Chomsky, fascism and the working class

Famed linguistics professor and left-wing icon Noam Chomsky made remarks recently that gave me pause.

Chomsky, 81, said he recalls the rise of Hitler in Germany, and recent political developments like the tea party movement bring him back to that frightening time.

"I have a memory of the texture and the tone of the cheering mobs, and I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering," Chomsky said.

He warned left and progressive people that "[r]idiculing the tea party shenanigans is a serious error." I couldn't agree more.

But, on other things, I couldn't agree less.

Chomsky was off-base in implying the tea party is a working-class phenomenon. It's true that, as he said, there is a "class" resentment among the tea party movement, and the context is the devastating economic crisis and wealth gap that exists in the United States. Undoubtedly there are working-class people among the tea partiers. But the working class does not make up the majority of this movement. Nor does this movement represent working-class interests.

In a recent poll, it was wealthier and more educated Americans, more than others, who identify with the tea party anti-government, anti-Obama rhetoric.

The U.S. working class is a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-sex class. In my opinion, the broadly-defined view of working class is anyone who has to work for a living. The mono-racial (virtually all white) tea party movement represents corporate and wealthy America's "anti-government" interests, like no taxes on capital gains, or no regulations on pollution, etc. To suggest that this movement is an expression of working class resentment distorts who makes up the social base of fascism.

Fascism springs from the ruling elite, which through their extensive media apparatus, etc., attempts to influence the great majority of working people. And it's the use of racism, in the first place, along with anti-Semitism, immigrant-bashing, homophobia and anti-woman and anti-union attacks, along with anti-government, quasi-religious demagogy, that is the ideological backbone of a fascist movement in America. At a time of mass unemployment, they use racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric to let corporate America off the hook.

Chomsky argued that in the "popular" mind President Obama, the nation's first Black president, is associated with the banking industry and Wall Street. He claimed the administration is ineffective and could be on the verge of collapse, like the Weimar Republic that preceded the Nazi takeover of Germany.

But, first of all, it was not the Weimar Republic that put Hitler in power. Hitler came to power with a nod and wink from the highest levels of German capital.

Fascism - as a system - comes out of the most reactionary sectors of capital. In our country, energy and oil, finance and military capital lead the way and the Republicans are their political party of choice. The most reactionary sector, when most threatened, will consider a suspension of democratic rights, and implementation of a terror-based system of government - with no rights for unions, women, racial/national/religious/sexual minorities, etc.

Chomsky ignores the substantial measures the Obama administration is trying to take to rein in the banks and curb their power, and the bitter opposition campaign being waged by the Republicans and Wall Street.

Republicans have shut down the government, invited in corporate lobbyists to actually write bills and now have turned into the "Party of No" in blocking any reforms.

By ignoring this reality, Chomsky weakens the fighting ability of the democratic movement. After all, if Obama is like the Republicans, and only represents Wall Street, why bother fighting side by side with the administration?

While many of Obama's reform efforts, like the health care law, are not nearly as radical as many of us on the left would advocate, they do represent a step forward, crucial for mobilizing and unifying the class and social forces necessary to prevent any fascist takeover.

There was another speech given recently on anger in America. This one was by Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and former mineworker, at Harvard University. I thought his speech sought to unify the class, to clarify who is to blame for the economic crisis, and to mobilize, alongside, not against, Obama in order to win reforms that can improve the lives of all people, as well as lay the basis for a more progressive political atmosphere.

Trumka said reactionary forces use divisive "racist and homophobic hate" to channel "justifiable anger" about the wealth gap towards President Obama and "heroes like Congressman John Lewis" and "to divide working people."

He called on the "progressive tradition" of working people in action "organizing unions and organizing to elect public officials committed to bold action to address economic suffering."

It is that kind of rousing vision of unity and action that can block any move towards fascism.

I hope Professor Chomsky, who is an inspiration to so many, considers Trumka's words.


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  • Terrie makes good points, but as an historian I would like to make some important points that both Chomsky and the other commentators have conveniently ignorned. The depression Weimar governments with Hindenberg as President were center right, not the center -left Weimar governments of the 1920s. The schism between social democrats and communists played an important role in the victory of fascism and both parties deserve a lot of criticism for wasting so much energy fighting with each other instead of uniting to fight Hitler

    Fascism was no more"national socialism" than Ronald Reagan was a revolutionary. It's economic policy then was state capitalism, smashing unions, working working hand in glove with the various sectors of the capitalist class,and ultimately in the German case building the first modern military-industrial complex
    The urban working class and workers generally supported the anti-fascist Marxist parties. The traditonal conservative rural and small business,white collar classes came to support theNazis because the depth of the depression and the failure of the mass parties of the left to develop the sort of peoples front alliance that might have prevented the rightwing last Weimar governments from turning power over to Hitler to prevent a socialist revolution from happening in Germany as it had happened in Russia
    The good news is that the Obama administration is neither ineffectual or center-right The bad news is that we have no mass parties of the left to do anything
    except continue to organize and educate workers to their class interests,warning them of the reactionary nature of those who claim to represent them by advocating a return to the Reagan Bush policies.

    Posted by norman markowitz, 04/23/2010 8:37pm (5 years ago)

  • Posted by norman markowitz, 04/23/2010 8:17pm (5 years ago)

  • Fascism is a form of national socialism and is characterized by the joining together of the corrupt crony capitalism class with the corrupt government officals that are in bed with them. Sounds a lot like Barack Obama and the executives at Goldman Sachs, GE, GM, AIG, Chrylser, Citibank and lots of the State media. Think about it. National Socialism was a Germany focused form of Socialism that fought with the Communists because the Communists believed in International Socialism not a national patriotic version of socialism like the nazies used to come to power in Germany in the thirties. Reading history is a good thing for understanding the basis of these systems.

    Posted by Richard Fontaine, 04/23/2010 7:42pm (5 years ago)

  • You are pretty much off base on who makes up the Tea Party movement. It is a disaffected members of the middle class that comprise the majority of the Tea Party members. The group is largely made up of small business men and woman and vetrans and some younger people who are motivated by the Ron Paul form of Constitutional reform. I suggest you go out and actually see reality before you write about how things are. Utopianism is just that, a dream.

    Posted by Richard Fontaine, 04/23/2010 7:37pm (5 years ago)

  • I believe Professor Chomsky is correct in his criticism of so-called liberals. The liberals in the U.S. (at least the ones in Congress) have proven to be useless when under attack by the extreme right. They tend to run when the word "socialist" is being slinged around and for the most part remained quiet when Bush led us into the quagmire of both Afghanistan and Iraq! Today they will not even consider holding Bush, Cheney, et al accountable for their diabolical crimes!

    There is without a doubt that the money behind the so-called Tea Party comes from either wealthy individuals or corportions! However there are independent business owners and workers who mistakenly participate with the Tea Party who have legit grievances with our government. Unfortunatley they are taking their anger out on the wrong people; oppressed people of color, unions, government employees, etc are NOT the enemy! Unbridled capitalism is and always will be!

    Skilled organizers must reach out to these misinformed folks and get them to see the error of their ways! While I respect Marx and Lenin, quoting a lot of doctrine and words will not cut it with the average person who has been wronged by our government working willingly with the corporate bosses! We do not want a repeat of what occurred in Germany to occur here! This is what Chomsky is warning us about!

    Posted by Pancho Valdez, 04/23/2010 2:26pm (5 years ago)

  • The foot soldiers of fascism come from the small shopkeepers, small landowners, right-wing workers, basically groups that would all be called "working class" in today's USA.

    In Germany they were mobilized in large part by demands for economic justice. Today it's the same thing, just look at materials for US Neo-Nazis or see their speeches on YouTube.

    When Terry says "the working class does not make up the majority of this movement," who else does, then? If you went to a Tea Party rally, would you find more bourgeoisie or wealthy professionals than working class?

    Terry makes a good point when she says making reforms can help the Tea Party from gaining too much ground. That is true, to the degree that the reforms actually do anything to hurt the capitalists and help working people.

    But if only weak reforms are made, or worse, attacks dressed up as reforms, and if the crisis of unemployment continues, or worsens, then the fascists will get stronger. Communists are obliged to try to get stronger themselves, to fight them! It wasn't young reformist bourgeoisies who were going over to fight Spain in the 30s...

    Posted by D. Bester, 04/23/2010 8:48am (5 years ago)

  • Great article. The comments from Paul and Nicholas seem to be the same tired complaints. Yawn.

    Posted by Vern, 04/22/2010 10:00pm (5 years ago)

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