Issue #139 Racial Fascism

Racial Fascism

Alberto Toscano

Installation view of Kinetics of Violence by Alexander Calder and Cady Noland, New York, Venus Over Manhattan, 2017.

Issue #139
October 2023

Swastikas bloomed in Chicago parks like misbegotten weeds.
—Martin Luther King, “Drive to End Slums” (1967)

Nothing is more important than stopping fascism because fascism will stop us all.
—Fred Hampton (1969)

BALDWIN: It’s very hard to recognize that the standards which have almost killed you are really mercantile standards. They’re based on cotton; they’re based on oil; they’re based on peanuts; they’re based on profits.
GIOVANNI: To this day.
BALDWIN: To this hour.
—James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, A Dialogue (1971)

Fascism was a monster born of capitalist parents. Fascism came as the end-product of centuries of capitalist bestiality, exploitation, domination and racism—mainly exercised outside of Europe. It is highly significant that many settlers and colonial officials displayed a leaning towards fascism.
—Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972)

Let us be reminded that before there is a final solution, there must be a first solution, a second one, even a third.
—Toni Morrison, “Racism and Fascism” (1995)1

It Did Happen Here

Just as the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election witnessed the mainstreaming of scholarly and activist discussions of fascism in the United States and beyond, the frantic quickening of the news cycle on the eve of the 2020 contest was again accompanied by multiple efforts to check America’s authoritarian pulse. Despite the deadly farce of the January 6 white riot (America’s own beer-bong putsch), the departure of the forty-fifth president has made way for a rushed remaindering in some quarters of the debate on native (or, better, nativist) fascism. The Black radical perspectives on the fascist problematic surveyed below—with their commonly neglected insistence on the structuring role of fascist potentials to the US body politic—would suggest that we instead stay with the trouble that briefly forced even some liberal partisans of American exceptionalism to consider that fascism was not some dreadful anachronism imported from the Old World; that instead, to paraphrase H. Rap Brown, it might be “as American as cherry pie,” deeply enmeshed in histories of enslavement and extermination, dispossession and domination that continue to shape the US present, materially and ideologically.

Where in 2016 attention gravitated towards the incoming administration’s organic and ideological links with the extreme right (Bannon, Miller, Spencer & Co.), the context of a mass civic insurgency against police murder and racial terror—the George Floyd Rebellion—shifted the tenor and relevance of invocations of fascism in ways that should be allowed to resonate irrespective of changed occupancy in the Oval Office. In the months leading up to the 2020 election, the systemic challenge posed by mass Black-led movements against the racial and carceral state was displaced by the US government onto the familiar figure of the (white) anarchist (or communist) agitator, as “Antifa” became a target for William Barr’s Department of Justice (still undecided whether this was a “foreign terrorist organization” or an internal “seditious” group). In the interim, the fauna of right-wing agitation grew weirder and more sinister still, thanks to QAnon, the Boogaloo movement, the Oath Keepers, and the Proud Boys—who clearly took the presidential guidance to “stand down and stand by” all too literally. The state’s exceptional powers—that dependable matrix of historical fascisms—were flexed in scenes of unidentified federal agents bundling protesters into unmarked rental vans and in the shooting of Michael Reinoehl by a US Marshals task force, even if further escalations did not eventuate.2 Meanwhile, on the ideological stage, “critical race theory” (along with the New York Times “1619 Project”) was loudly proclaimed to be an “ideological poison” that must be “quickly extinguished”; the Executive Branch’s Office of Management and Budget dispatched a memo to all federal agencies to “cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund … divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions”; and an executive order condemned anti-racist critics for advancing a “vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities,” a ludicrous case of projection if there ever was one. This very recent history should not be treated as a freakish blip; rather, as demonstrated by the persistence of the politics and personnel that made it possible (not least at the level of state legislatures that have ramped up their projects of racial disenfranchisement, dispossession, and ecocide), it demands acknowledgment as the index of an entrenched and arguably burgeoning political potential.

Notwithstanding the changing terrain, talk of fascism has generally stuck to a familiar groove, namely asking whether present phenomena are analogous to those of interwar European fascisms.3 Skeptics of comparison will underscore how the analogy of fascism either treats the present moment as exceptional, papering over US histories of authoritarianism, or, alternatively, is so broad as to fail to define what is unique about our current predicament. Analogy’s advocates will instead point to the need to detect family resemblances with past despotisms before it’s too late, often making their case by advancing some ideal-typical check list, whether in terms of the elements of or the steps towards fascism. But what if our talk of fascism were not dominated by the question of analogy?

Attending to the long history of Black radical thought about fascism and anti-fascist resistance—what Cedric Robinson called a “Black construction of fascism,” an alternative to the “the historical manufacture of fascism as a negation of Western Geist”—could serve to dislodge the debate about fascism from the deadlock of analogical thinking, providing the resources to confront our volatile interregnum.4 Long before Nazi violence came to be conceived as beyond comparison, Black radical thinkers sought to expand the historical and political imagination of an anti-fascist left by detailing how what could be perceived from a European or white vantage point as a radically new form of ideology and violence was in effect continuous with the history of (settler-)colonial dispossession and racial slavery.

Langston Hughes in a 1943 photo taken by Gordon Parks for the US Office of War Information. Source: Library of Congress.

The pan-Africanist intellectual and activist George Padmore, breaking with the Communist International over its failure to think the nexus between “democratic” imperialism and fascism, would write in How Britain Rules Africa (1936) of settler-colonial racism as “the breeding-ground for the type of fascist mentality which is being let loose in Europe today.” He would go on to see in South Africa “the world’s classic Fascist state” grounded on the “unity of race as against class.”5 Padmore’s anatomy of what he termed “colonial fascism” thus anticipated the memorable depiction of fascism as the boomerang effect of European imperialist violence in Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism. It was also echoed by the Tunisian-Jewish writer Albert Memmi, and by the Guyanese historian and activist Walter Rodney, when he wrote of the “fascist potential of colonialism” with specific reference to settler support for the Vichy regime and pied-noir efforts to destabilize liberal rule in metropolitan France.6 The anti-colonial conviction whereby the standpoint of the targets of racial violence gives the lie to the exceptionality of intra-European fascism was also echoed by African-American intellectuals. Speaking in Paris at the anti-fascist International Writer’s Congress in 1937, the poet Langston Hughes would declare: “In America, Negroes do not have to be told what fascism is in action. We know. Its theories of Nordic supremacy and economic suppression have long been realities to us.”7 This was a lesson that could also be drawn from the monumental historical reckoning with US racial capitalism that is Du Bois’s 1935 Black Reconstruction in America. As Amiri Baraka suggested, the overthrow of Reconstruction enacted a “racial fascism” that long predated Hitlerism in its use of racial terror, co-optation of poor whites, and passionate investments in white supremacy among ample sectors of the capitalist class, financial as well as industrial.8 Reading the present via this lens can make palpable how and why “institutionally the historical furniture filling America’s political space has already been arranged in such a way that it would always leave open the prospect of evolving even greater authoritarian forms like fascism.”9

In this view, an American racial fascism could go unremarked because it operated on the other side of the color line, just as colonial fascism took place at a spatial and epistemic remove from the imperial metropole. As Jean Genet observed on May 1, 1970 at a rally in New Haven for the liberation of Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale: “Another thing worries me: fascism. We often hear the Black Panther Party speak of fascism, and whites have difficulty accepting the word. That’s because whites have to make a great effort of imagination to understand that blacks live under an oppressive fascist regime.”10

Fascism, Prisons, and Black Liberation

It was largely due to the Panthers, or at least in their orbit, that “fascism” returned to the forefront of radical discourse and activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s—the United Front Against Fascism conference held in Oakland in 1969 brought together a wide swath of the Old and New Lefts, as well as Asian-American, Chicano, and Puerto Rican activists who had developed their own perspectives on American fascism (for instance, by foregrounding the experience of Japanese internment during World War II).11 In a striking testament to the peculiarities and continuities of US anti-fascist traditions, among the chief planks of the conference was the notionally reformist demand for community or decentralized policing—to remove racist white officers from Black neighborhoods and exert local checks on law enforcement. It is not, however, to leading members of the Black Panther Party but to political prisoners close to the Panthers that we must turn for theories about the nature of late fascism in the United States. While debates about “new fascisms” were polarizing radical debate across Europe, the writing and correspondence of Angela Y. Davis and George Jackson outlined the possibility of theorizing fascism from the direct experience of the violent nexus between the carceral state and racial capitalism.12

In one of his prison letters on fascism, collected in Blood in My Eye, George Jackson offered the following reflection:

When I am being interviewed by a member of the old guard and point to the concrete and steel, the tiny electronic listening device concealed in the vent, the phalanx of goons peeping in at us, his barely functional plastic tape-recorder that cost him a week’s labor, and point out that these are all manifestations of fascism, he will invariably attempt to refute me by defining fascism simply as an economic geo-political affair where only one party is allowed to exist aboveground and no opposition political activity is allowed.13

Following Jackson, we might ask: What happens to the turns and returns of the theoretical debate over fascism and (neo-)authoritarianism when it undergoes a Gestalt shift and takes the racial capitalist state and its carceral apparatus as its fulcrum, in something like a “tilt shot angled from below” that might disclose “a panorama of violence endured”?14 As Jacques Derrida intimated in an unsent letter to Jean Genet, dated one day prior to Jackson’s assassination by a guard sniper at San Quentin:

In a prison—this one and others—where it thought it had put its outside in chains, the system of (Western-white-capitalist-racist) society has made possible, by this act, the analysis of its functioning, a practical analysis that is at once the most implacable, the most desperate, but also the most affirmative.15

It has become commonplace in discussions of fascism to castigate the 1970s as a kind of cognitive nadir when fascism was degraded from a category of historical analysis and taxonomy into a one-size-fits-all political insult, with dire consequences. In what follows, I want to take the imprudent wager that there is virtue and insight in the seeming exaggeration or inflation of fascism in the context of seventies radicalism and liberation politics. But I especially want to underscore how viewing fascism through the prism of Black radical intellectual traditions can redirect our contemporary debate in fruitful and important ways. What might happen to our conceptions of fascism and authoritarianism if we took our bearings not from putative analogies with the European interwar scene, but, for instance, from the materiality of the prison-industrial complex, from the “concrete and steel,” from the devices and the personnel of surveillance and repression? Probing the analytical nexus of fascism and racial capitalism forged in the liberation struggles of the 1970s, we can also connect it back to the analysis of fascism emerging from Black theorists in the interwar period and forward to the afterlives of fascism in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

February, 1972: Angela Davis speaks to the press at a press conference following her release on bail during her trial. L-R: Howard Moore (lawyer), Fania Jordan, Angela. Franklin Alexander stands behind Angela. Photo: Stephen Shames.

In their writing and correspondence, which is marked by differences of interpretation interwoven with a profound comradeship, both Angela Y. Davis and George Jackson identified the US state apparatus as the site for a reemergence or indeed a perfecting of certain features of (European) historical fascisms. Much of their theorizing is suffused by contemporary debates on the nature of monopoly capitalism, imperialism, and capitalist crises, as well as, in Jackson’s case, by an effort to revisit the classical historiography on fascism. Of note and relevance for contemporary concerns is the specific light that the prism of race—of racial domination and racial capitalism—sheds on the nexus of fascism and democracy, and how it can help us to interrogate and displace the normative conviction regarding the absolute antithesis between fascist despotism and liberal democracy. Both Jackson and Davis are profoundly aware of the disanalogies between present forms of domination and historical fascism, but they both assert the epistemologically privileged vantage point provided by the view from within a carceral-judicial system that could fairly be described as a racial state of terror. In distinct ways, they can be seen to relay and recode that foundational gesture of anti-racist and Black radical anti-fascism crystallized in Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism. As the Martinican poet and politician tells it: “And then one fine day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific boomerang effect: the gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers standing around the racks invent, refine, discuss.”16

But the new form of American fascism that Jackson and Davis anatomize is not an unwanted return from the other space of colonial violence; it originates from the bosom of liberal democracy itself. The prisons are already full. And rather than a boomerang, the generalization of racialized carceral terror into society at large—which is one of the foremost features of the new fascism—is a much less dramatic or sudden process of seepage, the permeation of the social space of actually existing liberalism by models and devices invented, refined, and discussed amid concrete and steel. As Mullen and Vials justly observe:

For people of color at various historical moments, the experience of racialization within a liberal democracy could have the valence of fascism. That is to say, while a fascist state and a white supremacist democracy have very different mechanisms of power, the experience of racialized rightlessness within a liberal democracy can make the distinction between it and fascism murky at the level of lived experience. For those racially cast aside outside of liberal democracy’s system of rights, the word “fascism” does not always conjure up a distant and alien social order.17

Like Davis, Jackson also stresses the necessity to grasp fascism not as a static form but as a process, profoundly affected by its political and economic contexts and conjunctures. Whence the limits of models, analogies, or ideal types. Jackson comments on “the defects of trying to analyse a movement outside of its process and its sequential relationships. You gain only a discolored glimpse of a dead past”; he remarks how, historically, fascism “developed from nation to nation out of differing levels of traditionalist capitalism’s dilapidation.”18 Now, while for the author of Soledad Brother fascism is profoundly linked to a restructuring of the capitalist state, it is also fundamentally a counterrevolutionary form, manifesting in the violence with which it meets any substantive threat to the integrity of the state of capital. It is nevertheless instructive to note that, echoing Nicos Poulantzas’s analysis in Fascism and Dictatorship, for Jackson fascism does not respond directly to an ascendant revolutionary force; it is a kind of delayed counterrevolution, parasitic on the weakness or defeat of the anti-capitalist left. The “opposition of a weak socialist revolution” is thus a shared feature among the various fascisms (one can sense the indictment of the contemporary left in Jackson’s historical allusion).19 In a nutshell then: “Fascism must be seen as an episodically logical stage in the socio-economic development of capitalism in a state of crisis. It is the result of a revolutionary thrust that was weak and miscarried—a consciousness that was compromised.”20 Viewed from the US vantage point, that compromise is necessarily entangled with the persistent pattern of the racialization of class that defines American history ever since the white-supremacist counterrevolution against Black Reconstruction, or indeed ever since Bacon’s Rebellion and the concomitant “invention of the white race.”21 As Jackson quips: “Marx’s definition of history as a broken, twisted, sordid spectrum of class struggles is substantiated by Amerikan labor history.”22

Fascism in the United States had achieved a kind of perfected form for Jackson—all the more insidiously hegemonic because of the marriage of monopoly capital with the (racialized) trappings of liberal democracy. As he declared:

Fascism has established itself in a most disguised and efficient manner in this country. It feels so secure that the leaders allow us the luxury of faint protest. Take protest too far, however, and they will show their other face. Doors will be kicked down in the night and machine-gun fire and buckshot will become the medium of exchange.23

Emory Douglas’s work for The Black Panther newspaper, 1969.

Notwithstanding the national and conjunctural mutability of fascism, Jackson provocatively claimed that (economic) reform could be identified as “a working definition of fascist motive forces,” one that was particularly apt for the political expressions of US monopoly capital.

In Angela Y. Davis’s concurrent analysis, the carceral, liberationist perspective on fascism is both further refined and shifted. For Davis, American fascism in the early 1970s took what was best described as a preventive and incipient form. The terminology was borrowed and adapted from her former teacher Herbert Marcuse. In a 1970 interview with Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Marcuse had proposed inverting the customary political sequence that would see fascism as reactive not just in social content but in temporal form—whether responding immediately to a potentially triumphant revolutionary upsurge or, in a mediated way, to an already defeated or ebbing challenge to capitalism. It is not reaction but anticipation that animates this new figure of fascism. As Marcuse tells Enzensberger:

I believe that there is something like preventative fascism. In the last ten to twenty years we’ve experienced a preventative counter-revolution to defend us against a feared revolution, which, however, has not taken place and doesn’t stand on the agenda at the moment. In the same way preventative fascism comes about.24

The question of the possibility of fascism in the United States, much debated by liberation movements and the far left throughout the seventies and into the eighties, is for Marcuse deeply entangled with the concrete forms taken by “preventative counterrevolution” as a core strategic imperative of the capitalist establishment, as well as its specific modalities of “preventive counter-violence.”25 The specificity of this anticipatory logic is also closely linked to the distinctive disanalogies between this “incipient fascism” and its interwar European precursors. As Marcuse reflects:

The question is whether fascism is taking over in the United States. If by that we understand the gradual or rapid abolition of the remnants of the constitutional state, the organization of paramilitary troops such as the Minutemen, and granting the police extraordinary legal powers such as the notorious no-knock law which does away with the inviolability of the home; if one looks at the court decisions of recent years; if one knows that special troops—so-called counterinsurgency corps—are being trained in the United States for possible civil war; if one looks at the almost direct censorship of the press, television and radio: then, as far as I’m concerned, one can speak with complete justification of an incipient fascism … American fascism will probably be the first which comes to power by democratic means and with democratic support.26

Fascism here defines a set of repressive tactics, as well as an encompassing political and ideological process, which differentially targets racialized and subaltern populations whose very existence and sociality are perceived as a threat—whence the porous borders between the “criminal” and the “political prisoner.” It is a process in which—to borrow from Jackson’s characterization of the “oppressive contract” underlying US capitalism—“accrual of contempt [for the oppressed] is [a] fundamental survival technique.”27

Davis develops the Marcusean thesis that “fascism is the preventive counter-revolution to the socialist transformation of society,” specifying that transformation from the vantage point of the lived experience of racialized communities in the United States.28 For the state, the most threatening feature of Black revolutionary politics takes the form not so much of the armed struggle invoked by Jackson but of the “survival programs,” the enclaves of autonomous social reproduction practiced by the Black Panthers and other militant and activist groups. What can be gleaned from Davis’s account more broadly are the differential visibility and experience of both fascism and democracy. In this regard, it can help to attune us to the ways in which race and gender, alongside class, can also determine the modality in which fascism is lived.29

There is a kind of everyday fascism that marks the interaction of people of color with the state, and which, while acting as the repressive infrastructure of a liberal democracy still steeped in the legacies of white supremacy, also signals the possibility or tendency to generalize incipient or preventive fascism to the population at large. As Davis warns, fascism in the early 1970s is “primarily restricted to the use of the law-enforcement-judicial-penal apparatus to arrest the overt and latent-revolutionary trends among nationally oppressed people, tomorrow it may attack the working class en masse and eventually even moderate democrats.”30 But the latter are, alas, unlikely fully to perceive this phenomenon, both because of the making invisible of its site—carceral space with its “totalitarian aspirations”—and the dilated character of its unfolding, of its time.31 The kind of fascism diagnosed by Davis is a “protracted social process,” whose “growth and development are cancerous in nature.”32 Davis’s analyses direct us to the prison as a racialized enclave or laboratory for the fascistic strategies and tactics of counterrevolution, which are in turn understood in terms of a molecular social process. Both spatially and temporally, the perception of fascist realities and potentialities is occluded by the opacity of their social and political infrastructure. As Davis would later write, in the context of her abolitionist activism:

The dangerous and indeed fascistic trend toward progressively greater numbers of hidden, incarcerated human populations is itself rendered invisible. All that matters is the elimination of crime—and you get rid of crime by getting rid of people who, according to the prevailing racial common sense, are the most likely people to whom criminal acts will be attributed.33

Dylan Rodriguez has powerfully captured the originality and challenge of the “fascism problematic” that Davis and Jackson forged out of the political violence of confinement. Notwithstanding their partially divergent evaluations, in naming a fascist present in the United States (whether incipient or accomplished) they share in “a theoretical and symbolic political gesture that fosters an epistemological break from the common sense of U.S. white supremacy and the regime of state violence on which it is premised.”34 This gesture is twofold. On the one hand, it anchors racial, carceral, and counterinsurgent violence in political economy—not just by identifying the instrumentality of brutal repression in the reproduction of class relations, but by amplifying the Fanonian insight that we should consider violence “as a primary and productive (rather than merely repressive) articulation of particular social formations.”35 On the other, the reformulation of the fascist problematic from the vantage point of racialized political incarceration has the lasting virtue of troubling the facile if ideologically inescapable opposition of fascism and (liberal) democracy. As Rodriguez pointedly asks: “How might our political understanding of the United States be altered or dismantled if we were to conceptualize fascism as the restoration of a liberal hegemony, a way out of crisis, rather than as the symptom of crisis or the breakdown of ‘democracy’ and ‘civil society’?”36

As ever, rearticulating the analysis and etiology of fascism also inflects the strategic imaginary of anti-fascism:

The dynamic, strategic relations of violence condensing within the American social formation at different times and in different places are neither accidental nor excessive, and the challenge of this reconceptualized fascism problematic is to comprehend the socially reproductive capacities of coercive technologies and (proto-)genocidal practice within the current order.37

From a complementary angle, Nikhil Pal Singh has illuminated the historical nexus between the “preventive wars” waged by US imperialism and the fascist potentialities inherent to settler-colonialism and chattel slavery. As he writes:

Poet Langston Hughes once described the casualties of U.S. expansion, slavery, and segregation as the victims of “our native fascisms”; as careful scholars affirmed, fascism was largely a deviation of democratic regimes. Thus, while democratic liberalism continually reimagines fascism as its monstrous Other, fascism might be better understood as its doppelganger or double—an exclusionary will to power that has regularly re-emerged, manifesting itself in: (1) those zones of internal exclusion within liberal-democratic societies (plantations, reservations, ghettos, and prisons); and (2) those sites where liberalism’s expansionist impulse and universalizing force has been able to evade its own “constitutional restraints” (the frontier, the colony, the state of emergency, the occupation, and the counter-insurgency).38

Gary Simmons, Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark (2014–ongoing).

Delving into racial and colonial fascisms—and into European “historical fascism” as “the last major drive for European colonial ventures in the twentieth century”—makes intelligible the superficially paradoxical notion of a “fascist freedom” (and the subjectivities of the Herrenvolk liberals and democrats who promote it).39 If fascism is also a product of the long history of “race wars,” then we cannot understand the fascist potentials of US nativism without attending, as Singh does, to the Indian Wars, and to the ways in which the settler-colonial organization of dispossessive violence vested “ordinary citizens with an expansive police power.”40 Unlike classical European fascisms, US racial and settler-colonial fascism does not manifest univocally as the apotheosis of sovereignty, as a jackbooted Leviathan. Rather, as Singh observes:

The construction of racist individualism and settler freedom that distinguished the Jacksonian democracy idealized by [Steve] Bannon, for instance, encouraged a slackness of centralized government control tethered to a violence exercised at its borders and margins, something that seemed chaotic, unstable, and disordered from the controlling seat of power. Considered in these terms, the Trump administration hardly needs organized paramilitaries to do its bidding, given the normative, historical, and institutional ways in which police powers in the United States operate as delegated and sovereign prerogatives to master and control indigenous and exogenous others.41


On Toni Morrison’s reflections on fascism, see Roderick Ferguson’s illuminating essay “We Cannot Be the Same After the Siege,” Allies, ed. Ed Pavlić et al. (Boston Review, 2019). See also Ferguson’s powerful call for an anti-fascist politicization grounded in queer-of-color critique in “Authoritarianism and the Planetary Mission of Queer of Color Critique,” Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies 21, no. 3 (2020).


Mike Baker and Evan Hill, “Police Say an Antifa Activist Likely Shot at Officers. His Gun Suggests Otherwise,” New York Times, April 10, 2021.


The recent New York Review of Books debate featuring Peter E. Gordon, Sam Moyn, and Sarah Churchwell provides an informative panorama of positions on this question. Peter E. Gordon, “Why Historical Analogy Matters,” New York Review of Books, January 7, 2020; Samuel Moyn, “The Trouble with Comparisons,” New York Review of Books, May 19, 2020; Sarah Churchwell, “American Fascism: It Has Happened Here,” New York Review of Books, June 22, 2020.


Cedric J. Robinson, “Fascism and the Response of Black Radical Theorists,” in Racial Capitalism, Black Internationalism and Cultures of Resistance, ed. H. L. T. Quan (Pluto, 2019), 149.


Quoted in Bill Schwartz, “George Padmore,” in West Indian Intellectuals in Britain, ed. Bill Schwartz (Manchester University Press, 2003), 141–2. Though unlike Padmore he maintained his fealty to Soviet Communism, R. Palme Dutt also discerned the continuities between European fascism and Empire: “In the poems of a Kipling, in the Boer War agitation of a Daily Mail, in the war dictatorship of a Lloyd George riding roughshod over constitutional forms and driving to the aim of a ‘Knock-out Blow,’ the spirit of Fascism is already present in embryonic forms.” R. Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social Revolution (Lawrence & Wishart, 1935), 240. See also Alfie Hancox, “Fascisation as an Expression of Imperialist Decay: Rajani Palme Dutt’s Fascism and Social Revolution,” Liberated Texts, March 23, 2021.


“Every colonial nation carries the seeds of fascist temptation in its bosom. What is fascism, if not a regime of oppression for the benefit of a few?” Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (1957; Earthscan, 2003), 106–7; Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972; Verso, 2018), 243.


Langston Hughes, “Too Much of Race,” Crisis 44, no. 9 (September 1937), 272. See also the poem “Beaumont to Detroit: 1943,” whose final lines are: “How long I got to fight / BOTH HITLER—AND JIM CROW.”


I borrow the term “racial fascism” from Baraka, who crucially posits a violent dialectic between the dynamics of racial domination in the United States and imperialism, a theme that Du Bois himself had powerfully underscored as early as “The African Roots of War” (1915): “Andrew Johnson’s point position in overthrowing Reconstruction and imposing a racial fascism on Afro America and the Afro American people readied the whole of the U.S. nation for imperialist rule, which today has moved to complete control of the entire nation.” Amiri Baraka, “Black Reconstruction: Du Bois & the U.S. Struggle for Democracy & Socialism,” Conjunctions, no. 29 (1997): 78.


Harry Harootunian, “A Fascism for Our Time,” Massachusetts Review, 2021. Harootunian details the “founding oligarchical intentions” and constitutional constructions that, in conjunction with the material histories of racial capitalism, have seeded sui generis fascist potentials into the US body politic and its ruling institutions.


Jean Genet, “May Day Speech,” in The Declared Enemy: Texts and Interviews, trans. Jeff Fort, ed. Albert Dichy (Stanford University Press, 2004), 38.


On anti-imperialist anti-fascism as coalitional politics among people of color in the United States, see also the fascinating essay by Michael Staudenmaier, “‘America’s Scapegoats’: Ideas of Fascism in the Construction of the US Latina/o/x Left, 1973–83,” in “Fascism and Anti-Fascism Since 1945,” special issue, Radical History Review, no. 138 (October 2020).


See for instance the dossier on “new fascism, new democracy” organized by Maoist militants around the newspaper La Cause du peuple in Les Temps modernes, no. 310 (1972), especially André Glucksmann’s article “Fascisme: L’ancien et le nouveau.” For the French Trotskyist debate, see Jean-Marie Brohm et al., Le gaullisme, et après? État fort et fascisation (François Maspero, 1974). The best critical appraisal of theories of fascism in the US revolutionary left in the 1970s is Noel Ignatin (Ignatiev), “Fascism: Some Common Misconceptions,” Urgent Tasks, no. 4 (1978).


George Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1972; Penguin, 1975), 121–22. For a contemporary theoretical discussion of Jackson’s theses, see ARM (Association for the Realization of Marxism), “George Jackson, Monopoly Capitalism and the Fascist Type of State,” The Black Liberator 2, no. 3 (1974–75).


Jean-Paul Sartre, “A Plea for Intellectuals,” in Between Existentialism and Marxism (Basic Books, 1974), 256.


Jacques Derrida, “Letter to Jean Genet (fragments),” Negotiations, ed. and trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford University Press, 2002), 43. See also Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen, “Yes Of Course … Derrida to Genet on Commitment in Favor of Jackson,” New Formations, no. 75 (2012); Tyler M. Williams, “Derrida and the Censorship of Literature,” New Centennial Review 20, no. 1 (2020).


Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans. Joan Pinkham (Monthly Review Press, 2001), 36. Where Pinkham translates “boomerang,” the original French speaks of a “choc en retour,” a “recoil,” “return shock,” or “backlash.”


Bill V. Mullen and Christopher Vials, editorial introduction to Penny Nakatsu, “Speech at the United Front against Fascism Conference (1969),” in The US Antifascism Reader, ed. Mullen and Vials (Verso, 2020), 271. See also the discussion of the “spatial metaphor” of fascism in Christopher Vials, Haunted by Hitler: Liberals, the Left, and the Fight Against Fascism in the United States (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).


Jackson, Blood in My Eye, 124, 125.


Jackson, Blood in My Eye, 125.


Jackson, Blood in My Eye, 126.


Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, vol. 2, The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America (Verso, 2012).


Jackson, Blood in My Eye, 148.


Jackson, Blood in My Eye, 158. See also Kathleen Cleaver, “Racism, Fascism, and Political Murder,” The Black Panther, September 14, 1968, 8.


Herbert Marcuse, “USA: Questions of Organization and the Revolutionary Subject,” The New Left and the 1960s: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, vol. 3, ed. Douglas Kellner (Routledge, 2005), 138. The notion of preventive counterrevolution had been used to define fascism in the Italian anarchist Luigi Fabbri’s La contro-rivoluzione preventiva: Riflessioni sul fascismo (L. Cappelli, 1922). See also R. Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social Revolution (Wildside Press, 2020), 123.


Étienne Balibar, “Outlines of a Topography of Cruelty: Citizenship and Civility in the Era of Global Violence,” Constellations 8, no. 1 (2001): 16.


Marcuse, “USA,” 137–38. The question of fascism’s new modalities is a leitmotif in the writings of Marcuse’s last decade. Sometimes he stresses, as in this passage, the objective possibility of a new fascism; at others, he soberly notes the limited if real freedoms that residually obtain in liberal capitalist democracies. See also Herbert Marcuse, “Le Monde Diplomatique” (1976), in Marxism, Revolution and Utopia: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, vol. 6, ed. Douglas Kellner and Clayton Pierce (Routledge, 2014), 360.


Jackson, Blood in My Eye, 162.


Angela Y. Davis and Bettina Aptheker, “Preface,” in If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance, ed. Angela Y. Davis (1971; Verso, 2016), xiv. See also Angela Y. Davis, “Political Prisoners, Prisons and Black Liberation,” in If They Come in the Morning, 37.


Half a century on, Davis insists on the relevance of the category of fascism, and its character as a reaction to Black liberation struggles. See “Interview with Angela Y. Davis,” in Revolutionary Feminisms: Conversations on Collective Action and Radical Thought, ed. Brenna Bhandar and Rafeef Ziadah (Verso, 2020), 209–10. Davis’s principal reference in her discussion of fascism remains Marcuse, especially his 1934 essay “The Struggle against Liberalism in the Totalitarian View of the State.”


Davis, “Political Prisoners, Prisons and Black Liberation,” 41.


Davis, “Political Prisoners, Prisons and Black Liberation,” 44.


Davis and Aptheker, “Preface,” xv; Davis, “Political Prisoners, Prisons and Black Liberation,” 41.


Angela Y. Davis, “Race and Criminalization: Black Americans and the Punishment Industry,” in The Angela Y. Davis Reader, ed. Joy James (Blackwell Publishers, 1998), 63. Cited in Dylan Rodriguez, Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the U.S. Prison Regime (University of Minneapolis Press, 2006), 141.


Rodriguez, Forced Passages, 117.


Rodriguez, Forced Passages, 130.


Rodriguez, Forced Passages, 137. For a provocative exploration of the superimposition of fascism and liberal legality under late-capitalist crisis conditions, see Antonio Negri, “Fascismo e diritto: un esperimento di metodo,” in Macchina tempo: Rompicapi Liberazione Costituzione (Feltrinelli, 1982). See also “Interview with Toni Negri (1980),” in Revolution Retrieved: Writings on Marx, Keynes, Capitalist Crisis and New Social Subjects (1967–1983) (Red Notes, 1988), 122.


Rodriguez, Forced Passages, 140–41.


Nikhil Pal Singh, “The Afterlife of Fascism,” South Atlantic Quarterly 105, no. 1 (2006): 79.


Tiago Saraiva, Fascist Pigs: Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism (MIT Press, 138). Saraiva’s book is an immensely original and methodologically rich study of fascism in its settler-colonial dimensions, drawing critically on studies of science and technology.


Nikhil Pal Singh, Race and America’s Long War (University of California Press, 2017), 26.


Singh, Race and America’s Long War, 172–73. The juridical devices for the dispossession and racialization of Indigenous people in the United States in turn played a formative role in Nazi legal thought, which extended Hitlerism’s self-identification as a white settler-colonial project (the Generalplan Ost as replica of Manifest Destiny) into racial laws forged after the US example. See James Q. Whitman’s enlightening Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law (Princeton University Press, 2018).

Black Power, Black Studies, Revolution
Return to Issue #139

This text is excerpted from chapter 2 of Alberto Toscano, Late Fascism: Race, Capitalism and the Politics of Crisis, published by Verso this month.

Alberto Toscano teaches at the School of Communications, Simon Fraser University, and co-directs the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Theory at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea (Verso, 2010; 2017, 2nd ed.), Cartographies of the Absolute (with Jeff Kinkle, Zero Books, 2015), La abstracción real. Filosofia, estética y capital (Palinodia, 2021), and Terms of Disorder: Keywords for an Interregnum (Seagull, 2023). He is the co-editor of the 3-volume The SAGE Handbook of Marxism (with Sara Farris, Bev Skeggs and Svenja Bromberg, SAGE, 2022), Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Abolition Geography: Essays in Liberation (with Brenna Bhandar, Verso, 2022), and Georges Bataille’s Critical Essays (with Benjamin Noys, Seagull, 2023). He is a member of the editorial board of the journal Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory and series editor of Seagull Essays and The Italian List for Seagull Books. He has also translated the work of Antonio Negri, Alain Badiou, Franco Fortini, and Furio Jesi.


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