I maintain that there is a significant difference between Clinton and Trump, and that all progressives should come together in an anti-Trump movement in support of the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Reflecting on the difference between liberalism and fascism, I have arrived to the conclusion that the Democratic Party has actively participated in the national turn since 1980 from liberalism to a new form of fascism with respect to foreign affairs, but not with respect to domestic affairs. Meanwhile, the discourse of Trump implies, although not consistently, a continuation of fascism in the international arena, and a turn to fascism in domestic affairs.
Both liberalism and fascism are forms of capitalist-class domination, and both have emerged as projects with global projections. They differ with respect to strategies of domination. The central global strategy of liberalism is domination of other lands through imperialism, a policy that seeks to economically, financially and ideologically penetrate other national economies with the support and cooperation of their national bourgeoisies and their governments. Liberalism provides military support to cooperative governments throughout the world, including military governments, with the expectation that these governments will maintain control of their populations, including its radical and revolutionary sectors, through a combination of reformist concessions and repression. Liberal policy dictates that direct military intervention by the core powers should be used only as a last resort. Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to this restraint on military invention as being a “good neighbor.”
For the most part, liberalism was the international policy of the United States from the 1890s to 1980. Prior to the collapse of the European colonial empires, the United States, as an ascending power with a dramatically expanding economy, increasingly was able to economically and financially penetrate independent but poor nations, without having political control. During the first half of the twentieth century, the United States increasingly projected itself as a global power that represented a progressive alternative to the European colonial empires. The United States emerged from World War II as the global hegemonic power in a world that was in transition to a neocolonial world-system. As the dominant economic power, the United States was able to economically, financially and ideologically penetrate formally independent nations of the Third World.
Whereas liberalism is a viable international policy for a hegemonic nation with a decisive productive, commercial and financial advantage over other core nations, like the United States from 1946 to 1973, fascism is a more viable strategy for a core nation without such advantage. In its classic twentieth century form, fascism involves the military seizing of control of the forces of production, commerce and banking, and the placing of them under military government control. Accordingly, fascism requires only military advantage, and not productive, commercial and financial advantage.
The United States began to lose its productive, commercial and financial advantage during the 1970s. There were various factors that drove this phenomenon, including overspending in the military and insufficient investment in new forms of production as well as spending in excess of productive capacity. Such hegemonic decline has been a normal tendency in the world-system, as hegemonic core powers spend in self-destructive ways that reflect and seek to maintain hegemony, whereas other core powers are more dedicated to improving their productive capacity in order to catch up.
Beginning in 1980, the American power elite responded to the declining economic position of the United States by using its control of international financial institutions to impose neoliberal economic policies on the world. The neoliberal turn violated the rules of imperialism and the neocolonial world-system. Neoliberalism took away the limited national autonomy permitted by neocolonialism, thus undermining the economic interests of the national bourgeoisie and erecting greater barriers to the true sovereignty of the formerly colonized nations of the world (see “The characteristics of neocolonialism” 9/16/2013 as well as “IMF & USA attack the Third World project” 7/29/2016). With its increasing control of the international media of information, the global elite presented this new phase of aggression by the core powers as a new era of democracy and free trade.
The neoliberal turn was a short-term fix. It facilitated the flow of capital from neocolonies to the core. But the influx was not used to address the productive and commercial decline of the nation, so the United States continued its relative economic decline. At the same time, it was clearly maintaining its military advantage, becoming more and more dependent on military spending and the military-industrial complex. The combination of increasing military strength and declining economic capacity relative to other core nations made logical a turn to a foreign policy increasingly characterized by the direct military seizing of economic advantage through wars of aggression. The neoconservatives grasped this logic, and they seized the attacks of September 11, 2001 as an opportunity for an ideological turn to greater militarism in foreign affairs. An endless and all-embracing war against terrorism became an ideological frame for US foreign policy.
The turn to neoliberal global economic warfare, wars of aggression, and military interventions represents a definitive break with the neocolonial system, and it marks a turn from liberalism toward fascism. Like classical fascism, it involves cooperation between the state and the bourgeoisie. But it is a new form of fascism, in that transnational corporations have a stronger position in the alliance, and it is presented as a model of corporate control rather than state control.
Today’s liberals, well represented in the Green Party, reject this turn to a new form of fascism. They yearn for an earlier purer era in which the United States maintained its dominance of the world-system and pursued its imperialist policies in the context of a world-system that pretended to respect the sovereignty of nations. Even national elites of the great majority of formerly colonized nations participated in the pretense, giving it an apparent legitimacy, at least among the peoples of the core nations, who for the most part could not hear the protests of the popular movements of the Third World. Liberals would like to somehow return to the pre-1980, pre-neoliberal, less militaristic and apparently more democratic world.
Democratic presidential administrations have fully participated in the post-1980 turn from liberalism to neo-fascism in international affairs. In this sense, the Green Party presidential candidate is right: there is not a great difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties with respect to foreign policy. Both parties have responded to the US economic decline with increasing militarism. Both are specialists in identifying external enemies in order to justify enormous military expenditures and constant preparedness for wars of aggression and military interventions.
But what is the difference between liberalism and fascism in domestic affairs, and what does Trump’s discourse imply in this regard? In the domestic arena, liberalism seeks to seduce the people through modest material rewards and ideological manipulation; whereas fascism uses force, violence, fear and repression. Liberalism permits us to say and write anything we want, and to form any organizations to promote our values. The corporate class has control of the public discourse through domination of the political leadership, the mass media and the educational system; therefore, it is confident that few of the people will give a serious hearing to radical organizations with an alternative agenda. Liberalism for the most part does not imprison leaders of organizations promulgating an alternative direction for the nation, believing that they are not a threat to the established liberal, neocolonial and imperialist order.
But there is no doubt that our people today are ill at ease, anxious as a result of developments that they do not understand, including the increasing political instability of the world-system and the continuing productive and commercial decline of the United States. As a result, they could be more receptive to reasoned explanations of the possibilities for a more dignified nation and more just world, if they were to be presented with such a well-founded and well-presented alternative project. At the same time, they are increasingly vulnerable to cunning messages that tap into their fears and anxieties.
I have written in previous posts of the importance of Charismatic Leaders in revolutions. Charismatic leaders are exceptional persons, gifted in their capacity to understand, with a profound commitment to moral principles and an unwavering fidelity to the people. The charismatic leaders of revolutions are the prophets of our era, defending the cause of justice for the oppressed and the poor. But there are other voices that emerge to influence the people in times of crisis. These false leaders or false prophets are the opposite of charismatic leaders. Whereas the charismatic leader has the capacity to appeal to the hopes and dreams of the people, the false leader appeals to the fears and anxieties of the people.
Donald Trump is a master at the invention of messages that connect to the fears and anxieties of the people. He has successfully exploited: popular anxiety that the government is not responding adequately to an uncontrolled immigration that is perceived as a threat to employment; a sense of loss among the people with respect to a national decline in traditional values pertaining to marriage, sexuality and religiosity; popular feeling that the nation has lost the power that it had in the world for most of the twentieth century, especially in the period 1946 to 1963; and a popular sentiment that the criminal justice system is too soft on criminals and not sufficiently supportive of police. As I have listened to soundbites of Trump’s discourses on television, I frequently have found myself saying, “This guy is on to something; he knows how to connect to the sentiments, fears and anxieties of our people.” In my view, his only real slip-up was when he got into a polemic with the Islamic and immigrant parents of a US soldier killed in the line of duty, for in this case his anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant discourse was offending another deeply-felt popular sentiment, namely, patriotism and support for our troops in foreign lands.
If Trump arrives to power through a discourse that exploits popular fears and anxieties, what would be the next step? Will there be arrests of leaders of progressive organizations, claiming that these organizations are supporting terrorism? Will there be arrests of all persons considered socialist, under the pretext that these organizations are a threat to national security? Will there be arrests of leaders of black organizations, with the pretense that they are preparing for an armed assault on police? Will there be mass arrests of homosexuals, claiming that they undermine the moral fabric of the nations? Such actions could be supported by significant numbers of the people, if manipulated into a frenzy by distortions of facts. Although the Green Party Platform condemns the increase in government surveillance of the people since September 11, 2001, Greens should not lose sight of the fact that surveillance is one thing; mass arrests, organized gang violence, and selective assassinations are another. We would be naïve to think that what has occurred since September 11 in the United States is anywhere near what could occur as the national and global crisis deepens, or what in fact occurred in Nazi Germany or in US-backed military dictatorships in Latin America.
Although it is difficult for many progressives to vote for Hillary Clinton because of her participation in what I describe as the turn to neo-fascism with respect to foreign policy, we must keep in mind that she and the Democratic Party remain committed to liberalism with respect to domestic affairs. Although the Democratic Party has participated in the increased vigilance of citizens since September 11, it does not indulge in the scapegoating of racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual minorities or immigrants, as does Trump. The rise to power of Hitler in the 1930s teaches us that scapegoating can be a precursor to policies of repression that could include large-scale arrests of leaders and the closing of progressive organizations and alternative media, nullifying freedoms of speech, press and organization and forcing many persons into exile. Although the Democratic Party will continue to embrace global neo-fascism, there is little sign that it wants to turn to a new form of fascism on the domestic front. On the contrary, it constantly invokes the discourse of inclusion, tolerance, diversity and multiculturalism. It appears to be seeking a popular consensus on a balance of global neo-fascism and domestic liberalism
The bourgeois freedoms of speech, press, and association, for the most part protected in the United States, fall far short of implying a truly democratic society. But they are important rights. In Latin America, after the fall of the military dictatorship and the transition to representative democracy, popular organizations were able to take advantage of these rights to form new political parties that were able to take power and redirect the domestic and foreign policies of their nations. We in the United States must appreciate the importance of these rights, and we must act decisively to reject any discourse or candidate that implies a possible threat to them. They are the foundation of our future emancipation, and they are an important national constitutional heritage that we have the duty to preserve.
We also should keep in mind the limitations of the Green Party. Although strong enough to effect the outcome of the presidential election in key electoral college states, it does not have any possibility of influencing US policy after the elections, regardless of who wins.
Taking into account the importance of the preservation of constitutional rights, the possible threat to them implied by the discourse of Trump, and the impossibility of the Green Party to emerge as a serious political actor through the 2016 elections, the Green Party presidential candidate should withdraw, and call upon her supporters to vote for Clinton. This would be the most honorable conduct at the moment, and therefore it would contribute to the strengthening of the Green Party in the long term, especially if done in a form that makes a reasoned and eloquent explanation and appeal to the people. At this stage in its development, the progress of the Green Party is not measured by the percentage of votes that it receives in a presidential election, but by its capacity: to develop structures of popular education, including the identification and development of effective teaching strategies and materials; to expand its number of active local organizations, including projects of social action and popular education; and to elect candidates at various levels, with the election of representatives to the US Congress being especially important, which ought to be a definite possibility in districts with high percentages of blacks, Latinos, and/or Native Americans. At this stage, the most important function of a presidential candidate is not to garner votes, but to establish a presence in the public discourse.
Independent of its conduct in the 2016 elections, the Green Party has much work to be done before it can present itself as a serious alternative to corporate liberalism in transition to fascism. Its platform reflects what could be called white US liberalism or perhaps bourgeois liberalism. The Green Party Platform is ahistorical, unphilosophical, and Eurocentric. It demonstrates that the Green Party does not yet have sufficient understanding to redirect the foreign policy of the United States toward a necessary cooperation with the nations of Latin America and the Third World in the development of a just, democratic and sustainable world-system. These are themes that I will pursue in the following posts.
Key words: Green Party, Jill Stein, Hillary Clinton, 2016 elections