Neofascism and neoliberalism

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By ELEUTÉRIO PRADO*

Would an ultraliberal fascism be viable?

Introduction

the important article Brazilian style fascism,[I] published in a widely circulated São Paulo newspaper, poses an important question: can fascism be combined with liberalism or neoliberalism? Well, it says: “it is true that most of the experiences historically identified as fascist were not liberal”. In general, as is well known, they were statists and corporatists. Therefore, “would an ultraliberal fascism be viable? To what extent can a movement with these characteristics be considered fascist?” The article presents, without delving into the question, an answer that appeals to a historical observation: behold, fascism was not always opposed to economic liberalism.

Here, however, we go the other way; a theoretical answer is sought and, for that, a hypothesis is launched to answer this question. And to do so, we want to employ the same input used by Wolfgang Streeck in Bought Time – The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism.[ii] In this perspective, it will be necessary to ask what social problems, in particular of political economy, emerged in the evolution of the capitalist mode of production in contemporary times that neo-fascism, on the one hand, and neoliberalism, on the other, seek to solve? Do such problems appear to be the same for each of these two political movements? Assuming that they concern the reproduction of society based on this mode of production, the question is: can neo-fascism and neoliberalism be linked forming a stable institutional arrangement or can they differ in terms of how to face the problems that have arisen in the evolution of contemporary capitalism?

For this very reason, it is preferable to speak of neo-fascism, rather than simply fascism, because this form of social and political movement cannot be defined only by its eternal characteristics, as it conforms to historical conditions and the problems at hand. which it is supposedly addressed. In any case, fascism is an extremism that wants to institute a dominant or single party regime led by a charismatic leader, even if it currently keeps the democratic form as a mere appearance. Roughly speaking, according to Eco, these would be its characteristics: unitarianism, traditionalism, irrationalism, anti-intellectualism, racism, misogyny, etc., even though he emphasizes its eclectic and adaptable character.[iii]

Neoliberalism, as a contemporary social and political movement, is characterized by extreme individualism, strong adherence to economic rationality and the desire to spread the norm of competition to all spheres of society. It foresees the existence of a strong state capable of guaranteeing the predominance and maximum possible diffusion of mercantile logic; for this very reason, it has as its basic principle a broad defense of the freedom of private initiative.[iv] Like fascism, neoliberalism cannot be seen as a homogeneous current, but, unlike it, it does have an underlying coherence. And this is given by the vigor of the logic of self-regulation of the mercantile process, under the norms and institutions established by the State. However, he also adapts to some extent to changing circumstances.

Although the article motivating this endeavor has defined the right-wing extremism that rises in Brazil as Brazilian-style fascism, here we will work in a more general perspective, whatever it may be, that there is a rebirth of this type of social and political movement in capitalism contemporary. For it is believed that the reasons for this appearance and for its eventual marriage or divorce with neoliberalism concern the evolution of contemporary capitalism as such – and not its evolution in Brazil. The very historical context of Streeck's writing provides a background – it is believed – to discuss this question.

The entry mentioned, which he said was adopted by the Frankfurt School, starts from the thesis that there is an insurmountable tension, even if it is circumventable, between social life and economic life in modern societies. The first requires the existence of a certain degree of class integration, a principled adherence to the system even by those who are not in a favorable situation, so that the social process can continue without major problems. However, the second tends to constantly cause the rupture of the sutures that hold social tensions, as it is dominated by the commandment of competition, of the struggle to always obtain more, which originates, as is well known, from the imperative of valuing value, of the expansion of capital formed by various private capitals.

Instead of reasoning based on the impairment between social integration and systemic integration as is done in certain sociological literature[v], here we will think through a dialectical duality, the one that links the reproduction of social life and the reproduction of the economic system. Thus, an approximation is sought with the famous contradiction presented by Marx between the productive forces and the relations of production, whose terminal development marks, according to him, the possible and necessary overcoming of the existing mode of production.

The way in which the problem of social integration is solved in capitalism changes historically. In any case, it is necessary to ask how the State, in each historical situation, establishes the unity of the contradiction between the social classes, how it obtains that integration that is necessary so that capitalism does not fall into complete anarchy or even a revolution. ? As is known, in keeping with this central objective, it can count on several alternative political systems: social democracy, liberal democracy, dictatorship, fascism, totalitarianism, etc.

In any case, the reproduction of social life crucially depends on the distribution of income between social classes, that is, on the ability of workers to pay for the provision of private use values ​​and to obtain public use values ​​that are needed. Behold, distribution is not, however, a free variable, but also depends on the qualitative and quantitative development of the productive forces. It is true that diffuse subjective factors are involved in the process of social reproduction.

On the other hand, economic reproduction is conditioned to the possibility of continuous appreciation, on a large scale, of capital. Now, the development of this social relation of production depends crucially on the rate of profit, since it is the main spur of capitalist production. For this reason, the issue of distribution reappears here in another form, that is, as a perennial antagonism between the rise in real wages and the profitability of capital.

The rate of profit, moreover, also depends on the degree of development of the productive forces. Behold, it is linked – negatively – to the upward trend in the organic composition of capital and to the growth of unproductive expenditures from the surplus value generated. Or, put it another way, the profit rate tends to fall as the “capital-product” ratio increases, that is, the ratio between the value of the stock of capital in action in production (numerator) and the monetary value of this same production (denominator), as well as when expenses increase in the creation of social conditions for the realization of industrial capital, the only one that engenders the production of surplus value.

The transformation of capitalism in the 1970s

According to Streeck, who uses the countries at the heart of the capitalist system as a reference, the 1970s witnessed a revolt by capital against the mixed economy, that is, capitalism governed in a social-democratic manner. From the end of World War II until the end of the 1970s roughly speaking, capitalist governance had to some extent integrated the working class as a relevant political actor in the structure of state power, but now this had to change because it had become necessary to reinvigorate accumulation of capital.

Source: Penn World 9.1.

 

The main reason for this change – as shown in the figure above – was that the profit rate had fallen continuously from 1965 to 1982, but real wages were not flexible as they tended to grow along with or more than labor productivity. Through repression of trade unions and imposition of the norm of liberalization and competition, capitalism is then governed by neoliberalism.

Streeck believes that this became possible because economic policies were capable of guaranteeing the workers' loyalty to the system, preventing greater tensions from undermining the reproduction of the social conditions necessary for a more intense accumulation to be resumed, without suppressing the democracy that had prevailed in the recent past.

Thus, the state policy “bought time” accepting for a certain time a rise in inflation, the expansion of public debt, but also promoting an enormous expansion of credit for families – as the two figures in sequence clearly show. In this way, even if real wage increases were contained to a certain extent, it was possible to maintain “the loyalty of the masses to the neoliberal project as a consumer society”. Now, these policies were successful because they raised the profitability of capital for a certain time.

Source: Streeck, Wolfgang, 2013.

Such postponement measures, however, ended up running out as the profit rate fell again from 1997 onwards. This trend, according to Streeck, “raised (…) legitimation problems”, first on the side of capital, but later also on the side of the workers. “These problems assumed the form of economic crises of reproduction and accumulation which, in turn, endangered the legitimacy of the system among populations with democratic power”. According to Streeck, the institutional arrangement of neoliberalism can only be maintained through greater liberalization of the economic system “at the expense of immunizing economic policy against democratic pressure from below”. Only in this way – and this is what the political forces of capital believe – would it be possible to restore “market confidence”. Now, therefore, pre-existing democracy had to be sacrificed more and more.

The classic tension between capitalism and democracy had, therefore, to manifest itself in the end. According to this author, the problem posed was tentatively resolved by seeking to reconfigure democracy by the rules of the market itself. It was necessary to immunize democracy as mass democracy through the mechanisms of capitalist competition itself, that is, activating in citizens a mixture of “greed and fear”, a competitive spirit, market meritocracy, but also fear of job loss and social decay. In other words, it was necessary to replace the political and economic institutions inherited from Keynesianism with properly neoliberal institutions. To this end, after the 2008 crisis, efforts were made to “separate democracy from capitalism through the separation of economy from democracy – a process of de-democratization of capitalism through a de-economization of democracy”.

Now, the new arrangement appears, at least potentially, to be politically unstable; behold, the justice provided by the market and its rules of competition is incompatible with social and political justice, which is always anchored in the formation of a community, even if apparent. Even under an intense effort to spread neoliberal individualism, “it is possible” – he says “that a part of the population has maintained some diffuse expectations of social justice”. A democracy exhausted by the renewal of the laissez-faire it may not be able to contain protest movements, whether anarchist, reformist or even socialist. It will certainly not be able to stifle individual revolts that go through the transgression of laws, since multitudes of social subjects do not find a minimally dignified place in this society.

The advent of consolidation capitalism

Streeck's thesis says that the postwar neoliberal transformation bought time through "emergency resources that allowed democratic politics to maintain the appearance of growth capitalism with equal material progress for all." And that these resources – that is, inflation, public debt and private debt – ran out because they had their own limits and because they became too costly for the beneficiaries and for the active managers of capital.

What was left, then, was the austerity policy combined with a last monetary resource, the indebtedness of governments with central banks (also called “quantitative easing” or monetary relaxation), that is, by issuing pure and simple fiduciary money to save “bad banks” or even to face other unexpected events such as the pandemic of the new coronavirus. Neoliberalism now seeks to institutionalize the consolidation state, through which the political commitment that there will never be a default on debts is ensured; the service of these debts, in turn, becomes guaranteed and takes priority over the needs of the debtors, be they private or state entities.

Streeck considers it “doubtful that these procedures will be able to overcome the legitimation crisis of current capitalism for another decade or even longer”. Even if it does not immediately produce inflation, this state self-financing runs the risk of transforming the central banks of the countries that adopt it into a “bad banks gigantic”. Behold, the production of money is not the production of effective wealth, but only a means of creating additional demand while creating increasing debt. Through this procedure, according to him, the State starts to behave like the famous fabled baron who tries to get out of his own swamp by pulling his own hair.

Faced with the threat posed by the growing accumulation of debts, economic policy in contemporary capitalism can no longer abandon the austerity policy; through stricter control of budgets, it seeks to avoid a disastrous collapse of the piles of debt that were accumulated in the past and that are still in the process of accumulating. The policy of liberalization of the so-called market forces and the privatization of public assets are necessary counterparts of these indebtedness processes; behold, market forces have thus become principally the forces of finance capital.

Thus, the policies of privatization of state-owned companies are continually renewed as a way of creating supposedly profitable businesses for the surplus capital that circulates around the world in search of speculative gains. Faced with the squeeze on profits arising from a tendency towards an increase in the “capital-product” ratio, contemporary capitalism seeks to deregulate the labor force markets as much as possible, undo job and retirement guarantees, as ways of raising the surplus rate. or, what is the same thing, the exploitation rate.

In this situation, the stability of society based on a capitalism that has abandoned any search for social justice – a way of softening the conflict between capital and work – may be affected both by way of a growing delinquency on the system's borders and by a subversive political practice within it. Managing discontent, as recent history has shown, has been addressed in part through minimal aid programs for the poor, but also through increased incarceration and increased police violence. It is in this framework of decomposition – also marked by the migration of poor people towards rich countries – that contemporary neo-fascist movements appear.

The question that arises now is whether or not neo-fascism suits the consolidation state. In order to try to answer this question, we start from an axiom: no political regime can survive in a society built on capitalism if it is not capable of solving the problem of guaranteeing the conditions and even the success of capital accumulation. And it is not a question, now, of just boosting the accumulation of industrial capital, but primarily of financial capital, since this is the form that prevailed in the sunset of capitalism.

Neoliberalism wants to solve this problem through the generalization of competition. Its fixed point is the immunization of the State in relation to the demands for social justice, because they imply changes in the results obtained by the free play of market forces. In that sense, it is fully consistent with a strong state, a state that transforms democracy into nothing but a shell of a dictatorship of the markets. In the neoliberal political regime, there must be little or no effective participation of workers, but also of individual capitalists, in the destiny of distribution, labor laws, etc. Both must simply accept the effects of capitalist competition on the lives of individuals and families, even if they are deleterious.

The political dynamics of neo-fascism, as a movement that mobilizes and fascinates part of the mass, that tends to centralize state power, that puts into action wills guided by traditionalisms and irrationalisms, does not seem to offer full continuity and security to the consolidation process in which neoliberalism is above all committed. It seems evident that fascism does not guarantee that there will be no state intervention, distortion of the market process or even the localized suppression of competition, if this is necessary to guarantee its objectives of dominant or even absolute power. Neo-fascism strives for a conservative revolution that mainly wants to face the disintegrating effects of the commodity form on morals, customs, the family and society.

Furthermore, the subjectivity created by fascism (which is rigid and conservative) seems to diverge from the subjectivity instilled by neoliberalism (which is permissive and modern). If, therefore, this apprehension of neo-fascism is correct, then it can be concluded that there can only be a marriage between it and neoliberalism for tactical and provisional convenience. They maintain a core of incompatibility even if they converge in certain historical situations; consequently, it is possible to conclude that this marriage tends – it is believed – to become a divorce or a partial assimilation of one to the other in the course of time.

The historical horizon of neoliberalism and neofascism

In any case, social stability under these conditions seems to depend on reasonable economic growth (something above 2,5% per year); robust growth (above 4% per year), which surpassed the so-called chicken's flight, would be even more adequate to avoid the disintegration of contemporary societies. It is on the basis of the hope that these results can be achieved that neoliberalism insists again and again on further liberalizing reforms. Its purpose is twofold: to guarantee the reproduction of fictitious capital and to increase the profitability of industrial capital.

Outside of this possibility, neoliberal managers are well aware, it will only be possible to maintain an unstable social and political situation, without a lasting life horizon. Now, neoliberalism has failed to obtain such results; economic growth rates have generally declined both in the core and in the periphery of the globalized economic system. A part of neoliberal economists even started to support the thesis that contemporary capitalism entered the path of a “secular stagnation”.

In any case, he incessantly seeks to deepen the “structural reforms” that aim to make room for an accumulation stuck to a good extent; the profits of industrial capitals are now, as never before, subordinated and at the service of the gains of finance capitals. Here, capital is now largely socialized as the collective property of the capitalist class. These operate from the inside out of commodity production with the aim of sustaining and expanding growing masses of fictitious capital. This equation, however, always seems to be very difficult to solve, since it also has to find a critical solution between a reasonable average rate of profit and an expanding aggregate demand that is sufficient to raise the levels of idle capacity utilization of companies and generate an increase in the employment rates of the workforce.

The possibilities of boosting the economic system using public and private debt are now limited. Moreover, at the origin of the difficulty that neoliberalism has been facing is a rate of profit that began to decline again after 1997 in a very generalized way. Here, an increase in the “capital-product” ratio compressed this rate, without the increase in the level of exploitation being able to compensate for it. It is also the case that rising public expenditures have contributed to this decline as they consume surplus value. And this decline is at the origin of the weakness of investment in the production of goods, that is, of the rate of accumulation, and, therefore, of the trend of lack of effective demand that is reflected in a low rate of production growth.

One can bet, therefore, on the recurrence of the neoliberal failure to achieve both a faster reproduction of the system and a less conflictual reproduction of social life. Moreover, the State's strategy of consolidation also tends towards a process of exhaustion: debt cannot always grow faster than the generation of surplus value in the sphere of mercantile production. It is here, perhaps – thinking now about peripheral countries such as Brazil[vi] than in the central ones – that neo-fascism can indeed find its time and turn in the balance of power. Because, as is known, it is possible to argue – and the graph below illustrates – that the capitalist economy in the country is tending to complete stagnation.[vii]

However, it will never first be an authoritarianism that is consolidated because it guarantees the progressive reproduction of capital; it will be a government that has as its primary intention, in addition to maintaining power, to contain and manage barbarism through state violence and parastatal militias. Instead of a state of consolidation, however, there will be a state in the process of decomposition. The problem, therefore, is how to prevent this from happening at the end of capitalism, creating a democratic socialism.

* Eleutério FS Prado Senior Professor at the Department of Economics at FEA/USP. Author, among other books, of Value excess: critique of post-big industry (Shaman).

Notes

[I] Singer, Andrew; Dunker, Christian; Araújo, Cicero; Loureiro, Felipe; Carvalho, Laura; Paulani, Leda; Braga, Ruy; Safatle, Vladimir – Brazilian Fascism. Illustrious. Folha de S. Paulo, June 14, 2020.

[ii] Streeck, Wolfgang – Bought Time – The Postponed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism. Current, 2013.

[iii] Echo, Umberto – 14 lessons to identify neo-fascism and eternal fascism. Opera Mundi website, 2016.

[iv] Dardot, Pierre; Laval, Christian – The new reason of the world – Essay on neoliberal society. Boitime, 2016.

[v] Lockwood, David – Social integration and system integration. In: Zollachan, George, et. al., Explorations in Social Change. London: Houghton Miffin, 1964, pp. 244-257.

[vi] See Fausto, Ruy – Nature of bolsonarisme. In: http://www.sens-public.org/articles/1455/. See also Andrade, Daniel P. Authoritarian neoliberalism in Brazil – Neoliberal economic reform and militarization of public administration. In: http://www.sens-public.org/articles/1468/.

[vii] See Prado, Eleutério FS – Brazil towards complete stagnation. In: https://outraspalavras.net/crise-brasileira/brasil-elo-fragil-da-contrarrevolucao-neoliberal/.

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