It’s on everyone’s mind these days, and no wonder. People are concerned it’s happening again.
What is fascism? Depending on which university professor you ask, you will get a different answer. There is a popular quote going around from the late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who is said to have describe it as follows:
“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”
That was a fair description of the power structure in southern Europe in the early 20th century, but there’s more to it that that.
Movement or Regime?
Ever since Mussolini died — hung naked upside down and whipped to death in a northern Italian town with his wife in April 1945, the academic battle on the meanings of ‘Fascism’ has raged on, but the major divide among historians and political scientists is to ask whether fascism was a movement, or a regime? Or maybe both, as one of the best Italian historians, Renzo de Felice has argued — saying it started out as a middle class protest movement howling at lost status and down-classing by economic crisis, and then under Benito Mussolini (photo, left) morphed into a full-blown, born-to-fail regime.
De Felice does not call Mussolini a simple and straight opportunist who got lucky, as other historians like Denis Mack Smith argue. The causes of fascism ran deeper — exactly like the rampant and to date triumphal “financialization” of the economy since the 1980s.
From well before 1945, academics and western democratic politicians disputed another key question concerning Mussolini’s Fascism, and the regime it certainly became by the late 1920s — was it deliberately irrational and did it deliberately reject any achievable goal? Was this side of fascism the necessary counterpart of its cult of violence? Making the comparison with financial fascism of today very easy, the Playstation Economy also has no goal other than rewarding the greed and hubris of its operators — by rigging financial markets they treat like a casino. We can also be sure the financialized economy is anarchic and violent — it destroys businesses, industries and human lives and families on a daily basis, almost whimsically proclaiming “there is no alternative”, but it means no rationale and no goal except the degenerate gamester urgings of its “major players”.
Emotion Versus Content
Among historians and political scientists of the 1930â€²s it was commonplace to attribute Fascism a unique irrationality. It was full of emotion, but entirely void of cognitive content. It was nothing like most previous political movements and was a dance in the dark on a moonless night, a dark frolic with the underside of human nature — especially the nature of crowds and mobs. It had only two possible real world outcomes. Violence and war.
The neoliberalism of Britain’s small-sized, but hysterical Mussolini of the 1980s, Lady Margaret Thatcher, shared several of these attributes. In particular it preached the economic irrationality of an imaginary, totally unplanned economy based on roll-the-dice pot luck, driven only by greed. All and any planning, control, sanctions, and rewards other than hard cash… were trash. This frolic with the dark side of human nature was evident during Thatcher’s long reign, as corruption became endemic and she was bundled out of power in 1990 in an Oligarchic night of the long knives drama. Twenty years later, when she was buried at state expense with pomp and circumstance, the event sparked street rage among tens of thousands of Britons — she was hated that much.
Fascists were, and are understood — today as yesterday, as persons who renounce all rational discourse in order to pursue a perverted ideal “glorifying the non-rational”. Their financialized economy is the summit of irrationality, explaining its inefficiency, waste, corruption and non-performance.
The 99.5% of persons who do not operate this circus act, are the losers.
During 1930s, in part due to early sexual liberation and the spread of Freudian psychological theory some analysts went so far as to insist that “fascism” was only a form of “orgasm anxiety” and a sexual dysfunction that found release in mystical flights of fantasy, and its counterparts of homicidal aggression and the complete negation of rational thought. The fully neoliberalized Playstation Economy of today can easily be interpreted this way, without needing to pay Michael Douglas for his Hollywood smirks and grimaces, but this links closely to a theory of fascism that has continued for 75 years. Fascism is described by these theorists as “a violent attempt by decaying capitalism to defeat revolution and forcibly freeze the process of its own destruction”.
Thorsten Veblen’s Intuition
Veblen well described and analyzed an earlier 20th century prototype version of today’s financial fascism that destroyed itself in 1929. He called it the “Theory Of The Leisure Class”, a totally parasitic, game-playing class of financial werewolves who were able to seize power because of society’s incredible stupidity and cowardice. Among its then-and-now aspects we find the creation of a new terminology consciously designed to conceal the realities of the economy falling under the mindless anarchic control of a hyper minority, with its inevitable result of class-rule and massive exploitation of the always-growing underclass. Certainly in the mad-mad Charleston years of the 1920s, in the run up to 1929, the appeal of casino capitalism to the uncritical and infantile impulses of the crowd, or mob, was honed into a weapon very like today’s 24/7 “economy shows” on world media. Stocks can only rise! Get in there now! The common theme is the permanent flight from reason.
As Veblen recounts, even in the very late 19th century at the time when J P Morgan existed as a real person, and his bank was not a virtualized card castle of US Federal Reserve puts and calls, the “banksters” were promoted by the media they paid, to the status of mystical and intuitive wizards. In fact their real capabilities and interests were financing World War I. Very soon after, the banksters crowded in to finance Hitler and Mussolini. They knew a good number when they saw it!
Violence and war are always good business for the sick-minded, the criminal and the greedy.
Veblen can also be thanked for suggesting the core “value” of fascism, like that of neoliberalism, is a primitive kind of irrational mysticism, caused by rejection of all existing and previous value bases of western society. The casino Playstation Economy is operated by, and profits a tiny group of criminals and delinquents who have rejected all “Western ideals”. These rejected ideals extend from the early 18th century Enlightenment, through the French and American revolutions, to 19th century Christian Democrats, and of course the Soviet revolutionaries. It is the original and worst Punk Philosophy, comparable to the doom-laden ranting of Jean-Paul Sartre, rather than the more-structured raging of Friedrich Nietsche.
Rather than a rejection of capitalism, which like Hitler he approved of, Mussolini’s fascism strictly avoided interference in the gaming tables of the 1920â€²s Playstation Economy, and was only interested in and committed to mob-friendly mayhem and inhumanity. When Mussolini’s regime had attained full powers, by the late 1920â€²s, Benito himself used a set of one-liners which summarized the “real meaning” of fascism.
When he went on campaign swings — with a certain Winston Churchill from England often accompanying him “from pure admiration”, for his vote-grabbing acumen, he always raised a cheer from the mob when he ended his haranguse with a passionate call for ideas that get rid of the need to think, for those “ideas that dispense with ideas”.
For Margaret Thatcher and the Neolibs the mindless one-liner was “Let the markets decide”, but only when they are fully in the pocket of the financial werewolves. As we know, the markets decide nothing at all — leaving that to the rolling dice and the slot machines flashing today’s winning algorithm.