April 27, 2007

Is Fascism On The Way?

There's a reasonably good chance you have already come across the article that triggered this diary, "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps" by Naomi Wolf. The sucker is all over the left and liberal Internet. In the three days since it was published in the British paper, The Guardian, its Google hits have pyramided to well over 200,000. I found it in my inbox from 3 or 4 different sources by Wednesday, the second day it was out.

The original can be read here. A shorter Wolf is simple enough to produce. She demonstrates how the Bush administration is following what she identifies as a time-tested, 10 step plan to install fascism. The steps are:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens' groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

According to Wolf, the steps have been taken and the danger is imminent, and it is recognized only by a handful of civil libertarians.

For aging movement veterans like me, who have since the '60s seen the revolutionary left identify the onset of fascism at least as often as the start of the next Great Depression, the tendency may be to say ho-hum. For serious feminists, Wolf's credentials as a thinker may appear questionable. For younger radicals subjected to some groups' vociferous alarums about "Christian fascism," this may seem another diversion from the tasks at hand.

But it is a dangerous error to assume that because things have been going a certain way for a long time, that they will continue in the same direction. It is the interest with which this article has been greeted as much as its content that makes it worth thinking about.

So, dear reader, howzabout a couple quick answers if you've the time.
Is Wolf's piece (or other warnings of imminent fascism) getting play among people you work or hang with, and why?
If you had to respond in a couple of sentences, what would you say?
What questions does her argument raise for you?

[This was posted yesterday on an old school (technically speaking) email list, and so many interesting comments came in that it seemed a worthwhile experiment to open it up in the easier to discuss and debate format of a blog. With the permission of the writers, I will be posting each of the responses as a separate comment below.]


Jimmy Higgins said...

I first got into this whole thing started when my friend, F, forwarded the Naomi Wolf article to some folks he knows, asking for comment. He then sent me the following response from one of his other correspondents with his own comments.

Thanks. It is a scary picture! But is it "fascism"? Where is the corporate
role, for instance?

How much specificity a term like "fascism" or "feudalism" has to retain is one of
those discussions that goes on endlessly, of course.

BUT I'm grateful for the article, which points to real dangers.


D has had an actual confrontation with the blowhard, ex-leftist, California-based, neocon, who heads up an organization that attacks inconvenient academics under the banner of "student freedom of speech." (Is his name Horowitz?) This neocon failed -- so far -- in his attempt to get the Pennsylvania legislature to pass a bill that would allow the legislature to determine which teachers are kosher in the classroom -- as opposed to the "community of scholars," peer review, etc.

If you were at the all-day conference summing up the TWU strike of December 2005 against the MTA, you heard Saskia Sassen talk about her current little hobby: what's the latest freedom I have lost? She was referring to the sequellae of the Patriot Act, etc., etc. I.e. all the "little" laws and policies and practices that have hemmed in popular freedoms since 9/11 and given the Bush-Cheney-Rove regime greater power and scope of action.

BTW, in answer to D's question about the "corporate role," one answer might be K Street, another crony capitalism, another no bid contracts, another Blackwater and Custer-Battles et al "security" corporations.

BTW, an excellent on-going source of info, expose and analysis -- from which I learned of the Naomi Wolf piece -- and which is like white-on-rice where legality and its pretzeling are concerned:
by international and human rights and US constitutional lawyer Scott Horton. He's an anti-neocon conservative with a superb sense of justice/injustice, Bush-Cheney constitutional tramplings, excellent sources. He has debated the defenders of the Bush-Cheney "unitary executive" theory of (despotic) government.

Mike Stout said...

This is the 3rd time someone has sent this to me, from three completely different places. I don't see how anyone in their right mind cannot think it has validity. It's been my position since the bourgeois coup in 2000-01. What in the 10 points isn't true? While they have never hesitated to snuff out serious threats to their rule in a heartbeat, especially amongst people of color (remember Fred Hampton, Malcolm, et al), they are fast preparing the conditions to snuff out anyone who challenges in the upcoming monetary/peak oil/dollar plunging conflagration. The question for us is what defines fascism under the current conditions? If we think it's just brown-shirted hooligans with swastikas emblazoned on their foreheads, we're in for a serious blindside. What they are doing at Guantanamo and the other overseas torture chambers is merely a dress-rehearsal for us all.

What's different today from the past 3 or 4 decades is the plutocrats are fast being backed into a corner, and their only way out is over us!

G. Frohman said...

This is the first time I've seen this article. It's just as wrong as the business about "Christian fascism" is. I vastly prefer the FRSO/OSCL line: "Neoliberal authoritarian state" is a much more accurate description than fascism. I don't think it matters in the end if the architects of the Bush administration's policies are consciously "fascist" or not. If they aren't backed by some combination of forces -- among both the ruling class and the masses -- that gives them some chance of carrying out their maximum program, there is no looming possibility of fascism.

One could maybe have argued during the first couple years after 9/11 that the threat was there as most of the masses, and even most of the ruling class to the left of the hard right, were being browbeaten temporarily into submission. My own view even back then was that a threat of fascism wasn't present, that it was merely a temporary excursion -- if a pretty sizeable one -- away from the path of bourgeois democratic normality. The left tends to underestimate the ruling class's desire under most conditions to maintain the rule of law and bought-off bourgeois electoral democracy. These are the conditions that tend to create the best environment for accumulation, and most of the bourgeoisie are loath to dispose of them. The Bushies are merely a clique, not the spearhead of a movement.

Nowadays, anyone who follows the news even superficially can see that the Bush administration's program is deeply embattled on many fronts. I won't even bother enumerating, except to give one telling example. Back in January, Charles Cully Stimson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, launched a public verbal attack on the significant number of big bourgeois law firms that are representing prisoners at Guantanamo, stating that these firms are helping the enemy and calling on corporations to boycott them. There was big wave of outraged response from ruling-class forces, to the point that Stimson had to tuck his tail between his legs and issue a public apology to the media.

Sure, many examples can be pointed to of truly vile things that continue to happen. But a large and generally growing number of examples can be found of the Bush policies and actions being challenged, stymied, overturned, in retreat, etc. I doubt things will return fully to where they were pre-9/11 (not that that scene was any great shakes), but at least we are slowly returning to a situation reflecting some degree of normality as the post-9/11 "special period" winds down. Those who are raising the alarm here strike me as being couple of years behind the curve.

Mike Zweig said...

I've read Naomi Wolf's piece. I think it is cogent and powerful, not over-argued. She doesn't say the U.S. is a fascist country. She gives us details about the slippery slope we are on as a nation. She doesn't talk about the theory of the "unitary executive" but Jeffrey Rosen has a good piece on it in a recent New Republic, in relation to the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys.

There is a clear statement among a significant section of the political elite in this country that the executive branch (President) requires relatively unfettered authority to pursue his/her policy objectives. The various particulars Wolf recounts arise from that strategic conception, just as the invasion of Iraq arose from the Bush Administration strategic doctrine of unilateral preemptive war to secure U.S. economic interests worldwide (which statement, published in September 2002, explicitly identifies U.S. economic interests as central to the conception).

I think what follows from this for us involves a number of pieces. We need to oppose the erosions in each of the ten areas Wolf identifies, point for point and instance for instance. But we need to do these particular campaigns and exposures while illuminating the overall context for each - the challenge to checks and balances, the threat to democracy, the danger for working people. We need constantly to be raising the broad question: "What kind of country to do we want to live in? What kind of a people are we?" We also need to point out that over the sweep of this country's history and the history of world capitalism, every excess that violates democratic principles, every example of executive hubris and manufactured hysteria, comes to be understood eventually as a shameful period in our history. The Alien and Sedition Act. The Dred Scott decision. Jim Crow. The Chinese Exclusion Act. The Palmer Raids. The Japanese internment. McCarthyism, HUAC, and all that. Watergate. In all these and many other examples, sober reflection from a distance leads to rejection and revulsion. Not one of these periods American history is looked upon favorably.

This is a hopeful observation, but it also doesn't erase the fact that every one of these terrible periods did indeed happen and last for some time with hugely destructive effect. So we need to take seriously what Wolf calls to our attention. We need to give serious financial support to the vital work done by the Center for Constutional Rights and other brave souls who dare to stand before the would-be juggernaut and seek to stop it in its tracks. And we need to be activists to create the social movements and related educational resources required to move a democratic agenda forward in these dark times.

Wolf reminds us that there is much more at stake in this period than the war in Iraq. The war is part of this whole undertaking. We need to press the candidates in the 2008 national elections on the whole range of issues here. No one said it would be easy.

Steve said...

I think using the word fascism is a problem. I think a better term is "reactionary post-modernism." Classical Fascism represented not a clear break from liberal democracy but an extension of trends already apparent, capitalizing on defeats of the workers' movements and middle class fears of revolutionary change. I just watched Triumph of the Will again, re-read Berlin Diaries, and read "Under the German Map". I also read a critique of Ezra Pound and examined photos and commentary on the art and architecture of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

In reactionary post-modernism, it is unnecessary to police minds; limiting and controlling agency is what is required. Normalizing controlled public space, fragmenting opposition networks, and choking funding streams is the mechanism by which this has happened under successive administrations.

Cc in Winston said...

Yes, within the horse industry community. To an extent, among some horse communities, as you put it, "warnings of imminent fascism" are a discussion, but I see more evidence of Steve's reactionary post-modernism in real life.

Wolf's complete surveillance is not yet complete, for instance.

The reason I bring up the equine industry is that although small and maybe peripheral to urbanites, some other universe to them maybe, it's an American symbol of freedom and in many states it is an industry.

Backyard horse ownership is a financial contributor to the economy of several states. It's a big industry as a whole and it means there is disposable income for spending on the horse; even rural poor people will keep a horse and keep it fairly well with good tack even.

Then there are the high rollers, the horse racing industry, breeding high dollar horses worth millions, or thousands at birth, million dollar facilities to house them in, grooms, managers, jockeys, etc.

When the pleasure segment, the largest horse ownership population begins to whisper "fascism" for lack of what to call it, they are talking about a situation where the government is demanding that the place you keep the horse or horses must be registered with a unique identification number, a permanent number, and the horse must be microchipped and its movements now must be reported to the government and your property is now under satellite surveillance.

That begins to cause concern.

Some have simply signed their premises over to Registration, under NAIS (the National Animal Identification System)--it's nothing, they say, a little thing. And then there is Wisconsin, which has made it a law taking effect May 1st.

These and many other little things I haven't added here with what the government has decided that it will have its rights with our horse(s), they begin to bother us at night and we are calling it fascism.

We're not getting much notice, I know, but we are calling it fascism.

This is a very good diary. Watch how the government begins to control, move around, displace, the rural populations and you will know how close we are to fascism or even the reactionary post-modernism if that's it.

Jesse said...

Very interesting discussion here. One observation I would add is that Wolf really plays fast and loose with her historical examples.

Although she is talking about a "fascist shift", she supports her thesis by comparing the US to: Italy, Nazi Germany, East Germany, the USSR, Czechoslovakia, China, Chile, Thailand, "Latin American dictatorships", and even the circa-1919 USA.

Maybe I'm being too semantically picky, but I feel like associating all those very different situations with the idea of a "fascist shift" reveals a lack of theoretical clarity as to what fascism is. And that leads to an inability to really explain where fascism might come from in modern societies, or how to fight against it.