President George W. Bush and the neoconservative handlers of his administration have added a new bogeyman to their long and evolving list of enemies: "Islamic fascism," also called "Islamofascism." This wonton flinging of the word "fascism" in reference to radical movements and leaders of the Muslim world, however, is not only inaccurate and oxymoronic, but it is, indeed, also ironic. Of course, it is also offensive and inflammatory and, therefore, detrimental to international understanding and stability.
Fascism is a specific category or concept of statecraft that is based on specific social and historical developments or phenomena. It cannot be conjured up by magic or portrayed by capricious definitions. It arises under conditions of an advanced industrialized economy, that is, under particular historical circumstances. It is a product of big business that is brought about by market or profitability imperatives. It is, in a sense, an "emergency" instrument (a metaphorical fire fighter, if your will) in the arsenal of powerful economic interests that is employed during crisis or critical times in order to remove or extinguish "obstacles" to unhindered operations of big business.
When profitability expectations of giant corporations are threatened or not met under ordinary economic conditions, powerful corporate interests resort to extraordinary measures to meet those expectations. To this end, they mobilize state power in order to remove what they perceive as threats to unrestricted business operations. Therefore, as the 1928 Encyclopedia Italiana puts it, "Fascism should more appropriately be called 'corporatism' because it is a merger of state and corporate power."
While some researchers have attributed this classic definition of fascism to the Italian philosopher Giovanni Gentile, others believe that it came directly from the horse's mouth, Bonito Mussolini, the prototypical fascist.
Where big money plays a crucial role in the election of politicians and government functionaries, state power is almost always a proxy for corporate power or big business. Under "normal" or "healthy" economic circumstances, however, that agency role of the state is often subtle and submerged, as under such circumstances business and government leaders can afford to rely on the "invisible hand" of the market mechanism to perform its putative magic work.
But as soon as an expanding economic cycle turns to a declining one, and the declining cycle becomes dangerously persistent or chronic, business and government leaders dispel all pretensions of deferring business or economic affairs to the "invisible hand" of the market mechanism and rush to the rescue of the market system with all kinds of "extra-economic" or policy schemes of "restructuring" and crisis-management.
Such interventionist policies on behalf of corporate interests in pursuit of higher profits would include, for example, business-friendly changes in labor, environmental, taxation, and anti-trust laws. They would also include changes in rules governing international trade and investment through multilateral institutions such and the IMF and WTO in favor of powerful transnational corporations.
While these corporate welfare schemes are characterized by such apparently benign labels as restructuring, downsizing, streamlining, or supply-side/neoliberal economics, they are, in fact, legal, political, institutional and, at times, military instruments of class struggle that are employed by business and government leaders in pursuit of profitability, often at the expense of working people.
These neoliberal corporate welfare schemes contain elements or seeds of potentially fascistic economic strategies. The germs of potential or latent fascism, however, can remain dormant as long as implementation of such "restructuring" schemes do not face serious resistance from labor, or menacing pressure from below; that is, as long as corporate welfare policies can be carried out by peaceful political and/or legal means (as opposed to police or military means). This has been, more or less, the case with the United States since the early 1980s where corporate and government leaders have since then "peacefully" carried out a successful supply-side or neoliberal economic policy that has resulted in a drastic redistribution of national resources in favor of the wealthy.
But when major business interests find "normal" restructuring policies of corporate profitability insufficient, or when severe resistance or pressure from below tends to make "peaceful" imposition of such policies difficult or impossible, corporate and government leaders would not hesitate to employ police and military force (i.e., emergency or fascistic measures) to carry out the "necessary reforms" in pursuit of corporate prosperity.
Such emergency steps would include union busting, strike breaking, tax breaks for the wealthy, cuts in social spending, severe austerity economic measures, and the like. To undermine resistance to this belt-tightening package of economic fascism, corporate state will then find it necessary to embark on the corresponding package of political fascism: wearing down on civil liberties and republican principles, manipulating electoral and voting processes, undermining constitutional and democratic values, disregarding human rights and international treaties, and so on.
Imposition of such anti-democratic policies will, in turn, require scapegoating, fear-mongering, enemy-manufacturing and, of course, war. While domestic dissent is portrayed as treason, external non-compliance is depicted as threat to "our national interests" because, according to this logic, other countries cannot remain neutral or independent: "they are either with us or against us"!
Xenophobic or chauvinistic nationalism, superficial or pseudo populism, and worship of military power are major hallmarks of fascism. Corporate state propaganda machine would feverishly promote these values because, among other things, such values resonate with ordinary citizens and help mobilize the masses behind the agenda of fascism.
Successful mobilization of the masses behind the program of fascism is, of course, a most ironic and perverse type of social development: the victims (the middle, lower-middle, poor, and working classes) are driven to rise up in their crazed desperation to support the victimizer, the big business, through the agency of fascism. This is, of course, pivotal to the success of fascism.
This brief description of the characteristics of fascism is more than theoretical; it also reflects the actual developments that gave birth to the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. Fascist dictators in both countries, Hitler and Mussolini, were elevated to power by major business conglomerates.