Comrades, a storm approaches. Is it a hurricane or a severe thunderstorm? This is an important question in terms of our scientific understanding, and also because people respond differently to forecasts of hurricanes than of severe thunderstorms, say. If we fail to anticipate hurricanes, we risk greater loss of life and property. On the other hand, if we mistakenly describe storms as hurricanes too often, we risk not taking hurricane forecasts seriously when we should.
But it may be less important to figure out whether a storm is a hurricane than how dangerous it is. We don’t have to know exactly what it is to decide how we respond. For the sake of both analysis and action, it’s more important right now to decide how dangerous the far right is than whether it is fascist.
Much as meteorologists break down storms into wind speed, amount of rainfall, and so on, I’ll focus on three specific dangers posed by the far right: its capacity for organized political violence, its embodiment of white supremacy and anti-semitism, and its growing institutionalization in the Republican Party. We in DSA must decide how dangerous these aspects of the far right are, and then act collectively to confront them.
My current understanding is that the far right is more dangerous now on all these dimensions—violence, racism and political mainstreaming—than it has been in decades. So much so that it poses a basic, qualitative threat to democracy in the United States.
Let’s look at the issues:
- Political violence. Although it is primarily regional and episodic, political violence by the far right poses enough of a threat that the U.S. military had to guarantee the legitimate transfer of power last January 20. There were more troops in DC that day than in Afghanistan. Several GOP leaders condone or countenance far right violence to a degree not seen since the Civil Rights period.
- White supremacy, Many, though not all, far right groups are white supremacist or antisemitic. As with violence, organized white supremacy is a regional phenomenon that could become generalized through its increasing use by, or at least tolerance within, the Republican Party.
- The Republican Party. We need to face the uncomfortable political reality that today’s GOP is not just the worse of our two parties. Its now open drive to deny basic voting rights on the basis of race by itself makes it an enemy of basic democracy in the United States. It has willfully facilitated the avoidable deaths of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of working-class people during the pandemic. And it is actively exploiting (1) and (2) above.
What should DSA do?
We need to decide how serious this threat is without crying wolf, and without drawing facile historical comparisons (Kristallnacht, the CIA-orchestrated coup against Salvador Allende, etc.). We need to appreciate the specific dangers posed by the GOP while remaining clear on our differences with the Democratic Party. Assessing the threat of the far right–at the chapter, regional, and state levels– would not be merely an analytical exercise. It would be an organizational activity, strengthening our capacity and resolve to face the storm.
(Video: A panel convened by veteran Brent Brownell, of voices we all need to hear, )