In the wake of recent events in the US, the contest between the Democratic and Republican Parties is being described by many commentators as a dualistic struggle between Democracy and Fascism. Once again the political viewpoint takes surface appearances as representing the complete reality. Consequently, the failure to consider a more substantive view of the contemporary capitalist world is leading to such false dualisms. In contrast we need to consider the socio-economic foundation upon which Fascism and Democracy actually arose – capitalism.
Capitalism is Authoritarian.
Capitalist economic activity itself is an authoritarian process of production. By workplace rules (enforced by fines, sacking, demotion), workers are subjected to the absolute authority of the owner/manager at their place of employment. In a mirror image of that economic foundation, the non-work life of workers within capitalist dominated societies, also requires constraint on their activities. By various laws (enforced by fines, imprisonment), the authority of capitalist elites over citizens is imposed and exercised through their control of state institutions.
This means that whatever political form its elites adhere to, the capitalist mode of production in essence is thoroughly authoritarian.
However, as the working classes advanced during the 19th and 20th centuries, they began to resist and overcome some of the worst features of capitalist authoritarian exploitation. Occasionally they even challenged the capitalist mode of production as a whole. In general, the capitalist class lost a considerable amount of authoritarian control both at work and in wider society. Yet at a particularly crisis-riddled (interwar) period the political movement which became known as Fascism emerged and made a return to elite authoritarian control possible.
The politics of Fascism offered to directly merge the economic power of pro-capitalist elites, with the political power of a pro-capitalist state elite. However, since this combined power was insufficient to dominate the millions of working people, a militant mass political movement was required. The fundamental essence of capitalistic authoritarianism finally merged with the politics of fascism when some authoritarian political parties and movements recruited enough people who were willing and able to enforce the party line. However, it wasn’t political theory, but the depth of the unsolved economic crisis which drove political thinking in the direction of Fascism.
Fascism was the direct merging of capitalist economic and financial elites, with the pro-capitalist states political and military elites, supplemented by a sufficiently large membership who were willing and able to force their opinions and measures on everyone else. But the driving force for them to was the unresolved severity of economic crisis.
Capitalism and Democracy.
Although the capitalist mode of production is in essence, economically and socially authoritarian, capitalist elites have often differed over how best to govern it. The manageable solution they found was democracy. Political parties could campaign for election to those parts of the state which were not staffed by permanently employed individuals. Of course, they were required to accept, a) the principle of production for profit, b) authoritarian discipline at work, and c) elite determined law and order in social life.
Thus bourgeois democracy and parties that call themselves democratic are not only funded by billionaire capitalist authoritarians, but are predominantly authoritarian internally. They also govern externally in an authoritarian manner. It is only necessary to consider the actions by all political parties to realise that democracy – in one or other of its party guises – has conducted a class war against their own working class citizens and the citizens of other nations who stood in the way of their interests.
Democrats as well as Republicans in the USA and Conservatives, Liberal and Labour, in the UK, etc., have all instituted crack downs on their own workers rights and fomented wars on the populations of other nations who resisted neo-liberal impositions. All sides of the ‘Houses’, ‘Congresses’, ‘Bundestag’s’, etc., have agreed to; de-regulate financial services, privatise public services, reduce workers rights, export jobs to countries with cheap labour, militarise police forces, invade foreign countries, bomb civilian populations and extend neo-liberalism.
However it is dressed up, or how polished its ‘spin’ becomes, democracy for decades has been the direct means of promoting neo-liberalism and neo-liberalism is the direct means of promoting various forms of capitalist authoritarian driven poverty and wage-slavery. Consequently Democrats are not the exact opposite to Fascists, as the politically mesmerised imagine: the two are merely rival political tendencies who from time to time compete to control and discipline wage and salary-slaves. For sure, one wears a military style uniform and often says what it really thinks, whilst the other wears a lounge suit and rarely says what it really thinks. But in practice at home and abroad, both ruthlessly enforce compliance to the needs of capital.
In my view, supporting capitalist democracy is supporting capitalist authoritarianism in one form whilst condemning it in another. It is definitely not the way to defeat capitalist authoritarianism whether it comes with an iron fist or whether the fist is covered by a velvet glove. Both are ways of social control operated by authoritarian capitalists. Both seek ways to divide working people into self-destructive political or civil wars, so that depending upon circumstances, one or the other political mode of exploitation will dominate.
So exalting and preferring one political form of authoritarian capitalism over another authoritarian political form, is no more a way of ending the slide into further authoritarian controls than exalting and preferring one form of plantation slavery over another would have been a means of ending plantation slavery. Moreover, European history demonstrates that when the capitalist system is sufficiently threatened, the lounge suited, hush-puppy authoritarian ‘democratic’ means of governing will voluntarily merge with, or simply step aside to make room for the uniformed and jack-booted means.
Indeed, in the last severe crisis, European Liberals and self-professed ‘socialists’ assisted the developing European Fascists by voting for public order measures and military defence of elite power structures.
From a revolutionary-humanist perspective, Democracy and Fascism are alternating methods designed by capitalist elites to continue their planetary devastation and human exploitation. In order to permanently prevent a return of any Fascist form of social control, working people, white-collar and blue, will need to unite and defeat all forms of authoritarian capitalist rule and institute a mode of production based upon sustainable cooperation and egalitarian, non-profit public services which are available to and adequate for all.
Roy Ratcliffe (January 2021)