Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Creeping Fascism Below is an excerpt from an article in a Scottish Leftist magazine which points out large similarities between historic Fascism and society today. I have also written to that effect

It is the subtle aspects of Fascist ideology that remain standing and develop their forms and continue their onward march despite all the military defeats suffered by Fascism’s historic regimes.

The corporate monopolisation of markets is the symptom and outcome of this onward march, but not the cause, which is the monopolisation of public reason. For Benito Mussolini this depended on stealthily “plucking the chicken one feather at a time.”2 His preferred name for the system was corporativism and a fuller understanding of this so-called ‘friendly Fascism’ and its pre-history provides a vital means to oppose the whole Fascist phenomenon.

Fascism ought to be understood as an ideologically sophisticated and creeping set of political relations that undermine free contest and the full expression of different material and class interests within society at large. From this perspective, the general geopolitical failure of Fascism only marks the end of various formally authoritarian States and certainly not the end of authoritarian State politics at a number of levels. Fascism’s more subtle progress is the true ‘clear and present danger’ to the development of democratic society or to whatever integrity democracy might still possess. The danger arises partly because one of the historical preconditions of Fascism, as theorised by Mussolini, has now been achieved thanks to the adventurism of the U.S. empire. The war on terror has given us the state of permanent, unbounded war originally dreamt up by the Italian dictator to bring about a specific economic and ideological order at home and military expansionism abroad.

That the Italian Republic, supposedly founded on the defeat of Fascism, has re-embraced the ideology under the guise of “Post-Fascism” within a parliamentary democracy is alarming. But, perhaps more alarming is that elsewhere, with no mention of any sort of Fascism, we also see the triangulation of policy towards “single purpose government”, as it is now called in Scotland. This widespread and neo-totalitarian sense of purpose favours corporations by gearing all policies towards existing markets or their creation where they do not already exist. In return, States are blessed with various stamps of approval from big business and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Despite their reputation for imposing deadly market orthodoxies across the world, the power of these controversial institutions appears to be unassailable.3 These developments are connected to the progress of Fascist ideas and opposition to them is a matter of great urgency.

Mussolini envisioned the corporative nation in biological terms as a body of non-competing and co-operative functions. In 1934, Fascists from different European countries agreed that this was the defining element of their international movement. As Francis Mulhern notes in ‘Culture/Metaculture’, the functions of corporativism, or corporatism as it is now known, are all imagined to make “their necessary, mutually non-exchangeable contributions to the health of the whole. It is accordingly anti-individualist in temper (the notion of competition between parts of the body is absurd) and also anti-socialist (the notion of a struggle between the hands and the head is equally absurd – as are democracy and equality).”4 While this mythic idea of the nation as the body coincided with the racial policies pursued by the Nazis, the bodily doctrine cannot be reduced to its most murderous convulsions. In Nazi Germany, Gleichschaltung also aimed for the co-ordination of the life of the nation and it is the deep-seated ideology of enforced co-operation and managed national solidarity which provided the underlying logic of Fascism.

Although independent trade unions were politically disabled and outlawed in Italy, top-down organised labour and welfare policies were reborn in the image of Fascist corporatism, which, if nothing else, adhered to the aristocratic ideal of noblesse oblige. According to Gaetano Salvemini, an exile from the Italian system and one of its most sensitive critics, the impact of this policy to disorganise and manipulate the autonomy of labour was to effectively nationalise it, making labour into the State’s bargaining chip in its dealings with capitalists. Imagine being threatened by your boss for using the word “ballot” in communicating with fellow trade unionists because that word alone was an incitement to industrial action. Sadly this is not an example of legalised bullying under 1930s Fascism but the experience of a member of the Public and Commercial Services Union in Britain today. One only has to think for a few moments about nation-States with their normalised anti-labour laws and activities and see these policies in the context of international capitalism to begin to see the triangular outlines of the renewed repression.

In Fascist Italy of the 1930s, public institutions called corporations were to support co-operation and consultation between different interest groups, between labour and capital and between various economic sectors. In reality they were unrepresentative talking shops, the real function of which was to dignify a range of coercive policies. Followers of the Marxist, Antonio Gramsci would call this passive revolution, whereby “in lieu of attaining support for what it is doing, a government instead decides to act as if it alone were the origin of social change.”5 Yet the rhetorical element of co-operation and consultation remained central to Fascist practice. So attractive was the ideal of corporatist State to its proponents that they wrote admiringly of its company-like functions before the public corporations were even brought into dubious existence. Perhaps the reality is best summed up by Salvemini in his 1936 book ‘Under the Axe of Fascism’. For Salvemini, to find real co-operation and genuine consultation taking place through corporatist institutions was like “looking in a dark room for a black cat which is not there.”6

With this history in mind the obvious question for trades unions and other pressure groups in civil society today is how far has advanced capitalism adapted itself to the same logic of disempowered, disabled yet highly symbolic communication? There is a growing body of research on international development which suggests that the outcomes of participatory processes and public deliberation about policy are in fact preordained by the wisdom of the international financial institutions such as the World Bank.7 It should be asked, therefore, how far do citizens become institutionally formed and incorporated by processes that allow us the pleasure of expressing our views, and sometimes taking action, but only in return for the finally demoralising experience of being overcome by the carefully structured imbalance of actual power?

But if such a bleak perspective is valid, it is too easy to lay the blame on big business or some overly abstract notion of “the system” when corporatism is a particular rot that can set in almost anywhere. It can be seen in the paternalistic ethos of politicians, and in the dealings of “sweetheart” trade unions that function more like an arm of management, or in any number of individuals and ad hoc groups that grasp opportunities to represent or to lead the course of policy without examining the issue of meaningful democratic accountability.8 However compelling one may find Naomi Klein’s account of the ‘Shock Doctrine’9, shock tactics are not necessarily required to ignite the slow burning processes of corporatism. Trying to address these difficult issues here leads gradually towards a key distinction between freedoms of expression, on the one hand, and how the terms of communication may or may not be defined by the public interest, on the other. We live in an era that rather robotically celebrates individuals: individuals as spokespeople for the ‘voiceless’; inspired, creative and visionary individuals; individuals as over-achievers, enlightened benefactors, and celebrity of all kinds. But has an actual individualism, of the kind that historians and sociologists have found at the heart of Bourgeois revolutions against feudalism, been subtly replaced by mere persona in consumerist society? Are the beneficiaries and descendents of social and political flux in the 1960s now at one with an entrepreneurial ideology which downplays the new ‘feudalism’ perpetrated by a remarkably like-minded corporate power elite?

For anyone who has been subjected to mind-numbing processes of fake consultation – in the workplace or in civic deliberation on matters like housing, health, urban planning or culture – Salvemini’s metaphor of the darkened empty room minus cat has a certain poetic resonance in relation to the way the appearance of consensus is constructed in a political and ideological vacuum. Often, this is done with the aid of key unelected personnel who, we are endlessly told, have expertise although they often appear to have descended upon us from another lifeworld where everyone gets along and power goes unquestioned. Nevertheless, it would be misleading to immediately draw a line from the original Fascist ideology of co-operation to the dispiriting operations of technocrats and today’s neo-corporatism. Moreover, the Fascist-spawned British National Party knows only too well how to exploit the void opened up by the legitimate and widespread public contempt for what passes for democratic process in Britain. The response from mainstream parties has been to co-ordinate their campaigning to exclude the BNP. If taken in good faith, this response from mainstream politicians, would be more convincing if they were able to demonstrate a genuine commitment to unfettered public reasoning.

Undoubtedly, public discussion has been substantially dumbed down by the adherence to neoliberal ideology by all the main parties and their favourite ‘opinion-formers’. The truth is that far-right populists have arguments that cannot be properly answered without raising the ghost of anti-capitalist counter arguments which, however unpopular they have become in consumer societies, remain extremely relevant. In the face of the ongoing financial crisis, witness the media silence about the continent-wide reforms to the financial system underway in Latin America.

Part of the problem of restricting public discussion along narrow ideological lines is the way that primitive xenophobia gets branded as Fascist and racist, sometimes as if those were quite simply one and the same. We should remember that Italian Fascism became officially racist, it did not start out that way. Moreover, Fascist identity politics were not quite as exclusivist as often painted. In keeping with the history of liberal imperialism they were, and remain, all about reinforcing a variegated, and historically variable, racial pecking-order.

More blindly xenophobic voices today are rather too hastily ostracised for their proto-Fascist tendencies when the crucial Fascist lineage is far more likely to be the ongoing development of coercive rationalism, certainly not confined to matters of ‘race’. Paradoxically, when brought to public discourse it is this branch of rationalism that would coercively exclude the BNP. And in doing so it implicitly reduces Fascism to its most primitive party-political manifestation and therefore misrepresents or ignores its true philosophical scope. It is also this branch of rationalism that can be seen adapting centrist politics to totalitarian-like policies such as torture, the derogation of key laws, support for undue or unaccountable police powers, and the attack on civil liberties in general. If all this is not enough to demand that we take the philosophical basis of coercive rationalism seriously, then polling evidence, suggesting that a majority of Britons agree with far-right policies when they are not known to be those of the BNP, should make us pause for thought.11

The coercive branch of rationalism celebrates the power of the mind and self-will. It neglects the social and historic complexity of the development of modern societies along with the most troubling aspects of everyday life in them. This ideological vanishing trick draws us back to the key philosophical split of the European Enlightenment: “on the one hand [there is] the Enlightenment’s association of progress with autonomous and critical self-reflection within a society based on the principles of equality, liberty and the participation of independent and rational individuals, and on the other, the identification of progress with the development of scientific/technical reason and the subordination of society to the requirements of this process.”12 This is no abstract philosophical matter. As Val Plumwood argues in her book, Environmental Culture, “reason has been captured by power and made an instrument of oppression, it must be remade as a tool for liberation.”


Episcopal bishop wants to have her cake and eat it too

You would never guess from her words that HER Bible-scorning church is the driving force behind the developing schism

The presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church warned the Church of England not to foment schism in America, responding to a threat made over the possibility that the U.S. church will start ordaining actively gay bishops.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said Sunday, in response to questions from The Washington Times, that calls by conservatives in the Church of England for recognition of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) over gay-related issues would wound her church, already split by the secession of conservative dioceses and congregations to form the ACNA.

She urged Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to remember the "pain of many Episcopalians in several places of being shut out of their traditional worship spaces, and the broken relationships, the damaged relationships between people who have gone and people who have stayed." "Recognition of something like ACNA is unfortunately likely only to encourage" further secessions, she said, reminding the Church of England that "schism is not a Christian act."

Bishop Jefferts Schori's remarks come amid a fight at the triennial meeting of the General Convention, the Episcopal Church's top legislative body, which began moves over the weekend to overturn the church's 2006 ban on gay bishops. On Saturday night, the church's World Missions Committee consolidated 13 resolutions into a single bill that opens the door for gays "like any other baptized members, to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church."

The General Convention has a bicameral structure - divided into a House of Deputies and a House of Bishops - and resolutions require approval by both houses. The committee vote, however, was divided, with the panel's deputies - the clergy and lay members of the General Convention - voting 24-2 in favor of the bill, while the panel's bishops voted 3-2 to reject it.

The Rev. Charlie Holt, a conservative deputy from the Diocese of Central Florida, predicted the deputies would endorse the committee report, noting the numbers were not there to hold the ban. Passing the other hurdle may prove harder. Washington Bishop John B. Chane, though a longtime supporter of pro-gay causes in the church, told The Times on Sunday that rescinding the ban "will not be helpful," adding that he did not think the "effort to overturn it will be successful." Bishop Chane said he hoped the Convention would be "respectful of our differences, and that we don't leave" with the degree of rancor the church experienced in 2006 when the ban was enacted.

But pressure to block the bill has come from the church's overseas partners. On Thursday, Archbishop Williams urged the Convention not to rescind the ban, saying "I hope and pray that there won't be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart." Archbishop Williams declined to tell the Episcopal Church what the consequences might be if it repudiated the gay ban. But other leaders of the Church of England indicated that possible consequences would be a break with the Episcopal Church or the recognition of its rival, the ACNA.

On Friday, Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham told members of the Church of England's General Synod that their House of Bishops' Theological Committee would study the organizing documents of the ACNA. A resolution has also been proposed for debate in the next session of synod that would recognize the ACNA.


The Media and the First Amendment

The Washington Post scandal is really about double standards

Our nation's capital is abuzz over the Washington Post's recent indiscretion. The newspaper planned to host a now-canceled salon at the home of Katharine Weymouth, the Post's publisher. For $25,000, lobbyists and corporate executives would be granted exclusive access to members of the Obama administration, Congress, and Post journalists.

Pundits have condemned the Post for acting as an influence peddler. But other news publications routinely host similar events. This shouldn't come as a shock. Media corporations have always had the privilege of influencing politics without the restrictions -- like campaign finance laws -- that other corporations face.

So while this episode has been treated as a scandal of journalistic ethics, it is really about double standards. When other business corporations attempt to influence politics -- by running political ads during elections -- editorial boards rush to condemn the corporations for "buying" elections or "unduly" influencing candidates. We should be concerned, the boards say, because those corporations have too much influence over the political debate. The public needs strict campaign finance laws to protect it from that influence.

The New York Times recently featured an editorial about the Supreme Court's current major campaign finance case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2009). The editorial counseled the high court against overturning precedent, referring to Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990). That case allows the government to prevent corporations from spending money on electoral advocacy. According to the Times, eliminating the government's power to ban corporate political speech "would be a disaster for democracy."

But if excessive influence is a reason to censor the speech of every other kind of corporation, then it is also a reason to censor the speech of media corporations. After all, the media spend millions of dollars each year on news stories about candidates and editorials endorsing them. This press is worth a lot. For example, the Washington Post's endorsement of Creigh Deeds is widely credited as the biggest factor in his rise from obscurity to victory in Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial primary this year.

So where are the editorials calling for limits on the amounts of "money" -- in the form of coverage and editorials -- media companies devote to candidates?

Of course, you'll hear no such thing from the nation's newspapers and media outlets. Media companies are exempt from campaign finance laws. Many in the press think that the First Amendment entitles them to special protections that don't apply to anyone else.

This is wrong. The Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that the media's right to free speech is no greater than anyone else's. And in Austin and other campaign finance cases, the Supreme Court noted that the media's exemption from campaign finance laws was discretionary, not mandatory.

In short, the press's favored status is only as strong as Congress says it is, at least under current First Amendment jurisprudence. If, in the wake of the Post scandal, the public begins to believe that media companies are as corrupt as the press claims other corporations are, Congress's view on the matter could change. Alternatively, Congress may come up with some other reason to start limiting the freedom of the press. Congress is currently considering a bill that would throw struggling newspapers an economic lifeline by allowing them to operate as nonprofits -- thereby making their advertising and subscription revenue tax-exempt. The catch? Newspapers that take the deal would no longer be able to endorse political candidates.

This precarious position -- free speech at Congress's discretion -- is not exactly a recipe for a strong and independent press. It's tempting to think that media companies that have called for limits on everyone else's speech will ultimately get what they deserve when Congress gets around to censoring theirs. But that would be a mistake.

The press remains one of the most important bulwarks against tyranny. The solution is to protect free speech on principle, regardless of the identity of the speaker. Banning a corporation from spending its own money for political advocacy is censorship, plain and simple. The sooner the press understands this, the safer its rights -- and ours -- will be.


Britain penalizes Israel for retaliating against incessant Arab attacks

The British antisemitism genie is half out of the bottle now

In a move that threatens to strain diplomatic ties, Britain has blocked the sale of spare parts for Israel’s fleet of missile gunships because they were used in the recent campaign in Gaza.

The first country to revoke an arms licence in response to the war in Gaza six months ago, Britain told the Israeli Embassy in London that five of the export requests for parts for the Sa’ar 4.5 gunships had been rejected because the vessels had fired on Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s controversial 23-day campaign against the militant group Hamas. The spare parts were intended for the ships’ guns.

An Israeli defence official said that Britain’s decision to revoke five of the 182 licences reviewed by the Government would not impair the navy’s operational abilities — but admitted that there was concern within the military that other countries might follow suit.

Officials in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said the British ban was a “dangerous step for Israeli diplomatic relations”.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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