“I don’t care for these new Nazis and you can quote me on that.” —John Mulaney
In 1989 Francis Fukuyama wrote the seminal essay, “The End of History?” That essay would form the basis of his massively influential 1992 book The End of History and The Last Man. The book is often remembered (or rather mis-remembered) for what it was supposed to have said but it’s worth recalling what it actually did contain both correctly and incorrectly.
The basic argument was that the 20th century offered three competing political and economic visions: liberal democratic capitalism, communism, and fascism. Emphasis on political AND economic.
According to Fukuyama with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of state socialism globally, and most especially the fall of the Soviet Empire communism was relegated to the dustbin of history. Fascism (along with Japanese Imperialism) had already been destroyed in WWII, which left only democratic liberal capitalism standing as the grand winner of the 20th century’s key economic and political struggles.
Following a Hegelian line of thought, Fukuyama argued therefore that history, in the sense of ideological struggle, was now over. There would still be historical events, potential regressions, stalemates, and the like but no economic-political vision would compete now with liberal democratic capitalism. For Fukuyama, after the fall of communism we lived in the political immanental eschaton, i.e. the end of history.
Fukuyama has often been criticized over the years. Many of those criticisms were actually quite superficial. Fukuyama actually was almost completely correct. The key word there being almost. His lone mistake however ended up being a seriously costly one. We are now seeing the consequences of that massive so-close-to-the-truth-but-not-quite error.
If Fukuyama had said that capitalism now reigned dominant over all other ideologies and we lived in the end of history (from that perspective) he would have been absolutely correct. His mistake was to include democratic and parliamentary liberalism in the equation with capitalism.
What the post 1989 world has shown—most especially in the last decade—is that there is no competitor to capitalism. Since 1989 and particularly during the last decade, capitalism hasn’t been monogamous. As Slavoj Zizek has pointed out capitalism has divorced itself from democratic liberalism.
If you want a superhero analogy, capitalism is H.Y.D.R.A. after WWII. Before and during WWII HYDRA was aligned with the Nazis. But after the war HYDRA sided with the capitalist West against the Communist East. As a result, HYDRA-Capitalism infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., that is democratic liberalism. Over the next half-century HYDRA-Capitalism then took over SHIELD-Liberalism from within (see Captain America The Winter Soldier for this story line).
In other words, once communism was destroyed capitalism was able to begin the process of extracting itself from it’s liberal democratic husk, leaving the shell of liberal democracy discarded on the side of the road.
This was Fukuyama’s primary mistake. Since 1989 there’s been the rise of militant violent religious fundamentalisms worldwide (e.g. Zionist, Hindu, Christian, even Buddhist). Also there’s been the rise of authoritarian states like China and a (quasi)resurgent Russia. All of these have been pointed to as critiques of Fukuyama’s claim of the inevitability of worldwide democratic liberalism.
But what all those critiques miss is that all of those regimes and movements just named are capitalist in nature. While they do offer alternative political programs to democratic liberalism they do not offer alternative economic praxis to capitalism. They may be a threat to liberal democracy therefore but not capitalism.
Consider that over the last few years we’ve seen the rise of new hardline right wing parties take power across Europe in countries like Austria, Hungary, and Poland. We’ve also seen these groups have significant impact on national elections in countries like Germany, and even in the ultra-liberal bastion of Sweden. These hardline right wing groups have strong fascist or quasi-fascist elements politically but not economically. They are all capitalist in nature which raises the question of how fascist are they in actuality. This is not an abstract meaningless inquiry. This question matters immensely in terms of how to combat these spreading ideologies.
In order to answer it let’s go back to the roots of fascism. Fascism historically consisted of a number of elements. Now there were certainly some diverse elements within historical fascist regimes. For example Franco built his fascist regime on a Catholic heritage, whereas Hitler and the Nazis were explicitly anti-Christian in their religious outlook. But on the whole fascist regimes had a number of common elements to them.
Considering these elements carefully is crucial in assessing current quasi or proto-fascist elements.
—Militarization of society and the exultation of a violent warrior ethos
—Racial Purity and Ethno-Nationalist doctrines
—Quasi-Deification of Their Leader
—Hatred and Persecution of “outsiders” & minority populations
—Fundamental, ideological attack on political and economic liberalism (including especially attacks on global finance and banking)
You’ll often hear armchair analysts claim fascism is the merger of corporations and the state. This corporatist state model would characterize elements of Italian fascist theoretical writings to be sure but in concrete historical practice what fascism actually was the control of the industrial class by the state, particularly a militarized elite.
This point is an absolutely critical one. In fascism the state existed over top of industry and finance. The economy existed in subservience to the fascist state and its political ideology. This was most clearly demonstrated in the Third Reich but it took place in other fascist regimes as well. This latter point helps establish the reality that fascism was both a political and economic rival to liberal capitalism. Fascism was (like communism) an entirely different and opposed theory of how to organize an economy as well as the body politic.
Remember Fukuyama’s point—that communism and fascism both offered alternative political and economic systems to liberal democratic capitalism.
We tend to forget the strongly anti-liberal capitalist nature of historical fascism. Instead we to tend to focus on the anti-liberal political aspects of fascism. With communism we remember it’s anti-capitalist nature but with fascism we tend to downplay or altogether occlude it.
But the anti-capitalist nature of fascism is central to its ideology. Fascism rose to power in opposition to the failure of globalized liberal capitalism through WWI and then of course through the Great Depression. Again the key point is that historical fascism was a twin critique of the liberal order on both the political and the economic fronts because at that point capitalism was wholly identified with liberal constitutional democracy.
Now however in our era, things have radically changed. States do not exist any longer over top of the markets. The globalized market exists over top of the state, in fact over top of all states (see Phillip Bobbitt on this point). The globalized market state separates our era from the historical fascist era in significant ways.
Which is another way of saying that capitalism is no longer identified with political liberalism (again, see China). What that means is that any (arguably) fascist or fascist-like regime currently in existence offers no economic threat to the world capitalist order.
Put more bluntly the fascists of today are capitalists not anti-capitalists.
In sum, capitalism can now co-exist with any and all forms of political ideology. Capitalism can co-exist with the Chinese Communist Party. Capitalism can co-exist with authoritarian strongmen like Russia's Putin or Turkey's Erdogan. It can certainly co-exist with petroleum-fueled monarchs in the Persian Gulf. It can even co-exist with any number of terrorist organizations which are structurally run like mafias (e.g. ISIS)—which is why terrorism (jihadist or otherwise) represents no economic threat to the world order.
Capitalism certainly still co-exists with liberal democracies, which themselves are increasingly beholden to corporate interests, media conglomerates, and opaque social engineering algorithms leading to an evermore surveillance based society.
Technically the only regimes that capitalism cannot co-exist with would be Cuba and North Korea—though given deals with the US over the last two administrations for both countries that would seem to be only a matter of time.
Capitalism also can and does co-exist with proto or quasi-fascist regimes currently taking power: like the hard-right anti-immigrant parties across Europe.
When we critically examine how these parties are ruling—rather than just labeling them evil—a strange pattern emerges. The hardline new right European parties are actually fighting for more generous benefits in the welfare state. Those benefits would only accrue to whites (ahem “native Europeans”) but they are legitimately enacting such policy. See the policy platform of a Marine LePen for example. Meanwhile the left has forgotten it's anti-globalist roots and is increasingly identified with globalism, transnational elites, the financial class, postmodern gender norms, and bureaucratic environmentalism, leaving aspects of the right to fill that void. (Ezekiel73 has written on this topic here.)
These new rightist parties are critical of aspects of free trade neoliberalism and advocate for essentially New Deal policies but only for whites. I mention the New Deal there because the era of US progressive change post WWII came from a devil’s bargain between northern industrial workers & unions with southern segregationist whites. It shaped the New Deal largely in the direction of supporting the rising white middle class.
One could argue that the new “fascists” in Europe are basically New Deal Democrats from the 1940s. They want to use big government to balance out the worst excesses of deregulated global finance and industry by creating more state monopolies with labor union-friendlier policies. But only for whites. (Again see Marine LePen or the Polish Law & Justice Party platform).
If you think that’s a really unfair analogy given their advocacy of violent suppression of non-whites, particularly immigrants, you need only consider Franklin Roosevelt’s internment and concentration camp policy towards Americans of Japanese descent. Plus of course the aforementioned deal with Jim Crow era segregationists.
Thinking of this new rightist shift, The Brexit campaign falls within this broad umbrella. Even Trump has made lots of noise about starting a trade war with China, re-negotiating NAFTA all the while also attacking NATO and other US allies. (At the same time, it must said, that Tump passed the GOP neoliberal tax cuts. And Teresa May continued throughout her tenure to try to have ‘soft’ Brexit and free trade together in some confused manner.)
The new right—in other words—have strangely ended up adopting much of the critique of globalism that used to exist on the left during the 90s. And the left by and large has totally forgotten and missed this reversal. By simply calling these groups fascists full stop the left is unable to grasp what it is about what these groups are selling that is resonating (beyond simply racism which undoubtedly is a major aspect of it).
The result is that the left becomes co-opted by centrist globalists with a more caring face. Individuals with media-savvy, PR-dominated campaigns of great rhetorical flourish but fairly empty agendas (that emptiness being filled by corporatist power). This new sunny optimistic caring side positions itself as the lone bastion of defiance against the coming fascist onslaught. France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau currently are the flag bearers for that trend globally. US Democrats armed with their “Trump is to blame for everything” and anti-Russian paranoia calling themselves “The Resistance” would be the most obvious and pathetic example of this phenomenon.
What this setup does is create a false binary between centrist globalism or fascism (so-called), leaving out a genuine left-wing progressive alternative to both. In the the 2016 US presidential election that was of course Bernie Sanders. In France it was the Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon. The “fascists” in this case remember are not actually anti-capitalism per se. They are more anti-global free trade capitalism. They want more protectionist capitalism on the whole.
By simply labeling the enemy “fascist” the left is largely co-opted into Macron-style globalism which is only feeding the proto-fascist rightward move, particularly around immigration. The term for this dynamic is a controlled dialectic. It’s a false binary between two failed movements: the neo-rightist proto-fascist types and the centrist globalism.
This is a direct consequence of failing to remember that actual historical fascism was a completely distinct alternative manner of organizing an economy to capitalism. Nobody is arguing against capitalism nowadays. There’s only arguments about which forms of capitalism and from which groups of people should it benefit.
Just know that in such a situation the elites always come out on top.
As Walter Benjamin noted long ago every rise of fascism occurs in the vacuum created by a failed socialist/genuine left-wing response to the failures of liberal democratic capitalism. Current events play out the logic of that statement completely. The left is still beholden to globalism and financial capitalism, even in the wake of the 2008 bank collapse and depression, which has left the space open for the rise of a populist right.
Forgetting the economic leaves only the political remaining. When the political is all that remains strange bedfellows are made and unmade. In that light consider the case of Richard Spencer, the voice of new American fascism (aka white identitarianism). Spencer has actually imbibed deeply the postmodern left’s emphasis on cultural praxis, linguistic formation, and unique cultural identity arguing for the need to protect the cultural identity of Europeans peoples from globalized cultural homogenization.
Spencer is very pro-capitalism (no surprise there) though he’s also has criticisms of free trade neoliberalism (also no surprise). What’s interesting (and disturbing) with Spencer is how he has taken over the language of “safe spaces” and “cultural appropriation” to advocate for white separatism.
As covered in numerous ways on this site the alt-right is the bizzaro stepchild of the social justice warrior left. Without a root in economic principles, political beliefs free float. They become untethered from concrete history and can be remixed in support of a political agenda on the surface totally at odds with one another (white supremacist vs. progressive leftist). Meanwhile both are simply different flavors of an occluded hidden symmetry—Spencer has spoken of a single payer healthcare in his whites-only state.
And this brings up a very dark point. The genuine left being co-opted into Trudeau or Macron-style “progressivism” (or whatever it calls itself) is becoming an unwitting supporter of the surveillance state. In fact France is probably the best example here.
As terrorist attacks rose in that country France began a policy of (originally) temporary suspensions of civil political order, declaring in essence martial law. As those attacks increased those temporary bans became an essentially permanent suspension of the constitutional order. The mechanics of that process are then extended from potential terrorist groups to these neo-rightists groups. Macron won handily and now reigns over an officially constitutional order but unofficially an increasingly surveillance-based state.
In the US with the recent coordinated effort to de-platform individuals of neo-rightist, anti-immigrant, racist, (proto)fascists, and right-wing conspiratorial nature, we see the same thing. The mechanics of state surveillance through corporatist means that is taking place now in relationship to the hardline right will very soon be used against the left.
“They came for the communists but I wasn’t a communist…”
Or in this case, “they de-platformed Alex Jones but I wasn’t a right-wing conspiratorial nutjob…”
This is the French Revolution example all over again where the Jacobins created the machinery of state terror which was then turned on them (an idea explored elsewhere on the site in relationship to SJWs and the surveillance state in academia). The Silicon Valley and mainstream media “useful idiots” in the present moment (esp. Facebook and Twitter) who seem to be on the good side of the fight are building the mechanism of their eventual own liquidation and the larger scale silencing of free speech and thought.
This is no way is meant to minimize or justify the clearly fascistic elements coming forward on (aspects of) the right. Nor is it meant to diminish the very real dangers of violence they represent. It’s only to point that the terrain is much more complex: there’s the Silicon Valley alignment with the deeper surveillance state plus the failure of capitalism itself as an unopposed ideology worldwide. All of which are deeply intertwined to each other. All of which are occluded by simply focusing on there’s a bunch of fascists running around that we should punch in the face.
We have to keep hammering this point home—capitalism stands unopposed. These proto-fascists are fascist only in a political nature (to the degree they are actual fascists). They are not economic fascists. That is not splitting hairs or some abstruse political science debate. Clarifying that dynamic is crucial to conceiving how to oppose its rise.
If we forget about the economics at play and focus only on the political dimension of neo-fascism, then the obvious counter-strategy is simple to attack them and seek to shout them down (see Antifa). The danger here is that elements of military intelligence and the deep state will infiltrate both the (quasi)fascist and anti-fascist groups, exacerbate tensions, and seek to create public acts of violence. Out of which the state will come as the “neutral” third party to bring peace but in reality bring greater state control.
Because again the desires of the deep state are towards technocratic rule. Or in other words, to tie it back in, capitalism is left unopposed. Global Capitalism is HYDRA. That beast has many “political” heads: authoritarian, liberal democratic, even hardline right/neo-fascist. Cut off one of those (political) heads, two more (political) will emerge. But they are all simply extensions of one (economic) body.
So some aspects of the HYDRA do lean more fascist, while others leans more progressivist-globalist. But these fascists (if you want to call them that) are now well within that order and not in any way like their fascist forebearers, a genuine threat to the economic order. Where they do link up with their fascist ancestors is that they do represent a genuine political and social threat to minority populations, immigrants, refugees, free thinkers, nonconformists and the like. These new fascists however represent in many ways a much subtler, tougher nut to crack. Fascism--at least of this capitalist variety--was inevitably going to fill the void from the left's adherence to globalism and the failure of liberalism as a unifying cultural and spiritual force more broadly.
In the OG fascist days the way to fight them was militarily (political) and economically (war time industrialized capitalism). But they can’t be fought economically anymore as they are us and we are them. What these “new fascists” show is the slippery, devilish, hydra-like nature of capitalism itself. Even when it seems to lose it wins.