In an interview with Finian Cunningham, professor Colin Cavell warns that the United States is on a dangerous cusp of emerging outright fascism – if a genuinely progressive democratic movement is not mobilized.
The United States is facing a historical crisis from its own internal political authority crumbling, according to American political science professor Colin Cavell. In the following interview, Cavell takes the long historical view of how the two-party system has been used traditionally as a reactionary device to conceal and shore up the oligarchic power of U.S. capitalism. The essence of the system is dividing the mass of ordinary working Americans into petty rival camps of two parties distracted by reactionary political issues. That mechanism, he contends, has now reached the end of its effectiveness. The system is moribund from deep-seated, corrosive social problems of inequality and a lack of political direction, which neither Democrat nor Republican Party can fix. That, in turn, is creating a crisis of governance for the ruling class of American capital. Cavell warns that the United States is on a dangerous cusp of emerging outright fascism – if a genuinely progressive democratic movement is not mobilized.
Colin S. Cavell is a tenured Full Professor of Political Science at Bluefield State College, West Virginia. He earned his Doctorate of Philosophy degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2001. He has previously taught at several academic institutions across the U.S. and internationally.
Question: You have expressed criticism of the Joe Biden administration, saying that it is pursuing policies that are making it possible for a political return of Donald Trump or Trumpism. First of all, could you provide a definition of Trump’s politics?
Colin Cavell: Four years prior to the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International issued a report by Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitrov Mihaylov defining fascism as follows:
Comrades, fascism in power was correctly described by the Thirteenth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International as the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital…
Fascism is not a form of state power “standing above both classes – the proletariat and the bourgeoisie,” as Otto Bauer, for instance, has asserted. It is not “the revolt of the petty bourgeoisie which has captured the machinery of the state,” as the British Socialist Brailsford declares. No, fascism is not a power standing above class, nor government of the petty bourgeoisie or the lumpen-proletariat over finance capital. Fascism is the power of finance capital itself. It is the organization of terrorist vengeance against the working class and the revolutionary section of the peasantry and intelligentsia. In foreign policy, fascism is jingoism in its most brutal form, fomenting bestial hatred of other nations (See footnote 1 below).
From 2016 through 2020, the preeminent capitalist power in the world today, the United States, catapulted to the helm of state Donald J. Trump, previously a real-estate magnate from New York City. The four years of Trump’s presidency elicited numerous articles, analyses, and comparisons to the outright fascist regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, amongst others.
Yes, Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements were jingoistic and fomented hatred of other nations. For example, who can forget Trump’s threats to:
- Unleash fire and fury like the world has never seen to totally destroy North Korea;
- Recognize unelected opposition politician Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela;
- Re-designating Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism;
- Called Iran the number-one terrorist state in the world and pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the prior Obama Administration;
- Referred to Haiti and African states as “shit-hole countries”, etc.
As regards American workers, Trump acted to ingratiate himself with the U.S. working class by asserting that he would bring jobs back to America and become the greatest job-producing president in history, a promise he failed to keep, as there were over three million fewer jobs in December 2020 than there had been in January 2017, though Trump would argue this was due to the alleged “foreign-created” Covid-19 Pandemic or what he disparagingly called the “China Flu”.
Waging a cultural crusade against U.S. intelligentsia, primarily liberal academic intellectuals affiliated with or supporters of the Democratic Party, Trump pandered to traditional American anti-intellectualism by railing against left-wing academics for their alleged denial of freedom of speech on campus, for their criticism of western civilization and U.S. history, for not elevating conservative thinkers into the ranks of academia, for pandering to non-traditional sexual roles for men and women, for promoting diversity and racial sensitivity training calling it “racist”, for promoting transgender sports and unisex restrooms, all resulting in the supposed diminution of the U.S. armed forces with the enlistment of transgender recruits.
Feeding off resentment of white small-business owners, contractors, and service providers, Trump’s support amongst elements of the petite bourgeoisie was and is still quite palpable, and this is evidenced by the general composition of such folks participating in the January 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection in Washington, D.C., and storming of Congress. Though key to Trump’s rise was the support of a handful of reactionary billionaires who greased his campaign when needed.
Finally, while oftentimes posing as a monarchical figure presumably posturing above the conflict between capital and labor, Trump’s financial supporters always knew on which side of the class divide Trump stood.
Domestically, Trump continuously stoked racial divisions, gender divisions, etc. by:
- Alleging that President Obama was not a U.S. citizen;
- Telling non-white Congresswomen to go back to where they came from;
- Calling Mexican immigrants “rapists”;
- Refusing to denounce white supremacy, even claiming that he knew nothing about the former-KKK leader and current white supremacist activist David Duke, etc.
And, of course, name-calling, denigration of persons, ridicule, and disparagement were par for the course with Trump and, as well, expected and anticipated by his supporters. We all remember references to:
- Little Rocket Man;
- Crooked Hilary;
- Little Marco;
- Lying Ted;
- Pocahontas, etc., etc., etc.
Yes, most Americans will acknowledge that with Trump guiding the ship of state, there was definitely a disturbance in the force of what previously prevailed as stability, urged on by his millions of supporters and condemned by millions of his administration’s opponents. But, nonetheless, one should not describe Trump’s first presidential term as “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital”, though analysts should be clear that the highest levers of U.S. capitalism, i.e. finance capital, are responsible for elevating him to head the U.S. executive branch. The one question that begs to be answered since Trump’s Electoral College victory in 2016 is why the U.S. capitalist class, or major sections of it, would put into power such a polarizing individual and concomitantly galvanize or allow to be fomented a political movement to support him?
Was it the giant tax cuts he pushed through Congress for the wealthiest Americans? Was it the slew of deregulations he pushed through the federal bureaucracy? Was it the rearming and rebuilding of U.S. military forces? Or was it a backlash of white reaction built up over the previous eight years of the Obama administration?
It is helpful to understand that the sinister genius of the U.S. system of ostensibly democratic government is built upon the maintenance of two pro-capitalist parties: Republicans and Democrats, with one party representing the interests of employers and major capitalists with the other posturing as championing the interests of labor and those excluded or marginalized by the extant socioeconomic system. The ensuing dialectic between the two parties has successfully held the country together for 245 years to date. Historically, parties other than the previous two have played these assigned roles, though the current configuration of parties has been standard at least since the 1960s with the Great Depression of the 1930s having the biggest jolt on the U.S. capitalist system itself. In practice, one party plays the heavy to enact necessary measures to buttress the extant capitalist class, and this will, after four or eight years (as per the U.S. Constitution), be followed by a velvet-glove capitalist administration that projects itself as the party that cares.
Thus, while during his presidency, Trump vowed that the United States will never be a socialist country, attempting to differentiate his Republican Party from the Democratic Party, what most Americans were not fully conscious of is the fact that both major political parties – Democrat and Republican – are beholden to major U.S. corporations, banks, investors, and finance capital in general.
In essence, both major U.S. political parties are partisans of the capitalist socioeconomic system. U.S. foreign policies are always fairly consistent whether the governing party is Republican or Democrat, though, to the average citizen, there is a considerable difference between their policies and proposals. But such differences, in effect, are negligible. Former Senator and Governor of the State of Louisiana Huey Long once described the difference between the Republican and the Democratic Parties in the United States, he stated:
The only difference that I have found between the Democratic leadership and the Republican leadership was that one of them was skinning from the ankle up and the other from the ear down (See footnote 2).
In effect, one only has to be able to objectively situate oneself within the capital versus labor structure of the U.S. socioeconomic system to predict how these parties will likely fair. It is a system that operates on the basis of class inequality and the necessary maintenance of this class asymmetry.
This system worked well for much of U.S. history, as race, gender, nationality, etc. served to divide U.S. workers from their class cohabitants thus allowing the capitalist class – largely white and male – to accumulate profits both at home and abroad while galvanizing workers to fight aggressive wars abroad against any peoples daring to challenge U.S. capital dictates or deny American access and control of their markets, economies, politics, etc.
That game is now over. The ability of U.S. capital to send workers abroad to fight for the interests of Wall Street is now largely spent. Consequently, U.S. capitalists now resort to contracting out much of their military services either abroad or to private contractors while keeping the domestic population largely in the dark on exactly who, when, where, and why we are fighting and for whom.
With China, Russia, Iran, and other countries now giving the U.S. serious economic and military competition internationally, this places the U.S. capitalist class in a quandary and, hence, gives rise to uncertainty, perplexity, instability, and existential questioning. This, I contend, is the reason Trump was elevated to the presidency in 2016; that is, primarily to buttress the U.S. capitalist class in order to give it time to reflect, evaluate, and regroup on a unified plan in which to proceed forward to preserve and protect the U.S. capitalist empire.
Having taken the U.S. capitalist state to an extreme while undermining its internal stability, wiser sections of finance capital concluded that Trump had to go; however, his legacy is ‘Trumpism’, the social movement galvanized and generated to support him during his one term (so far) as the chief executive. But as to the question of what was Trump and/or Trumpism, one may conclude, based upon the evidence, that he and his movement are proto-fascist or a precursor to outright fascism. Trump and Trumpism represent what Bertram Gross (see footnote 3) referred to as “friendly fascism”, a populist slowly developing, slowly creeping movement expanding its tentacles across U.S. politics. The levers of this movement – in the media, in education, in business, in finance, etc. – are established, developed, and maintained to snap into action whenever it is deemed by the powers-that-be as necessary to unleash and engage.
During the current reign of Biden & Co., the U.S. populace is still undergoing polarization, manipulation, and kept in heightened tension, though Biden’s job is to attempt to ameliorate the country’s racial, gender, and other divisions stirred up by the previous administration with a major focus on recapturing the Trump base of disaffected working-class voters through the CARES Act, the proposed infrastructure bill, and other palliatives in an attempt to win back disaffected Democratic voters into the traditional capitalist fold.
Question: Could you explain how Biden’s policies may be paving a political return for Trump or one of his ilk?
Colin Cavell: Donald J. Trump has never conceded his electoral loss in the 2020 presidential election; indeed, he is once again holding political rallies claiming he is the true victor of the contest albeit his allegedly “obviously apparent victory” was stolen by the Biden campaign, the Democrats, the Deep State, Hugo Chavez, China, Dominion, Smartmatic, etc. In effect, the U.S. is operating – although not apparent to Democrats and Biden-Harris supporters – with dual governments, each claiming themselves as the legitimate rulers. Cognizant that the current administration will not exceed the parameters of capitalist rule, Trump delights in repeatedly attacking Biden as promoting socialistic policies, influenced by “socialist” politicians within his party like Senator Bernie Sanders, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, et al., while Trump opposes whatever initiatives are being proposed as allegedly denigrating and devastating America’s greatness. To counter a proto-fascist movement, one would easily understand if Biden championed the interests of the disaffected U.S. populace including racial minorities, women, and the working class by proposing legislation to erase student loan debt, declare a permanent moratorium on rent increases and evictions, provide free tuition, enact universal health care, etc., etc. Instead though, so far, most of what Biden has proposed has largely been symbolic in character, though perhaps not enough to maintain enduring support. The one element that does galvanize support for Biden is the continued existence of Trump in the political arena, though Trump’s existence is also his Achilles’ heel. Trump, in other words, is a cancer on the body politic and is being allowed to metastasize.
Question: Supporters of Biden hail his $1.9 trillion American Rescue plan and a forthcoming $3 trillion infrastructure plan as representing a radical overhaul of the U.S. economy in favor of working-class people. By contrast, critics from the conservative Republican side condemn Biden’s plans as driving the United States into “socialism”. How do you see this administration’s economic policies? Are they progressive? Are they socialist?
Colin Cavell: Biden, in the manner of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is aiming to find a way forward for U.S. capitalism in a time of crisis, though the political conditions which allowed FDR to move decisively and quickly with measures to support a majority of “the people” (mostly white citizens at the time) while maintaining capitalist rule are not present. Constricted by the managers of finance capital, it is unlikely that he will get full support from a divided Congress for his infrastructure bill, while his other major proposals remain dead on arrival unless the Democratic majority in Congress jettisons the unconstitutional filibuster, a move which Biden and a number of Democrats, so far, reject.
Question: There seems to be a general degeneration in political discourse in the United States where misconceptions and distortions are commonplace. Biden and his Democrat Party are vilified by Republicans as “far-left” and even “Marxists’. How would you define Biden’s Democrat Party? What accounts for the political misconceptions rampant in the U.S.?
Colin Cavell: Political discourse in the United States remains firmly in the hands of the ruling capitalist elites; as such, there is no prominent promotion of socialist, Marxist, or communist ideas within the U.S. mainstream, whether through the media, the law, education, or popular culture, etc. Belittling, deprecating, or denigrating Democrats, the Biden-Harris administration, “liberals”, etc. as socialists, communists, Marxists, far-leftists, satanic worshippers, non-Christians, etc. are old tropes utilized by capitalists and their advocates to advance political agendas and careers over the decades, albeit Trump particularly is partial to this type of demagoguery.
Question: Would you agree that such fundamental political misconceptions make it all the more problematic for resolving America’s many social and economic debilitations?
Colin Cavell: For the greater part of U.S. history, ruling capitalist elites have been able to champion themselves as the leaders and defenders of a great nation spreading enlightenment, science, secularism, constitutionalism and democracy throughout the United States and the world – that is, so long as no one really critically examined the actual record. So long as white supremacy and capitalist ideology dominated U.S. culture, or, at least, those politically relevant to the maintenance of that culture, the U.S. knew no limits, expanded itself into an empire, claimed to master space itself, and, hence, provided hope to millions toiling in misery. At first gradually and then forcefully key sections of this scaffolding began to crack, crumble, and crash, especially in the areas of race, gender, and class as knowledge and consciousness of this unnatural and irremediable situation under the prevailing system of their existential condition became manifest to all.
One of the key fundamental documents of the United States is Federalist Number 10, penned by James Madison. In it, ostensibly to guard against the mischiefs and violence of faction, he lays out to the only recognized “minority” at the time – wealthy property owners – the key reasons why they should support and adopt the proposed new Constitution formulated in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787. In particular, Madison instructs:
The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.
To the extent ruling elites can continue to exercise control – through division, manipulation, prevarication, deception, chicanery, trickery, and other measures of sleight of hand – will U.S. capitalists be able to prevail against all challengers to its continued rule. Political maturity on the part of much of the population, however, renders them less susceptible to such mechanisms and, instead, increases their questioning of the authority of their rulers. And when it becomes apparent that the nature of the U.S. political system is that of a capitalist democracy, i.e. one that works continuously for the sole interests of the capitalist class, then the task of keeping Jack, Jill, Jamal, Jasmine, Javier, and Julieta content on the farm becomes increasingly difficult.
Question: What do you see as the greatest current social and economic problem facing the United States?
Colin Cavell: Class divisions or asymmetries in wealth and power within the U.S. are at their greatest levels since the late nineteenth century, the so-called “Gilded Age”. Reconciling and containing the tensions inherent in such a social dynamic certainly should keep ruling elites up at night.
As a concomitant of these class divisions, the country as a whole lacks a unifying purpose. While capitalists are confident and hopeful for whom and at what they work to achieve, workers, in general, feel abandoned, disregarded, dispossessed, and not represented by the political system nor its two main political parties. While a country like modern China claims to rule for its working-class and can boast achievements supporting that proposition, the U.S. wages endless war against its working class by a no-longer hidden strategy of divide-and-conquer.
Question: What would you recommend as a fitting economic program that would effectively resolve the United States’ current social problems?
Colin Cavell: In short, more democracy and a ruthless and critical assessment of our allegedly democratic processes, institutions, and relationships both internally and externally.
Question: And are you concerned that if the United States does not fix these problems effectively then the return of Trump will lead to even more toxic division and conflict in American society?
Colin Cavell: It is elementary, Politics 101, that two opposed supposed rulers cannot preside over the same population and territory simultaneously, just as two oppositional socioeconomic systems cannot be sustained indefinitely within a single society. Hence, so long as political authority within American society remains questionable, instability will be the order of the day.