Was Fascism Unpredictable?

From 1934, here is an Italian claiming no one predicted fascism. Giuseppe Borgese writes that (“The Intellectual Origins of Fascism”):

“Not a single prophet, during more than a century of prophecies, analyzing the degradation of the romantic culture, or planning the split of the romantic atom, ever imagined anything like fascism. There was, in the lap of the future, communism and syndicalism and whatnot; there was anarchism, and legitimism, and even all-papacy; war, peace, pan-Germanism, pan-Slavism, Yellow Peril, signals to the planet Mars; there was no fascism. It came as a surprise to all, and to themselves, too.”

Is that true? It sounds unlikely, even as I understand how shocking fascism was to the Western world.

There was nothing about fascism that didn’t originate from old strains of European thought, tradition, and practice. Fascism contains elements of imperialism, nationalism, corporatism, authoritarianism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, folk religiosity, etc. Corporatism aligning business and labor to government, for example, had been developing for many centuries at that point and had been central to colonial imperialism. Also, racism and eugenics had been powerfully taking hold for centuries. And it’s not like there hadn’t been populist demagoguery and cult of personality prior to Mussolini and Hitler.

If communism and syndicalism were predictable, why not fascism? The latter was a reactionary ideology that built on elements from these other ideologies. It seems to me that, if fascism wasn’t predictable, then the New Deal as a response to fascism (and all that followed from it) also couldn’t have been predicted. But the New Deal took part of its inspiration from the Populist movement that began in the last decades of the 19th century. Theodore Roosevelt, prior to fascism, felt a need to counter the proto-fascism of big biz corporatism. It wasn’t called fascism at the time, but the threat of what it represented was clear to many people.

What about fascism was new and unique, supposedly unpredictable according to anything that came before? I wouldn’t argue that fascism was inevitable, but something like it was more than probable. In many ways, such ideologies as communism and syndicalism were organizing in anticipation of fascism, as the connection between big government, big business, and big religion had long been obvious. Many of these were issues that had caused conflict during the colonial era and led to revolution. So, what was it that those like Borgese couldn’t see coming even as they were living in the middle of it?

Many have claimed that Donald Trump being elected as president was unpredictable. Yet many others have been predicting for decades the direction we’ve been heading in. Sure, no one ever knows the exact details of what new form of social order will form, but the broad outlines typically are apparent long before. The failure and increasing corruption of the US political system has been all too predictable. Whether or not fascism was predictable in its day, the conditions that made it possible and probable were out in the open for anyone to see.

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We’ve Been Here Before

There are many signs that if the lawfully constituted leadership does not soon substitute action for words, a new leadership, perhaps unlawfully constituted, will arise and act.

Those words were spoken at a Senate committee, early in 1933. It was the last months of Hoover’s presidency and the economic problems were getting worse. There was a real threat of fascism, communism, or plain populist revolt. Open resistance to authorities and even violence had already broken out.

Speaking of the year before, William Manchester wrote (from The Glory and the Dream):

“In the desperate summer of 1932, Washington, D.C., resembled the besieged capital of an obscure European state.”

That was when veterans marched on Washington, DC. They demanded the money they were owed. That is how they got their name, the Bonus Army. They camped out around the White House, until they were violently evicted. The later Business Plot, an alleged attempt at fascist takeover, sought the support of a popular leader in the military. The Bonus Army and the Business Plot were unrelated, but they were part of a looming threat. To the president and politicians in the country’s capitol, it would have felt like they were besieged.

This is forever the risk of failed governance, even more so when combined with the betrayal of democratic ideals. If the government can’t govern, the people will take it upon themselves to do what government won’t.

One in four American men were out of work back then. Unemployment data is a bit different today, but the comparable number of real unemployment is one in ten. That is about 30 million Americans right now without a job, about a quarter of the population that existed at the time of the Great Depression. As a total number, there are as many Americans unemployed now as then.

Also, consider this. Those unemployment numbers don’t include the massive prison population, one of the ways we now store our unemployed population (by the way, that equates to more blacks in prison today than were in slavery at its height before the Civil War). And that doesn’t include those who are underemployed or don’t make a living wage, many of which rely on welfare to make ends meet.

Stop and think about that. The Great Depression came close to tearing our country apart, with fears of authoritarianism and revolution. Yet here we are with the same number of unemployed that existed back then. The difference partly is that we have a welfare system that keeps large numbers of people just above the level of absolute desperation. If that welfare system gets overwhelmed or some politician is so stupid as to eliminate it, you will see those old fears return over night.

This is what Trump was tapping into. If you are among the few who have never personally experienced poverty or lived in a poor community, never known unemployment or homelessness, never been on the wrong side of a cruel legal system, consider yourself fortunate. But realize you are living in a bubble disconnected from the reality of so many of your fellow citizens.

So, how much worse does it have to get? What might be the tipping point?

Don’t just fear a demagogue like Trump and the swamp creatures he brings with him. Fear the economic conditions and the political system that made someone like him inevitable. We’ve been warned about this for a century now. Yet so many have acted as if it could never happen here. In fact, the slow creep of dysfunction and failure, of division and frustration has been happening for a long time, even if the public has been slow to respond or else the corporate media reluctant to report.

But it might be some small comfort to note, as did Jon Meacham, that “we have been here before.”

Fascist Tax Foundation

“This deliberate fraud — because that’s what it has to be — is an example of the reasons knowledgeable people don’t trust the Tax Foundation.”
~ Paul Krugman, Stocks, Flows, and Fuzzy Math

On tax issues, a regularly cited source is the Tax Foundation. Someone mentioned it to me recently. I’d heard of it before, but curiosity led me to look into it.

It’s a right-wing think tank. But it is also well respected by many in the mainstream. Its right-wing bias is inseparable from its mainstream bias. It was founded on a predetermined conclusion and has been dedicated ever since to confirm that bias. It has a single purpose, to justify the status quo of wealth and power and to further the agenda of the ruling elite. As such, it presents itself as neutral, for it is well within the mainstream — that is in terms of the dominant centers of corporate influence and political opinion, and indeed it is based in Washington, DC. Only in that sense is it non-partisan, as it sometimes gets described.

According to SourceWatch, the Tax Foundation “is the oldest non-profit tax think tank in the country, founded in 1937”. It has ties to other right-wing organizations, corporate interests, funding sources, and individuals: American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Koch Foundation, Earhart Foundation, PricewaterhouseCooper, Eli Lilly, etc. It’s a part of an ever growing and ever shifting web of special interest, lobbyist, and front groups that have been seeking to shape public opinion and influence politics for about a century now.

As RationalWiki colorfully explains,

The Tax Foundation is a non-partisan wingnut (un)think tank which publishes slanted economic papers about politically charged issues to push a libertarian perspective. The Foundation was founded by and for corporate interests by its own admission,[2] and advocates global warming denialism,[3] tax protester theories about the legality of taxation,[4] and other neoconservative talking points. Many of their reports have been thoroughly debunked by economists,[5][6][7] and even by popular outlets like Forbes.[8]

None of this is surprising. It’s a standard propaganda operation. One interesting thing about it is that it’s so old, having been founded almost 80 years ago. It shows how little has changed over time. You have to give the Tax Foundation credit for being so consistent for so long.

What really caught my attention was the year it was started, 1937. That was slightly less than two decades after the ending of World War I. Also, it was two years before the beginning of World War II and four years before the United States officially entered the war, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This interwar period was a time of restructuring and growth, and national interests were given primacy. It was a moment of temporary peace, although also a time of struggle and sacrifice. It was paid for with increasing taxes.

In the years following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 election to the presidency, the Great Depression waned and a recovery followed. The Great Depression had a major impact worldwide and, besides, many countries were still rebuilding after the catastrophe of World War I. FDR’s New Deal was one response. Another popular response in Europe was fascism. Both included elements of corporatism, in seeking to align private interests with the public good, although FDR’s version was much softer than that of Hitler’s. Much of the wealthy elite complained about FDR’s policies, but many of them also were among the largest beneficiaries. Big ag in California at that time, for example, was dependent on big government infrastructure-building and subsidies provided by the New Deal (Fascism, Corporatism, and Big Ag) — not that this stopped these corporatists from complaining about meager protections given to farm labor.

The criticisms of FDR’s New Deal made by these corporatists clearly wasn’t that it was corporatist. They loved that part of it just fine. If anything, the corporatism was too little and too weak. What many of them wanted was full corporatism of the hard fascist variety, where big biz and big gov worked hand in glove. At least some of those who organized and have been involved with the Tax Foundation were economically and politically connected to fascist organizations and governments (e.g., Alfred P. Sloan). With the 1936 landslide re-election of FDR, these plutocrats realized they needed to get more serious in their influencing policy and public opinion here in the United States. One presumes that is why the Tax Foundation was created the following year in 1937, the year FDR’s second term began.

Outwardly, the Tax Foundation was focused on taxes, both tax laws and the use of tax funds. During WWII, they argued that the US government should lessen its spending at home (i.e., eliminate the welfare state) in order to spend more on fighting the war. After all, wars tend to be profitable for big biz and patriotic fervor helped incite the worst union-busting in US history (FDR himself attacked public unions). Yet, during and after the war, many of the key figures maintained their old ties to fascists, including former Nazis. Related to this, three members of the Bush family across three generations are implicated in this, all of them having been businessmen and politicians, two of them having been presidents, and one of them having been a CIA director. There have been a number of people with connections to both the Bush family and the Tax Foundation.

You’d think the fascist ties to US corporations, the Tax Foundation, the Bush family, and alphabet soup agencies would raise eyebrows in respectable company, but it usually doesn’t. This is business as usual, as it remains US policy to support and promote fascist regimes in regions such as Central and South America. Besides, only conspiracy theorists rant about such things. Not even a ‘liberal’ Democratic politician who cares about his professional career would dare to speak openly about it, at least not in the context of the actual practice of politics, although I’m sure all of this is well known in the circles of power. Books that detail this history of connections sometimes get reviewed in the MSM (e.g., The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinze), as it is fine to discuss it in historical abstraction now that most of the original actors are dead or senile.

Obviously, corporatism and soft fascism are alive and well within the United States economic-political system. It’s seen in the military-industrial complex and the intelligence-police state, the big biz Tax Foundation and the pay-to-play Clinton Foundation. The crony ties among the elite are a complex global network and the deep state has become entrenched over many generations. The person who referenced the Tax Foundation also told me, in another discussion, that fascism is no longer fresh in people’s memories, that it’s no longer a real concern. That may be the case for the type of person that references the Tax Foundation, but for damn sure fascism is fresh in our shared reality, in the world around us, and among those who rule over us. In fact, it’s once again growing in popularity, as recent politics demonstrates here and abroad.

At times like these, we should look carefully at those that seek to influence our society. The world they want to create may not be the world most of us would want to live in.

* * *

Tax Foundation is AFP
by Cody Oliphant, One Wisconsin Now

Tax Foundation’s Dubious Attempt to Debunk Widely Known Truths about Corporate Tax Avoidance Is Smoke and Mirrors
by Steve Wamhoff, Tax Justice Blog

Tax Foundation–up to its usual nonsense
by Dan Crawford, Angry Bear

Intentionally misleading data from Scott Hodge of the Tax Foundation
by Cathy O’Neil, mathbabe

Tax Foundation propaganda revealed, again: Moran
by Thom Moran, NJ.com

Tax Foundation Figures Do Not Represent Typical Households’ Tax Burden
by Chuck Marr, Chloe Cho, Che-Ching Huang, CBPP

The Greek Menace
by Paul Krugman, The New York Times

Tax Foundation and Competitive Environments: more bunk!
by Linda M. Beale, ataxingmatter

“The Disappearing Tax Foundation Blog Post”
by Mark Thoma, Economist’s View

Bernie Sanders Is Right and the Tax Foundation Is Wrong: The U.S. Has Very Low Corporate Income Taxes
Citizens for Tax Justice

American Corporations Tell IRS the Majority of Their Offshore Profits Are in 12 Tax Havens
Citizens for Tax Justice

Tax Foundation State Rankings Continue to Deceive
Citizens for Tax Justice

A few words of warning about The Tax Foundation
by Carroll Quigley

The Road to Neoliberalism

It is strange to continually see references to Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Hayek’s support of a brutal dictator like Augusto Pinochet shows that, in practice, he had nothing against going down the road to serfdom, in terms of his own confused use of that word. Such support demonstrates that he was morally insane and politically evil, and yet right-wingers continue to use that book like a magical talisman to wave away all alternative leftist possibilities.

Even ignoring the real world context of Hayek’s life, the title of his book is plain bizarre. He is arguing against oppressive centralization of power in large governments. But historically speaking, serfdom was part of feudalism. The one thing feudalism wasn’t is a national dictatorship like that of Pinochet’s Chile. Feudal lords were violently oppressive authoritarians that operated locally and on the small scale. Most of their power came from tradition and brute force at their command, not government and official laws. Feudal lords often fought against the centralized power of kings.

Let me put that in a modern context. There are two examples that come to mind that most closely approximate feudalism and serfdom.

The most obvious example was the plantation slave system, the aristocratic slaveholders having been the direct inheritors of the aristocratic feudal lords. I mean that literally and directly. Feudalism morphed into slavery with the one constant being the aristocracy, with a couple of centuries of overlap between the two systems. Interestingly, in the colonies, many of those slaveholding aristocrats fought against the British Empire in the American Revolution because they didn’t like a distant large centralized authoritarian government usurping their despotic power and overruling their own authoritarian aspirations within their local fiefdoms.

A more recent example is that of company towns. They aren’t as common these days, at least not in the Western countries, but from the 1800s to the early 1900s many of them were built in the United States. Before labor laws and protections, which is to say before much labor organizing, company towns were sometimes very much neo-feudalism with the ownership class having near total power over their workers. In company towns, workers were often in debt peonage/slavery and this was used as a form of rigid social control. Their entire lives were dominated by the company. They were required by the company to live in company housing, buy from the company store, go to the company doctor, send their kids to the company school, etc.

All of this relates to what is called corporatism (Southern Californian Birth of Salvific Corporatism; & Fascism, Corporatism, and Big Ag). It was a key pillar of fascism. And of course mass slavery was brought back under fascist states. One might note the growing role of prison labor in the US economy, a tradition that followed directly from slavery (From Slavery to Mass Incarceration).

Both of those examples came at a time when government was immensely smaller and less centralized. Feudalism and neo-feudalism is the very vision of authoritarian libertarianism, if we are to coin such a misnomer. This is is also the era that neoliberals love to fantasize about. It’s unsurprising that neoliberal superstars like Friedman, Reagan, and Thatcher loved Pinochet and any other right-wing authoritarian who came along. Neoliberalism has always depended on the alliance of fascist and theocratic states.

The first and only necessary principle of corporatist neoliberalism (or rather soft fascism) is the plutocratic privilege to deny everyone else’s rights and freedoms. Hayek didn’t care about civil rights and democratic systems of any sort and saw them as potentially dangerous. His so-called liberalism was (and still is) defined by one ideal, that of supposedly freedom of action in terms of unmeritocratic capitalism, but it didn’t apply to the freedom of action of anyone who disagreed with him, especially those not part of the oligarchy (the Golden Rule, those with the gold make and enforce the rules). So, he only believed in freedom of others to do what he thought they should do. Otherwise, they must be stopped from acting freely, even if it involved violent oppression, from mass killings to torture (thousands died, were harmed, went missing, and were made into refugees under Pinochet’s regime).

Of course, this oppressive unfreedom was supposedly only a temporary situation, until the malcontents were taken care of, the anti-capitalist obstacles removed, and the new social order was put in place. Then and only then would freedom reign. That was the dogmatic ideology of laissez-faire capitalism that captured power in Western countries and was violently enforced around the world. It was a serfdom made global, not limited to mere local authoritarianism and a quaint aristocracy. This is why spreading Western freedom around the world has required trillions of dollars of military force and millions killed — bombs and blood. It was Manifest Destiny at a larger scale, with even better rhetoric.

Some call this liberty.

* * *

Nietzsche, Hayek, and the Meaning of Conservatism
by Corey Robin

Hayek von Pinochet
by Corey Robin

Hayek’s Super-Highway
by John Médaille

The road to serfdom and taking the country back
by citizen k

Hayek and Pinochet
by John Quiggin

Capitalism is Not Meritocracy
by Frank Moraes

Bill Black: How Hayek Helped the Worst Get to the Top in Economics and as CEOs
by Yves Smith

The New Road to Serfdom
by Christopher Hayes

The Road from Serfdom
by Greg Grandin

Why libertarians apologize for autocracy
by Michael Lind

Friedrich Hayek: in defence of dictatorship
by Benjamin Selwyn

The Mad Dream of a Libertarian Dictatorship
by Jesse Walker

Money won’t compensate for my torture in Chile
by Leopoldo García Lucero

Fascism, Corporatism, and Big Ag

For a number of years, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around fascism and corporatism. The latter is but one part of the former, although sometimes they are used interchangeably. Corporatism was central to fascism, a defining feature.

Corporatism didn’t originate with fascism, though. It has a long history that became well developed under feudalism. In centuries past, corporations were never conflated with private businesses. Instead, corporations were entities of the state government and served the interests of the state. Corporatism, as such, was an entire society based on this.

The slave plantation South is an example of a corporatist society. This is the basis of the argument made by Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. They connected corporatism to traditional conservatism, as opposed to the individualistic liberalism of capitalism. Like in fascism, this slave plantation corporatism was a rigid social order with social roles clearly defined. It’s a mostly forgotten strain of American conservatism that once was powerful.

In fascist regimes, corporatism was used to organize society and the economy by way of the government’s role of linking labor and industry—similar to slavery, it was “designed to minimize class antagonisms” (Genovese & Fox-Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class, p. 668). In its initial phases, industrial corporations gained immense power and wealth, as managerial efficiency becomes the dominant priority, centralized planning combined with private ownership.

Fascism is a counterrevolutionary expression of reactionary conservatism. As Corey Robin explains, the political right worldview (fascist and otherwise) has a particular talent of borrowing, both from the left and from the past. It just as easily borrows elements from pre-modern corporatism as it does from modern socialism and capitalism. It’s a mishmash, unconcerned by principled consistency and ideological coherence. This makes it highly adaptable and potentially hard to detect.

This relates to how the right-wing in the US transformed corporatism into an element of capitalism. The slave plantation south was central to this process, combining elements of pre-capitalism with capitalism. Slave owners like Thomas Jefferson were increasingly moving toward industrialized capitalism. Before the Civil War, many plantations were being industrialized and many slaves were leased out to work in Southern factories.

Looking for fascism or elements of fascism in American society requires careful observation and analysis. It won’t manifest in the way it did in early 20th century Europe. Capitalists have been much more independent in the US, at times leading to their having more power over government than the other way around. It’s less clear in a country like this which direction power runs, either as fascism or inverted totalitarianism. Either way, the economic system is centrally important for social control.

Yet capitalist rhetoric in the US so often speaks of a mistrust of government. Some history would be helpful. Consider again the example of the South. In Democracy and Trust, Mark E. Warren writes that,

The Southern herrenvolk democracy thrived on slavery and after the Reconstruction remained “mired in the defense of a totally segregated society” (Black and Black 1987: 75). It shared with the Northern elite a suspicion of majority rule and mass participation. It continued to use collective systems of mutual trust both to provide political solidarity and to divide and discourage participation in the political system. But it differed radically from its Northern conservative counterpart in its lack of hostility to the state and governmental authorities. What the South loathed was, and remains, not big government but centralized, federal government On the state and city levels, elites see politics as a means of exercising power, not something to be shunned. (pp. 166-7)

I would correct one thing. Southerners were never against centralized, federal government. In fact, until the mid 1800s, the Southern elite dominated the federal goverment. It was their using the federal government to enforce slave laws onto the rest of the country that led to growing conflict that turned into a civil war. What Southerners couldn’t abide was a centralized, federal government that had come under the sway of the growing industry and population of the North.

The Southern elite loved big government so much that they constantly looked toward expanding the politics and economics of slavery. It’s why Southerners transported so many slaves Westward (see Bound Away by Fischer & Kelly) and why they had their eyes on Mexico and Cuba.

Slaveholders even went as far as California during the 1849 gold rush and they brought their slaves with them. California became technically a free state, although slavery persisted. Later on, Civil War conflict arose on the West Coat, but open battle was avoided. Interestingly, the conflict in California also fell along a North-South divide, with the southern Californians seeking secession from northern California even before the Civil War.

Southern California saw further waves of Southerners. Besides earlier transplanted Southerners, this included the so-called Okies of the Dust Bowl looking for agricultural work and the post-war laborers looking for employment in the defense industry. A Southern-influenced culture became well-established in Southern California. This was a highly religious population that eventually would lead to the phenomenon of mega-churches, televangelists, and the culture wars. It also helped shape a particular kind of highly profitable big ag with much power and influence. Kathryn Olmsted, from Right Out of California, wrote that,

These growers were not angry at the New Deal because they hated big government. Unlike Eastern conservatives, Western businessmen were not libertarians who opposed most forms of government intervention in the economy. Agribusiness relied on the government to survive and prosper: it needed price supports for stability, government dams and canals for irrigation, and state university research for crop improvements. These business leaders not only acknowledged but demanded a large role for government in the economy.

By focusing on Western agribusiness, we can see that the New Right was no neoliberal revolt against the dead hand of government intervention. Instead, twentieth-century conservatism was a reaction to the changes in the ways that government was intervening in the economy— in short, a shift from helping big business to creating a level playing field for workers. Even Ronald Reagan, despite his mythical image as a cowboy identified with the frontier, was not really a small-government conservative but a corporate conservative. 110 Reagan’s revolution did not end government intervention in the economy: it only made the government more responsive to the Americans with the most wealth and power. (Kindle Locations 4621-4630)

This Californian political force is what shaped a new generation of right-wing Republicans. Richard Nixon was born and raised in the reactionary heart of Southern California. It was where the Southern Strategy was developed that Nixon would help push onto the national scene. Nixon set the stage for the likes of Ronald Reagan, which helped extend this new conservatism beyond the confines of big ag, as Reagan had become a corporate spokesperson before getting into politics.

The origins of this California big ag is important and unique. Unlike Midwestern farming, that of California more quickly concentrated land ownership and so concentrated wealth and power. Plus, it was highly dependent on infrastructure funded, built, and maintained by big government. It should be noted that big ag was among the major recipients of New Deal farm subsidies. Their complaints about the New Deal was that it gave farm laborers some basic rights, although the New Deal kept the deck stacked in big ag’s favor. Early 20th century Californian big ag is one of the clearest examples of overt fascism in US history.

The conservative elite in California responded to the New Deal similar to how the conservative elite in the South responded to Reconstruction. It led to a backlash where immense power was wielded at the state level. As Olmsted makes clear,

employers could use state and local governments to limit the reach of federal labor reforms. Carey McWilliams and Herbert Klein wrote in The Nation that California had moved from “sporadic vigilante activity to controlled fascism, from the clumsy violence of drunken farmers to the calculated maneuvers of an economic-militaristic machine.” No longer would employers need to rely on hired thugs to smash strikes. Instead, they could trust local prosecutors to brand union leaders as “criminal syndicalists” and then send them to prison. McWilliams and Klein suggested that this antiunion alliance between big business and the courts was similar to the state-business partnership in Hitler’s Germany. 104

But these growers and their supporters were not European-style fascists; they were the forerunners of a new, distinctly American movement. (Kindle Locations 4134-4141)

Still, it was fascism. In The Harvest Gypsies, John Steinbeck wrote that, “Fascistic methods are more numerous, more powerfully applied and more openly practiced in California than any other place in the United States.”

The development of big ag in California was different, at least initially. But everything across the country was moving toward greater concentration. It wasn’t just California. Organizations like the Farm Bureau in other parts of the country became central. As in California, it set farmers against labor, as organized labor in demanding basic rights came to be perceived as radical. Richard McIntyre, in his essay “Labor Militance and the New Deal” from When Government Helped, he writes that, “Groups representing farmers outside the South, such as the Farm Bureau, also supported Taft-Hartley because they saw strikes and secondary boycotts as limiting their ability to get crops to market. The split between labor and various kinds of farmers allowed capitalists to heal their divisions” (p. 133).

It was also a division among farmers themselves, as there had also been agricultural traditions of left-wing politics and populist reform. “From its beginning in Indiana the Farm Bureau made it clear that the organization was composed of respectable members of the farming community and that it was not a bunch of radicals or troublemakers” (Barbara J. Steinson, Rural Life in Indiana, 1800–1950). By respectable, this meant that the haves got more and the have-nots lost what little they had.

Even though big ag took a different route in regions like the Midwest, the end results were similar in the increasing concentration of land and wealth, which is to say the end of the small family farm. This was happening all over, such as in the South: “These ideals emphasized industrialized, commercial farming by ever-larger farms and excluded many smaller farms from receiving the full benefit of federal farm aid. The resulting programs, by design, contributed significantly to the contraction of the farm population and the concentration of farm assets in the Carolinas” (Elizabeth Kathleen Brake, Uncle Sam on the Family Farm).

This country was built on farming. It’s the best farmland in the world. That means vast wealth. Big ag lobbyists have a lot of pull in the federal government. That is why fascism in this country early on found its footing in this sector of the economy, rather than with industry. Over time, corporatism has come to dominate the entire economy, and the locus of power has shifted to the financial sector. Agriculture, like other markets, have become heavily tied to those who control the flow of money. The middle class, through 401(k)s, also have become tied to financial markets.

Corporatism no longer means what it once did. In earlier European fascism, it was dependent on organizational society. That was at a time when civic organizations, labor unions, etc shaped all of life. We no longer live in that kind of world.

Because of this, new forms of authoritarianism don’t require as overt methods of social control. It becomes ever more difficult for the average person to see what is happening and why. More and more people are caught up in a vicious economy, facing poverty and debt, maybe homelessness or incarceration. The large landowner or industrialist won’t likely send out goons to beat you up. There are no Nazi Brownshirts marching in the street. There is no enemy to fight or resist, just a sense of the everything getting worse all around you.

Yet some have begun to grasp the significance of decentralization. Unsurprisingly, a larger focus has been on the source of food, such as the locally grown movement. Raising one’s own food is key in seeking economic and political independence. Old forms of the yeoman farmer may be a thing of the past, but poor communities have begun to turn to community gardens and the younger generation has become interested in making small farming viable again. It was technology with the force of the state behind it that allowed centralization. A new wave of ever more advanced and cheaper technology is making greater decentralization possible.

Those with power, though, won’t give it up easily.

* * *

American Fascism and the New Deal: The Associated Farmers of California and the Pro-Industrial Movement
by Nelson A. Pichardo Almanzar and Brian W. Kulik

Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism
by Kathryn S. Olmsted

From Slavery to the Cooperative Commonwealth: Labor and Republican Liberty in the Nineteenth Century
by Alex Gourevitch

Developing the Country: “Scientific Agriculture” and the Roots of the Republican Party
by Ariel Ron

Scientific Agriculture and the Agricultural State Farmers, Capitalism, and Government in the Late Nineteenth Century
by Ariel Ron

Uncle Sam on the Family Farm: Farm Policy and the Business of Southern Agriculture, 1933-1965
by Elizabeth Kathleen Brake

A Progressive Rancher Opposes the New Deal: Dan Casement, Eugenics, and Republican Virtue
by Daniel T. Gresham

Whose Side Is the American Farm Bureau On?
by Ian T. Shearn

Farm Bureau Works Against Small Family Farm ‘Hostages’
Letter to FFC from one member of the Farm Bureau who operates a family farm.

by jcivitas

The Impact of Globalization on Family Farm Agriculture
by Bill Christison

Freedom From Other People’s Freedom

Here is a common right-wing view. They’ll criticize democracy as mobocracy, apparently too much freedom for too many. And they’ll criticize anything left of that as authoritarianism, supposedly not enough freedom for those who deserve it.

So, they don’t want either an entirely free society or an entirely authoritarian society. It appears what they actually want, if they were to admit it, is a society that gives freedom to the upper class and authoritarianism for everyone else. That is to say the freedom of the ruling elite to rule over the oppressed masses.

That is the exact recipe of how fascists take over countries. Of course, once fascists have full power, everyone but the ruling elite loses power. When you take freedom away from others, you’ll eventually lose your own freedom as well. It’s one of the oldest stories around.

You’d think humans would learn after repeating the same mistakes and getting the same bad results.

Curiosity and Imagination

There are two central factors to life. There is curiosity or its lack. Also, there is imagination and its power over us, whether conscious or unconscious. This is a step back from even first principles. With curiosity and imagination, we are probing the depths of human nature itself, the ground of our being. That is the foundation of any and all society, no matter the kind of political and economic system.

There is the additional insight about how curiosity and imagination are closely aligned. Curiosity is always an act of imagination, even if only to imagine that there is something to possibly be known. As imagination increases, so does curiosity. And the further one follows curiosity down the rabbit hole, the more fodder there is for imagination.

However, a given social order will always constrain this process. It is extremely difficult to think outside of a social order, to probe its boundaries and peak beyond the veil. If it were easy, the social order would be weak and not last long. It is the rare person with the ability and motivation to step out of the allegorical cave and venture beyond the known, to question oft-repeated stories and challenge the  dominant worldview.

It’s freaking hard. And there is little reward an individual will get for the effort. If anything, they’ll be punished and sometimes severely at that or else simply made a pariah. Down this path, one does not make many friends, although one will quickly learn who are one’s true friends. Curiosity and imagination aren’t for the faint of heart.

I don’t think anyone willingly chooses that path of seeking and challenging. It is simply that some people find themselves on this path and it is the only path they see before them. Certain things once known can’t be unknown, once imagined can’t be unimagined. After being awakened, it can be hard to fall back asleep again, especially when it becomes apparent there is something lurking in the dark.

On some level, most people are aware of this. And, for that reason, most avoid that path. When given the choice, it’s not hard for most people to choose the blue pill, rather than the red one. It really isn’t even a conscious choice, as they’ve been given the blue pill their entire life. They would have to actively refuse the blue pill and actively go looking for the red pill, which would require them to imagine a red pill existed. The blue pill is just the the job they go to every day, the family they come home to at night, tv they watch before bed, the party they support every election, and simply the life they know and the society all around them.

For whatever reason, my mind is obsessed with imagination and curiosity. I can’t take credit for it, any more than I can take credit for my severe depression or introverted nature. I have no idea why I’m the way I am and I have no idea how to be otherwise. Someone must have slipped a red pill into my bottle when I was a baby. As I see it, all the world is a buffet of ideas and knowledge, possibilities and visions. Even looking at reality around me is an act of questioning and wondering. The world just seems like a strange place to me. I can’t help but see all the different ways to look at the world, to interpret things, and to sense what it all means and where it could could lead. I’m a possibility thinker, whether positive or not-so-positive possibilities.

Both the distant past and distant future seem real to me, as real as the present. We exist on a massive spectrum of space and time. And, speck of dust though I am, I go on thinking about my place in the grand scheme of things. But I’m never sure what to do with my contemplations, as I live in a society that seems rather indifferent to them. What’s the point of being curious about knowledge that is ignored and dismissed by mainstream society? What’s the point of imagining possibilities that few others will ever entertain? I don’t know.

On the imagination front, my mind flows along two broad grooves. They represent parallel universes and potential futures.

There is the dark vision of what might be grounded in a dark understanding of what already is. Many things we see in our society are what one would expect if it were already being ruled by authoritarianism.

My dad pointed to the correlations of other data to Fed monetary policy. And I pointed out that is what one would expect to see with fascism, where the economy follows policy. Such correlations are the imagining of reality, because without an act of imagination one never sees such correlations in one’s daily life experience. From this act of imagination, one can extrapolate a number of possible futures of growing authoritarianism.

My mind was in this funk because I started a couple of books about how fascism relates to American society: Right Out of California by Kathryn S. Olmsted and American Fascism and the New Deal by Nelson A. Pichardo Almanzar and ‎Brian W. Kulik. They are both scholarly books, but they are far from boring. In their own way, they are more fear-inducing than a horror movie, as American-style fascism is so ordinary that few even recognize it for what it is. At least with Freddie Krueger, you hear his claws scratching on metal before he comes for you.

On a lighter note, I was reminded of hopeful possibilities. A new Star Trek show is coming out. Star Trek was the last tv show I watched that offered a positive vision of the future. I have particularly fond memories of watching Star Trek TNG in high school back in the simpler times of the 90s.

I like thinking about positive visions of the future. It make me happy to imagine a genuinely free society. Star Trek portrays a full-fledged social democracy that could even be described as socialist, far greater than present Scandinavian countries with their cultures of trust and happy and healthy populations. In the Star Trek Federation, an individual’s achievements isn’t limited by birth, class, wealth, or any other social constraints. Each person is allowed to develop as fully as they are able and in whatever direction they desire. Everyone has resources, opportunities, and guidance available to them.

Compared to our society, it sounds like a utopia. But in the Star Trek world it is presented as so plausibly normal.

I see so much potential in society and in the larger world. Yet humanity seems to have tunnel vision. All we see is what is right before us and even that we see it in the way a near-sighted person looks for their glasses, hoping not to step on them. In this metaphorical scenario, the glasses being looked for stands for the vision of democracy. If we could just find those glasses, the world of possibilities we might be able to see all around us.

Just imagine what if. Doesn’t it make you curious?

Of Dreamers and Sleepwalkers

“Most men are not wicked. They are sleepwalkers, not evildoers.”
~ Franz Kafka

Lesser evil voting is mostly knee jerk groupthink, not rational decision-making and strategic thinking. If it was rational and strategic, Sanders would be guaranteed the nomination.

Sanders is the only candidate that the polling data has regularly shown to have any chance to defeat any of the Republican candidates. And he is the only candidate with both high popular support and low negative public opinion. On top of that, he is the only candidate of either political party whose politics aren’t some combination of neoliberalism and neoconservatism.

It’s about the narrative, the frame of how people think and what they can imagine. Lesser evil voting tends to mean backing the establishment and the status quo, no matter what. Some people use lesser voting strategically as a tactic, but these people are probably such a tiny fraction of a percentage of the voters as to be insignificant for elections. For most, lesser evil voting is simply about fear of the alternatives, even when their actions make the feared alternatives more likely.

Besides, so much of the argument seems pointless. Hillary Clinton has won most of the delegates even in states that have a majority supporting Sanders. The same happens in elections. What most Americans want is irrelevant to the system, especially considering how constrained is the election process, how controlled and manipulated and undermined is the pseudo-democracy. In a fully functioning democracy, neither Clinton nor Trump would make it very far in the process—both offering oppressive authoritarianism. Candidates like that don’t represent what most Americans support, as polls show. Despite how the MSM dismisses Sanders, he actually represents what is majority opinion.

None of this is charade is rational. It doesn’t matter what is proven to be true in polls, political records, released e-mails, historical documents, etc. It’s not about the issues. It’s not about what the American public supports and wants. This isn’t an actual democracy we live in. This is an open secret. Social science research has gone into this in great detail. It’s a favorite topic on the internet. Even the mainstream (corporate) media every so often throws up a piece on either asserting or questioning whether the US is still a democracy; and if not, what is it—military-industrial complex, banana republic, shadow government, deep state, inverted totalitarianism, corporatism/fascism, plutocracy, dark money, police state, or what exactly? The only place you don’t hear this kind of thing is in mainstream (corporatist) politics.

Yet everything goes on as if normal. We live in this dissociated state. We know it all is a charade or at least have strong suspicions. But we can’t bring ourselves to fully acknowledge this and act rationally in response to it. Rationality seems impotent when confronted by such horrific possibilities. Thinking along these lines would lead to radical notions and questions, and so we expunge them from our consciousness. It’s best not to think too much about it all. One might start feeling unacceptable impulses toward protesting in the streets, marching on the capitol, or God Forbid! starting a revolution. All of a sudden, the choice between Coke and Pepsi might be understood as meaningless as it always was. Such thoughts make people unhappy. If you confront people with this, they will get upset and angry. You can lose friends that way.

It’s understandable. There was something I think Franz Kafka said that has stuck with me—to paraphrase: Don’t destroy someone’s world, unless you have something better to offer them. That’s a tough standard to hold oneself to. It’s hard to imagine something new until the old has been cleared away. It might not be a matter of destroying someone’s world when they are acting self-destructively toward their own world.

In this situation, do you wait for full destruction to be complete before suggesting the consideration of alternatives? Why do we wait for problems to almost be past the point of any solution before even trying to figure out what those problems are?

None of this was inevitable. It was a series of choices made, the results accumulating over time.

Imagine if we had taken a different path. Imagine decades or even generations of greater good voting. Imagine for the past century that elected presidents included the likes of Eugene V. Debs, McGovern, Nader, Sanders, Jill Stein, etc. We wouldn’t even be facing the problems we now face. It’s not just about the lesser evil of this or that election, but endless kneejerk groupthink and fearmongering defense of the status quo.

Pointing this all out to people just irritates them. They have no way to make sense of it. The old narratives no longer explain much of anything and yet there is no compelling narrative to take their place. To imagine something new and different, people need to be told a story that draws them in and suspends their disbelief. One moment of envisioning an alternative could lift the cloud of cynicism and apathy.

That is one hell of a challenge. But maybe it doesn’t need to be as daunting as we make it. By nature, humans are talented at imagination. We are all dreamers. The trick is to learn how to dream while awake. Maybe this is not unlike, as Douglas Adams suggested, learning to fly by throwing yourself at the ground and missing. So, let’s throw ourselves at the dystopian fears before us and hope we miss.

* * *

The Logic of Lesser Evilism
by Andrew Levine, CounterPunch

The Reflective Voter’s Fear
by Andrew Levine, CounterPunch

75% in U.S. See Widespread Government Corruption
Gallup

Banana Republic Level of Inequality Is Undermining America’s Geopolitical Power
by Washingtons Blog

America the Banana Republic
by Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair

10 ways America has come to resemble a banana republic
by Alex Henderson, Alternet

Our Banana Republic
by Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

The Permanent Militarization of America
by Aaron B. O’Connell, The New York Times

The Danger of American Fascism
by Henry A. Wallace, New York Times

When Fascism Was American
by Joe Allen, Jacobin

Have The American People Accepted Corporate State Fascism?
by Ray Pensador, Daily Kos

Deep state in the United States
from Wikipedia

Deep State America
by Philip Giraldi, The American Conservative

The Deep State
by Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal

The War on Democracy: The Deep State
by Bob Burnett, Huffington Post

The Quiet Coup: No, Not Egypt. Here.
by John Tirman, Huffington Post

Controlled by shadow government: Mike Lofgren reveals how top U.S. officials are at the mercy of the “deep state”
by Elias Isquith, Salon

“Every president has been manipulated by national security officials”: David Talbot exposes America’s “deep state”
Liam O’Donoghue, Salon

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.
by Jordan Michael Smith, Boston Globe

National Security and Double Government
by Michael J. Glennon, Harvard National Security Journal

Examining Who Runs the United States
by Anand Giridharadas, The New York Times

Sheldon Wolin and Inverted Totalitarianism
by Chris Hedges, Truthdig

Inverted Totalitarianism
by Sheldon Wolin, The Nation

Nick Hanauer: Beware, fellow plutocrats, the pitchforks are coming
TED Talk video

How Gilded Ages End
by Paul Starr, The American Prospect

The Political Roots of Widening Inequality
by Robert Reich, The American Prospect

Plutocrats Against Democracy
by Paul Krugman, The New York Times

America slouches toward plutocracy
by Sean McElwee, Al Jazeera America

A Study in Plutocracy: Rich Americans Wield Political Influence, the Rest of Us Don’t
by John Light, Moyers & Company

We are Becoming a Plutocracy No Matter What Obama Proposes Tomorrow
by Robert Lenzner, Forbes

5 signs America is devolving into a plutocracy
by Tom Engelhardt, Salon

Fear of Fascism

I was having a typical discussion with my dad. It was on the verge of becoming an argument. But an interesting thing happened. I said that the US is one step from fascism. And he agreed with me.

I’ve feared fascism for as long as I’ve understood what it is. I’ve specifically feared American the slide toward fascism, call it what you will: big money, plutocracy, crony capitalism, corporatocracy, inverted totalitarianism, etc.

My dad, on the other hand, didn’t previously worry about such things. He has always been a fairly mainstream conservative and Republican. He loves capitalism. He has fond memories from childhood of factories belching out smoke, a sign that things were being built and all was well with the world. He has even worked for a number of factories as a manager. He loves business and has never before had issues with even big biz. In his Cold War mind, capitalism was going to save the world. That was the propaganda he grew up with, as a child born at the tail end of WWII.

In the past, he would have taken warnings of fascism as left-wing rhetoric, something to be dismissed. If anything, he feared the people making such warnings. The messenger should be attacked for maligning the good name of capitalism. But, in recent years, his mind has been changing. He is beginning to see the potential dangers of big biz and big banks and their collusion with and even control of big gov.

I talk to my dad a lot. He is my main sparring partner. But, to be honest, we actually agree more than not. It’s just that the disagreements can get heated. As we’ve both aged, our views have maybe come closer in certain ways, despite my own thinking becoming more radical. Ideology isn’t the issue. It doesn’t matter that my dad identifies as a conservative and I a liberal. What many people, including my dad, are coming to understand is that authoritarianism is a threat greater than any specific ideology.

It has been Donald Trump’s campaign that has hit this home for my dad. It simply doesn’t matter what Trump says or really believes. He is a wild card. That isn’t to dismiss those who support Trump. There is good reason people feel so frustrated with the status quo. This mood has been emerging for decades now, even if so many Americans tried to ignore it. It took Americans like my dad longer to see what this all meant, until it was already here.

Also, consider the problems going on in Michigan. Flint has brought this to mainstream attention, with the lead toxicity problem. I told my dad that it turns out democracy is a good thing after all, as the Republicans who decided to eliminate democratic government created this problem. My dad at first said that democracy had failed too because of the debt that had incurred, the supposed reason for the use of ’emergency’ dictatorial powers. I countered that, well, eliminating democracy has brought on even worse problems. He agreed that maybe democracy really is the least worst system. My dad doesn’t love democracy and, as with so many Americans, likely doesn’t even understand what democracy is. Still, he is beginning to appreciate what happens when it disappears entirely.

There is a similar situation happening locally. Terry Branstad is the Republican governor of Iowa. He selects the members of the Iowa Board of Regents. And it is the regents who selected J. Bruce Harreld as the new University of Iowa president. He had no experience and many of the other people considered had way better qualifications. But Harreld was a businessman, which in the conservative worldview means you are qualified to do anything, from running governments to running public universities. Businessmen supposedly just know how to solve problems, the exact rhetoric Trump has used to take over the Republican Party.

I explained to my dad that Americans are frustrated with being shut out of everything. Shut out from governing their own communities, shut out from institutions they belong to, just plain shut out. I’ve gave an example to my dad that helped him understand this. The leadership of my union, AFSCME, is backing Hillary Clinton. There was no voting or even input from union members. Even my union steward was shut out from the process. It’s not a left vs right issue. Americans, all across the spectrum, are tired of being silenced and disempowered.

For my dad, this experience hasn’t been part of his life. He has spent his entire life in positions of authority, not immense power but well-respected and secure, from being an army officer straight out of college to having his first job as a factory manager and then later to be a professor at a major university. He has never known what it is like to be silenced and disempowered. He has never personally known severe poverty, racial discrimination, police profiling, or anything like that. It simply isn’t the world he has lived in.

Yet, in his retirement, he has begun to think more deeply. He sees things differently. He realizes that he will likely live comfortably for the rest of his life. But it bothers him the direction his country is taking. His faith in the system has been shaken. There are many Americans like my dad who are becoming aware that the hour is getting late.

Orwell’s Homage to Socialism

George Orwell has been mostly a name to me. I’ve seen adaptations of his works, but I don’t recall ever having read anything by him. I found a cheap copy of Homage to Catalonia which more than intrigued me. I didn’t know anything about his life, but maybe that book is a good way to learn of one of the most important experiences of his life and how he sought to make sense of it.

Homage to Catalonia is about his time spent fighting fascists in Spain. Like many others, Orwell got caught up in the rhetoric of communism. He wanted to fight with the communists, but for various reasons he ended up fighting with the communist-allied anarchists and social trade unionists in Catalonia. The communists eventually took over and eventually wiped out their former allies (imprisoning, torturing and killing them) which, to say the least, was a self-defeating maneuver and cost them the war. For Orwell, this meant he was now perceived as an enemy by the communists and so he escaped across the border.

This disillusioned him about the communists which made his support of socialism all that more stronger, having remained a socialist for the rest of his life. Maybe he was taught a lesson by those he fought with, those who suffered at the hands of the communists. Most right-wingers and maybe most people in general think communism (in its form as authoritarian statism) is the same as socialism, but it would be hard to convince those anarchists and trade unionists who were perceived as a greater threat to communism than even their supposedly shared enemy of the fascists.

Orwell was no friend of any kind of absolutist ideology and he understood how it led to ruthless oppression. He realized this was as true for British imperialism as for communism. This put him in an odd position when, during the Cold War, he became an informant for the British government:

“In The New York Review of Books of September 25, 2003, Garton Ash published an article called ‘Orwell’s List’. In this article, Garton Ash gives an account of his research concerning an astonishing list of thirty-eight names of journalists, politicians, and others compiled by Orwell. In some cases, Orwell appended com-ments, some being anti-Semitic or homophobic, as well as vocational information. Those on the list were generally labeled as “crypto-communists” or “fellow travelers”. Others were said to be merely “appeasers” (of the U.S.S.R.), “reliably pro-Russian” or “sympathizers only”. Quite a few on the list are well known to those in Russell studies, for they include such figures as E.H. Carr, Isaac Deutscher, Kingsley Martin and J.B. Priestley.”

It’s rather sad that he let himself be used that way. The very people who were critical of British oppression became potential targets of that oppression because of Orwell’s collusion:

“But what Garton Ash does not mention is that in case of need, this list was also to be used to ferret out suspicious intel-lectuals and others, perhaps in a political crisis, though there is no indication Orwell himself knew this. Accordingly, in a telephone interview conducted by Francis Stonor Saunders, Adam Watson, a senior IRD veteran and Celia Kirwan’s supervisor, would not cat-egorically deny that the list was to be used against those on it. He would only say in an artfully qualified way that “Its immediate usefulness was that these were not people who should write for us,” but went on to add that “[their] connection with Soviet-backed organizations might have to be exposed at some later date”.[1] It thus seems to have been intended that the list could be concomitantly used as a tool of ideological suppression or even political control under certain unspecified untoward circumstances.”

The only explanation I can think of is that he saw the British government as the lesser of two evils and, besides, his loyalty was to his native country. Orwell was no Thomas Paine who would fight a revolution against his own country, despite his criticisms of it. I’m sure he reasoned that the British government might be reformed from within whereas he saw communism as unamenable to any reform. Rationalizations aside, my respect for him is tarnished by his collusion with power.

This Cold War angle made a lot of sense of Lionel Trilling’s introduction to Homage to Catalonia. Trilling wrote it in 1952, two years after Orwell’s death. The book had been some combination of ignored and suppressed prior to that. When it first was published, not many copies were printed and they didn’t sell. His criticisms of communism at that time were unpopular. Then during WWII, his criticisms of “Uncle Joe” were politically inconvenient. Only when his work became useful for Cold War propaganda did it see the light of day.

Reading Trilling’s introduction, I kept getting this sense that Trilling was projecting his own beliefs and opinions onto Orwell. It is a very strange introduction that offers little in the way of in-depth analysis or evidence supporting it. Trilling just uses Orwell as a way to make claims that have little to do with Orwell. Discussing Trilling’s introduction, Noam Chomsky bluntly stated, “Orwell, who had died already, would have hated it.”

I’m not sure what Orwell would have thought of how his name would be used as a propaganda tool. I doubt it would have made him happy. If he had lived longer to have seen the Thatcher-Reagan Era, I’m sure his criticism of the Cold War would have matched his criticism of the communists. The Cold War was ultimately used by Western state governments to attack socialists like Orwell.