I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Fascism is on the rise. It’s more than just the Orange Menace in the White House, it’s a global movement that’s growing in the cracks left by the capitalist crisis, and it’s threatening to tear us apart. If we really want to stop it, our best bet is to study fascist movements, develop an understanding of how they work and where they come from, and learn from the people who have confronted fascism in the past.
From what I’ve been able to gather after several years of research, there are 2 strategies that are effective against fascists. One is to disrupt their ability to organize by shutting down their meetings, rallies, shows, conferences, message boards, and anywhere else that fascists get together to talk to one another, spread their views, attack or terrorize marginalized people, or recruit new members.
Recently there’s been a lot of uproar over the protest that forced authorities to cancel Milo Yiannopoulos’s scheduled appearance at UC Berkeley. Whatever you think of Milo Yiannopoulos as an individual, there’s no doubt that his speeches are serving as a recruitment ground for fascists. While Milo repeatedly tries to distance himself from the more extreme elements of the far-right, he still welcomes their presence and legitimizes their views. If you actually pay attention to the content of his speeches, they’re all about painting white men as the victims of a leftist conspiracy called “political correctness” (also known as cultural Marxism in more anti-Semitic circles), and delegitimizing the grievances of oppressed and marginalized people. It’s a message that’s particularly appealing to the disaffected white men that his speeches tend to attract, and it plays directly into the hands of the fascists, who similarly argue that white men as a group are under attack and must band together to defend themselves from the invading hordes. Fascists also hate SJWs (social justice warriors), liberals, and leftists, and people like Milo and his entourage provide a convenient cover for their activities, as well as a rich recruiting ground.
No one is going to change Milo’s mind. Trust me, people have tried. But his softcore white supremacism—rebranded as edgy anti-establishment conservatism—is working extremely well for him, providing all the fame and money he could ask for. He’s found his niche, and he’s going to run with it (same goes for Richard Spencer, Steve Bannon, Matthew Heimbach, and others). So you’re left with two options: 1) try to convince everybody that attends his talks that his views are wrong (good luck with that), or 2) shut them down. If you’re currently assembling an army of rhetorically-gifted people to follow Milo wherever he goes then great, but there are other people who don’t have the luxury to wait for well-meaning liberals to get their act together. These are the people who are directly targeted by the violence Milo legitimizes and tacitly encourages, people like the transgender student he singled out and mocked at his talk in Milwaukee, people who have been harassed and doxed by his followers online, people who are racialized or disabled and have to deal with both state violence and racist vigilantes.
The second strategy that works against fascists is providing a viable alternative to fascism by directly confronting the conditions that produce it in the first place. That means more than talk, or ideas about tolerance; that means real, concrete alternatives to capitalism, which brings with it the gradual collapse and privatization of public infrastructure and social services, unprecedented levels of economic inequality, ever-expanding prisons and the militarization of police, ongoing wars and bombings carried out in the service of corporate interests, climate change, and the eventual destruction of the biosphere.
The only effective way to fight fascists, other than confronting them in the streets, is to organize to address the very real needs and inequalities that make fascism appealing in the first place. Instead of accommodating racism or protecting it under the guise of free speech, we need to make racism irrelevant by ensuring that everyone has access to basic necessities and that no one is in a position to systematically dominate, oppress, or exploit others. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of oppression are tools used by the ruling class to maintain and protect their position of power. The seeds of fascism were planted long before Trump became president, and until we take the fight directly to the capitalists and their institutions, fascists will keep popping up and demanding a platform. We not only have to deny them that platform, but also pull out the carpet from under their feet. In short, we have to fight capitalism if we’re going to fight fascists.