Citizen Action Monitor

How transnational capitalism has given rise to neo-fascism

In the US, a fascist movement is linking up with capital and Trumpism in far right, repressive juggernaut aimed at containing rebellions by those experiencing downward mobility.

No 2582 Posted by fw, February 11, 2020 —

This is part one of a two-part video interview of globalization sociologist William I. Robinson of the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is interviewed by Greg Wilpert of The Real News Network.

Robinson’s 19-minute interview requires considerable time and cognitive investment, partly because, like most academics, his expressions and his arguments are not always easy for the untutored to understand. For example, he presumes his audience will understand his use of undefined terms such as “legitimate system”, “structural dimension”, and “capitalist hegemony.”  In addition, his thesis and supporting arguments, are complex. And, annoyingly, the transcript of the interview, included with the video, has numerous errors and a poorly organized paragraph structure.

Having said that, the subject of Robinson’s talk is crucial for those seeking a responsibly informed grasp of current global political, economic, and social events. So I encourage readers to take the plunge; make the best sense of Robinson’s ideas as you can manage.

To assist you, my repost of part one follows in three sections: Section 1 is my summary of the interview; Section 2 is an embedded video of the interview; and Section 3 is my carefully edited and corrected transcript of the interview, including my added subheadings, text highlighting and added hyperlinks

Section 1 – My summary of the interview

Global capitalism is in crisis, the deepest crisis since the 1930s. This current crisis is about the legitimacy of the state within a dominant capitalist system. Growing global popularity of socialism is indicated by poll numbers and evidence of popular rebellion. Unrest from below has unleashed the rise of 21st century fascism, resulting in political polarization. So, we have a turn to left from below (socialism), countered by rise of the radical far right (fascism). Fascism is at all times a response to capitalist crises.

Robinson says we’re mired in a “structural crisis” – But what does that mean? The world’s wealth is controlled by the world’s fewest. Inequality drives capitalism’s structural crisis, indicated by economic stagnation. The global economy has been stagnant since the 2008 recession. The challenge that ruling groups now face is economic stagnation that obstructs economic growth. Capitalist economies have tried different measures to deal with stagnation. Debt is one. The use of corporate, state, and consumer debt to resolve this structural crisis caused global debt to reach all-time highs — but not only is the crisis unresolved, economic growth by debt is clearly unsustainable. Moreover, increasing debt to grow the economy has led to wild speculation – a veritable global casino. In addition, pouring financial resources into the tech sector to spur economic growth is simply creating over-valued stocks. Not surprisingly, in a world where anything and everything can be commodified, capitalists are now finding wars and conflicts to be wildly profitable.

Another challenge for capitalist hegemony is how to contain rebellious “surplus” working classes. Surplus working classes see transnational capitalist hegemony as illegitimate, aimed at repressing their rebellions. Worse yet, ruling elites are rudderless, unsure of where they’re going with this mobilization of fascists. 20th century fascism was a triangulation of 3 things that came together. First, in many instances, fascist elements, though reactive and repressive, were unable to capture the state. Second, fascist elements in states aligned themselves with capitalist groups. Third, fascist forces in the state also formed a massive movement in civil society. Today, we are seeing a rapid fascist mobilization in civil society in the United States. The US fascist movement is linking up with capital and Trumpism in a far right, repressive political power. You can see these 3 things coming together in countries around the world. Fascism in India. Fascism in Brazil, Honduras, Europe, Israel.

There are two key differences between 20th and 21st century fascism: one big difference is that capital is now transnational; the other big difference is that today’s trade unions and organized socialist and communist movements are weak worldwide. So, the repressive juggernaut of this rising 21st century fascism is aimed more at containing rebellions. One way to contain a surplus humanity is incarceration. The other way to contain emerging rebellions from below is by mobilizing fascist groups to scapegoat the rebellious. Growing inequality generates tremendous social anxiety and political tensions among those experiencing downward mobility. Fascist groups aim to channel that anxiety towards scapegoating. Under capitalist globalization, most American white workers are moving downward in this destabilization. In the US, Trump’s aim is to convert formerly privileged white workers into white racists.

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Section 2 — An embedded video of the 19-minute interview

How Capitalism’s Structural and Ideological Crisis Gives Rise to Neo-Fascism – Greg Wilpert interviews William I. Robinson, The Real News Network, February 5, 2020 (18:57 min) (part 1 of 2)

Section 3 – My edited and corrected transcript of the interview

GREG WILPERT: First of all, I want to recommend to our viewers the [29-page] article in Science and Society titled Global Capitalist Crisis and 21st Century Fascism: Beyond the Trump Hype. I think it does an excellent job of outlining what the Trump phenomenon is about. I want to divide this conversation into two parts. In this first part I’d like to take a look at what 21st century fascism is, where does it come from, and how is it different from 20th century fascism, and how does Trump fit into this phenomenon? Then in part two, I’d like to examine the idea that the impeachment process is actually a struggle within the US elite.

With regard to the first part, and with regard to the rise of fascism, we have seen a tremendous rise of the far right and even of neo-fascist leaders and parties around the world in the past few years. There’s governments in Brazil, the Philippians, Hungary, Turkey, India, Poland, Italy, all governed by the far right. Then, practically all countries in the world have far right political parties that have been on the rise. Now this rise of far right and even neo-fascist parties and movements is unprecedented since the 1930s. My question is what is happening? Why is this happening now?

Global capitalism is in crisis, the deepest crisis since the 1930s

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: We have to look at the larger context here. We have to step back from the headlines, the impeachment headlines, and I know we’ll be talking about that in part two. We have to step back, for the moment, from the dynamics of Trumpism and we have to see that the global capitalism is in crisis. It is in the deepest crisis at this point since the 1930s and that is the larger backdrop to all of these headlines around the world. So the things that you just mentioned in the introduction to the upsurge in popular radical struggles from below to the impeachment and so forth.

This current crisis is about the legitimacy of the state within a dominant capitalist system

And that crisis has two dimensions that we want to focus on. One is a structural dimension, and I’ll mention a little more about that momentarily, but the second dimension of this crisis is one of state legitimacy in a capitalist hegemony. [hegemony – leadership or dominance especially by one social group over others]

And what I mean by that is that the masses of people around the world no longer consider that the system is legitimate, that their governments are legitimate.

Growing global popularity of socialism, is indicated by poll numbers and evidence of popular rebellion

There’s a growing popularity of socialism. I’m sure the Real News Network viewers have seen that a poll was just released showing that over 50% of women in the United States now prefer socialism over capitalism and that is remarkable. And there’s this worldwide protest every day as we speak throughout Latin America and all throughout the world, this upsurge of popular rebellion from below. And the system cannot meet the needs of the majority and it is spiraling into this general crisis of capitalist rule.

Unrest from below has unleashed the rise of 21st century fascism, resulting in political polarization

And that’s the context in which we need to see the rise of 21st century fascism. But let me say something also that we’re seeing with this rise of 21st century’s fascism, also a sharp political polarization worldwide.

So, we have a turn to left from below (socialism), countered by rise of the radical far right (fascism)

So the two forces that are on the ascent worldwide are on the one hand, these popular radical forces from below and the turn to the left. And then secondly, the rise of the far right that you mentioned in the introduction.

Fascism is at all times a response to capitalist crises

So if we’re talking about this threat of fascism, we must see that fascism is at all times a response to capitalist crises. It was a response to capitalist crisis in the 1930s and the 1940s and it is a response to capitalist crisis now in the early 21st century. And I’m going to, in a few minutes, mention a concept which is very useful to understand this global police state.

Robinson says we’re in a “structural crisis” – But what does that mean?

But before I go there, I want to go back to the structural dimension of the crisis. The ruling elites worldwide and the capitalist class worldwide has not been able to resolve this “structural crisis”*. And we know that global inequalities are reaching unprecedented proportion. I’m sure that many of the listeners and viewers know this data. [*One scholar defines a “structural crisis” this way – “all systems—from the astronomical universe to the smallest physical phenomena, and including of course historical social systems—have lives. They come into existence at some point, which needs to be explained. They have “normal” lives, the rules of which need to be explicated. The functioning of their normal lives tends, over time, to move them far from equilibrium, at which point they enter a structural crisis, and in due course cease to exist.”

In fact, the Oxfam just released its most recent report on global inequality to coincide with the World Economic Forum Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. And they pointed out that 2,300 <sic> billionaires now have more wealth than 5 <sic> billion people, most of the people on the planet. [Actually, it’s 2,153 billionaires and 4.6 billion people]

World’s wealth is controlled by world’s fewest

But the more significant data Oxfam came out with three years ago, and it is that 1% of humanity controls over 50% of the world’s wealth. [Moreover] 20% of humanity — that would be that portion that might be able to survive in these new mean streets of globalized capitalism, but even they have difficulty surviving — they control 94.5% of the world’s wealth.

Inequality drives capitalism’s structural crisis, indicated by economic stagnation

And so in this situation, capitalism enters into a structural crisis because the global economy is producing this massive amount of wealth, unprecedented wealth, and yet it cannot be absorbed by the global market because of the vast majority are moving downward and don’t have the income or the ability to really consume. So this leads to stagnation in the system.

Global economy has been stagnant since 2008 recession

And we know that the global economy has been — it entered into a major crisis in 2008 and it has been largely stagnant ever since — and we’re teetering on the verge right now of another global recession. So the system has a challenge of how do you keep accumulating in the face of this structural crisis?

The challenge ruling groups now face is economic stagnation obstructing economic growth

And let me just remind you where I’m going with this. I’m going to get to the political dimension of this crisis and that’s where the threat of 21st century fascism comes in. But we first need to see its structural grounding. So the ruling groups have this challenge of how do you keep the global economy going? How do you face up to this stagnation? How do you keep making profits and accumulating?

Capitalist economies turned to corporate, state, and consumer debt to resolve this structural crisis

And in the last 10 years since the 2008 collapse, but even before then, the system has turned to several mechanisms which are not resolving the structural crisis, they’re only prolonging it. And one [mechanism] is unprecedented debt.

Global debt has reached all-time highs, but not only is the crisis unresolved, growth by debt is unsustainable

We know that corporate debt worldwide, we know that state debt worldwide, and consumer debt worldwide are at all-time highs and it’s not sustainable. That debt, the mounting debt, means that the global economy sputters forward, but that mounting debt is not sustainable.

And increasing debt to grow the economy has led to wild speculation – a veritable global casino

Secondly, there has been this wild speculation in the global economy. We can really call it a global casino. The numbers are just mind-boggling that 1.4 quadrillion dollars are speculated each year compared to just 75 trillion — 1.4 quadrillion dollars compared to $75 trillion — as the whole global production of goods and services. So this wild speculation cannot continue either.

As well, pouring financial resources into the tech sector is simply creating over-valued stocks

And then a third mechanism has been forming all of these resources into the tech sector. If you follow the economic headlines, you see that there are now companies that are valued — their stocks are valued at over a trillion dollars. And there is a new round of digitalization taking place, but that’s not going to resolve this structural crisis.

Of late, capitalists are finding wars and conflicts to be wildly profitable

So finally, and now this is going to be the link between the politics and the economics of 21st century fascism. The other big way in which the global economy is moving forward in the face of this stagnation is — what I called in that article, but I quote more generally — militarized accumulation and accumulation by repression. And what do I mean by that? I mean that now wars and conflicts worldwide become major outlets for profit making or unloading that over-accumulated capital in the face of these stagnation tendencies. And they’re wildly profitable. Not just wars and conflicts that we see all over, but also systems of social control and repression become wildly profitable. The persecution of immigrants and private immigrant detention centers become wildly profitable. All of the systems in place in the Mediterranean and being expanded in Mediterranean for refugees coming from North Africa and the Middle East. These are wildly profitable. They are forms of accumulating capital in the face of over-accumulation in the face of this stagnation, the structural dimension of the crisis.

Another challenge for capitalist hegemonies is how to contain rebellious “surplus” working classes.

I could go on with that, but let me now shift focus to this accumulation by repression also. And the challenge that the system faces here is how do you contain this rebellion from below? How do you control the global working class, which is rising up worldwide, which now sees the system as illegitimate?

Surplus working classes see transnational capitalist hegemony as illegitimate, aimed at repressing their rebellion.

How do you resolve this crisis of legitimacy of capitalist hegemony?* And this is where we want to start talking about 21st century fascism. And I would add that expanding systems of transnational social control and of repression is wildly profitable, but it is also aimed at containing that rebellion from below, including from surplus humanity — We know up to a third of the world’s population is simply locked out and made surplus. [*hegemony refers to leadership or dominance especially by one social group over others].

GREG WILPERT: Before you go onto the issue of “fascism”, I want to clarify that term also. I mean, in the sense of, you talk about also there being a difference between 20th and 21st century fascism. So first of all, what’s the difference? And how does 21st century fascism resolve the issues that you’re talking about?

The ruling groups are rudderless, unsure of where they’re going with this mobilization of fascists.

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: Right, well, I mean, working backwards, it [fascism] doesn’t resolve [the issues]. It’s not going to resolve. I mean, the ruling groups are rudderless. They don’t know where they’re going with this. They’re not going to be able to resolve these issues. But certain groups are certainly trying with this fascist mobilization.

20th century fascism was a triangulation of 3 things that came together

So let me say that 20th century fascism, we can analyze it as a triangulation of three things that came together. One was reactionary and repressive political power in the state. So obviously you have the Nazis in Germany, you have Mussolini in Italy, you have Franco in Spain. But you also had in the 1930s, you had fascist movements in the United States and in other parts of the world.

First, in many instances, fascist elements, though reactive and repressive, were unable to capture the state

In many of those places, those fascist movements were not able to capture the state. But that’s the first element for the 20th century fascism, this reactionary and very repressive political power.

Second, fascist elements in state aligned themselves with capitalist groups

The second dimension was that political power aligned with and met the needs of national capitalist groups. So when we studied fascism in Germany, we know that Nazis controlling the state, did everything that German capitalists needed to expand and make profits. And so you have that alliance of the state with capital around the fascist project.

Third, fascist forces in the state also formed a massive movement in civil society

But the third dimension of a fascist project in the 20th century — but this also holds for the 21st centuryis a mobilization of fascist forces and ideologies in civil society. So of course the Nazis were not just in the state, there was massive movement in civil society. The same thing with Mussolini. The same thing now in the United States. And now in India, and in Palestine, and Israel, and around the world. Which is why, Greg — and I know you and I both spent many years in Latin America — which is why a lot of the far right regimes in Latin America, I would not say are 21st century fascist. You have a dictatorship in Honduras, but it’s not fascist.

We are seeing a rapid fascist mobilization in civil society in the United States

So the key ingredient is when these three things come together. And we do see a rapid fascist mobilization in civil society in the United States. Everyone knows that if you just follow the headlines — not just the traditional Nazis and KU Klux Klan, but the far right militias, the nativist* movements and so forth and so on — that is an expanding fascist mobilization in US civil society. Very, very scary. [*nativist — relating to or supporting the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants].

And US fascist movement is linking up with capital and Trumpism in a far right, repressive political power 

And it [fascist movement] is linking up with capital and Trumpism represents a far right and repressive political power. Now, I’m not saying that fascism already exists in the United States, but that three way coming together, the three way triangulation is congealing in the United States and in different parts around the world.

You can see these 3 things coming together in countries around the world

But you’re asking me what’s the difference with 21st century and 20th century fascism. There’s a few key differences, but before I get into that, Greg, I would like to just point out that if you look around the world, you see those three things coming together in the countries that you mentioned.

Fascism in India

So in India we don’t just have a far right and repressive government in power. We don’t just have a government aligning with the needs of transnational capital in India, but we also have that fascist mobilization and that fascist mobilization of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] for instance, is an openly fascist organization, and Hindu nationalist fascist mobilization in civil society.

Fascism in Brazil, Honduras, Europe, Israel

We see the same thing in Brazil in distinction, for instance, to Honduras, and we see the same thing in Europe, the countries that you mentioned or in Israel for that matter.

Two key differences between 20th and 21st century fascism

But there’s a key difference between 20th and 21st century fascism. It’s a little bit more on the academic side. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail to confuse listeners, but 20th century fascism brought together these repressive fascist governments, and forces, and civil society, with national capitalist groups. So German capitalists benefited from German Nazis in their competition with British capitalists and French capitalist classes and US capital’s classes.

One big difference is that capital is now transnational

Now, what we’ve seen in the age of globalization from the late 20th century and on, is that now capital is largely transnational. That’s why I speak about a transnational capitalist class. So this fascist project is linking together with transnational capital. That’s one big difference.

The other big difference is that today’s trade unions and organized socialist and communist movements are weak worldwide

The other big difference is that there was a very powerful socialist and trade union and communist movements in the 1930s that were brushed by fascism. The first thing that Nazis did in Germany was to wipe out the communist and the socialist and the trade unions. Then they went after Jews and gypsies and so forth and so on. And the same thing in Italy. But now we have this mass rebellion from below, but we don’t have organized socialist and communist movements. And trade unions are weak around the world. They’re gaining strength, but they’re now very weak.

So, the repressive juggernaut of this rising 21st century fascism is aimed more at containing rebellions

So the repressive juggernaut of this rising 21st century fascism is more aimed at containing the potential rebellion and the growing rebellion of the working class from below, from the grassroots below, and they’re containing surplus humanity.

One way to contain a surplus humanity is incarceration

Because we have a situation I mentioned, where about a third of humanity now is simply locked out and surplus. One way to contain them is create systems of mass incarceration where surplus humanity is locked up.

The other way to contain emerging rebellions from below is by mobilizing fascist groups to scapegoat the rebellious

But this other way emerging is 21st century fascism. Now this is crucial, the next point I’m going to make — the distinction between 20th and 21st century fascism, and what we’re seeing now. What they share is the need that the fascist mobilization has for scapegoats. Because remember, fascism is a response to capitalist crisis. And masses of workers and the poor and the majority can respond to capitalist crisis by overthrowing capitalism, right?And [by] threatening the interests of capitalist groups and their fascist representatives. And the fascist mobilization has to identify scapegoats to channel this social anxiety.

Growing inequality generates tremendous social anxiety and political tensions among those experiencing downward mobility

And because of globalization, because of that inequality I mentioned at the beginning of the interview where 80% of humanity and increasingly even more, that a 20% leftover is experiencing downward mobility, increased insecurity, increased destabilization, increased prospects of precarious employment and so forth. That generates tremendous social anxiety and political tensions.

Fascist groups aim to channel that anxiety towards scapegoating

And the fascist project seeks to channel that social anxiety, those political tensions towards scapegoating communities. So Trumpism hinges around, for instance, the anti-immigrant rhetoric and the anti-immigrant campaign as scapegoating. In India, the scapegoating is against Muslims and against lower castes and against other groups. And Israel of course is against the Palestinians. In Brazil is a deeply racist dimension to that scapegoating.

Under capitalist globalization, most American white workers are moving downward in this destabilization

But the key thing is the crisis generates mass discontent and social anxiety and fascist projects scapegoat them. Specifically in the United States, Trump’s project has been to reconstruct what I can call a white racist historic block with this major dimension of racism involving this channelling of mass anxiety towards a racist consciousness among white sectors. But here’s the key thing. In much of the 20th century, to now hone in on the United States, the significant portions of the white working class were quite privileged. They had rising standards of living and homes and secure jobs and so forth. Under capitalist globalization, the majority of white workers are moving with this downward mobility in this destabilization.

In the US, Trump’s aim is to convert formerly privileged white workers into white racists

So Trump’s social base is really tenacious, and it is largely –- not exclusively — but largely what were privileged sectors of the white working class that are now experiencing downward mobility and destabilization. So really Trump is charisma for his base, not for us, but for his base and his discourse and everything he’s doing really is targeting that social base.

GREG WILPERT: I wanted to get into exactly into those issues of the Trump’s base and who is fighting for them. But I want to do that in part two. So we’re going to conclude this part one of this interview with William Robinson, professor of sociology at UC Santa Barbara, and I would like to ask people to join us for part two, which will follow right now, where we’ll discuss in what ways the Trump impeachment also should be considered an intra-elite conflict. Thanks for joining us.

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: Thank you so much.

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