Art by Tromarama
“America is back.” So Joe Biden proclaimed his victory over Donald Trump, bringing his campaign narrative of national redemption to its climax. For all its triumph, the phrase’s striking resemblance to “Make America Great Again” reveals the limits of the narrow anti-Trump worldview propagated by the Democratic party and its base since 2016. In an election marketed as a referendum on democracy itself, Trump’s removal from office became the decisive criterion for the defeat of fascism, a lofty goal assumed only to be achievable through the election of an unspecified Democrat. This is an easy story with easy choices, wherein fascism is reducible to the individual foibles of authoritarian personalities, rather than the logical progression of the ruling class’s efforts to preserve capitalism from crises of its own making.
This parable reached a fever pitch with the storming of the Capitol building on January 6th. As the mob was still milling about the halls of Congress, Biden appeared before the press to denounce the event in terms that have since resounded across the political spectrum: ”terrorism,” “insurrection,” and “sedition.” There is no doubt that the fascist army breached the Capitol intending to overturn the election results by force and execute public officials, yet the emphasis on treason and insurrection, terrorism and rioting confines the problem to the threat that was posed to the state. Whatever can be described as treason or insurrection, terrorism or rioting (like the efforts of oppressed peoples to liberate themselves) then becomes the object of repudiation, rather than the reactionary movement responsible for the raid on the Capitol or the economic and political system which created the conditions for this movement to flourish. What arises is the funhouse mirror image of the Capitol building as something antithetical to fascism rather than constitutive of it, and of the National Guard and police as valiant defenders and martyrs of democracy rather than the concrete manifestation of a fascism that long preceded Trump.
Half a century ago, the revolutionary George Jackson warned from solitary confinement in San Quentin State Prison that “fascism is already here.” An assiduous student and theorist of historical materialism, Jackson stressed the absence of a common ideology to fascism. Along with his comrade and intellectual partner Angela Davis, Jackson described fascism as a flexible, counterrevolutionary movement that arises from the development of history to preserve capitalism by forestalling socialist revolution.
“The common feature of all instances of fascism is the opposition of a weak socialist revolution. When the fascist arrangement begins to emerge in any of the independent nation-states, it does so by default! It is simply an arrangement of an established capitalist economy, an attempt to renew, perpetuate and legitimize that economy’s rulers by circumflexing and weighing down, diffusing a revolutionary consciousness pushing from below. Fascism must be seen as an episodically logical stage in the socio-economic development of capitalism in a state of crisis.” — George Jackson
“As Marxists, however, we view fascism not only in terms of the terrorist methods to which it has recourse, for these may be present before the fascist arrangement is consolidated. Fascism represents the triumph of the counterrevolution, that is, fascism is the preventive counterrevolution to the socialist transformation of society.” — Angela Davis & Bettina Aptheker
Davis and Jackson emphasized fascism’s concrete development as an expression of underlying property relations. Like previous Marxists, they identified capitalism’s tendency toward crisis as a problem of the private appropriation of socially produced value, and thereby located fascism as a stage in the material progression of history wherein capitalist crisis was resolved through ruling class counterrevolution rather than socialist revolution. Instead of deriving a set of shared beliefs or state-forms based on the idiosyncrasies of interwar European fascist regimes, they looked to fascism’s inseparability from capitalist counterrevolution to discern its distinguishing features, which Jackson articulated as the suppression of revolutionary socialism, the creation of an illusory “mass society” to mask the continued reign of the ruling class, and the co-optation of labor into a ruling bloc agenda devoted to the continued expansion of capital. Jackson dismissed the significance of the official form of government in the United States, arguing that the age of bourgeois democracy had ended with the rise of monopoly capital after the Civil War—“What is an election after the fact of monopoly capital?” Davis described things somewhat differently from Jackson, formulating the counterrevolution of the 60s and 70s instead as a “prefascist” or “protofascist” period. Despite this theoretical distinction, Davis and Jackson aligned in their conviction that the US state’s repressive apparatus constituted the concrete manifestation of fascist or fascistic rule. As incarcerated revolutionary intellectuals in the imperial core, their writings focused especially on prisons, but their analysis extended to police, intelligence agencies, the military, and the economic arrangements these institutions protected and reproduced. Rather than an interpretation of fascism bound to ideological or formal characteristics absent material considerations, Davis and Jackson examined fascism as a problem of capitalist political economy (which required identifying racism as an organizing force for the US class structure) and the ruling class’s efforts to preserve the socioeconomic order in the face of Black and Third World socialist revolution.
Jackson particularly identified World War II as “the principal cause of the total breakdown of the working-class movement and its revolutionary consciousness” in the US He described the convergence of labor, the state, and the ruling class under the total war economy as the incipience of a “fascist arrangement” wherein the working class was demobilized by the material benefits of imperialism on one hand, and the birth of modern counterinsurgency as the domestic front of global war on the other. For Jackson, the tangible presence of fascism extended beyond the prison to the battlefield, the factory, and the mass consumer economy—all of which he, Davis, and many of their contemporaries across Third World liberation movements identified as inseparable from the US war machine.
This is a far cry from the contemporary use of “fascism” in mainstream discourse. Anti-Trumpists of all stripes have displaced the question of fascism from a matter of political economy to one of political ideals, with the effect of insulating capitalist property relations from scrutiny. This rhetorical sleight of hand depended heavily on foreign policy critiques of Trump. Compared to the 2008 election, when Barack Obama made closing Guantanamo Bay and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan central campaign promises (which he ultimately failed to fulfill), Biden’s critiques of Trump largely avoided questions of ending wars in favor of an emphasis on restoring “American leadership” and “democratic values.” Accusations of “cozying up to dictators” and “alienating allies” were used to project a binary that aligned Trump with a broad spectrum of designated enemy states in opposition to the presumed democratic character of “American leadership.” Association with the alien, and especially the Oriental and the communist, helped pose the problem of Trump as a problem of inauthentic Americanness that could be corrected by voting for Biden as an affirmation of “real” American values. The dissonance between this blatantly racist propaganda and the Democrats’ simultaneous embrace of “anti-racism” reflects the historic contradictions of racial liberalism, which poses equality under capitalism and incorporation into the imperial machinery of dispossession as the conditions through which racial justice can be achieved incrementally through the free market. As the dominant tendency of postwar US imperialist ideology, racial liberalism emerged in reaction to global socialist and anti-colonial revolution, out of a need to resolve the contradictions posed by Jim Crow and US wars in Asia to the integrity of the capitalist “free world,” and demobilize the threat of revolution at home and abroad. The clash between racial liberalism and white nationalism is less a grand confrontation between diametrically opposed forces of democracy and fascism than it is a competition between two separate yet linked modalities of counterrevolution that share the ultimate goal of preserving capitalism as it inches closer to its ecological, social, and physical limits. To face fascism as a concrete, historical development, we have to consider imperialist war as a unifying characteristic of Trumpist and anti-Trumpist counterrevolution—a process that requires reflection on the Pacific as a region at the forefront of the past and future of US empire.
“For all the Biden campaign’s insistence to the contrary, the broad strokes of Trump’s foreign policy were consistent with trends that preceded his administration. The transition from Bush-era ‘smart’ sanctions to comprehensive, functional embargoes initiated by the Obama administration continued under Trump, and the tremendous growth of US military forces in Africa stewarded by Obama continued apace. Beyond current hot wars, and perhaps most significantly for the incoming Biden administration, Trump also furthered the strategic reorientation of the military begun by Obama’s Pivot to Asia with a new framework connecting US military postures in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans—the Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”
For all the Biden campaign’s insistence to the contrary, the broad strokes of Trump’s foreign policy were consistent with trends that preceded his administration. Trump may have bumbled through diplomatic summits, antagonized US client states over petty concerns, withdrawn forces from combat zones against the Pentagon’s wishes, and ended US participation in key international liberal institutions and accords—but these were decisions motivated by the anti-interventionist chauvinism of his base, which should never be confused for anti-imperialism. Trump’s withdrawals of US troops and rattling of international security alliances were pursued with the goal of offloading military spending and responsibilities onto allied states. He may have pulled some troops from Northern Syria, but his administration also saw a sharp rise in Israeli airstrikes in the country; the decision to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany and shift US European Command headquarters to Brussels came after the failure of previous attempts to pressure Germany into increasing its military spending; the Taliban peace deal came at the end of a years-long, record-breaking US bombing campaign, and was connected to a plan to redeploy forces in Afghanistan to the Pacific against China; in South Korea, musings about US troop withdrawals were accompanied by efforts to extort a $5 billion annual payment. For all its chaos, Trump’s foreign policy aimed to bolster, not challenge, the central pillars of US power: financial hegemony, the overwhelming force of a global military apparatus, and legal unilateralism. Overall, the basic trajectory of US imperial strategy largely established by his predecessors went unaltered. The transition from Bush-era “smart” sanctions to comprehensive, functional embargoes initiated by the Obama administration continued under Trump, leading to countless deaths in Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Syria and beyond. Trump followed in his forerunners’ footsteps on the military front as well, observing the general trend of 21st-century US presidents outbombing each other. Bush dropped 70,000 bombs on Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia over 8 years. Obama dropped 100,000 bombs on the same countries plus Libya, Syria and Yemen. In his first year alone, Trump dropped more than 44,000 bombs; over the course of his presidency, he broke US records in multiple years for bombs dropped on Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen. The tremendous growth of US military forces in Africa stewarded by Obama continued apace under Trump, with US forces engaging in combat in Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, and Somalia. Beyond current hot wars, and perhaps most significantly for the incoming Biden administration, Trump also furthered the strategic reorientation of the military begun by Obama’s Pivot to Asia with a new framework connecting US military postures in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans—the Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
The notion of the “Indo-Pacific'' emerged in policy circles during the Obama administration. Proclaiming himself “America’s first Pacific president,” Obama began his presidency with an attempt to make the Asia-Pacific the center of US military and economic strategy. This Pivot to Asia presumed a conclusive end or at least a considerable reduction in US involvement in wars in the western Indian Ocean, an assumption that proved to be seriously flawed. Despite official rhetoric on the importance of regional prosperity, the Pivot to Asia was primarily a military strategy operating on the logic of encircling and containing a rapidly developing China. This was perhaps best exemplified by the “Air-Sea Battle Doctrine” enshrined into US grand strategy in 2010, which sought greater integration between air and naval forces “to guarantee freedom of access in the global commons, anywhere and in any domain (land, air, space, sea, and cyber) for the armed forces of the United States and its allies.” The original concept paper for the Air-Sea Battle Doctrine mentioned China no less than 150 times. Even on the economic front, US policy in the region became increasingly oriented around an explicit logic of containment. This was the case for the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, which Obama promoted as a plan to ensure that “America—and not countries like China—[would] write the rules of the road in the 21st century.” These provocations had the effect of making military parity a greater priority for China, which has sought to close the gap in military capacity with the US and expand its naval area of operations along its maritime border to counter the US-led military escalation.
In China, European and American imperialism historically proceeded less through the brute conquest of vast swaths of territory by invading land armies than it did by economic domination achieved through the militarization and control of maritime trade routes (particularly for the sale of opium in the 19th century). The shift from “Asia-Pacific'' to “Indo-Pacific” reflects a conceptual reorientation that treats the Indian and Pacific Oceans and their land masses as a single expanse in need of militarization in order to become secure for capital. This shift arose from a number of concrete developments since the start of Obama’s Pivot to Asia. Namely, a reduction in the gap between the US and China’s military capabilities, expanded US wars in the western Indian Ocean, and deepening military ties between the US and India. The Free and Open Indo-Pacific, a concept coined by Shinzo Abe’s government in Japan, gradually became the Trump administration’s organizing framework for the region following the 2017 reformation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a military alliance between India, Japan, Australia, and the US “The Quad” was the outcome of over a decade of work, particularly from Washington and Tokyo. An initial version created by the first Abe government in 2007 dissipated after Australia bowed out of the formation just a year later due to the election of Kevin Rudd’s Labor government. Restarting the Quad was a major Obama policy goal, and the Trump administration hoped to use it as the basis for an eventual NATO-like alliance in Asia that would incorporate Southeast Asia, Central Asia, South Korea and Mongolia into an “Arc of Democracies” encircling China. In a clear sign of the significance of the Quad’s embrace of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific framework, US Pacific Command (PACOM), the oldest and largest of the United States military’s unified combatant commands, was renamed US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) in 2018. Extending west from the Pacific coast of North America to western India and China, and from the Antarctic in the south to just short of Alaska’s Aleutian islands in the north, more than half the planet’s surface and population falls under INDOPACOM’s area of responsibility.
As the unifying framework for the Quad, the Free and Open Indo-Pacific emphasizes the preservation of a “rules-based order” that particularly enshrines free trade and freedom of navigation. In real terms, the Free and Open Indo-Pacific has continued the Pivot to Asia and the War on Terror’s vast militarization of the region, and also accompanied the rise of far-right governments in all the countries of the Quad. Abe’s original formulation of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific accompanied his historic push to amend the constitution to relax restrictions on Japanese military power. By the time of his resignation last year, Abe’s efforts had resulted in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces’ first-ever operation outside national territory: Indian Ocean fueling missions to support the ongoing US war in Afghanistan. In India, Narendra Modi’s participation in the Quad is tied to the increasing violence of the ruling fascist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has overseen the annexation of Kashmir, the creation of the National Register of Citizens, the passage of anti-farmer bills that have provoked nationwide strikes, and the rise of a Hindu supremacist reactionary movement responsible for a sharp increase in lynchings on the basis of caste and religion. For its part, the US has leveraged its status as the world’s top producer and exporter of weapons to fuel militarization throughout the region. In 2019, US arms sales topped $55 billion, with Australia, Japan, South Korea and India representing four of the top five customers of US weapons in that year, only beat out by Saudi Arabia. Singapore and Taiwan have also been major arms clients of the US in recent years, and in 2019 the latter participated in its first joint military exercise with the US in 40 years. Since rejoining the Quad in 2017, Australia has committed to increase its defense spending by 40% over the next decade, and has also participated in US-led “freedom of navigation patrols” into contested waters and airspace in the South China Sea—trips designed to assert the right of (US) military vessels to travel freely through other nations’ waters, a position that Beijing finds highly objectionable. Just like the AirSea Battle Doctrine’s invocation of “freedom of action in the global commons,” the Free and Open Indo-Pacific’s appeals to freedom of navigation and a rules-based order mask what is essentially a conquest doctrine. The inseparability of liberal claims to freedom from the material process of militarization is not at odds with the history of liberalism, particularly in the Pacific, where US 20th-century wars contextualized the emergence of what Jackson came to identify as the fascist arrangement.
The story of US global hegemony is the story of the Pacific. By the end of World War II, the US had emerged as the world’s foremost capitalist power over the ruins of Japan and Europe. With military occupations spanning the globe from western Europe to the western Pacific, the new superpower set about the task of consolidating a new postwar international liberal order through the spread of “democracy” by force of arms. With communist armies on the move in Vietnam, China, Korea and the Philippines, the Pacific emerged as a primary site for Washington’s efforts to stabilize the imperialist system. Garbed in the rhetoric of democracy and even decolonization, the US declared itself a “liberator” of Japan’s wartime empire at the same time that it annexed some territories, fostered brutal anticommunist client regimes in others, returned colonies claimed by European powers to their rulers, and established a permanent military occupation throughout the region. Wartime collaborators with fascist Japan and trusted anticommunist nationalists were empowered to lead newly formed, nominally independent states in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and later, South Vietnam. Okinawa, Guam, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and the Northern Marianas were placed under direct military rule or trusteeship for periods that lasted for decades. Rather than “liberating” an empire, the US absorbed it and militarized it. Client states and territories alike were seen for their strategic value as “unsinkable aircraft carriers” strung along a series of “island chains'' comprising the US’ “forward line of defense.”
Literary scholar Christine Hong has tracked how racial liberalism became the dominant tendency in US Cold War ideology through the influence of permanent war in the Pacific. Faced with hundreds of millions of Asian peasants and workers united in socialist revolutions for national liberation on one hand, and the real threat of internal Black and Third World insurrection and revolution on the other, the US gradually abandoned its formal practices of Jim Crow and the outright annexation of colonies. In response to socialist internationalism, the theory and practice of world revolution against capitalism, the US appealed to a multiculturalism that masked its imperialist agenda as “freedom through militarization.” The beginnings of official desegregation in the military evinces the Cold War strategic logic that influenced how the US implemented integrationist policies throughout the Civil Rights era. Beyond insulating the US from anti-racist and anti-imperialist criticisms, racial liberalism integrated a vast spectrum of differently subjugated peoples into the project of permanent war without fundamentally challenging the race and class structure at home. Through previously unimaginable gestures such as “the deployment of desegregated forces to the region, the ‘humanitarian’ baby lifts of Asian and mixed-race war orphans consequent to US interventions in Korea and Vietnam, the citizenship gateway for Asian GI brides, the forging of ‘mutual defense’ alliances with Asians and Pacific Islanders ‘liberated’ from Japanese rule, and the promise of economic aid for coalition allies,” war (and all its attendant racial violence) became the vehicle for racial inclusion. Under the auspices of racial liberalism, war became the precondition for not only inclusion, but for liberty itself. Everywhere, freedom signified through ostensibly democratic inclusion for some had as its obverse the elimination of others.
Far from delivering freedom to the desperate yellow masses, US occupation and war in the Pacific established an anticommunist reign of terror that far surpassed the worst excesses of McCarthyism, killing at least 10 million and displacing countless others over the course of the Cold War. Including bombs used in the Pacific Theater of WWII, the total tonnage of explosive ordnance dropped by the US on villages, cities, supply lines, forests, hospitals, schools, farms, and dams was close to 9 million—with 7.5 million tons dropped on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos alone. Successive hot wars not only resulted in widespread destruction and death, they also structured the region’s reintegration into the capitalist system. Economic development in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Thailand was conditioned by these nations’ status as hosting sites for US bases and their respective participation in the Korean and First and Second Indochina Wars (and in the case of Australia and New Zealand, WWII). Under the logic of anticommunist annihilation, occupied peoples were made indistinguishable from the territory and the enemy. In Vietnam and Korea, US and allied units were frequently ordered to target refugees and civilians alike under the baldly racist pretext that local peoples could not be distinguished from guerrillas. The infamous My Lai massacre was only the tip of the iceberg. A whistleblower complaint submitted during the Vietnam War to US Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland warned of regular slaughters equivalent to “a My Lai each month.” In 2005, the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission found evidence of no less than 1,461 civilian massacres committed during the war. When what happened in My Lai eventually came to light, General Charles Willoughby, chief of US intelligence during hostilities in the Korean War, claimed that similar events had happened in Korea “all the time.” Yet the bloodbath was not limited to battlezones alone. Anticommunist US client regimes in South Korea, South Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia launched killing sprees in their respective nations with US knowledge and support, suppressing rebellions, busting up unions, and liquidating political enemies in decades-long campaigns of white terror that cumulatively left close to 1.5 million people dead. Local peoples living near US-administered military bases and in annexed islands still suffer from the cumulative effects of weapons testing, military accidents, and violence committed by soldiers who are often protected from local prosecution. In the Marshall Islands, US rule transformed several islands and atolls into a nuclear test site known as the Pacific Proving Grounds, where multiple bombs containing 1,000 times the force of the weapons deployed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were tested for over a decade. Marshallese peoples were intentionally exposed to radiation in many instances to test the effects of nuclear fallout on human beings, and those displaced from their homes are still fighting for reparations. While the end of the Cold War, normalization of diplomatic relations with China, and the dedicated work of popular transnational struggles against US occupation enabled a relative drawdown in military forces in the region and varying forms of nominal democratization in Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia, the overall state of permanent war lives on, from ongoing military occupation to the legal, military, and economic structures of territories and client states. To this day, INDOPACOM remains the largest unified command in the US military, with 60% of all naval forces and an estimated 375,000 troops deployed in its area of responsibility.
Permanent war in the Pacific transformed US society as well. WWII made what was then known as the Department of War into the costliest division of the federal government. Total war mobilization concentrated manufacturing on the task of the production of war materials. After WWII, much of production returned to creating consumer goods for the civilian market for a brief period, and the unprecedentedly large Pentagon budget was reduced to about a fifth of its wartime total. The Korean War saw the consolidation of a more permanent military industrial complex. The defense budget tripled from its postwar lows, or even quadrupled according to some figures, with the lion’s share of spending earmarked not for the war itself but for nuclear weapons development, a 40% increase in overseas military bases, and the stockpiling of weaponry in new garrisons in Europe and Asia. Booming spending meant big checks for private manufacturers, many of whom found it more profitable to remain in the war business than leave it after the signing of an armistice brought fighting in Korea to a tense hold. War supplied vast material wealth for the US beyond creating opportunities for manufacturers and their financiers to profit from the production of mass death. War opened new markets, linked cheap labor to supply chains, created jobs, and furnished educational and home ownership opportunities for white veterans. War profits were reinvested into public works projects like the National Highway System, which integrated the west and south into a national economy and employed masses of people while simultaneously concretizing segregation for Black and other communities of color through the bulldozing and physical enclosure of neighborhoods. New Deal social programs were invigorated by postwar prosperity, building up a welfare state which had as its obverse a permanent war state committed to mass destruction and brutality overseas. The dismantling of this welfare state beginning under Reagan, along with deindustrialization driven by the export of capital to cheaper labor markets in industrializing Asian nations, created the necessary conditions for the post-1980 expansion of the prison system and its attendant transformations of criminal law—like Senator Joseph R. Biden’s 1994 Crime Bill.
Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Indigenous, and Asian veterans of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, often shaped by their experiences of racism in the military and upon their return to the US, swelled the ranks of reformist and revolutionary struggles. Colonized peoples were not the only ones to apply the lessons of overseas war to their domestic context. The astronomical growth of the military was paired with a corresponding proliferation of intelligence agencies and police powers. WWII saw Pentagon planners designate the US mainland as the “Zone of the Interior,” a “home front” where the nascent FBI and other law enforcement agencies were deployed to suppress striking workers, arrest draft dodgers, and manage captive Black and Japanese American populations through psychological warfare, espionage, and less subtle forms of repression. Whereas some veterans returned from war with revolutionary aspirations, others joined rapidly transforming US police forces, applying their experiences in war abroad to the “war at home.” Following WWII, police departments across the US underwent sweeping changes designed to “professionalize” law enforcement with new educational requirements, technology, and “preventative” tactics like stop and frisk. Military discipline and chain of command provided the inspiration for police “professionalization.” The Civil Rights Congress noted the shifting role of US policing in their 1951 We Charge Genocide petition before the United Nations, which asserted that killing Black people had “become police policy in the United States.” The creation of the first SWAT team in 1969 to raid the Black Panther Party office in Los Angeles exemplifies this crucial link in personnel, tactics, and equipment between law enforcement and the military. Veterans were disproportionately represented among the 600 officers who comprised the SWAT team, which itself represented an advancement in the domestic application of counterinsurgency tactics burnished in the Pacific. Under the auspices of racial liberalism, civil rights court victories and legislation progressed at the same time that executive power expanded to conduct overt and covert wars within US territory and around the world. Yet nothing can be as damning as our actually existing reality: the racial wealth gap remains as cavernous today as in 1968, and domestic repression of Black and other colonized communities has only intensified with the rise of the prison industrial complex. In contrast to its emancipatory promise, racial liberalism brought about the preventative counter-revolution against the socialist transformation of society, integrating all it touched into the “burning house” of empire.
It was at the nexus of war abroad and war at home that Davis and Jackson observed the material link between the capitalist state’s growing repressive apparatus and the organization of a fascist arrangement in reaction to Black and Third World socialist revolution. Today, we see their ideas vindicated in the composition of the Capitol raid itself. One in five people charged in connection to the events of January 6th had a military background, and at least 13 were police officers. Jackson’s theory of US fascism emphasized how the unparalleled size of the US military and police created a unique class structure where a sizable “pig class” existed, composed of soldiers, police officers, and other state enforcers whose interests were aligned with the ruling class against the masses. Nurtured by half a century of neoliberalism and successive international wars on drugs, crime, and terror, the contemporary pig class has grown far beyond anything Jackson encountered. Today its most reactionary elements comprise the vanguard of a fractured but increasingly organized right-wing backlash against racial liberalism. Whether the character of this movement can be described as uniquely fascist or not in the context of US history, its concrete ties to militarization and war nevertheless evince the link between democratic imperialism and fascism. The possibility of a fascist future post-Trump is less a matter of keeping the “right” party in office, and more a question of how the concrete development of fascism will proceed through Biden’s imperialism.
By all indications, the Biden administration will stay the course, particularly with regard to the pivot to the Indo-Pacific. The origins of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific from within the Quad itself will likely ensure that it remains the organizing framework for US grand strategy in spirit if not in name. In an essay published in Foreign Affairs last January titled “Why America Must Lead Again: Rescuing US Foreign Policy After Trump,” Biden emphasized the need “to fortify our collective capabilities with democratic friends beyond North America and Europe by reinvesting in our treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, and South Korea and deepening partnerships from India to Indonesia.” This position essentially parrots the logic of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific as the start of an Asian NATO, and reveals something of how the Biden administration will likely use its anti-Trump mandate to pose the advance of US overseas military interests and domestic counterinsurgency as two sides of the same democratizing gesture.
Only time will tell how US imperial strategy plays out under Biden, but the gears of history are already in motion; a bipartisan anti-China consensus has settled in Washington, and a new wave of global militarization has begun with the geographic construct of the “Indo-Pacific” as its guiding strategic principle. With 400 military bases encircling China, the US is already on track for a direct or proxy war in the region which would seek to accomplish what western colonialists have long failed to achieve—the penetration of capital into the Asian hinterlands. One of the Biden administration's first tasks will be to determine the course of the new Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a Pentagon fund recently established by Congress based on the Obama European Deterrence Initiative. The Pacific Deterrence Initiative was created to fulfill a $20 billion wish list for countering China that INDOPACOM submitted to Congress last April, just weeks after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the midst of a coordinated effort by the Trump administration to divert public anger towards Yellow Peril sentiment. Potential projects on the table include a $1.6 billion defensive ring around Guam, $1 billion in new long-range missile purchases, millions of dollars for new military infrastructure in allied states, a new transnational surveillance initiative, and new military facilities from Hawaii to Palau. Indo-Pacific militarization is unlikely to stop at the fulfillment of this initial wish list. Since 2018, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a notoriously hawkish think tank whose former Senior Vice President Kathleen Hicks is now Biden’s Deputy Secretary of Defense, has advocated for the creation of a “fourth and fifth island chain” in the Indian Ocean. These new island chains would establish new “forward” lines of defense along the western coast of India down to the existing US military base in Diego Garcia (which was built after the forced deportation of Chagossian people by the U.K. in 1966), and along the east coast of Africa spanning southwards from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Should Biden designate a fourth and fifth island chain in the Indian Ocean to complement the three that already exist in the Pacific, US occupations across Africa, Asia, and Oceania would fall under a single unifying geostrategic framework. “Indo-Pacific” militarization would then likely include an acceleration of the already explosive growth of US military outposts in Africa since the 2007 creation of US Africa Command (AFRICOM).
Although members of Biden’s cabinet have stressed that they don’t believe direct or proxy war with China is inevitable, the start of his administration has seen a continuation of Trump’s escalation against China. In just the first week of the Biden presidency, new sanctions were implemented against Chinese officials, and a U.S. aircraft carrier group entered the South China Sea to promote “freedom of the seas.” As of March 1, the US under Biden has bombed Syria and Somalia, committed to a NATO troop increase in Iraq, signaled support for Jovenal Moïse’s illegal administration in Haiti, and given indications that it may renege on the Taliban deal brokered last year. The Biden national security and defense teams are composed almost entirely of Obama administration alumni responsible for the Pivot to Asia, new wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen, and the normalization of extrajudicial “targeted killings” around the world through the so-called drone program. Tony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, has already praised Trump’s “tougher approach to China,” and long advocated the formation of an anti-China “league of democracies” composed of European and Asian countries. Yet regardless of whether this new Cold War erupts into open hostilities or not, the concrete progression of fascism, both within the US and in all nations affected by its militarizing sweep, will be inherent in the expansion of the global US security apparatus itself. Just days before the Biden inauguration, the Trump administration released a declassified strategy document for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific that offers hints of what’s to come beyond the possibilities outlined above. In contrast to other publicly released documents, the previously classified report placed a much heavier emphasis on developing India as a “Major Defense Partner,” going as far as to name India taking a “leading role in maintaining Indian Ocean security” as a desired end goal. It doesn’t take a great leap of speculation to see how deepening security ties between the US and an increasingly fascist India could lead to disastrous results. As the history of the Cold War Pacific makes all too clear, US alliances and occupations rarely reflect popular will. Rather, they are arrangements forged in blood, enforced through the repression and, when necessary, outright elimination of opposition. Biden’s to-be-determined fortification of the Indo-Pacific will undoubtedly place people’s movements throughout the region at risk, from India’s striking farmers to South Korea’s grassroots movement to stop the installation of new US weapons systems like THAAD. Far from remaining a distant problem, the continuity between repression abroad and repression at home will ensure imperial chickens come home to roost from wherever they are sent to flock, as we saw in the raid on the Capitol. Just as US wars in the Pacific transformed domestic policing in the 20th century, so too has the so-called War on Terror in the 21st. Law enforcement powers have expanded exponentially since the post-9/11 passage of the Patriot Act and the explosion in National Security Agency surveillance capabilities. Billions of dollars of military equipment from ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cycled back into domestic police departments, along with counterinsurgency tactics tested on Palestinians and Iraqis, and fresh waves of veterans steeled in the brutal mechanics of occupation. The Department of Homeland Security founded after 9/11 also crucially provided a container for the 2003 formation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the agency’s war on migrants, a central focus of critique during the Trump administration. Under Biden, ongoing wars in the western Indian Ocean, Cold War–style brinkmanship throughout the Indo-Pacific, and the very real possibility of new wars will undoubtedly facilitate similar intensifications of the war at home.
Even if Biden proves to be less bloodthirsty than his predecessors, he is certain to leave the world and his own country more militarized, patrolled, and surveilled than he found it. The Martinican poet and philosopher Aimé Césaire observed that the roots of fascism lay in the colonizer’s complicity in the violence of colonialism. If the US is to face its fascism, it must face it in the concrete: its prisons, police, detention centers, military occupations, covert and overt wars, and the fundamental productive or property relations these institutions protect. As the Biden administration offers piecemeal reforms under the mantle of “equity” during the worst economic and public health crisis in a century, we would do well to recall the formulation of fascism as ”the preventive counterrevolution to the socialist transformation of society.” Racial liberalism is a demobilizing force which, as the Trump era has shown, contains the seeds of its own destruction in its preservation of capitalism, and therefore white supremacy. Whatever fascism Americans permit in their internal colonies or the Indo-Pacific under Biden will return to us all tomorrow as the rejuvenated war state. If we are to defeat fascism, we must recognize it as arising from the ruling class’s need to sustain the cycle of endless accumulation by dispossession that defines capital as a social relation. This endless search for new markets by any financial, political, or military means necessary can only be ended by a revolutionary socialism. At the precipice of capitalism’s total destruction of the earth, the only choice that faces us now is socialism or barbarism, revolution or reaction. The ghosts of 10 million people slaughtered in the Cold War Pacific demand it. The memory of incalculable revolutionaries, workers, and colonized peoples killed in the US and around the world in the centuries-long, ongoing struggle against capitalism, fascism, and their substantiations in racial slavery, colonialism, genocide and war demand it—as does the very possibility of a livable future.