[NOTE: This the second part of a three-part series. Part 1 was posted last Thursday (Dec. 1); Part 3 will be posted on Thursday, December 8th]
Who are the fascists?
“Precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis do they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle-cries, and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language.”
Karl Marx – Eighteenth Brumaire
Call the fashion police.
After all, what kind of person living in the United States in the early years of the 21st century would go around wearing a tri-cornered hat?
Come to think of it, why is it that Tom Paine’s polemic Common Sense is once again topping the bestseller lists, after a hiatus of well over two centuries?
And what of the crowds marching through the streets of Washington, waving the Gadsden flag, a banner that predated the Stars and Stripes by at least a couple of years?
What are we to make of this self-styled movement which, regardless of its political and philosophical incoherence, has rallied around an opposition to socialism and the popularly-elected republican government of the United States?
Whatever we are to make of this movement, what no one can mistake is that the its symbolism and slogans are self-consciously revolutionary in nature. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 was of course an act of civil disobedience — a prelude to a violent war of independence. Many of its adherents are prepared to take drastic measures to protect themselves, as they see it, from a looming threat — up to and including violent insurrection.
To answer these questions, we first have to ask ourselves who these people are. When we ask “Who are the fascists?” we are actually asking a couple of different questions:
- What interest groups and what classes of people make up the fascist movement?
- Who makes up the mass base of the fascist movement?
- Who is leading and who will lead the fascist movement?
- What is their agenda and what would they do if they were to come into power?
These are complex questions, and as such each will be discussed at length separately. Let’s get started by addressing the first question.
What interest groups and what classes of people make up the fascist movement?
The fascist movement as a whole is a political coalition — at this time a temporary coalition of convenience — between a few broad groups of people (classes). These discrete interest groups have united together with a few common political goals, but have yet to coalesce this multitude of sometimes conflicting interests and ideas into a coherent ideology, platform, organization or political strategy. This may or may not come with time.
While there is considerable overlap between these groups (for instance, one person can hold multiple class positions), for analytic purposes let us refer to them as discrete entities. These are:
- The petit bourgeoisie. The petty capitalist — often referred to as “small business” or “the little guy”. These folks are the middle class proper. They are the landlords and the small business owners. They own a small amount of property, which is generally non-productive (a house, let’s say, as opposed to an automobile factory). They do not generally possess ownership over the means of production.
- Elements of the military & veterans. These folks either serve in the official military and security apparatuses, formerly served in them, or make a living as private military contractors. The continued expansion of imperialist conflict to all corners of the globe has resulted in something like a bonanza for folks willing to kill for a living. Currently US military spending continues to increase even in the midst of economic recession, so right now there is more than enough money to be shared amongst everyone in these groups — veterans, rank-and-file soldiers, mercenaries and military contractors (Blackwater, etc.), war profiteers and defense industry lobbyists, etc. However, an eventual contraction of US imperial influence is inevitable in the face of stagnating economic conditions — whether by means of military defeat or otherwise is an open question. When this occurs, the US and indeed the whole world will be faced with wave upon wave of jobless, highly-trained killers-for-hire (much like the mercenary Freikorps of post-WWI Germany who would later be incorporated into the Nazi Brownshirts). Rank-and-file enlisted men and women will return home defeated and traumatized to an economy and a society in shambles.
- Precarious workers and ex-proletarians. Due to unabated scientific progress, not only are workers more productive at their jobs, but many of their jobs are being rendered redundant by innovative new technologies. Evidence for this controversial and highly unpopular argument can be found everywhere. As just one example, take the global textile industry. Pietra Rivoli cites a 2004 Conference Board study which unequivocally shows that between 1995 and 2002, China — by far the largest manufacturer of textiles in the world — lost nearly 10 times as many textile industry jobs as the US. “While production, revenues, and exports are soaring, employment is shrinking because of rapid advances in technology and labor productivity. In short, textile jobs are not going to China, textile jobs are just going, period.” Travels of a T-shirt p. 142. Or take the recent New York Times article on the mechanization of food service jobs. Previously this logic was most evident in agriculture, where rising productivity over hundreds of years resulted in mass migrations from the farms and villages into the cities and the factories. This process continues unrelentingly today. The industries hardest hit by increased mechanization and labor productivity (compounded in the US by competition with low-wage labor abroad) have been concentrated in the manufacturing sector. When bourgeois profits are threatened by crisis, the capitalists cut costs to maintain profits, this results in mass layoffs. Since worker productivity has risen to compensate for the reduction in workforces, there is no need for capitalists to rehire these workers. Ever. These folks are told by politicians and media pundits that they need to “retrain” and get jobs in fields such as health care or information technology. How seriously anyone takes these admonitions is an open question. I think most economically redundant ex-workers understand on some level that they will never again have a good-paying job with benefits. In their despair they look to the fascist movement for answers.
- The Lumpenproletariat. This term is a catch-all for folks without an obvious class position. I don’t have a strict definition here, but I would include in this camp pensioners and others reliant upon state subsidies, as well as others. Politicians — who produce nothing and create no value — fall into this category. “The important point is less who makes up the group than its declasse position. Without a clear class interest, this group could be won over by the right as well as the left. Since it had no obvious allegiance, it was untrustworthy and provided a ripe climate for demagogues and opportunists. The lumpenproletariat had no particular reason to side with the proletariat, since it had no employer and was not exploited in the same way; relying on handouts, charity, and crime, it was dependent on the existing order and could be employed by the forces of reaction against workers” (Mark Leier, Bakunin p. 219).
- Elements of the big bourgeoisie. Finally, pulling the strings behind this movement, encouraging it and providing funding and guidance, is the big bourgeoisie — the capitalists, the ruling class. Not all elements within the bourgeoisie are supportive of the fascist movement. High finance (finance capital) for instance has been singled out as Public Enemy #1 by historical fascist movements in Germany and elsewhere. Certainly, there is a pervasive animus against the US bank bailouts and the perception that the finance capitalists don’t “play fair.” This is to say they use their political power to circumvent market forces, when this is not an option for workers or small businesses. Some elements of the big bourgeoisie, either out of ideological conviction or motivated by pure self-interest, have supported the various fascist groupings rallying around the Tea Party banner. In fact, the genesis of the Tea Party movement came from conservative advocacy groups such as FreedomWorks, which has led to subsequent charges of the movement being an “astroturf” operation. I will endeavor throughout this essay to dispel this comforting myth. Historically, elements of the big bourgeoisie have supported fascist movements in order to protect their own power and profits, until such time as they realize — all too late — that the monster they have bred has grown too powerful for them to control.
I should be clear that simply because these are the classes supporting fascism, this should not be construed to mean that all members of these classes will necessarily support fascism. There will of course be large numbers of anti-fascist military officers, unemployed workers, wealthy industrialists, etc.
Who makes up the mass base of the fascist movement?
Reactions to the rise of the fascist movement among the liberal-left in the United States has been uniformly dismissive. When confronted with undeniable evidence of the Tea Party movement’s popular appeal, it’s burgeoning military wing and its powerful allies, the knee-jerk response of the liberal was to say: “Those idiots? They couldn’t even tie their shoes, much more overthrow a government.”
These sorts of remarks go to show how thoroughly radical thought in the United States has been infiltrated by liberal bourgeois ideology. It is indeed a hallmark of twenty-first century liberal ideology to deride the intellectual capacities of the masses. Liberals always overstate the power of the bourgeoisie in relation to the masses, because their ideology is predicated on the rule of the masses by an elite.
The first thing people have to understand is that the mass base of the fascist movement is made up of ordinary people just like you. They are not any more or less intelligent than anybody else. These folks — the crowds of tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of men and women who marched in September of 2009 in Washington and at other locations all across the country — by their sheer numerical strength undeniably constitute what we call a mass base. This mass base is composed of teachers, retirees, small business owners, workers with jobs and without — in a word, these folks are not the ruling class.
In all likelihood, if you were to ask a fascist, he or she would proudly tell you they were (or used to be) members of the “middle class”. In fact, if you were to further question this individual, you would probably hear echoes of the plaintive cries of politicians and pundits on all sides of the acceptable US political spectrum — the middle class is under attack.
Oftentimes people will say that fascists are not voting or acting in their own best interests. This is technically untrue. The mass base of fascism is made up of economically disenfranchised people who have no future in the existing economy. They are willing to resort to violence because there are no options presented to them in which they can be a part of the future.
Written by Tim Horras, Chairman, Philly Socialists (http://www.phillysocialists.org/)