Blair is an appropriate choice when it comes to wielding this club. In 2010, while he headed up the Toronto Police Service, his officers engaged in a systematic and large-scale denial of democratic rights, directed against those protesting a gathering of the G20 leaders in the city. The crackdown they engaged in involved “using excessive force during the largest mass arrests in Canadian history…and locking up more than 1100 people in gulag-like conditions that contravened Canadian law and police policy.”
In fairness to Blair, he didn’t invent heavy-handed and politically motivated police methods in Toronto. In June 2000, his predecessor, Julian Fantino, unleashed riot police and mounted units against a protest challenging growing homelessness at the Ontario Legislature. It was called by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) with which I was an organizer at the time. When the crowd resisted the police attacks, a major confrontation ensued. Fantino told the media that we had engaged in “domestic terrorism.” There were dozens of arrests and some of us faced “public order” criminal charges that had not been used for decades.
The following year, 19 OCAP members were arrested following a protest at the Ontario finance minister’s office, when we “evicted” him by throwing his furniture out on the street. Two weeks after my arrest, I was denied bail and returned to jail following a court hearing in which the prosecutor described our action as “an act of terrorism” and insisted that my release would constitute a “danger to the public.” When I suggest that the label of “terrorist” is one that can be used against working-class and left movements, it is not an abstract or fanciful consideration.
The state will only make limited use of repressive measures against the right. A threat to fundamental capitalist interests is going to come from the left, and that’s where the fire will be directed for the most part. However, the nasty shock of the volatile and erratic Trump drawing on the most extreme elements to attack the governing institutions has alarmed the leading capitalists and created a situation where action is being taken against the far right.
In Canada, this development has found its echo in the use of anti-terrorism legislation against the Proud Boys. That these powers have been deployed domestically, however vile and reprehensible the immediate target may be, is deeply concerning, and we can’t be naïve about the same methods being used the threaten working-class rights.
The capitalist state is not reducible to its political leaders and governing institutions. Its security forces have their own priorities and agendas, and the ranks of those institutions are deeply imbued with sympathy for the far right. The FBI may be rounding up rightists who went too far but that repressive agency has anything but clean hands when it comes to white supremacy. Blair, a former police chief, may find it expedient to issue a dictate against the Proud Boys, but the force he used to run is full of officers who have much in common with the out of favor fascists and who would be much happier smashing a picket line or attacking a Black Lives Matter protest.
This kind of police bias ensures that fascist criminality is tolerated while the formal legal rights of those who challenge them are disregarded or violated. Police will ensure the “free speech” of the far right is vigorously protected but will look the other way when those challenging racial injustice are attacked by fascist thugs. From the level of legislative enactment down to the policing of street protests, the state is not on our side and will not in any consistent or serious fashion protect us from fascist attack.
4. Working-Class Action Is the Weapon Against Fascism
In contrast to the weak and dangerous perspective of looking to the capitalist state as a protector, there is another approach to dealing with fascism that has a long and proud tradition. That, of course, is mass working-class action and the mobilization of communities threatened by their racism and violence to stop the fascists. In order to grow as a political force, fascism must claim the streets, as it uses violence and intimidation to prevent those it targets from rallying against it. Accordingly, it must be overwhelmed and dispersed by a mass mobilization it can’t match.
The Battle of Cable Street in London in 1936 saw one of the most famous and dramatic examples of challenging fascism with mass action. Blackshirts, protected by 7000 police, tried to march through the Jewish communities of the East End of the city. Roughly 100,000 working class people blocked their path and turned them back at Cable Street. Just 3 years earlier, with “swastika clubs” springing up across the city, Jewish people and allies confronted the fascists decisively in what became known as the “Christie Pits Riot.” Reaching from that period up to the present day, there is a rich history of driving fascist movements from the streets and the need to intensify this form of struggle is growing ever more important.
It might be useful to consider a hugely unlikely scenario. Let’s imagine that, instead of asking the Liberals to put their repressive and racist anti-terrorism legislation to unconventional use, NDP leader Singh had issued a call for mass action against the Proud Boys and other fascist hatemongers. Let us envisage a situation where the NDP organized meetings across Canada, in union halls and community centers, to form anti-fascist organizing committees that could put a force on the streets that would make it impossible for the far right to rally and that demoralized and dispersed them. How much more would have been achieved by building the solidarity and unity of a diverse and powerful working class than by looking to the Liberals and the capitalist state? However, since the NDP leaders won’t take this course and initiate such a movement, it’s up to socialists and anti-racists to build it.
In this crisis-ridden period, the politics of the neoliberal mainstream, represented by politicians like Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau, can’t contain the growth of the far right because they seek to perpetuate the system and worsening conditions of life that feed that growth. We can’t stop fascism by relying on capitalist politicians and their dubious and dangerous legal protections, but we also can’t stop it unless we challenge the system from which it springs forth. Trump miscalculated when he unleashed the Proud Boys because the capitalist class is not yet ready to call on the services of such people. Conditions of worsening crisis and rising working-class resistance could change that, and a fascist street army, with plenty of friends in high places, might well emerge.
Fascism expresses the historical bankruptcy of capitalism. Its hate-filled ideology reflects the crisis of the system, and its forces are the warped human products of that crisis. Its defeat will not be achieved with appeals to the institutions of the state but through a working-class mobilization that is as anti-capitalist as it is anti-fascist.