing a fear of centralization. First, one wonders how these movementists think that, concretely, a revolution is possible without strong centralized leadership: more often than not they retreat into the realm of abstract theory, leaving aside the concrete necessity for leadership and organization. Second, one notes that fear of centralization is more-often-than-not a petty-bourgeois or “middle class” opposition to authority: what the movementists fear is not authority in general, but rather being subjected to authority that is not their own. Individualism and self-interest prevails.

Second, there are those spontaneists –usually though not exclusively anarchists of the worst type– who disagree with the necessity of any organization at all. These nihilists fetishize spontaneity to the point of even attempting to dress-up their own organized activity in a cloak of mystery! They constantly attack organizations in the abstract and concrete, refuse to work with what they term “authoritarians,” and reject any attempts at coordination or centralization. In practice, they demobilize struggles, and in more intense situations, endanger everyone present through their inane strategies of dis-organizing. These spontaneists are unable to conceptualize the practical necessity of organization in transforming an entire society: as a result, they often retreat into building micro-communities (cliques) and nihilism, abandoning any attempt to change the existing social order or build mass support. And again, these spontaneists, generally from well-off backgrounds, seem to fear, above all else, not authority per-se but other people’s authority over themselves.

Both of these tendencies have the effect of robbing the people of one of their primary weapons in the fight against the capitalist class: the Party. But the latter also robs the people of its second weapon: the united front. By undermining the necessity of organization, the spontaneists essentially surrender the entire people to the ruling class, refusing to organize them so they can overthrow the capitalist class and rule themselves.

Third, there are moderates who back down from the use of violence. Or, it is perhaps more correct to say, they attack the use of violence by anyone but the state: this is unsurprisingly more common than principled pacifism. We have unfortunately seen this tendency express itself especially strongly in the struggle against fascism. Moderates and liberals will argue that fascism must be debated, or, even worse, will purposely use institutional resources –thanking the capitalist class every step of the way, surely – in order to organize alternative anti-fascist events which refuse to confront fascists directly, thus leading well-meaning anti-fascists astray. While the moderates and pacifists pontificate about the ethics of attacking fascism directly, fascists harass, stalk, terrorize, and murder anti-fascists and oppressed peoples. Moderates wonder if it is correct to punch a Nazi: fascists openly organize to commit genocide. Despite what these moderates argue, love does not trump hate: force, violence, power is what defeats fascism. Everything is illusory except power. These enemies of the people actively try and attempt to defang the working class by ignoring this fact, making it impossible to contest the power of the capitalist class.

Finally, we have those self-described radicals who, abstractly, understand the necessity of violence at some point, but at every opportunity attack those forces who engage in righteous violence against the enemies of the people. Most commonly revisionist “communists” (in Canada the Communist Party of Canada and the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), alongside the many flavours of Trotskyist), these cowards will throw the empty critique of “ultra-leftism” at any individual or organization who endeavours to concretely take up the challenge of overthrowing the capitalist class and the capitalist state. On a functional level, these cowards are no different than moderate pacifists: they also have the effect of defanging the working class. However, on another level, they are even worse: by wrapping their treachery in a red flag, they serve to confuse not just the masses as a whole, but the most politically advanced section of the masses.

Each of these errors represents the influence of the capitalist class –conscious or not- within the left. Each error must be resolutely struggled against if we are ever to overthrow the capitalist class. What unites these errors is that in each case, those that uphold these mistaken conceptions are either unable or unwilling to contend with the question of power.

Power Matters

If we are to seriously criticize these various agents of the bourgeoisie within the left, then we need to offer both a better way of understanding the world, but also a better guide to action.

First: concretely grasping with the question of power requires us to locate it. A post-modern approach to power sees power lying everywhere, in every micro-interaction. While it is useful to look at how power dynamics between oppressed and oppressor groups operate as a means of fighting for liberation, such a diffuse conception of power is ultimately disarming. Post-modernist conceptions of power are disarming because they lose focus of the two main repositories of power that the capitalist class relies on: capital, and the capitalist state.

“Capital is money. Capital is commodities.” But capital is also a social relation, a social relation of power and authority. Under capitalism, where the working class is forced to subject itself to capital’s authority in order to survive, capital should primarily be understood as an immaterial quality which allows certain people (those with capital) to tell other people (those without capital) what to do. Demystified, capital is really no different than the divine right of kings: it is an arbitrary way to denote those who have power and those who do not.

The state is more obviously the locus of power, insofar as it is where the repressive apparatuses of the capitalist class are located. The state has, in the abstract, a monopoly on socially sanctioned violence, which it executes through the police and military. Any force which attempts to step outside the realm of bourgeois legality quickly feels the material reality of class power, as the repressive apparatuses of the capitalist state rush into action. But the state is not invincible: it is not all powerful or all-knowing. It has limits to its capacity to act. It is a material force.

Knowing that capital and the capitalist state are the two main sources of the capitalist class’s power, how does this concretely inform our tasks? We put forward the revolutionary notion that all of our activity, all of our demands, all of our slogans, should have the goal of increasing the power of the working class, and not increasing the power of the capitalist class. This means that in our activity, we need to rely on our own capacities, and not the capacities of the capitalist class or capitalist state.

Concretely: think of rallies or gatherings which, when the police arrive, almost inevitably turn violent. Think of the well-meaning radical who, in a moment of heightened tension, screams at the police: “Do your job! What side are you on! Who are you here to protect?!” The answers to these questions should be clear if we analyze the police in a scientific way: the job of the police in Canada is to protect the rich and enforce colonialism, they are on the side of the exploiters, and they exist to protect property. Conversely, their job is neither to protect the masses, nor are they on the side of the masses. But these conclusions are lost in the moment if we forget that power is our goal. In the absence of the proper political orientation, the well-meaning radical lapses back into instinctual behaviour of seeing the capitalist state as the only source of legitimate power, and so implores the state to use that power. At best this behaviour confuses the masses: at worse it actually empowers the bourgeois state.

Some leftists attempt to confuse this issue by arguing that forcing the repressive apparatuses of the capitalist state to act is an example of working-class power. For instance, it is common to hear self-styled revolutionaries call for the police to actually enforce hate-speech laws. This position however ignores that the structural power of the police, their role in the production and reproduction of capitalist society, precludes them from being anything but an armed wing of the capitalist state. Consider here hate-speech laws in the United States: despite (or because!) being a society built on a foundation of white supremacy, and despite a white majority population, hate speech laws are used overwhelmingly against people of colour. Or, consider, well-meaning anti-fascists tracking down the places of work of fascists and, appealing to the authority of their bosses (the authority of capital!), having the fascists fired. Are we so naïve to think that, as the class struggle intensifies, we too will not be fired for political reasons? Are political firings an option we want to make socially acceptable to the capitalist class? Any tool given to the capitalist class or the capitalist state will, inevitably, be turned against the people.

And all of this assumes that the capitalist class actually has an interest in attacking fascism! Not only have the repressive apparatuses of the capitalist state become inundated with the far-right (as the FBI has alarmingly noted in the US; think of the correlation between the Proud Boys and the Canadian Forces in Canada), but the capitalist class keeps fascism around as a last-resort to use against the revolutionary movement. The capitalist class and the capitalist state will not smash fascism because they need fascism.

There is a third element we should consider: NGOs. Despite the name, NGOs are almost entirely state-funded, with additional funding coming from charities or private corporations. NGOs often take on providing social services to marginalized people. Many well-meaning leftists, even potential revolutionaries, go to work for NGOs as a means of improving the living conditions of marginalized people. But NGOs serve a diabolical purpose in advanced capitalist societies: insofar as NGOs rely on the capitalist class for funding, they function as a means of channelling the just struggles of marginalized peoples into respectable channels which do not challenge the fundamentals of capitalist rule. Instead, if an NGO steps too far outside what is considered politically respectable, its funding will be pulled. There are thus structural limitations on the capacities for NGOs to actually advance the conditions of the people they claim to represent. Revolutionaries need to build mass organizations which rely on the people for their material support, instead of relying on the philanthropy of a brutal and blood-thirsty capitalist class.

What all of this means is that we can only count on ourselves, on our own forces, to build the capacity of the working class in its struggle for power. It means that we need to seek independence from the bourgeois state in our work. And this extends as well to the struggle against fascism: we can only rely on ourselves to defeat fascism. And so the question becomes: how do we build our capacities? How do we build the power, in concrete terms, of the revolutionary working-class movement?

What Needs to be Done: Build Organization, Increase Fighting Capacity

In the face of resurgent fascism, there are a number of practical tasks facing the revolutionary movement. Chiefly, we need to: build organization, and increase our fighting capacity.

There is truth that for the working class, there is strength in numbers. But for this to translate concretely into power, it needs to be directed. And for it to be directed, it needs to be organized. Thousands of workers need to come together at all levels –mass organizations, the Party – and commit themselves to the discipline required to overthrow capitalism. In this, the Party is indispensable: it is only here that the various struggles come together in order to form a cohesive plan for all of society. But the Party alone is not sufficient: organization must extend throughout all of society, to all levels, and in all sectors. Thus, a main task in building our capacity for power is to increase organization: build the Party, build the mass organizations.

However, organization on its own is not sufficient. Without fighting capacity –the ability to translate organization into force- there is no power. We speak here of the practical skills necessary to be able to fight: fitness, training, and a willingness to use revolutionary violence. As of now the right has a monopoly on the culture of violence, and it is this fact more than anything else which has weakened the left. The left needs also to increase its practical ability to fight. Concretely, what this means now is training revolutionaries to engage in small-scale street fights, usually with the police or the far-right, relying primarily on martial arts. While this is a far-cry from people’s war and revolution, it is unthinkable that we can advance in that direction, or even achieve something as modest as challenging the growing far right, without first laying the ground work of building a literal fighting movement. This is what it means to take self-defence seriously.

Organization and fighting capacity are key to building the power of the working class. Without these, we will always be at the mercy of the capitalists and their state.

Practical Tasks in the Struggle Against Fascism

It is in the struggle against fascism that the question of power has, today, taken on its most concrete expression. As such, the Revolutionary Communist Party advances the following theses, arising from the analysis of power and the current situation, to guide the burgeoning anti-fascist movement in Canada.

  1. The anti-fascist movement must be organized. It cannot simply rely on incidental affinity groups, arising spontaneously to challenge fascism. The anti-fascist movement needs a concrete leadership, concrete organizational structure, and democratic decision making processes. It needs to be able to allow people to plug-in even if they cannot devote as much time as an “organizer/activist.” Fascists are getting organized: our response to fascism should be more organized and more disciplined.
  2. The struggle against fascism requires a mass orientation. That is to say, relying on small groups of anti-fascist fighters will not suffice to defeat fascism. We need to draw the masses into the struggle against fascism. We do this through concrete outreach on the community level: door-knocking, serve the people programs, educationals, and more. We do not do this through exclusively relying on existing organizations, NGOs, or labour bureaucrats. A mass orientation means more than just a long list of endorsements: it means concretely moving the masses into action. And it must be done without sacrificing the revolutionary politics of the anti-fascist movement.
  3. For anti-fascism to have teeth, it must be able to fight. The anti-fascist movement must organize disciplined groups of anti-fascist fighters who are able to use political violence against rising fascist groups. Fascists are training to fight: it would be suicidal for us to pretend we could struggle against fascism without equal training. And, in turn, the fighting capacity of the anti-fascist movement must build off of and rely on its mass orientation: both elements need to support one another, rather than existing in antagonism. We will go as far as to say that any anti-fascist organization that does not concretely build its capacity to fight is actually a danger to the movement as a whole.
  4. The anti-fascist movement must serve the people. Through mass connections and fighting capacity, it needs to be seen by the masses as their protectors and champions. As fascism becomes more consolidated, it will inevitably go on the offensive against anything progressive, democratic, or revolutionary. At a basic level, the anti-fascist movement can use its fighting capacity to run security for these organizations, building power in a way that does not rely on the capitalist state.
  5. Anti-fascism cannot be a movement in isolation. At its most basic level, it needs to be connected with the struggle to overthrow capitalism. For us this means it should be connected with the Revolutionary Communist Party, and, eventually, as one sectoral organization in the united front. But this connection must not be bureaucratic: it must be a relationship of political leadership of the Party and its perspectives over an autonomous and internally democratic movement against fascism. Concretely, this means that Party members must fight for the perspectives outlined in this document and convince the broader anti-fascist movement of their validity. Barring this connection, anti-fascism will eventually lapse, and will provide breathing room for fascism to grow again: we have seen this with the rise and fall of ARA in the 1990s.
  6. It is not enough to simply react to fascism as it arises. The anti-fascist movement must be reactive, but must also be proactive. Through service to the people, as well as penetrating the cultural sphere, anti-fascism needs to be able to sustain itself outside of simple opposition to fascism. We cannot allow ourselves to become demobilized through victory.

 

The RCP’s contribution to the struggle against fascism can be summarized as: organization, mass focus, militancy.

The RCP’s weapons for the overthrow of capitalism: party, united front, people’s army.

The two are inseparable.

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