As somebody who has been outspokenly critical of the idea that fascism is an imminent threat in the US, I had been meaning to respond to Stan Goff’s article “Sowing the Seeds of Fascism in America” that appeared at truthdig.com. In the course of pulling together my thoughts on the matter, it came to my attention that Stan subsequently urged the left to vote for the Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. Although the two positions are not explicitly related, they do resonate with a line of reasoning found on the American left and more particularly with the Communist Party. Despite my deepest admiration for Stan as an activist and as a scholar, I feel it is necessary to challenge him on both points. (I will take up the question of supporting Democrats in a subsequent post.)
Stan’s article on fascism begins with an examination of Tim McVeigh, the ex-GI who got the death penalty for bombing an Oklahoma City government building. The bourgeois media and ruling class politicians tried to explain away this monstrous act, the torturing of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, etc. as the work of “bad apples.” Stan instead views such behavior as normal. He points to a July 7, 2006 NY Times article that describes a rising tide of white supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration into the armed services. Unfortunately, the article relies exclusively on the testimony of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an outfit that generates alarmist reports such as these to extract donations from wealthy liberals. I would take anything that they write with a grain of salt.
How normal is Timothy McVeigh?
In a NY Press article on Morris Dees and the SPLC he runs, Alex Cockburn wrote:
Dees has always been alert to the paranoias of the hour. The center’s entire legal staff resigned in the late 1980s, in part because Dees was reluctant to take up legal issues of real importance to poor people. His obsession was the Klanwatch Project, a cash cow for the SPLC. Literature from the SPLC portrayed the Klan as poised to take over American and embark on an orgy of burning and lynching. This was at a time when the major danger to poor people was going to be welfare reform, a collusive project between the Gingrich Republicans and Clinton liberals, among the latter being many fervent supporters of Dees.
My strong suspicion is that the number of young men who join the military to fulfill some kind of master race fantasy is vanishingly small. If there is a hard-core reactionary milieu in the military at this time, I would expect to see it in the officer class and more particularly with graduates of the Air Force Academy, which has been identified as a hotbed of Christian fundamentalism. But the average grunt would appear to be not that different from the Abu Ghraib guards, whose motive for joining the military would be more about avoiding working at Wal-Mart rather than acting out some fantasy found in “The Turner Diaries.” Once they end up in the military, they are of course subject to the same kind of dehumanization that has led soldiers from time immemorial to murder, rape and torture the “Other”. Keep in mind that after joining the cavalry, African-American soldiers were just as brutal toward the American Indian as their white comrades. Once the military gets a hold of you, there is enormous pressure to conform to the expectations of the institution, whatever the color of your skin.
Perhaps the only conclusion one can draw about military service is that it has always been inextricably linked with racism, xenophobia, machismo and sadism. You don’t need a rising tide of fascism to produce such a mindset, as evidenced by this passage:
Agamemnon, king of men, sacrificed a fat five-year-old bull to the mighty son of Saturn, and invited the princes and elders of his host. First he asked Nestor and King Idomeneus, then the two Ajaxes and the son of Tydeus, and sixthly Ulysses, peer of gods in counsel; but Menelaus came of his own accord, for he knew how busy his brother then was. They stood round the bull with the barley-meal in their hands, and Agamemnon prayed, saying, “Jove, most glorious, supreme, that dwellest in heaven, and ridest upon the storm-cloud, grant that the sun may not go down, nor the night fall, till the palace of Priam is laid low, and its gates are consumed with fire. Grant that my sword may pierce the shirt of Hector about his heart, and that full many of his comrades may bite the dust as they fall dying round him.”
–Homer, “The Iliad”, chapter 2
Stan at least recognizes that an economic crisis of some severity is necessary before fascism can become a mass movement. Unfortunately, he is not as clear on the class dynamics of such a development as might be expected. He writes:
Another aspect, and one that was formative of Timothy McVeigh, is economic destabilization. Fascism can be described as a “middle class” phenomenon. One can look at the emergence of the three most studied fascist governments, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain and Hitler’s Germany, and in every case there was a privileged stratum of the working class that had been the beneficiaries of metropolitan capitalist development (courtesy of peripheral colonies) that rubbed shoulders socially with the professional and managerial sectors.
It is difficult to figure out who Stan is speaking of when he refers to a “privileged stratum of the working class that had been the beneficiaries of metropolitan capitalist development (courtesy of peripheral colonies)” when he refers to countries like Italy, Spain and Germany during the 1920s and 30s. This sounds much more like the British working class that Lenin talked about in “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism” and more specifically in his citation of Engels:
In a letter to Marx, dated October 7, 1858, Engels wrote: “…The English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of all nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat alongside the bourgeoisie. For a nation which exploits the whole world this is of course to a certain extent justifiable.”
Great Britain was able to maintain a level of class peace that was not possible in the weaker capitalist countries that had few colonies to boast of. Cecil Rhodes understood this fully, as cited in that famous passage in Lenin’s “Imperialism, the Latest Stage of Capitalism”:
I was in the East End of London (a working-class quarter) yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for ‘bread! bread!’ and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism…. My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced in the factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.
The United States has inherited the hegemonic seat vacated by the toothless British lion. Despite fraying around the edges as demonstrated in resentment over rising energy prices, job insecurity, etc, the American economy has essentially the same character as it has had since the end of WWII. By controlling vast areas of the world, it has access to cheap natural resources and markets for its manufactured goods. In the more recent past, it has been able to benefit from the opening of China to capitalist investment. Through its superexploitation of the Chinese working class, Wal-Mart and other multinationals have made cheap consumer goods available to our own working class and as result helped to mute the class struggle.
Wal-Mart has figured out how to divide oppressed people by exploiting these spurious benefits. The Service Employee’s International Union (SEIU) attacked the Congressional Black Caucus when it took donations from Wal-Mart last year. Kimberly Woodard, director of federal government relations for Wal-Mart, said the company “is the largest employer of African Americans, and it’s only natural that we would want to reach out to members of the Congressional Black Caucus.” This degraded relationship might give pause to those who urge voting for the Democratic Party as a way of resisting the Evil Empire, but more about that in my next post.
Stan’s next section deals with “Sex, Race, and Guns.” This discussion is influenced by feminist theory rather than the sort of economic analysis that I find useful. After citing feminist psychologist Jessica Benjamin (a classmate of mine at Bard College), he presents his own views:
Men who are threatened by women’s decreased dependency and increased organization often adopt an individual strategy of “overconformity,” compulsively acquiring “masculine” accoutrements, be they giant automobiles, guns or attack-breed dogs, and just as compulsively behave as if they are trying out for a role with the World Wrestling Foundation—affecting a kind of bright-eyed homicidal aggression as we are further socialized to equate fear with respect.
I actually detect an entirely different dynamic operating in American society. I think that popular culture reveals a growing tendency for men to avoid “overconformity” of this sort. The “metrosexual” phenomenon, as expressed in shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Male,” the entire HGTV network, the metropolitan and style sections of just about every daily newspaper in large American cities, etc., adds up to a profound transformation of gender relations in the USA. Since this is not really an area that I consider myself an expert in and want to avoid going in over my head, I will say no more.
Another type of American male
Unfortunately, concession is made in this section to a theory of fascism that was popular in the 1960s that was strongly influenced by post-Marxist theorists like Herbert Marcuse and has been called “friendly fascism” on occasion. Stan cites his friend Steve McClure:
I hate the word fascist. It has been bandied about so much and brings up images of Storm troopers in grainy newsreels that it seems devoid of meaning… I think our own situation is very different, and a better term needs to be found that captures the unique qualities of our reactionary postmodernism. “Military police state” doesn’t quite cut it. Fascism implies policing of thought as well as bodies, today’s reaction is selective, policing bodies but allowing private speech and the empty illusions of parliamentary democracy to stand.
But the whole purpose of fascism is to step into the breach when parliamentary democracy is incapable of containing the class struggle, isn’t it? In Germany during the 1920s the Weimar Republic collapsed because political struggle had moved into the streets. Workers militias clashed with Nazi goon squads, while the police lacked sufficient power to contain militant strikes and protests. Dictatorship was necessary in order to forestall proletarian revolution.
Does anybody believe that the USA is anywhere near such a point? The good news is that since it isn’t, we don’t have to worry about being dragged off to concentration camps because we operate blogs like “The Feral Scholar” or “Unrepentant Marxist”. But the bad news is that the class struggle is in such a retarded state that there really is no need for extreme measures. The big bourgeoisie regards the revolutionary left in more or less the same manner that an elephant regards a flea. That, of course, might change some day but there is no need to hide the truth from those who would pay attention to our ideas. We want to be taken seriously and that means avoiding the impression that we are like Chicken Little.
Lately I have been studying Italian history as part of a project that will result in an article on the Sicilian Mafia. This led me to take a look at Michele Sindona, the banker for the Vatican who was responsible for the collapse of Franklin National Bank, one of the largest in the USA at the time. Sindona was not only connected to the Vatican, he was connected to the mafia, to the Christian Democratic Party and to Propaganda Due (P2), a Masonic lodge that was run by Licio Gelli, a life-long fascist activist.
Starting in the 1960s and persisting well into the 1980s, Italy found itself being ripped apart by militant student and working class struggles that bordered on civil war. Workers marched in the thousands under banners calling for the overthrow of the government, while fascist bands were setting off bombs. On the extreme left, terrorist groups had begun to kidnap government officials like Aldo Moro, who was the five time Christian Democratic Prime Minister of Italy. Imagine a group of former university students in the USA kidnapping John McCain or Joe Lieberman and holding them for ransom. That’s how polarized Italian politics was at the time. During this entire period, P2 constituted the main strike force of the most reactionary sectors of the Italian ruling class and was believed responsible for a number of terrorist attacks, including a 1981 bombing at the Bologna railway station that left hundreds dead and wounded.
Economically, this could be understood by the continuing failure of Italian capitalism to divest itself of the feudal vestiges that the 19th century bourgeois revolution (‘risorgimento’) had failed to uproot. Italian workers never enjoyed full political or trade union rights. They also were more exploited than workers to the north and to the west. But these economic factors in themselves were insufficient to touch off a revolt. It took a general radicalization based on a number of extra-economic factors, including the ongoing war in Vietnam, to move them into struggle.
Although P2 never had the kind of mass base as earlier fascist movements, it certainly had the support of the Italian ruling class as evidenced by the membership list that became public in 1981:
–General Vito Miceli, chief of the SIOS (Servizio Informazioni), Italian Army Intelligence’s Service from 1969 and SID’s head from October 18, 1970 to 1974. Arrested in 1975 on charges of “conspiration against the state” concerning investigations about Rosa dei venti, a state-infiltrated group involved in the strategy of tension, he later became an MSI member
–Maurizio Costanzo, Italian journalist and television anchorman of many Mediaset programs (the Berlusconi’s commercial television)
–Giancarlo Elia Valori, the only member of P2 who had been expelled (possibly because he was trying to gain a bigger role than Licio Gelli), is now president of the Associazione industriali di Roma
Full list is at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_Due
Imagine if Timothy McVeigh had been connected to a group that included Chris Wallace, George Tenet and Donald Trump and you get an idea of how deep-going the class struggle was in Italy. This is not to say that we might not reach that stage at some point, but in politics tempo–like in music–is everything.