Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nearly complete

Yesterday I came across this post over at Larissa Alexandrovna's blog: "Fascist coup nearly complete..."

I was struck by the title because most people in America don't really know the definition of fascism. I'm not familiar with Alexandrovna's specific family history, but I gather she's from Ukraine, and the Ukraine as part of the former USSR felt the full force of fascism during World War II. People who read bile like Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning" are going to be clueless about what fascism really is.

And that's probably fine, if you're a fascist.

One day around fifteen years ago I was sitting around my union office and noticed two American Heritage dictionaries, one published in 1975 and one published in 1993. Whatever was on my mind that day I don't remember, but I looked up the definition of fascism in both dictionaries. And guess what? It had changed.

From 1975: "A philosophy or system of government that advocates or exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with an ideology of belligerent nationalism."

From 1993: "A system of government marked by a totalitarian dictator, socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition, and usually a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism."

Notice what's missing in the 1993 definition? "[M]erging of state and business leadership..." And that fascism is an extreme right phenomenon. By removing "extreme right" from the definition clowns like Goldberg were free to write "Liberal Fascism", a most moronic combination of two antithetical terms.

An addition to the 1993 definition is "socioeconomic controls". What form of government doesn't have socioeconomic controls? Sweden has socioeconomic controls. Someone who didn't know anything about fascism could grab onto "socioeconomic controls" and presume that fascism was against free markets, you know, like liberals.

Of course, fascism is against free markets. But then most people who proclaim that they are for free markets are against free markets. The question is never about the existence of socioeconomic controls. It's about what kind of controls and who benefits. The same class of people who benefited from fascism in Germany and Italy are the same kind of people who benefit from the execution of Paulson's plea.

It's the merging of state and business leadership that is becoming official with this proposed bailout. Alexandrovna cites this from what's proposed:

Section 2:
(a) Authority to Purchase.--The Secretary is authorized to
purchase, and to make and fund commitments to purchase, on such terms and
conditions as determined by the Secretary, mortgage-related assets from any
financial institution having its headquarters in the United States.
Necessary Actions.--The Secretary is authorized to take such actions as the
Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this Act, including,
without limitation:
(1) appointing such employees as may be required to
carry out the authorities in this Act and defining their duties;
entering into contracts, including contracts for services authorized by section
3109 of title 5, United States Code, without regard to any other provision of
law regarding public contracts;
(3) designating financial institutions as
financial agents of the Government, and they shall perform all such reasonable
duties related to this Act as financial agents of the Government as may be
required of them;
(4) establishing vehicles that are authorized, subject to
supervision by the Secretary, to purchase mortgage-related assets and issue
obligations; and
(5) issuing such regulations and other guidance as may be
necessary or appropriate to define terms or carry out the authorities of this
And this:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are
non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by
any court of law or any administrative agency.

Again, if you compare the two definitions of fascism, the latter guts out the most important part: its purpose. Sure, fascists tend to wage war and be racists and bigots, but the purpose of war has always been to seize someone else's wealth. And the fear and hatred of the "other" has always served as a distraction from real motives for war and has always helped to denigrate those people who are about to be robbed.

This bailout plan pretty much wipes out the boundaries between business and state. The state serves business. With our tax dollars.

I think this is what Alexandrovna left unstated. And it reminds me of the first wave of fascists.

What most people don't know is that German businessmen and bankers gathered together to plan the location of Auschwitz. The purpose of the location was to supply slave labor for the different German factories in the area. Lots of people were murdered outright and gold plucked from their mouths, but a lot of them were worked to death. You see, the government provided the businesses with cheap labor and supplied Germany's central bank with a steady supply of gold. Auschwitz was very good for business, not so good for the Jews and Gypsies.

One of men at the meeting where Auschwitz was planned was Herman Ab. Herr Ab was the head of Nazi Germany's state bank during the war. As German armies swept over Europe their bankers followed, seizing the assets of the conquered. Ab must have had friends in high places because he survived Germany's loss and went right on banking. When he passed away awhile back David Rockefeller was quoted in Ab's New York Times obituary as calling him "the greatest banker of our time". There was no mention in the obit of his work for Hitler or his part in the planning of Auschwitz.

Thus, as Larissa Alexandrovna says, this is nearly the completion of the fascist coup.


At September 25, 2008 9:45 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Hey Bob,
No question the recent turn of events is especially depressing. I haven't read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine but what I know of her premise certainly seems to fit recent events, and how they've been presented to us.

I wonder what ordinary people think. The news media doesn't seem that eager to look into that.

At September 26, 2008 11:42 AM, Blogger gnarlytrombone said...

I don't think either definition comes even close to the mark. As Umberto Eco argues brilliantly, fascism is more of a cultural tendency than an ideological system.

And as he points out, that's what makes it so slippery. American fascism (and that's his other point - you don't need a totalitarian state for it to exist) is in many ways completely different from and contradictory to the German, Spanish or Italian versions. It's syncretistic, and draws upon aspects of a particular cultural tradition. Yet in many fundamental ways fascism remains exactly the same regardless of the local circumstances.

At September 26, 2008 3:04 PM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

gnarly, I agree that "fascism" is tricky to define (because it's a culture of thievery and thus malleable to circumstances) and that it tends to absorb local bigotries in each "us/them" relationship. For ex, fascists in the U.S. tend to blame illegal immigrants, i.e., Mexicans, for lots of problems. But in Mexico fascist Mexicans blame indigenous people. The same us and them arguments, though. Anyone who's looked at the World Anti-Communist League would see this repeated around the world. (WACL, and its predecessor orgs, were collections of fascist groups around the world.)

The ultimate tenets of fascism revolve around government being controlled by Business. As such you can look for parallels throughout history where the wealth generated by labor and rule were controlled by the same person/people. How is a king with ultimate power that much different than a dictator with ultimate power?

But here I am going to contradict myself: Even Hitler and Mussolini were not immune from Business. In that sense, I think that as fascism has evolved heads of state have become more figureheads and less enforcers of state power in fascist regimes. While power accrues to the Executive Branch of the U.S. as it becomes more fascist that power does not accrue to the President. For example, the recent FISA debacle gives the NSA more spying power, but will that spying power accrue to President Obama? Will they be spying on Republicans who see prostitutes (like, say, the FBI spied on Spitzer)?

Jonathan, I haven't read Shock Doctrine either, but I've heard Klein enough (and did read her article on Baghdad three or four years ago in Harpers) to get her drift. "Free market" is an explanation for others failing. Free markets restrict, for example, labor. Most of the people preaching free markets have their hands deep into the public till.

At September 26, 2008 3:27 PM, Blogger mistah charley, ph.d. said...

I was much impressed with Marx pointing out that in the "free market" the employer and the worker shake hands as equals - but when it comes what actually happens in the workplace it's a very different story.

As I recently urged my distant cousin Brad DeLong (we're both descended from John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, of the Mayflower) in a comment on his blog, it's time to listen to Funkadelic - "free your mind and your ass will follow." The mental chains DeLong wears is that in America we have two choices - Democrat or Republican.

What if, like e.e. cummings big olaf, we the people got the idea that "there is some shit we will not eat"?

They'd have to change the menu.


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