Neoliberalism and the reality of fascism

Contributed by Joe Montero

There has been quite a lot of talk about fascism of late. No doubt, this is fueled by the rise of hate politics overseas and in Australia. Given this, discussion on the question of fascism is warranted. The threat is real.

Greater clarity on what this means is needed, if there is going to be strategy to counter the threat. Considerable work is still needed to make this a reality. Fascism has become too much a word to be thrown around as an accusation against opponents. This is not good enough. The term is also used to describe rule with an iron fist and the disregard for democratic norms. Some describe fascism in terms of groups and individuals displaying its symbols. Fascism may come dressed with these things, but they are not its true essence.

Distortion of the meaning of fascism gets in the way of finding an answer to it.

A recent article written by Manuella Cadelli, President of the Magistrates’ Union of Belgium, and published Defend Democracy, provides a good place to carry on the discussion. She is accurate in suggesting that fascism is real in today’s world, that there is a need to take notice and act and that things need to be called by their name. Her description of fascism is a combination of accuracies and misunderstandings, based on a romantic idea of the western tradition of Democracy, parliamentary systems and the rule of law.

Manuella Cadelli she says this: “Liberalism was a doctrine derived from the philosophy of Enlightenment, at once political and economic, which aimed at imposing on the state the necessary distance for ensuring respect for liberties and the coming of democratic emancipation. It was the motor for the arrival, and the continuing progress, of Western democracies”.

Of course, liberalism in Europe did derive from the Enlightment and had an impact on politics and economics, pulling them out of the mire of a feudal past, dominated by aristocratic privilege and the absolutism of monarchies.  It loosened the control of church over all aspects of life and a very rigid and narrow view of the world, replacing this with the challenge of rational thought and scientific method as the means for investigating the real world. Certain basic rights came into being.

While the Enlightment represented a major leap in civilisation, it also had a down side. While it demolished the rule of privilege by birth, privilege based on economic power and money, was brought in. The connection between power and money is not new. It has been around for a long time.

Cadelli is right to say that neoliberalism is a form of fascism. But this begs the question, what is fascism? To her it is bringing government under the subjection under totalitarian and nihilistic ideology.

Fascism is not this. It is best defined as the merger of corporations and the state. This is where neoliberalism comes in. It gives rise to the reality of the corporate state and fascism cannot be understood without grasping that it is the corporate state that is its foundation.

In the present era, the shift towards the corporate state began with the Hawke-Keating government in the 1980’s and the imposition of the Prices and Incomes Accord.

A tripartite system was set up of government, employers and unions. Under this a series of committees to make decisions on government policy came into existence. The mechanism became an extension of government. Not in the way that promotes bottom up input, but which facilitates top down decisions made by an elite and provides the means to enforce them.

The Accord imposed a freeze in wages growth. But it was also much more than this. By effectively becoming an arm of government, unions were transformed from organisations existing for the defense of wages and conditions on the job, towards becoming implementors of government policy.

In practice, employer organisations, mainly representing the biggest corporations operating in the country, were in a better position to take advantage their partial merger with the state. They have the advantage of economic power and the tripartite system was to their advantage. For the unions, it meant finding that they had been merged into a system that compelled them to champion the interests of the employers, rather than those of their members.

The Prices and Incomes Accord was created by the Laurie Carmichael research team at the Australian Metal Workers Union. Carmichael was leader of the Communist Party at the time. Sections of the Labor Party were brought in and the plan was sold as a “left” alternative. This was a shortsighted plan, because it was believed it would be tie the wages sacrifice, to an increase of government expenditure on a range of services that would lead to an increase in real incomes. Without this belief, the accord could not have been sold to many who would otherwise have rejected it. The benefit was called the social wage.

It was shortsighted, because the nature of the Accord meant that the social wage bonus was never going to materialise. Instead, it introduced corporatism into Australia. The series of further Accords over the following years, thoroughly entrenched this character.

As said earlier, corporatism is integral to fascism.

In the 1930’s Italian fascism argued that there is a middle way between the competing claims of capital and labour. Prime Minister Benito Mussolini put this idea into effect though the creation of the National Corporations Council and gave it power to regulate prices, production and markets. Tripartite bodies representing government, employers and unions were set up to agree on policy. Although different in form, Nazi Germany set up its own corporate tripartite structure with the German Labour Front.

The similarities are spectacular. But this is not enough to call the Accords fascist. This version of corporatism, despite having a profound impact, only scratched at the edges of corporatism. It barely remained political corporatism. Economic corporatism had not yet emerged in any comprehensive way. A shift towards fascism requires both. But the Accords did set the conditions for what was top come later,

With the accords came the acceptance that difficulties in the economy were the result of the drift of national income towards wages. The drift had to be reversed towards investment. In the same vein, government was spending too high and this had to be cut back. Neoliberalism had come and it meshed well with corporatism. We heard for the first time about the trickle-down effect and the light at the end of the tunnel.

It was not long before government departments and instrumentalities began to be corporatised, turning them away from being primary the instruments of government political policy and into business units. Political corporatism was now starting to be extended more meaningfully into economic corporatism. Privatisation and the rise of public/private partnerships took this further. Part of the package was that neoliberalism was entrenched as the dominant economic ideology.

The connection with fascism emerges in the state being placed increasingly at the disposal of finance. It is the corporations involved in finance that sit at the pinnacle. Often, they are the controlling entities of other corporations and the extending merger of the state concentrates greater power in their hands.

Ultimately, neoliberalism is a means to turn the economy and society into a reflection of the corporation. Management is in control. Efficiency, profit and obedience are stock in trade. At a point this transforms into the increasing subjugation of the population. If society is going to replicate the relationships of the workplace, it is necessary to put the discipline of the workplace into society. Those who do not fit in, must be considered a barrier to the proper operation of the system and must be dealt with.

Therefore, it is necessary to create a new reality. Language must be utilised. Wastage must be cut. We cannot live beyond our means. Government must always run at a surplus. Those who disagree are irresponsible. “Political correctness” is a barrier to moving ahead. New migrants and refugees are taking our jobs. The unemployed, disabled, single parents and the aged are wasting resources and this expenditure must be cut. Those who disagree are holding us back to a past age and will not accept the that the world has moved on. Neoliberalism is the only possibility. These are the messages drummed out every day.

Nor can there be a place for argument. Facts put forward by those holding a different opinion must be faked. If those with the expertise question, they must be working for the enemy. The political and economic corporations will provide the only truth.

We have not gone all the way down this road, but who can deny we have gone a fair way down it and the journey is not finished yet?

Cadelli recognises this ideological war. She also sees the connection between this and the rise of the power of financial corporations. She goes on to say that “the state is now at the disposal of the economy and of finance, which treat it as a subordinate and lord over it to an extent that puts the common good in jeopardy”. Curiously, the connection between this and corporatism is not really made. The failure is a serious one.

Cadelli then observes that “the austerity that is demanded by the financial milieu has become a supreme value, replacing politics. Saving money precludes pursuing any other public objective. It is reaching the point where claims are being made that the principle of budgetary orthodoxy should be included in state constitutions. A mockery is being made of the notion of public service”.

Yes. But what else could there be, when society is being transformed into the image of a corporation? It exists to do business. Not to be kind. And this brings us the kernel of neoliberal thinking. Notions of care, looking after the less fortunate and sharing, get in the way of business. They must be rejected. Those who promote them must be hated and ultimately destroyed. They are inferior to the greater objective. A form of social Darwinism comes into play. Differences exist because some are superior to others.

Austerity must be demanded. Government expenditure must be cut to the bone for everything except for what drives business. Everyone must agree to tighten the belt so that the investors, this means the financial corporations can have it. They have a superior claim, because they know best about how it should be used.

Cadelli continues: “This subculture harbours an existential threat of its own: shortcomings of performance condemn one to disappearance, while at the same time, everyone is charged with inefficiency and obliged to justify everything. Trust is broken. Evaluation reigns, and with it, the bureaucracy, which imposes definition and research of a plethora of targets, and indicators with which one must comply. Creativity and the critical spirit are stifled by management. And everyone is beating his breast about the wastage and inertia of which he is guilty”.

The neoliberal ideology generates a normativity that competes with the laws of parliament. The democratic power of law is compromised. Given that they represent a concrete embodiment of liberty and emancipation, and given the potential to prevent abuse that they impose, laws and procedures have begun to look like obstacles…The power of the judiciary, which has the ability to oppose the will of the ruling circles, must also be checkmated… the dominant class doesn’t prescribe for itself the same medicine it wants to see ordinary citizens taking:  well-ordered austerity begins with others”.

Even if she overstates the virtues of the parliamentary system, the laws and judiciary, Codelli still makes some good points.

The regime must be imposed and it cannot be without imposing restrictions in the name of economic and national security. The natives might get restless. They must be prevented from moving in any other direction. If they cannot be persuaded, they must be forced. Official policing can be increased and vigilante groups can be encouraged.

As cynicism over political institution and the distrust of politicians rises, along the unpopularity of neoliberalism and its accompanying austerity, so is the mechanism for compulsion strengthened. Long standing rights are corroded, big brother surveillance of our personal lives is on the rise, as is media restriction.

Fascism is a threat.


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