Fascism is the Western Answer to Class Struggle

Yves here. While the word “fascism” or “fascist” is deployed way too casually as an epithet, sometimes labels like this are apt. Robert Urie below argues why.

To add to Urie’s analysis, we have been calling the US a Mussolini-style corpocracy as early as 2008 (see Mussolini-Style Corporatism in Action: Treasury Conference Call on Bailout Bill to Analysts (Updated), and extended that observation, over time, such as in a 2015 post: Mussolini-Style Corporatism, aka Fascism, on the Rise in the US. Germane snippets:

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. Confucius

One of the distressing things about politics in the US is the way words have either been stripped of their meaning or become so contested as to undermine the ability to communicate and analyze. It’s hard to get to a conversation when you and your interlocutors don’t have the same understanding of basic terms….

Now admittedly, the new neoliberal economic order is not a replay of fascism, so there is reason not to apply the “f” word wholesale. Nevertheless, there is a remarkable amount of inhibition in calling out the similarities where they exist.

Again, remember that this post was from 2015. Since then, we have had a rise of what Lambert has called “authoritarian followership” among liberals and Team Dem, and increased self and actual media/social media censorship, rising to the level of legislation in the EU and pending legislation in the US. Readers no doubt can provide more examples of the use of state power to curb dissent. Critically, thugs appearing in the middle of the night are less necessary for coercion; now making people near or actually unemployable via cancelling them or even worse, cutting them off from bank services, does the job without the risk of ugly photos.

By Robert Urie, author of Zen Economics, artist, and musician who publishes The Journal of Belligerent Pontification on Substack

Setting aside culture war animosities for the moment to consider the direction of politics in the US— to the extent that doing so is psychologically and / or economically possible for dedicated culture warriors, recent revelations that the FBI and CIA were active participants in the 2016 and 2020 national elections run headlong into longer history. While ‘American democracy’ has always been tenuous and abstract (‘representative’), the US has now returned to a pre- and inter-War melding of state with commercial interests. The American political ‘system’ now fits the Marxist-Leninist conception of the capitalist state.

How is this working for ‘the people?’  Well, which people? The US has the largest military budget in the world by a factor of ten. But it is nevertheless apparently incapable of producing usable weapons and bullets. The US spends multiples of what the rest of the rich world does per person on healthcare while it has active genocide levels of people dying (graph below) who wouldn’t be in a functioning society. The end of the agreement between capital and the state to forego predatory pricing (‘greedflation’) on food and other necessities is increasing food insecurity for vast swaths of the West. And nuclear war with Russia is once again an implied possibility.

Graph: while ‘inequality’ has received lip service of late, most Americans imagine ‘rich’ to be the neighbor down the street who just bought a new car. In fact, the concentration of income in the US in recent years is beyond the imagination of most Americans. The graph illustrates the general case that the richest one percent of wage earners earns 84 times what the poorest quintile earns. In terms of ‘dollar democracy,’ this means that the rich have 84 times as much political influence as the poor have. Source:inequality.org.

The recent shift from the soft power of trade agreements (NAFTA, TPP) to the hard power of military imperialism ties to the economic backdrop of a (US) corporate-state that exists to grab resources and market power for ‘American’ capital. In opposition to capitalist free-trade logic, American liberals have chosen the path of economic nationalism in a low-probability effort to regain political legitimacy for the American state. As temporarily disgraced American idiot-prince George W. Bush put it, ‘war is good for the economy.’ Of course, his war wasn’t good for the million Iraqis that died in it, nor for the wider Middle East that was lit on fire by it, nor for the European and Scandinavian nations that faced the ‘inexplicable’ surge in refugees that it produced. But for the titans of war, the benjamins are flowing again.

Graph: while it is well understood that the US military budget dwarfs those of other nations, the question of what ‘we’ get for the money is never asked. That the Biden administration is pleading poverty with respect to supplying Ukraine with American weapons should bring this question to the fore. How can the US spend 10X as much as the rest of the world and not have the weapons and materiel to show for it? In fact, the neoliberal nature of military spending in the US has meant that the process is too corrupt to produce anything of value. Source: pgpf.org.

For analytical purposes— again with culture war flashpoints set to the side, current US President Joe Biden was the prominent liberal advocate for ‘conservative’ George W. Bush’s resource-grab-war in Iraq. Mr. Biden’s central selling point for that war, Iraqi WMDs, was a fabrication. It may have been Mr. Bush’s fabrication, but Biden went beyond ordinary bipartisan warmongering to sell the American war against Iraq. This likely has bearing on FBI / CIA ‘meddling’ in US elections for the benefit of national-security-state Democrats. Biden has been a consistent proponent of American empire since he entered Congress several centuries (five decades) ago.

The binaries used in American political discourse imply a distribution of political views that are mutually exclusive. Democrats versus Republicans is one such binary. Left versus Right is another. Racist versus anti-racist is another. Fascist versus anti-fascist is another. Analytically, this is to impose theoretical divisions onto American society, not to ‘report’ them. They are assumed to describe the ideological motivations that lead ‘us’ to act. But where do these binaries leave economic motives, the limits of what ‘we’ know, and the point at which we exist in history?

To bring this down to earth, the practical distinction in the twentieth century was between political movements defined in terms of national boundaries, not individual beliefs. This left imperial competition— global resource grabs to supply burgeoning industrialization, as the source of national competition. Like now, the sense was imparted that the first nation to control global industrial inputs would control the world. Industrialization was the perceived path to global domination via military production. The logical circle— military production is needed to fuel imperialism because imperialism is needed to fuel military production, was created.

But this formulation is incomplete. Wars based on national competition end when a nation or group of nations capitulates to a foreign power. Wars based on ideological competition end only when an ideology is ended (as in never). This incongruity led to the Cold War practice in the US of anti-authoritarian authoritarianism, of using the techniques of authoritarianism to crush authoritarianism abroad, only done ‘at home.’ But of course, the use of authoritarian techniques is by definition authoritarianism. The same is true in the present when politicians use propaganda and censorship to crush views that they find politically inconvenient.

American politics has long been premised in the conceit that this class collaboration via ‘national interests’ preempts the class divisions created through capitalist exploitation. Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates may have made ‘their’ fortunes via Federal contracts, labor exploitation, and legal privileges denied to others, but when the US attacked Iraq in 2003, ‘we’ were united in being American, goes the logic. Never mind Orwell’s ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ Through NAFTA, the American state helped Bezos and Gates lower the wages of ‘their’ workers.

Making a few people obscenely rich— and then maintaining that wealth, has taken precedence over providing workers with a living wage for most of the history of the US. From slavery through Joe Biden suppressing a railway strike after reneging on his promise to raise the minimum wage, the American ‘perspective’ has always been the wish-list of the oligarchs. However, it is untrue that this bias has the consent of the governed. To paraphrase political writer Thomas Frank, ‘every culture war in recent history has been a stealth class war.’ If the political and oligarch classes lived in the same country that the rest of us do, they would know this. But class divisions define the ‘American’ experience. A different class means a different experience.

Public discourse in the US over recent years has been of a relatively stable political system that rests atop changing economic relations. This stability was proved in the eyes of urban liberals when Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election following the manufactured turmoil of the Trump years. Missing from this analysis to date has been the impact of changing economic relations on the stability of the political system. The shift from the New Deal to neoliberalism in the 1970s didn’t just impact economic relations. It replaced the logic of a public realm with public support for ‘private’ economic production.

Chart: having followed the healthcare impact of the ACA (Affordable Care Act), Obamacare, since the program was first introduced, the reporting has shifted from speculative— based on the imagined healthcare benefits of insurance expansion, to stunned incredulity that any healthcare system could produce such relentlessly bad outcomes. The Commonwealth Fund (above) is interesting because it employed Liz Fowler, the health insurance lobbyist who wrote the ACA. The evolution of its coverage has shifted from quiet despair to absolute horror at how little the program has actually accomplished. As a bonus, its neoliberal logic is now being used to gut Medicare. Source: Commonwealth Fund

This difference is fundamental. The New Deal featured programs to ameliorate capitalism’s tendency to produce too few jobs, insufficient public goods, and to create market power for connected capitalists. Its conception of the public realm was premised in social tension between state and ‘private’ interests. In this formulation, the state balanced the provision of public goods like national defense, education, and healthcare, against the rent-seeking tendencies of private interests.

In a way that is conceptually analogous to the saw that science is good for analyzing everything except what is important in life, the missing ‘public goods’ from capitalist production beg the question of the purpose of ‘the economy.’ Another way to put this is that while capitalism can occasionally produce what some people want, it is incapable of producing what all people need. Ironically, having the Federal government pay capitalists to produce ‘public’ goods makes them private goods. Their serial failures as ‘public goods’ demonstrate this point (graph above).

The neoliberal turn ended the very conception of a public realm through private provision of all goods and services. Given the economists’ fantasy that capitalist production is efficient, local productive efficiency was imagined to be superior to the public production of public goods. In other words, while the government may no longer produce national defense, education, or healthcare, the additional profits earned by private producers for producing them could in theory be applied to producing more public goods. But they never are.

If this ‘economics’ reads like a cynical farce, you may be onto something. The facts of the US in 2023 are of private military contractors setting US foreign policy, an education system set up to earn private profits for trade school type employment training, and a healthcare system that is the worst in the ‘developed’ world. Given the American capitalist practice of playing legal games like patent scamming when doing so is more profitable than producing quality goods and services, why would the architects of the US healthcare system and military production not expect the same game-playing from these?

Graph: following from the Commonwealth chart above, child and maternal mortality, gun violence, suicide, and the health impact of the industrial food system, have now accumulated to have Americans live 6.2 years less than the citizens of functioning nations. This approximates the drop in life expectancy that took place during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. At the time, it was considered amongst the greatest tragedies in human history. American liberals elected Joe Biden to toss another trillion dollars into it. This is genocide. Source: OECD; World Bank.

Again, while GDP (Gross Domestic Product) measures P x Q (P = price and Q = quantity), it doesn’t measure the social costs of production, the quality of what is produced, or the social utility (or lack thereof) derived from it. In this respect, ‘the economy’ can rise while the economic circumstances of most people who exist within it decline.  This has resulted in serial assertions that political dysfunction is the result of the ‘little people’ being too stupid to know how good they have it. This was the liberal chide against the American Left in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the implied Left charge against Donald Trump’s supporters from 2016 forward.

Consider, the Great Recession wasn’t a fantasy dreamt up by Right-wing malcontents. From the 1970s forward American oligarchs worked with their toadies in the political class to create the world imagined by what became the Reagan-Right. By 2016 Wall Street had been deregulated, ‘private’ healthcare had been funded at public expense, and privately sourced ‘public’ education was training children to sit down, shut up, and do what they are told for the benefit of their future employers. In other words, there is a material basis for widespread discontent.

In contrast to the fantasies of economists, the architects of the New Deal understood capitalism. The New Deal was based on knowledge of what capitalism does well, and what it doesn’t do well. In contrast, the neoliberal turn was based on the forgotten history of the Great Depression. In other words, neoliberalism was / is a forgetting—purposeful or not, of why capitalism doesn’t produce public goods without socially given reasons, like Federal programs, for doing so. In this sense, neoliberalism is the elimination of a public purpose to benefit private actors.

I recently spoke with a former analyst for a large and well-recognized agency of the Federal government who had participated in a project to ‘rationalize’ Federal defense spending along neoliberal lines. However, s/he had no idea the project as it was conceived was neoliberal. The goal had been to make government as ‘efficient’ as the so-called private sector. Missing from the analysis was any cognizance that the central point of post-WWII Federal defense spending had been to employ lots of people in stable industries at decent wages. It wasn’t to turn defense contractors into oligarchs on the public dime.

Back in the day, the employment benefit of Federal defense spending was well understood. No capitalist enterprise had a direct interest in providing national defense, so theory had it that ‘we,’ as in the people, must fund it collectively. As a consequence, between the end of WWII and today, American imperialism— from Krugmanite trade twaddle to arming Ukraine to fight Russia, has been funded on the public dime. Additionally, Americans were employed to produce the munitions and materiel used to destroy Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, etc.

A few readers may recall that it was private equity’s foray into national defense spending that placed former US President George H.W. Bush in a meeting with the Bin Laden family in Washington, DC on September 11, 2001. The purchase and control of national defense infrastructure by private equity changed the logic of the MIC from the quasi-public production of public goods to the private production of nominally public goods by rent-seeking corporations. The employment aspect of the public production of public goods was discarded in favor of private profits.

Now for the trillion-dollar question: given that the US spends more each year on its military than the next ten nations combined (graph above), why has it run out of weapons and materiel to supply to Ukraine in its (US) proxy war with Russia? To be clear, there is no suggestion here that doing so would either be a laudable goal or good public policy. But still, if Russia can fund its military at eight cents / dollar relative to the US and still field an army in Ukraine, why isn’t the US, given its military expenditures, loaded to the rafters with weapons and materiel to sell to Ukraine?

A similar question faces the American healthcare industry. The US spends far more per person on healthcare than other ‘rich’ nations, and yet has the worst healthcare outcomes amongst them (graph, chart, above). Excluding bonuses and stock options, the healthcare ‘industry’ has the highest paid workers in the US who are producing the worst outcomes in the developed world. Like the defense industry, capitalists flipped the public purpose of the healthcare system on its head. The goal is now to extract maximum public payments while providing minimum goods and services in return.

With respect to both ‘industries,’ American liberals continue to conflate public payments to private interests with a public purpose. There is no such confusion present when the Federal government purchases writing pens and paper. The goal is clear: to support private profits by contracting with private corporations to produce writing pens and paper. The Federal government could create a federal institution to produce these. Or it could pay extra to ‘private’ contractors, as has been common with cost-plus Federal contracts, to pay higher wages to workers. But doing so would counter the neoliberal logic of economic rationalization.

Being American, with an internet now openly being ‘managed’ by the FBI and the CIA, actual history is getting harder to find unless you know before-hand where to look for it. In this regard, Daniel Guerin’s 1939 materialist classic ‘Fascism and Big Business’ provides detailed descriptions of the economic drivers of the rise of European fascism. To save the suspense, these details are eerily reminiscent of the US in recent decades. No, this isn’t to revisit the liberal fantasy that Trump = Hitler. History is more interesting than that. The link between then and now can be found in the exigencies of capitalism, which Guerin details.

As the willingness of American liberals to subvert the ‘freedoms’ that allegedly distinguish the US from authoritarian states grows, the Cold War irony of anti-authoritarian authoritarianism grows with it. As is illustrated through the public response to the official lies related to Hunter Biden’s now infamous laptop, censorship undertaken ‘in the public interest’ was more precisely to undermine the integrity of the 2020 election for the benefit of the Democrats. In so doing, the stated purpose of state propaganda and censorship was proved a lie. The revealed purpose has been to silence political opponents, not to protect the public.

Divested of its ideological and organizational paraphernalia, fascism is nothing more than a final solution to the class struggle, the totalistic submergence and exploitation of democratic forces for the benefit and profit of higher financial circles.

The sense has been imparted via the urban, bourgeois, press that ‘normalcy’ was restored in the US through the election of Joe Biden in 2020, even though Biden has been consistently less popular with the American people than the relentlessly demonized Donald Trump. With recent revelations that the CIA and FBI actively interfered in the 2020 election on behalf of Democrats by putting forward the false allegation that Hunter Biden’s computer contained ‘Russian disinformation,’ what normalcy has been restored— that the CIA runs American politics?

The question isn’t rhetorical. There is an answer. From the House Judiciary Committee in April, 2023:

Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell testified before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees and revealed that (now current Biden Secretary of State Antony) Blinken was “the impetus” of the public statement signed in October 2020 that implied the laptop belonging to Hunter Biden was disinformation. A = inserted by Urie for clarity.

Mr. Blinken was acting as Joe Biden’s campaign manager when he ‘inspired’ former CIA Director Morrell to publicly mischaracterize the content of Hunter Biden’s laptop as ‘Russian disinformation.’ He also got fifty of his fellow spooksto do the same. And, lest you have forgotten, the public statement issued by Morrell and his fellow election fraudsters was reviewed by the current CIA and given a green light to be disseminated. Question: why haven’t these people been arrested for election interference and conducting dirty ops domestically?

Whatever, your political allegiances, getting the CIA to publicly lie in order to elevate Joe Biden’s chances of being elected is as anti-democratic— dirty, manipulative, dishonest, and corrupt, as any of the allegations yet made regarding the ‘fascistic’ tendencies of other politicians and parties. Fighting fascism with fascism leaves fascism as the only possible result. It is therefore ironic that ‘liberal fascism’ and ‘left fascism,’ have since entered the lexicon to denote political repression undertaken to counter political repression.

Dan Guerin’s (above) central insight is that big business— multinational corporations and Wall Street, is the central proponent of fascism in the same way that it is a central proponent of imperialism. It was the leaders of large industrial enterprises in the US that supported the rise of European fascism from afar. The only attempted fascist coup in the US, the ‘business plot’ of 1933, was carried out by Wall Street in league with leading industrialists. Had the plotters not chosen the wrong General to lead the coup— socialist gadfly Smedley Butler, it may well have succeeded.

Why might American industrialists and financiers favor fascism in the present? Well, the ‘private’ provision of necessities like healthcare, education, and collective defense, isn’t going that well for the ‘consumers’ of these products. Why the rush to censor the internet? A bipartisan consortium of human snakes, lizards, and anal warts (apologies to snakes and lizards) has ‘brokered’ the delivery of decidedly low-quality public goods and would find it distinctly inconvenient to have their names associated with their political products by the public. In fact, the goods are so low-quality that liberal largesse looks a lot like looting.

Amongst the largest contributors to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign were Wall Street and health insurers. ‘We’ got consequence-free bailouts for Wall Street and four million ‘excess deaths’ from a healthcare system that has gotten worse since the ACA was implemented. Health insurers were amongst the largest contributors to Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign as well, and he doubled down on Obamacare by shoveling another trillion dollars into it. Where is the accountability that requires that every mother in New Jersey piss in a jar (get a drug test) to get $15 per month in food assistance?

So again, the answer to the question is implied in the widespread failure of ‘private’ contractors to produce functioning public goods. In the first, these producers are raking in profits and bonuses as things stand, so why should they change tactics? In the second, the Federal oversight ‘process’ features future employees negotiating with current employees of ‘revolving-door’ corporations. What incentive do they have to stir the pot? In the third, there is no not-corrupt political party in the US to compete with the two conspicuously corrupt parties of the present. With voting as the sole ‘legitimate’ mode of changing politics, what choice is there?

My regulatory acquaintance mentioned above is a dedicated liberal Democrat. Their take on the neoliberal economic project that they were engaged in (‘rationalizing’ defense spending in terms favorable to capital) is that it was ‘liberal’ because it featured government spending. In fact, the same claim could be made when fascist Italy and fascist Germany geared up war spending in anticipation of WWII. While I don’t dispute that this spending could be considered ‘liberal,’ few Americans liberals who took the time to think about it would likely agree.

Daniel Guerin’s book ‘Fascism and Big Business’  (link above) should be required reading in public schools in the US. That they aren’t suggests why profit-seeking charter schools are such a bad idea. What is the incentive for committed capitalists to risk their profits by teaching political theory that is threatening to their business interests? Did the lightbulb just go off? ‘Capitalism’ is no more ideologically neutral than any other economic system. That American liberals can’t differentiate between their beliefs and fascist logic of the twentieth century should be telling

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    1. britzklieg

      Wow… way to miss the point. Was there not enough important and factual information in this essay to consider w/o referencing a bad SCOTUS decision (when was the last good one?) about what has always been and what will always be, with or without Citizens United, the truth about money and politics? This is a beautifully written and thorough article which addresses the very raison d’être of what you say was left out. “[N]othing about?” I’d say everything about…

      Thank you, again Robert Urie. Your’s is one of the only remaining voices that compels me to check in on “Counterpunch” from time to time which, imo, has embraced far too much of the liberal authoritarianism that has destroyed even the possibility of contrarian, heterodox voices being heard. In the future I will be going (belatedly) straight to your substack.

  1. Stephen

    Interesting article.

    Some eye opening data here too: especially in the linked Commonwealth Fund Study on US Healthcare. For example, I had no idea that the US has fewer practising physicians or hospital beds per capita than the U.K. Very counter intuitive until one stops to think about it.

    The comparison of healthcare with the military seems very appropriate. Both are producing public (or possibly merit in the case of health) goods but have been captured by private interests who have managed to create a low productivity, low volume but high return regime. Exactly what classic economic theory would predict. The high cost of MRI referred to by the Commonwealth Fund Study is possibly the healthcare equivalent of the F35. Russia no doubt produces far more artillery shells per capita than the U.S. too, as a symmetric statistic to the ones about hospital beds. The cynic in me would also wonder whether the high use of “screening” is driven more by the urge to sell treatments as a consequence of it than any desire for better outcomes.

    Unfortunately, we in the U.K. have a totally inefficient and unfit for purpose military sector already too and now seem to want to make our health sector look more like the US one as well.

    Fascism is the right word for all this. When I studied political movements we were taught that corporatism fusing a union of private interests and the state is precisely what fascism is about. This is quite different (but in practice overlapping) from Nazism which is an ideology based on explicit racial inferiority. Fascism not need racism in order to exist although it might be a component. The terms are used so frequently these days that they are often taken as interchangeable by many people. But, they are not, of course.

    1. GramSci

      1. “The cynic in me would also wonder whether the high use of “screening” is driven more by the urge to sell treatments as a consequence of it than any desire for better outcomes.”

      My understanding is that US Medicare Advantage ‘unsurance’ is just such a scam, a Bidenesque ‘Access to Medicare-for-All’ whereby tax dollars go to hospitals according to how many high-value ills they can diagnose, with little if any regard for the effective treatment of those ills.

      2. Re “Fascism does not need racism in order to exist”. and my comment below, I would offer that imperialism does need racism to exist, and that this is a feature that unites the USian and German variety of the F-word.

    2. Jams O'Donnell

      “a totally inefficient and unfit for purpose military sector” is a good thing, and a step towards abolishing them all. However, it helps if all nations are simultaneously in possession of such a facility. Otherwise it can cause difficulties.

    3. Piotr Berman

      “Fascism not need racism in order to exist”, indeed, if you compare the Italian archetype with German version, it is very clear. To me, one defining element of fascism is defining, and hating, the enemy. Enforcing social solidarity is justified by the danger that enemy will win, or even merely prosper: isn’t that slap in our face, knife in our back? But fascism that existed between WWI and WWII had more common elements that are absent today.

      One aspect is that promotion of social solidarity entail some “socialistic elements” which seem scarce today. There are also grand projects, like autobahn system…

      Second aspect is that social solidarity was center around a charismatic figure, Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Salazar, who was a man of vision, wisdom if not genius etc. This is how American Democrats evade fascist label: lately, they select leaders with charisma of rotten fish. Unlike Republicans who prefer energetic persons.

      Third aspect is cult of force and brutality. In various ways, American society is drifting there. As an aspect, legal system has to be practical rather than impartial. And we go there too. Intolerance of “hostile opinion” is also raising. So far, those are trends that proceed in fascist destination but not at the destination yet.

      A peculiar American aspect is open deference to the rich. This makes the leader the first among many, if that. Un-fascist (even if not in a good way). A the rich are not monolithic, that gives some degree of pluralism. The package agrees most with the concept of imperialism as defined by Marxists in early XX century, before fascism.

  2. DJG, Reality Czar

    Many thanks to Robert Urie for this excellent piece, which summarizes where the U S of A is these days. In some respects, what Americans in the Homeland are experience is the war brought home. All of the propaganda is that the wars are noble, far away, fought to lift the purdah, and safe enough to produce no U.S. casualties. (The millions of deaths of locals since 1999 and Yugoslavia just don’t count.)

    I think that Naked Capitalism in the last few days and weeks has posted several pieces that sum up the situation. Thomas Ferguson a few days back on money eating up all of politics. Aurelien diagnosing the managerial class and its fantasies yesterday.

    We collectively know the lay of the land. The divisions are class divisions. Class war aligns with war mongering: War is the health of the state. (Bourne, I believe.)

    Fascism has some peculiarities that may mean confining the debate and use to Italy. And believe me, the debate about fascism is going on quite loudly in Italy even as I write, 2 August being the anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the second-class waiting room in the Bologna Train Station.

    Up top, Yves Smith quotes Confucius on the correct use of words. I don’t take either Yves Smith or Confucius lightly.

    I propose this word: Dictatorship

    Let’s admit what Americans are up against.

    And I’ll add a quote from Theodor Adorno that I have kept around for years: “The confounding of truth and lies, making it almost impossible to maintain a distinction, and a labour of Sisyphus to hold on to the simplest piece of knowledge…[marks] the conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power.”

    A dictatorship, then. Do you want to keep it?

    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      If I may quibble, although I don’t consider it a quibble: Urie’s one flaw is use of the idea and term “binary.” Binary is a crap term that came out of computer programming. In human experience and human events, the world is not a binary of two extremes that cancel one another: 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1

      So: Retire “binary.”

      In dialectics, the term “dyad” is used for two ideas in tension. Let’s try for dialectics. Binary is a kind of monocropping: A horrible idea being applied to reduce complexity.

    2. Taufiq Al-Thawry

      On “binary”:
      My reading has that Urie shares your “quibble” of the usage of binaries in current political and economic discourse. So, I agree it’s not actually a “quibble.” Certainly, he doesn’t spell out the dialectic counterpart as you do in this comment, but I think (again from my reading) your comment adds to, rather than refutes, Urie’s examination of binaries in our discourse.

      On “dictatorship”:
      Very very similarly to the above, I think your comment adds to what Urie more than nodded to, but didn’t say directly. Urie wrote: “The American political ‘system’ now fits the Marxist-Leninist conception of the capitalist state.” This undoubtedly refers to the concept of capitalist democracy as the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Where I may differ with Urie is the implied notion that this is relatively new – the work the word “now” is performing in the quoted text above. Examining the history of US democracy reveals that genuine popular democracy is expanded only to regain system legitimacy in periods of crisis and promptly (or protractedly) reigned in when it is perceived the crisis has more or less passed – looking at the eras of Reconstruction, the New Deal and the Civil Rights Movement illustrate the dialectics of the capitalist state in responding to crises of illegitimacy.

      Seems to beg the question of whether this system, presently suffering from the crisis of illegitimacy (health, war, domestic violence, inequality, climate, etc), has any democracy expansion reforms to even consider, or if the mask will be removed completely. That, after all, is the true “crime” of Trump in the eyes of the elites: he removed the mask of democratic virtue and gleefully revealed the true face of the American system domestically and abroad

    3. Kouros

      I disagree with with the use of word dictatorship, be it in the original sense (a Roman public function bestowed to an individual on a temporary basis to deal with extrordinary circumstances, that needed fast executive decisions, that needed obeyed).

      A dictator has power, unquestionable power. When corporations dictate actions, that is not dictatorship, that is plutocracy.

      So fascism is the proper term. A more accurate term would be for US: a demagogic democratic plutocratic corporate fascist republic. “Democratic” is the show used for gaining legitimacy. With demagoguery, the democratic process is thoroughly undermined. Add to that the capture of the political process by the two parties, via states legislation, which kills any competition.

  3. GramSci

    It’s not the sort of thing I would recommend putting in a headline, but I would submit that the US F-word has etymologically descended more from the German than from the Italian.

    One has to go through the looking-glass of Israel to get to this place, but there you are, the imperial mandate of the blue-eyed master genotype.

  4. Bernie

    some of the best writing so far fueled by the shame that a president you liked is going to jail. most peoples paranoid anger over trump seeing some justice is not so eloquent. really appreciative of your wide range of topics but always feel like navigating a mine field coming across your culture war stuff.

  5. Aurelien

    I think the title is unfortunate, because it sets off inevitably another round of the “what is Fascism” debate, which, even if it could be settled, would not necessarily be helpful in this discussion.

    There seem to be two tendencies in this “debate”: most people look at what the (very few) avowedly Fascist regimes did when in power, and try to define it retrospectively. The problem is that all regimes of all political persuasions have to cope with opposing sources of power and the pressure of events. So it would be possible to say, for example, “I know what Socialism is, it’s deregulation and privatisation, which is what the Socialists under Mitterrand did in France.” That doesn’t get you very far. It’s more useful to look at Fascist ideology, insofar as there was any, which is simple enough to be summarised in three points:

    – Life is a struggle.
    – Victory goes to the strongest.
    – That’s it.

    This is the ideology of a mass movement of the radical populist Right (ie it excludes régimes such as Franco’s) which comes from the same collectivist urge as leftist movements did, but which takes race rather than class as its basis. So life is competition at all levels, and the strongest and most ruthless emerge at the top of all organisations, and all political questions are settled by force. There is no role for an elected parliament, economic autarky replaces free trade and brute force substitutes for the Rule of Law. This is pretty much what happened in the Third Reich, bringing with it political and administrative chaos as, for example, different parts of the state competed with each other to divert German industrial capacity to different projects.

    At first sight, there’s absolutely no reason why capitalists should want that kind of violence-based unpredictable state, dominated by forces that they could not control. And at second sight it turns out that they didn’t. The idea of Fascism as a deliberate capitalist choice was Soviet ideology before the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, stopped being Soviet ideology afterwards, and then began again after June 1941. It was a commonplace of Marxist analysis for decades, and became the dominant explanation in the old GDR, and among western academics with Marxist sympathies (you can read about that in Ian Kershaw’s masterful account of the historiography of the Third Reich).

    But it’s not true. In 1932, after several years of political chaos and instability, Hindenburg finally succeeded in forming a government. Mostly it was of recycled traditional right-wing politicians, but in return for Nazi votes in the Reichstag, they were given a couple of portfolios. So everyone could relax: normal service was resumed and the Nazis (who had been losing support) would soon be marginalised and forgotten. The industrialists would have preferred a traditional right-wing government without the Nazis, but that wasn’t possible, and the only other alternatives seemed to be permanent chaos or a Communist takeover, neither of which was attractive. They were, of course, massively owned by the Nazis, but by that time it was all over, and anyway there were rearmament contracts.

    I didn’t find the argument that clear, but I think it amounts to what a number of us have been saying here and elsewhere, which is that power is increasingly cohering around indistinguishable political parties, the media/NGO complex, banking and finance and parts of the permanent government apparatus, often related to each other or moving between different parts of what is becoming a single entity. We need a name for that: it’s not Fascism, but we shouldn’t allow the misuse of words to conceal the seriousness of what’s going on.

    1. LilD

      Yes. Thucydides said “ the strong exploit the weak as they will, the weak endure what they must. “. ( it’s better in the original greek)
      If you think that’s fine, you might be a fascist… although it’s close to republican dogma

      1. Reply

        Some people enjoy telling others what to do. Those same people increasingly do so by stifling dissent. The ones being told have little recourse. The internet opened up some discourse, then got pervasive surveillance and misinformation. Staying up on how to survive and not get unpersoned takes more effort these days.

        1. Piotr Berman

          If you know the context, that was a democracy at its most brutal. Melians belonged to Athenian-lead Delian League (archetype of “concert of democracies”), but as ethnic Dorians, wished to be neutral in the war with Dorian Sparta, so Athenian gave them a choice: supply troops (a ship? Melia is a small island) or die.

      2. KD

        Thucydides was describing reality. Someone who doesn’t accept reality is delusional. Whether reality is fine, or whether the gnostics and the Neo-Platonists were right and the material universe is evil, is metaphysics. However, all people either have to adapt to reality, or find a nice place to put their head in the sands and rely on realist sheepdogs to keep them from being eaten by wolves. The real practical wisdom comes in distinguishing sheepdogs from wolves, because sometimes they are almost indistinguishable, and this cannot be done a priori.

    2. tegnost

      – Life is a struggle.
      – Victory goes to the strongest.
      – That’s it.

      Thanks Aurelian.
      Maybe you should talk to some of my tech friends as this is pretty much their view.
      MBA’s as a class are generally “If I steal it then I got it fair and square”
      or b clinton “where else are they going to go”
      As I am a geezer what is most striking to me is the absolutism. It’s “my way or the highway” all the way down in the USA. When I consider forwarding NC links or your fine work I consistently choose not to because these people can’t handle it, which is decidedly ironic when you consider their clear superiority in all things. And when this sloganeering doesn’t work, they go hide in the weeds by saying, “well, it’s complicated…” implying of course that how could a low earner like myself possibly understand. I’m slightly more ruthless in conversations, but hey, I gotta eat, and I could easily be deworked. Sorry for the use of so many bromides, I didn’t go into the comment with that intention, it’s just revealed itself to me that bromides are pretty much as deep as these interactions get… :/
      I don’t use the F word in conversation, relying instead on socialism for the rich to describe our screwed up system.

    3. Keith Newman

      @Aurelien,August 4, 2023 at 9:00 am
      Your assertion that “capitalists” did not want the Nazis in 1932 and that only “marxists” argue that is most peculiar. This fact is clear in the historical record. How relevant it is today is another matter.

      “Herman Goering sent telegrams to Germany’s 25 leading industrialists, inviting them to a secret meeting in Berlin on February 20, 1933. Attending the gathering were four I.G. Farben directors and Krupp chief Gustav Krupp. Hitler addressed the group, saying “private enterprise cannot be maintained in a democracy.” He also told the men that he would eliminate trade unions and communists. Hitler asked for their financial support and to back his vision for Germany.

      According to Robert Jackson, the former Supreme Court Justice and chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, “[T]he industrialists…became so enthusiastic that they set about to raise three million Reichsmarks [worth about $30 million today] to strengthen and confirm the Nazi Party in power.”

      See https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/how-big-business-bailed-out-nazis

      Information from the Nuremberg trials is available and I have seen it quoted numerous times regarding this subject. After the Nazi defeat business leaders pretended they had been the victims. That was not at all credible.

      1. britzklieg

        Indeed, it’s always what’s left out of an argued position that is most telling about the argument itself.

        1. dommage

          As when saying that when Hindenburg “succeeded in forming a government” (oddly omitting that it was headed as Chancellor by Hitler), going on to say (incorrectly) that the Nazis were only “given a couple of portfolios”, leaving out what the “couple of portfolios” were. The Nazis were in fact only given one portfolio, Frick at the Interior Ministry – in command of the non-Reichswehr (limited to 100,000 men) security and armed forces of the Republic, from Border Guards to the Water Police. The second Nazi cabinet member was Göring, as Minister Without Portfolio. But as Minister of the Interior of Prussia, and therefore in command of the police in Berlin and indeed the great majority of the police in Germany.

      2. Aurelien

        If you look at the date in your citation, you will see that it is February 1933, ie just after Hitler was installed as Chancellor on 30 January. This reflects a common misunderstanding, and confuses the relief that the industrialists felt that the worst had been avoided, the system had not collapsed and Communists weren’t in power, with actual support or preference for Hitler before he came to power. The Nazis were not some kind of a capitalist tool, as used to be argued during the Cold War, and there’s no doubt that, given the choice between a standard right-wing government and the Nazis, the industrialists would have preferred the first. Don’t forget, either, most of what Hitler was advocating– rearmament, the end of the Versailles Treaty – was common currency at the time, and virtually any right-wing government would have carried out similar policies. And the Nazis were not “in power” at that point: the majority of the government consisted of conventional right-wing politicians. It was only in the months that followed that the Nazis took over all levels of the country by force.

        German industrialists supported the coalition government headed by Hitler, and then the pure Nazi regime. That’s not in dispute. They were interested in the money, and more importantly, by then they saw the Nazis as the only obstacle standing between Germany and a Communist revolution. This was a very common view at the time; that democracy was dead and the only choice was therefore between Communism and Fascism. The difficult life and squalid death of the Weimar Republic made this view easier to accept in Germany than almost anywhere else. Some Germans, of course, took the opposite tack and joined the Communist Party, believing that it was the only force that could stop Fascism.

        I think Richard Evans, “The Coming of the Third Reich,” is still the standard source on all this.

        1. Keith Newman

          @Aurelien,August 4, 2023 at 11:57 am
          Ah, OK. Agreed. As you write: ” German industrialists supported the coalition government headed by Hitler, and then the pure Nazi regime. That’s not in dispute. They were interested in the money, and more importantly, by then they saw the Nazis as the only obstacle standing between Germany and a Communist revolution.”
          I would add as well that big business under the Nazis benefited from the destruction of the unions and the privatisation of formerly nationalised industries.

          I have never found the business/Nazi issue to be of great interest except when countering neoliberal ideologues who argue that the near complete freedom of business to do what it wants solves all problems. Other than that it is obvious to any disinterested party that an entrenched elite group will do whatever it takes to ensure its privileges remain intact. You have described this convincingly regarding the PMC (and others) in your own blog.

          However in today’s world of neoliberal ideological dominance I think it is useful to be clear on the business/Nazi links issue.

          My take on the current situation is that historical fascism is entirely unnecessary for business interests today in the West since there is no organised economic threat to them anywhere that I am aware of. As you say, conventional right-wing (ie pro-business) parties are the preferred choice.

          1. Geoffrey

            JOF COMMENT
            “Keith Newman
            August 4, 2023 at 1:43 pm
            My take on the current situation is that historical fascism is entirely unnecessary for business interests today in the West since there is no organised economic threat to them anywhere that I am aware of.”
            This statement strikes me as similair to arguments that ‘US wars of choice’ are seemingly not in the US interest; how to interpret then? Answer: the whole liberal imperium ediface is held up by dollar hegemony, and that in turn by control of global oil flows and oil trade, so US does have an interest EVERYWHERE. IMO, fascism is now needed at home to quell and misdirect domestic opposition to ever increasing economic distress, contradictions in the dominant narrative, and gird domestic populations for costly imperial wars abroad, directing resources into war production while standards of living continue to fall.

    4. digi_owl

      > The industrialists would have preferred a traditional right-wing government without the Nazis, but that wasn’t possible, and the only other alternatives seemed to be permanent chaos or a Communist takeover, neither of which was attractive.

      Kinda feels like this is repeating all over again, though so far thankfully without brown shirts goosestepping in the streets.

      1. JBird4049

        Oh, we have Brown Shirts, although proportionately there are fewer than what was in the Wiener Republic, and while the pattern of fascism might repeat each nation has its own cultural language. Those goosesteppers came from the cultural language of Germany. American fascists would, maybe are, using American culture for their actions and symbols. As an example of how important culture is, look at the Christian Nationalists in the United States. Most people outside of America likely think of it as ridiculous just as Americans do think of the SA’s Brown Shirts, but a large percentage of Americans will get these American nationalists even if they think it bonkers.

    5. hk

      I tend to think that people err when they dismiss the Fascist propaganda about “making trains run on time.” People who do try to “address” this generally disregard this on the basis that Fascists did not actually make trains run on time. That is true, but not particularly relevant. Successful politicians deliver messages whose relevance masses of people appreciate, whether Fascist or otherwise. That they failed (or refused) to deliver on them does not negate that these messages had an impact. After all, Obama did not bring change. Trump did not make America great. Etc. (and it’s not clear if they ever meant to do what they promised either.) But they spoke to the fact that there were huge numbers of people who felt that the existing political, social, and economic institutions did not work and needed a “change,” whatever it might be, and American politics/economy/society were in a bad state that needed restoration, however that was going to be achieved. So it stands that the Fascist message about “trains” worked to the degree that people knew trains did not run on time, that making trains run on time was (obviously) very important to a lot of people, and that they were distrustful of the existing political order’s ability to do anything about it, or, indeed, even the willingness to acknowledge that trains don’t run on time. (H. Clinton’s attempt to respond to MAGA by claiming that America is already great and needs no “restoration” is symptomatic of this–and in a way, even more problematic than that of Italian politicians in the aftermath of World War 1).

      In other words, Fascism should be best understood as the product of a dysfunctional political system, in which thugs and scoundrels (who may be thuggish for all manner of reasons) who exploit the very real dysfunctions of the political system that refuses to deal with very real and widespread political problems that frustrate large numbers of people (of all “political” stripes.) If one were to define “democracy” not so much in terms of particular practices and procedures or even prevailing ideologies, but somewhat holistically and functionally as the ability of the political institutions to incorporate the desires and needs of the “masses” into the policy produced, societies where Fascism triumphs are already tottering as meaningful “democracies” and the rise of Fascism is itself a perverted act of “democracy” at work. (If I remember correctly, both Mussolini and Hitler said something to this effect) The decline of “democracy” that precipitate the rise of Fascism, I wonder, is related to the decline of operational capability that Yves noted in the other post: it takes operational skills to ensure that the proverbial trains run on time and a cat knows what it is doing (black or white) to catch mice, after all.

      I suppose this doesn’t actually define “Fascism,” particularly: the description that offered would apply to almost any successful government that runs on the slogan of “change,” whether they deliver on it or not. But I suggest that “accurately” defining Fascism is less important (and I tend to think that Fascism in practice is really a successful attempt by thugs and scoundrels who don’t really care for “ideology” as such that exploit widespread social distress to take political power and run the government criminally anyways) than identifying the circumstances in which such people can rise to power.

    6. NoFreeWill

      Capitalism may prefer the traditional liberal right > fascism, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a deliberate choice. It prefers either by far to socialism/communism, and it seems like we face the same choices today, ecosocialism or petrocapitalism accelerated civ collapse/fascism and are choosing the latter.

      In today’s case it might be reflected by a capitalist preference for authoritarian neoliberal Biden vs. full fash-lite authoritarian Trump, Biden being less likely to make arbitrary trade decisions/policy changes that threaten business interests.

      Your post seems to imply that there was no support by business for Hitler before 1933 which I think contradicts the facts.

      1. Geoffrey

        Ishmael Zadeh Hussein, a prof emmiritus at Northwestern I think, wrote a book few years back explaining that fascism was a natural tendency of capitalism under serious stress. ‘Liberal’ capitalism can tolerate some manifestations of communism and socialism provided they don’t interfere with the general dominance of capitalist accumulation. Indeed such tolerance is evidence of its self-congradulatory liberality. (The same may be said of why protestantism is a better fit than catholicism: capitalism can better tolerate a multiplicity of protestant sects because moral scruples about and ethical/communitarian barriers to the market are more diffuse than pushback from a unified catholic hierarchy, ethical values are more a personnal issue and less social; and the aforementioned multiplicity of sects is a poster for liberal tolerance).

    7. Feral Finster

      “It’s more useful to look at Fascist ideology, insofar as there was any, which is simple enough to be summarised in three points:

      – Life is a struggle.
      – Victory goes to the strongest.
      – That’s it.”.

      Accurate, but what do you propose to do about it?

      The rulers know it’s evil and unfair. Not only that, they do not care.

  6. john

    I was watching an “Andrey Martyanov” video on youtube (he was an engineer in the Soviet Army)..anyway he says the russians can build 7 nuclear powered submarines at the same cost as one US sub. US system simply too bloated, too many middlemen and middlewomen, and corrupt…. payments go here and there…everyone ripping off the taxpayer and zero accountability.

    1. Polar Socialist

      I’m sure there’s bloat and corruption in the Russian system, too, but not as many middlepersons. Usually all companies needed to build, say, a submarine being under one corporation owned by the government.

      The 7 to 1 comparison works only with Yasen vs. Virginia, nuclear powered cruise-missile boats. One simple reason for the price difference is likely to be the enormous amount of automation in the Russian submarine – the crew complement is only half of that of Virginia even if they are about the same size. This means the space that requires life support is half or even less, given the relative comfort (read: private and social space) on US vessels nowadays. Which should translate to cheaper and faster design and construction.

      1. Jams O'Donnell

        “the enormous amount of automation in the Russian submarine” – so despite the supposed expertise claimed by US industry in automation, the Russians are actually much more advanced in this area? Not surprising. Russia has had a three man crew with an auto-loader in its tanks for at least a decade now, while the west still needs an extra crew member. This just highlights the ‘make your own reality’ handicap enjoyed by US/EU politicians, who still can’t see that Russia has a wide gamut of economical expertise and output, rather than being a ‘gas station with nukes’.

        1. hk

          More like half a century or more (wrt autoloaders). T64 and T72 are 1970s tanks designed in late 60s. They remained unreliable and dangerous for a while, but I’m of the understanding that “good” autoloaders have been around for a couple of decades now.

          1. Polar Socialist

            T-72 autoloader prototype had 1 failure for 488 ‘actions’ in 1971. That equals to one failure during twelve times filling and unloading the full loader. It improved in the production models. And it has never been dangerous, even it the action looks very violent.

            1. hk

              I always assumed that the danger from T72 autoloaders was that the thing was operating in an extremely cramped environment rather than the thing being dangerous by itself.

              1. Polar Socialist

                The remaining crew nembers of T-64 and T-72 actually have more space than crews of T-62 or T-55 had.
                I’ve even seen specs that claim T-72 battle compartment has the same volume than Leopard 2 – slightly bigger than Abrams.
                But I have never been inside any of them, so relata refero.

  7. Lex

    Neo-liberalism is essentially finance capitalism. The US defense industry is inefficient and corrupt because it is based on financial returns for investors rather than producing military goods. The US healthcare industry is inefficient and corrupt for the same reason. Health outcomes for “customers” are the last concern of the system.

    “Fascism is the political expression of finance capitalism.” ~ Georgi Dimitrov

    That might manifest as ethno-nationalism like Germany in the 1930’s or a corporate state like Italy in the same time period. It might manifest itself as a nation run by intelligence agencies for the benefit of financial interests without displaying any of the ethno-nationalism and torchlit parades of Germany.

    1. digi_owl

      And likely if you look into those “investors” you are bound to find congresscritters and their close relatives.

    2. Keith Newman

      @Lex August 4, 2023 at 9:13 am
      Well I think it takes more than what you say for business interests, financial or otherwise, to embrace a very repressive fascist-like regime. They face no organised threats that I am aware of anywhere in the West.They are free to do what they want with a bit of PR veneer. Why support an unpleasant repressive regime when it’s unnecessary?

      1. Lex

        Repression need not be the hard variety shown in historical examples like Nazi Germany. In fact good repression is probably much softer along the lines of Chomsky’s description of managing the boundaries of acceptable debate. But of course the US has a colorful, long and still recent history of open repression. We’re still within a human lifespan of open repression of communists and Jim Crow. We now live in a “cancel culture” form of repression (and while i personally think much of that is frivolous, it is real). Soft repression works well when times are “good”, we’ll see much harder repression when times aren’t so good. We’ll see plenty of othering and declarations of enemies too.

    3. Pat Herron

      Lex, thank you. I’ve seen the corruption but didn’t have the right words to explain it. “Finance capitalism based on financial return for investors rather than producing goods” & services. The more the super rich were able to corrupt our law making processes (which is out of control esp. with “Citizen’s United”) by the application of huge amounts of money the more they have been able to change our laws & substitute any restraint on corporations for this finance capitalism so that our corporations exist basically for the sole purpose of making money for investors (the rich). Most of this was done without the knowledge of the average American. All behind closed doors. Most people understand “something is wrong” but have been misdirected by these same billionaires that control the media, & political parties to think that the problem is minorities or Gays or …They want to have a permanent “elite rich class” & a permanent under class. Have you ever asked yourself why college is so expensive that you can only go if you’re rich? Why is housing so expensive? Corporations are buying it up so you’ll have to rent from them forever. Why is our public health system on life support? Why don’t we have health care? Childcare? Follow the money. The answers are always there.

  8. TomDority

    I might be way off but,
    A slight difference ( or major) but still a fascism is the change from major physical production of things as the fascist basis to now – which I believe to be a Financial Fascism. Where in this country the largest portion of profit goes to the FIRE sector.
    So yes, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk have made ‘their’ fortunes…. most of their fortune or worth comes from the ballooning of the stock prices that are speculated upon and favored policy and tax wise and, finance is now weaponized more than ever. So these guys wealth is a sort of condensate.
    So while the following extract may be true to some extent – in my view – the rentier side, the fire side if you will…created the environment for which the Bezos, Gates, Musks’ have precipitated. That a continued diatribe against these faces and not the folks doing God’s Work and the enabling of our pay-walled politicians continues to be a diversion.
    “Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates may have made ‘their’ fortunes via Federal contracts, labor exploitation, and legal privileges denied to others, but when the US attacked Iraq in 2003, ‘we’ were united in being American, goes the logic.”
    I point this out because (maybe Musk can chime in) I do not think he is more than a very talented engineer. But the broader point is that it is a financial fascism (maybe far more financial leaning), more dangerous possibly than the previous industrial fascisms but fascism still the same – lets get the perps right.
    What was said – you don’t get rid of the constitution, you get rid of those who have perverted it.

  9. Jams O'Donnell

    “the way words have either been stripped of their meaning or become so contested as to undermine the ability to communicate and analyze”

    One of the worst examples of this (to me anyway) is the widespread US conflation of ‘Left’ and ‘Liberal’. I am so tired of pointing out that ‘Leftism’ and ‘Liberalism’ are on two corners of a triangle, with the third being occupied by ‘Conservatism’, that Liberals and Conservatives are almost always convinced supporters of the capitalist system, while leftists oppose it, and that the difference between Republicans and Democrats is not in the main economic, but cultural. (And don’t mention ‘Cultural Marxism’ which is a non-existent concept).

    With regard to the overall thrust of the article, this:


    may be of further interest to readers of NC, although I don’t unequivocally endorse the content.

    1. digi_owl

      Even more confusing in Europe, where you find traditional parties named Left that are these days right of center. Never mind various labour parties that have been crawling rightward as their industrial worker foundation gets replaced by PMC.

      1. Jams O'Donnell

        You’re right, I tend to overlook Europe, as there are still remnants of leftism such as Cornyn, and Sarah Leibknecht in Germany.

    2. JBird4049

      The problem with trying to define what is, is the fact that the words used are being deliberately corrupted in their meanings; the parties and factions of today are nothing like the parties and factions of fifty years ago, but it is politically convenient to not see that.

      I think that the corners of the triangle today should be leftists, neoliberals, and conservatives. What is call liberalism today is nothing like the liberalism of fifty years ago. Neoliberalism replaced the (classical) liberalism that was the norm across the American political spectrum albeit more noticeable in the then moderate center.

      Maybe the corners of that triangle should be the pseudo (neo)leftists coopting the few actual leftists, conservative neoliberals of the Democratic Party, and the reactionary conservatives of the Republican Party.

      The more I think on it, Neoleftism, Neoliberalism, and Reactionary are effectively the three corners. I would put the DSA, the Democrats, and the Republicans under those terms and in that order. While there are other factions in the American context, they effectively do not exist politically especially. This is especially true as the various factions that use to be in both parties have been eliminated, leaving a political monoculture. Please, note that this includes the old school American Leftists, Liberals, and Conservatives.

      There is a nascent Leftist movement trying to resurrect the socialism or at least Democratic Socialism or Social Democratic. For now, an old school liberal leftist like me is not represented at all in the current system. This is okay as all the old school Republicans and Democrats are not as well.

      1. NoFreeWill

        Social Democracy != socialism and while tiny, there remain socialist parties doing good work like the Party of Socialism and Liberation for example.

        In the case of fascism the German social democrats famously helped vote Hitler into power, stabbing the real socialists/communists in the back, so we generally see them as snakes.

        The DSA in particular contains a mix of “progressives” who are just liberals who are a bit more critical of current arrangements but not at all against private property/capital, actual socialists who are desperate for a party with some modicum of power, and vibe-based Bernie fans.

    3. Keith Newman

      There is also the use of the word “liberal” in the US which has meant some kind of mild social democrat in the past at least. As far as I know that is a uniquely US meaning as elsewhere “liberal” refers to historical liberalism would today be termed neoliberalism.

      1. JBird4049

        Keith Newman & NoFreeWill: There used to be actual communist and socialist parties, but after the FBI and other agencies destroyed them before 1980, IIRC, the terms like leftist were transferred to the description of the Democratic Party. After that, Bill Clinton’s DLC (Democratic Leadership Council) ejected the remaining New Dealer and Great Society politicians from the party; they kept using the terms left and liberal to describe the New Democratic Party even though it is now Neoliberal and increasingly anti-left and anti-democratic. This change in meaning has been done deliberately.

        This enables the DSA to be the wishy-washy tools of the establishment; they are the American Left, but that is because the Left has been obliterated, and the tame DSA are nowhere near as left as factions in the Democratic Party fifty years ago. New Deal Democrats are the closest to what they are. Used to attract and divert people wanting reforms.

    4. NoFreeWill

      From reading lots of comments on this blog it seems to me that many here are critical of both parties without understanding that the third corner of the triangle is the only anti-capitalist one, so leftism of the anarchist, socialist, or both sort is the only (current) alternative we have. While many readers may be (rightly and wrongly) critical of the history of actual existing socialism, it seems to be among the final choices left, especially in managing climate chaos and reducing emissions. Decades of anti-communist propaganda and miseducation about history have a big effect in this case, but also the COINTELPRO demolition of the remnants of the US left mean we have no power/viable parties at the moment to join/etc. (DSA doesn’t count). All of these general internet censorship strategies have been long applied to leftist news websites (see the massive delisting on facebook) and public platforms and are only now being used on a larger scale. I guess having read NC for many years, I’d like less critiques of capitalism and more serious exploration of alternatives, though that may not be the raison d’etre of this platform, and it’s general neutrality about alternatives is a bonus in getting people to actually read the critiques. I guess I see many commentators get the critique but not seeing the alternatives…

  10. oaf

    …The degradation of our language, particularly words, has been one of oaf’s gripes for years. It is facilitated by what could be referred to as “thesaurus vocabulary”, with the implied suggestion that any of these *equivalent* words may be properly exchanged REGARDLESS OF CONTEXT. Media hires a mix of dolts with poor language skills, and sappers who’s agenda seems to be liquidating precision of communication.
    ….like, know what I mean? Yeah, no….
    That’s just one aspect of the erosion of critical thinking in our world, no room for a tirade here…it’s ultimately all about mind control.

    1. The Rev Kev

      It is all part of a strategy at work. This was what made it possible for Nancy Pelosi to come out and say that she was the greatest ‘progressive’ in the Senate. You corrupt words of basic concepts and take away their meanings. Come to think of it, that was the strategy of Newspeak from the novel “1984.” You take away the meaning of words and reduce the number of words, then your opponents do not have the mental vocabulary to properly rebel. Maybe that was why those old time Socialist were so into educating workers last century. So in Newspeak you could use the word ‘free’ to say that your dog was free of fleas but that was the only real use of the word free. And that is what is being done to modern thought-


  11. tricia

    “the new neoliberal economic order is not a replay of fascism”
    And never could be. Different times, different conditions, different methods…can’t help but look different at the surface.
    And those in power will work hard to keep it insidious, and keep the public understanding only That Kind of fascism as fascism, you know, that jackboot one that we’ve read about, seen in the movies.
    Just as hard -and effectively- as they’ve worked to cultivate & maintain the public’s simplistic dysconception of socialism.

  12. Beachwalker

    Lots of grim statistics here. Another one unmentioned here is that the US per capita imprisonment rates dwarf those of its G7 peers.

    1. JBird4049

      This has been true for about forty years when President Nixon started his War on Drugs. It was a way to get the hippies and the blacks especially their political leadership out of the way. One can look at it as part of Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

  13. Mikel

    More than any other system, fascists will ultimately punish their own subjects for policy failures of fascism. Very much like the little man with the moustache railing against his own people, while the end crept closer.

    In addition to its aid in rentierism, hyper-surveillance is a sign of a system’s fragility.
    They know fewer and fewer believe in the system so they want performative acquiescence at all times.

  14. pjay

    Thanks to Rob for this comprehensive critique of our own system. An excellent tour de force. Regarding the use of the ‘F-word’, in any fusion of State and Capital there are going to be some tensions or contradictions between the logic of political domination and that of capital accumulation. With Italian fascism or Naziism, my sense is that capital was for the most part subordinate to the requirements of Nation-State domination. In our case, though the battle is ongoing, I think it is safe to say that however powerful our National Security apparatus has become it is still subordinate to capital. This contributes to the contradictions that Rob has so masterfully illustrated here: e.g., our ability to project state power is undermined by the narrow interest in maximizing profit. If I may use those ancient Marxian terms, “use value” is undermined by excessive focus on “exchange value.” It reminds me of that famous mythical saying attributed to Lenin or Marx (but that neither actually said): “The last capitalist will sell us the rope with which to hang him.” This is the obvious weakness of unfettered “neoliberal” capitalism. It will be “interesting” to see what comes next. I worry greatly about the world my grandchildren will have to navigate.

    1. Gulag

      What is your evidence that our powerful National Security State is still subordinate to capital?

  15. The S

    Good article by Urie, great discussion in the comments! Living in the shadow of the Supermax prison that was designed and built to stop any more George Jacksons from happening, I often think about how Jackson’s understanding of modern fascism was inherently the most complete due to his conditions that allowed no delusions. His insights are always pertinent to any discussion of fascism.


  16. Gulag

    “The American political system now fits a Marxist-Leninist conception the capitalist state.”

    A key element which the Urie analysis does not really touch on is the mid-19th century rise of managerialism or the managerial state and the managerial elite (see writings of Orwell, Burnham, Lasch, and most recently N.S. Lyons).

    This managerial elite was a new social class (not the traditional bourgeoise of wealthy landowning aristocrats and early capitalist industrialists) that arose out of the growing scale and complexity of mass organizations, people who had the specialized technical and cognitive skills and knowledge to manage such mass and scale.

    In contrast to what was originally predicted by Marx (that the bourgeoise would be threatened from below by the laboring, landless proletariat) instead it was the independent middle class, the entrepreneurial small business owner, the small-scale farmer or landlord, as well as local doctor type that has been in real conflict with our new managerial elite right up to our present time–remember the major employment backgrounds of most of the Jan. 6 participants).

    1. digi_owl

      There was the concept of the petite bourgeoisie floating around, but i suspect they were even less defined in Marx’s thinking than the lumpenproletariat.

  17. Alex Cox

    This is an excellent article. It’s sad that so many commenters didn’t get it and fell back into meaningless arguments and definitions of the word fascism. Mussolini defined it simply and clearly. Urie’s article demonstrates quite comprehensively that we live in a fascist state.

    1. Mikel

      I have my suspicions about the reason for the reluctance to admit it. It’s not nefarious.
      I really think people are having a hard time trying to figure out what to tell their children.

  18. Carolinian

    While I am suspicious of People’s History type analyses that say the USA is/was always and only about money, I saw these linked the other day and worth a look.




    Rather than saying the US was about racism–the 1619 idea–the premise is that the US and the colonies before it were always about empire and the expansion into new lands and resources. Racism, as in the British empire, was only a byproduct–blaming the victims (who in some cases may have had their own empires).

    And so the new empire expanded within the continent and then moved without but used a new tactic of economic conquest, the Open Door policy, rather than direct control. He says even the supposedly anti-colonialist FDR was for this and WW2 was in many ways about the US empire displacing the British.

    Of course these are hardly new observations but one thing he says is that for the then very agricultural US farmers were often the drivers of empire as much or more than industry. Mencken with his “honorable husbandman” would approve. And btw he says that Roosevelt was all for big business and partnered with it and empowered it in WW2.

    So now everything is big business including the farms and medicine.

    I’m not enough of an economics person to have an intelligent view but thought those links were interesting.

  19. sharonsj

    I don’t care what terms are used. All I know is that the U.S. has over 500 military bases around the world. Why? It’s not explained. But it seems to me that our troops are being used to ensure that whoever is in charge of whatever country is friendly to the U.S. and allows our corporations to operate freely there. Or else.

    For decades, I’ve been reading and hearing about the excess spending of the military on weapons that don’t work, planes that don’t fly, and the usual $500 toilets. It will not change because both parties benefit.

  20. spud

    really it should be called the attempt by carter and reagan to push us rightwards. they failed of course. but here is the rights real champ,

    actually bill clinton helped to create the patriot act, proposed building a wall against mexico, used the pre patriot act to attack muslims


    Muslims were mainly the target of the ‘Secret Evidence law’ in 1996, and ‘suspected’ Muslims were either jailed indefinitely or deported without their lawyers being informed of their charges.

    It was then called the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, later expanded to give immigration authorities the right to deport even green card holding permanent residents.

    Few protested the undemocratic, no due-process law – and the media barely covered it – as most of those held were Palestinian activists, intellectuals and university professors.

    The 1996 Act morphed into the Patriot Act, following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The new Act undermined the very US Constitution, giving the government unprecedented domestic authority to arrest, detain people, and spy on whoever they wished, with no legal consequences.


    President Bill Clinton signed Medicare+Choice into law in 1997.
    The name changed to Medicare Advantage in 2003…



    “The record of Democratic presidencies

    It may be too soon to exhale with a Biden White House. If past performance is any indicator of future outcomes, a brief look at recently past Democratic presidencies is advised.

    Under the watch of New Democrat Bill Clinton, the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed, which was a factor leading to the Great Recession. NAFTA exported U.S. union jobs while destroying small-scale Mexican agriculture.

    He dismantled Yugoslavia and bombed Iraq, contributing to the now perpetual destabilization of that part of the world. “Welfare as we know it” was abolished and mass incarceration instituted. Clinton was on a roll, with Social Security next on the chopping block, only to be stopped by the Monica Lewinski scandal.

    While these were pet projects of the Republican wing of the U.S. two-party duopoly, it took a Democrat to foist it on the populace. Notably, no major progressive legislation came out of Clinton’s watch. He adroitly felt “your pain” while inflicting it on the Democrat’s captured working class and minority constituencies, much to the pleasure of the class he served.

    The next Democratic president, Barack Obama, had not even completed a term in the Senate before his meteoric rise to the Oval Office. Obama had the wiring, but part of his remarkable upward mobility came from being groomed and vetted by the ruling class to carry their water. He came out of the Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project, which successfully sought to make the Democrats the favored party of Wall Street.

    After promising peace, Obama led the U.S. into wars in at least seven countries. Although no major progressive legislation came out of the Obama presidency, his many handouts to the ruling elites include bailing out the banks with no one prosecuted for wrongdoing. He gifted Obamacare to the insurance industry while killing single-payer. He more than doubled fossil fuel production for which he proudly took credit.

    The lesson is that it is often more difficult to mount an organized resistance to regressive policies when promoted by Democrats than Republicans. Recall the massive resistance to Bush’s war in Iraq that instantly vanished the moment Obama inherited that war and brazenly took Bush’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates into his cabinet. Similarly, we have seen Democrats sabotaging Medicare for All, with Biden already pledging to veto it if it came before him.”

  21. Telee

    For the masters, all the things covered above which are diminishing the quality of life for the majority are providing more wealth and prosperity. The main priority is to keep the wealthy and the powerful rich and happy. For them, the current economic and political structure is an ideal situation. That’s all that really matters. Michael Hudson’s answer to the question ” what can we do” is that he really doesn’t see what we can do. While NC informs and highlights the conditions we endure, there are never any suggestions as to what can be done to promote change. I suppose that is because at this point, there is really nothing that we can do.

  22. Suzette1

    Welcome, lovely and busy bees of the digital world! Today, we embark on a journey of discovery, seeking answers to the questions that have been troubling our minds. In this blog, we delve deep into the nectar-filled realms of knowledge, uncovering the hidden secrets and sweet neem honey knowledge that await us. So, dear readers, grab your virtual hives, and get ready to enjoy a delightfully informative experience curated just for you. Let the golden flow of information flow as we step into the world of [topic] with the melodious voice of your choice.

  23. KD

    While not relating to Fascism, the neoliberalism/privatization boom to me rhymes with the historical practice of selling offices in the 16th Century.

  24. Gulag

    I would argue that for all of the individuals involved in our networks of managerial rule, the key largely unseen motivators are prestige, status, and more power.

    As N.S. Lyons had indicated, prestige is a reflection of recognition and selection within any institution or contemporary power network and is the way a system indicates which individuals are considered more valuable.

    And the key guidance for such value is now allegiance to the overarching narrative.

    In 2023, this narrative, in itself, may be as powerful as capital.

    Perhaps, trying to find answers simply in the merger of capital and the state is now out of date.

  25. bill

    Another pre-WW2 book to remember is Business as a System of Power (1943) by UC Berkeley Economist Robert A. Brady. Notably predicting the business would find ways to manage the next war in their favor from inside the government.

    From the 2021 review by Center for a Stateless Society:

    “Indeed, for the Western world, the end of Brady’s timelines accurately sets the stage for a new era of businesses and businessmen pumping themselves full of the kind of spirit that has dominated the American business scene ever since. The noble economic vanguard of the 20th century — the incumbent and powerful business interests — saw the government’s rightful role as doing everything it can to support and protect them from true market forces, while simultaneously completely letting them alone to run their affairs in any way they please, including influencing social norms and public opinion. And, “nothing short of conversion of the public at large to the economic objectives, the ideals, and the program of the business community as a whole” would be acceptable.”

    Download the book at http://www.forgottenbooks.com

    From the the book’s Forward:
    This is a book about power and the organization of power around the logic of technology as operated under capitalism.
    Meanwhile, the lawyers with their convenient conception of the role of the law, the public-relations men, the press, and all the other pliant agents of organized business go busily about on cat feet as they spread the net and tighten the noose for those so abundantly able to make it “worth their while.”

    Unfortunately FDR was unable to see the US through the WAR.
    His last words were “I have a terrible headache”.

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