In 2020 we faced some truly incredible challenges both as individuals and as a collective socialist movement. The collapse of the Bernie Sanders campaign left many of our organizers unsure of how to unite on a national level and the pandemic made even connecting with our local comrades extremely difficult. At that same time, DSA has seen huge growth as our friends and neighbors realize in ever greater numbers that this system was never designed to work for them. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic hardship, thousands of people have translated their feelings of alienation and anger into a commitment to creating a better world through socialism. But others have embraced a dangerous far right ideology that promotes authoritarianism and the scapegoating of people of color as a way to preserve the class privileges of the few, not the many.
Here in the Midwest we have both a powerful legacy of multiracial working class solidarity and also a painful history of racism, right-wing intimidation, and violence. As leaders of Midwest chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, we have come together to say in one shared voice: our fight against fascism does not end with the Trump presidency. As long as the forces of fascism and white supremacy are organizing, we must carry on the work socialists have done for more than a century and continue to fight back.
The Fascist Threat in the Midwest
As socialists organizing throughout the Midwest, we have seen an escalation in the organization and confidence of the far right on the heels of the immiseration caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In Michigan, armed militia members took over the Lansing Capitol building on April 30 in an attempt to overturn emergency Covid measures. Only months later, members of the Wolverine Militia plotted to kidnap and possibly assassinate Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Proud Boys regularly provide “security” for Republican Party events. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, Kyle Rittenhouse shot three and killed two people at the Justice for Jacob Blake protests and was still allowed to return home that night. In some parts of Wisconsin he is regarded as a hero and was recently seen celebrating with Proud Boys at a Wisconsin bar, even as he awaits trial for murder. In Minnesota, Boogaloo Boys tried to infiltrate BIPOC community defense groups, and were later indicted for trying to sell silencers to agents posing as Hamas — an absurd act that put people in real, intense danger. Finally, in Illinois, Rep. Mary Miller, representing the 15th Congressional district, quoted Hitler at an event outside the Illinois Capitol the day before January 6. Fascists have found friends in elected representation, securing a larger platform – and legitimacy – for their deadly ideology.
Even though the January 6 Capitol takeover was unsuccessful in stopping the electoral count, the day was a breakthrough in terms of sheer numbers, confidence, and organization. These developments point to an increased level of organization by the far-right and a growing legitimacy within a radicalized Republican base. Thus, preventing the spread of fascism and resisting right-wing violence is not a remote concept but an immediate practical concern for our chapters.
Why We Fight Fascism as Socialists
At its core, antifascism means using our power as working people – our numbers, our organization, and our ability to withhold our labor – to stop the rise of fascism. Fascism is not merely a more extreme form of conservative politics, or a slightly more authoritarian leader. Fascism poses a distinct threat to us workers because it seeks to resolve capitalist crises through violence against us.
Whether it be in Europe, Latin America, India, or here in the United States, the left has always risen in defense of our communities when fascists take to the streets. The original Rainbow Coalition of Fred Hampton serves as an example of what a multiracial united front can look like in the Midwest. As Chairman of the Black Panther Party, Hampton brought groups together in solidarity and in recognition of their common class enemies. Similarly, today we are called upon to join forces with groups whose politics may differ from ours, but who are similarly threatened by white nationalism.
By linking arms with all those who have an interest in defeating fascism – people of color, women, queers, trans comrades, union members, Muslims, Jews, and left-wing religious institutions – we can outnumber, demoralize, and defeat the far right. We are the majority. As this summer’s uprising for Black lives shows, when our multiracial working class moves we shake all of society.
By contrast, the far-right recruits from small business owners, what Marx called the “petit-bourgeoisie”. Squeezed between behemoth corporations and a working class fighting for survival, this layer violently resists any closures and bailouts for the working class (especially the Black working class) that would affect their bottom line. In other words, fascists attack institutions of bourgeois democracy and working class organization with violence in order to protect their class privileges.
Yet fascism does not appear out of nowhere: decades of neoliberal disinvestment, the enormous transfer of wealth to the 1%, the impoverishment of the working class, the destruction of our unions have destabilized our political system. Fascism steps in to these crises to scapegoat BLM, immigrants, “antifa,” or “socialists” or Jews for the ills of capitalism. Thus, while we defend and fight to expand bourgeois democracy against the fascist threat, bourgeois democracy alone will not save us. Democracy under capitalism offers the veneer of democratic control while protecting the billionaire class at our expense – something that fascism recognizes and distorts for its own purposes. Our answer is working class solidarity and working class democracy that refuses dehumanization of our siblings and seeks to transform our wretched political and economic reality in order to undercut fascism’s material roots.
We must also be vigilant against efforts by the Biden administration to increase the power of the state to surveil and repress social movements. The FBI, the state, and the police will not protect us from fascism. Indeed, they have enabled fascist violence. As the Black Freedom struggle shows us, the state will always be more eager to crush working class organizations than fascist organizations as the latter does not truly threaten capitalist rule. Further strengthening the already enormous surveillance and policing powers of the State will boomerang against us. Instead, we need to divest from policing, which is closely entangled with the growing far right, and invest in the resources our communities need to thrive.
We must defeat fascism not through state intervention but through our own initiative. As DSA members, we should talk to our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers about antifascism and help them understand it as a practice. We must build community and trust to reach as many people as we can to organize them as antifascist socialist organizers. We must build broad anti-fascist coalitions. We should ensure that we understand our enemy and what we are up against so we can more clearly see a path forward. This means we must be committed to continued political education of ourselves, our members, and our communities.
In the Midwest and nationally, we support Representative Cori Bush’s resolution calling for the investigation and expulsion of any member of Congress who objected to the certification of the presidential election results. Though democracy in the United States is limited and deeply flawed, attempting to overturn the will of millions of voters is intolerable. Further, the actions of these elected officials inflamed and emboldened their most extreme supporters, leading directly to the fascist attack at the U.S. Capitol. The politicians who are responsible cannot be allowed to govern. There can be no unity with white supremacists and fascists or those who collude with them.
For socialists, part of refuting fascism right now must be affirming the value of life and human rights by fighting for COVID-19 relief payments, rent cancellation, and safe working conditions for all during a global pandemic. We want to especially highlight the lives of deemed “disposable”: incarcerated people, the elderly, the undocumented, and workers in the Global South.
In our chapters, we should build our skills and capacity to outnumber and crowd out fascists and white nationalists when they demonstrate in public. That does not mean we should foray into adventurism or violence. We understand that some members need to confront fascists in person and they should give them the tools to do so as safely as possible. We need to outnumber fascists, and to do that we must be organized. That means training competent medics, marshals, antifascist researchers, and action planners and connecting skill training to the politics of our vision of what the world could be.
In addition to prioritizing antifascist organizing by building our skills and capacity and developing political education, we plan to host a panel for Midwest Chapters to share our experiences and resources in fighting the far right. We hope that this signals a concrete first step in taking on the fascist threat in the Midwest, and encourage other Midwest chapters to join us.
Final Chapter Sign Offs:
Chicago, Illinois DSA
Coulee, Wisconsin DSA
Huron Valley, Michigan DSA
Madison Area, Wisconsin DSA
Milwaukee, Wisconsin DSA
Twin Cities, Minnesota DSA