While the object of fascism is always the same, to disarm, intimidate, repress, and roll back the sectors of society pushing for further equality and democratization, its various forms take up the coloring dictated by specific cultures and epochs. That’s why military fascism in Chile is different than Argentina’s, or Spain’s, and why German fascism was far more brutal and systematic than the Italian variety. When and if it comes, American fascism will have its own defining characteristics, most likely a presidential façade.
The news about the setting up of a formal, overt, disinformation agency by the Pentagon, is not exactly surprising to many of us, as it wouldn’t be to Chomsky, Parenti, etc. Media watchers have long known about the CIA’s prolific roots and “assets” throughout the world’s media, including the sponsoring of authors, publishing ventures, and many other tricks, all amounting to immense power to inject distortion on contemporary realities (this does not include the huge pile of distortions emanating from non-CIA-connected journalists and commentators, operating under their own pro-capitalist delusions. Try stomaching Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch, for a taste of what the new information world might look like).
The announcement, therefore, that the US public may be subject to open propaganda is not alarming because it should indicate a departure from a wonderful information regime under which all voices were heard because such a thing we never had, but, because in its own sordid way it marks a shift in the way the elites mask the actual functioning of the system.
So the question is: Why do they feel they can now get away with this? Quite simply—as I’m sure you’ll agree—because the right wing/neoliberal elites fronted by Bush feel protected by an impregnable wall of national paranoia and jingoism, spelling ever more ignorance and provincialism in the way Americans perceive the world and their own interests.
The midwife for all this, of course, is the much accursed Bin Laden and his gang of misguided fanatics, but if Bin Laden hadn’t existed he would have been created. He’s simply too useful to the governing elites. In this context, what is even more troublesome is that, should the American public start to put aside the 9/11 memories, and therefore its effects, refocusing on their real problems such as increasing unemployment, inadequate health access, and the innumerable bizarre social and economic priorities implemented by the elites, they might be subjected to a new round of jingoist fever, again, thanks to the same cast of perps, and with further distractions and dislocations from such pressing issues. The advantages to the plutocracy of a Bin Laden specter roaming the world, of another Reichstag fire writ large, are so attractive that the chance of his re-entry into the American scene, with perfectly woeful consequences for the remainder of American democracy, are almost guaranteed. It is that sinister eventuality we must constantly watch out for and work to prevent.
I have often rebuked my fellow sufferers on the US left for crying wolf too soon and calling anything even slightly authoritarian “fascism,” but moves like these fall squarely out of the textbook of creeping fascism. Bertram Gross, not to mention Gramsci, or R. Palme Dutt (the British Marxist who wrote that classic, FASCISM AND SOCIAL REVOLUTION) spelled it out eloquently. Their diagnosis was that fascism, as known in Europe, would be an unlikely occurrence in America. The American brand of fascism, they concurred, would be one with a strong, self-righteous presidential mask, behind which the ruling orders, in pursuit of a fierce global class agenda, would implement policies designed to eviscerate democracy in its totality while keeping the appearance of sweet democracy in place.
I have long argued that, since the beginning of “government by professional manipulation” in America (which reached what we might call “self-conscious maturity” under Ronald Reagan), that the country has been ruled and continues to be ruled by a plutocratic oligarchy smugly dressed in the garments of democracy. The problem for the ruling orders is not new: Alexander Hamilton was already aware, along with many of the Founders, that a real, popular democracy would represent a huge class menace to dominant privileges. That people, once awakened to their true interests would simply vote their exploiters, or “betters,” out of power–at least for a while. The bicameral system was set up (in the age of puny, local media) as one way to stem or derail this ominous tide. (In France, the revolutionaries installed a unicameral system, which is intrinsically more democratic.)
Today, and prior to 9/11, the world’s ruling plutocracies (among which I now must include China’s authoritarian capitalists, and Russia’s state capitalist Mafias) were already facing an intractable problem:
Under the present system, world production can easily outstrip world consumption due to the tremendous productivity of new technologies. Industry requires fewer and fewer workers to turn out ever larger outputs…Under conditions of authentic democracy and egalitarianism, this should mean humanity’s liberation from toil, as, ideally fewer and fewer hours of labor would have to be surrendered to produce a very high standard of living.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Why? because social property, read capital to produce everything–land, machines, etc.—is owned by a tiny minority and it is precisely this tiny minority that also appropriates the lion’s share of society’s production, translated, of course, into money, which is nothing but a certificate of entitlement to this enormous mountain of goods and services…a “claim” redeemable anywhere such certificates are accepted. (By law the legal tender, or currency, must be accepted everywhere in the nation.)
The inevitable upshot of such grotesque disequilibrium is overconsumption on one side and underconsumption on the other.
In other words, as long as the social relations that bind society to this unfair “contract” remain in place so will this untenable equation, since, if technology is constantly eliminating human labor, and therefore paychecks, who is going to have the necessary income to go back to the market and buy back that ever expanding pile of production?
So, the simple, biggest reason for the problem of faltering demand, recession, or even depression on a world scale, is severe income and wealth inequality, which becomes ever more acute as the system—unchecked by progressive forces such as labor and other pro-democracy groups—follows through with its inherently myopic dynamic of heaping ever larger accumulations of wealth onto the hands of a privileged few while slowly and inexorably immiserating the majority. Such conditions must eventually lead to a major, structural crisis, and they do. History is replete with such examples. But since the system can choose any solution to the crisis, except the obvious—social justice—as the latter goes against its central, non-negotiable dynamic, this is then the anteroom to fascism.
FINANCIAL FRAGILITY ON THE INCREASE
The US today shows alarming inequality. This is evident to all of us who can look at the situation fairly and impartially. We now have hundreds of billionaires, and a similarly growing mass of millionaires. Meanwhile, the income and wealth gap is not big, it’s obscene. The legendary American middle class, the envy of the world, the staple of television sitcoms of the 1950s, not to mention the working classes, have lost a substantive share of national income over the last 35 years and the financial stress observed in this sector is evident in most national indicators.
Consider: There were 1,661,996 bankruptcies filed in Fiscal Year 2003, up 7.4 percent from the 1,547,669 filings in Fiscal Year 2002. This is the highest-ever total of filings for any reporting period. Since 1994, when filings totaled 837,797, bankruptcies in federal courts have increased 98 percent.
The financial profile of the typical American family reflects this troubling reality. As reported by the Washington Post in March of 2006,
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