While the object of fascism is always the same, to disarm, intimidate, repress, and roll back the sectors of society pushing for further equality and democratization, thereby making possible a higher degree of exploitation, its various manifestations take up the coloring dictated by specific cultures and epochs. That’s why military fascism in Chile is different than Argentina’s, or Spain’s, and why German fascism was far more brutal and systematic than the Italian variety. When and if it comes, American fascism will have its own defining characteristics, most likely a presidential façade.
When the news filtered out in 2003 about the creation by the Pentagon of a formal, overt, disinformation agency to “influence US public opinion,” many political activists who track the system’s shenanigans reacted with a big collective yawn. Media watchers have long known about the CIA’s pervasive infiltration of mainstream journalism, with hundreds if not thousands of well-camouflaged “assets” around the world, and the de facto nullification of the injunction against conducting propaganda in the US.
This nefarious program, now at least half a century old, and whose actual dimensions we can only guess at, has included the sponsoring of journalists, authors, publishing imprints, newspapers, radio and tv stations, and many other tricks, all amounting to immense power to inject a false consciousness spin on contemporary realities. What’s more, this doesn’t include the huge pile of falsifications pouring from legions of non-CIA-connected journalists and commentators, operating under their own pro-capitalist or reactionary biases, nor the adulterated output from those already working under clear corporate fiats, as in the case of Rupert Murdoch’s media, by far the word’s pre-eminent avatar of Orwellian communications.
Against this backdrop, the announcement that the US public was to be subject to open propaganda by one of the government’s most powerful agencies was not alarming because it indicated a drastic departure from a wonderful information regime in which all voices were heard, and truth reigned supreme, the ghosts of Cronkite and Murrow rattling in the backgroundfor we never did have such a system, but, because in its own sinister way it marked a subtle shift in the way the plutocratic elites choose to mask or reveal their manipulation of the state apparatus for their own ends.
So the interesting question that comes up is this: Why do the “mind managers” feel they should now drop some of the pretense? The simplest assumption might apply: because they may feel the need to tighten further the linkages between “official truth” and the mass communications apparatus (while accustoming the public to such questionable fusion…and remember that the right never has enough), and besides they may feel the time is right. While the Iraq War debacle has contributed mightily to unravelling the credibility of this regime, the “globalization elites” fronted by Bush at the moment feel protected from retaliation by a quasi-impregnable wall of national paranoia and jingoism of their own creation, an obscurantist climate designed to harden the ignorance and provincialism with which far too many Americans perceive the world and their own interests.
But if the world’s elites (led by the American plutocratic establishment) are readying themselves for battle with the masses, what makes them think the battle is imminent or inevitable? After all, class war—one-sided, self-conscious class war— as we see in the US goes on all the time, so what makes this juncture more perilous?
Stoking up fear, an exercise in upper-class self-preservation
The midwife for all this, of course, is the much accursed Bin Laden and his gang of misguided reactionary fanatics, whose very existence is a direct corollary of American foreign policy, but if Bin Laden hadn’t obliged by stepping up to the plate, he would have been created. He’s simply too useful to the governing elites. In this context, what is even more troublesome is that, should the American public start to put aside the 9/11 memories, and therefore its effects, refocusing on their real problems such as increasing unemployment, inadequate health access, and the innumerable bizarre social and economic priorities implemented by the elites, they might be subjected to a new round of jingoist fever, again, thanks to the same cast of perps, and with further distractions and dislocations from such pressing issues. The advantages to the plutocracy of a Bin Laden specter roaming the world, of another Reichstag fire writ large, are so attractive that the chance of his re-entry into the American scene, with perfectly woeful consequences for the remainder of American democracy, are almost guaranteed. It is that sinister eventuality we must constantly watch out for and work to prevent.
I have often rebuked my fellow sufferers on the US left for crying wolf too soon and calling anything even slightly authoritarian “fascism,” but moves like these fall squarely out of the textbook of creeping fascism. Bertram Gross, not to mention Gramsci, or R. Palme Dutt (the British Marxist who wrote that classic, FASCISM AND SOCIAL REVOLUTION) spelled it out eloquently. Their diagnosis was that fascism, as known in Europe, would be an unlikely occurrence in America. The American brand of fascism, they concurred, would be one with a strong, self-righteous presidential mask, behind which the ruling orders, in pursuit of a fierce global class agenda, would implement policies designed to eviscerate democracy in its totality while keeping the appearance of sweet democracy in place.
I have long argued that, since the beginning of “government by professional manipulation” in America (which reached what we might call “self-conscious maturity” under Ronald Reagan), that the country has been ruled and continues to be ruled by a plutocratic oligarchy smugly dressed in the garments of democracy. The problem for the ruling orders is not new: Alexander Hamilton was already aware, along with many of the Founders, that a real, popular democracy would represent a huge class menace to dominant privileges. That people, once awakened to their true interests would simply vote their exploiters, or “betters,” out of power–at least for a while. The bicameral system was set up (in the age of puny, local media) as one way to stem or derail this ominous tide. (In France, the revolutionaries installed a unicameral system, which is intrinsically more democratic.)
At the moment 9/11 took place, the world’s ruling plutocracies (among which I now must include China’s authoritarian capitalists, and Russia’s state capitalist Mafias) were already facing an intractable problem: a hugely unstable system of massive natural and human exploitation, with a rapidly mounting tide of completely intractable social and political problems.
Under the conditions of modern industrialism, world production can easily outstrip world consumption due to the tremendous productivity of new technologies. All capital machines, such as conveyors, presses, welders and related equipment used in a car assembly, for example, are designed and sold to replace human labor with machine labor
This phenomeon is certainly not restricted to manufacturing, where of course it is more visible; the service sector, banking, for example, has also seen its human ranks thinned considerably thanks to the introduction of sophisticated automation routines in many of its front— and back-end tasks. And in management journals there’s been talk for decades of the “totally automated auto plant,” the “totally automated bank,” and many other visions, all spelling out the end of mass human employment in production.
The apparently inexorable trend, therefore, is for industry to require fewer and fewer workers—in all sectors—to turn out ever larger outputs…so what does this actually mean for us? Under conditions of authentic democracy and egalitarianism, this should mean humanity’s gradual liberation from toil, as, ideally fewer and fewer hours of labor would have to be surrendered to produce a very high standard of living.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Why? because social property, read capital to produce everything–land, machines, etc.—is owned by a tiny minority and it is precisely this tiny minority that also appropriates the lion’s share of society’s production, translated, of course, into money, which is nothing but a certificate of entitlement to this enormous mountain of goods and services…a “claim” redeemable anywhere such certificates are accepted. (By law the legal tender, or currency, must be accepted everywhere in the nation.)
The inevitable upshot of such grotesque disequilibrium is overconsumption on one side and underconsumption on the other.
In other words, as long as the social relations that bind society to this unfair “contract” remain in place so will this untenable equation, since, if technology is constantly eliminating human labor, and therefore paychecks, who is going to have the necessary income to go back to the market and buy back that ever expanding pile of production?
So, the simple, biggest reason for the problem of faltering demand, recession, or even depression on a world scale, is severe income and wealth inequality, which becomes ever more acute as the system—unchecked by progressive forces such as labor and other pro-democracy groups—follows through with its inherently myopic dynamic of heaping ever larger accumulations of wealth onto the hands of a privileged few while slowly and inexorably immiserating the majority. Such conditions must eventually lead to a major, structural crisis, and they do. History is replete with such examples. But since the system can choose any solution to the crisis, except the obvious—social justice—as the latter goes against its central, non-negotiable dynamic, this is then the anteroom to fascism.
FINANCIAL FRAGILITY ON THE INCREASE
The US today shows alarming inequality. This is evident to all of us who can look at the situation fairly and impartially. We now have hundreds of billionaires, and a similarly growing mass of millionaires. Meanwhile, the income and wealth gap is not big, it’s obscene. The legendary American middle class, the envy of the world, the staple of television sitcoms of the 1950s, not to mention the working classes, have lost a substantive share of national income over the last 35 years and the financial stress observed in this sector is evident in most national indicators.
Consider: There were 1,661,996 bankruptcies filed in Fiscal Year 2003, up 7.4 percent from the 1,547,669 filings in Fiscal Year 2002. This is the highest-ever total of filings for any reporting period. Since 1994, when filings totaled 837,797, bankruptcies in federal courts have increased 98 percent.
The financial profile of the typical American family reflects this troubling reality. As reported by the Washington Post in March of 2006,
[The typical family] has about $3,800 in the bank. No one has a retirement account, and the neighbors who do only have about $35,000 in theirs. Mutual funds? Stocks? Bonds? Nope. The house is worth $160,000, but the family owes $95,000 on it to the bank. The breadwinners make more than $43,000 a year but can’t manage to pay off a $2,200 credit card balance.
That is the portrait of the median American household as painted by the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances.
Such findings might represent a rude awakening to those still starry-eyed about the vaunted “new affluence” everyone was until recently talking about.
But how does capital deal with this problem? In the way you have seen all over the place: cutting back on wages and benefits, laying off workers, or simply moving to a remote location where labor can be paid a pittance and where neither humans nor animals nor nature do or will enjoy any protection. (The output is then cheerfully sent back to the more affluent—but shrinking— developed world, where extravagant profits are made, except that here, too, the crunch is inevitable because average income, in real terms, is dropping relative to production.)
In the more developed world, especially Europe, where citizens have a more sophisticated understanding of politics, and larger self-defense organizations than in the USA, governments have been obliged to apply some bigger band-aids to the crisis—read a measure of tangible social welfare. But the issue remains: the social vessel is listing badly, making water from many holes and infinite patches and now requires a serious overhaul, if not rebuilding altogether.
An outside observer, say an interplanetary traveller who never set foot in America, might deem such conditions deranged. And why not? Is it sane to live under a system whose ruling elites openly decry a rise in employment and living standard for the masses? And, conversely, isn’t it bizarre that, on Wall Street, supposedly the barometer of society’s economic health, when multinationals lay off workers by the tens of thousands, or shut down facilities, or abandon communities for an overseas location in pursuit of bigger profits for the few, the stocks go up amid wild celebration, and the executives in charge get fat bonuses and other rewards?
In a sane, truly democratic, not to say moral, society such behavior would be hidden from view, like the plotting of common criminals. But in this society, long inured to the reigning disease, Wall Street reactions are not hidden from view at all, they’re bragged about, as they remain safe behind an elaborate national brainwash that teaches Americans to accept such conditions with the tolerance we assign to the whims of nature.
The crisis of overproduction represented by humanity’s new technological capabilities is here to stay and can only be resolved by a far, far more equitable distribution of the product of human labor, on a world scale. This means serious, dramatic revisions of the current social contract—”the terms of agreement”—between two utterly conflicting social interests. Or the abandonment of such an injurious contract entirely.
I hate to quote one of the bogeymen of the American psyche, Karl Marx’s longtime collaborator and friend, Engels, but he put it admirably in 1886:
[If] there are three countries (say, England, America and Germany) competing on comparatively equal terms for the possession of the world market, there is no chance
but chronic overproduction, one of the three being capable of supplying the whole quantity required.
That was written in the 19th century. Multiply that by a thousand to begin to approach the contours of the current crisis.
DARKER BEFORE DAWN—IS IT TRUE?
The sense of despair that many activists feel these days, battered on all sides by this truly monstrous regime–monstrous in its immorality, cynicism, hypocrisy, self-righteousness and sheer evil–and its all-enveloping prostituted cheer-leading media, is shared amply in this quarter. In a sense, and without going too far afield, the present situation is the inevitable outcome of several realities which have defined this sick society for quite some time:
(1) The absence of a workers’ party, and by that I mean nothing so “alien” to the American mind as a bolshevist vanguardist party, but simply the absence of a real movement and party expressing and articulating the needs and visions of the average person, whose needs are clearly anchored in a “working class reality.”
Parties in a class-divided society, which the US surely is (business propaganda aside), are supposed to represent the interests of the various classes constituting the social pyramid. But since both Democrats and Republicans stand first and foremost for “free enterprise,” i.e., the polite coinage for the national and international bourgeoisie, what we have here is a single party cynically masquerading as two. I’m sure this is scarcely a revelation to most moderately sophisticated American audiences. (The obvious question then is, why is such a fraudulent state of affairs tolerated?)
(2) The successful enthronement in the American mind of liberals as real leftists.
Ferociously centrist, some might call them “extremists of the center,” liberals, frequently the embodiment of the petit bourgeois element in a nation, have never been and never will be real leftists because their entire class orientation and economic interests, which, as is true for all classes, largely determine their mindset, is anchored in the upper, propertied sector, which they tend to ape. This limits their vision and political actions. They are for endless tinkering within the system, while never daring to go beyond its egregiously restrictive limits. Their systemic solutions are therefore stillborn, quilts of pitiful patches with the problem itself often dictating remedial policy. (Witness, for example, Hillary Clinton’s health plan reform initiative, whereby no Naderites, or the Harvard Independent Health Reform Study Group, or similar authentic healthcare system critics were invited to the discussions, but the AMA, the Hospital chains, and Big Pharma’s lobbyists were. When was the last time that the disease set out to stamp itself out?)
(3) The rise and (momentary) triumph of corporate propaganda
The system requires the illusion of options, the illusion of some sort of political balance. And as democracy, against great odds, instinctively struggles to survive and deepen its roots, corporate power, especially through its media and political assets, works tireslessly to confuse and derail the effort. Thus the propaganda apparatus necessitated to negate obvious realities, to inject and maintain a pre-emptive consumerist consciousness among the masses, and to sow escapist notions as a complementary venting valve for gathering tensions, is an enormous and sophisticated machine, precisely what we witness today in modern America. In fact, the rise of such a disinformation machine, a marketing conduit for ideological and economic wares, was foreseen more than 80 years ago, as the growth of corporate propaganda was anticipated to match, blow by blow, the extension of democracy.
Against this backdrop, it’s no surprise that only liberals are heard in this country as “legitimate critics” when it comes to shaping national debates. Reflecting the so-called two-party system, which provides us with a rump political spectrum, the media, too, take care not to admit people to the left of what is regarded as “mainstream opinion” or what some quaintly define as the “loyal opposition” (loyal to what? to whom? That’s never spelled out with any precision).
True radicals (those that go to the root of a problem) are ruled out as “extreme” from the start. (When the national debate commission not only prevents Ralph Nader from attending the debates, but threatens to throw him in jail for exercising his right to do so, we know we are living in a country where the word democracy is something of a joke.)
In this regard, for those who will surely protest with alacrity that America is still the land of the free, I will say only this: The freedom guarantees of any bourgeois democracy can only be tested when that society’s power-holders feel they are under attack.True chalenges—by international standards have never been seen in the US, but the record so far is not pretty, and I refer you here to any number of episodes and incidents in American history showing that the American upper class is extremely manipulative and paranoid in the defense of its privileges. The trip wire is indeed very close to the ground in this nation.
But, folks, who needs widespread repression when the masses can be so successfully controlled by a pervasive 24/7 brainwash? Why show the jackboot and the truncheon, when we can launch massive invasions with relative impunity, under transparently hypocritical motives, and appear every day on the boob-tube with the photo-op of the day, claiming to be the last defenders of human sanity and decency on earth? Why indeed use the mailed fist and give away the system’s true fascistic nature when ubiquitous sound-bites and torrents of idiocy on the tube will suffice? I repeat: The true test of whether this or any nation is a reliably “free” and authentic democracy can only be approached with the rise of a mass movement seriously bent on replacing the current rotting structures with something deserving of the word “representative democracy.”
My money is that long before the emergence of such a welcome phenomenon you will see the system’s crises depositing us at the doorstep of operational fascism, albeit of the American sort, “friendly fascism.”
THE PREFIGUREMENT OF FASCISM, AMERICAN STYLE
Coups and military takeovers may happen in the middle of the night, but fascism (especially the strain incubated behind a presidential façade) arrives on the scene with plenty of advance notice. Its ready-made arsenal of anti-democratic weapons gives it away: increasing thuggery, judicial intimidation, widespread lies at all levels of governance, cultivation of public paranoias, political persecutions, dismantlement of constitutional rights in exchange for “security,” and, when all this fails, widespread repression using the immense reservoir of technical and military assets the system has amassed, from military repression to “retail suppression,” using covert assets, or even “indirect assets,” that is, killing dissidents and making it seem a common crime. (The latter is an old and characteristically sordid tactic used throughout the Third World.)
One may be justified to wonder if, against this backdrop, a populace so effectively depoliticized, and so exasperatingly naive about the true material mainsprings of American policy—abroad and at home—can ever manage to stand up to claim its rightful position as the genuine sovereign and fount for US policies on this endangered planet? How will this gross democratic imposture be retired in the face of the most successful and sophisticated plutocratic propaganda system ever devised?
That is the central question facing all dedicated activists in America and around the world. For America’s ever deepening immersion in fascistoid waters is the cross that the world continues to bear in this age of wholesale reaction sponsored by the “Free World colossus.” And the longer we take in finding genuine solutions to this crisis, the harder it will be to implement them. We have only this rapidly eroding chance to win the battle of communications, and win it we must.
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