Coco Das talks with historian Priya Satia about her recent article for the LA Review of Books: Fascism and Analogies — British and American, Past and Present. Priya Satia is the Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History at Stanford University, focusing on the history of Britain and its empire.
She is the award-winning author of Spies in Arabia (2008) and Empire of Guns (2018). Her new book, Time’s Monster: How History Makes History, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @PriyaSatia.
Then, Carl Dix talks about the Jim Crow era and the roots of the current assault on voting rights that is is sweeping the country. Carl Dix is a revolutionary communist and a long-time leader of the struggle against police brutality and murder. His presentation starts with a clip from a speech by Bob Avakian. Carl’s presentation is an excerpt of a longer event held at Revolution Books NYC – you can view the full event here. Follow Carl on Twitter at @Carl_Dix.
Follow Coco Das on Twitter at @Coco_Das.
Send your comments to [email protected] or @SamBGoldman. Connect with the movement at RefuseFascism.org and support:
Sun, 5/16 9:52AM • 47:15
Priya Satia 00:00
Trump is not a total aberration. The seeds of Trumpism have been here for a long time. History doesn’t ever repeat itself. What happens is that things that happened in the past continue to echo down through time. Neo-Nazi groups that are here are not exotic implants from somewhere else. There were always sympathizers here. They are very explicitly making a connection with European fascist movements from the 1930’s. So that’s why some of these white supremacist groups today call themselves Neo-Nazi. However you describe these ugly things in the past, whether it’s Jim Crow, or whether it’s British imperialism, whether you call it fascism or not, it has to be dealt with in the present.
Sam Goldman 01:01
Welcome to Episode 59 of the Refuse Fascism podcast, a podcast brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers and host of this show. Today we’re bringing you a conversation that Coco Das, contributing editor of Refuse Fascism.org, recently had with historian Priya Safia about her recent article, Fascism and Analogies, British and American, Past and Present, followed by a recent presentation from revolutionary and friend of this show Carl Dix on voter suppression, the real stakes of Republi-fascists’ war on voting by people of color.
Since that presentation, it’s come out that this widespread effort to suppress non-Republican votes has in fact been completely coordinated and orchestrated by Heritage Action for America, an organization associated with the Heritage Foundation. There is a conspiracy to undermine elections, and it’s being carried out in the light of day by these Republi-fascist forces. While the ridiculous Arizona “recount” conducted by a pro-Trump group drags on, and Liz Cheney is ousted from her leadership position in the Republican Party, we cannot ignore what is brewing here. The fact that an arch conservative like Cheney the daughter of notorious war criminal, Dick Cheney, is viewed as disloyal by the Republican Party now shows with crystal clarity what that party has become. It’s a fascist organization in thrall to Trump and filled with revenge, with conspiracists like you Q-Anon promoter Marjorie Taylor Greene, not fringe, but the rising stars. Representative Elise Stefanik thanked Trump Iafter winning the vote for the position Cheney was purged from. In her speech, she said one true thing. She said, in reference to Trump, he is a critical part of our Republican team. It’s true, Trump is key for the GOP, and all who keep spreading the dangerous delusion that Trump/Trumpism is done need to get real. The Republican Party is fascist, getting more so not less, solidifying around this. Fascists are continuing to organize and doing so with a trial run behind them. Following the activities of these fascists, understanding what they are doing, why they’re doing it, and where this all is coming from, and working to oppose them, continues to be critical work. It’s the work that every week you are part of when you tune in, spread, and discuss this podcast. With that in mind, we’re thrilled to bring this conversation with historian Priya Satia.
Coco Das 03:48
I’m really pleased today to be talking with Priya Satia. Dr. Satia is the Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History at Stanford University, focusing on the history of Britain and its empire. She is the award-winning author of the books, Spies in Arabia, Empire of Guns, and her latest book Times Monster: How History Makes History, which was published in 2020. I really urge our listeners to pick up these books, especially her latest one. I’m reading it right now. They’re very valuable and thought-provoking. And I hope that one day you and I can talk again about your books. But today we’re going to dig deeply into an article that you wrote, called Fascism and Analogies, British and American, Past and Present, which appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books this past March. And again, I urge all our listeners to go and read this article. We’ll link to it in our show notes. It delves into some of the very thorny questions that Refuse Fascism as an organization was tackling over the last four and a half years. So welcome, Priya.
Priya Satia 04:56
Thank you so much for having me on your show, Coco.
Coco Das 04:59
You begin the article with this controversy. And I’m going to quote from your first paragraph, you wrote: “Comparing Trumpism to 1930’s fascism especially has struck some historians and political theorists as likely to blind us to the longer trajectories of Trump’s reactionary politics, his quintessential Americanness.” I really appreciated that you started there, because this is a debate that I think has really affected our actions over the last five years. It’s affected the kinds of resistance we’ve taken up and the kinds of unity that we forge. And ultimately, right now, I believe it’s an open question of whether we’ve stopped what Trump represents or not. So I wanted to pose the question to you: What role can a fitting historical analogy, for example, Trumpism and 1930’s fascism in Germany? What role can such an analogy play in also helping us understand the whole trajectory of Trump’s reactionary politics? And I guess another way of phrasing that is: What role can good analogy play in helping us understand what trumpism is?
Priya Satia 06:11
I think we sort of instinctively reach for analogies to enable ourselves to be able to cope with any reality. We confront what’s familiar about this, or what have we already dealt with? It’s just sort of instinctively empowering to do that. It’s sort of a natural human instinct at some level, I think, to think through moments in time that way, to think of any problem that way. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, per se. But of course, whenever we make analogies, we have to do so with an awareness that they’re never going to be accurate, because history doesn’t ever repeat itself. What happens is that things that happened in the past, continue to echo down through time. So that’s why some of these white supremacist groups today call themselves neo-Nazis, they are very explicitly making a connection with European fascist movements from, you know, the 1930’s. But that doesn’t mean they actually are the same thing as the Nazis of that time, right? Or that they have the same impact in our politics. So there’s just kind of a common sensical guidance we should all have in our minds, not to be too literal about analogies. But I do think they can be helpful. And I do think that the worry that some people had about this analogy to fascism, specifically 1930s European fascism, is that we would say, this Trump, who was just this aberration, just like fascism was some kind of aberration in Europe. And once we deal with Trump, everything is normal and okay again. And that’s a really unhelpful and kind of dangerous even, or maybe a better word might be reckless — way of thinking about how to deal with the ugliness that people perceived in the Trump years.
I think what might be more helpful would be to just realize that what happened, even in the 1930’s in Europe, that fascism was not a total aberration from things that came before neither. And similarly, Trump is not a total aberration. The seeds of Trumpism have been here for a long time. In some ways, both these stories, the 1930s in Europe and the Trump years in the United States, emerge from the same forces of this modern period of history in which what I argue is that racist imperialism is sort of the big story of that period. And these are just different manifestations of it. There might be similar in some ways, and very different in other ways.
Coco Das 08:27
I want to get into the question of imperialism a little bit later, as an organization, we came up against this debate and had to weigh in and obviously we had a position on it and colleagues and I co-wrote this article called The Continuity of the Past Does Not Negate the Urgency of the Present. Because Refuse Fascism actually formed to organize nonviolent, sustained resistance against the Trump/Pence regime, with a analysis that this was a fascist movement that has been decades in the making. So I wanted to just read the first couple of paragraphs of that just to also encourage our listeners to go back to this article you can find on RefuseFascism.org.
We wrote “We live in a country built on the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans and the theft of land from Mexico, where Jim Crow segregation gave Nazis the legal models for their racial purity laws, where mass incarceration has locked away a generation of oppressed youth, and wars for Empire have taken millions of lives. Donald Trump’s mantra to make America great again is rooted in the 19th century doctrine that U.S. supremacy is both justified and inevitable, destined by God. This fascist creed has deep roots in American society and its current configuration within the Republican Party has been decades in the making. But while fascism can advance on tiptoe for years, they can also make sudden game-changing leaps forward into a whole new stage. This is the collective shock we’ve experienced. The Trump/Pence regime does, in some ways, represent the continuity with past injustices. But it also and more importantly represents a dramatic metastasis of the frustrated ambitions of a white supremacist Christian fascist movement. This movement put their hopes into George W. Bush, only to see him fail to deliver their whole agenda and suffered some demoralizing setbacks during Obama. In Trump, however, they have seen and seized an opportunity they’ve never had before.”
I went back to that after reading your article, because I was thinking about just the whole landscape of this debate. But in your article, you also talk about various ways that historical analogies are used and misused or not used for different purposes. And you focus mainly on the US and the UK. And there seem to be two different dynamics going on. I hope I’m interpreting this correctly — correct me if I’m wrong — but there’s the dynamic coming from the right wing forces of rewriting or erasing any history that challenges the mythology of thIose countries, the glorious past. Then this other from the left, or from more progressive or liberal side of things, that acknowledges the long histories of oppression, but then uses that to cloud everything that’s going on in the present. So for example, rejecting a specific analogy between Trumpism and Nazi Germany and refusing to call it fascism based on that. We don’t need to get into definitions of all these. But I was wondering if you see these two dynamics as connected? The erasure of the past from the right and sort of refusing to use an analogy to analyze the present from the left? Do you see them as connected? Are they just existing side by side? Is there some kind of interplay between them?
Priya Satia 11:47
They’re definitely mutually reinforcing in a way that became unhelpful, or maybe still is unhelpful, insofar as this isn’t still an ongoing debate at some level. I mean, context is so important. And while progressive people in United States were discouraging this fascism analogy, they perhaps probably didn’t realize how much they sound like people in the UK, for instance, who, coming from a very different political perspective, were also discouraging that analogy. And there are some common features to them. One, there’s a very kind of narrow understanding of what an analogy is, and how literal it means. And there’s just been such an energy spent on this very tedious was the Beer Hall Putsch the same thing as like, right at the Capitol, it was this event this, and it’s like, that’s just sort of academic in the pejorative sense of the word, an academic way of trying to assess whether an analogy is helpful. It’s very distracting from actually the ethical work that an analogy can do. And I feel like on both sides of this, there was this kind of pedantic kind of preoccupation that was paralyzing and not helpful. So that’s common to them.
I think there might also be a certain amount of protectiveness just around Nazism, and the Holocaust, right, as just very, very singular events. And I don’t know how conscious that is. But I can see that comes from a well-intentioned place. But I do think that what both sides were missing was that just because, you know, you point out similarities between things doesn’t mean you’re saying they’re actually exactly the same thing. And that, however, you describe these ugly things in the past, whether it’s Jim Crow, or whether it’s British imperialism, whether you call it fascism or not, it has to be dealt with in the present. And if the word fascism does help some people wake up and say, wait a minute Black Lives Matter, then that’s actually a good thing. That’s not a bad thing. Or if it makes museum say “we need to return looted artifacts,” that’s a really good thing. And so I pointed out the case of historian at Harvard, Caroline Elkins, who wrote a book about British basically concentration camps in Kenya in the 1950s. And she titled the book,Britain’s Gulag. And that’s, that’s a very provocative title. It’s an analogy. And it worked. I mean, she won the Pulitzer Prize. But much more importantly, all these Kenyan survivors from the camps are able to finally get some form of restitution in the form of civil lawsuits that were launched for the suffering that they endured. So sometimes the analogies, it doesn’t mean that those camps were actually the same as the Gulag, and that we should now go and check pedantically. She’s making a moral point to come right, and that’s what we need to pay attention to.
Coco Das 14:34
I think that’s really helpful. It seems like both in the US and in the UK, also, there’s an assumption. And I think you refer to this a little bit in your article because we defeated the Nazis in World War II, fascism can’t happen here. But then you point out that the Nazis themselves learned from American history and the British camps, I think, during the South African wars also informed Nazi concentration camps and I really appreciated this one quote from your article you wrote: “Rather than anxiously safeguard the Empire from Nazi tanks, we might more productively reckon with all this Imperial past. By condemning its worst excesses Nazism, slavery, apartheid, we have not only avoided condemning imperialism itself, but have re-legitimized it. As evident, for instance, in the imperial presumption that drove the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the paternalist power dynamics shaping the global response to climate change today.” I thought that was a very provocative quote. How much do you think it matters? I mean, I know that matters a lot, but I guess if you can give some texture to it, that there has not been a moral condemnation of imperialism in the same way there was of Naziism or chattel slavery. And I think in the popular imagination, the British Empire, the history of that is very whitewashed and glorified. So what what are the implications of failing to grapple with that and to really look at the true history of imperialism and what it’s done around the world?
Priya Satia 16:06
Yeah, that’s a great question. Before I answer, I just wanted to address something else you mentioned, which was the way the US and the UK both sort of use the fact that these two powers defeated the Nazis to take a very confident moral stance. And that sort of erases the memory of the fact that there were always Nazi sympathizers and enablers in both those countries. Churchill himself, Winston Churchill, was an admirer of both Mussolini and Hitler. He was very bothered by Hitler’s expansionist ambitions within Europe, much more than he was bothered by fascist ideology itself. So we have very definitely, I guess the word might be even just whitewashed, British and American record vis-a-vis 1930s fascism. So it’s important to remember that the neo Nazi groups that are here are not exotic implants from somewhere else. There were always sympathizers here and supporters here and in Britain.
So that’s one thing and then this question about, you know, why is the history of empire so wiped, I mean, this is what my new book, Time’s Monster, is all about. Because I think the moral case against Empire was made, it was clear, won the argument in the first half of the 20th century, when those really powerful and anti-colonial movements all around the world were changing the world. And a lot of countries became independent. And I think what happened was, though, that they started to become independent in the context of this new Cold War, and then as soon as a Cold War ends, there’s the war on terror. And what you see happening is that the old liberal justifications of empire are sort of revived in those contexts, like, yes, empire is bad, but Soviet communism is worse. So the United States shifts, its politics from supporting anti colonial movements, in many cases, like in say, Vietnam, they shift from supporting them to then preferring, well, maybe it’s better if the French are actually there, or if we are there instead. So there was a sort of dissipation or a refuse of the moral upper hand that anti-colonial movements had in the context of the Cold War and the war on terror. And I think maybe because those two things are more and more behind us, the War on Terror is still lingering, that now there’s a real demand to kind of finish that unfinished business and really acknowledge once and for all, that there is no justification for empire. The Cold War was not a fair justification for empire, either for neocolonialism or re colonization or what have you. And I think it’s because there was this continued ambiguity around empire that it’s still with us like the era of empires not over, it’s still our time. So we have to keep dealing with the past properly, in order to make possible a truly post imperial kind of future.
Coco Das 18:49
You use this term memory wars to refer to the way Boris Johnson’s government in the UK is attempted to erase Britain’s imperialist history, or truly reckon with what that history was. And I think there are definitely parallels here with the attempting to take critical race theory out of academia.
Priya Satia 19:08
They’re doing that in the UK too.
Coco Das 19:10
Maybe this is an obvious question about what is the point of these memory wars? What is it that they’re ultimately trying to win? And what’s the danger of letting them then when as well?
Priya Satia 19:20
I mean, they’re trying to preserve that very glorious, very mythic version of British history. And often when the present feels impoverished or as a sort of feeling of decline comes about, people really clutch tightly on to this idea of a glorious path and they, emotionally the need for it is just more desperate. And I mean, what has Boris Johnson offered in a more constructive way as prime minister all he can offer it is a glorified past and the promise to resurrect that kind of past, because the entire time he’s been Prime Minister has been a time of serious hardship for people in the UK. The whole Brexit process has been a shambles, and then the COVID crisis. And so in a very basic level, this is a huge distraction to get people wound up about museum collections and critical race theory and things like this and turn them into kind of bogies, basically. It’s a way of not talking about all his other practical failures as a leader.
And this is not something that’s only happening in Britain. Actually, the Journal of Genocide Research is bringing out a whole issue this summer, looking at about a dozen different countries in which you see a similar desperate attempt to maintain certain glorious narratives of national past; whether it’s Turkey, whether it’s India, whether it’s the US, and you see that in the UK, you see this in many different places. So I think it’s partly that it’s partly the distraction from the practical failures of the present. I think it’s partly, as I said earlier, that we are more and more in a post-Cold War post War On Terror moment and people who are demanding now a reckoning with the colonial past are putting it on the table in serious practical ways and saying: “We want reparations, we want apologies, restitutions, new memorials, new statues, roads must fall”, and that’s Black Lives Matter, all of these movements threatening to the old order. And all of these memory wars are served to trying to silence them, push them back and continue avoid dealing with our colonial past. But I don’t think these demands can be silenced and put aside and deferred again, as they were during the Cold War and go on. If anything, you know, the War on Terror made them more urgent, because it just showed how much the old liberal ethos of empire is still with us and still shaping how things happen.
Coco Das 21:39
Calling out that mythic past, Jason Stanley writes about that in How Fascism Works. But I think it’s very much tied up with the rise in fascism and also trying to cement in that dominance, the white supremacist domination here. And as you said, dealing with the challenges to that power and choosing a path of sort of bludgeoning that opposition in order for them to maintain their power.
Priya Satia 22:05
You seem to think of it as specifically I mean, I wasn’t thinking of it as specifically a fascist move, just partly because it is so common right now, in so many places. I definitely agree that it’s, it’s a rearguard action of white supremacy, like trying to protect itself, that’s for sure or in India’s case of Hindu supremacy and protect itself and so on in each place. If it’s helpful to think about as a fascist movement that makes people feel motivated to do something about it, that’s great. But to me, it doesn’t really matter if it is or not, to me, it’s definitely a sign of the strength also of the other side. And for me, it’s the fact that there is a struggle about these subjects. And there’s actually a conversation, and not just conversation — activism around these issues, after decades of sort of silence and a very effective silencing. To me, that’s a much more kind of hopeful thing. I mean, it’s not like no one to ask for reparation, or restitution before it has always been asked for. But it has been effectively put off the table until now. Now, they can’t stop it. But that to me is really significant. And means we’re in a different moment, and that it is a rearguard action of white supremacists. And that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. It’s when people are desperate, they’re more dangerous. So and I think we’re seeing that come out in different ways.
Coco Das 23:27
I really appreciate that. There’s a two-sided struggle here, and I think that it’s important to point that out. I wanted to get into a couple of questions on methodology, and I’ll start with this one: Also, quoting, there were a couple of quotes on this that I thought were really important. Maybe I’ll just read them both. So in one part, you wrote: “Academic objections to the accuracy of an analogy are inevitably correct, given the a-reproducible nature of all history. But excessive preoccupation with the fitness of an analogy distracts us from larger and more urgent problems arising from silencing certain pasts in our present, like the history of empire and slavery.” I really appreciated that. And also this quote, where you wrote: “Historical analogies played a central role in the making of modern history, including its ugliest episodes. New comparisons allow us to shift the paradigms through which we have long understood the past so that we might make new history in the present.” So I wanted to ask how do you as a historian go about evaluating whether a historical analogy is appropriate or not? Is there like a set of broad criteria that can help us in this debate, or is it very much a case by case basis?
Priya Satia 24:45
I mean, I think where it helps you figure out what’s where you use a comparison to help highlight what’s different, then it can be really helpful. That’s one way in which analogies can be helpful, just to figure out then to isolate what’s particular new; what’s happening in this moment. But in a very different sense, another very different way, analogies can be helpful is in the way that book by Caroline Elkins of Britain’s gulag was really helpful, which is by sort of changing the moral terms under which you understand some subject and forcing a moral reconsideration of some subject by shifting it from one paradigm into another paradigm and saying: “Whoa, doesn’t this look different when we put it alongside, you know, under the rubric of gulag, versus when we put it, you know, under the rubric of unfortunate mistake of British Empire.” [laughs] So I think that’s a second way in which analogies can be very helpful. And you know, it’s inevitable that we’re going to think with analogies, that’s what we do as moderns. So we just have to be judicious about how we use them and make sure that the purpose that they serve is is ethically defensible. Like if you’re using the fascism analogy to say, we want to go back to just how it was under Obama, or George Bush or something, I don’t think that’s a very helpful use of the fascism analogy. But if you’re using it to say, let’s take a deep dive into all of American history, and how it’s led to this point, and how it even fuel the 1930s, European fascism, I would say go for it, use that analogy. So it’s really about what the purpose is that it’s serving,
Coco Das 26:17
I want to go into my last question, which is really about epistemology and truth in this moment that we’re in. And which I think is an important part of your scholarship in general, this question of what is true? How do we know what’s true? How do we understand reality? And I think this is arguably become the most important question of our time, because it affects everything. There’s such an existential weight to the question of how do we know what’s true. Because rejecting the concept of truth allows very powerful forces to deny climate change, it allows the big lie that Trump won the election. I can only speak for the time I’m in because I’m not a historian, but it seems like we’re in this heightened moment of polarization around this question. But at the same time, okay, we have people like Steve Bannon, it’s part of their propaganda to flood the zone with shit, right, and so that you don’t know what’s true. But then I think, as you pointed out, in a lot of your research, you don’t have to be a Steve Bannon to fall into wanting to believe just convenient truths. And I think the way people have avoided dealing with imperialism is part of that. So I’m not saying it’s apples for apples, but I’m just saying that truth denial is not something that only fascists engage in. And I think everyone who cares about truth and thinks truth matters, should hold themselves to high standards. This, especially with all the problems that we’re facing. So, as a historian – I’m going to lay a lot on you – as a historian, you engage in both narrative and facts to uncover the truth, for example, about the history of the British Empire. So I’d like to hear your perspective on this question. But what can we learn from your discipline? As we try to parse out what is true?
Priya Satia 28:08
Well, there’s good history and there’s bad history, right? Like with any, there are good doctors, and they’re bad doctors. So there’s some common standards, the work of relying on his archival research, if it’s not archival, but even if it’s oral histories, whatever the source faces. Is it properly documented, verifiable? Has it been peer-reviewed, does it pass sort of the standards of the discipline? I mean, there are sort of existing mechanisms for quality control in at least scholarly history. You see, in the British debates, the kind of loudest voice defending the British Empire is this man who’s not a historian, he’s a theologian, he should not be listened to, specifically on the very simple grounds, if he’s doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s not historian. So the first thing would be just to listen to real historians who actually know what they’re talking about and have met basic disciplinary standards. I think, of course, there’s even within among works that meet standards, there’s going to be a range of disagreement and agreement. And it’s a process of constant revision, and you have to think of it for yourself as someone learning about the past and what I’m trying to get at the truth that it’s, it’s a process. It’s not once you discover the truth, and then you’re done. New information comes to light, especially with the passage of time, and you’ve got to be open to accepting that and then revising your sense of what the truth is, as we get distance. Like with the figure of Winston Churchill, we knew certain things about him on his death in 1964, and then now a lot more documents are available. Official documents have been declassified that would not have been available then. And we are obligated to look at them and then write a new account of Churchill in his time. That’s a constant process and yes, it might make you sad to find out that he wasn’t… like finding out Santa Claus is not real. It shouldn’t feel like that, that you shouldn’t be, I mean, these are human beings in the past, we’re not judging them, we’re just finding out more about them. That’s okay. It’s okay to add more.
And it’s okay to say what we concluded earlier, you know, we didn’t have the complete information then or we were looking at things through rose tinted glasses. Because we were so grateful by the end of the world, whatever the reason is, so whether we’ll actually ever achieve absolute truth and knowledge, I don’t think so I don’t think that’s a realistic goal. But it should be understood to be a constant process. And there are not two sides to every argument. Sometimes only one side is correct, and the other one is just an opinion that may defy all empirical evidence. In fact, you have free speech right to say it, but that doesn’t mean it has equal merit. So both these things are true, but getting to the truth is a constant process, but on your way there that doesn’t mean that every opinion or every statement claiming truth has full merit. I mean, there are there’s sometimes just one side to the story.
Coco Das 31:04
I think that’s incredibly helpful. I have learned so much from reading your work, and here at Refuse Fascism, our slogan is “in the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.” And I think your work has made an important contribution to that ethos, and I hope that you’ll keep us on your radar. I know that we’ll keep you on ours and I hope that we can continue to be in dialogue for our listeners. You can find the article discussed today, ‘Fascism and Analogies: British and American, Past and Present’ at the Los Angeles Review of Books. And follow Dr. Satia on twitter @PriyaSatia. You should also pick up her books including her latest, Time’s Monster: How History Makes History wherever you buy your books.
Sam Goldman 31:53
That was Priya Satia in conversation with Coco Das. You can find links to her work and the full article cited by Coco in the show notes. Now we’ll hear from Carl Dix speaking at an event recently held a Revolution Books NYC. Carl began by playing a quote from a talk by Bob Avakian on the Trump/Pence regime.
Bob Avakian 32:12
In this country with its whole history of genocide, slavery and racism any form of fascism, including one basing itself on Christian supremacy. Any urge to restore past greatness cannot help but be bound together with white supremacy. The Republican Party has been moving in a fascist direction since the late 1960s, with further leaps since then to becoming more and more openly fascist. And in running for president in 1968, Richard Nixon adopted what has been called the “southern strategy,” which the Republican Party has followed ever since. This is a direct appeal to white supremacy, to the racism of white people, particularly though not only in the southern states, who were enraged that black people are not staying in their place. The Republican Party is not the party of Lincoln, as it sometimes demagogically claims to be. It has become much more the party of the Confederacy. With Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party took another leap on the road of fascism. Reagan very deliberately began his campaign for president in 1980 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where in 1964, three civil rights workers were kidnapped and brutally murdered by white supremacists. There, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Reagan proclaimed his support for “states’ rights,” which particularly in the South have long been code words for white supremacist lynch mob-ism. And after, George W. Bush took things still further in a fascist direction, including the open use of torture and the active promotion of Christian fundamentalism. The Trump/Pence regime has made the leap into all out fascism. There is a direct line from the Confederacy to the fascists of today and a direct connection between their white supremacy, their open disgust and hatred for LGBT people as well as women, their willful rejection of science and the scientific method, their raw America First jingoism and trumpeting of the superiority of Western civilization, and their bare, bellicose wielding of military power, including their express willingness and blatant threats to use nuclear weapons to destroy a country. The truth, another terrible truth that must be faced, is that in the context of profound and acute contradictions that are asserting or reasserting themselves in ways that are tearing at the very fabric and deepening cracks in the foundation of this country, at the same time, as the American Empire is facing serious challenges internationally, fascism is one possible resolution of this, on the terms of this system and its ruling class, even as this is a horror for humanity.
Carl Dix 34:58
I wanted to start off with that, and to trace that direct line. 1866: Memphis, Tennessee. Some police clash with recently demobilized Black soldiers enraged that these Black men did not stay in their place, mobs of white police and civilians rampage into Black neighborhoods, massacring people, burning down houses, burning down schools, burning down churches. 46 Black people were killed, more than 100 were injured. And every single Black school and Black church in the area of Memphis was burned to the ground. Again 1866: the New Orleans massacre. There had been an attempt to form a new state government for Louisiana that was going to accept the results of the Civil War, the dissolution of slavery and grant Black people voting rights. There were some former Confederates who were deathly against that. They held a rival convention that didn’t accept any of that. Then a protest of that was mounted by mostly Black people. These former Confederates rampage through Black neighborhoods. They massacre 34 Black people, injuring more than 100. And that’s according to the official results. Other observers said that was a great undercount. Then 1873: Colfax, Louisiana. A new Reconstruction government had been put together, and it held power, and Black people had numerous positions in that new government. Some former Confederate and KKK members very much were against that. They stormed the courthouse where this government was seated, overwhelmed the militia, which was mainly Black former Union soldiers, took 50 of them, at least 50 of them, prisoner and then executed all of them. The reason I say “at least 50” is that it was impossible to get an accurate count, because many of the bodies of the Black people who had been murdered, were thrown into the Red River that ran near Colfax, or thrown into massive graves.
This is the history of this. And I haven’t exhausted it. There are many more that I could talk about. But I don’t have the time to do that. That’s the only reason I’m not doing that. Now, let’s fast forward. I’m not going to walk us through the whole history. Let’s fast forward up to the 1960s, where there was massive mobilization by Black people to regain the right to vote that they had been granted after the Civil War, but lost with the overthrow of Reconstruction. Numerous protests happened in the South. This was a righteous fight, but there was also a whole lot of resistance. Mention was made in the clip by Bob Avakian, of something that happened in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964. Three civil rights workers were kidnapped by the authorities and then released to a white mob led by the KKK that killed all three of them. Goodman Chaney and Schwerner, are the names of the people. And again, that’s not the only time that happened. There were many more such murders. There were also massive attacks like the attack on the people who were marching in Selma, Alabama, trying to cross the Pettis Avenue Bridge, who were attacked by mounted state police, assisted by mobs of whites and beaten viciously. Again, this is the history of this country. Now, let’s come up to today, because today, we have a wave of voter suppression laws. 247 laws have been introduced in more than half of the states across the United States, going at the right to vote. What do these laws raze? Well, one thing they target is early voting, and especially early voting on Sunday, because they literally are like stuck pigs, when they hear the idea of Souls to the Polls, which is Black churches, mobilizing Black people on Sunday to go vote and often it takes the form of a march. Well, they say that they want to try to cut that out. They also have, are doing things like saying: “Okay, well, we can do some early voting, but it has to stop at 5:00 pm. It can’t go later than that… The integrity of the vote would be lost if we allowed it to go to 9:00 pm or even 7:00 pm.” And what are they saying there? People who can’t get off work or tell the boss “I’m going for a few hours to vote,” are going to lose the ability to vote early. And that’s the point of this. This is a real “law and order” thing. It is now illegal in Georgia and Florida, and about to become illegal in other states, to give water or snacks to people who are standing in line to vote. Now, I don’t know why this crime has been allowed to be done for so long! Now think about it.
Think about what leads to the need for this. Because in Georgia, I’m looking at social media and there are pictures of Black and brown people standing in long lines, some of them 5, 7, 9, 11 hours waiting to vote. At the same time in white areas, there are people going in and saying “this was a breeze. I was in and out in 15 minutes.” So there’s already an imbalance that has made it more difficult for some people to vote. Now they want to say, don’t even try to bring any water or snacks to any of these. They don’t want to say: “Why are these lines so long? What could we do to make it more equitable to make it easier for these people to vote?” They want to keep it hard. And then they don’t do anything that might encourage some of these people to stand in line and vote. This is the kind of thing that they’re going at. This is what’s being done. Georgia and Florida have already passed it. It’s in process in Texas. One house is voted on it, and it’s up in another. There are 240 some other bills going on in states across the country.
WTF is going on? Why is this being done? Now, if you listen to the Republicans who are pushing this stuff, they say, “Well, look, people are concerned about election integrity. And we have to do something to ensure them that they can have faith in our elections.” They can’t point to any voter fraud, that they’re acting to stop. Mostly because of the kind of voter fraud that goes on, isn’t going to be touched by any of this stuff. And look, there is fraud going on around voting. Florida had a referendum to change the constitution to allow former felons to vote. They got their voting rights back leading into this election. Very quickly, the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature convened and said we have to pass laws to enable this change to the Florida constitution to happen, by which they meant we have to pass some laws to stop it from happening, because we don’t want these mf’s to vote — because we don’t think they’ll vote for us! So they said: “well, you’re not really through with your sentence, until you pay fines and fees, and penalties that we have put on you after you served your time.” So then all these people who were former felons in their hundreds of thousands, 800,000 did not have the right to vote until they went through this process. Then groups started to mobilize to raise money to pay these fines and fees, and all that kind of stuff. And then the state of Florida said, “You can’t pay these fines and fees, because we have no idea how much they are.” That’s fraud. I mean, let’s just call it what it is — that’s stealing somebody’s vote. For us to tell them they got to pay money to get back their right to vote, then they come with the money, and you say you can’t pay it, because we don’t know WTF it is. So there is shit like that that goes on. And there are other things I could say. But let me keep rolling with this.
They are going after things that are not happening. People have not been fraudulently voting early. People have not been fraudulently dropping their ballot in drop boxes. There’s no evidence of any significant voter fraud and not much evidence of any voter fraud happening that way. But that’s what these laws are aiming at. And it is all aimed at making it more difficult for people who are likely not to vote for the Republicans to carry this out. Now, this is obviously being done to marginalize the opposition to the Republicans, to marginalize the Democrats and make them less of a factor in states that the Republicans control. But there is much more behind that than this, and I’m going to touch on something which I really encourage people to check out. There’s a New Years statement by Bob Avakian, A New Year, the Urgent Need for a Radically New World and for the Emancipation of All of Humanity. He talks about what’s behind it by getting into the dramatic shifts in the position of Black people since World War II, how they’ve gone from sharecroppers on plantations in the South, migrated across the country, became factory workers in the factories all across the country, and then saw those factories disappear as they moved around the world, which meant there were large numbers of people who were in these urban areas with no way to legitimately support themselves and raise families. And the system had to deal with this, and the ways that they have dealt with it. And there are differences in how to best do it, but the ways that they have dealt with it have included prisons, police, punishment. That has been a key part of how they deal with it. Again, Avakian goes very deeply into this. I just wanted to touch on it in this statement. You can get it at revcom.us or you can get it right here at this bookstore.
Sam Goldman 45:57
That was Carl Dix. You can find a full recording of that event and other interesting author events at RevolutionBooksNYC.org. Follow Carl on Twitter at @Carl_Dix. Thanks for listening to Refuse Fascism. If you want to help the show, it’s simple. You can rate and review us on your listening platform of choice. And of course, subscribe, so you never miss an episode. You can also share your comments, ideas, questions, or lend a skill by tweeting me @SamBGoldman, or email [email protected] Special thanks to all of you contributed in support of the show at Refuse Fascism.org, Chip in via Venmo @Refuse-Fascism or CashApp @RefuseFascism.org. And let us know it’s awesome hearing this podcast. Thanks to Richie Marini, Coco Das and Lina Thorne for helping to co-produce this episode. Until next time, in the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.