Fascism: Ascendant or Dominant?

Just as the cold war and anticommunism were used to make war and stymy democracy in earlier periods, so the War on Terror and counterterrorism are weapons in the war on the aspirations of working people in the current period. However, there are four key conjunctural differences between then and now that suggest imminent fascism. 

First, during the earlier period, because the socialist world represented a viable alternative to capitalism, liberals recognized utility in humanizing capitalism through progressive reforms. The welfare state was tolerated because it ameliorated the conditions that might fuel rebellions in times of crisis and thereby bought off the public. With the collapse of the socialist world system, the welfare state has lost is function. It is becoming a custodial apparatus.

Second, a functioning and aggressive labor movement pushed liberals to compromise for the sake of political consensus, i.e., hegemony. It is not enough to dominate the opposition. The ruling class must also lead. The Democratic Party incorporated the labor movement into the ruling political apparatus (the two-party system) in order to command it. As long as workers had independent organizations they had leverage. With incorporation, their organizations have been neutralized. Incorporation occurred simultaneous with the conservative war on labor. With private sector unions all but gone, there is no need for compromise. Hence the convergence of Democratic and Republican policies (objectively, they have always in the long run worked in tandem), namely neoliberal economics and neoconservative foreign policy.

Third, capitalism had a different character during the earlier period. To be sure, there were corporations, and the capitalist class represented the ruling class; but the story of capitalism is the progressive transformation of the commons and private property accessible to the many into capital exclusive to a few. Capitalism wasn’t born fully developed. It had to expand and colonize the world. Colonization is complete. And having completed itself, it is now, in the form of corporate power, totalizing its rule over humankind.

Fourth, the masses, while enamored with conspicuous consumption, still defined themselves in the earlier period first as citizens. Today, the identity of “citizen” has been replaced by the identity of “consumer.” With this shift the understanding of freedom has changed. Consumers are not troubled by the surveillance state because, having long ago bought into the false ideology of market beneficence, they believe they benefit from the system having more information about them. Liberty is sacrificed to convenience.

With the collapse of world socialism, the neutralization of the labor through incorporation and pacification, the rise of transnational corporate power, and the reconstruction of freedom to serve financial and commercial interests, the totalizing character of the machinery of the contemporary security project can now surpass that of anticommunism. The system has become totalitarian in its functioning.

Commentators on the left talk about “rising” or “emerging” fascism. But the truth is that fascism is here.  Fascism completes its ascendency when the public supports the policies of the corporate state. When private ownership of the essence of life itself becomes commonplace and uncontroversial, then fascist logic has become interiorized. Fascism is now.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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