Baby-Steps Toward Neo-Fascism

What may seem like isolated signs—a drone assassination, a trade partnership, military pressure to force agreement with US policies—aren’t; they are both part of a unified framework and represent a cumulative development promoting their integration. On the former, America is so obsessed with social control and hierarchical class ordering at home, counterrevolution and market penetration abroad, that it cannot help itself—neo-fascism (I use the term to signify an emergent ideological-structural process, not yet fully realized) becomes an almost knee-jerk reaction. Advanced capitalism defines America’s societal core, out of which public policy radiates in all directions. On the latter, historically, America has followed a consistent pattern for the maintenance and protection of its political economy—an evolution of increasing wealth concentration, itself a function of greater consolidation of industry and banking, combined with a supportive climate of deregulation and public subsidy—and its political culture of the primacy of the property right, from which all other rights take their meaning (or are so interpreted). The composite picture is akin to, the US does what it has to do, as the means of ensuring its identity and inner construction. Capitalism is a jealous mistress requiring constant appeasement and devotion lest it atrophy, become senile, break down. Hence its mentality of survival, cast as ongoing rejuvenation: the need to demonize its enemies (and where there are none, to create them, as the means for unifying, on ruling-groups’ terms, a society of profound inequalities and inequities stemming from them), along with the drive for global hegemony, as confirmation of its ideology and institutional system (and incidentally, its imperative quest for profits to keep the coffers overflowing and structural dynamics operating).
This systemic integration and cumulative historical reinforcement (hegemony, market expansion, domestic ORDER–dominant themes, following different strategies to suit the requisite power available and global circumstances) have been evident since at least the Civil War. Therefore, it should not be surprising to find, once alerted to the developmental course and singular regard for property, that each and every day American capitalism exhibits the telltale signs of reproducing itself in ways large and small, tighter and tighter in the solidification of its power and its impregnation of the American polity. It is as though the result were a focus on stabilization (particularly beginning in the late 19th century amid the widespread incidence of industrial violence) rooted in a deterministic ideological mind-set.

Actually, there is nothing deterministic about it, and rather the continued ascendancy of ruling elites defines a long-term historical-structural context in which the scope for alternative patterns of development is progressively narrowed: capitalism, by force of labor suppression as well as by force of argument. I do not follow consensus-devotees in the forefront of the Great American Celebration (a sure path to academic preferment and advancement), except when consensus is recognized to be gained at what Barrington Moore and others have termed, legitimated violence. Determinism is unnecessary when the cards of power lie on one side, and diversions of war, intervention, and the constant drumbeat of patriotism are ready to hand.
To illustrate the point of the baby-steps taken in the downhill march, or, if one prefers, an historical progression, in the direction of neo-fascism, I have chosen a three-day period from this past week in which one sees the movement away from political-social democracy, with no pressures mounted in the opposite direction. In sum, a linear, non-dialectical process is at work, as if protest has been absorbed into the governing consensus, so that capitalism by necessity is more rigidly maintained than perhaps ever before, in light of the changing composition of world political-economic forces, with the result that it appears self-enclosed, giving itself license to act without restraint, taking on increasing force against all obstructions to the advancements made in the degree of the private centralization of power. Obama is the ideal comprador (a term one should savor for its exactness in describing his services to American elites, who are more rapidly coalescing into a ruling group under his watch), through extending and utilizing the National Security State (think: massive surveillance, but also his closeness to the military and intelligence communities, all wrapped in the whole cloth of counterterrorism) primarily as cover in order to inform American capitalism with greater military and economic power, the State its willing instrument and accomplice.

The interpenetration between business and government, which, according to Gabriel Kolko’s Triumph of Conservatism, began in the TR-Wilson era, with the former’s Bureau of Corporations, the latter’s Federal Reserve System, both providing a shield for the protection of major corporate and banking interests, and thereby facilitating the rationalization (in the Weberian sense) of the capitalist system. Regulation from day one was transvalued as non-regulation, true through the present and no doubt into the future—not merely regulatory capture, but systematized governmental mission, in advanced capitalism, to construct a political environment, safe from attack on the Left, that promotes monopolization and the pyramiding of intersectoral consolidation (business power multiplied through trade-association activity). Decade-by-decade, different features are added (e.g., the NAM and Chamber of Commerce come into their own in the 1920s), and certainly, reliance on military power throughout the 20th century for business expansion remained ready-to-use. But now, something is qualitatively different: there is a new relationship between the military and American capitalism. It is not simply adjunctive to American capitalism, as before, but central to the latter’s very structure.

Interpenetration as the salience of power in America has, I believe, to be amended to update Kolko’s brilliant formulation a half-century ago: the steadily rising importance of militarism within the business-government partnership has transformed both business and government, or, to step back and adopt the more basic description, capitalism and the State, making the former more firmly dependent on the military (not only the profitability of the defense sector in its own right, and defense as underwriting economic growth, such as it is, but as the obvious instrument securing and enforcing hegemony in all its myriad aspects), and converting the latter, government itself, into a framework for military activity, its customary functions falling by the wayside. Thus, the emendation of Kolko’s formulation, in which interpenetration becomes the militarization of business and government, a three-legged partnership, the former two maintaining control of the third, but sufficiently infused by its spirit, requirements, and purposes, to signify the mobilization of power as the defining trait of capitalism in fulfilling its systemic needs. Schumpeter’s bourgeoisie is out the window, as capitalism reveals its appetite for conquest abroad, exploitation at home.

In tone and policy direction, USG has become a Military State. This, in turn, has clear implications for the structural organization of capitalism. For it provides the economic foundations–the consolidation of business, industry, and banking, in large-scale units–for waging aggressive policies on the world stage. TR, his reputation as a trust-buster laughable, sought to match the economic base with military power, the former a precondition for the latter, with the result that monopolism became the sustaining force, appreciated quite early, for in essence the globalization of American capitalism. The concept is highly Germanic, a Junker-style closed system of heavy industry to be matched with the Great White Fleet (fittingly named) as its geopolitical corollary. Monopoly signified national strength, and gave reason (the export-orientation—and disposal of surplus production) to expand through overseas markets. Even without the Bolshevik Revolution, intracapitalist rivalries were reason enough for desiring a strong military—an international framework still governing, the more so as Russia and China abandon their ideological principles and pretentions. Using the renewed Cold War as a psychological crutch doesn’t hurt either, in ensuring the central role of the military in American thinking and action.

This I take to be indispensible background, the corporate-militarist fusion, which has come to define the quotidian reality of our times. The enlargement of the ruling class is occurring, yet retaining cohesion in spite of growth, because business and banking leadership seek further integration with their military and defense counterparts, the latter no longer merely servants of power but (for a start) junior partners in recognition that capitalism as a system requires firming up, as rival powers herald a promising future. The US has gladly arrogated to itself the guardianship of world capitalism—that goes without saying (indeed, the standard formula ever since Wilson’s Siberian Intervention). But more, brought up to date, it also arrogates to itself the status and condition, by right, of being on a permanent war footing. This is good for business, bad for the social safety net, and horrendous in its consequences for the structure of international relations.

I have selected four baby-steps, from Feb. 7-9, my vehicle, as usual, the New York Times, because, more than the WSJ, it provides a window into Establishment-thinking, more constructive than adheres in the politics of the status quo, yet, passing as the Voice of Modern Liberalism, corporatist always, it stands in reality for the political culture of centrist antiradicalism. This is not good enough, whether our standard be social democratization of the American power structure, or the impartial reporting of the news itself, in which, despite excellent national-security and financial investigative reporting, The Times persists in granting Obama a free pass in practically everything and, in foreign affairs, identifies with US hegemonic goals and actions. Its liberal credentials and reputation superbly illuminate the eclipse of liberalism as a progressive agent of change. One could, of course, in documenting these baby-steps, choose dramatic news items—e.g., Keystone XL, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Snowden’s revelations of surveillance–but my concern is with the everyday, where, nonetheless, one sees unidirectional policies which have been insinuated into the ordinary fabric of American life and thought.

Let’s start with the constant disparagement of Russia, as in the NYT editorial, “A Spotlight on Mr. Putin’s Russia,” (Feb. 7), all the more significant because of its lessened intensity, part of the ongoing chatter, in which one realizes that for Americans the Cold War never ended. Putin is the simulacrum of Stalin, who, in turn, is that of Lenin—not in the hands of The Times, so much, as in the climate of fear and suspicion it helps to engender, out of which a generalized demonization of country, leader, political economy, then follows. Hence for those watching the Olympics, it was perfectly predictable that in describing the opening ceremonies, featuring a gala narrative of Russian historical development, NBC staff would have choice words to offer as the section dealing with the Revolution passed in review. As well, Pussy Riot, in their American visit, are treated as high-fashion freedom fighters. (Without wishing either to praise the Revolution or condemn Pussy Riot, my point simply is our adversarial obsession with Russia.)

Here The Times: “The Olympic Games … are intended to be the fulfillment of President Vladimir Putin’s quest for prestige and power on the world stage. But the reality of Mr. Putin and the Russia he leads conflicts starkly with Olympic ideals and fundamental human rights. There is no way to ignore the dark side—the soul-crushing repression, the cruel new antigay and blasphemy laws and the corrupt legal system in which political dissidents are sentenced to lengthy terms on false charges.” Fine. I won’t dispute “the dark side,” whether or not exaggerated (for any abridgment of human rights should be opposed and resisted), but neither The Times (because not speaking out) nor America has clean hands in the matter. Prison conditions in Russia, the editorial charges, are deplorable; are they not so, here as well? The paper’s silence about everything from drone assassination to wealth-concentration to gun violence to environmental spoliation, precisely in the context of an attack on Putin and Russia, is ear-splitting.

One-sidedness: add the size of the military budget; deregulation (and the consequences of the self-induced financial crisis on the lives of working people); failure to address unemployment, foreclosures; the crisis mentality engendered through the national-security ideology and program of counterterrorism (and the list goes on indefinitely)—all of which point to the creation of a permanent war psychology, in which fears of Russia mingle with, become attached to, the posture toward international terrorism. All Putin lacks in the popular imagination is an eye-mask and sizzling bomb ready to be thrown. It is the further creation, an undifferentiated ENEMY, which calls for societal acquiescence in all things, including “austerity” and reductions in the social safety net, that gives to counterterrorism/anti-Russian thought and policy an adventitious or contrived quality. Demonization works well, provided the ground is well-tended.

This first baby-step, a reinstated Cold War, now becomes readily extended even more explicitly—given the allocation of US military forces to the region–to China, still retaining, even intensifying, the made-up case for imagining provocation or justifying confrontation. And the result is the same, a sure-fire setting setting for the weakening of civil liberties, the stifling of social criticism, whether of monopolization, globalization, or destruction of the environment, and the shoving through of legislation detrimental to public health and the regulation of corporate wealth and privilege. Having an enemy serves to unify the nation around its economic and political leadership. It also conduces to the uncritical acceptance of its ideological formulas of exceptionalism and divine-right hegemony in the world. Together, we see a neat psychopathological bundle of xenophobia and ethnocentrism as the underlying, or breeding, ground for ensuring the militarization of capitalism, an important factor in the ultimate formation of a fascist polity.

My NYT Comment on the editorial, “Mr. Putin’s Russia,” same date, follows:

Would that NYT would show as much indignation to US violations of human rights! As bad as Putin is reputed to be, he does not lead a campaign to ASSASSINATE putative terrorists, and is not in Obama’s ballpark on collateral damage. Nor has he launched two major interventions (Iraq, Afghanistan) or provided a worldwide paramilitary operation of CIA-JSOC forces. Nor expended as much as the US on a military budget and, especially, nuclear modernization.

Until NYT gives equal attention to USG outrages (I stress “equal,” because there should not be a double-standard, and Russia too must be put under the human-rights microscope), it loses all credibility and simply becomes a vehicle for renewing the Cold War. Freedom of the press requires honesty in all things: NYT has largely given the Obama administration a free pass, focusing on Republicans as a convenient scapegoat to explain away POTUS’s dismal record on civil liberties (Espionage Act prosecutions), detainee abuse, deregulation that winks at metabanks’ illegalities, and the continued widening of class-and-income differentials fostering the all-time high concentration of wealth. Your heart bleeds for the authoritarian-ridden Russians, not a word about unemployed Americans, the homeless from the mortgage-foreclosure fiasco, the horrendously-sized prison population. Instead, NYT uses gay rights as an entering wedge for stirring up political mischief.

Welcome to Cold War II, then perhaps you’ll be satisfied.

The second example, more indirect, concerns the effect of the Affordable Care Act on the labor market and labor productivity, in which Republicans confuse job losses with workers’ voluntarily deciding to work less (because having health coverage no longer contingent on full-time employment), as in Eric Cantor’s rush to judgment that “millions of Americans will lose their jobs and those who keep them will see their hours and wages reduced.” Prof. Krugman, exposing the untruth, comes to the rescue, “in the ever-mendacious campaign against health reform.” Krugman is correct—up to a point. As the Doyen of Liberal Economics, we must be respectful—also up to a point. The reason I include this discussion as a baby-step toward neo-fascism (and Krugman is the same day-in and day-out) is that in his NYT article, “Health, Work, Lies,” (Feb. 7), he is once more converting dross into gold and thereby discouraging the grasp of structural-ideological alternatives, here valuing ACA well beyond its merits, at the expense of critical awareness and the growth of political consciousness. Liberalism is a soporific, not simply blurring class identity or captivating the citizenry in a party-framework predicated on false choices, but also, in mock gesture to the Left, reabsorbing radical energies and social forces into an elite-defined consensus tantamount to collective self-castration.

Demonization is alive and well as a standard defense mechanism in avoiding responsibility for the social welfare. America demonizes Russia, Krugman, mirroring the Democratic party-line, demonizes the Republicans, all to the same effect—as an excuse for NOT fighting the people’s battles, here health care, but also much more, from failure to oppose the structural dynamics of wealth-concentration, including the military-drained welfare sector and business-banking deregulation, to the wholesale slaughter of civil liberties, itself, in part, a reflection of the militaristic cultural atmosphere. Reading Krugman, one would think economic phenomena exist in a total vacuum, no need therefore to make reference to the surrounding world of war, class, power, etc. Converting dross to gold (Obamacare) is not a harmless enterprise; it shrinks the nation’s ideological vision, narrows the parameters of social change, delivers the people into the hands of the Corporate State in transformation into the National-Security State. The best he can say in defense of ACA is, “Remember, the campaign against health reform has, at every stage, grabbed hold of any and every argument it could find against insuring the uninsured, with truth and logic never entering the matter.” Nor does a stand-up-and-fight promotion of single-payer or the public option ever enter the matter. Liberalism helps to shift the goal posts further to the Right, its contribution to neo-fascism being the operant mechanism for the pacification of the people.

My NYT Comment on the article, “Health, Work, Lies,” same date, follows:

As Krugman says, “Think about it.” Why give space to Eric Cantor’s distortions when the real issue remains, WHY ACA, a boon to gluttonous health insurers, when Obama could have fought for single payer, and, stirring up enough indignation, conceded, if necessary, and then pushed for the public option? Krugman covers himself with the aside, “flawed and incomplete though it is,” when it is there that he should dig in, analyze, expose. No, instead Obama emerges in all sweetness and light.

ACA is merely a continuation of Rubin-Summers deregulation, the enforced capitulation of government whenever the public interest is to be addressed. Economists almost to a person accommodate themselves to wealth and reject solutions, even still under capitalism (viz. New Deal and FDR), that interfere with immense profit-taking. Krugman advocates essentially for trickle-down while waving a liberal banner. In fact modern liberalism is now about where Republicans were in the 1930s.

Since the focus here is on labor and the labor market, why not a systematic analysis of wage stagnation and the hostile climate for union organization? That surely bears on health insurance, in the context–largely ignored–of the overall assault on the social safety net, as much Democrats’ doing as their rivals’ obstruction. This week the Senate failed to extend unemployment benefits–factor that into the discussion. Cantor is not worth a single line; Krugman, enlarge your social vision!

A third baby-step in the downhill march, economic chicanery in the service of mega-wealth acquisition, can be seen from the evidence in James B. Stewart’s excellent article in The Times (still Feb. 7), “Past Fictions, a Lack of Trust and No Deal in SAC Case.” SAC refers to one of our favorite high-flyers in the financial universe, Steven A. Cohen, and his SAC Capital Advisors, a firm much in the news because of alleged insider-trading. So, what else is new? The financial sector is corruption brought to a standard of perfection not seen since the late 1920s, and its relevance to neo-fascism consists, among other things, in its contribution to the systemic breakdown of capitalism, a setting out of which cynicism reigns as people become demoralized and look for strong leadership and extreme solutions—or simply turn ugly and look instead for scapegoats.

Cohen to this day has avoided prosecution, here the case of his last-minute reversal of “the firm’s position on two drug companies,“ making a bet “that netted the firm $275 million.” Perhaps chicken-feed, not worth pursuing—except for the glimpse it affords into capitalism’s workings on the everyday level, a political economy not known for its concern for human betterment. But attention is not on him, and rather, on one of his former traders, Mathew Martoma, whom prosecutors want to reveal details of his conversation with Cohen about the reversal of position. Martoma won’t talk, and he faces a lengthy sentence for insider trading. Martoma is my current nominee for prized jewel in the crown of American capitalism, and it is only fitting that Cohen, perhaps running true to form, should hire him as a trader.

Rather than star-witness against Cohen, he is that for the demiurgical force driving the system forward, the appetitive nature of capitalism devouring its own. Martoma was expelled from Harvard Law School (HLS) for “alter[ing] his transcript to improve his grades, and had used the fabrication to seek prestigious judicial clerkships.” That is only the beginning. Called before the school’s administrative board, he told a succession of lies so intricately woven (he wanted to please his parents with higher grades, the true transcript was stored in a cabinet, the fake one on his desk, sent out by mistake, his denial that he wanted a clerkship, so the transcript was a joke, etc. etc.) as to be worthy of admiration—except that HLS wasn’t buying. Yet, what does rascality have to do with neo-fascism? Martoma, our poster boy, is so beautifully emblematic of the deterioration of society’s moral fabric in its materialization of human striving and aspiration as to leave the psyche a seeming black hole to be filled with ideological garbage reinforcing an authoritarian-prone social order.

My NYT Comment on the Stewart article, same date, follows:

Kudos to Mr. Stewart, proving nonfiction trumps fiction, for however skilled the novelist, he/she would be no match for Martoma’s larger-than-life doings. I especially liked the ending, a co-founder of HLS’s Society of Law and Ethics. Perhaps now Martoma could auction off the screen rights, a sure box-office winner.

Seriously, Martoma may regrettably serve as a microcosm of the present generation’s financial integrity, the incentive system of America’s pecuniary culture, the moral void characterizing prevailing social relations, from government on down (as in massive surveillance and the contempt shown for traditional standards of civil liberties and privacy). Martoma may well replace the Ugly American of fiction with the Quintessential American of fact. In all of this, I am proud of HLS for exposing the fraud, as a Harvard Ph.D. in a wholly different area who has misgivings about the University today compared with a half-century ago.

When will self-invention (worthy of a Scott Fitzgerald character) cease being rewarded? Stewart’s account is must reading in this wealth-crazed society, with its colossal appetite for amoral, cynical advancement. Not only Wall Street but, of course, Washington top-to-bottom. It would be fitting if he receives a gentle wrist-slap, so complicit is the law and the regulatory system in the corruption of the American political economy.

Finally, a fourth step, two day later, The Times editorial, “The Case for a Higher Minimum Wage,” (Feb. 9), illustrates the well-meaning attempt—“increasing the minimum wage is vital to the economic security of tens of millions of Americans, and would be good for the weak economy”—to confront the problem of underconsumption (not mentioned directly because it would lead to a fundamental critique of capitalism), yet holding all other factors cemented in place. The minimum-wage issue is divorced from the systemic, inordinately weak distribution of wealth, power, and income. Again, “congressional Republicans” are demonized, when in reality neither major party has tackled wealth-concentration and the structure of power supporting it. The editorial seeks advantage from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the first minimum-wage legislation, to argue that a basic division between the parties exists (in the present) “over government’s role in the economy, over raw versus regulated capitalism, over corporate power versus public needs,” coasting on the reputation of the New Deal to hide the record of current Democrats, Obama on down. Were it only so, instead of notorious deregulation of capitalism, perversion of government into a systemic shell for unleashing military power, and driving the very concept of “public needs” six feet under.

On the surface, no sight of neo-fascism here. Yet, like single-factor analysis in general, the long-term damage is done: providing a false sense of security, once the problem at hand is resolved, to deflect social change from much-needed societal reconstruction. Liberalism, as the absorber of discontents, becomes a pushover, not unlike Weimar, in failing to meet the challenge (or even signify it) of what in Germany was called, “the marriage of iron and rye,” and in America, should be called, the symbiosis (verging on total integration) of business, industry, finance, and the military—a neatly-wrapped package resting on a social base of political-ideological habituation to compromise, thence obedience.

My NYT Comment on the editorial, same date, follows:

$10.10 is more liberal pizzazz, catchy, seemingly small d democratic, yet accomplishing nothing for the reformation of the American social structure, itself the widest class-differential in wealth, income, and power in US history. In sum, a bandaid, so that its being unacceptable to some signifies how morally bankrupt, cynical, apathetic the opponents within an essentially retrograde total party system. This is bipartisan continuity on the road to semifascism. Why? Because even under strict capitalist guidelines (never mind socialism), America lacks the will, and is ideologically too far gone, to consider PUBLIC solutions to poverty, underconsumption, pitiable wages.

The New Deal and FDR enacted Fair Labor Standards in ’38 in the context of sweeping activity from the now-forgotten alphabets beginning five years earlier! WPA, CCC, PWA, etc. not only put people to work, thereby preserving their skills and their human dignity, but addressed major problems, achieving dam construction, reforestation, problems once again (witness crumbling infrastructure) with us, not because of natural deterioration, but rather massive defense spending, interventions, a reigning spirit of militarism–all deeply eroding the social safety net.

Starting with $10.10 is like putting rouge on an empty corpse. Wealth still goes to the top. Nothing is changed in the proportionate distribution of wealth and power. The righteous, i.e., NYT, have a feel-good moment, as the status quo only tightens.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism.  His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism.

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