Not Fascism but inverted totalitarianism

In my last diary, I discussed how Donald Trump was not a "Fascist," but rather an exterminist, someone whose policies were so bad that their inevitable result was the extermination of significant numbers of human beings. To be fair, the idea of "exterminism" is merely a reference to ultimate effects; it doesn't serve as a complete political theory. This diary suggests a preliminary sketch of the political theory.

The current regime is best called "inverted totalitarianism," a term which comes from Sheldon Wolin, in his book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism:

“Inverted totalitarianism” projects power inwards. It is not derivative from “classic totalitarianism” of the types represented by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, or Stalinist Russia. Those regimes were powered by revolutionary movements whose aim was to capture, reconstitute, and monopolize the power of the state. The state was conceived as the main center of power, providing the leverage necessary for the mobilization and reconstruction of society. Churches, universities, business organizations, news and opinion media, and cultural institutions were taken over by the government or neutralized or suppressed.

Inverted totalitarianism, in contrast, while exploiting the authority and resources of the state, gains its dynamic by combining with other forms of power, such as evangelical religions, and most notably by encouraging a symbiotic relationship between traditional government and the system of “private” governance represented by the modern business
corporation. The result is not a system of codetermination by equal partners who retain their distinctive identities but rather a system that represents the political coming-of-age of corporate power.

Chris Hedges uses the idea of "inverted totalitarianism" also. His explanation of the concept is below. From a four-and-a-half-year-old essay commemorating Wolin after his death:

In classical totalitarian regimes, such as those of Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. But “under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true,” Wolin writes. “Economics dominates politics—and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness.”He continues: “The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed.”

This isn't the end of it, though. Hedges continues:

But, he warns, should the population—steadily stripped of its most basic rights, including the right to privacy, and increasingly impoverished and bereft of hope—become restive, inverted totalitarianism will become as brutal and violent as past totalitarian states.

So far the violence of inverted totalitarianism has mostly been directed outward -- toward the endless wars -- although some of it can be found as directed by police against African-American communities. But watch -- as the quarantines and shop closures drag on, week after dreary week, as the economy collapses and the pandemic spreads and as the super-rich discover that they can own government and have it print billions of dollars to fill their electronic coffers but they can't revive the economy or stop the hordes whom they have deprived of reasons to live. And here's an open question: how is the Army going to survive social distancing?

Do you all see now why I object so strenuously to calling the current political situation "Fascism"? Hitler had his Master Race to support, with the blessings of Wall Street, and Stalin had Five-Year Plans by which Russia was dragged into a vague military-industrial parity with the United States, imported (btw) FROM the United States through Armand Hammer. Franco had to liberalize the economy if he was to sustain his rule. Hedges, again, quoting Wolin:

Unlike the Nazis, who made life uncertain for the wealthy and privileged while providing social programs for the working class and poor, inverted totalitarianism exploits the poor, reducing or weakening health programs and social services, regimenting mass education for an insecure workforce threatened by the importation of low-wage workers,” Wolin writes.

It is indeed true that when the Nazis invaded a country, that country was turned into a reservoir of resources and of slave labor for the Nazi war effort. The difference with inverted totalitarianism is that the whole world is treated as invaded country, and (regardless of whatever fantasies George W. Bush may have had about the matter) there is no real homeland to secure. The captains of inverted totalitarianism really don't care about you or me, or for that matter about the future of any portion of society or of the planet or anything outside of their little elite bubbles. This is why they're furiously trying to buy up property in remote areas of New Zealand. The totalitarians of old, living as they did in a DIFFERENT STAGE OF CAPITALIST DEVELOPMENT, hated democracy, and they had plans. Malicious plans, but plans. The people currently at the top today have the facade of democracy, and no plans.

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Probably why I say "fascism" in a back porch conversation is that I can explain it as somewhat like the blending of corporatism and government, so that you cannot tell where one begins or ends. People with varying degrees of education can understand that.
Is it a correct back porch conversation to say global corporatists have the premier leadership, and that governments where they might have corporate headquarters are their subordinates? Oh, hell, why not servants and lackeys?

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Cassiodorus's picture

@on the cusp I think it's important to emphasize that inverted totalitarianism (I'm not using the word "corporatism" because I think it's too vague) is really an elaborate f*ck-you to the whole world.

The Nazis had a floorplan based upon the idea of a settler society, such as what currently exists in Israel and such as what they had in South Africa until the end of the Eighties. Hitler was a great admirer of the United States, and especially of the merciless way in which the United States had the native populations of the land slaughtered to make way for white settlers. The Nazis indeed slaughtered much of eastern Europe's population in a relatively short period of time, enslaving millions more along the way, but there were intended beneficiaries of lebensraum, and these beneficiaries, like with Israel, South Africa, and the United States, had an ethnic distinction as opposed to being a tiny cadre of rich people.

The captains of inverted totalitarianism, on the other hand, pursue their screwed-up agendas because their sole interest in the world is the bloated fortunes of a relatively-small population of super-rich people, and the ideological continuities that keeps this population flush with wealth. They're not as intentionally cruel as the Nazis, to be sure, but this may be a matter of degree: think Henry Kissinger, as opposed to Heinrich Himmler.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

PriceRip's picture

@Cassiodorus

          United States had the native populations of the land slaughtered to make way for white settlers.

          Are you aware that this slaughter was actually celebrated at the Pendleton Roundup at least into the 1970s? And, that members of the local confederation, in fact, participated in this celebration? I was struck dumb at the event, I could not believe what I was seeing. On the way back up Cabbage Hill via US-30 I had to take a break and scream until I could no longer make a sound.

RIP

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Cassiodorus's picture

@PriceRip https://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/janfeb-2013/lincoln-no-hero-to-na...

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

@Cassiodorus @Cassiodorus OH! Dirty Injuns protected their lands with their LIVES, slaves just freed didn't even have a place to go to in their free walk off the plantation?
Just a thought.

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@on the cusp

          A few more thoughts: While in Nebraska during the 1980s we sheltered refuges from Central America. And the story goes on ···

RIP

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Race or religion or both has been involved in the old fascism model a long time.
The first thing people think of is Jews. The last thing that occurs to them is corporatism, not that they might actually have that word or concept in their vocabulary as they haul logs, work on an oil rig, as you well know.
So, what we are currently experiencing is not historical, kill ethnic group deserves death 'cause bad guys, as a propounded policy, thus profit!
It is now being correctly described by words most people on my back porch do not have in their working vocabulary.
This totalitarianism stripped away the need of ovens and blankets with killer bugs in them.
This just starved them to death.
I freely admit that "inverted totalitarianism" made my eyes glaze over.
I make a living translating obscure 1066 English land law (trespass to try title. WTF?)to people, as an example.
I am in total agreement, looking for language and express to, for example, say to a jury.

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Cassiodorus's picture

https://www.alternet.org/2020/03/wait-a-second-governor-stuns-msnbc-host...

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont is frustrated over the lack of available coronavirus tests.

Lamont Monday night expressed that frustration to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, saying that one hospital in the small city of Danbury has a hospital where 200 nurses cannot work, apparently because of possible coronavirus exposure – and he has no ability to test them.

“I can tell you Danbury Hospital is at capacity, and they have 200 nurses on furlough because they were in contact,” Governor Lamont told Hayes. “If I could test those nurses, I could potentially get them back into the game.”

Trump's buddies wanted to make a profit off of the testing kits, currently with market value of $1300. So Trump engineered a shortage. And so there it is, folks.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

TheOtherMaven's picture

@Cassiodorus

and yes it IS a small city. If it's out 200 nurses, that's a huge proportion of their work force. Thank the Assholes in Charge, who just HAD to monopolize the production of test kits and would not allow the importation of any.

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There is no justice. There can be no peace.

explanation of the seemingly gradual changes that made life increasingly hard and unnatural for the American people over the past 40 years. I first ran across Wolin's ideas from a comment to an article in the Off-Guardian, "Neoliberalism is a species of fascism," which I think you would enjoy. The comment has since been deleted, so all I know of it is what I had copied and emailed to a friend, along with a link to a free PDF of Wolin's book, Democracy Incorporated. Here is the copied quote from the intelligent, now-deleted, comment:

Yes, it is a type of decentralized, rather than dictatorial “strongman” fascism wherein corporations own and control all levers of power and branches of government while maintaining the facade of representative democracy. Those elected actually serve no purpose other than as “front men/women” for those that wield the true power and make the actual decisions.

Our elected officials are little more than actors performing an illusion for the citizenry and are paid well to take orders and give a good performance. Frank Zappa was rather prescient with his remarks regarding a curtain that will someday be pulled back when the illusion becomes too expensive for them to consider the cost justifiable.

For now, they prefer to have their needs met behind said curtains, which are mere trappings of a faux republic meant to give us an illusion of choice.

Then he/she gave a link, which still works, to the PDF of Wolin's book, https://cryptome.org/2013/01/aaron-swartz/Democracy-Inc.pdf (The URL is also a poignant reminder of the heroic hacktivist Aaron Swartz.)

There are quite a few videos of Sheldon Wolin speaking and of Chris Hedges interviewing Professor Wolin. One of them is a 3-hour interview on the subject of "Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist?" The full version of the interview is so long that it's been broken into eight parts:

Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? Full Version

~ 00:14:50 Wolin mention’s Hamilton’s pro-capitalist/anti-democratic views and discusses corporate capital’s dismantling of the New Deal and freeing itself from any kind of regulation and constraint to deform and destroy American democracy. There had been rumblings of this movement since the 1930s, but I believe Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George Bush actually got it established in this country. Obama continued their work and planned to advance it much further with the TPP, which Hillary enthusiastically declared the “gold standard” of trade agreements. This is one of the reasons why I do not consider Trump (for all his faults) a bona fide member of the inverted totalitarian club. Also, Wolin mentions Alexander Hamilton as an early proponent of this view. It’s interesting that in 2016 all the cool folks of the Democratic elite were madly enamored with the play “Hamilton.”

Here are the separate parts:

Pt 1/8 Hedges & Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist?

Pt 2/8 Hedges & Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist?

Hedges and Wolin (3/8): Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist?

Hedges & Wolin (4/8) - Can Capitalism & Democracy Coexist?

Hedges & Wolin (5/8) - Can Capitalism & Democracy Coexist?

Hedges and Wolin (6/8): Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist?

Hedges & Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? (7/8)

Hedges & Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? (8/8)

Thanks so much for bringing up this very important subject, Cassiodorus. I hope people will avail themselves of all the information out there on inverted totalitarianism and also download Wolin's book. We need to be equipped with this understanding.

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Lurking in the wings is Hillary, like some terrifying bat hanging by her feet in a cavern below the DNC. A bat with theropod instincts. -- Fred Reed https://tinyurl.com/vgvuhcl

Cassiodorus's picture

@laurel I'm still, for the time being, plowing through what of Wolin's works I can find on Library Genesis. Hedges makes Wolin a lot easier to digest. I gather Wolin developed a critique of capitalism separate from that of Marx. That's fine with me. I'm pretty thoroughly committed to Marx studies, though. I distinguish between three aspects of Marx's writing, two of which serve as distractions:

1) the revolutionary propaganda of the late 1840s, exemplified by the Communist Manifesto. This Marx appears as the obvious inspiration for the second Russian Revolution in November of 1918, the one that gave Russia seventy years of pseudo-Communism. Some of this project was abandoned in the 1850s because Marx recognized that the revolutionaries of 1848 weren't going to pull anything off. Marx, at any rate, along with his bff Engels, thought that the factory workers were the vanguard of the revolution. It didn't turn out that way, and so we have a long literature of disillusionment about this, ultimately giving us Craig Calhoun.

2) A few passages in the preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, a document which was (I don't remember who said this just right now) written to get past the Prussian censors, upon which all of the "base and superstructure" theories are founded. None of the secondary literature which depends upon this part of Marx is necessarily the least bit radical.

3) Marx's project with Capital, which appears as an analysis of "value" as an autonomous process ruling capitalist society. This project begins with the "Grundrisse" of 1857-1858, but never becomes generally available until the Sixties (although if you google "Grundrisse" you will see it was actually published in 1939, in the middle of Stalin's era of rule in Russia, which was also too late for a serious discussion). This is the Marx I will discuss. It's an incomplete Marx, because Marx got sick and died before he could complete it.

It's fair, then, that Wolin gave up on Marx while at the same time developing an independent critique of capitalism, kind of like Polanyi but more Hedges-like. I guess I will find out if it's too bad that he didn't tackle Marx #3 as described above.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

@Cassiodorus , I'm not nearly as into political theory, philosophy, and Karl Marx as you -- but it's wonderful that you are, and I wish you'd bring more of it into your commentary here; you would enrich everything. My fields of study were, on the one hand, far more liberal artsy and aesthetic, and on the other, way more bare-bones analytical, logical and structural, than political theory. If I'd had the time, money, and leisure, I might have loved to challenge my mind (and, now I know, my heart) with philosophy and poly sci. If only we could live as many lives as we need to develop our minds and consciousness to the fullest extent. Or, heck, maybe we do and just don't know it.

It never occurred to me that Wolin might be any kind of competitor to Marx. Marx, as I barely understood him, was formulating theories of how things work and how they ought to work. In my own fields of study, many of the most appealing authors turned out to be Marxists. One who popped up repeatedly was Antonio Gramsci who invariably inspired and delighted me. He stood out for being consistently "right" on a plenitude of subjects.

I see Wolin as someone who observes human activity with a wide, experienced consciousness and is able to report back to us what is out there, like the guy up in the crow's nest who spots land and describes it before we can see it, though we already feel it and are affected by it. Wolin explained to me the horribly subtle ways our new masters took control of our destiny and deprived us of our place guaranteed by the Constitution. Wolin doesn't come out and say it as such, but these folks are absolute criminals, thieves, plunderers. Wolin shows us how they very subtly, very cleverly, sneaked our country out from under us. He inspires me to take it back in such a way that they can never do this to us again.

But I think it would be lovely if you could explain him in Marxist terms. It might add to our understanding and even be journal-worthy. I hope you continue, and share it here.

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Lurking in the wings is Hillary, like some terrifying bat hanging by her feet in a cavern below the DNC. A bat with theropod instincts. -- Fred Reed https://tinyurl.com/vgvuhcl