For those who still believe that fascism could never come to the United States, that the cutting-edge barbarities that characterized the likes of Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and the Japanese Empire would, the sight of Koncentration Kamps for Kids has come as a violent shock. Exclamations of “this is un-American” and “this is not who we are” are rampant, almost as widespread as the endless prattle about law and order, defending arbitrary lines in the desert, and the demonic forces of MS-13.
The truth is, as many sensible people have already pointed out, that this latest offensive cruel and vicious war against our immigrant sisters and brothers is not unprecedented. In a colonial enterprise such as the United States, the dehumanization, brutalization, mass murder and incarceration of people of color – with a specific focus on Black and Indigenous peoples, but also against Latinx people, Chinese and Japanese immigrants, and others – is a time-honored tradition: bi-partisan, daily, patriotic. The cruelty that we rightfully condemn as fascist now is not new, nor is it un-American.
How many African families did America tear apart at the auction block? How many Native children did America kidnap from their communities, imprison in boarding schools, and force to obliterate every trace of their civilization, in the hopes of “killing the Indian, but saving the man?” How many disabled or physically undesirable people were murdered or sterilized, prevented from ever having families? How many Black, Latinx, Asian, and even poor white children has America stuck in cages before Trump ever dreamed of setting foot in the White House?
These monstrous crimes, perpetrated almost entirely against colonized peoples and nations, can be linked directly to the fascistic spirit that has always defined the United States’ relationship towards what we might call its “subject” populations. As Zoe Samudzi and William C. Anderson note in their new book, As Black as Resistance, anti-blackness and anti-Indigenous ideologies and practices are essential to the construction, maintenance, and survival of the settler-colonial state and society. Because of this foundational need for subjugation, exclusion, and obliteration of enemy populations equally domestic and foreign, the United States has always lent itself to fascist trends, and colonized people learned this well before white politicians and pundits started wringing their hands about Trump.
Colonized peoples learned what fascism was long before Europeans and the rest of the world did. This is not to say that fascism was fully formed prior to the 20th century, but rather that its techniques were first tested in colonized nations, on colonized bodies, and on colonized minds. Its architecture was built there. After all, the first concentration camps were not in Germany, or even in Poland. They were in Cuba, Africa, America, and the Philippines – built by colonial regimes to control colonized populations who had the audacity to resist their subjugation.
Before and after the French, British, Spanish, Germans, Belgians, and the rest of Europe knew what it was like to live with the iron boot of fascism on their throats, they stomped on the necks of the people of Algeria, India, Indochina, the Caribbean, the Congo, modern day Namibia, Madagascar, Libya, and so many other corners of the planet. For the colonized world, the modernist brutality that Europeans only began to inflict upon themselves in the 20th Century was their introduction to Western civilization.
As a growing body of scholarship has shown, the connection between fascism and colonialism, and their antitheses, the antifascist and anticolonial struggles, is clear. Unlike European liberals and their settler-colonial cousins, who refused to recognize the straight line between their enlightened ideologies, the violence they inflicted in their imperial conquests, and the fascist beast, colonized people recognized it immediately. In the 1930s, African newspapers were filled with talk of fascism, while anti-imperialist figures like George Padmore, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Jawaharlal Nehru saw colonial and fascist regimes as the same tyranny wearing different uniforms.
Why wouldn’t they? Fascism was not new to them. In every practical sense, they had lived within it for centuries. They knew what it was like to face extermination, to be treated as subhuman, to live and die according to the whims of vicious overlords, to be massacred in pogroms, monitored and surveilled, stripped of their rights by the “superior race.” How many black, red, yellow and brown people were enslaved, beaten, shot, debased, burned or gassed before comfortable whites turned the final product on themselves? Millions upon millions upon millions.
When Hitler and Mussolini were safely dead and gone, and the same whites who sang so sweetly about democracy and freedom during the war turned their guns back on uppity natives, it was Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, and others who kept up the anti-fascist struggle. They had a better, truer understanding of what liberation meant than the colonizers, who cultivated their inner Hitlers with such blissful and willful blindness.
In his essay “Discourse on Colonialism,” written a mere five years after the end of World War II, Aimé Césaire wrote of the hypocrite’s shock that greeted the European bourgeoisie when fascism and Nazism finally arrived at their door:
People are surprised, they become indignant. They say: “How strange! But never mind-it’s Nazism, it will pass!” And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, but the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack.
We can see those cracks widen around us. Across the world, fascism is resurgent. Unable to solve its own contradictions, capitalism is dropping its poorly-fitting democratic mask once again on a global scale. In a settler colony like the United States, founded on genocide and slavery and driven by an inherently exterminatory, white supremacist logic, it should come as no surprise that a government like the Trump regime has come to power. The only surprise is that it has taken so long.
No matter how many times its critics shout that its latest horror show of a policy is “un-American” or “not who we are,” the inconvenient fact remains that this is precisely who Americans are. This is America. This is the country that the Nazis and Adolf himself praised as a model to follow – the country that turned the destruction of Black and Brown families into a national pastime even more beloved than baseball.
When full-fledged, complete fascism comes to the United States, it will not be a horrific aberration, or a break in a glorious legacy. It will be the universalization of every atrocity this country and its beneficiaries have inflicted on colonized, oppressed peoples – a barbarity we accepted in increments because it wasn’t happening to “us,” the safe and chosen few, until we wake up one day and find the guns pressed to our heads.
Unless it is stopped, the monster will turn on its children. And we will have earned it.
Zach Medeiros is a writer, activist, and history student from Long Beach, California. He serves as the Male Co-Chair of the Socialist Party’s International Relations Committee. His major interests include international affairs, with a special focus on North Africa, and the Middle East in general and Syria in particular. Zach’s inspiration is to build a revolutionary socialist movement, which he reports leads him to read, “too damn much for his own damn good.” He also confesses that he does not believe in the State of Delaware, is not a horse, and has no plans to change either of those things in the future.