Part of an ongoing debate: see here for all the contributions
Democrats, Labour, Liberals
The text from Daniel Randall and others on the USA says: "We oppose US socialists having a thoroughgoing activist orientation, of the type we currently have to the Labour Party, to the Democrats".
Of course. But this is tilting at the wrong windmill. It blurs rather than clarifies the issue, by defining itself by negation of something no-one has argued.
Thomas Carolan did make a British analogy for what socialists can do now in the USA in relation to the Democrats. But it was not with the Labour Party! It was with the Liberal Party in the late 19th century.
"A parallel seems to exist between how the Labour Party separated from the Liberal Party in Britain, and how a working-class party may emerge in the USA out of the Democratic Party.
"There was a long period of intertwining and overlapping, with Labour MPs elected as part of the Liberal Party, the so-called Lib-Labs. Even after the formation of the Labour Party in 1900, a block of miners’ union MPs remained part of the Liberal Party until 1909-10.
"Seeking for exact parallels would be idle. What matters is that socialists are free to do their fundamental educational activity, including education on the lessons of Trotsky’s 1934 Action Programme for the reform of bourgeois democracy in the USA, and to organise workers for socialism.
"Socialists can work openly and independently around the Democrats, can’t they? Making an absolute principle of never working in or voting for a bourgeois party does not in these circumstances make sense to me. The simple fact is that politics in the USA is immensely backward, almost a land that time forgot".
A footnote adds: "A number of working-class 'Radical Clubs' previously linked to the Liberal Party joined the Democratic Federation, the first British Marxist organisation, when it was set up in 1881, in protest against the Liberal Party having failed to push through reforms to the land system in Ireland and instead bringing in a Coercion Act to cow the Irish, the justice of whose claims the government had admitted. The DF renamed itself Social Democratic Federation in 1884. Most of the Radical Clubs disaffiliated that same year [i.e. 1881] in protest against SDF support for a Home Rule [in fact Land League] candidate against a Liberal one". (See Tsuzuki, H M Hyndman and British Socialism, pages 37-41 and 46-47.)
Some years later Eleanor Marx, after splitting with others from the SDF to form the Socialist League and then seeing the Socialist League taken over by anarchists, focused her work (round a Legal Eight Hour Day campaign) again in the Radical Clubs of London.
In 1892, Keir Hardie and John Burns were famously elected as the first independent Labour MPs, as distinct from the "Lib-Lab" trade unionists previously elected. But that wasn't a "clean break". Hardie won because the Liberals, in a previous Liberal-Tory marginal, didn't stand against him. His election address described him as standing "at the invitation of the United Liberal, Radical, and Labour Party of West Ham South as a Labour, Radical, and Home Rule candidate", and stated that "I have all my life given an independent support to the Liberal Party" (Bob Holman, Keir Hardie).
Burns was backed in Battersea by the Battersea Liberal Association, and our recent pamphlet on Saklatvala tells how entwined Labour and Liberal politics in Battersea were right up to World War 1.
The Labour Representation Committee got two MPs in 1900. But Hardie was elected in the two-member Merthyr Tydfil constituency because the lead Liberal candidate, D A Thomas, a mineowner, backed Hardie (on the issue of the Boer War) against the other Liberal candidate. Richard Bell was elected in Derby because the Liberals ran only one official candidate in that two-member constituency.
It was a tortuous process from the first Labour candidates, around 1870, to Labour breaking its electoral pacts with the Liberals in 1918. The working-class socialists argued consistently for independence from Liberal money (it was accepted that no working-class candidate could afford to run an election campaign on their own, let alone support themselves if elected in an era when MPs were unpaid). The Social Democratic Federation ran its own candidates on occasion.
It was all more complicated than just a "clean break". For example, the SDF's first major electoral effort was the London School Board elections of November 1888. They ran a joint slate with the London Secular Society, the Fabian Society, and the Metropolitan Radical Federation, a federation of left Radical Clubs in London rival to the London Liberal and Radical Union.
The Liberal Party was only beginning to move from a loose aggregate of MPs, each characteristically with their own personal base in their area, to a structured party. The National Liberal Federation (of local Liberal Associations) was set up only in 1877, and remained loose.
"Seeking for exact parallels would be idle", as Carolan wrote. The complexities of the US political structure are considerable, and different.
Socialists can certainly gain by work in Democrat primaries. The 2016 and 2020 Sanders campaigns show that. Democrat primaries in many ways are now more like the first rounds of the two-round public elections used in France and other countries than "internal" politicking.
Sanders didn't win the Democrat nomination. He won more votes for a general socialist message than any previous electoral effort has done in the USA, and did more to rally people to general socialist ideas than any previous effort. He provided a frame for the Democratic Socialists of America to grow from a tired, stagnant, very-electoralist group of 5,000 in 2013, with a median age of 68, to an energetic, growing, overwhelmingly young, and much more class-struggle-oriented organisation of 90,000 in 2021.
I don't idealise the DSA. Its base is heavily limited to students and recent ex-students in big cities, and heavily coloured by kitsch-left ideas. (In fact, that is a reason why focusing on DSA control over elected representatives is off-kilter. Voices have been raised in DSA for repudiating Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but because she is for "two states" in Israel-Palestine. The first job is to make the DSA politically fit to exercise control.)
The DSA could easily splinter and fade. But to regret that leftists have got waylaid into Democrat primaries, as if instead they could have soared directly by standing their own propaganda candidates, or ignoring electoral politics, or indirectly by backing the Greens, flies in the face of facts. The current DSA would not exist without the work in Democrat primaries. It has come out of that work more radical than it was, not less.
To pose the task of electoral politics in the USA as socialists needing to start small now, avoid being distracted by Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, etc., and just keep plugging away at one-by-one activity until they reach the millions, is equally off-key. The Socialist Workers Party USA (no relation to the SWP-UK), when it was Trotskyist, ran presidential candidates from 1948 onwards (in the first place to counter the Wallace Progressive Party, rather than the Democrats). Those candidacies gained profile and recruits for the SWP. We applauded them. But they got nowhere near rallying enough workers against the Democrats to give workers confidence that they expressed an effective class challenge, rather than a (valuable) propaganda operation. The high point was 91,000 votes in 1976, 0.11%. All socialist groups running candidates since then have done worse. There is no current prospect that plugging away on that path (and by whom? the now-dissolved ISO?) will take the left up notch-by-notch in the way that Eugene Debs improved his score from 0.6% in 1900 to 6% in 1912, and meanwhile built the Socialist Party from nothing to 113,000 members.
Go via the Green Party instead? But getting the Green Party on the ballot line in more and more states - the stated aim of Howie Hawkins' presidential campaign - sets us on the path only to a bigger Green Party, not to an independent workers' party. In any case, the Green Party's support has declined during the recent years in the USA when socialist sentiment has increased sharply.
Work for socialist candidates in Democrat primaries now does not imply a farcical long-term perspective of transforming the Democrats into a socialist party by winning candidacy after candidacy. It does not exclude or downgrade activity in workplaces and on the streets. It does not exclude running candidates against Democrats in general elections (the DSA runs candidates against mainstream Democrats in Chicago city council elections, and wins some places). It fits well with a "dirty break" perspective, even if we can't, or at least I can't, map the stages of that from a distance and in advance.
It implies no acceptance of Democratic Party "discipline". It is routine in the US political system, anyway, for Democrats not to back Democrats and Republicans not to back Republicans. The DSA didn't back Biden in the presidential election, although its comments about how bad Trump was and how important the election was must surely have suggested that conclusion to observers.
I wrote on this in an article on "Marxists and Democrats":
"The Republicans and the Democrats emerged as the same sort of conglomerates [as the Tories and Whigs in early and mid 19th century Britain], except that with a more fluid ruling class, their 'local notables' were not aristocrats but Tammany-Hall-type 'machine politicians' [maintaining their base by patronage and 'spoils' from local government].
"In the Civil War, the Republicans were to the left of the Democrats, and Karl Marx wrote a glowing letter to the Republican president Abraham Lincoln to congratulate him on his re-election in 1864. The Southern Democrats remained the most right-wing force in mainstream US bourgeois politics until after the Civil Rights movement, when bit by bit Southern white voters seceded to the Republicans.
"The biggest leftish 'third party' movements, the Progressive Parties of the 1912 and 1924 presidential elections, both came from the Republicans. One of the USA's main fascists of the 1930s, Frank Hague, was a Democratic Party machine politician in New Jersey, and a big figure in some of Roosevelt's campaigns".
The general picture was that Republicans and Democrats were two overlapping political spectrums - there were very right-wing Democrats and "liberal" or "progressive" Republicans - with individual politicians choosing their party as much by which offered the best career prospect in their area as by any large ideological choice.
The big New Deal laws of the 1930s, the anti-union Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin laws of the 1940s and 1950s, the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, all passed, and could only pass, with broad support in both parties.
"Eisenhower was approached by Truman to be the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952, but turned it down because he decided to go for the Republican nomination instead. When Roosevelt defeated the Republican Wendell Willkie in 1940, he quickly gave Willkie a job as Roosevelt's personal envoy to Britain".
Some other examples highlight how far the US parties are from a European model. Charles Rangel was a member of the US House of Representatives from 1971 to 2017. A Democrat. In most of his elections he also had the Republican nomination. Ed Koch had both the Democrat and Republican nominations for mayor of New York in 1981. Bernie Sanders won Mayor of Burlington as an Independent by first winning the Democrat nomination, so that no-one else could stand as the Democrat candidate, and then standing as an Independent.
"The US trade union movement started off with a 'business unionist' approach to politics, backing individual Democrats or Republicans case-by-case. John L Lewis, the first leader of the CIO, was a Republican (though in 1936, by way of exception, he backed Roosevelt).
"The Marxists built the Socialist Party and the Communist Party. When a mass trade union movement developed in the 1930s, they pushed for those unions to form a Labour Party, to have their own candidates to stand against both capitalist semi-parties instead of trying to do business with whatever bourgeois candidates were friendlier to labour...
From the 1930s "the alignment of the unions with the Democrats was becoming closer. It is probably closer still since the beginning of what bourgeois political scientists call 'the Sixth Party System', from the late 1960s or early 70s.
"That system's components include a more-or-less all-embracing system of 'primaries' (only patchy previously), an increase in the role of individual candidates' political campaign fund-raising, and an on-the-whole more consistent demographic and political differentiation between Democrats and Republicans (there are no more 'Dixiecrats', and no more 'liberal Republicans' or Republican 'Progressives')."
The Democrats used to have a relatively strong structure of precinct committees. In the 1960s, Democratic "clubs" grew up, trying to break the domination of the elected officials (mayors, Representatives, Senators, etc.) Many still exist, though they are a smaller factor. The Republicans, traditionally lacking in city-government-based party machines, now, after successive waves of right-wing plebeian upsurge, have a stronger operation in face-to-face politics (if mostly through "gun clubs and churches") than the Democrats do.
None of the feeble Democratic base structures have even notional oversight of what the elected representatives do, or of the four-yearly Democratic Party convention (essentially a rally for the chosen presidential candidate), or of the Democrat National Committee.
Bernie Sanders' organisation Our Revolution (in many ways more like an NGO than a proto-party) emphasises "building a movement" and Sanders' slogan "Not Me, Us". It does (unlike the DSA) look to transforming the Democrats wholesale. But the difference in structures between the Democrats and European political parties is shown by Our Revolution's website leading on a call to Joe Biden to appoint more progressives to the Democrat National Committee.
Incoming Democrat Congress people are instructed that they must spend four hours a day on the phone, all through their term of office, raising donations for their next election. I guess the more leftish ones phone NGOs, unions, and the like, rather than plutocrats. Most, of course, will phone plutocrats. That mechanism keeps the Democrats firmly tied to bourgeois interests. But we now know it doesn't stop efforts like the Sanders campaigns forcing cracks in which socialists can make gains - and have made spectacular gains.
Mark Osborn's text says: "We oppose US socialists having an activist orientation to the Democrats". He doesn't actually mean that. Mark didn't oppose US socialists getting involved in the Sanders campaigns. A text which says the opposite of what the author means is not good.
The text by Daniel Randall and others is different. "The Sanders movement, and the success of figures like Ocasio-Cortez, show that Democratic electoral structures can be used to win a hearing for socialist, or social-democratic, ideas… Intervening in Democratic primaries [is] a possible tactic for socialists". In fact, the "structures" are generally specified by state laws, rather than by Democratic Party rules; and the Sanders campaigns could be, and in fact were, used to build organisations and to activate people, as well as just to enable them to "hear". But the gist is right.
Voting Biden (with all the criticisms, warnings,etc.) is a distinct issue from whether we favour intervention in areas like the Sanders campaigns. As I've mentioned, the DSA's formal policy was "Bernie or Bust", so no recommendation on the presidential election.
The essential argument for voting Biden is that it was the only way (in the absence of a workers' candidate) to make electoral tactics serve a true political message, rather than having the political message warped by preconceived tactics.
Consider what Daniel and his co-writers say: "Trump's contempt for the norms of bourgeois democracy… poses a genuine threat… He is a mortal enemy of democracy and of the working class… The threat of a mass fascist movement growing in the US is significant… Trump could be described as fascistic or proto-fascist… It is a relief that he is no longer president".
Or Mark: "A movement around Trump, in the aftermath of the election, could develop in a clearly fascist direction".
We could very well say all that and still back an independent workers' candidate, with the true argument that only socialistic workers' organisation can defeat the threats - if there were such a candidate.
Howie Hawkins is an estimable activist. But he was a protest candidate for a leftish middle-class party. On the evidence of its counterparts in the Green Parties of other countries the US Green Party has no potential for mutating into an independent workers' party. Even if it had such potential, in the circumstances Hawkins' campaign could not advance it.
The Green Party lost ground. Hawkins explained his preconceived electoral tactic honestly. He sees getting the Green Party up to a certain level of electoral success as the essential "first stage" to then levering the workers' movement into politics. That preconceived electoral tactic cornered him into saying in the election that the most important consideration was getting the Green Party enough votes to keep its ballot-line access in various states, and that Trump was no more right-wing than other recent Republican presidents. The electoral tactic mis-shaped the political message, rather than the political message shaping the electoral tactic.
My argument is not that socialists had to vote Biden for fear that otherwise left-minded workers wouldn't listen to them. I'm not sure that's true. In any case angering otherwise sympathetic people may sometimes be necessary.
As Thomas Carolan put it: "Meanwhile, there is the working class, needing to orient itself in an urgent situation... Our responsibility is to tell workers, even if only half a dozen of them are listening, what their real situation is and what best to do about it". To tell them the truth, as best we can ascertain, not to give them a message blurred by a preconceived (and, I think, half-baked) electoral tactic.
Neither Mark, nor Daniel and his co-writers, say that it is a principle never to vote for a bourgeois candidate.
They seem to latch onto the argument I developed (rightly, I think) about the second round of the French presidential election in 2002, between the mainstream right-winger Jacques Chirac and the fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Many, probably most, on the French left backed Chirac with slogans like "plutot escroc que facho" (better a crook than a fascist). I argued that Chirac was certain to win the second round whatever the left did (in the event he won 82%-18%), but the left could, by blank or spoiled ballots in the second round, signal a positive independent presence. And there was in fact a sizeable blank-ballot score.
Daniel and his co-writers, and Mark, argue: "There was no pressing, desperate reason for the AWL to advocate a Biden vote". There was surely no pressing reason for the left to add to Chirac's majority in 2002, and I guess they're suggesting that 3 November 2020 was analogous.
"Desperate" is their word. But Trump would have won with a uniform tilt of just 0.32% of the vote from Biden to him. By contrast, Chirac won 82%-18% in 2002, and Macron 66%-34% in 2017 (after a bad TV performance by Le Pen: the result looked not nearly so clear before that).
We all agreed, I think, on supporting the US working-class mobilisations against the risk of a Trump coup, and on not deploring them as diversionary fuss about a non-threat. I can't see how it would be coherent to support such mobilisations and yet say: "Mind you, there's nothing pressing here. I saw no pressing concerns on 3 November, so I cast a protest vote which I knew would be invisible, and for a party which actually I don't support…" Would we explain that we were sure that Biden would win "easily", and the 0.32% outcome confirmed our "nothing pressing" view?
Again, the question is: make the electoral tactic serve the political imperative of telling the truth, or let our message be warped by preconceived electoral tactics.
Ruth Cashman and Duncan Morrison have tried to give us more precise criteria for when we might vote for bourgeois candidates than just the situation being "pressing". Instead of the straightforward one which would align our electoral tactic to our political assessments - one candidate is radically preferable to the other and there is no viable workers' candidate - they list (with no supporting argument) three variants of when one candidate might be radically preferable to the other.
Why those three especially? Why is it ok to vote for bourgeois candidates if that may advance bourgeois democracy, and not if it may help defend that bourgeois democracy, once won, against fascistic threat?
In any case, their criteria do not fit the historical record. The German Social Democracy before 1914, including its left wing, backed bourgeois liberal and "progressive" candidates against the right in election second rounds. That was not because they thought those candidates would advance the uncompleted bourgeois revolution. Not even the Social Democrat right wing, "soft" on the liberals, thought that! The Social Democrats thought that the liberals were more likely (though far from certain) to defend the existing limited bourgeois democracy from right-wing attack.
Trump and fascism
Donald Trump is a fascist in politics because he aims for autocratic rule unrestrained by bourgeois democracy, and is building a mass plebeian movement on nationalist and populist lines, with a significant militarised component, as his battering-ram to achieve that.
The USA is not a fascist state, and would not have become one if Trump had won on 3 November. No full-formed fascist movement exists yet in the USA. As Thomas Carolan wrote: "Almost all the elements of a fascism or a quasi-fascism exist for Trump to command… The elements of a fascist or fascistic party heave and roll around Trump, bearing him aloft, in the Republican Party and beyond it now. The unknown here is, will they coalesce further?" (emphasis added).
Maybe not. As I wrote, Trump "is an incompetent, uncourageous fascist, unsteady of purpose, and operating in a system where the powers of the US president are still hemmed and cramped". I wouldn't object if someone wanted to say "fascist or quasi-fascist", or proto-fascist, or fascistic, instead of just "fascist".
Maybe, harassed by lawsuits, Trump will fade. Maybe the Romney-line Republicans will rally effectively against him. Maybe a limited boom after the pandemic fades, and unexpected reforming vigour from the Biden Democrats, will restabilise US capitalism and marginalise Trump.
But we can rely on none of those. We should look to the development of the US left - from the Black Lives Matter protests, from recent spates of strikes - to counter Trump. Not on hopes of Trump being irresolute, the Romney Republicans rallying, or Biden doing better than expected. And to develop, the US left needs honesty about the danger, not endless reassurances that the established system will cope.
Both Daniel and his co-writers, and Mark, make it their battle-cry that Trump is not a fascist. But they also write passages indicating that the difference between him and a fascist is marginal.
"A movement around Trump, in the aftermath of the [3 November 2020] election, could develop in a clearly fascist direction". "Trump encouraged and amplified the US far right… The threat of a mass fascist movement growing in the US is significant". So Trump is someone who can incite and be the centre of a fascist movement in the immediate future? What is the difference between that and a fascist?
The core argument seems to be that Trump has "pursued opportunistic self-interest and self-aggrandisement before any heartfelt ideological commitment".
Many fascists have been opportunists and ideologically unstable. The core Nazi leaders were mostly people who joined the Nazi party when it was still small, and the Nazis pushed aside the mainstream conservatives like von Papen and Hugenberg who helped them to power. But in that the Nazis were exceptional among fascist movements.
Mussolini, as Trotsky noted, advanced no clear "ideological commitment" at all before he took power in October 1922. Much of the ideology of fascism, including the idea of totalitarianism, was crafted after it took power by Giovanni Gentile, who was not part of the fascist movement before October 1922. The Nationalist leader Luigi Federzoni and the military commander Pietro Badoglio had both indicated that they were willing to use their forces (in Federzoni's case, the Nationalist party militia) to disperse the March on Rome. The king demurred. They both rallied to Mussolini and became key architects of the regime until 1943, when they were part of the majority on the Fascist Grand Council which voted Mussolini out and decided to seek terms with the US-UK allies. Arturo Bocchini, Mussolini's chief of police, used to joke that he was "only a Fascist as far as his belt".
So were none of the leaders of Italian fascism really fascists? Was fascism, the original movement which gives us the term, not really fascist?
Franco, in Spain, was a conventional right-wing military officer before the Civil War, not a member of the Falange. Tsankov, in Bulgaria, was an academic connected to mainstream right-wing circles before the 1923 coup. Pilsudski was seen by the avowed Polish fascists as not one of them. De la Rocque, the main fascist leader in France between 1934 and World War 2, always insisted that he was not a fascist, and later joined the Resistance.
Or take Charles de Gaulle. Before World War 2 he was an army officer not overtly involved in politics. In 1940 he set himself up as the leader of French resistance to German conquest. He advocated a regime with powers concentrated in the presidency.
In June 1944, as the Nazis withdraw, he became president. The strongest forces developing under and against the Nazi occupation and the Vichy regime had been the Stalinists, the Socialist Party, and Christian Democrats. They all insisted on a parliamentary regime. De Gaulle resigned as president in early 1946.
A year later he set up a new political movement, the RPF, which the French Trotskyists described as fascist. The RPF did well at first. It faded fast as French capitalism began to boom, the Stalinist-led union movement remained strong (but the French bourgeoisie felt it could deal with it), and Cold War tensions eased. In May 1953, de Gaulle abandoned politics and retired to a remote village.
In 1958 a "soft" military coup brought de Gaulle to power. The French bourgeoisie wanted de Gaulle to settle the war in Algeria, which he would do in 1962 by "betraying" many of the military officers who had brought him to power and negotiating independence. France was now in full-scale capitalist boom, and no big political force wanted a full-scale dictatorial regime. De Gaulle introduced a new constitution, but limited himself to "strong" presidential powers. The same constitution continues today, though since de Gaulle was shaken in 1968 it has de facto allowed for a greater parliamentary element.
Was de Gaulle not a fascist even when he led a fascist movement? It makes more sense to me to describe him as someone with autocratic ambitions who at some times resigned himself to accepting bourgeois-democratic constraints; who in 1947-53 came to think he could realise his autocratic ambitions by building a plebeian battering-ram movement and only by doing that; and who then concluded that the battering ram would not work.
I doubt Trump could be described accurately as a fascist when he started his 2016 presidential bid which, let's remember, looked at first hopeless. He has evolved. He has failed in many ways, but he has "succeeded" in one momentous way. He has built a semi-organised network of support, commanding perhaps one-third of the electorate, which believes that the US government is there only as a result of a coup. That poses a threat of disorder such as may in some later crisis convince enough of the ruling class that the US will be "ungovernable" unless they allow Trump into power (probably, like the Italian bourgeoisie in 1922, reckoning that they can cleverly hem him round with coalitions and constraints).
In one of our Workers' Liberty pre-conference meetings, one of the co-authors of Daniel's text, Paul, described Trump as "a Bonapartist". There is a clear line between fascism and what Trotsky called "pre-fascist Bonapartism", where an unstable regime "balances" between the far right and the labour movement. But the line between an individual would-be Bonaparte and an individual aspirant to fascist leadership is only one of calculations and opportunities.
As Trotsky wrote on Poland in 1934: "The question 'fascism or Bonapartism?' has engendered certain differences on the subject of the Pilsudski regime among our Polish comrades. The very possibility of such differences testifies best to the fact that we are dealing not with inflexible logical categories but with living social formations which represent extremely pronounced peculiarities in different countries and at different stages.
"Pilsudski came to power at the end of an insurrection based upon a mass movement of the petty bourgeoisie and aimed directly at the domination of the traditional bourgeois parties in the name of the 'strong state'; this is a fascist trait characteristic of the movement and of the regime" [though he had no organised "fascist party" or militia].
"But the specific political weight, that is, the mass of Polish fascism was much weaker than that of Italian fascism in its time... To a much greater degree, Pilsudski had to make use of the methods of military conspiracy and to put the question of the workers’ organisations in a much more circumspect manner. It suffices to recall that Pilsudski’s coup d’état took place with the sympathy and the support of the Polish party of the Stalinists". (The CP declared the Pilsudski regime a "workers' and peasants' government"! The Polish Socialist Party called a general strike, successful on the railways at least, to back Pilsudski's coup. The Bulgarian Social Democrats at first supported Tsankov and were in his government.)
"Mass terror [occupies] a much smaller place, than in the corresponding periods with Mussolini or Hitler... Nevertheless… it is methodologically false to form an image of some 'ideal' fascism and to oppose it to this real fascist regime which has grown up, with all its peculiarities and contradictions, upon the terrain of the relationship of classes and nationalities in the Polish state…"
The text from Daniel and his co-writers gets some things wrong, I think, about fascism between the World Wars.
Fascism flourished not as a direct reaction to "growing, militant labour movements led by Communists", but by rallying plebeian forces "run amok" in economic crisis to seek future security by way of revenge and suppression against labour movements. It flourished not as those movements were strongest and most threatening but after they (sadly in their majority not led by communists) had failed and disappointed.
Errico Malatesta put it well during the September 1920 factory occupation movement in Italy. "If we do not carry on to the end, we will pay with tears of blood for the fear we now instill in the bourgeoisie".
The fascist movement, then small, played no part in dealing with that occupation movement. The Liberal prime minister Giolitti rejected calls from some capitalists to use the army and the police against the occupations. His more devious tactics succeeded.
The movement was not crushed. The future communist leader Amadeo Bordiga even thought the outcome a relative victory. Antonio Gramsci, in Turin, sensed the disappointment of the workers more accurately. As the movement was dissipating, he wrote: "The emancipation of the proletariat is not a labour of small account and of little people; only they who can keep their heart strong and their will as sharp as a sword when the general disillusionment is at its worst can be regarded as fighters for the working class or called revolutionaries”. The fascists grew rapidly as the workers demobilised.
Yes, the Trumpist militias in the USA are not able to suppress strikes or Black Lives Matter protests. They may still be a fascist danger. Pilsudski, Tsankov, Franco, etc. had a range of more or less organised plebeian support, but nothing comparable to the SA. They all relied heavily on the military from the start.
In Italy, the fascist squads terrorised rural workers' organisations in 1921-22. But the suppression of the central big-city organisations of the working class was carried out only later, by the "regular" state forces, under whose wing the fascist militia-people had by then (to reassure the bourgeoisie) been reorganised and tamed.
In Germany, strike levels remained high until 1928. After then, with the slump, they declined sharply. The biggest industrial dispute in the run-up to the Nazis taking power was the November 1932 Berlin transport strike, led by the Stalinists, which the Nazis supported (the city public transport authorities were Social Democrats). When the Nazis took power, neither Stalinists, nor Social Democrats, nor trade unions, were capable of organising even a token fraction of the collective resistance which the Social Democrat led trade unions had mobilised against the Kapp putsch in 1920.
The SA militia fought left-wingers on the streets. It helped convince enough of the ruling class that Germany could not be governed against the Nazis. But it was soon beheaded (the "Night of the Long Knives") and domesticated after the Nazis took power. The suppression of the labour movement was largely carried through by the regular state forces like the Gestapo.
The great barrier against the fascist danger in the USA is not Trump's supposed non-fascism, nor the supposed toughness of US bourgeois democracy, nor hopes of the Romney Republicans marginalising Trump, nor hopes of Biden restabilising US capitalism. It is signalled by the Black Lives Matter protests, the strikes, and the growing though still very unformed socialist movement. That is where we should look.