Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 3, 2017

Neofascism in the White House?

Filed under: Fascism,Trump — louisproyect @ 6:22 pm


Leftist analysis of the Trump presidency has ranged from those like Boris Kagarlitsky who believe that “Trump took to consistently fulfill everything that the Left in the US and Western Europe was talking about for a quarter century” to those who have seen him as the second coming of Adolf Hitler. Since Trump is such a mercurial figure, one day threatening to go to war with North Korea and the next saying that he’d like to meet with Kim Jong Un who he described as a “smart cookie”, developing a theory about “Trumpism” is like hitting a moving target.

I’ll give credit to John Bellamy Foster for trying to hit that target in “Neofascism in the White House”, a 15,000 word article that should be required reading since John Bellamy Foster is an important Marxist intellectual worth considering even when he is wrong. For Foster, the term neofascism is meant to convey the difference with Nazism or any of the other fascisms of the 1920s and 30s. Primarily, neofascism is marked by an absence of paramilitary violence in the streets, black shirts, brown shirts or Nazi Stormtroopers. The new fascism is what Bertram Gross called “Friendly Fascism” in a 1980 book. (Foster cites him approvingly).

Gross was a CUNY professor who held a number of government posts, including executive secretary of Truman’s Council of Economic Advisers. He had first advanced the notion of “friendly fascism” in a 1971 NY Times op-ed piece that sounded pretty much like the “new left” theories that were current back then largely under the influence of Herbert Marcuse:

Finally, direct repression would operate through, around, under and over the old constitutional procedures. The guiding principle—to be developed by an expanded Rand Corporation—would be to get a pound of terror from an ounce of schrecklichkeit [frightfulness]. This economizing would be facilitated by extensive use of indirect controls: welfare state benefits made conditional upon good behavior; credentialized meritocracy; accelerated consumerism; and market manipulation. Equally important would be extensive co‐optation to buy off the most intelligent leaders of dissident groups.

This polished and flexible form of public repression would need no charismatic dictator. It would require no one‐party rule, no mass fascist party, no glorification of the State, no dissolution of legislatures, no denial of reason. It would probably come slowly as a cancerous growth within and around the White House, the Pentagon, and the broader political establishment.

Accelerated consumerism? Extensive co-optation? Market manipulation? I don’t know quite how to put this but this “fascism” is not very neo. In fact, it describes the United States before Hitler was born.

Foster examines Hitler’s gleichschaltung, a term which meant “bringing into line” or—more concretely—the Nazification of the German state. This involved an assault on bourgeois democracy, from purging the universities and other dissident institutions such as the press and publishing houses to finally granting Hitler absolute power.

Will we see a Trumpist gleichschaltung? Foster admits that we will not see a repeat of the 1930s but warns about the “effective dissolution of the liberal-democratic order” and its replacement by the “alt-right”. However, this does not square with the unfolding events. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has replaced Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief adviser and his national security aide Sebastian Gorka is rumored to be fired soon over his alt-right connections. (Apparently, Foster must have written his article before the slid was greased for Bannon and Gorka, since he described them as prime movers in the Trump administration with no reference to their recent fall from grace.)

As each week passes by, the Trump administration is adopting the coloration of the Reagan administration with its decidedly non-populist “trickle down” economic policies and its heavily militarized foreign policy rather than anything ever proposed by the alt-right. This seems like Republican Party business as usual rather than anything “neofascist”.

Foster does not seem to connect Trump’s ideology—such as it is—with core Republican values, especially those of the Tea Party that now plays a dominant role. If Steve Bannon is Trump’s Joseph Goebbels, we must accept that some of his precepts are key to the White House’s neofascist program: the restoration of the “Judeo-Christian West” as the spiritual framework for a restored capitalism and the promotion of extreme ethno-nationalism targeting non-white immigrants. I am not sure if Foster watches much Fox-TV or listens to people like Michael Savage or Steve Deace on the radio, but this has been part of the core beliefs of the Republican Party for decades now. Ideologically, the only difference is opposition to “globalism” and a commitment to rebuilding the American economy through infrastructure projects like Hitler’s autobahn (or FDR’s public works projects for that matter.) But like much of Trump’s promises, these are empty. Jared Kushner came this close to concluding a deal that would have investors closely connected to the Chinese Communist Party pouring billions into his flagship property in New York. If that isn’t globalism, I don’t know what is. You can be sure that Trump’s “populism” was designed to win votes, not change society in the way that Tom Watson hoped.

Foster is rightfully concerned about Trump’s attempted ban on immigration from Muslim countries and his tongue-lashing of judges who overturned his order. We can be sure that Trump will fill vacancies in the Federal judiciary that reflect his own nativist agenda but that would have been true if his chief rival Ted Cruz had been elected President. This is how bourgeois democracy works, after all. Judges are appointed by the party in power. If Hillary Clinton had been elected President, she would have appointed people that continued Obama administration policies. By 2014 President Obama had deported over 2 million people – more in six years than all people deported between 1892 to 1997. Considering the onerous vetting restrictions imposed by Obama on immigrants from Syria, Somalia et al, there’s not much difference between the Democrats and the Republicans except the rhetoric.

As someone who rightfully earned the reputation as one of the most respected environmental scholars, you can understand why Foster would sound the alarm over Trump’s assault on climate change accords, his appointment of a man to lead the EPA who has a record of fighting its rulings, and opening up public land to energy exploration. But this is Republican Party policy. If Trump had a heart attack tomorrow, could we expect Mike Pence to retreat on any of these measures? Is it possible that neofascism is not Trump/Bannon but the Koch brothers, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Ann Coulter and all the other creeps that have been pushing us back to the 1890s?

Considering the role of fascism as the last resort of the bourgeoisie against proletarian revolution, it is puzzling that Foster devotes only 6 sentences to the trade unions. While he is correct in pointing out that a “right to work” law is in the works, he neglects to mention that Trump has been lining up support from the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. Rich Trumka was not only pleased with Trump’s push for pipelines and stepped up drilling; he also saw eye to eye on immigration: “Will we partner with him to try to rewrite the immigration rules of the country? Absolutely because those will help workers, it will decrease the imbalance between corporate America and workers.”

Does this mean that the American working class is becoming part of this neofascist danger? Foster alluded to Hitler drawing “on a minority of the working class, disproportionately represented by more privileged blue-collar workers.” The problem is that a fascist movement, either “old school” or neo, is not really needed in the USA. Workers are not revolutionary. They are not even liberal in the sense of supporting affirmative action, gay rights, or other issues that were supposedly the cause of Hillary Clinton’s defeat. They tend to be for benefits like Medicare, Social Security and unemployment insurance but there is little indication that the Republicans intend to gut these programs, mainly because there is no need for that presently. If unemployment went up to 30 percent as was the case in the Weimar Republic and Trump slashed unemployment benefits in half, maybe then you’d find truck drivers or construction workers discussing Chris Hedges’s latest column. But American capitalism has a lot more wiggle room, even with competition from China.

Foster calls attention to Trump’s war on the media, the last battle being his baiting of John Dickerson on “Face the Nation”, a show he called “Deface the Nation” to the interviewer’s face. There might be a war being fought by Trump but there are very few victories so far. The NY Times, the Washington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and ten thousand websites continue to pillory the White House with no letting up. If you want to see how a press can be muted, you need to study Turkey, Russia or China where reporters and bloggers are routinely harassed, arrested or even killed. Trump will not silence the media by calling it “fake”. He will only succeed by sending the cops into their offices and hauling the staff off to jail where they will be tortured or killed. That is how fascism operates, not by calling names. Nixon was just as openly hostile to the press as Trump but that did not shut them up. (Then again, Nixon was supposed to be Adolf Hitler for much of the left in the 1970s.)

As someone who has been on the left since 1967, I have become somewhat inured to warnings about Nixon, Reagan, George Bush father and son, and now Trump posing a fascist threat. Unless you understand fascism, either old or neo, as dictatorship, you are not making much sense. Fascism does not operate by “indirect controls” as Bertram Gross put it. It operates through the truncheon, the kangaroo court, the suspension of constitutional rights and the total control over society by a single party whose Bonapartist ruler has absolute power.

There is zero possibility of Trump gaining such power over the next four years since there is no need for it. Even though Trump is a clumsy and self-defeating chief executive, he has control over Congress and likely the Supreme Court before long. The Democrats might defy him on key legislation but will likely go along with a “compromise” just the way they did when Ronald Reagan had meetings with Tip O’Neill over key legislation. It will be the same old shit for the next four years.

Timothy Snyder, an expert on totalitarian societies at least by academic standards, was interviewed by Salon on May first in an article warning that Trump “will try to stage a coup and overthrow democracy”. As most of you know, Salon has the same laser-like focus on Trump as MSNBC. Why? Because it is commercially advantageous.

The interview was prompted by Snyder’s new book titled “On Tyranny” that warns of the possibility of Trump using the next big terrorist attack as a Reichstag fire type incident to stage a coup. To be consistent, Snyder would have to say that if such a coup took place, the Connecticut state troopers and the FBI would come to Yale University and arrest him for subversive activities. Additionally, as is happening in Turkey today, every liberal or radical professor would have to be fired if they aren’t arrested and replaced by other professors who were loyal to the dictatorship’s gleichschaltung. Are there enough adjuncts available to fill their shoes, even if in the unlikely event that they could be relied upon to prepare classes based on the writings of Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos? Can you imagine that you were a doctor, lawyer or investment adviser spending $50,000 per year to send your kid to school where they would come out with a diploma that was worth about as much as the paper it was written on? They wanted their kid to be taught by Timothy Snyder, an academic superstar like Paul Krugman, not somebody with a degree from Oral Roberts University. And for what? Because someone set off a bomb in Madison Square Garden during a Knicks game or used an AK-47 on crowds watching the fireworks on July 4th? I don’t think so.

My recommendation for people believing such a thing as fascism or a coup happening in the USA over the next four years is to have a drink of cold water and read Corey Robin’s article in yesterday’s Guardian titled “Think Trump is an authoritarian? Look at his actions, not his words”. It is really quite astute:

Trump, in other words, has failed to fill 85% of the positions in the executive branch that he needs to fill in order to run the government to his specifications. It’s a strange kind of authoritarian who fails, as the first order of business, to seize control of the state apparatus: not because there’s been pushback from the Senate but because, in most instances, he hasn’t even tried.

Ah, Trump’s liberal and left critics will respond, but that failure to fill key positions is all part of the White House’s master plan. Back in February, Steve Bannon, Trump’s top strategist whose star lately has fallen, claimed that the administration’s goal was “the deconstruction of the administrative state”. As Bannon made clear, that was just a fancy way of describing the longstanding Republican goal of gutting rules and regulations the business class hates. What better way to do that than simply not staffing the agencies that are tasked with enforcing those rules and regulations?

There are two problems with this theory. First, Trump has failed to fill positions in departments and agencies he actually wishes to empower and expand. He’s only filled one out of 53 positions in the Pentagon, two out of 14 in the Department of Homeland Security, one out of seven positions in the intelligence agencies, one of out 28 positions in the treasury department, and almost none of the key positions in the justice department having to do with terrorism, drug crime prosecution and the like.

Second, many of those positions are not empty. Until Trump appoints someone to fill them, they will remain mostly occupied by holdovers from the Obama administration – who will continue to enforce the thousands of rules and regulations Obama passed and Trump hates.

Though Trump has had limited success overturning some of Obama’s rules through an obscure piece of legislation, the real work of deregulation and undoing Obama-era rules will require a much heavier lift that Trump is not yet in a position to execute.

Despite the fact that Trump, whose party is in control of all the elected branches of the federal government, has lost virtually every legislative battle he’s waged, and backed down from virtually every bluff he’s made, the faith in Trump’s power – not in his probity or purposes but in his ability to dominate the political scene – dies hard. And nowhere harder, it seems, than on the left.

May 2, 2017

With Friends Like These… Tim Anderson & NSW’s Fascists

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:14 pm

Source: With Friends Like These… Tim Anderson & NSW’s Fascists

May 1, 2017


Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:52 pm

My readers in the Toronto area might want to check out a documentary titled “PACmen” that will be shown at various locations starting tomorrow as part of the Hot Docs Festival.

This is a cinéma vérité about Ben Carson’s bizarre campaign in the 2016 Republican Party primary that whatever it lacks in substance certainly makes up for as morbid entertainment and a reminder of how backward the USA is, particularly from the point of view of the more civilized nation to the north.

Lacking interviews or commentary by political analysts, it is mainly a fly-on-the-wall observation of the strategy meetings of two separate PACs that raised millions of dollars in a futile effort. One PAC was a grass roots effort mounted by John Philip Sousa IV drawing small donations after the fashion of Bernie Sanders; the other was led by much wealthier and traditional Republicans—at least as traditional as you are going to get with people believing in a geek like Ben Carson.

The most fascinating aspect for me was the rank-and-file volunteers and lowly paid staff members who approached the whole thing as if it were a religious crusade. Every other word out of their mouth is Jesus and their entire purpose in supporting Carson is tantamount to saving the USA from the wrath of god as if it were Sodom and Gomorrah.

Both Carson and his supporters are Christian fundamentalists imbued with the belief that we are in the end times and the need to prepare for Armageddon. There is no question in my mind that many would welcome a nuclear war with Russia or whoever if a President Carson made a speech telling them that god instructed him to push the button. Not only that, Ted Cruz was not far behind in religious fanaticism.

I hate to say it but if it were a choice between Carson and Trump, we are probably better off with the vulgar nouveau riche real estate developer from Queens who seems to enjoy life thoroughly even if working people could matter less. I doubt that Trump believes in god and that is probably the most reassuring thing about having such a monster in the White House.

You Want the Truth? A Correspondence with Noam Chomsky

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:18 am

Source: You Want the Truth? A Correspondence with Noam Chomsky

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