Corporatism – Or The Triumph Of Fascism
All societies require an elite – a group of people who are trained in decision making, and are schooled in the complexities that decisions involve. Our elite differs from most, but not all, elites in their imbecilic ideas, knowledge -base, narratives, priorities and decisions, and the totalizing scale of what aspects of life they think they should rule. They are, in this respect, akin to communist, Nazi, and the elite of the Mountain in the French Revolution.
Marx’s view of the state ultimately made him oblivious to the dialectical nexus of state and markets. That nexus was appreciated by Marx’s fascist critics, who were content to make the market a state subordinate, yet a relatively independent sphere of human action, as done by the Chinese who recognized that corporatism was the means for protecting a political privileged elite but also for allowing for both market forces to elevate living standards and produce an economic elite, who, nevertheless, could be politically controlled.
Our globalist Western elite have also followed the logic of corporatism, though they added the important utopian element of the identity politics of anti-domination. The reasoning is: If the state is construed, not solely as the means of brokering between the different interests that classes (the division of labour) engenders (which it does – and which old liberalism still tended to emphasize), but also as the means of ensuring not only public goods, and a degree of public safety, but the establishment of complete social harmony by committing itself to complete social emancipation, and if capitalists can also make their profits compatible with exactly the same social objectives, then the symbiotic relationship between them and the state will be complete. Note that this particular objective of the state is completely in keeping with the ideocratic nature of the modern world.
One distinctive feature of the modern world is that it is an epistemic contrivance deployed to delegitimize the historically grown pre-Enlightenment political order. This is the partial truth behind the idiotic mantra of our intellectuals that society is a social construct (the idiotic bit is thinking we can make society be anything we want, which overlooks the limitations of consciousness and underestimates unintended consequences). That is, the aspirant elite that eventually overthrew the elite from the Old Regime believed that (a) it knew how the world worked, i.e., it had the right ideas about nature and society (even though there was actually little agreement about that working other than the conviction that they knew how they worked); and (b) the institutions of government had to be reestablished on the basis of ideas (which happened to be an admixture of empirical and rationalistic ones). The American War of Independence helped forge some of these new ideas; but the non-denominational, freely detached intellectual – the new philosopher – had emerged in Europe, initially in response to the Thirty Years War (thus their god would also be non-denominational, and not even Christian).
All social breakdown requires a crisis as an opportunity for the new to sweep away the old – now it is a virus; in the 1960s in the USA, it was the Vietnam War; in Russia it was the Great War; in France it was the aftermath of the Seven Years War, and the financial cost of its geopolitical ambition combined with a broken revenue system and a class, which had been feasting off the new philosophical ideas about nature, God and society which in turn was chomping at the bit to have the world mirror its talent. It gave birth to the political clubs and groupings of common yet deadly inimical interests and uncompromising ambition, which sought to rebuild the world from year zero on the basis of their ideas. The subsequent social and political breakdown of the revolution did lead to a sequence of political formations in which the objectives of the state itself seemed to be toned down. But if the reality being played out in France was empire, restoration, republic, back to empire, the intelligentsia was ever coming up with schemes in which society would be completely free. French, German, Russian intellectuals dreamt up visions of new societies, and talked and wrote incessantly about politics and political salvation – as if a society were the kind of thing that someone with a few dozen books under his belt could create. (Of course, they could “create” a certain kind of society – ask Pol Pot or Uncle Joe).
In Russia, the state was the most autocratic and the economy the most backward; it could not resist the imperative to modernize, and the class of people it had to train in order to successfully modernize were absolutely convinced of their ability to fix their world; and, not surprisingly, they would fix it with the things they knew, i.e., their ideas. The contingencies that enabled the successful coup of the resolute Lenin and his followers yielded the complete disaster of war communism – the “program” of class plunder and chaos was the direct result of the seizure of power by an educated class that had discussed, written on, and killed for their ideas about how the world should be. (The three all important aspects and stages of the revolution have been the launching pad for what I consider the three most insightful writers on the revolution: Martin Malia – focusing on the ideas that drove it; Richard Pipes focusing on the class that would bring about the revolution, the intelligentsia; and, most recently, Sean McMeekin, focusing on the crisis or moment – the Great War – which gave the class its opportune moment to gain power and attempt to “realize” its objectives.
As with other radicals, such as the Jacobins and Woke of today, the ideas of the Russian intelligentsia were clientelist (originally the clients were the peasants, then the workers) and sentimental, vacuous and bloated abstractions. The earlier generation of the Russian radical intelligentsia romanticized the peasantry, and only once Marx’s ideas had come into Russia, were they replaced by the industrial working class as the preferred object of liberation. There was no serious detail about fixing anything; and hence while they fueled tearing the world down; and like those of today who call for defunding the police and opening up prisons who don’t have a clue about doing anything about crime other than ensuring that what they say is what is done, which is irrelevant to actually running anything, at least anything serious. Having the ideas and having power is what gave Jacobins and the Leninists and what gives today’s Woke their self-assuredness, their sense of certainty.
To genuine statesmen and people who were and are running functioning political bodies dealing with solving real problems, this was and is all nonsense – and yet the more the educated elite of the most developed countries in the world heard these ideas, the more prone they were, and still are, to taking them seriously, the more beguiled they were and are by the abstract and the (not remotely) possible. What was (and is) happening was (and is) that ideas that originated in political clubs, that were dreamed up over late night conversations over many steins of beer and bottles of wine, or in classrooms and now even board rooms which were/are written up as if holy writ, which had/have an air of sagacity to them, were/are seeping into the institutions of higher learning, and thus were/are impacting the world due to the fact that they had/ have taken over the minds and life worlds of the younger elite. The ideas were/are explosive – and different experiences tended to create different avenues of reception for equally mad and bad ideas that served the function of offering leadership positions to those who mastered them.
In Germany, the incumbent elite were embittered young men returned from battle – torn between choosing to continue with their patriotic zeal that had led them into war, or becoming vassals of the Soviets, they chose the former, and race was the idea that provided the glue. In spite of the fact that its nationalistic and racist boundaries meant that it had limited appeal for the class that really was a universal class in its own minds – that is a class that not only grasped the truthful universal of the world and history, but a class that purported to represent the universal, just as the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel had claimed was the case for the bureaucracy (which, by the way, the young Marx ridiculed when tearing into Hegel’s Philosophy of Right) – was no more nor less hateful than the glue of class was in the Soviet Union. Although enemies until death – though, when necessary, willing to enter into tactical alliances – communism and National Socialism were both responses to the problems confronting people aspiring to rule the world in their image with the ideas they understood and held sacred.
The ideologies of liberalism, communism/socialism, and fascism were developed sequentially; and in so far as their goals seem to be inimical, they are treated and in some ways are drastically different from each other. Yet while the sequential nature and location of their respective birth places is an indicator of how and why they differ, they also share important features, most notably they are all ideational and narrative chains of elite empowerment. The particular crisis and conditions of their birthplace is important for grasping where they would be successful. In so far as the ideologically committed were devoting themselves to ideational programs, in so far as their ambitions and spiritual commitments (for they were and are all surrogate religions), they were uncompromising doctrines. The adherents, though, could readily move from one to another, if their faith were shaken – Mussolini, like many other Italian fascists was a man whose faith in Marxism was shaken by the War; his new faith was in the myth of the nation, and most of his intellectual accomplices in fascist theory had been former socialists, just as in post Great War Germany hundreds of thousands of National Socialists had drifted across from the socialist parties.
Although liberal democracy provided a far more comfortable existence, the intellectuals of democratic societies were generally drawn to the more radical programs, largely because the circumstances required more drastic and ultimately less real ideas to be followed, if they were to achieve power within the chaos. The other worldly and absolutist nature of the ideas was what defined them as not compromising with the reality they would completely transform, as if the world were simply the potential reflection of their ideas.
Ironically Marx wanted to distance himself from this way of thinking thus he always used the term idealism pejoratively. But his ideology was nothing but idealism, whereas the idealism of liberalism (in its pre-twentieth century American variant) was mainly limited to the abstract nature of the normative props (equality and freedom and rights); but its acknowledgment of the reality of law and property gave it some ground.
On the surface, the sequence of ideologies seemed to follow a pattern, in which the former spawned the latter to resolve its own contradictions. This was how Marx saw the relationship between liberalism and socialism, and Mussolini the relationship between fascism and communism. Likewise, it seemed that the latter (Nazism), being the least grounded in reality (communism at least relied upon exporting civil wars around the globe, but Nazism was never really going to cut with Indians, Chinese, Africans etc.) collapsed first; then the second collapsed; and only liberal democracy was left standing.
What was the case, though, was something else: While each ideology was the expression of the aspirations and ideas of the class of its creators and adherents within a specific location with its own history, the class itself was relatively constant; certainly, as constant, say, as the industrial working class or bourgeois was. And then there is the tragic component alluded to above, and which we in the West are now living within. Because modernity, from its technological to its productive, to its legal and administrative and commercial systems, is so intricately formed, it is impossible to continue without education. The systems are constituted by ideas and disciplines (bodies of knowledge); and hence its reproduction is dependent upon people who are trained in ideas. And just as the Tsars quickly discovered that they were producing a class of people to run the society who were intent on their overthrow, the social reproduction of the West is dependent upon people who now hold ideas that must lead to its destruction.
Belief in the consensus of normative ideas that has swept through the institutions of higher learning is a condition of being socially accepted, and now even employable. This feature of the modern West has often been considered as the tactic first spelled out by the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci – that is true, but if it were a tactic, it was a tactic that simply followed from the structural character of social reproduction within the modern Western world itself.
Moreover, with the intensification of modern economy and industry, and the ever-greater social dependency upon education, the expansion of higher education meant that an ever-greater percentage of people was being inculcated in the ideas needed for orientation with the social, economic, technological, administrative and normative systems. The Humanities was the natural site of the finessing of the normative systems and the location for the capture by a generation that did not actually know that much, but that was charged with teaching young people who knew even less.
As the universities expanded, so did the need for university teachers – very quickly people in their twenties with very limited book-learning and life experience were teaching those not much younger than they themselves. Indeed, by the late 1960s, what was becoming abundantly clear was that elder provincial school teachers had read and digested, that is knew far more about history, literature and the world at large than the freshly minted PhDs and incumbent university teachers who, in order to feel important, and to assure themselves about their knowledge, drifted towards ideological know-all-ness, like the starving to a feast.
For those employed at universities at this time – with all the available sex, drugs, and rock n roll, being a radical university teacher was the equivalent of being a rock star – the girls wanted to sleep with them, the guys wanted to be them. More, this was a generation that could see the rack and ruin of its parents’ world – their parents’ world was a world of war. Proof was that they still could not see the error of their ways – hence they were sacrificing their kids in the Vietnam War (there was probably not one radical in the country that could have given a reasonable account of the nature of diplomatic alliances, obligations, and the geopolitical imperatives of the day). This lot just had – to quote Lennon yet again – simply “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance” and then there would be no more war – Lennon yet again: “War is over if you want it.” And they had also discovered the causes of: poverty – capitalism; inequality – capitalism; war- capitalism; sexual oppression – capitalism; imperialism – capitalism, etc. It would get more refined – answer to the above – men, then; and now, answer – whites.
Standards were meant to be upheld by ensuring that teachers were qualified and scholarly – the publish-or-perish mentality was entrenched; but the PhDs and scholarly publications were, and now frequently are, often just rubbish. Higher education offered careers and opportunities for a group of people who had vested interest in dumbing down what needed to be known in order to get ahead – in part, this was because the people that were getting ahead and becoming college professors were not that smart. The youth revolts of the 1960s were also the watershed in which the rapid expansion of a student population of universities went hand in hand with the overthrow of the curriculum. Students dictated what needed to be known, and what needed to be known was what they already knew – capitalism was really bad – and that they knew how to fix it, and they needed to control society at large, from its businesses to its model of the family. In this respect, although now a larger percentage of society, they were identical to the Russian students of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the German students of the 1920s – and just as communism and fascism/National Socialism are unthinkable without the energy, utter commitment, and fanaticism of youth aspiring to rule the(ir) world, the 1960s harnessed the energy of an undereducated but deeply self-assured group of people who were intent on changing the world. Their parents (in the case of the US) in having defeated Nazism, and being the future elite of the most powerful nation in the world, it is not surprising that they saw their concerns – in which having sex and getting stoned took a very high priority – as the world’s concerns. Likewise, they saw their ideas as universal; hence too the books they read as the ones that one needed to know in order to fix the world (being sophisticated meant you read Freud as well as Marx; things got really sophisticated when you tossed in some fancy Parisians who knew even more about how capitalism worked than old Karl did; they had read Nietzsche and Heidegger and lots of others! WOW!!!).
One astute professor in the USA in the 1960s, observing the self-righteousness and know-all-ness of what was going on around him, read his class a speech by Mussolini – not telling them whose speech it was – and they broke out into applause. Even Theodor Adorno, the leading Frankfurt school Marxist, feared that the student movement was fascistic. Certainly, as the Woke do now, and as the Nazi and communist students did, they booed and ridiculed anyone who did not think like them, and assumed the right to dictate what should be read. The Nazis students burnt the books; the generation of sixties students marched for the right to have great books not taught; the Woke take them out of the libraries and ban them from bookstores and from being published.
Although the radical students of the 1960s and 1970s construed themselves as anti-capitalists and anti-imperialist, most would end up working within and making lucrative careers in corporations or state departments. There was, nevertheless, one big difference between them and the Nazi students in post-World War One Germany, viz., their anti-militarism. Their essentialist fixation upon identity did help spawn political movements dedicated to the violent overthrow of society such as the Weathermen, the SLA, the Black Panthers, and (the even more crazed and barely noticed) SCUM, though these were never very successful. But the long-term consequences would be taken up two generations later, where racial identity is absolutist in its defining of who one is and what one must think. One only has to insert the word “Jew” or “black” into any contemporary Woke tirade about whiteness to see that the mind-set is completely fascist.
All of this is to say that the notion raised above that fascism died first, then communism died and we were left with liberal democracy as the most resilient ideology (Fukuyama’s end of history) is completely false. What has occurred is that the ideas which gave birth to liberalism, communism and fascism have been undergoing a dialectical metamorphosis in the minds of the elite who deal in ideational norms for their social, political, and economic empowerment. This class has replaced the first estate of the old regime; for it is the class which provides social direction and orientation. It is the class whose faith is absolute; it is the class whose god is their own ideas. It is the class that knows all. It is the class that rules.
This also means that the modern state in the Western world, is also the direct result of two generations coming out of the youth revolution of the 1960s and it has much in common with the totalitarian regimes of the fascists and Nazis and communists.
And it is evident in what now looks completely innocuous, but is a key indicator of why we are on a precipice, why the world’s once leading democracy no longer stands for freedom – and it is also why some half of the population thinks the last US election was a coup. And the seemingly innocuous indicator is simply what people now expect of the state. To repeat, it is the kind of expectation that commenced with the Jacobins and other political clubs, and in the political representatives, the Girondin and Mountain; was kicked around as an idea by the socialists and revolutionaries in France and Germany; bonded the Russian intellectual youth to overthrow the autocracy and form the communist party; that led the youth of Italy and Germany to believe everything their leader said (the communists would then quickly copy this cult of personality); the kind of expectation that the youth of the sixties had when they wanted to destroy the family, and capitalism, and anything else in their way. The state will save us – it will save the planet by dictates about energy; it will ensure that women have control over reproduction so that eventually they will only reproduce when told or needed; it will specify what we must think and say about race; it will decree who can speak and who cannot; it will ensure we can have our pleasures, if we are well behaved….
Much of this is socialism, but fascism knew one thing the Soviets did not know, but which the Chinese communists now know: The market can orchestrate human energy in ways that the state cannot. The truth of fascism was its corporatism – when I say the truth, I do not mean the desirability of a certain power flow, but the interconnectedness that could only be curbed by a culture that was more resilient, less imbecilic, more conscious of consequences and processes, more aware of the flaws of human nature, and hence more attuned to what is required by education, as well as a less idolatrous and pleasure-centric society.
Corporatism, in other words, is the terrible truth of the logics of capital and the state when driven by a diabolical culture of pride and ambition. Today corporate culture is a culture that fosters a political elite who feast on imbecilic abstractions and their dialectical interplay. Its real nature is not disclosed by the old nomenclature of left and right, for it involves both. While the state and capital are commonly interpreted as opposing forces; the fact is that capital and the state are so intertwined that they cannot be disentangled from each other.
Just consider, for example, the way the entire legal profession benefits off any new state legislation; or the value added to pharmaceutical companies by university research and public grant money; or the interpenetration of government, medical bureaucracy, private companies (the COVID vaccine is just a symptom of the relationship), and obviously the military and arms producers; or how easing restrictions on financial institutions contributed to low interest rates, thereby helping fuel further government spending in such areas as mortgage loan schemes (to which we owe the crash of 2008).
Likewise, the state giveth and the state taketh away; it rewards some industries (green industries today) and closes down others (gas pipelines). Revolving doors exist in all sorts of industries between those working in the highest levels of private enterprise and the government sector. Marx had said the state was the instrument of the ruling class; and on this occasion he was right, though the modern liberal democratic, especially once the franchise had expanded far beyond what Marx had believed possible, had, for a short time, ameliorated the tendency of the concentration of power exclusively in the hands of the society’s elite. It did not last, which is why fifty years ago Western democracies, though not without their problems, allowed for critics who could address the problems of those seeking more welfare, representation of interests or freedom from state persecution.
Today the elites in Western liberal democratic societies dictates not only how interests are represented but how they must speak. They have become totalitarian – and their aim is literally to absorb the entire world into their totalizing narratives. Ironically, while this elite was, partly at least, schooled by poststructuralists in their attack upon the family and capitalism, it was the poststructuralists who originally used the term “totalizing narrative” to criticize what they thought were simply the means for creating social conformity. And while, in the main, the pedagogues of the 1960s and 1970s were generally critical of state institutions, as well as capitalist corporations, their achievement has been to create an elite whose power is consolidated through the marriage of state institutions and capitalist corporations.
Just as the state helps capitalists who support its ideological plans and goals by allowing them to have massive salaries and profits, contracts, etc., corporations repay the favour by ensuring their employers are trained in the ethos required by the social objectives, and punishing/sacking employees who do not get with the program. If this means supporting ideas and narratives which fly in the face of reality e.g., white people being employed to teach others that all whites are racists, but which deliver a more compliant workforce and society who will accept what their educators tell them, so be it. Businesses may be conflicted over losing some customers at the expense of others; but to have the support of the state is not to be taken lightly. Thus, too, advertisers threaten to withdraw support from companies who deviate from the ideological consensus required by state and human resource operatives who also play a key role in deciding who gets employed and how the company presents itself to the public. Politics, ideology and corporation are all caught up in branding.
It is the new corporate fascism. Its beaming faces are Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Jeff Bezos, and their stooges – actors and pop stars and the every-day henchmen in the corporatized world which has now eclipsed the public/private distinction and seeped into every social capillary, because the personal really, now, is political. Freedom of thought is increasingly banned from schools and universities because the program has nothing to do with independent minds. What matters, which was just what mattered for the fascists, was that the community will is articulated by its leaders and enforced by its people. Unity must prevail, lest great injustice and catastrophe engulf us all. The enemies not only of the human race, but of the very planet must be stopped.
Everything is political and everything is corporate. This is why we need to have a world full of imbeciles, run by imbeciles.
Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.
The featured image shows, “Skeletons Fighting over a Hanged Man,” by James Ensor; painted in 1891.