Angela Mitropoulos - Fascism, from Fordism to Trumpism // The hucksters of discontent

Fascism, from Fordism to Trumpism
Why is it that Henry Ford is regarded as an intrinsic part of US history and industrial-economic processes but his demonstrably fascist politics are conventionally regarded as anomalous? This is the question I keep turning around, because it raises issues that I think are crucial in analyses of fascism, both in history and today. What is post-Fordist fascism?

I don’t have an answer to my own question as yet. What I do have are scattered thoughts and notes that touch on this while reading commentary on Trump’s fascism, much of which has been bizarre (see notes 5 and 6).

Not all of that commentary has been annoying. If you prefer a quick read, I recommend this, over at Gavin’s Point of Production. It elegantly responds to exceptionalism arguments, from both angles (that of American exceptionalism and that fascism is exceptional). Also Justin Mueller‘s “Trumph of the Will: Taking Donald Trump’s Fascism Seriously,” with which I generally agree, but (for me) still leaves a question hanging.

Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials, 1938

2. Assembly-lines and the hotel-entertainment industry
Hitler called Henry Ford “My inspiration.” Not surprising, given passages in Mein Kampf were lifted from Ford’s steady stream of texts denouncing the Jewish conspiracy, most of them written before Hitler had become leader of the National Socialist party, many of them circulated in Europe, some of them on the ‘Jewish problem’ in Germany. Like Trump, Ford was a billionaire mogul. Like Trump, Ford had considered running for the US presidency. What there was of polling then put a prospective Ford presidency at around 35%, though no doubt the polling was undertaken as part of an effort to promote a possible run. I am unsure why Ford’s nomination never eventuated, but I leave that to the historians.

What interest me far more is what fascism means or would look like when it is not embedded within the seemingly paradoxical nexus of assembly-line efficiency and nationalist mysticism that shaped the ‘reactionary modernism’ of German National Socialism or Italian Fascism. What would the combination of nationalist myth and the affective labour processes of the entertainment industry mean for the politics and techniques of fascism. Here too I am unsure I have a ready answer, though I think we can begin to discern the shape of it.

Perhaps Trump’s fascist appeal is that he promises to make racist violence enjoyable and entertaining again. Perhaps this is where the shift between the assembly-line and the entertainment-hotel industry can be registered. I do not mean to diminish the importance of this point. The step between the labour camp and death camp was written in the language of an assembly-line efficiency ‘solution’ to a problem conjured up by productivist fantasies. I do mean to underline the importance of understanding the character and shape of fascist violence, including how it might change.

So rather than engage in protracted, faux-scholarly disputes over whether Trump is a fascist because fascism presumably (and ironically) has an unchanging essence (see note 5 below), this seems to me the more important question. And by ‘seemingly paradoxical’ I mean that the apparent contradictions between adherence to the foundational mysticism of a national essence (reproducible through sexuality and racialised properties) and the tenets of calculating reason are not a contradiction when understood as a dynamic of oikopolitics (see note 7 below).

3. Europe and its colonies
My view on fascism in history, briefly noted elsewhere recently, is that “European fascism has always taken its cues from the techniques of control and subjugation that were previously exported from Europe in the process of colonisation and wars of conquest.” There are no good reasons to accept the sway of methodological nationalism, Eurocentrism or the thesis of American exceptionalism – and many good reasons to not do so when seeking to understand fascism.

4. Fascism and the restoration of the demos
I do not think that democracy and fascism, or populism and fascism, are as distant as many might like to suppose, neither according to historical record nor in terms of political views and dynamics. This is not only because figures such as Hitler and Mussolini and the parties they represented came to power through constitutional means. Nor, though Mueller‘s piece is worth underlining, is it just a mistake to think of fascism as politically exceptional, “emerging out of nothing and returning to that nothing.” Though I agree that is a mistake. Fascism is often rendered inexplicable by opponents and shallow critics alike, thus extending its own mythology of the ineffable, foundational origins (or causes) of racist affection.

The fascist call to suspend democratic processes is not only a call to insurgency or revolution, as some have suggested. It is a call for the suspension of democracy or constitutionality so as to restore politics to its purportedly true and authentic order. The call to suspend so as to save and restore the true essence of the nation is integral to fascism. It is this dynamic that distinguishes fascism from other revolutionary movements, insurgencies or radicalism. So I partly agree with Steigmann-Gall:

When fascism departs from normal political methods, it does so to restore the prerogatives of the beleaguered, once-dominant majority — defined ethnically or racially — who believes that the nation is “slipping away” from them.

But, while nuanced by reference to the Oath Keepers, I think he overstates the existence of a paramilitary as the crucial criteria of analysis or definition. A fascist with no followers or no small army of goons is still a fascist. A fascist who has not been elected is still a fascist. A fascist who has not become fuhrer is still a fascist. Those things tell us something about how to respond, but they have no bearing on whether someone’s politics can accurately be described as fascistic. Moreover, if the point of arguments such as these is to not take fascism seriously unless there are identifiable ‘brownshirts,’ then surely by that point it is almost too late – and no one making these kinds of cartoonish arguments should be taken seriously when it comes to anti-fascism.

Still, I have no doubt that the Trump rallies in Alabama and so on were frequented by Klan, Oath Keepers and other groups prepared to resort to violence against anti-Trump protesters.. 

The hucksters of discontent 
Naomi Klein has a piece in the Guardian which is fairly indicative of an argument being made by various socialists and social democrats in moments such as this. Her argument, put simply, is that while racism and misogyny were indeed factors in Trump’s election, it is really ‘neoliberalism’ – the ‘rise of the Davos class’ – which sealed America’s fate. This is white nationalist mythology. 

This is how Klein begins the piece, distinguishing between factors and decisive factors:
“They will blame James Comey and the FBI. They will blame voter suppression and racism. They will blame Bernie or bust and misogyny. They will blame third parties and independent candidates. They will blame the corporate media for giving him the platform, social media for being a bullhorn, and WikiLeaks for airing the laundry.”

As Klein would have it, “the force most responsible for creating the nightmare” of a Trump Presidency was the Democratic convention’s decision to endorse Hillary Clinton, whom she depicts as the “embodiment” of the neoliberal “machine,” against “Trump-style extremism” for which Clinton was “no match.” And, she adds, “If we learn nothing else, can we please learn from that mistake?”

I don’t know if “Trump-style extremism” is a euphemism for ‘fascism.’ But let’s for a moment pretend that it is. So, Klein’s argument, in short, is that a machine woman who embodies neoliberalism is no match for fascism but Sanders would have been, had Sanders not (as she has to admit) failed “to connect with older black and Latino voters who are the demographic most abused by our current economic model.

And right there is where the wheels come off the claim ‘it’s neoliberalism’. As Klein sees it, Black and Latinx people are to blame for Trump’s presidency. Not because they voted against Trump. Which they definitively did, but for this they get no credit whatsoever from Klein. But because they voted for Clinton rather than Sanders.

Sure, let’s not blame racism and misogyny for Trump’s election. Certainly not those white people whom she cites, many of whom actually voted for and actively supported Trump, and for whom not even the presence of the KKK was sufficiently repellent. Let’s not blame Wikileaks and Assange hiding out from rape charges, who, years before Trump’s nomination, directed voting preferences to neo-Nazis in the Australian federal election and for some inexplicable reason only targeted Clinton from the moment when the Trump tapes were released. 

Let’s instead blame those who voted against Trump and who bear the biggest brunt of ‘our current economic model’ but also, for some reason that eludes Klein, did not “connect” with Sanders. This is Klein having a tantrum at Black and Brown people for not sharing her white, familial affections. That’s all that’s going on here. Poor Grandpa Bernie. It’s certainly not an analysis of capitalism or finance or much of anything else, let alone the US elections.

Here’s an idea: if a group of people bear the worst brunt of something, perhaps they know something about it that you, Klein, do not. That Klein never pauses for long enough to ask why Black and Brown people did not “connect” with Sanders is not really surprising. But it is arrogance verging on outright racism. It would mean, among other things, having to admit that social democracy has always been a form of white protectionism, particularly in settler colonies such as the US, and that the use of terms like ‘neoliberalism’ is all about lamenting the loss of that protection for white people. It would mean having to admit, in other words, that Black and Latinx people are not mistaken so much as really quite reasonable in not ‘connecting’ to a Sanderesque white American nostalgia. Sanders’ view that ‘open borders’ and immigration are a Koch brothers conspiracy is hardly a secret, so it’s no secret why immigrants would disconnect from someone who believed that just as they did from Trump.

To be honest, I am unsure what part of this article is worse. The way Klein gives credence to the fantasy of white (male) pain. The way Klein tries to lend credence to this fantasy by both plundering and erasing the experiences of Black and Brown women, who did in fact bear the brunt of the financial crisis in foreclosures and debts but who, at the same time, took what advantage they could of whatever loans they could get so as to own a house or get a college education for the first time in any generation – only to be later themselves blamed by neoconservative economists for causing the financial crisis and, in that very way, converted into a ghostly synonym for ‘neoliberalism’ for white people everywhere ever since. The way Klein’s first and only instinct is to repeat the denigration of a woman as machine-like, rather than, I don’t know, how about not perpetuating gender norms, even in connection with women whose politics you might hate? The way Klein explains the history of capitalism and finance as a conspiratorial meeting of bankers in the Swiss mountains – the very same way that the alt-Right does, as it happens. The way Klein insists on separating out racism and misogyny and these from capitalism or finance. 

This is not the first time I’ve argued that ‘neoliberalism’ is a term used by clerical fascists, conservatives and social democrats alike to mean ‘capitalism is bad when or because it destroys the natural order and traditional families, which we should restore through state regulation.’ But it might be the first time I’ve seen it used so obviously as a way of avoiding talking about racism and misogyny.

Though I’m not surprised to see it accompanied by reference to the “Occupy alumni who took the Bernie campaign supernova.” Occupy is not the only or latest movement and struggle around, but unlike the more recent Black Lives Matter, NoDAPL and the prison strike, it is the last larger movement in the United States where white people were both out the front and centered, and which faltered precisely on that limitation.

It’s difficult to see how Klein’s article isn’t just a pitch to the lower ranks of the alt-Right and the alt-Left Bernie bros who also voted for Trump, one made at the cost of blaming Black and Latinx people for their ‘mistake’ of not supporting the restoration of white power through methods less ‘extreme’ than those Trump has promised to enact. So when she concludes it with a call to “set aside what is keeping us apart,” I expect Klein is talking about white nationalists joining hands across the Left-Right parliamentary divide in their shared enjoyment of some overheated fiction about ‘global finance’ and accompanied by the bonding ritual of throwing people of colour, immigrants and queers under the bus. If you can’t beat them, join them, and worry later about the degree of extremism.

The problem with these appeals to nationalism is that they vector a familial white affection without thought or challenge, uninterested in reflecting seriously about what did and did not happen and what needs to be changed. Let’s put it in some perspective. Clinton won the popular vote by around 200,000. The legacy of the electoral college, derived from the post-slavery weighting which eliminated the one person-one vote principle, converted Clinton’s win into Trump’s win. Arguments which take ‘democracy’ as some virtuous rule are always inclined to forget that for the racist all problems of democracy will be resolved by shifting the border – and that this has been an intense conflict ever since the franchise was extended beyond property-owning white men. 

The rates of imprisonment of Black and Brown people, accompanied by prisoner disenfranchisement and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and voter suppression tactics in some states which wiped an estimated 300,000 voters out, all did in fact contribute to Trump’s election. All up, estimates of 7 million votes were wiped out. This is the racism encoded into the procedures of the election, and it will be that much more difficult to change once the Republicans and Trump and Pence stack the Supreme Court and its rulings for the next decade or so. These are not nothing. Ignoring these means being forced to appeal to people who are invested in whiteness and racism and misogyny unless those investments are challenged or the demographics make that unnecessary.

But right at this moment, it has to be abundantly clear that a majority of white people overwhelmingly voted for Trump, across all income brackets. This was not about working class anger, as if only white people are working class – and it is beyond offensive to suggest otherwise. Listening to those who would excuse people who voted for Trump, only white people are coded as working class or poor; Black and Brown people are instead never working class, barely poor. So we should be clear: the election of Trump was about white people voting to restore the power and value of whiteness. Calling it a ‘mistake’ when Black and Brown people – indeed almost every Black woman who voted – did not ensure that it was a contest between two white men is contemptible.

Those who stood firm and voted against Trump, who have taken to the streets, who have refused to admit the legitimacy of his election, who have committed to defending the most vulnerable against attacks, harassment and deportations, building and sustaining infrastructures of care and support, blocking the Republicans at every turn, and having difficult conversations about how to challenge white authority and revanchism, they have my respect. Klein does not.

Leftist Anti-Antifascism: Angela Mitropoulos 
Another exploration of the processes of identification that cuts through Machiavellian idealism is Götz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth’s, The Nazi Census: Identification and Control in the Third Reich, some of which can be read here. Bologna, Aly, Roth along with texts such as those by Mark Antliff, “Bad Anarchism: Aestheticized Mythmaking and the Legacy of Georges Sorel,” are for me crucial steps in understanding what I consider to be the inseparably mythic and calculative dimensions of fascism. A careful reader would note that this is a constant theme in Contract & Contagion, or most anything I’ve written — which indicates two things: firstly, a theory as to the socio-technical dynamics of capitalism (of systems of measure and logic and their mythic foundations) and, secondly, a theory about why fascism is not an anomaly but a periodic feature of the dynamics of capitalism and democracy, that is: the enumerative rule (the kratos) of a bounded demos (‘the people’)...

Nazism and the working class - Sergio Bologna

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