The Progressive Industrial Complex and Our Fascist Future

Nancy Pelosi at Taipei. Photograph Source: Office of U.S. House Speaker – Public Domain

The Democratic Party leadership, along with the Liz Cheney wing of the Republican Party, seems intent on provoking a war with both Russia and China at the same time, all supposedly out of love for democracy and opposition to tyranny.  The sidewalks of cities across the US are increasingly filled with the stench of the dead, who have passed away inside the tents in which they spent their last days.  And you can still hear liberals wondering aloud why anyone would possibly vote for Trump again.

“I just don’t understand it,” they’ll say.  “How can people be so stupid that they’ll vote against their own class interests?”

Don’t tell the liberals that the average Democrat in the Congress is worth a bit more than the average Republican.  They don’t want to be confused by reality.  In their minds, the Democrats are still the party of the working class.  You know, the party that it almost maybe was, for a few years in the 1930’s, when it had to be.

“Have you ever listened to one of Trump’s speeches, from beginning to end?”

It’s my favorite question to ask anyone on the liberal-left spectrum.  The vast majority of the time, after a bit of hedging, the answer is “no.”

If the average liberal used 1% of the time they spend asking other liberals why Trump is so popular just listening to how Trump and his supporters look at things, a lot more people could start developing some useful perspective here.  But the liberals are as siloed into their propaganda sources as the rightwingers are stuck into theirs.

In the liberal’s digested version of MAGA, it’s all about scapegoating marginalized people for society’s problems.  To the extent that there are real problems the MAGA crowd is upset about, such as constantly declining standards of living for most people in this country since the 1970’s or so, this is to be blamed on white people resenting their “loss of privilege.”

That is, the Forgotten Man that Trump and his supporters have been going on about for years day in and day out, is to remain forgotten.

But what if these Forgotten People, however they define themselves, don’t want to be Forgotten?  What if this massive, intersectional base of MAGA support that the liberals dismiss as “privileged” think there might be more to life than continual decline?  What is the solution offered by the liberals to all of this?

Here in Oregon, if we look to the gubernatorial race currently underway in this state completely controlled by the Democratic Party’s supermajority, the three main candidates being mentioned in the press agree that homelessness is a big problem, and the most visionary solution any of them seem to be able to offer is that the state government should find the resources to at least house the homeless veterans.  Which, after all the time they’ve been running this state, they haven’t managed to do yet.

In contrast with the politicians of the more “populist” right and their media outlets, who vilify the marginalized groups they scapegoat for the decline in fortunes of the working class, the line of the elements of the corporate press and politicians who position themselves as progressives, for the most part, is to ignore class, unless it’s related to race, gender, sexuality, immigration status, physical disability, mental illness, being an abuse survivor, or otherwise being part of some kind of marginalized group other than the biggest one of them all, that the vast majority of all of the marginalized groups are a member of (the working class).

For those of us who are participating in the creation of or the consumption of news stories, songs, and whatever else seeking to humanize marginalized elements of society that are constantly being vilified, lied about, and scapegoated by the right, what we do we do with positive intentions.  Which, on the face of it, is obvious.  But when all the tales of marginalization come in combination with the clear absence of stories that tie the right’s divide-and-conquer scapegoating propaganda in with any kind of explanation for why most of US society — that is, white people — are in the impoverished and struggling state that most of us are in, we’re left coming up empty.

The ingenuity of the liberal media and liberal academia in terms of finding well-intended journalists and academics to go along with the program and work neatly with the agenda of the liberal elite is it’s an easy policy to engage in, with little brainwashing required.  For those who have had experience with corporate or “public” media outlets, or with careers in academia, much less explanation is necessary.  Anyone who has been close to these circles quickly discovers that it is generally not the journalists or the academics who decide what they’re doing stories or research about, so much as which stories, documentaries, research proposals, departments, etc., are funded, and which aren’t.

Especially if you’re not dealing with the one-minute digested version of realities exposed by good journalism or academic research, an investigation into how the housing crisis has affected the Black population of Portland, for example, will undoubtedly also highlight how gentrification has similarly impacted the working class generally.  And there are lots of good reasons to focus research on how the housing crisis affects the Black population specifically.  But when any story or paper related to poverty always has to have a particular connection to forms of marginalization other than the most significant one, in a country where the overall standard of living of the working class has been declining for the past fifty years, an impression is developed.

How and why this impression is developed will vary depending on who’s involved.  For the journalist or the academic, the information being provided may be real enough, and also even very important.  For those pulling the strings, and for those consuming the digested results of the research and reportage coming out of what we might call the Nonprofit Industrial Complex, it’s fairly clear what they think the takeaway here is:

Ignore the wizard behind the curtain.  This is more or less a classless society is the message.  Anyone inferring otherwise is some kind of conspiracy theorist talking about the Forgotten Man and scapegoating the very groups we are constantly seeking to humanize.  And we’re humanizing them all so well, aren’t we?  Listen to how well we humanize the scapegoated, and ignore the wizard who isn’t really there.  The loss of your privilege is to be expected.  It’s not really part of an overall decline under late-stage monopoly capitalism run by a corrupt system led by old, rich, white people, half of whom call themselves Democrats.  Blame those who are blaming the scapegoated groups that we’re humanizing.  Once we have a society free of prejudice, everyone will be happy and prosperous, by some magic process that shall not be defined.

And if that’s not enough, and we still want to figure out why most of us are so poor, even though we’re white?

Good luck.

This is where the Progressive Industrial Complex comes in.  I may be the first anarchist to use this term, so I’ll explain what I mean by that.

If we’re defining the Nonprofit Industrial Complex as that complex of entities that together create much of the output of journalistic and academic endeavors coming out of much of the left-liberal spectrum, which tends to define the spectrum’s orientation generally, then the Progressive Industrial Complex is what happens with these articles, books, documentaries, and research papers after they’re out there in the world.  It is what a Subreddit or a Facebook Group is to the New York Times.

This is the arena in which the ideas that are being continually implied by the Nonprofit Industrial Complex come home to roost, in the form of identitarian psychobabble.  It doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch in many social circles, once you’ve heard enough stories about the suffering of so many different groups marginalized on account of race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability, to draw the conclusion that the only suffering that goes on in society happens to these particular marginalized groups.

Thus, if nonmarginalized (read white male) people are suffering, and it is not because of the scapegoated groups, nor is it because of a broken, rigged, and declining capitalist system, then it is our fault.  The suicide and drug overdose rate among this group of people would suggest a lot of us have internalized this message very well.

Those who are looking for explanations to society’s ills that are based in understanding the problems created by the division of society into classes, and the relations between these classes in the context of a capitalist economic system with an extreme, “pro-business” legal framework, will be denounced as class reductionists, closet racists, or maybe even just plain racists, and for good measure, probably sexists and transphobes, too.  For pointing out that the general decline of the working class over the past fifty years in this society is the most central factor in the rise of the far right, which is daily capitalizing on this dire situation, you will be called many names by many people, if anyone’s paying attention to what you say at all.

Perhaps the most laughable part about the intellectual infrastructure of the US identitarian, new new left’s “loss of privilege” line of reasoning about the rise of the right is how much it requires that you have national blinders on in order to believe a word of it.  Because all it takes is a cursory glance at just about any other country on the planet to see that the decline in living standards for the working class majority in this country is something that is happening in so many other places at the same time, including in countries with very different demographics and histories from ours, such as India or Brazil, where the idea of calling any large segment of the population “privileged” or at risk of a “loss of privilege” is patently ridiculous.

Of course, we could draw the conclusion that the rise of the far right in India is all about privileged Hindus not wanting to share their country with Muslims.  We could draw the conclusion from the rise of the right in Brazil that the more privileged elements of society just want to steal more indigenous land.  We could also understand the Brexit vote in England as nativist Britons wanting to keep their fancy country for themselves, and kick out all the foreigners.  We could interpret the Yellow Vest movement in France as somehow antisemitic, rather than anti-elitist.

Or we could see how the right is defining the situation for people in these and other countries, and how the visible elements of the left are generally talking about everything other than the central problem all of these societies face.  Because those visible elements of the left, or what people see when they’re looking for the left’s perspective on the situation, are represented by the leadership of entities such as the British Labor Party, the Socialist Party in France, the Democrats in the US, and the equivalents of these parties in India (the Congress Party) and Brazil (the Workers Party), etc.  And all of these parties, perhaps with the exception of the Brazilian example, have long ago embraced all of the excesses of capitalism, and the global model of “development” — producing ever-growing chasms of inequality — put forward by the World Bank and the neoliberal economists from the Chicago School.

Why don’t we hear from these Democratic leaders — since the DNC rigged the primaries and made sure Bernie wouldn’t get the nomination — about the division of wealth in this country, or how it keeps getting worse under capitalism, and how we need to radically redistribute it in order to even think about getting anywhere towards a decent, fair society?  For the same reasons you won’t hear the Republican leadership talk about this.  Because both parties are led by the rich, in the service of the rich, and the system of capitalism that keeps them rich.

For the right, the logic is pretty consistent for the past century or more.  Harness prejudice of all kinds, weaponize the suffering of the working class to serve your ends, which generally have to do with serving the interests of the corporate elite.  A long time ago, the left sought to address the suffering of the working class by organizing against the corporate elite, and challenging racism and xenophobia as tools of the plutocrats, used to keep the working class divided.

To the extent that there is anything left involved with the Democratic Party or the class-blind identitarianism it wholeheartedly embraces, the visible left’s contemporary answer to working class suffering is to say that the white workers just need to “check our privilege” and get on with the belt-tightening, because now we have to lose our privilege, and make room for the marginalized groups that are now going to share the little tiny slice of the pie we’ve all been scrapping for for the past 500 years.  As far as I can tell, the message from the liberals to the white working class was summed up by the Sex Pistols forty years ago:  “there’s no future for you.”

Back in the 1930’s, the US had a sufficiently class-oriented progressive government to keep the Great Depression from turning the general population in a more radical direction than it was already going in.  The federal government recognized the importance of a strong labor movement, and for the government to take a central role in housing and feeding the population, and putting people to work building infrastructure, taking care of each other, and making art and music.  In the 1930’s, many people naturally began to conflate ideas like socialism and equality with patriotic Americanism.

In Germany, the forces of liberal democracy weren’t able to — or, depending on which ones, didn’t want to — hold the radicals at bay by finding a way to keep the population fed, and the radicals that came out on top were the Nazis.  The National Socialists, as they called themselves.  The ones who talked about the Forgotten Man, scapegoated marginalized groups, and united around a bombastic, charismatic leader, at a time when so many normally non-marginalized members of the population in Germany were destitute.  An overall situation that is almost shockingly familiar — except from my vantage point, the US today looks far more like Weimar Germany than like FDR’s America.

David Rovics is a frequently-touring singer/songwriter and political pundit based out of Portland, Oregon.  His website is