It’s ironic that teabaggers are now raising the cry of American Exceptionalism. The term has a long history, generally along the lines of U.S. as a beacon of Democracy, young, free, blessed by God. The Communist Party USA in the 1930’s re-defined the term to claim they could achieve socialism peacefully, paving the way for their accommodation with Roosevelt. The teabaggers are today re-defining it again as America having the right to rule the world, unrestrained by treaty, law or human decency. America uber alles, you might say.
They have the audacity to call Obama a fascist, even as a U.S. rep at a teabagger rally proclaims in Huffington Post:
“Fill this city up, fill this city, jam this place full so that they can’t get in, they can’t get out and they will have to capitulate to the will of the American people,” he said.
“So this is just like Prague under communist rule?” the Huffington Post asked.
“Oh yeah, it is very, very close,” King replied. “It is the nationalization of our liberty and the federal government taking our liberty over. So there are a lot of similarities there.”
Earlier, King implored the crowd to bring the nation’s capital to a sort of paralysis. Warning, erroneously, that the health care bill would fund abortion and fund care for 6.1 million illegal immigrants, he demanded that concerned citizens “continue to rise up.”
“I look back 20 years ago in the square in Prague… when tens of thousands showed up there and they shook their keys peacefully and they took over their country and they achieved their freedom back again,” he said. “If you can keep coming to this city, fill up the congressional offices across the country but jam this city. If you can get on your cell phones, get on your Blackberries and your email, and ask people to keep coming to this town. Storm this city, fill up Washington D.C., jam this capital so they can’t move. And if tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of you show up, we will win. We will defeat this bill and you will have your liberty back.”
Harks back to the Nazi mobs that prowled the streets of Berlin and Munich well before Hitler took power. They would bring on the very thing they profess to decry. Yet the teabagger ranks can’t be completely reduced to a cynical ploy.
The totalitarian provisions of the Patriot Act are restored at Obama’s behest, and many teabaggers don’t like the Patriot Act. They’re smart enough to know that throwing in the word “patriot” doesn’t give carte blanche. The mandate in Obama’s healthcare bill is indeed an outrage against individual liberty. Government does intrude more every day, and who among us would say that this is a benign government. Some of the complaints are beneficial or relatively trivial, such as anti-smoking laws or forbidding holding a cell phone while driving. Others, such as schools spying on their students through their laptops are more ominous. The total computerization of society gives the government awesome control to track us, take our bank accounts, completely paralyze us — if they so choose.
The government is out of control. Democracy is being rendered meaningless. A handful of fat cats on Wall Street are bringing on economic catastrophe. Clear explanations are defied. Meanings are stood on their head. Things fall apart. Yes, the movement to fascism must be stopped. Note that I say movement, not a static state of affairs.
Karl Marx was not a merry old soul. He developed a brilliant model of capitalist society, much of which is considered liberal truism today.
To put it very crudely, there are capitalists and workers. For capitalists to profit they have to underpay their workers (extraction of surplus value in commie lingo). But in underpaying their workers, they end up with a realization crisis, i.e., they realize there is not enough money out there to buy their products. This produces a series of ever-deepening economic crises.
At the same time, capitalism organizes and develops a concentrated industrial working class (proletariat, as they used to say) which, in response to these ever-deepening crises, will finally cast off their chains in socialist revolution. Thus, revolution is seen as inevitable. There are two major problems here. But this is, after all, only a model.
To the extent that Rosa Luxemburg is remembered, it is that she was a Polish Jew who emigrated to Germany and married communist leader Karl Liebknicht. They made a courageous but unsuccessful stand against Germany going to war in 1914. Following the Bolshevik revolution, she was sharply critical of Lenin’s authoritarianism. The end of World War I brought on a revolution of sorts led by the Social Democrats. In January 1919, German workers in Berlin rose up in what is known as the Spartacist Uprising. It failed. At the behest of the Social Democratic regime, police smashed in Rosa Luxemburg’s skull with their rifle butts and threw her body into a canal where it remained frozen until Spring.
Less known is that Rosa Luxemburg was also a brilliant economist. She made two revisions to Marxist theory that are relevant here.
(1) Marx’s model was only a model. In reality, capitalism exists alongside non-capitalist or pre-capitalist modes of production. It can loot them either through theft by armed force or by imposing unequal trade relations arising from capitalism’s greater efficiency. Thus crisis is forestalled or softened. And a segment of the working class can be bought off.
(2) Capitalist subjectivity is a factor. If they believe they can continue to invest at a profit, they will continue to invest, even if the foundation of that belief is false (CDO’s, derivatives, etc.).
In contrast to Marx’s socialist inevitability, Luxemburg put forth the slogan of “socialism or barbarism.” If revolution failed, the means of production could be so destroyed that there would be no foundation on which socialism could be built. (Consider how the socialist revolutions in Angola and Mozambique turned out.)
But this is just theory.
Fast forward to the 1930’s
Let’s first not focus on why Germany turned fascist but rather why the U.S. didn’t.
Remember that democracy is the preferred capitalist mode. Yes, they need to hold down or prevent unionism. Yes, they need to sometimes stifle dissent to pursue their imperial wars of choice. Other feudal holdovers like restrictions on abortion and religious fervor can be useful. But capital thrives best under free trade, a flexible political process, a mobile workforce freed of any ties that would restrict it from being deployed — or laid off — at capital’s convenience. An educated, healthy, moralized workforce is the most productive workforce.
Fascism, on the other hand, is a relatively inefficient, self-devouring system. Capitalism as a whole, the most powerful, the ones with the most interest in the total system, at least, will only turn to it in times of crisis. Of course, the 1930’s were a time of crisis. Elements of the U.S., oh, let’s get all bolshie and call them the ruling class, were definitely pro-Hitler. Southern populism had varying strains, some distinctly progressive, others rabidly racist and right-wing. The Ku Klux Klan had re-emerged, with a membership of over 5 million in the 1920’s, with interests going far beyond its original racial politics (but of course retaining them).
In opposition was a very powerful industrial union movement, with the Communist Party anchoring it on the left, just as the Christian Fundies anchored George Bush, and as the teabaggers do for the Republicans today. And there was the matter of ruling class subjectivity, per Luxemburg. The “enlightened” elements surrounding Roosevelt saw prospects in a world in turmoil. The French and British colonial empires were teetering.. The U.S. was militarily modest but an economic powerhouse. It was Germany’s largest creditor. Empires in Asia and Africa would be up for grabs. The U.S. came to terms with the unions and the CP, and vice versa — the whole New Deal thing. The industrial unions were recognized and the country began to arm.
It made moves to cut off Japan’s oil supplies, and the U.S. was actually spoiling for war in the Pacific.
It DID happen there
Germany was another matter. As is generally known, Germany was in crisis, crushed by reparations to England and France, rampant unemployment and inflation, massively indebted to the U.S., ostensibly disarmed but still lacking the colonial empire that it had gone to war to acquire in 1914. So the German rulers had turned to Hitler in 1933, renounced reparations, crushed the unions, set a course to exterminate the Jews, and launched wars of conquest to Germany’s east.
There are a couple of distortions in this popular impression:
(1) Germany had begun to re-arm well before 1933, and had already been defaulting on its reparations under the tutelage of the U.S. Thus, in many ways, Hitler was a continuation of standing German developments, not a complete break.
(2) The whole picture has an aura of inevitability which is dangerously misleading.
In Wages of Destruction, a fascinating study of the Nazi economy, Adam Tooze writes:
In the 1920s, faced with an earlier American effort to reconstitute the international order, Stresemann’s strategy had been to position Germany as a key ally of the United States. By contrast, from 1932 the governments of Franz von Papen, General Kurt von Schleicher and finally Adolf Hitler adopted a contrary position. Rather than seeking prosperity and security in multilateral arrangements guaranteed by the power of the United States, they sought to secure unilateral German advantage …
If we are to avoid a depoliticized economic history of the Nazi regime, we must always bear in mind that even in 1933 there were alternatives to the economic strategy pursued by Hitler’s government. And not only that these alternatives might well have brought greater material benefits to the majority of the German population
In other words, Germany had a choice between becoming a junior partner of the U.S. or embarking on a course of war. Fascism was a choice. We will come back to this later.
Fast forward to today
This is a crisis we are in. No one pretends that manufacturing jobs are coming back. Outsourcing is permanent. When you call the support line, the Indian-accented voice on the other end is more confident, more competent. No longer a joke. Jobs aren’t coming back. Jobs people do have are lower-end. You need a B.A. to even apply for work as a receptionist. Poverty is spreading. The safety net is collapsing. Tent cities are becoming a normal part of the landscape, as are police raids to tear them down. The only way there will be any recovery at all is if recovery itself is redefined to mean a rising stock market amid mass hunger, homelessness and despair. The Fed keeps pumping out devalued cash, the international finance folks hold each other’s hands over the abyss. This is all very bad, but this is not fascism.
Teabaggers march confident through the halls of Congress. Elected officials call for the overthrow of their own government. Obama reaffirms preventive detention and the worst tyrannies of the Bush regime. Be named an enemy combatant and disappear forever. This is also very bad, but this is not fascism.
We wage open war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and openly wage covert war in Pakistan. We threaten war with Iran, and some threaten war with Islam itself. This too is bad, but it is not fascism.
Abortion, while sort of legal, is inaccessible to millions of American women. Healthcare is a disaster that the Democratic healthcare bill will not salvage. Rape and domestic violence are on the rise. The skill level of the American workforce is deteriorating. The social fabric is unraveling. We have long surpassed the world of 1984 and Network, as Escape from New York looms on the still-distant horizon. This is bad, but it is not fascism.
Fascism is not a state of affairs. It doesn’t reduce to a checklist extrapolated from the characteristics of Nazi Germany. It is a process, it is a movement.
Obama the tactic of choice
Certainly a fascist movement is afoot. Teabaggers prowling Congress, bussed from confrontation to confrontation with corporate dollars and Fox News their wholly-owned subsidiary (or vice versa). Minutemen “defend” our southern borders, national convention cities turned into police states (they’re practicing up). Yet our rulers have not decided to pull the fascist trigger. Obama — funded by Wall Street and big Pharma — is their agent of choice. A Republican carrying out current policies would engender resistance, if only out of Democratic Party craven self-interest. As mentioned before, capitalism operates best under democracy.
Repression and brute force are expensive and clumsy. Better to have the consent of the governed. Thus domestically, Obama’s job is to co-opt progressives into supporting his policies, or at least disarm them. So far so good. Internationally, a go-it-alone approach to the economic collapse would bring on speedy catastrophe. Maintaining the current illusion of a functioning international economic system requires a degree of cooperation and simple tact that a Republican regime would be incapable of, and which the teabaggers — with their revival of American Exceptionalism — explicitly reject.
Unfortunately, the current equilibrium cannot be maintained indefinitely.
Back to Luxemburg
Recall that Rosa Luxemburg put forward two ways that capitalism could postpone terminal collapse. First was by devouring pre-capitalist modes of production. That process has by-and-large run its course. Large swaths of the earth are now reduced to utter destitution, e.g., Africa. The rest have now become industrial powers of varying strength, with emerging powerhouses India and China leaping forward as they absorb the remnants of their peasant economies. China, India, Russia and Brazil now constitute a viable power bloc resistant to U.S. capital penetration. While weaker than the U.S., especially militarily, they grow with a solid manufacturing base, while U.S. industry rots behind its fortress walls.
It now lives based on the second factor — capitalist subjectivity. The ruling class either believes or hopes it can maintain itself by continuing to pile paper wealth upon paper wealth through gimmicks like derivatives, CDO’s, swaps, and outright bailouts, while imposing austerity on everyone else. It may be a bad plan, but it’s a plan nonetheless. It’s not a plan that can work indefinitely.
For unfortunately, the world is running out of oil
There is no way to predict when — or even whether — the ruling class will decide that democracy no longer serves its interests. We can only look at the forces in play and consider possibilities.
We like to think that our rulers are crazy, and in fact they are. But there is usually some underlying logic behind their policies. Take our wars in the Middle East. We are setting the Muslim world (to say nothing about the rest of it) against us. We are bankrupting ourselves. The teabaggers are quite certifiable, though not as much as the politicians nurturing them.
But one underlying factor is what is known as Peak Oil. The supply is running out. Tomorrow, no, next year might be the peak, or 5 years if we keep digging hard enough, or longer, who knows? But it is running out. And the China/Russia/India/Brazil bloc is making deals to get an increasing cut of what’s left. If the U.S. tactic of choice is confrontation, then confrontation it will be. In that case, however stupid our current wars may seem, it might be downright handy to have our armed forces hanging around the neighborhood ready to grab the oil fields. Of course, that would mean short-term damage to world oil supplies. In fact, the trigger for such a move (whatever anti-Muslim pretext is cooked up) would probably emerge from some kind of crisis, some major shocks to the economy.
This would have additional aftershocks to the U.S. economy, and not good ones. Of course, the American people might want to resolve it through heavy taxation on rich corporations. Or they might be crushed politically as they have been under ObamaCare. Yes, the teabaggers are as crazy as waltzing mice, but with the American economy — no picture of health — taking more economic hits, it might be convenient for the ruling class to have fascist mobs ready to crush any resistance in the name of God and the American way.
Following this track along generally pessimistic lines, this is actually the OPTIMISTIC scenario.
Consider what might be unleashed should there be a major terrorist attack in the U.S., say a major bridge blown up, a chemical plant exploded, assassinations (gee, that couldn’t happen here). Then it all goes out the window. We saw how alleged progressives caved in to Bush after 911. That would be Davy Crockett at the Alamo compared to what would be unleashed now (sorry to lose you, Fess Parker).
Not saying this will happen. But you can’t say it’s not a distinct possibility.
Point of no return
Either of the two scenarios could lead to a point of no return. Assuming that the China/Russia/India/Brazil bloc could fend off nuclear America gone berserk (not a sure thing), what would it mean if the teabaggers were in control and Michelle Bachmann was president? Palin as Minister of Defense? The U.S. has a hopelessly tattered industrial base even now. Oh, I leave it to your imaginations.
Last week, in a comment, I was asked in good faith, “[W]hat is your game plan? How would something like the [Full Court Press] morph into that which could frustrate the social forces leading to fascism?”
How the hell should I know? The Full Court Press is envisioned as one very small part of a movement that I hope emerges. If you ask a general what her plan is for defeating the army on the opposing ridge, and she didn’t know what army she had — how many tanks, 100 troops, a division, trained or untrained — the question would be unanswerable. The question above is even more difficult. And it’s a much tougher question than it was in the 1930’s.
My favorite scene of the first Superman movie was where Lois Lane falls off a wrecked helicopter, and Superman swoops down and catches her. “I’ve got you!” he exclaims. “But who’s got you?” she answers. In the 1930’s, there were anchors. The Soviet Union, whatever its ills, was a bulwark against German fascism. The Soviet Union was an anchor for communist parties throughout the world, including the U.S. The CPUSA, whatever its ills, was an anchor for the trade movement. There was an organized force that other progressives could cluster around, even as some of those forces vocally despised the CPUSA and the Soviet Union.
Additionally, when Germany launched its war of eastern conquest, there was democratic America — even more powerful.
But if fascism descends today, there are no anchors. The U.S. would be cast as villain, and the Soviet Union is no more. There is now just an unruly mob. Again off to the movies, this time the Tin Star. At the end, Sheriff Tony Perkins (Henry Fonda behind him) stands down a drunken lynch mob, then guns down its leader, and western democracy is preserved (it was a western). Personally, I would like to identify with Tony Perkins, but I fear that we progressives more closely resemble the drunken mob. The mob had no cohesion, to every member it was him staring down the barrels of Tony Perkins’ shotgun. And on that basis, each one backed off and went back to the saloon, leaving the villainous (in this case) leader dead in the dust.
Too historical for you? Then take the healthcare fiasco (please). Robust public option, rah, rah, rah. Wiener caves. Grijalva caves. Sanders caves. Kucinich caves. No one can trust anyone, each one backs down. WE can’t trust any of them. Hope of stopping it rests with the vile Stupak, for Chrissake. Whether it passes or not, they’ll head back to the saloon muttering, “We’ll improve it, yeah, that’s it, we’ll make it better next month. Or next year. Whenever.” And they and we all know it’s a lie.
Patriot Act? That didn’t even get a squeak. Not from progressive politicians. Barely from us. And that’s heavy shit.
There is no WE! Some people know me as a royal pain in the ass. Pushy. People write heroic stuff about we must do this, and we should call for that, and we must expose whatever. And I simply ask, “who is the we?” and “through what organization?” And … nothing. The question is apparently unworthy of answer.
Perhaps there is an assumption that we is understood as all of us as we now are, and that if we keep exposing the atrocity of the hour (which we should certainly keep doing) and roaring our indignation (indignation is good), then somehow WE will magically coalesce into a coherent force? Or the masses will be sufficiently educated by our plaints so that THEY will magically coalesce into a coherent force? Or that there ARE good organizations who will be bulwarks against fascism, even if their activity isn’t manifest at this moment?
Yes! There ARE good organizations out there who could be bulwarks against fascism. But then it would seem the task is to specifically identify them, debate whether they truly fill the bill, and discuss HOW to unite them into a cohesive force.
And better yet, how they, as a cohesive force, will draw in the many being destroyed at this very moment and make them part of that cohesive force. The poor. Blacks and Latinos and Arab-Americans. Those marginal to current-day progressivism. I can’t do it. I can call for worker-peasant-soldier self-defense committees against fascism, but it would be bullshit. Nor does this force have to have the label “anti-fascist.” The unions in the 1930’s weren’t set up as anti-fascist armies. They were set up as unions. They were a force against fascism because it was in their interest, and because they were independently organized.
Likewise, I’m not calling for explicitly anti-fascist organizations. All I’m calling for is independent organizations. Whether working within the Democratic Party or 3rd party, or non-electoral, the key is being independent. The healthcare issue has turned out so badly, and the jobs issue is going to turn out so badly, because there is no independence, progressives are all hooked to the conveyor belt, the key issue, it seems, is whether passing the healthcare bill will be good for the Democratic Party or this or that politician’s career, and its effect on real people is only a bloody shirt they drag out for the cameras.
But there is a point of no return. Barbarism is a possibility. If you don’t believe it, look out your window. Yet, remember what I said about Germany. It had a choice of whether to choose fascism or not. So while I project the very real possibilities of fascism, I by no means consider it inevitable. This country also faces choices. In our case, it looks something like whether the United States desperately tries to maintain its position by brute force, or whether it is willing to become an economic partner — if not the ruling partner — in a world economy increasingly led by the China/Russia/India/Brazil bloc. That is also a real possibility, though some will resist it to the death.
I refer at times to the ruling class, but one thing to note is that the ruling class is no longer American. Wherever they were born, they have long become detached from U.S. soil. They operate among the countries of the entire world, see Empire by Hardt and Negri. From their perspective, capitalism does not rise or fall according to the well-being of the United States specifically. These are among the people who have done the NAFTA deals and outsourced my job to the Philippines. They have no inherent interest in the U.S. going fascist. They would prefer, I guess, it go down with a whimper, keep selling everyone else lots of wheat and beef at cheap prices.
We, the people
You ask what I recommend? Engage the “we” question, as squishy and uncomfortable as that may be. Who are “we” and how do we both become and create a larger organized force? Traditional trade unionism is dead. What is an alternative? What is the critical mass with which the blogosphere becomes a power projector rather than an angry mob? I can make up stuff, but if no one follows it, so what?
There is a point of no return.