The term ‘fascist’ has become a useful term for many on the left for both simplifying and denigrating anyone else’s political position that disagrees with them. One of the key problems with this is that it often overlooks how closely entwined capitalism and fascism actually are. And with most of us, to differing degrees at least, active in the capitalist system it means that if we are not careful we may well overlook our own complicity in the growth of fascism.
In 1944 FDR’s vice president Henry Wallace wrote an article for the New York Times about the rise of fascism both in general, and more specifically in relation to the USA. In that article he described a fascist as someone “whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends”.
While there is a real danger in thinking fascism rests entirely in the hands of the despot and his immediate flunkies, the problem is clearly not just about that sort of individual being present in our communities, but rather that sort of individual finding people who are willing to collaborate with them. Historically, fascism has made its most significant advances when working together with capitalism.
The free-market democracy model of capitalism that is so prevalent today is based on a hierarchy of privilege derived from economic exploitation, and maintained over generations through political oppression. This capitalist model has proven time after time to be one of the more robust foundations on which to build fascism, given the right context and supporting factors.
In the first few decades of the 20th century the European countries that fell to the fascist ideology all had several things in common. All where flirting with extending democratic suffrage, all where capitalist economies that were failing the majority of their populations, all had ruling classes that were barely clinging on to identities built on past glories, and all had an exploited class that was becoming more organised and increasingly militant. In short, all three countries had an exploiter class who could see that their privilege could be taken away from them at any moment.
Because the overarching goals of capitalism and fascism are basically the same, the concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a very narrow group within society, it is in this common cause that capitalism and fascism finds its common enemy, equality. Economic equality from the perspective of the capitalist, and political equality from the perspective of the fascist.
This is why the ‘lesser of two evils’ arguments falls apart so easily, and why any real or lasting socialism has never been voted into power in a ‘free-market democracy’. Capitalism does not pull towards equality, it pulls towards inequality. It doesn’t share wealth, it concentrates wealth. And any political ideology that seeks to exist within a capitalist model must be one that concentrates power if it is to function alongside the concentrating of wealth.
The situation the American people are currently facing is a very good example of exactly this problem. While very few people on the entire planet would argue that the current President of the USA is not one of the most hate-filled, deceitful and incompetent individuals to hold high office in any leading industrialised countries in recent years, the options being given to the US electorate in this upcoming election are not quite as different as many would like to claim.
Firstly, this level of hate, deceit and incompetence in government that we have witnessed in the last four years didn’t start with Trump. It was a long journey which included both republicans and democrats. And it is has not just been going on in the States. Most of the world is facing exactly the same problem with exactly the same sort of people in charge.
Trump is peculiarly bad, but he is not the aberration that some people on the left claim. It isn’t difficult to make the case that hate-filled, deceitful, incompetent narcissistic sociopaths is what the modern political structure has been producing for some time now. This isn’t a temporary glitch. If anything it is well-tuned manufacturing line producing at peak efficiency.
As the people swing left, so the establishment swings right. And when the people, suitably cowed by the far-right become more accepting of their exploitation, so the establishment stands down the overt oppression and swings back to the centre right. But make no mistake, the oppression and the exploitation doesn’t change in any significant way. It is only the language describing it, and the openness with which it is pursued that changes.
And now we see this happening again. The talk turns from Trump to Biden, from law and order to social contracts, and from strong leadership to democratic mandate, all the while the debates being had on the streets of America about the concentration of wealth and abuses of power are pushed down the agenda. Now that the US population have seen the lengths to which the US establishment is willing to go to in order to protect its privilege, the people are given the choice of brutal subjugation under Trump or docile acquiescence under Biden. But it is a false choice.
Biden was in the White House with Obama for eight years. That was eight years before Trump had got anywhere near the Oval Office. It was also eight years when people of colour were being killed in the streets by agents of the state, when women were being sexually assaulted with impunity; and when the government was largely ignoring the climate science, was aiding and arming despots overseas, and helping concentrate the countrys wealth into the off-shore accounts of the 1%.
Trump is a major threat to everyone on the planet, but not only did this not start with him, he is by no means doing it alone. The political processes are constructed in such a way that we are all complicit in our political oppression, just as the economic structure is constructed to make us all complicit in our own exploitation. If we continue to play by their rules, rules which they wrote to ensure that they keep winning, we can only ever keep losing. Capitalism and fascism are two aspects of the same process, the pursuit of inequality.
The most effective actions taken in recent decades have been done outside the state-approved channels of political activity. The people who took part in 15M and Occupy didn’t ask permission before acting. Extinction Rebellion didn’t wait for party conferences to handout leaflets. Black Lives Matter didn’t hire lobbyists and think tanks to bribe politicians. #MeToo didn’t wait for law enforcement and the judiciary to recognise the crime wave infecting every institution in society. And the teachers didn’t let their “leadership” stop them from withdrawing their labour when all their polite negotiating had failed.
Just as subservience breeds subjugation, so choosing between differing forms of exploitation can only result in continued exploitation. Being asked to choose between capitalism and fascism does not change the direction we are travelling in, it only marginally changes the route we are taking to get there.