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Evolutionary Fascism: The American Phenomenon

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Barrington Moore, in Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, stated that capitalism without revolution equals fascism, implying the absence of democratization in its historical development, that resulted in a monolithic societal formation merely recapitulating its structural-ideological features as it successively evolved. The formulation forces attention to certain aspects of capitalism particularly relevant to America, perhaps a variant of world capitalism as a framework of political economy which is systemic in character, differentiated from other systems by its commodity-structure (the separation of use value and exchange value) making for a fundamental condition of alienated labor extending throughout the society as a mental-set of still more profound separation, one from another, alienation.

America shares that condition, incorporating alienation, perhaps in more intensified form than in other capitalist societies, because it did not have a feudal past, and hence, a pre-capitalist modal stage that first had to be dismantled before capitalism proper could take off. As Louis Hartz, in Liberal Tradition in America, reminds us, American capitalism was born mature, no prior structural dismantlement needed, puristic capitalism standing in clarified form from the nation’s historical founding—an unwavering developmental process to this day, and no doubt beyond.

No revolution, no variegation, and rather, like a steamroller effect as pertaining to class structure, social values, wealth concentration, expansion, imperialism, the resort to war and permitting internal dissent only within acceptable boundaries. Key definitions, e.g., freedom, democracy, are deductively reached and handed down, the property right, a transcendent right, at their core, shaping the legal order and ideology alike. Other capitalist societies have richer historical backgrounds. (Japan and Germany, as exceptions, have followed a straightforward monolithic course different from, but on the essential point of the absence of revolution, the same as America’s, the former two culminating in fascism, America still an outcome-in-waiting.)

Why the foregoing elaboration? Because American “democracy” has been a selective historical process identical with puristic capitalism, ruling out and/or forcibly excluding whatever detracts from a linear societal growth-pattern, capitalism in extremis, as though its survival depended on its unchanging sameness. From very early, the bias has been for counterrevolution, a state of mind applicable to both domestic and foreign affairs. “Exceptionalism,” a term of patriotic endearment, can and should be regarded instead as a term of indictment and disparagement, for it sweeps social change under the rug of antiradicalism. “Democracy” becomes the enemy of democratization, a means of opposing equalitarian political-social standing and equitable wealth distribution. It has been a sham ever since upper groups broke away from colonialism in the “American Revolution,” only to establish their own independent mercantilist system, hardly a revolution (and when plantation slavery is factored in, the one obstacle to puristic capitalism, the consequence is a clearing away to make room for bourgeois capitalism, confirming the non-revolutionary course).

America has been stuck in its own dithers seemingly from time immemorial, fearful of revolution from below—or elsewhere in the world, endangering its own, and the system of international, capitalism, unitary in conception, despite capitalist rivalries, in that the US identifies the maximization of its national interest through posing as the guardian of the total world system. This of course has to do with the Cold War, self-conceived on America’s part as a global ideological struggle by which this nation alone can, and is qualified to, lead the “free world,” against malign adversaries determined to destroy its own and that world’s existence in the name of communism/socialism. Anticommunism, as the historical experience of Germany and Japan attest, is the road to fascism, and in America, immediately following World War II, it had become a national religion which, since, persists at a bedrock level of national political consciousness.

Were it otherwise, even within capitalism, as in the case of the English Civil War and the French Revolution, partially if not completely wiping the slate clean of premodern elements, America could have looked forward to a democratic future. But to start as capitalist, and then become increasingly more so, cancelled all possibilities of dialectical struggle, destining the nation to be what it has, by say 1900, become: corporatist, obsessed with power to protect its wealth, ethnocentric (not only in racialist terms, but also to consign labor to, by rights, a secondary position), and a political culture predicated on waste, war, and discrimination, in contradistinction—as expected of democracies—to conservation/asceticism in all their myriad forms, international peace and, at home, nonviolence and harmonious social relations, and respect for the individual without accepting a heightened caricature of individualism.

A democracy has responsibilities to its, and all, people; America, instead, quickly devolved into a class-society of extreme wealth concentration and a greater depth of impoverishment and marginality than once cares to admit. But, am I being too theoretical, in the process painting a grossly unfair and inaccurate picture? I don’t believe so, and if anything, the situation is worse, because class, power, and wealth, far from being the “normal” workings of capitalism, is here hastened on, indeed, driven forward, by the military factor, an exceptionalism of force (including, through industrial warfare, from the Knights of Labor through the C.I.O., as well as in the implementation of imperialism and market expansion) rather than of freedom.

This brings us to today, an electoral contest which perfectly summarized the historical trends of the last 125 years, America at its lowest common denominator, aggressive in the world arena, contemptuous of its people at home who fail to measure up to the standards of monopoly capital and 100% Americanism (as interpreted by ruling groups and the leadership of both major parties). Now, though, the political tables are turning between Democrats and Republicans. The party of the working class has become the party of elites, the party of wealth, now taking on a plebeian identity, in both cases setting down at the starting line—already proto-fascist—for a race to the finish. It is hard to fault Trump when Clinton is equally detestable from the standpoint of war, capitalism, and inequality, so that, rather than a lesser-of-two-evils attitude, one of plague-on-both-your-houses, deserves respect.

If there is a cancer ravaging the nation, beyond what has already been mentioned, war, militarism, a saturated capitalist polity, it is the structure and spirit of privatization per se, the all-important practical and ideological connective of capitalism to the State, a Fascist State, clothed in the garments of pseudo-democracy to neutralize and win over the working class, a critical piece in the puzzle for achieving totalitarianism. The middle class, country after country, has been or is being habituated to that end, a prime carrier of fascistic belief systems, which makes of working-class militancy and self-respect all-the-more vital to democracy, itself no longer code for capitalism, as now, but a vibrant context of human rights and mutuality both of respect and purpose. As for upper groups, why look to them for guidance and leadership, when they have created and chiefly benefited from the policies which enriched them and steered the course to ever-enlarging imperialism? The main capitalist nation in the world needs all the tricks in its arsenal and at its command if it is to stay on top.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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