liberalism and fascism

Image: Cyrus Saurius


The Good Cop and the Bad Cop of Capitalism

“The model for Nazi Germany’s white supremacist colonial expansion was the US.”
“Today, there is one state [the United States] that has put in place at least the weak beginnings of a better order.” (Adolph Hitler in 1926)
“Give Franco a hood and he will become a member of the Ku Klux Klan.” (Langston Hughes);

The one-state-one-government paradigm

Each individual state is often assumed to have a particular form of government – ​​whether liberal, fascist or authoritarian – that constitutes the main mode of government throughout the country. Thus, it is common to hear expressions such as 'the liberal democracies of the West' or 'the former dictatorships of Latin America'. This geography of governments is linked to a political chronology, which tells us that a government can change from one form to another, hence the prevalence of sayings like “the return of democracy” or the “resurgence of fascism”. The dominant paradigm for understanding the relationship between states and government can therefore be summarized in terms of an overarching principle: each state, if not in open civil war, has only one form of government at any given time, which governs its entire territory and population.

The one-state-one-government paradigm belies the complex ways in which populations are governed. Its naive “either-or” logic provides cover for less palatable forms of government if the state is declared, for example, a liberal democracy. It also produces a geography and chronology of distant fascism, by which liberal states seek to convince their citizens that fascism is something that occurred in the past, that it may emerge in the future if liberal institutions are not preserved, or that it only infests distant lands recalcitrantly. to democracy. Whatever the case, we can rest assured that fascism is not an issue here, now.

“The paradigm of multiple modes of governance insists on the multiplicity of agencies that are mobilized to govern different populations.”

This paradigm serves as a powerful form of perception management in that it does not allow us to see how various sectors of the population and different geographic regions are actually governed and by various forces. Instead of starting, then, with the one-state-one-government presumption, we should start the other way around, with a bottom-up materialist analysis of the various modes of governance operative in each historical conjuncture. These modes are not limited to what is called visible government, i.e. the political theater that is played out daily for us by media conglomerates working for the ruling elite, but also include the invisible government of the deep state as well as all forms of governance quietly promoted by the state but outsourced to vigilantes and organized crime (not to mention the rigid economic controls that chain people's lives). Rather than having a single governance agent such as elected government, the multi-mode governance paradigm insists on the multiplicity of agencies that are mobilized to govern different populations, as well as the varying roles they play across social strata and at different points in society. class struggle.


Consider the interwar period in the United States, when Mussolini and Hitler were rising to power in the bourgeois democracies of Europe. According to the one-state-one-government paradigm, the US was a liberal democracy at the time, and that's certainly what it looked like. In fact, it had just won what Woodrow Wilson called the war that made the world "safe for democracy." In a statement less quoted in American history books, Wilson clarified, however, what the empty term "democracy" referred to when specifying that the purpose of the Great War was "to keep the white race strong" and to preserve "white civilization". and his dominance of the planet”.

In reality, the US was a racist police state that empowered millions of white supremacist vigilantes and served as a model for fascist movements in Europe. “By refusing entry to immigrants … if they are in poor health,” Hitler wrote admiringly of the US in Mein Kampf, "and by excluding certain races from the right to naturalize as citizens, they [Americans] began to introduce principles similar to those on which we wish to found the People's State." As James Whitman has argued at length, America served as the prototype for the Nazis because it was widely regarded as the vanguard of racist and eugenics policy when it came to immigration, second-class citizenship, and miscegenation. The 1933 Prussian Memorandum, which outlined Nazism's legal program, specifically invoked Jim Crow, and the National Socialist Handbook of Law and Legislation concluded its chapter on building a racial state by acknowledging that America was the country that had fundamentally recognized the truths of racism and took the first necessary steps towards a racial state that would be fulfilled by Nazi Germany. Furthermore, scholars such as Domenico Losurdo, Ward Churchill, and Norman Rich have argued that the model for Nazi Germany's white supremacist colonial expansion was the American holocaust against the indigenous population. “The analogue of the 'American West' and the 'Nazi East' became,” according to Carroll P. Kakel, “an obsession for Hitler and other faithful Nazis.”

“America was a racist police state that empowered millions of white supremacist vigilantes and served as a model for fascist movements in Europe.”

When Italian Fascism first appeared on the world stage, many Americans at the time immediately recognized it as a European version of the KuKluxKlan. "Comparisons between the local Klan and Italian Fascism," writes Sarah Churchwell, "soon became ubiquitous in the American press." With an estimated 5 million members in the mid-1920s, the KKK was a deadly vigilante network that enforced America's racial police state, but it was also just part of a larger repressive apparatus. These included white supremacist groups like the Black Legion which were offshoots of the Klan, self-declared fascist organizations like the Silver Legion of America, Nazi organizations like the Friends of New Germany and the German-America Federation, brutal vigilante groups who policed ​​farm workers with what Carey McWilliams aptly describes as "agricultural fascism" and an expansive network of extremely violent anti-worker organizations that were backed by big business. These anti-labor parastatal militants were generally allowed to act with impunity, as their agenda melded seamlessly with that of the US government. To take just one telling example, in 1919 and 1920, the US Department of Justice's General Intelligence Division (DIG) orchestrated raids in over 30 US cities, arresting between 5 and 10 anti-capitalist activists, often without warrants, evidence or trials. If someone was a member of a racialized group, an immigrant, a worker seeking to organize, or an anti-capitalist activist, it goes without saying that you didn't have the same rights as those supposedly living under a liberal democracy.

In “Facts and Fascism,” George Seldes detailed the striking similarities between global fascist movements and those in the United States, demonstrating how big capital in America invested directly in fascism at home and abroad, controlled a pro-American press -capitalist and often fascist-friendly, and funded repressive racist and anti-labor organizations. The American Legion, for example, regularly invited Mussolini to its conventions, and one of its first commanders stated: “Do not forget that the fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States.” His anti-labor activities constitute one of the most violent chapters in American history, according to Seldes. “In 1934,” he reminds us that plans were laid for a coup d'état in the United States, when “leading members of the Legion conspired with Wall Street stockbrokers and other big businessmen to upset the United States government and establish a fascist regime.”

Multiple governance modes

The paradigm of multiple modes of governance allows us to bracket the image that a state projects of itself – its aesthetics of power – so that we can analyze how different populations are actually governed. This tends to vary according to time, place and socioeconomic strata. Emmett Till, to take just one example, may well have lived in a state that declared itself a liberal democracy, but his brutal beating and murder, as well as the subsequent acquittal of his killers in a court of law, demonstrates how he and other poor and racialized were actually governed: by fascist vigilante violence openly condoned by the state. It is important to note that various modes of governance often operate in a single space-time and sometimes target the same populations. The liberal charade of justice during the Till murder trial obviously sought to convince at least some people that its primary mode of governance was the rule of law.

What a materialist analysis demonstrates is that liberalism and fascism, contrary to what the dominant ideology sustains, are not opposites. They are partners in capitalist crime. For the sake of argument, it is worth clarifying that I am not here distinguishing between fascism and authoritarianism, although that distinction can sometimes be useful (as in Andre Gunder Frank's insightful analysis of Latin American military dictatorships). While fascism is generally understood as a movement that mobilizes sectors of civil society through propaganda campaigns, financial support and state empowerment, authoritarianism is often defined as relying primarily on the police and military to control the population. These are somewhat porous categories, however, since fascism's vigilantes are sometimes simply off-duty employees of the state's repressive apparatus, and authoritarianism has often delegated vigilantes and integrated them into the state. Furthermore, in the cases of Italy and Germany, it is arguable that fascism actually evolved into a form of authoritarianism. During their rise to power within the bourgeois democracies, the fascists in both cases ran huge propaganda campaigns to mobilize civil society and work through the electoral system, but once in power, they destroyed the more plebeian elements in their fascist bands and integrated what was left of them into the state apparatus.

“Liberalism and fascism, contrary to what the dominant ideology sustains, are partners in capitalist crime.”

Historically, liberalism and fascism, in this broad sense, have functioned as two modes of capitalist governance that operate together, following the logic of the police interrogation tactic known as good cop/bad cop. Liberalism, like the good cop, promises freedom, the rule of law and the protection of a benefactor state in exchange for acquiescence to capitalist socio-economic relations and pseudo-democracy. It tends to serve and attract members of the middle and upper middle classes, as well as those who wish to be a part of them. Fascism's bad cop proved particularly useful for governing those populations that are poor, racialized or disaffected, as well as for intervening in various parts of the world to forcibly impose capitalist social relations. If people aren't fooled by the good cop's false promises, or aren't motivated by other reasons to agree, then the liberals' partner in crime is on duty to force them to comply. Those who rise from any class to challenge capitalism must be ready for liberals and their supposed rights regime to wear themselves out, ceding the fight to their most ruthless ally while looking the other way, and reminding any onlookers of the important differences between the lesser of two evils.

The hasty identification of fascism with government, and the complementary opposition between fascist and liberal governments, mask these multiple forms of governance. Just as defining a state as “democratic” regardless of its foreign policy or internal class wars blinds us to its forms of population control. Furthermore, it imposes the liberal veil of ignorance, which asserts that fascism is only an important phenomenon if it completely takes over government. The subtext, of course, is that everything is absolutely fine if it continues, as it does in the United States, as a form of population management for oppressed and exploited groups through concentration camps and ICE [Immigration and Control Service] raids. police and vigilante assassinations, brutal attacks on the Water Guards, overseas military interventions, and other similar activities. As long as a modicum of liberal decorum is maintained for even a small section of the population, we can be sure that what we need to do first and foremost is fight to protect the liberal system of government from so-called fascism.

"Fascism's bad cop has proven particularly useful in governing those populations that are poor, racialized, or disaffected."

This is not to deny, in the least, that there is, for significant portions of the population, a profound and world-altering difference between a self-declared fascist government and fascist modes of government under liberal cover. When fascist parties attain state power and are no longer held back by their commediadell'arte with the liberals, they can and have unleashed brutal forms of repression on sectors of the population that are generally protected, while increasing their attacks on those that are not and launching barbaric colonial wars. Furthermore, dealing with the good cop's casuistry and discursive contradictions is often much preferable to facing the bad cop's iron fist when building power through political parties and organizations (for tactical reasons, it can also be extremely important to find ways to mobilize and work with liberals while coaxing them to the left). However, none of this should blind us to the fact that fascist modes of government are a very real and present part of the so-called liberal world order, which need to be identified as such in order to be directly challenged.

Liberal tolerance and the policing of capital

If liberals are tolerant of fascism and defend the rights of fascists, it is not because they are superior moral beings. It's because – whether they know it or not – their pro-capitalist governance system needs to keep watchdogs on standby for the dirty work. While it is true that they sometimes prefer the general population to be complacent and fall in line with the fraudulent “60 second dollar democracy” elections, they need to retain the ability to crush anti-capitalism if there is any real threat to the system. that supports them.

The good cop/bad cop routine is only successful if it is able to drive a wedge between the two and the illusion that there is a profound difference, even opposition, between the kind cop who understands our situation and the brutal helper who is. deaf to our pleas. If the violence of the bad cop is morally reprehensible to the good cop, however, it is because it serves as the latter's bogeyman, that is, the greater of the two evils that the good cop uses to subject populations to his unique form of violence. evil (conformity with capitalist social relations). It is imperative, then, to recognize that the good cop and the bad cop ultimately want the same thing: subjects who, for better or for worse, accept the widespread violence, ecological destruction, and deep inequality inherent in capitalism. Using different tactics, designed to obscure their shared strategy, the two are policing the capitalist system. As the American radical tradition has repeatedly pointed out, in language that is sure to sound barbaric – and therefore beyond the pale – to refined liberal ears: a pig is always just a pig.

Far from being exceptional or intermittent, fascism is therefore an integral part of the systems of government in which we live, or at least most people live. It is not something that can come in the future, although there may of course be moments of intensification or complete seizures of state power, which could wreak havoc. It is a mode of government that already operates here and now within the system of bourgeois democracy. The failure to recognize this and organize against it has been one of the contributing factors to its growth and its potential for intensification.

*Gabriel Rockhill is professor of philosophy at Villanova University. Founding Director of the Critical Theory Workshop and Atelier de Théorie Critique. Author, among other books by Counter-History of the Present: Untimely Interrogations Into Globalization, Technology, Democracy.

Translation: Stefanni Mota

Originally published in Black Schedule Report.


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