ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialist Review, Spring 1962


Allen Taplin

Movement on the Right


From International Socialist Review, Vol.23 No.2, Spring 1962, pp.48-51.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Are the ultra-rightists merely troublesome crackpots or do they herald the growth of American Fascism? This writer’s analysis suggests that the question must be differently posed

* * *

WHAT springs to mind, as we look into the nature of the organizations of the reactionary right and into the reasons for their growth in the past few years, is the idea that we are seeing the development of a fascist movement in the United States. There seems to be general agreement on this point in the public press, and from most political viewpoints, including that of the President.

The more sophisticated observers note a resurgence of fascism in the the US. And this is more accurate. Fascism, in the sense of an extra-legal vigilanteism, of violence used against the working class, has always been a feature of our society.

It has appeared at various periods as the bed-sheeted nightriders of the Southern Ku Klux Klan; as local vigilante groups in the Southwest operating against attempts of the agricultural workers to form unions; and as Good Citizen Leagues in Northern industrial towns, created especially to prevent the organization of the mass production industries.

These were mainly local outfits, financed by local business interests and staffed by the small-business and backward working people, organized to accomplish specific jobs that the regular police and courts by themselves couldn’t quite handle.

Later, in times of general social turmoil – in the thirties and late forties – the US produced more sophisticated organizations, styled on the European models: the organizations of Father Coughlin, Gerald L.K. Smith, and others. And the early fifties produced the incipient fascist development of McCarthyism, in which the emphasis turned toward a witch-hunt against communism, against internal subversion.

While McCarthy never built an organization of his own he attracted to his banner dozens and hundreds of local fascist groups in search of a leader. Now, however, what accounts for this fascist type of movement in the form of the ultra-right today?

WHILE it is true that the US is not racked by depression and social crisis, still, we have been living for well over a decade in a state of social tension – a very long period of ever-increasing social tension. This of course does not by itself create fascism, but it has prepared a rich soil for recruitment by the ultra-rightists.

Economic conditions have been generally good for a long period, for both business and those workers who are organized into unions, or in stable industries. But there are pressures that have acted to cause considerable dissatisfaction and a search for a way out by those affected.

One is the fairly rapid swing of boom and recession, since World War II. There is in fact very little basic confidence in the stability of the economy. The question people ask is not whether there will be another recession, but rather when will it hit and how bad will it be. And then, there is the impact of business rationalization, encompassing automation, mergers, a permanent farm crisis and permanent unemployment.

There is an intense pressure upon many layers of society. It hurts many middle-class layers in business and agriculture as hard or harder than it does some sections of the working class.

The one place that we can see a real social crisis is in the Negro struggle for civil rights. Since this struggle took on a national significance in the early nineteen fifties, it has grown steadily in scope and intensity, drawing in ever new layers throughout the nation, shaking up national politics, and giving a focus and purpose to the rebellious youth. In the South the Negro struggle has become a clear and present danger to the status quo. The very basis of the Southern way of life is in danger – the super-exploitation of the Negroes and poor whites, and the division and weakness of the working-class organizations there.

So it is no accident that the South is today one of the hotbeds of right wing sentiment and organization. And in its defense of racism, the South provides not a little of the ideology of the reactionary Right.

OVER everything else there is the cold war and the growing feeling that the United States is losing this war. A strong emotion in a country that before Korea had never lost a foreign war, nor even suffered in one. The Right recognizes as well as any that, today, the crises of foreign lands are not really foreign; that the status quo at home depends upon the maintenance of the status quo abroad. Their difference with the Establishment – that is, that the danger is not so much foreign communism as it is internal communism – is not a reversion to isolationism. It is rather a difference in strategy on how to achieve their common aim: how to keep the working people of the world from taking over from the owning people of the world.

The established institutions and official ideology of our society are being rejected in ever-wider circles. Large numbers of people are moving to the left and to the right, and while there is no definitive polarization as yet, there is certainly a movement, and its outlines are clear.

The movement to the left is ocurring mainly around the struggle for civil rights. Large numbers of young people are propelled today into action, and if they are not talking as much about politics and program as is the ultra-right, they are certainly doing more. The Right is doing a lot of talking. It is being built from the top down, so to speak, by the use of a lot of money, the spread of a lot of propaganda and the propagation of an ideology.

The fact that people have problems, that there are social tensions, is not of course enough to attract people to fascism. The fascists must have something to offer. It must claim to provide a solution. And even before this, the more ordinary political parties, social panaceas, and economic nostrums must have appeared as failures. For the program of fascism, violent, extreme, cruel, can only attract those who see no solutions elsewhere.

This process of disillusionment is occuring today in the rejection of liberalism. Though the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations don’t call themselves by this name, their policies are fundamentally the same as those of Roosevelt and Truman, and they are properly labeled together.

ASIDE from the government, the other big popular force that in the recent past has given leadership, both organizational and ideological, to masses of people, is the labor movement. But the labor movement is not doing much these days, and unfortunately it is in many eyes almost as tarnished as is the government. While politicians are popularly considered to be opportunist hypocrites, labor leaders are often thought of as corrupt gangsters.

As for the socialist movement, it’s not reaching much of the population today.

So a turn to the right, away from liberalism, is occuring among many of the youth as in much of the middle class. Those who reject liberalism are being offered something by the propagandists of the Right. Just as the European fascists did, they offer mysticism, then demagogy. Mysticism is provided to bind together the heterogeneous and often conflicting groups. Demagogy is provided as a fake solution to real problems.

The mysticism of the European fascists largely revolved around the Cult of the Leader and the Cult of the Fatherland, and around the notion of the master-race. As their movements developed, other secondary mysticisms arose, giving special qualities to the youth, to war veterans, to the fascist martyrs.

Here in the US, men like Robert Welch of the John Birch Society, have developed a position on the “leader mystique” that is quite similar to that of the Nazis. But, of course, their leader has not yet arrived and so this particular cult has hardly gotten off the ground.

The big idea among the rightists today is the notion of “freedom.” The word appears in the names of their organizations, in the titles of their books, in their slogans. A new biography of Barry Goldwater is even subtitled: Freedom Is His Flight Plan. This is the positive side of the mystique. What the rightists want is “freedom”! The negative side, what the rightists oppose, is “communism,” and more precisely, internal communism, internal subversion and conspiracy. Here they are most virulent and most inclusive. The picture of the enemy that they conjure up is as sharp and realistic as the many enemies the Nazis produced for their followers: the Bolshevik menace, the international Jewish Bankers, and so on.

A corrolary of the mystique of the enemy is the notion of traitors in high office. Their cry is that the Republic has been sold out, down with treason, with corruption, with opportunism in politics. It is easy for them to denounce all that is rotten in public life, and their distorted view of a corrupt Establishment is quite similar to that of the Nazis. Senator McCarthy’s fascist demagogy played on this central theme: We were sold out by “traitors,” “dupes” and “eggheads.” We were betrayed by “perverts” in the State Department, and by the “twisted-thinking intellectuals [who] have taken over both, the Democratic and Republican parties.”

Robert Welch wrote his Blue Book between 1954 and 1958, before he organized the John Birch Society. In this book he tells his opinion of Eisenhower. This opinion, more than anything else, has gotten the publicity that has made the society the best-known of all the new right-wing organizations.

HARD as it is to believe, Welch wrote that Eisenhower was a dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy, and that the chances were very strong that Milton Eisenhower was actually Eisenhower’s superior and boss within the Communist Party. Those who want to be charitable may believe that the former president is following the CP out of political opportunism, but Welch thinks that his motivation is really ideological – that is, Eisenhower believes in communism, knowingly accepts and abides by Communist orders, and has consciously served the communist conspiracy for all his adult life.

Another person, Allen Dulles, the ex-head of the Central Intelligence Agency, is also a communist agent according to Welch. As head of the CIA, Dulles was the most protected and untouchable supporter of communism in Washington, next to Eisenhower himself. One of the important things Dulles did for communism was to turn uncounted millions of dollars over to Walter Reuther to promote communism in Europe – and he also gave a few millions to David Dubinsky and Jay Lovestone, who are admitted communists – but claim to be anti-Stalinist communists, Welch says.

And furthermore, according to Welch, if only McCarthy could have had his way he might have been able to show that the CIA is the most communist-infested of all our agencies of government.

Likewise the racist theories of the Nazis are among the oldest notions of the American fascists. Racism, anti-Semitism, hatred of foreigners, has always been a part of this American tradition. But the common attitude in the US today on this question is much more liberal than it has ever been. Anti-Semitism doesn’t make much headway any more, even though perhaps more of the fascist hate-sheets are devoted to this subject than to any other. Racism in the US takes the form of a fight against the struggle for civil rights for Negroes. This job of spreading propaganda of white superiority has been taken over by the Southern wing of the ultra-right as their own specialty.

DEMAGOGY, as we have learned from the European experience, is also a necessary part of fascist propaganda. In order to give his followers something to fight for, Hitler had to make a show of anticapitalism and provide radical political programs, even to the point of calling his movement socialist. But fascism actually has no ideology of its own – no principles of its own. It dresses itself in whatever ideological costume appears most attractive, and caters to whatever the disaffected masses want to hear.

The socialist and anti-capitalist tradition is weak in the US and the “radical” right does not use it now.

It has so far limited itself to such economic programs as the repeal of the income tax and the open shop. This shortage of radical social demagogy is due to the absence of any real social crisis today, and the absence of privation on the part of those to whom the Right appeals. Those who are dissatisfied with the government are more insecure than deprived, more worried about losing what they have than regaining something they have lost.

The period of full-blown fascist demagogy has not arrived – but with any real downturn in the economy we can expect to hear a lot of it, if the radical and labor movements default on their historic responsibility.

In general, our own native fascists don’t match the European variety in the realm of theory. And though they may try to catch up, I don’t expect they will ever quite make it. Intellectualism and a concern for theory is much more the European tradition. Our own tradition, in all fields, is less theoretical, more pragmatic, even anti-intellectual.

But when it comes to know-how, the American is top dog. It is in the organized use of violence that the American fascists will probably make their major contributions. Right now the fascist use of extra-legal methods, of open violence, is common only in the South. But even there, they are on the defensive, in the larger sense. It is the Negro people, particularly the youth, and their allies, such as the Freedom Riders, that are on the offensive.

In a word then, we are not about to be overwhelmed by fascist gangs; but still, those gangs are being organized.

WHAT are the prospects for the growth of the ultra-right? The current rightist movement is developing with a different relationship to the Establishment than did the McCarthyite clique. Whereas McCarthy operated inside the government and with early reactionary toleration and even some support from both Truman and Eisenhower, today’s reactionary right is developing outside the government and in opposition to the hostility of the government.

Kennedy did not brush them aside as a bunch of crackpots, but felt compelled to answer their basic ideas. His essentially defensive line was that the danger of communism comes from without, not within, and that our official institutions, and not a man on horseback, are the best safeguards for the country.

Even more significantly, the Army forced General Walker to resign once his pro-Birch Society actions became a public scandal.

The major reason for all this is not the greater liberalism of Kennedy over Truman or Eisenhower. It is that Kennedy is following different tactics in his prosecution of the cold war. These liberal government policies are part of a main line of serving the immediate needs of Big Business through:

  1. a further integration with the economies of the advanced European countries, carried out by means of ties to the European Common Market;
  2. a continued exploitation of those colonial areas still dominated by the US, especially Latin America, and a penetration into those few areas like the Congo that are newly accessible to American capital; and
  3. a continued rationalization of American industry.

These policies depend on a social and political status quo – the maintenance of class peace at home and abroad. Here at home the Administration is still in luck. Its main opponent, the labor movement, is still no more than a potential threat. Overseas though, the government has a big problem. The colonial world is still in upheaval; it has been sixteen years since the war ended and the colonial revolutions haven’t slowed down, much less stopped.

This is the government’s big problem, the problem that must be solved right now, the problem that all the great debates have been about.

The official theory here is that it’s all Russia’s fault, that foreign communism, not internal subversion, is our big problem. Despite all their other differences, this is agreed upon by all shades of respectable opinion, conservative to liberal.

Here, we know, the reactionary right disagrees.

THE OTHER issue with the Right is whether or not the existing institutions – aside from their policies – are capable of dealing with the problems. Here is where the ultra-right appears most ludicrous, where it has been attacked the most, from liberals and conservatives alike. And here, in fact, is where a real difference between the Administration and its liberal critics does exist.

For the reality is that the Establishment is not only capable of dealing with internal subversion – especially since there is none, anyway – but it has already done away with most of the democratic prerogatives that the people once held. The new-style state apparatus that has grown up since Roosevelt’s New Deal has variously been called the Military-Industrial Complex, the Juggernaut, the Garrison State, the Warfare State. A relatively small group of power elites has concentrated all real power into its hands, and all quite legally. This super-powerful government of Big Business is considered to be quite adequate to handle its interests.

American capitalism doesn’t need fascism and Big Business is satisfied with its government. The economy is still doing fairly well; there is no social crisis. In short, there is no real need for fascism, and so there is no really important support for it in the ruling circles.

Not yet anyway.

THERE are some new attitudes worth noting in the positions of both liberals and ordinary “respectable” conservatives toward the ultra-right.

For one, the reactionary Right is almost universally recognized to be fascist in character. Previously, especially in the late forties, it was one of the jobs of the socialists to convince the public that the racists and demagogues of those times were fascists and a real threat. It was the same in the case of McCarthy.

This idea appears to be commonplace today. Respectable publications, from the Nation and New Republic through the New York Times and Saturday Evening Post, contain articles dealing not just with the crackpot fringe, but precisely with the fascist menace. Secondly, where the attitude used to be: “ignore them, don’t give them publicity and they will wither and die,” it is now common to read that “they must be exposed to the merciless glare of publicity – tell people what they really stand for and they will wither and die.”

Of course, neither notion explains the problem nor deals with it. They both ignore the basic nature of fascism as a way of preserving capitalism when all other means have failed, a way involving the physical destruction of the organizations of the working class.

The publicity and open opposition the Right has received from both press and government can slow their growth today. At the same time it serves to toughen up those that are attracted to it, to make it somewhat more stable and less likely to lay down with the first sharp blow, as was largely the case with McCarthy’s followers when the Establishment turned against him in 1954.

The groups on the right are going through something of a period of consolidation right now after their big publicity splash last year. Many of them have been looking toward General Walker as their long-sought man on horseback, the leader around whose person the entire reactionary Right could be mobilized. Recently he has been speaking at Americanism rallies. At the last one, (in Jackson, Mississippi, December 29), he called Vice-President Johnson, “a left-wing politician.”

We can expect that the ultra-right will grow or shrink with the successes or defeats of the US in the cold war, and it will grow noisier or quieter as the big money flows in or out of its pockets.

But whether the reactionary Right is headed for an immediate growth, or a slump, I think we can take it for granted that it has become a sinister threat in American politics.

Top of page

ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 22 May 2009