Suicidal neoliberal extremism

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By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO*

Those who miss social democracy, now surpassed by neoliberalism, like to call the latter fascism

Sometimes certain words turn into labels that can be stuck anywhere that looks interesting. This is what has been happening with the word “fascist” which is used by people on the left when facing controversial opinions and actions from people on the right. This is, clearly, a tactic that is easy to use in political disputes, but it can lack theoretical rigor: not every right-wing political position, even if adverse, can be denoted as fascist – even when it appears as equally perverse.

Here we do not want to consider this common use of the word “fascist”, but another that seems very common today and that uses a much more austere basis. And it can be found, for example, in the article The global rise of the far right, by Sérgio Schargel, which recently came to light on the website the earth is round. The arguments presented there were introduced through the following epigraph: “more than ever, we need to call and classify the bacillus of the extreme right by its true name: fascism”.

This author starts from a definition of fascism. For Roger Griffin – who quotes – “fascism is a genre of political ideology whose mythical core, in its permutations, is a form of populist ultranationalism – and which is endowed, for this very reason, with the capacity for palingenesis”.

In other words, it is a form that appears many times, but which has an admittedly irreducible nationalist core: “Nationalism constitutes the fundamental pillar, from which all other concepts unfold in fascism. Reactionism arises as a consequence of the desire to restore the greatness of the nation, and authoritarianism, together with the massive support of the masses, become the methods for achieving this goal. This dynamic helps explain why fascism only emerged in the 20th century.”

In this article, Sérgio Schargel takes care to establish the most prominent descriptive characteristics of fascism. One of them, as the quote above shows, is reactionary nationalism. As fascism needs a mass base, it also becomes populism. It emerges within electoral democracy to corrode it from within with the aim of constituting a violent, xenophobic and irredentist authoritarianism. In short, it is always a fusion of populism, reactionism, nationalism and authoritarianism, which, depending on the historical and geographical moment in which it appears, always gains some particular characteristics.

Here, differently, we want to think about the issue of right-wing extremism – keeping in mind mainly understanding the forms present in the 1920st century – not descriptively, but as events associated with the crises of capitalism. In this sense, Evgeni Pashukanis, investigating fascism in the 1930s and XNUMXs of the last century, asked the question that is considered correct: “why does the dictatorship of capital take place precisely in this way?”[I] And, this question also fits here, noting, however, that we are already in the 21st century and that we are questioning contemporary supposed “neofascisms”.

In answering it, he says that “fascism is the result of the imperialist stage of capitalist development” in which “traces of stagnation, parasitism and decadence” are manifested.[ii] Now, this already shows that Evgeni Pashukanis has a structural understanding of the advent of this political form on the historical scene. It arises, therefore, from a crisis in the power of the national bourgeoisie and certain bourgeois states due to the destructive consequences of imperialist competition. In this sense, he writes: “such a form of State guarantees the bourgeoisie an unprecedented concentration of power, in addition to the possibility of an energetic struggle against the danger of the proletarian revolution and against its imperialist competitors”.[iii]

To give substance to this understanding it is necessary to enter into the theory of the State. Paxton, referring to fascism, speaks of “a sense of catastrophic crisis, beyond the reach of traditional solutions”,[iv] but it is unable to show why class domination is in danger and why the State assumes a totalitarian form. Those who see the origin of contemporary extremism in a “founding choice: the choice of economic war” are in the right direction.[v] Because the crucial issue now is to build a strong State to contain or suppress the influence of popular demands on the management of the economy with the aim of starting to direct it technocratically and with the support, when necessary, of military force.

Overcoming the mongrel complex that does not abandon even left-wing theorists,[vi] It is in Ruy Fausto that one can find a theoretical basis for understanding fascism and neoliberal extremism. Therefore, it is necessary to start from an understanding of the State that comes from The capital: “in effect” – says Ruy Fausto – “one can ‘take’ a theory from the State, not from the ideas of The capital, but from the [dialectic] presentation of The capital".[vii]

Focusing only on the relationship between classes, Ruy Fausto starts from Evgeni Pachukanis' crucial question: why doesn't class domination remain what it is, namely the [direct] subordination of one part of the population to another? Why does it take the form of official state domination?” In other words, why are struggles between classes stifled, contained, suppressed by a “superior” authority, in “the form of an impersonal public power apparatus, detached from society”?[viii] It is by answering this question that fascism can be understood, but not yet – as will be argued – neoliberal extremism.

See: the derivation of the State as the subsumption of classes has to be done, rigorously, according to Ruy Fausto, from Book I of The capital. The first section of this volume (consisting of chapters 1 to 3) presents the appearance of the capitalist mode of production, that is, simple circulation, in which classes are absent. The second section (formed by chapter 4) deals with the transformation of money into capital and, thus, sets out the difference between the capitalist and salaried worker classes. The third section (formed by chapters 5 to 9) presents the naked reality of exploitation, thus showing that equality of appearance goes against the essence of sociability constitutive of the capitalist mode of production: these chapters, as we know, deal with the production of absolute surplus value.

The inversion of apparent equality into real inequality, through the dialectical presentation of Book I, indicates, for Ruy Fausto, that a contradiction is present: “it is this interversion, contradiction, that has to be the starting point for the presentation of capitalist state”. Therefore, the State, as a structural necessity of the system, is implicitly contained or presupposed in this contradiction; it has to be derived not directly from class domination, as it is not explicit and does not require explicit force, but from the “contradiction between the appearance and essence of the capitalist mode of production”.[ix] If there are classes in essence, they do not appear as such in appearance.

The State, from this perspective, is there as a binder that covers up a disaggregating process. It is the unifying, socially necessary instance of a social structure that imposes its component elements to be located in antagonistic positions and that, for this very reason, cannot be left to itself: through an institutional complex, which forms the nucleus of the superstructure of society, it overcomes the contradiction that is at the basis of the system so that it can exist and prosper, functioning without major setbacks: “the State” – says Ruy Fausto – “only keeps the moment of equality of contracting parties to deny inequality of the classes to which they belong, so that, contradictorily, the equality of the contracting parties is denied and the inequality of the classes is posited”.[X]

The capitalist mode of production is sustained through subjective and objective inversions. This is how the ideology of equality (founded on the appearance of the system and disseminated in culture) and the institutionality of the State (founded on the contradiction between the appearance and essence of the system) operate and must constantly operate as patrons of identity – in fact, that it is there as objective reality in the form of a second nature. The divided society thus appears, under the mantle of the State, as a community, as a nation.

And in this role, it uses violence, because State power, as Marx himself said, is concentrated violence that operates to deactivate the eruptions caused by the contradictions of capitalism, so that they do not take shape and produce chaos. , that is, so that the state of society does not degenerate into the state of nature, according to the logic presented by Thomas Hobbes. Because, the violence of money and capital is always, continues and constantly operating in civil society, inciting disagreements, transgressions, individual struggles, class struggles for property, dominance and possession of wealth.

If the State is absent even for a moment, the war of all against all emerges and begins to prevail. But with it also comes an anxiety for security and, thus, a demand for counter-violence that the State supposedly delivers. It is this demand, which comes mainly from the small, medium and large bourgeoisie, that gives rise to the emergence of authoritarian political forces.

It is from this perspective that fascism can be understood: it appeared in the face of the threat of chaos in society, as occurred in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s of the last century. This is where it emerged, as we know, in the face of the possibility of socialist revolutions occurring in some nations whose State had been weakened in the imperialist struggle. The State, in this understanding, must be understood first as a legal form – not, firstly, as an economic form, even if it is, yes, also an economic form.

Society is classed, but the State presents it as an apparent national community. And that appearance is fragile. Social struggles, the politicking inherent to democracies and economic, social and political crises make class contradictions appear; however, it does not tend to appear and spread as such, but comes to light transfigured as a mere difference in demanding social positions. “In contemporary capitalism” – says Fausto – “it is no longer identity, but difference, that hides contradiction”.[xi]

Faced with this situation, reformism focuses on reconciling these positions through legal arbitration and mitigating differences through the distributive actions of the State. However, it becomes ineffective when society enters a deep crisis. In this condition, faced with the widespread fraying of the social fabric, fascism relies on corporatism, on the integration of different social positions in a concrete mythical community, hierarchically structured, topped by a “superhuman human” leader who is given absolute power.

Now, to understand the right-wing extremisms that emerge in the 21st century, it is argued here that it is necessary to derive the State from Book III of The capital, which focuses on the crises of the capitalist mode of production. Ruy Fausto suggests, in this sense, that the State must be thought of based on the laws of development of the economic system of capital, which are essentially centered, as is well known, on the evolution of the rate of profit.

Thus, as there is, according to Karl Marx, a tendency law of falling profit rate, there must also be - he argues - a tendency law of change in the form of State action in industrial capitalism, which goes from being relatively passive to becoming increasingly increasingly active in the face of overaccumulation crises.[xii] In this secular process, the “classical liberal state” transforms into a “technocratic state” that constantly faces the dilemma between accepting or avoiding popular demands, therefore, between maintaining an open democratic regime or deviating from it towards some type of authoritarianism. Because, the demands of the lower layers contradict the demands of capital.

As we know, for Marx, there is a persistent tendency for the average profit rate to fall as capitalism evolves. And it comes, according to him, as an expression of the progressive development of the social productive force of work. Because, in this process, the organic composition of capital grows, which acts to reduce the rate of profit. To offset this trend, there needs to be an increase in the exploration rate. There are two opposing forces, but the first, after all, is stronger than the second, because as he explained in The capital, “this increase [in the exploitation rate] does not suppress the general law”; “it just makes it act as a trend”.[xiii]

Marx did not present State intervention as a cause that can act against this downward bias in the rate of profit as time goes by in capitalist production. He mentioned, however, that increasing the degree of labor exploitation is crucial to slowing down the secular downward trend in profitability. Now, after an entire historical period in which the size, as well as the forms and degree of intervention of the State grew, this task became directly political, demanding that the State itself began to act to promote the economic “health” of capitalism.

 In any case, acting as a “social democratic state” or as a “neoliberal state”, it began to manage the system to guarantee, but also to restore if necessary, the profitability of capital, to stimulate and provide guarantees for investments, to promote economic growth . In the first case, he accepts popular demands to a certain extent, but in the second, he seeks to annul them in some way. This is why neoliberalism presents itself as democratic in order to better corrode democracy from within, as it insists on imposing the norms of economic liberalism even when this becomes destructive for a significant part of the population.

Therefore, this form of State appears and must appear in history when a structural economic crisis of capital occurs. If differences were hidden in the classical State, if they appeared as such, little by little, in the contemporary State, now they have to be accepted as a result of a moral imperative. These must be considered as inherent to the proper functioning of a supposedly successful system. This would not be discriminatory: it is efficient in producing wealth and is based on a lottery meritocracy. Behold, some have more competence and more luck than others when it comes to making money. Cynicism, as we know, is the morality of neoliberalism.

This is exactly what happened in contemporary capitalism: the structural crisis of the sunset of capitalism,[xiv] which appeared in the 1970s, gave rise to the emergence and development of neoliberalism. This assumed and has assumed mild, still semi-democratic forms, but has also sometimes evolved into extremist forms, no longer democratic even in the liberal and restricted sense of the term. In the latter case, the central characteristic of the State is that it positions itself as an instance that removes, as much as possible, the protections and even the subsistence conditions of the working class.

It should be noted, at this point, that this economic interventionism of the State comes into sharp opposition with its function as guardian of the isonomic appearance of the system. That is why this reactionary action needs to present itself in the form of a social movement that configures itself as right-wing populism. Now, crises allow for what has been called shock treatment. The populism considered here is a way of manipulating the desires and desires, based on the libidinal structure of the human psyche, of those who are subjected to a form of domination and who do not see how it can be historically suppressed.

Note that the creation of the mystical community, as fascism does, is blocked for neoliberalism because it wants to reconstruct society as a collection of individuals who function as self-entrepreneurs and who are affectionately socialized only through families – and perhaps through the evangelical church. His utopia, ultimately, is to transform society centered on capital relations into a mere system of interacting parts through relations of merchandise and money, in which solidarity and community are absent. When it was said by a leader of this political current that “society does not exist”, he did not mean to affirm that the “collection of contracting atoms” does not exist; he wanted to deny, rather, the communitarian presupposition of the nation and the State; he wanted to assert that he is nothing more than an illusion.

It can be seen, consequently, that the reactionary nationalism of fascism is prohibited for it, even if it embraces a certain authoritarianism and is nourished by an individualist populism – not corporate, therefore. At the center, there may still exist an economic nationalism that aims to protect national markets for goods, services and labor. But on the periphery, on the contrary, neoliberalism even frankly assumes a surrendering character; behold, it tends to cultivate submission to the most successful nations. To build political strength, neoliberalism creates so-called “libertarian” movements, seeking to characterize people on the left in general as parasites, corrupt, immoral, etc. The labels here are known for being purposefully false.

If it's not fascism, then what is it? Following a suggestion from Vladimir Safatle,[xv] It is believed here that we should talk about a suicidal state or suicidal neoliberal extremism. Behold, as shown in another article,[xvi] capitalism contains within itself the societal logic of social Darwinism that can be contained, always to a certain extent, by the State when it still remains in the social-liberal or social democratic field.

Social Darwinism, as we know, manifested itself spontaneously in the beginning and middle of the 19th century, but was historically restrained by the State, roughly in the 20th century, under certain conditions, particularly when the rate of profit allowed it and when the workers' struggles proved to be very fierce. However, it begins to be released to the maximum when these conditions soften or even disappear: the cries for economic freedom, for the return of traditional morality, for the preservation of the family, against the established political “system”, echo strongly in the face of the system's obstruction.

Now, faced with the structural crisis of globalized capital, whether through mild or extreme forms, unbridled competition, the struggle for individual existence, begins to be imposed by the neoliberal State on workers in general, within the society that still wants to that appears as democratic – even if democracy has already become quite hollow. Social protections are dismantled as much as possible in the center and on the periphery; Privatizations increase the space for capital appreciation, including in sectors that may be subject to monopolies or oligopolies.

Human beasts pretending to be clowns are taken to the governments of nations that, from the point of view of capital accumulation, need shock treatment. The corporate press claps its hands, pretending that it fights tirelessly for the democracy that it itself helps to empty. The State then appears as an auxiliary subject of the automatic subject, which acts tenaciously, of course, in favor of economic growth.

The difficulty it faces comes from the law of accumulation based on the rate of profit. Furthermore, as the crisis is structural, as the destruction of overaccumulated capital has become politically impossible, the rate of profit cannot grow sustainably even in the short term – as its persistent tendency is to decrease. As we know, it is not a variable that can be manipulated at the pleasure of the ruling class. In any case, neoliberal “governance”, with its tireless fight for fiscal austerity and tax benefits, seeks to prevail against the institutions that guarantee some social well-being; if it wins, it produces reversals in workers' rights, generates more poverty and poor distribution of income, but it persists and remains unstable for as long as it lasts.

Schematically, the argument can be presented like this:

* Eleutério FS Prado is a full and senior professor at the Department of Economics at USP. Author, among other books, of From the logic of the critique of political economy (anti-capital fights). 

Notes


[I] Pachukanis, Evguiéni B. – Fascism. Boitempo, 2020, p. 26.

[ii] Op.cit., p. 53.

[iii] Op.cit., p. 60.

[iv] Paxton, Robert O. – The Anatomy of Fascism. Peace & Earth, 2023.

[v] Sauvêtre, Pierre; Laval, Christian; Guéguen, Haud; Dardot, Pierre – The choice of civil war – Another story of neoliberalism. Elephant publisher, 2021.

[vi] Mascaro, Alysson L. – Criticism of fascism. Boitime, 2022.

[vii] Fausto, Ruy – Marx: Logic & Politics. Volume II. Brasiliense, 1987.

[viii] Apud Fausto, op. cit., p. 291.

[ix] Op.cit., p. 293.

[X] Ditto, p. 300.

[xi] Ditto, p. 319.

[xii] It is necessary to note here, with Faust, that State intervention had been very important in the prehistory of industrial capitalism. If it decreased in the first half of the 19th century, it reappeared increasingly from the third third of that century.

[xiii] Marx, Carl – Capital – Criticism of Political Economy. Volume III. April Cultural, 1983, p. 179.

[xiv] See Prado, Eleutério F. S. – Capitalism in the 21st century – Sunset through catastrophic events. CEFA Editorial, 2023.

[xv] Safatle, Vladimir – The suicidal state. https://aterraeredonda.com.br/estado-suicidario/

[xvi] Prado, Eleutério F. S. – Suicidalism as a policy of capital. https://eleuterioprado.blog/2021/04/26/suicidarismo-como-politica-do-capital/


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