After Capitalism: A New Synthesis

I was talking to someone recently and in the middle of a perfectly civilized conversation about our impending doom by nuclear holocaust they blurted out: “but you’re a leftist!”

Whoa there, pardner. I’m many things, a wastrel, a real life vampire — but I’m assuredly not a leftist. Not that there’s anything wrong with leftists, apart from their nitpicking ways, but liberals share that too I suppose. Here’s what I do think.

Capitalism and socialism might have been, once upon a time, in a mythical fairy tale of empires past, opposites — thesis and antithesis. I say “might” because I think even that is a tale told by wise old fools to keep children afraid of the dark. The genuine opposite of both capitalism and socialism are kleptocracy, oligarchy, authoritarianism — what results when political economies are run by and for tiny elites. We’ll come back to that.

The great lesson of the last century is very simple: first extreme socialism failed, and the Soviet empire fell. Now extreme capitalism is failing, and America is falling. Two great kingdoms — one single lesson: yesterday’s extremes have both failed. Cutthroat competition in every aspect of life soon becomes abuse. Enforced cooperation soon becomes unendurable. So what now? Well, surely not choosing sides in this textbook false dichotomy—which unfortunately is what many still hope to do — but transcending it.

Today capitalism and socialism are not opposites. They are complements. The global economy of this century must and will be built on new synthesis: capitalism and socialism working together, each strengthening the others’ weakness, a kind of yin and yang of human organization.

In what specific way? Well, let’s examine reality for a moment. Capitalism is very, very good at providing people things like iPhones and craptastic summer blockbusters and dating apps and edible deodorant and designer diapers and reality TV. You might call them idle pleasures. Which I might not like, but the average person certainly does. And that’s fine. If.

If they have the basics of a genuinely good life first. What are those basics? The American right and left love to pretend as if there’s some kind of great debate, mystery, about it. There’s not. Aristotle, the Buddha, and Jesus all spelled it out millennia ago. Food, shelter, income, safety, security, opportunity. Today we might update that list with things that didn’t exist in their time, but are clearly in the same spirit: transportation, healthcare, education, environment, relationships, etc. If you think about it, no matter how much money you have, you can’t really buy such things unless a society has invested in them first.

These “things” are what I call “fundamental goods”. They are what makes a life good at its root. Through them, everyone can be happy, and grow into their potential — without them, no one can be, no matter what your latest self-help bestseller says. Without a few meals a day, a little bit of money in the bank, and your health, no amount of positive thinking can get you to happiness — nor should it. Human beings are not all born to be monks — they are born to dare, risk, defy, rebel, imagine, create. And to do all that, they need the basics. Without the basics, democracy can’t survive, society can’t cohere, people can’t flourish, and lives can’t be fully lived.

So. The two great systems of the past, learning to work together. Where do we see it happening? All over Europe and Canada of course. There, capitalism and socialism are being mixed together in sophisticated and bold ways. Those societies are prospering because they are getting the formula of human possibility right: socialism provides the basics, and capitalism offers endless idle pleasures which only really count if you have the basics.

Where don’t we see it happening? Well, ironically, or maybe logically, in the two fallen empires of the past. America still clings to extreme capitalism, which has devolved into oligarchy — just as it has in Russia. Here, people have idle pleasures but not the basics — and for the simple reason that you can’t eat your iPhone, or educate your kids with Uber’s nonexistent benefits package, middle classes are choosing demagogues to topple the elites who have failed to provide working social contracts.

It’s a big world, and an endless future. But it’s also one with big problems. Demagoguery, driven by rage, is one. But then there are mass extinction, climate change, the growing threat of nuclear war. Choose your apocalypse. These are the stakes of this troubled age.

If humanity is to survive, it’s going to have to grow. Up. It is going to have to mature beyond the simple, crude polarity of yesterday, and learn to synthesize its great lesson. Capitalism and socialism aren’t adversaries, opposites. They never really were — more yin and yang. Every thesis and antithesis yield ultimately only a new synthesis. The opposite of capitalism and socialism is oligarchy. And the new synthesis beyond oligarchy is social capitalism, or capital socialism. Whatever we call it, it is a system in which people are freer. In America, ironically, “freedom” has devolved to “you’ve got to compete like an animal for your life every single day of your life, or else die young”. In Soviet Russia, it devolved to the precise opposite: cooperate for your life, or else. But the great gift of synthesizing human organization beyond capitalism is that human beings no longer have to submit to those foolish non-choices, demands, little tyrannies.

They are a little more genuinely free. Liberated not just to be themselves, but to see themselves, their very own hearts beating, in every life — and that is what growth really is.

Umair
August 2017

View story at Medium.com

Eugene Debs and the Kingdom of Evil

Posted on Jul 16, 2017

By Chris Hedges

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

TERRE HAUTE, Ind.—Eugene Victor Debs, whose home is an infrequently visited museum on the campus of Indiana State University, was arguably the most important political figure of the 20th century. He built the socialist movement in America and was eventually crucified by the capitalist class when he and hundreds of thousands of followers became a potent political threat.Debs burst onto the national stage when he organized a railroad strike in 1894 after the Pullman Co. cut wages by up to one-third but did not lower rents in company housing or reduce dividend payments to its stockholders. Over a hundred thousand workers staged what became the biggest strike in U.S. history on trains carrying Pullman cars.

The response was swift and brutal.

“Mobilizing all the powers of capital, the owners, representing twenty-four railroads with combined capital of $818,000,00, fought back with the courts and the armed forces of the Federal government behind them,” Barbara W. Tuchman writes in “The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914.” “Three thousand police in the Chicago area were mobilized against the strikers, five thousand professional strikebreakers were sworn in as Federal deputy marshals and given firearms; ultimately six thousand Federal and State troops were brought in, less for the protection of property and the public than to break the strike and crush the union.”

Attorney General Richard Olney, who as Tuchman writes “had been a lawyer for railroads before entering the Cabinet and was still a director of several lines involved in the strike,” issued an injunction rendering the strike illegal. The conflict, as Debs would write, was a battle between “the producing classes and the money power of the country.”Debs and the union leaders defied the injunction. They were arrested, denied bail and sent to jail for six months. The strike was broken. Thirty workers had been killed. Sixty had been injured. Over 700 had been arrested. The Pullman Co. hired new workers under “yellow dog contracts,” agreements that forbade them to unionize.

When he was in jail, Debs read the works of socialist writers Edward Bellamy and Karl Kautsky as well as Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital.” The books, especially Marx’s three volumes, set the “wires humming in my system.”

“I was to be baptized in Socialism in the roar of the conflict. … [I]n the gleam of every bayonet and the flash of every rifle the class struggle was revealed,” he writes. “This was my first practical lesson in Socialism.”

Debs came to the conclusion that no strike or labor movement could ultimately be successful as long as the government was controlled by the capitalist class. Any advances made by an organized working class would be reversed once the capitalists regained absolute power, often by temporarily mollifying workers with a few reforms. Working men and women had to achieve political power, a goal of Britain’s Labour Party for workers at the time, or they would forever be at the mercy of the bosses.

Debs feared the rise of the monolithic corporate state. He foresaw that corporations, unchecked, would expand to “continental proportions and swallow up the national resources and the means of production and distribution.” If that happened, he warned, the long “night of capitalism will be dark.”

This was a period in U.S. history when many American Christians were socialists. Walter Rauschenbusch, a Christian theologian, Baptist minister and leader of the Social Gospel movement, thundered against capitalism. He defined the six pillars of the “kingdom of evil” as “religious bigotry, the combination of graft and political power, the corruption of justice, the mob spirit (being ‘the social group gone mad’) and mob action, militarism[,] and class contempt.”

Debs turned to the Bible as often to Marx, arguing “Cain was the author of the competitive theory” and the “cross of Jesus stands as its eternal denial.” Debs’ fiery speeches, replete with words like “sin” and “redemption,” were often thinly disguised sermons. He equated the crucified Christ with the abolitionist John Brown. He insisted that Jesus came “to destroy class rule and set up the common people as the sole and rightful inheritors of the earth.” “What is Socialism?” he once asked. “Merely Christianity in action.” He was fond of quoting the poet James Russell Lowell, who writes:

He’s true to God who’s true to man;
Whenever wrong is done.
To the humblest and the weakest,
’neath the all-beholding sun.
That wrong is also done to us,
And they are slaves most base,
Whose love of right is for themselves
And not for all the race.

It was also a period beset with violence, including anarchist bombings and assassinations. An anarchist killed President William McKinley in 1901, unleashing a wave of state repression against social and radical movements. Striking workers engaged in periodic gun battles, especially in the coalfields of southern West Virginia, with heavily armed company goons, National Guard units, paramilitary groups such as the Coal and Iron Police, and the U.S. Army.

Health Care in America: Where is the Socialist Solution?

Photo by Molly Adams | CC BY 2.0

The introduction of the Republican legislation to “repeal and replace” Obamacare is no more than latest scrimmage in the ongoing one-sided war against the poor and working class. The “Affordable Care Act” (ACA, better known as Obamacare) proved to be both unaffordable and unable to provide comprehensive care for millions. Nevertheless, with the ACA being one of the only tangible “victories” Democrats could claim for an administration with a dismal record of noteworthy accomplishments, neoliberal Democrats and the party’s liberal base led by Bernie Sanders are now coalesced around the ACA and have vowed to defend it to the bitter end.

Yet, camouflaged by the hot rhetoric of confrontation and the diversionary struggle of the duopoly, the common agenda and objective interests being protected in this healthcare battle are quite clear. No matter what version of the healthcare bill passes or if the ACA remains in place, it will be a win for the market-based, for-profit beneficiaries of the U.S. system. As long as healthcare remains privatized, the real winners of healthcare reform will continue to be the insurance companies, hospital corporations and pharmaceutical and medical device companies.

That commitment to the interests of the insurance/medical complex ensures that the interests of healthcare consumers, the uninsured, the elderly and the sick will continue to be sacrificed to maintain a healthcare delivery system in which thousands suffer premature deaths from inadequate preventative treatment, millions are unable to afford coverage and millions who have private insurance fear using it because of prohibitive co-pays and deductibles.

That is why during the current debate the insurance companies have been largely silent. There is no need to engage in public debate because having largely written the ACA they are again deeply involved in the construction of the current legislation. Their interests will be protected even if it means forcing Republicans to embrace policies that are at odds with their professed philosophies – like including government subsidies for low-income people to purchase insurance. In fact, the only comments from insurance companies in this debate were related to their supposed concern that the Senate bill might not provide enough assistance to those who need help to pay for healthcare. They want what is being called a “stabilization fund” to reduce the numbers of people who might opt out of coverage because they can’t afford it.

The Senate bill provides those funds, but they are temporary and are scheduled to end after 2019. Which means that people will be forced to make an unpalatable decision after that – purchasing insurance with higher out-of-pocket costs like $10,000 deductibles or electing to go without insurance altogether. If history is a guide, many will opt out. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office predicts that the current bill will push 22 million people back into the ranks of the uninsured with the potential loss of millions of customers and potential profits for healthcare corporations.

But the companies have a plan should those funds prove inadequate to hold substantial numbers in the system: Increase individual premiums by at least 20 percent more than the double-digit increases already under consideration.

Coming to the aid of the Insurance/Medical complex: Ted Cruz and the Consumer Freedom Amendment

Insurers need large numbers of healthy people on the rolls, as their premiums help defray the cost of care for those who are sick. Because insurance companies are for-profit operations they set rates based on the risk pool in a market. With the potential loss of customers if the government does not provide adequate long-term subsidies, middle-class consumers who earn too much to qualify for temporary premium assistance will bear the brunt of any premium increases.

The Cruz amendment to the legislation has a solution to the possible increase in premiums and healthcare costs in general. The so-called “Consumer Freedom Amendment” represents the typical extreme individualism and anti-social sentiments of the right wing. It essentially advocates for reducing the burden on healthy consumers paying into system to help cover higher-risk fellow citizens.

The Washington Post’s analysis of the Cruz amendment suggests:

“Under Senator Cruz’s plan, insurers could sell cheaper, stripped-down plans free of Obamacare coverage requirements like essential health benefits or even a guarantee of coverage. These sparser plans would appeal to the healthiest Americans, who would gladly exchange fewer benefits for lower monthly premiums.

But insurers would also have to sell one ACA-compliant plan. The sickest patients would flock to these more expansive and expensive plans because they need more care and medications covered on a day-to-day basis. As a result, premiums for people with expensive and serious medical conditions like diabetes or cancer would skyrocket because all those with such serious conditions would be pooled together.”

And how would the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions pay for the increased premiums that they would face under the current Senate bill and Cruz’s amendment? “The $100 billion stabilization fund for states could help cover costs for the resulting pricier coverage for those with preexisting conditions under this amendment.”

In an ironic twist that both exposes the class interests of this initiative and its hypocritical approach to the question of the role of the government, Cruz’s amendment affirms that role in the form of subsidies for the sickest citizens and calls for an expansion of government resources to cover them.

The Cruz plan would segment the insurance market into healthier and higher-risk segments. High risk individuals along with the already-sick and the elderly would be pushed out of the market because those premiums would soar even with state subsidies, since insurance companies would still set premium rates to maximize profits.

Given the lose-lose options for consumers now being debated in Congress, the only rational objective for the majority of the people in the U.S. is to move toward the complete elimination of the for-profit healthcare system.

Socialization of Healthcare: The Only Solution

The ideological and political opposition to state-provided healthcare is reflected in the ACA and the various repeal-and-replace scenarios. Through mandates, coercion and the transfer of public funds to the insurance industry, the ACA delivered millions of customers to the private sector in what was probably the biggest insurance shams in the history of private capital. And that gift to the insurance companies is only one part of the story. The public monies transferred to the private sector amounted to subsidies for healthcare providers, hospital chains, group physician practices, drug companies and medical device companies and labs as well.

The Republican alternatives to the ACA variably supplement the corporate handouts with more taxpayer-funded giveaways. And once the private sector gains access to billions of dollars provided by the state, they and their elected water-carriers fiercely resist any efforts to roll those subsidies back.

The subsidies coupled with the mergers and acquisitions of hospital corporations and insurance providers over last few years and a general trend toward consolidation of healthcare services in fewer and fewer hands underscored the iron logic of centralization and concentration of capital represented by the ACA and was a welcome development for the biggest players in the healthcare sector. The movement toward a monopolization of the American health-care market means that rather than the reduction in healthcare costs that is supposed to be the result of repeal and replace, the public can instead expect those costs to escalate.

Many on the left have called for a single-payer system similar to those that work well (if not perfectly) in Britain, the Netherlands, Finland and elsewhere in Europe. But even with an “improved Medicare for all” single-payer system, costs will continue to increase in the U.S. because they cannot be completely controlled when all of the linkages in the healthcare system are still firmly in the hands of private capital.

The only way to control the cost of healthcare and provide universal coverage is to eliminate for-profit, market-based healthcare. Take insurance companies completely out of the mix and bring medical device companies, the pharmaceuticals companies and hospitals chains under public control.

The ideological implications of the Cruz amendment are that it reflects a growing public perception both domestically and internationally that healthcare should be viewed as a human right.

Putting people at the center instead of profit results in healthcare systems that can realize healthcare as a human right. This is the lesson of Cuba where the United Nations World Health Organizationdeclared that Cuba’s health care system was an example for all countries of the world.

That is the socialist option, the only option that makes sense and the one that eventually will prevail when the people are ready to fight for it.

Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch magazine. 

Why Socialism is a big deal

Alan Maass reports from Chicago on the record-breaking turnout at Socialism 2017.

A plenary session crowd at Socialism 2017 (John Snowden)

A plenary session crowd at Socialism 2017 (John Snowden)

SOME 2,000 people packed into a convention center on Chicago’s Near South Side last weekend for the four days of Socialism 2017, an annual gathering for political discussion, debate and entertainment.

This was by far the biggest Socialism conference ever, one-third larger than last year, and one of the biggest national gatherings of the radical left in the new Trump era.

As usual, there were a dozen sessions or more to choose from in each time slot–around 160 in all–covering a dizzying range of topics: from building emergency response networks for defending immigrant workers, to the latest developments in struggles in Europe, to the history of the Marxist tradition, to celebrations of artistic and cultural figures.

It was a super-sized version of past conferences, but that wasn’t the only difference. This year, there was a greater sense of urgency and purpose than ever before.

Damian Smith of Washington, D.C., said he had missed the previous two or three Socialism conferences. “But then something happened on November 8 at around 11:45 at night,” he said, “and I realized that I had to go this year. It matters a lot what happens here.”

How to take the ideas discussed at Socialism and make them relevant back home in the local resistance struggles of the Trump era–that was on the minds of people throughout the four days.

“This was my first time being here, and it was absolutely incredible,” said Lindsay Cesar of Greensboro, North Carolina. “I feel like I came in full of ideas I couldn’t quite articulate, and now I feel way better equipped. I feel inspired to talk to other people and groups in the area and convey our politics to them, so we can come together more.”

Socialism 2017 was host to some truly special events. Comedian Hari Kondabolu brought down the house late Friday night with a set that went on three times longer than expected. Nation columnist Dave Zirin moderated a generations-spanning discussion on athletes and activism. Author and actor Wallace Shawn introduced his new book Night Thoughtsin a conversation with Haymarket Books’ Anthony Arnove.

But there were special ideas and insights coming out of all the discussions. “I was watching someone talk about a political question that they had been working through over a period of years, about their understanding of postmodernism,” Damian Smith remembered. “And right there, they were able to come to a conclusion about it in this discussion. I realized I was seeing someone’s whole political trajectory in a few minutes–that’s something that happens at this conference.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AT A packed plenary session on the first night of the conference, author and Princeton University professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor spoke on racism and the resistance to Trump. It was a speech she was supposed to give Seattle a month before, but had to cancel after receiving dozens of death threats after a Fox News slander campaign.

“We will not win just because we believe that our side is right,” Taylor told the rapt crowd. “We have to know what it is we are fighting for, and we have to openly debate and strategize our way forward. And most of all, we have to be involved in protests and demonstrations and building social movements to win concessions from the political and economic establishment.”

Taylor was a participant in another highlight for many Socialism attendees–two sessions honoring the 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective, an organization of Black women that broke new ground in the struggle against oppression.

Two members of the collective, Barbara Smith and Demita Frazier, gave their own accounts of the experience, and authors such as Sharon Smith and Barbara Ransby, who have been inspired by the Combahee collective, joined them onstage.

Of course, there was one revolutionary anniversary that was at the forefront of everyone’s minds–this is the centennial year of the Russian Revolution of 1917. There were close to a dozen sessions specifically devoted to the revolution, though its history ran through many more.

That’s a fitting tribute to the continuing relevance of the revolution, as Elizabeth Terzakis explained in an inspiring presentation at the final plenary session of the conference.

“The Russian Revolution is crucial for us to study because it shows us the working class in movement,” Terzakis said, “so that we can see what it is, what it is capable of and why it is the only force with both the desire and the positioning to not only achieve self-emancipation but to liberate all of humanity in the process.”

Socialism couldn’t forget another lesser-known anniversary: This year, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), a co-sponsor of Socialism, turned 40 years young. Paul D’Amato, editor of the International Socialist Review, packed his session on the history and politics of the ISO full of insights on how socialists organize.

In fact, Socialism 2017 was the latest in a series of summer educational events that the ISO has been sponsoring since the very first of those 40 years, as Bill Roberts, a founding member of the ISO, remembered:

In the early days, our summer schools were at church camps. For the first one in 1977–in Germantown, Ohio, at a Methodist camp–we had maybe 100 or 150 people. From then on, through the 1980s, we might get up to 300 people.

But when you get 2,000 people this year, it’s a different feeling. In the earlier days, we were hanging onto the ideas with small groups of people. We had great events, and they kept people going. But I think this gives you an idea that there’s something else bigger than us.

More than a few attendees this year were coming back to the annual conference for the first time in some years.

Keith Danner, from Southern California, had the same reaction as pretty much everyone who attended a previous Socialism: “It’s so much bigger.”

But Danner also reflected on some of the qualitative differences–for example, the participation of more people of color and an intense focus on the anti-racist struggle. “And,” he said, “you can see the reflection of the struggle for trans rights in a way that was never here before.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ONE REASON for the larger size of the Socialism conference was expanding participation from around the U.S. left. Jacobin magazine was a co-sponsor this year, coordinating a series of meetings. A number of Democratic Socialists of America members made the trip to Chicago for the four days.

As always, there was an impressive array of international speakers to bring a global perspective to the discussions. Author Neil Davidson communicated the excitement of left-wing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s triumphant showing in the June election in the UK. Two members of Greece’s Internationalist Workers Left provided updates on the struggle that rattled Europe’s bosses a few years ago.

Meanwhile, Haymarket Books–a project of Socialism sponsor, the Center for Economic Research and Social Change–brought a semi trailer’s worth of books for conference participants to covet and take home. The top seller this year was Haymarket’s first title to crack the New York Times best-seller list: Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.

Every aspect of the project of building a bigger, broader and better left was on display at Socialism. The socialist left in the U.S. has made advances in the past year and a half, but we need to make more, and we need more people to do it. “You say you’re not a joiner?” said ISR associate editor Ahmed Shawki at one plenary session. “Too bad–become one.”

That session on “Build the Left, Fight the Right: Why We Need a Socialist Alternative”–with a huge audience packed into a room the size of a football field–set out the high stakes of the struggle in the Trump era, but also the hope for an alternative. Jen Roesch of the ISO brought the electrifying meeting to a close with a call to take action:

Let’s be clear: We need a real alternative. We need fights over any number of pressing issues…We need to fight anywhere and everywhere that our side faces attacks. But Naomi Klein is right: No is not enough…

Such an alternative is not measured in election cycles, and neither is the social devastation, the economic immiseration, the attempt to strip ordinary people of their basic dignity. This long pre-dates Trump–it even predates the latest round of crisis that began in 2008. These are built into the system of capitalism itself and any alternative has to address itself to that fact.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/07/12/why-socialism-was-a-big-deal

The future of Cuba after Fidel

In recent months, Andrea Gutmann Fuentes and Coco Smyth each spent at least a week in Havana, Cuba. Here, they offer their observations about conditions in Cuba today and what the future may hold in the era after Fidel Castro’s death last year.

Graffiti on a wall in Cuba (Coco Smyth)

Graffiti on a wall in Cuba (Coco Smyth)

FIDEL CASTRO, the leader of the Cuban Revolution and longtime Cuban president, died on November 26 of last year.

In both the Western and Cuban media, Castro’s death took on a key significance, though in sharply different respects. In the West, many news outlets rejoiced, hoping that Cuba would pursue a new and less combative course. In Cuba, the media eulogized the death of a heroic fighter who secured a free and independent state in the Caribbean.

But during our encounters with Cubans in Havana, we found that most people refrained from such overheated rhetoric.

No Cubans we talked with assumed that the death of Fidel would lead to a sharp rupture with the politics of the past. Rather, while Fidel’s death may represent the symbolic closure of a chapter in history, no one, whether supportive or critical of Castro, saw his death as marking a fundamental change in the orientation of the Cuban state.

But even if Fidel’s death doesn’t signal a break between the politics of the past and the present, many Cubans are wrestling with the real antagonisms and contradictions drawing Cuba in new directions.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN REALITY, Cuba had been changing long before the death of Fidel. After the collapse of the USSR, Cuba was plunged into an economic crisis now known euphemistically as “the special period.” The Soviet Union had heavily subsidized the Cuban economy since the 1970s, and when it collapsed, Cuba was forced to alter its economic approach.

In 1994, the Cuban state created a dual-currency system, pegging one of the currencies (the CUC) directly to the U.S. dollar. Additionally, Cuba slowly began to open its economy, reorienting towards tourism, allowing remittances, and looking for international investment.

Many of the Cubans we talked with–especially those who remember the revolutionary year of 1959–spoke fondly of the early days of the revolution, before the rise of the bureaucracy stemming from a close relationship with the USSR.

Many of these people approvingly recognized that the Cuban state still prioritizes basic human needs like health care and education for its people. Cuba’s relaxation of restrictions on foreign investments over the past couple decades calls into question how these priorities may change over the coming years.

“The key problem is how we both preserve our social institutions while opening up more greatly to foreign investment,” said a city planner and Communist Party member in describing what he considered one of the biggest threats to Cuba’s future.

Ultimately, he believed–along with other Communist Party members we spoke to–that if planned correctly, the bureaucracy could come to a successful resolution of this contradiction.

However, while Communist Party members were attuned to the significance of these economic contradictions, their answers reflected the limitations of the Cuban Communist Party’s (PCC) conception of socialism.

Socialism is understood by the CCP primarily as a set of economic and political programs clustered around public institutions and a strong welfare state, similar to Scandinavian social democracy. These programs include universal health care, public education, funding for the arts and wealth redistribution. Other features of Cuba’s political system after the revolution include state direction of the economy, a one-party state, and a large bureaucracy.

It can’t be denied that Cuba’s revolution brought about a much more just system than what had existed before–and a system which is enviable in many respects, even for citizens of the most developed capitalist countries. But the CCP’s vision leaves out the most crucial aspect of socialism: workers’ democratic control.

As Karl Marx famously wrote, “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.” Socialism cannot be handed to the working class by bureaucrats or benevolent guerillas, nor can it be decreed in a speech two years after the revolution, as happened in Cuba.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

MANY OF the Cubans we spoke with shared experiences that highlighted the contradictions inherent in “socialism” without working-class rule.

One man, a retired physics professor at the University of Havana, spoke of wanting to move to Chile in search of a new teaching job. Unlike Cuba, he said, “In Chile, the professors can protest to raise their wages.” Indeed, it’s a bitter irony that Cuba claims to be a communist country, but workers possess very little collective bargaining power in relation to their employers.

Others spoke of Cuba’s reliance on capitalist economies. An artist we spoke to lamented that because of the absence of an art market on the island, contemporary Cuban artists gear their work specifically for export to Western markets, resulting in what he described as a sort of deference to Western tastes.

Ultimately, attempts to build “socialism in one country” both ignore the centrality of internationalism and working-class rule and cannot sustain themselves indefinitely against the weight of the world capitalist system.

Cubans continue to hope for an end to the U.S. embargo, but the recent election of Donald Trump appears to have dimmed the immediate prospects for completing the normalization of relations that Obama initiated.

The embargo has negatively impacted the economy of Cuba for generations. But if the embargo ends, and Cuba opens up significantly to foreign investment to solve its current economic problems, it will not be able to do so on its own terms, as the PCC suggests.

Economic investment never comes without strings attached. The West utilizes investment and aid as a means of domination and control. Thus, opening to the West poses a threat to much of the progressive content of the Cuban system. On the other hand, without more investment from outside Cuba, the necessary funds to continue progressive programs will run dry.

The long-term choice facing the Cuban ruling class is to watch its economic system falter or to respond to the imperatives of economic openness by cutting back on health care and other public spending, at the price of eroding the positive contributions of the revolution.

The only way to preserve and ultimately complete the Cuban Revolution is for the working class to take power into its own hands in Cuba, as part of a worldwide and internationalist struggle against capitalism.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/06/14/the-future-of-cuba-after-fidel

A socialist response to Brexit

No to British nationalism and the European Union!

By Chris Marsden
25 March 2017

The following article is being distributed at today’s Unite for Europe demonstration in London.

With Prime Minister Theresa May set to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29, warnings as to the impact of Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) abound.

May is touring the UK promising to “deliver a deal that works” for everyone and describing Wednesday’s beginning of the two year process of exiting the EU as a “historic event [that] will precipitate a shift in our role in the world and see Britain begin a bold new chapter as a prosperous, open and global nation.”

But she does so amid demands for a £57 billion “divorce” settlement from the EU, threats of punishment by the 27 remaining member states, reports of economic dislocation including banks such as Goldman Sachs and HSBC leaving London that in total threatens 230,000 finance jobs, and of a 92 percent fall in EU nationals registering as nurses in England.

The announcement will, moreover, be made under conditions in which the Scottish National Party-led parliament at Holyrood has made an official demand for a second independence referendum and with Sinn Fein in Ireland raising the issue of the continued status of Northern Ireland’s six counties as British territory.

It is against this background that the Unite for Europe national march to parliament has been organised.

There are clear and valid reasons for the concerns of those who will take part, including repugnance over the government’s refusal to guarantee the rights of EU nationals already residing in Britain. In addition, the attacks on such protests that are centred exclusively on the insistence that they are impermissible because they seek to flout the “public will,” as expressed in last year’s referendum, have wholly reactionary implications.

Dissent with the result among the 48 percent who voted against Brexit is entirely legitimate and its suppression has nothing to do with a genuine concern for democracy. It merely gives carte blanche to the reactionary pro-Brexit wing of the British ruling class to complete what they describe glowingly as the “Thatcher revolution,” based on slashing corporation tax and public spending while stepping up the exploitation of the working class to ensure that the UK business can go “out of Europe and into the world.”

However, neither are those individuals and political tendencies leading the Unite for Europe protest and the broader opposition to Brexit the “friends” of democracy and “progressive values,” or the future of the younger generation, as they claim to be. Their sole genuine and overriding concern is that alienating the UK from Europe, above all exclusion from the Single Market, is damaging to the interests of Britain’s capitalists. Everything else they say, centred as it is on a politically degraded apologia for the EU, is moral effluvia and lies.

That is why, having first opposed efforts to “incite hate and divide communities,” etc., the number one demand of Unite for Europe’s “open conversation where the UK’s civil society is consulted and where Parliament or the people have the final say on our future” is: “We want to remain a member of the Single Market.”

In the Brexit referendum campaign, the Socialist Equality Party refused to support either a Remain or a Leave vote because neither represented the interest of working people. We called instead for an active boycott and dedicated our efforts above all to explaining the fundamental issues posed for workers, not just in Britain but throughout Europe.

We wrote that the EU “is not an instrument for realising the genuine and necessary unification of Europe”, but rather “a mechanism for the subjugation of the continent to the dictates of the financial markets…”

The EU and its constituent governments have spent years imposing a social counterrevolution on Europe’s workers through unending cuts in jobs, wages and social conditions–in the process impoverishing millions and bankrupting entire countries.

As to associating the EU with “free movement,” its proper designation is that of “Fortress Europe.” It is a continent surrounded by razor wire, concrete walls and concentration camps, whose leaders have the blood of thousands of desperate refugees—forced to flee the consequences of wars waged by the US, Britain and Europe—on their hands.

It is for this reason that the xenophobia whipped up by Brexit finds its corollary throughout Europe, above all in the rise of fascistic movements such as the National Front in France.

Likewise, the claim of Unite for Europe, whose real leadership is an alliance between the Blairite right of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats—to be “resisting” not only “hard Brexit” but also US President Donald Trump—is equally bogus.

It is essential to distinguish between genuine popular opposition to Trump’s nationalism, militarism, racism and misogyny and the use that it is being put to by the pro-Remain forces. They view Trump’s presidency and May’s alliance with him as antithetical to the interests of British imperialism for two related reasons:

· His “America First” doctrine makes Trump an active opponent of the EU, because he sees it as a trade rival dominated by Germany that must be curbed.

· He has expressed reservations over the US commitment to NATO and the focus of the previous Obama administration on stoking up military hostilities with Russia, when China should be America’s main concern.

The response to this among Trump’s political opponents—the Democrats in the US and the European powers led by Berlin—is wholly reactionary.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the main charge levelled against Trump is that he is a stooge of Russian President Vladimir Putin for opposing NATO’s military build-up on Europe’s borders. In Europe, all talk is of building an independent military capability to project the interests of the major powers on the world arena—combined with efforts to capitalise on US hostilities with Beijing by signing trade deals that make a clash with Washington ever more certain.

To side with the EU against Trump is therefore to tie the working class to an escalating drive towards trade war and militarism that can only mean accelerated austerity and a potentially catastrophic confrontation with Russia.

Brexit, Trump and the ongoing fracturing of the EU along national lines are all rooted in the irreconcilable contradiction of capitalism that twice in the 20th century plunged Europe and the world into war—between the integrated and global character of production and the division of the world into antagonistic nation states.

Following the Second World War, the European powers, with the support of the US, sought to stabilise the continent and regulate such hitherto disastrous national rivalries through ever-closer economic and political integration.

This project has failed and cannot be revived. Only the unified and independent political mobilisation of the working class against all factions of the bourgeoisie, in Britain, Europe and internationally, offers a way forward.

The task at hand is the struggle for a workers’ government in Britain and the United Socialist States of Europe within a world federation of socialist states.

An essential foundation for such a movement is the conscious rejection by the most thoughtful elements—above all by young people attracted to the pro-EU protest due to its support for “free movement” and declared hostility to xenophobia—of all efforts to divide the working class along pro- and anti-Brexit lines.

 

WSWS

Trump and Mussolini: 11 Key Lessons from Historical Fascism

Italian fascism provides a better model for our moment than Nazi Germany—and the comparison is not encouraging.

Photo Credit: By Muzej Revolucije Narodnosti Jugoslavije (USHMM Photograph #89908) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fascism is a religion. The 20th century will be known in history as the century of fascism.
— Benito Mussolini

I’d like to draw some comparisons and contrasts between our present situation and that of fascist Italy between 1922 and 1945. I choose fascist Italy rather than Nazi Germany because it has always seemed to me a better comparison. Nazi Germany was the extreme militarist, racist and totalitarian variant of Italian fascism, which was more adaptable, pragmatic, rooted in reality and also more incompetent, ineffectual and half-hearted, all of which seem true to our condition today. Italy was the original form, while Germany was an offshoot. Although there have been many European and some Latin American varieties of fascism since then, the Italian model was the first and the one that has had the most lasting influence.

Mussolini drew on strong existing left-wing European currents such as anarcho-syndicalism, wanting to offer the world an alternative to what he saw as the failures of the Western democracies. His was a revolutionary agenda, designed to turn the world order upside down, rooted deeply in romantic and even avant-garde sensibilities. To see fascism as stemming ultimately from liberalism might sound surprising, but this is true of both socialism as well as fascism, because finally it is liberalism’s principle of human perfectibility from which these impulses derive. Fascism, we might say, is liberal romanticism gone haywire. In its healthy state, liberalism gives us constitutional democracy, but in its unhealthy state we end up with totalitarianism.

Futurism, one of the leading modernist movements of the time, fed easily into fascism. F.T. Marinetti, who believed in war as “hygiene,” was a keen Mussolini supporter, as was the playwright Luigi Pirandello, though he had a different aesthetic tendency. Many philosophers, academics and artists were already sick of the mundane, transactional, enervating nature of democracy under leaders like Giovanni Giolitti, prime minister several times in the two decades preceding fascism.

Benedetto Croce, on the other hand, was the great Italian idealist philosopher, an optimistic Hegelian who believed that liberal constitutionalism was forever on the move, boosted by the Italian Risorgimento (unification) of the mid-19th century, even if its progress couldn’t always be detected. Mussolini never openly persecuted Croce, partly for reasons of credibility — some internal criticism had to be allowed, to preserve the façade of diversity of opinion — but mostly because, with a slight twist, Croce’s Hegelian logic can easily lead to fascism.

To discuss Italian fascism in the context of Trumpism is not to draw silly one-on-one comparisons, because many material factors are different today, but to understand current developments there must be some historical basis for analysis. What this exercise attempts is to show that the myth of American exceptionalism is just that, a myth, and that we have traveled so far from our national founding impulses that other tendencies, namely forms of what used to be considered peculiarly European anxieties, have now become the defining features of our polity.

1. Fascism rechannels economic anxiety

The German condition in the 1920s, with the economic instability then prevalent, is well known, but this was also true of European countries in general in the wake of World War I. Especially after the Russian Revolution, the urgent question for all of Europe became: Was socialism the right path, or capitalism? And in either case, was a new political order required?

In Italy, socialism became quite popular after the war, making industrialists and large agriculturalists very worried. The fascist squads, which at first had arisen spontaneously, came in handy to break the back of socialist cooperatives, both in industry and agriculture, particularly in northern Italy which was more advanced than the south. In the early part of his career, the opportunist Mussolini was anti-war (he didn’t want Italy to join the war), as were socialists in general. But during the course of World War I he changed his tune. Evidence shows that he was financed by oligarchic foreign interests who wanted Italy to get into the war, which of course it did.

For the same money men, the question became, after the war, what to do with the mobilized energy of the arditi, or the squadrists? The original fascists, Mussolini included, were very socialist in inclination, and their manifestos reflected that. Mussolini’s initial program for fascism could pass, with some changes, as an egalitarian dream. The founders of fascism were big on workers’ rights, expropriation of leading industries and even women’s right to equality. The violent contest between socialists and fascists in the countryside had already abated by the time Mussolini came to power. Yet the oligarchic powers sought, in Mussolini, a figure to permanently channel and mobilize the violent social energy on behalf of capitalism.

The most recent phase of globalization, which took off during the 1990s, has created similar anxieties around the world as the class dislocations did following World War I. For the elites who propagated the “Washington consensus” in the 1990s, supported by such popularizers as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, there was nothing complicated about globalization: Incomes would rise around the world, inequality would fall and liberal tolerance would flourish. This rosy picture is so far from reality as to be laughable, and it is a truth evident to the world’s peoples, except for the transnational elites still beholden to the abstract propositions. Thus the question arises again, with as much urgency as in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution: What shall be the world’s economic order? Is it possible to conceive, at this late date, of globalization with a human face? Or is something more revolutionary needed?

The problem today is that socialism, unfortunately, became discredited in the eyes of liberals in the West because of the failed Soviet experiment. Socialism did not have to go the authoritarian route, but that is sadly how it turned out. So today we have a clear problem, i.e., burgeoning inequality on an almost unprecedented scale, and no ideological solution in sight, at least not one that majorities of liberals can agree on.

Into this vacuum, fascists all over the Western world are entering to redirect the majority white population’s nervousness into xenophobic and imperialist aims. Each country, depending on its power structure, will pursue these aims, once it succumbs to the fascist virus, differently. It is worth remembering, however, that it was liberalism, with its absurd triumphant mentality in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, that took away movement toward any form of socialism as a legitimate path, and therefore made the rise of fascism inevitable.

2. Liberal institutions have already been fatally weakened

We are currently lamenting Trump’s evisceration of the media and other institutions of democracy, but he would not be having such success, at least with half of the population, if those institutions were not already seriously compromised. It is easy to dismiss his mockery of the “fake media,” but before Trump did anyone take the media, with some venerable exceptions, seriously anyway? The mass media have never been interested in the nuances of policy, and are focused instead on personality, celebrity and spectacle. Most of the print media are also compromised because of loyalty to American exceptionalism.

It is no coincidence that Trump has merged his critique of the “fake media” with exceptionalism, because it allows him to present the media as tools of a discredited ideology. Before Trump, the media were tied, as a general rule, to the consensus on neoliberalism, and their bias became all the more evident during the last campaign. When it comes to telling the truth about power, the media have not been interested in doing so for a long time. They may now be reacting viscerally against Trump, because of the crude way in which he takes on their shallowness, but it doesn’t mean anything to his supporters. Trump’s critique of the media applies to all our liberal institutions prior to his arrival on the scene.

Mussolini’s fascist program landed in the middle of deep disillusionment with liberal institutions. Italy had experienced a rapid spurt of growth due to industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the rewards weren’t equally distributed. The south was poor and undeveloped, overcome by feudal values, while the north was unsure about empowering labor to share the fruits of growth. The strong labor movement started shading into anarcho-syndicalism, quite similar to the original fascist manifesto. The situation is not exactly comparable today, because ours is a mature economy with declining traditional industrial sectors, while Italy’s was an emerging economy with growing industries. But the sense that the institutions of democracy were failing to support a fair standard of living was widespread.

The Italian parliamentary system was marked by a tendency toward transformismo or “transformism,” to which our strongest parallel would be Bill (or Hillary) Clinton’s triangulation. In many ways Clinton can be seen as a parallel to Giolitti, with the same ability to throw doubt on the health of liberal democracy, even as deals are cut right and left). Transformismo, or triangulation, appeals to career civil servants, politicians and media people, but its chameleon-like tendency to absorb the ideas of the opposition and to neutralize them and make them invisible leaves a profoundly disillusioning aftertaste. Ideology desperately wants to make a comeback, which was true in transactional Italy, and is certainly true of America now.

3. Internal strongmen tussles don’t mean anything

In the beginning Mussolini didn’t seem the most obvious choice to lead the fascist movement. Italy’s best-known provocateur, Gabriele d’Annunzio, a flamboyant writer with a continental reputation, beat him to it by organizing a militia to lay siege to Fiume, a small territory on the northeast coast, part of the unredeemed lands claimed by the irredentist movement. In his short-lived siege, d’Annunzio perfected a fascist style — harangues prompting back-and-forth exchanges from balconies overlooking vast public squares, the symbolic elaboration of the myth of martyrdom in the cause of the nation and the articulation of an emotional method for communicating reality — that Mussolini, and all later fascists, would adopt. D’Annunzio — a legendary womanizer and decadent — was one of the most colorful of all Europeans, and his peculiar interpretation of Nietzschean values has become a permanent challenge to liberal democracy.

But when push came to shove, Mussolini was seen as the more pliable agent of fascist change by his corporate benefactors, and Mussolini was quick to sideline d’Annunzio’s claim to leadership. There were always more assertive fascists around than Mussolini — for example, Roberto Farinacci, the ras (or leader) of Cremona, who later became fond of Hitler’s henchmen — but Mussolini was able to keep them in check. He was a master at playing one competitor against another, exploiting their vulnerabilities to always stay in power. The squadrist militias under control of the provincial ras, like Farinacci and others, were at first used by Mussolini to send terror into the hearts of wavering capitalists and later, in different stages, were controlled and even neutralized as competing power centers, all of them absorbed in the mostly subservient National Fascist Party (PNF).

At the moment, Trump is our Farinacci, the most assertive of the ras, compared to whom all the Cabinet secretaries — even the ones who most frighten us for their racism (Attorney General Jeff Sessions) or Islamophobia (Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly) — seem tame in comparison. No matter the insanity of the secretaries in charge of the environment, education, energy or other departments, none seems as willing to openly flout the rule of law as Trump. Or we can say that in our case the showman d’Annunzio has taken power, rather than a more grounded journalist-turned-politician like Mussolini. We confront the speculative exercise of trying to imagine how it would have turned out for fascism had d’Annunzio, not Mussolini, been the leader.

Nonetheless, we ought not to be swayed by the temporary ascendancies of this or that group within the fascist hierarchy, whether it is Steve Bannon or Michael Flynn who rises or falls. Fascism is greater than the individuals who make up its core at any given moment. Fascism requires the strongman at the center to make it move, yet if a given personality fails to do the job, another can be found as replacement.

4. Fascism keeps mutating

Before fascism was formalized by Mussolini in 1919, organizing the scattered energies of the displaced combatants, it was in many ways an aesthetic movement. It was certainly radically socialist in orientation, with a strong attraction to equality for workers. Then, just before taking power, it became a movement for capitalist law and order, suppressing the demands of socialists. Once in power it adopted some of the modes of parliamentary behavior, but with great irritation, as it sought to preserve a democratic façade. After the consolidation of the dictatorship in 1925, it became almost a developmental state, strongly interested in Italy’s economic growth. A corporatist state, with strong autarkic goals (such as the “Battle for Wheat,” to make Italy self-sufficient, or the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes), was clearly articulated, eliciting approval from the world’s leading capitalist powers.

With the onset of worldwide depression, however, fascism realized the intractability of economic problems and turned its attention to imperialism. The PNF, which had become relatively quiet during the period of capitalist development, was revived as a harsh ideological force, with growing tentacles in every part of Italian society. This phase began in the early 1930s and lasted until defeat in World War II. Fascism was not particularly racist to begin with, as Mussolini, like most Italians, took exception to Nazi anti-Semitism; but as Italy threw in its lot with Germany in the late 1930s, “scientific” racism became a central fascist platform. After Mussolini was overthrown by his own Grand Council in 1943, for the last two years of the war he held fort in the Republic of Salò, in the northern part of Italy, supported by Hitler’s fading power. The Republic of Salò backtracked to the original socialist principles enunciated at the formation of fascism.

What this shows is that fascism is highly adaptable to different needs and conditions, just as its opposite, democracy, is similarly flexible. This also suggests that fascism is a viable ideology just like democracy, because it can appear in different guises at different times, even under the same leadership, without losing credibility. In considering Trump and the movement he has sparked, we would be better off looking at the overall aims of the regime, rather than get carried away by feints in one direction or another. Their aim, it should be clear, is to end democracy, since that is the energy fascism feeds on.

Trump is fully capable of showing an apparently “presidential” side, for example in his first speech to Congress. The priority has shifted from eradicating immigrants to passing the neoliberal agenda on taxation, social spending, education, energy and the environment, so a slightly modified relationship is needed with the corporate world and the media for the immediate future, which Trump should easily be able to accomplish. Mussolini, though an inveterate atheist, made peace with the Vatican, in the famous Lateran Accords of 1929, abandoning his most cherished beliefs in order to gain the complicity of the Catholic church. Earlier in the 1920s, he installed corporate-friendly ministers to work with Italy’s industrialists to enact an agenda they could be comfortable with. Such mutations are par for the course for fascists, they’re nothing to get excited about.

5. Fascism is eternally recurring

Just as democracy is eternal, so is fascism. There have always been authoritarian or dictatorial responses to democracy since the beginning of modern civilization, but fascism, with its imprint of spectacle, theater and mass communication, was a particular permutation that arose once the Western democracies had been consolidated. Italy and Germany were two of the late bloomers, but democracy had mostly been attained by the time they turned to fascism. Fascism could not have arisen were democracy still an evolving condition, as was true of parts of the West in the 19th century. So fascism is an indication of maturity, once democracy’s initial bloom is off.

Many historians were eager to write off Italy’s fascist experience as an aberration, as something so abnormal that it did not properly belong to Italian culture, but the opposite is true. Fascism will often borrow the symbolism, legal architecture and academic norms of pre-existing society, rather than throw them overboard. In Italy’s case, all the existing tendencies of aesthetic modernism came in handy, as well as the legacies of socialist, anarchist and syndicalist cultures. In northern cities like Turin and Milan, fascism flourished side by side with avant-garde political and cultural thinking. Once the dominant liberal culture succumbed, it wasn’t as difficult to impose fascism’s content upon the less democratic south’s institutions.

Fascism was not an aberration for Italy, nor is this the case anywhere it occurs. It is inherent in the DNA of any given culture, an authoritarian side that goes along with, and is even a necessary prop for, democracy. The interwar years marked industrialization’s maturity in the Western world, which had been preceded by a huge burst of globalization, leading up to World War I. A fascism drawing energy from the masses employed in industrialized occupations, as was the case between the wars, is going to manifest very differently than the post-industrial environment of 21st-century America. But the differences are more stylistic than foundational.

6. Of course it’s a minority affair

To note that Trump did not win the popular vote (as was true of George W. Bush in 2000), does not take away from the power of fascism. Given civilized norms in a democratic society, it is always going to be difficult for fascists to muster an outright numerical majority. The point is their relative strength in terms of raw power. Moreover, in periods of emergencies (such as Bush after 9/11 and in the lead-up to the Iraq war), more than a majority can usually be cobbled together. This speaks strongly to the hidden patriotic foundation of what passes for liberalism, its inherent weakness which can so easily be converted to mass militarism.

Mussolini, though he established his regime on the myth of the March on Rome, was actually appointed by King Victor Emmanuel III when Mussolini seemed like the only figure, compared to the discredited liberal politicians, who could bring order to the country. Trump too is trying to make predictions of chaos and violence a self-fulfilling prophecy, but this is a staple of all fascist regimes: They bring about and thrive on the disorder that they then claim to be the only ones to be able to suppress. There was actually no such thing as the March on Rome; the king had already invited Mussolini to Rome to come and form the government when the march took place. Had the king given the order — and this looked possible until the last fateful moment — the army would easily have crushed the ragtag bunch of nobodies who had showed up from all parts of Italy.

Only a small minority need give overt consent. The rest can be quiet, or complacent, or complicit, unless they feel their personal security threatened, for example because of war that might spin out of control. That is all that’s needed for fascism to go on its merry way, so it’s quite beside the point to argue its minority status. Most bloody revolutions are minority affairs.

7. There is an ideology behind the chaos of ideologies

Just as Italian historians after the fact claimed that fascism was an aberration that didn’t belong to Italy’s history proper, contemporary observers often insisted that there was never a fascist ideology. Partly this is because of the mutational aspect of fascism. But primarily this is due to intellectual laziness. Liberal scholars, after all, are not likely to credit their mortal opponent with ideological clarity. We too, lazily, ascribe the same lack of ideology to Trumpism, and interpret events in terms of personality and contingency. I would say that fascist ideology has always, since its inception a hundred years ago, been so strong that it takes democracy an extremely favorable environment, and a huge amount of luck, to sustain itself.

Fascist ideology aims for nothing but to weaken and end democracy. It is democracy’s successes, whether in Weimar Germany, or in a strange way in Giolitti’s Italy, or in countercultural America of the 1960s, that breed the opposite tendency which wants to swallow it up.

Mussolini pursued imperialistic goals in wanting an empire in North Africa, East Africa and the Balkans, but was his pursuit of empire (the New Rome) the same as Britain’s, for example, in the 19th century? For Britain, the empire made financial sense. For Italy, all its wars were financially ruinous (and this has been true of our own wars after 9/11 as well), exerting unsustainable pressures. To the extent that the wars undermined democracy, breeding fascism at home, they were certainly successful. In our present and future wars, that is the criterion we must keep in mind. It’s not what a particular policy is doing to the budget or our diplomatic standing or the state of the culture, but how a policy serves to undermine democracy.

8. Its cultural style makes no sense to elites

This is where I felt the Bush incarnation of fascism fell short, and this is where Trump too is having a difficult time. Milo Yiannopoulos proved in the end to be too exotic even to his sponsors at Breitbart, and the campy, decadent d’Annunzian style, of which Milo is an heir, has its limits in evangelical America, committed to bourgeois verities despite the fascistic overlay. Our homegrown brew of Fox News, Breitbart, Alex Jones, border militias like the Minutemen, millenarian Christianity, the Tea Party and gun culture, combined with simplistic beliefs in “free market” capitalism and American exceptionalism, seems to me a particularly tame cultural concoction. It doesn’t have traction with anyone with the least amount of liberal education. Mussolini was working with more resonant cultural stuff, as the emergence of industrial capitalism since the Risorgimento had set up a cultural platform that was malleable enough to work for fascism.

Trump and his successors will have to work with less potent stuff. So-called conspiratorial thinking is a unifying strand — I already mentioned Alex Jones — which connects many of the strands of ultra-conservative ideology throughout the past century. The Reds become Jews and then Muslims; the substitutions are not that difficult to make. But although the elites will remain incredulous toward fascism’s cultural style, there seems to be enough of a momentum, with all the tendencies beginning to attain critical mass together. Thus the successful transition from Bush to Trump, which suggests that our homegrown fascist style is strong enough now not to need a leader.

Masculinity — or shall we say faux masculinity — is an important part of this cultural style, perhaps the principal reason why Yiannopoulos couldn’t last. It is a reaction to the perceived effeminacy of liberalism, and is a blast (along with racism) against what is seen as the failed order. Fascism relies on activation of our most atavistic, violent and primitive selves, by wanting to return women to invisibility, along with condemning the darker races. Needless to say, Italian fascism reconstructed women as facilitators of warrior-masculinity in all the active fields of life, depriving women of organizational visibility even when they were outstanding fascists.

9. Fascism leads inexorably to suicidal war

It’s possible to argue that Mussolini was sucked into World War II against his will, He knew it was going to end his regime since Italy was not prepared. We might credit it to Hitler’s powers of manipulation over Mussolini that Italy entered a disastrous war. The truth is that from the beginning Mussolini had been biding his time to exert Italian power abroad. He had no respect for diplomats, exactly like Trump, and chose to go his own way, believing himself to be a master strategist. He made increasingly assertive forays into war-making, from the little adventure in Corfu in 1923, all the way to the massive commitment to the Ethiopian war in 1936, along the way proclaiming himself “protector of Islam.”

Fascism, like all forms of government not based on the consent of the majority, requires more and more energy to keep the population under control as time goes by. Once the façade of virile domesticity starts getting exposed, war becomes the only option to keep the regime going. Fascism always claims that war is not of its choosing, that it is forced into war by others, but it is a voluntary, even eager, action to perpetuate the regime. At some point, the boomeranging negative energy — violence inflicted upon the fascist power in return — is so great that the tide of opinion turns. Even if war might be fought to an end, the internal consensus, including among fascist believers, is gone. We are, obviously, a long way from that.

10. Racism is inherent to fascism

It is absolutely key that Trump began his campaign by proclaiming a genocidal manifesto against Mexicans — and then Muslims and Arabs — and has continued to keep it as his central point of action. Because fascism is not competing on an even ideological terrain — most people in any civilized country are not given to violence — it must imagine enemies powerful enough to sustain a majority reaction.

Mussolini and his lieutenants used to mock Hitler’s racial animus, both before and after he became chancellor, holding that Italians had no anti-Semitic sentiment, which was quite true. Some of Mussolini’s most ardent early supporters were Jewish, and he had prominent Jewish lovers, like his biographer Margherita Sarfatti. But after the goodwill from the Ethiopian war started fading in the late 1930s, and a closer alliance with Germany became inevitable, Italy turned around and instituted an official anti-Semitism that deprived Jews of their honor, property and basic rights. The situation never got as bad as in Germany, with most Italians harboring deep suspicions toward the newfound anti-Semitism and the construction of Italians as a superior Aryan race, but the damage was done.

Just as war is inevitable, so is virulent racism. Both go together in fascism. One provides an external enemy while the other provides an internal enemy. If they can be linked together — the worldwide Jewish banking conspiracy, or the worldwide Islamic terror conspiracy — so much the better. War becomes more comprehensible, for fascist supporters, when the internal enemy is attached to the endless cycle of wars abroad, which is said to stem from the same root threat to virile nationalist probity.

11. No form of resistance works

Finally, how do you fight fascism? Is there a magic formula, has anything ever worked? Or are we, too, assuming that we are launched on our own fascist cycle, doomed to repeat the familiar pattern until the end? Can liberalism awaken itself in time, once it recognizes the mortal danger, to defeat fascism? Will the citizenry in a liberal democratic nation, once prompted to the threat, find resources it hadn’t counted on before to invalidate and eventually suppress fascism? Can violence, in short, be defeated by nonviolence? We would have to presume this to be true, unless we accept that liberals would take up arms to defeat fascism, which is not likely and probably defeatist anyway.

The Italian press, when Mussolini took over the country, was extremely vigorous. Political parties of every persuasion were highly energized, and they all had their vocal newspapers. Mussolini himself had run socialist newspapers — first Avanti! and then Il Popolo d’Italia — for the majority of his adult career, and knew that to neutralize the press was his first order of business. He did so in stages, eventually ushering in a regime of complete censorship after 1925, particularly after failed assassination attempts gave him the excuse. He installed fascist stooges at all the newspapers and carefully monitored their every word for the rest of his regime. Loyalty oaths were likewise instituted everywhere, from higher education to civil service. The institutions appeared the same; they were not abolished, but they had been hollowed out.

The press went underground, numerous political activists went into exile, particularly in France, and the communists, socialists, conservatives, liberals, monarchists and Catholics bided their time, engaging in resistance when they could, hoping for an awakening of mass consciousness. Neutralizing the church with the Lateran Accords, and thereafter depoliticizing Catholic Action — the organization competing with Mussolini’s numerous social and leisure organizations — was important, and the church never regained its full voice. Exiles abroad were killed or injured in large numbers; many died in the Spanish Civil War. It was not until Mussolini’s own Grand Council deposed him in 1943, when it was clear that Italy had lost the war, that the country divided into two and the partisans emerged to slowly recover Italian democracy in stages.

Italians tried every form of resistance we can imagine, including getting themselves and their families killed or imprisoned, as countless lives were lost in the fascist tyranny. Nothing worked. Nothing ever works until fascism’s logic, the logic of empire, stands discredited to the point where no denial and no media coverup is possible anymore.

Some final thoughts

The thing to notice is that fascism, in all the places it’s been known to arise, converts an admittedly minority point of view into a mass energy that soon overwhelms every civilized instinct. Perhaps Trump doesn’t need to do this footwork; perhaps much of this foundational work was already accomplished in the Bush era. What should really concern us is that fascism now seems to have a certain stability that we have not seen in earlier models that relied on a single charismatic leader. Despite the Obama interlude, Trump has resumed where George W. Bush in his most feverish mood had left off. This suggests that fascism has become permanently stabilized in this country. It is the most worrisome aspect of the present situation.

Fascism would never have gotten such traction here had liberalism not already succumbed, over the course of 40 years, to various abridgments of rights in the name of community or security or risk-aversion, which defines much of liberal discourse today. Fascism cannot thrive on true individualism, which is inherently opposed to mass delusions, but liberalism took the lead long ago in giving up individualism for forms of imagined community. This is ultimately the breeding ground for fascism, and this is why it is an affair that envelops all of us, not just a certain segment of the population that we can condemn as fascist and be done with it.

One remarkable similarity — among many others — between Trump and Mussolini is their total preoccupation with coverage in the media. Trump regularly consumes the “shows,” apparently getting most of his news and information from TV, and has little use for time-consuming memoranda and policy documents. He obsessively monitors what the media says about him. Mussolini, it could be said, was almost a full-time journalist during his 23 years of power. Just as Trump’s Oval Office desk is littered with the “papers,” so was Mussolini’s time taken up with controlling every word that was printed about the regime. Obsessively detailed veline went out every day to the country’s newspapers, instructing them on how to interpret every event. There were to be no pictures of Mussolini appearing in less than heroic posture, no mention of crime or poverty or violence, no disparagement of the fascist regime.

The inordinate amount of time Mussolini (and Trump) spent cultivating his image does not have anything to do with a personality disorder. It has to do with democracy’s failure to live up to its egalitarian ideals, so that the lie about equality becomes more important than actual equality. The liberal democratic and fascist authoritarian versions of this lie have much in common. It is futile to look for tanks on the street as a marker of fascism; there were no tanks in the streets in fascist Italy either. What is important to notice are the weak spots of liberal democracy, which fascism exploits, such as the gradual loss of faith in our voting and electoral systems. What is important to notice is the symbolic order, which becomes more and more different until one day it becomes a vehicle for a different ideology than the majority ever bargained for.

 

Anis Shivani’s books in the last year include Soraya: Sonnets and Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish: Poems. His book Assessing Literary Writing in the Twenty-First Century comes out in early 2017.