Resources for Understanding Fascism
I’m not a historian or an academic. I’m a writer and reader who wants a better future for humanity.
I remember a moment when I looked up and caught my first glimpse of a protracted and slow dawning of reality. It was late at night, sometime in August of 2016, and I couldn’t sleep. As I was scrolling through Facebook (bad idea when you can’t sleep), I saw a photograph of a protester being attacked at a Trump rally, with a caption that I couldn’t forget. It said, The time to stop this is now, not November. All night, I thought about the few brave protesters willing to confront hostile mobs of Trump supporters and Trump’s celebration of violence against them. I wondered how someone like Trump, with no political experience except as the racist agitator of the birther movement against Obama, could even be considered a legitimate candidate. Yet there he was, the Republican frontrunner, then nominee, then president.
In November of 2016, I soothed myself with a bag of chips and a bottle of wine as I watched the election results come in. I wondered if I’d ever be able to finish the novel I was writing. I wondered who to give money to, who was going to fix this. I signed dozens of petitions. I participated in the Writers Resist program in Austin, initiated by PEN America. But despite my efforts and intentions, I understood nothing about what Trump’s election represented or how to stop it.
I started doing what I do best. Reading. Then I started talking to people, seeking out people who were resisting, and later I joined a movement that I felt best analyzed the reality of what we were facing and best strategized a way out of a fascist nightmare. This was painful and challenging process. I had to break with old habits and illusions. I had to risk some personal comfort and safety. I had to refuse to make peace with the world as it is right now. But it has been a tranformative and liberating process as well, one that is ongoing.
One thing I’ve learned, from my own example and others, is that people have to do this work themselves. At some point, I had to stop expecting others to hold my hand and explain everything to me, even if they were willing, and I had to formulate and defend ideas on my own. If I found myself unable to argue a position, I did more research. If I found a position indefensible, I dropped it. If I found evidence I could use to back up my argument, I had more confidence in my position. I’ve had to relearn some critical thinking and research skills that went dormant for too long, but I was motivated by a need to engage with people from a place of knowledge instead of ignorance.
I’m sharing these resources especially for the people I meet who are stuck between their genuine outrage and their ability to go on with their lives with some degree of stability. One of the deep contradictions of fascism is that it has to be stopped before it consolidates, but before it consolidates, only certain groups feel the full effect of it. This is captured in Pastor Niemoller’s famous quote, First they came for the communists…, a warning against staying silent when others with whom we don’t identify are being targeted. Incidentally, it’s worth looking into the the origin and evolution of Niemoller’s quote.
Instead of separating this into genres, I’ve decided to present it, to the best of my memory, in the order that I read or viewed each work, starting with the earliest. Of course it’s not an exhaustive list, and I’m only including works that I read or viewed in their entirety, nothing I’ve skimmed or didn’t finish. There is a range of political perspectives, from mainstream liberals to revolutionary communists. I’m still learning, so this list will always be incomplete.
The Dangerous Acceptance of Donald Trump, Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker (article)
In the Name of Humanity, We Refuse to Accept a Fascist America: Stop Trump and Pence BEFORE They Come to Power (ad that appeared in New York Times, January 4, 2017)
The Nazi Conscience, Claudia Koonz (book)
The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert O. Paxton (book)
In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson (book)
Why Did Trump Win?, Anis Shivani (book)
The Truth About Right-Wing Conspiracy…And Why Clinton and the Democrats Are No Answer, Bob Avakian, revcom.us (article)
When It’s Too Late to Stop Fascism, According to Stefan Zweig, George Prochnik, The New Yorker (article)
The First White President, Ta-Nahesi Coates, The Atlantic (article)
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism…You Have to Drive It from Power, Perry Hoberman, Counterpunch (article)
Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus, Katherine Stewart, New York Times (op-ed)
What We’re Facing Post-Election with Trump on a Rampage, Sunsara Taylor and Sarah Roark, WBAI (audio interview)
How Fascism Works, Jason Stanley (book)
Alt-Right, Age of Rage, Netflix (full length documentary)
If You’re Not Scared About Fascism in the U.S., You Should Be, Jason Stanley, New York Times (op-ed and video)
Even Our Political Satirists Cannot Keep Up with Trump, Mehnaaz Momen, Dallas Morning News (article)
Why Donald Trump Could Win Again, Dave Eggers, The Guardian (article)
Fascism is Fascism, Umair Haque, Medium (article)
(always reading)refusefascism.org (website for the movement Refuse Fascism, with ongoing analysis of latest developments under Trump/Pence regime)
One observation and conclusion: While historians like Claudia Koonz and Jason Stanley can tell you a lot about how fascism works, they often don’t have a conclusion or analysis about how to stop it. How to stop fascism is a contentious issue precisely because it appears to people to have legitimacy as a democratic movement. People think since it came to power through the normal channels, surely it can be removed the same way.
A lot of people are operating from this assumption. You see the ruling forces, even if they’re not fascists themselves, make deadly bargains and calculations about letting it get to a certain point and then reining it in, which becomes impossible.
There is also limited understanding of the relationship between fascist leaders and the fascist base. Antifa tactics largely go after the fascist base but leave the fascist leadership in power, or various groups like the ACLU try to protect people through the institutions even as the courts are being stacked with fascists, but would never call for removal of a fascist regime. Refuse Fascism has analyzed that with the election of Trump and Pence, fascists have risen to the highest levels of power as a culmination of a decades long fascist movement. They are organizing for a sustained, nonviolent mass protest movement with the single unifying demand that the Trump Pence regime must be removed from power. This is something that hasn’t been tried much against fascist regimes but has been used in recent history to remove very entrenched regimes (Egypt, right now in Algeria) and corrupt regimes (South Korea, Armenia).