Neoliberalism or Fascism? Trump, Globalization and Global Cosmopolitanism
Recently, I came across a quote from Steve Bannon, Breitbart manchild prodigy and Trump transition overseer, from a few years ago:
“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
In this post, I want to share some thoughts about the unique historical relationship between neoliberalism and fascism and how this quote relates to that history. There has been a great deal of talk within the left about whether a Trump presidency will be fascist, neoliberal, or something else. The tl;dr is that I think we will see a hybrid of the two. Fascism has often been used to support the neoliberal project, and vice versa. Here are a few points and some conclusions for moving forward:
1. Neoliberalism has appeared in many forms throughout the world. The experience of it in the Global North (the US, Europe and other industrialized countries) is often different from the Global South (a catch-all term for developing nations). As with capitalism as a whole, we shouldn't overlook the historical hybridity of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism can adjust itself to its environment, even when doing so requires a departure from strict, Milton Friedman-style economics.
2. When you look at this history (eg, Suharto in Indonesia and Pinochet in Chile), there is often a clear alliance between fascist and neoliberal interests.
3. Many of these dictatorships were put into power by CIA-backed coups against democratically elected governments that challenged US geopolitical and economic interests. The Ford Motor Company is an example of one the corporations that supported fascist governments in return for influence on the economic policies of those governments. During Pinochet's regime, many people disappeared after being escorted into Ford Falcons that had been supplied to the secret police.
4. Neoliberalism and fascism aren't the most comfortable bedfellows. Still, there can be a marriage of convenience. The purpose of neoliberal international interests aligning with fascists was this: implementing major economic reforms, especially to the welfare state, is extremely unpopular. A fascist regime can put a population into a state of collective paralaysis. It can also be used to round up opponents of these reforms. This is often called "economic shock therapy", "the shock doctrine" (after Naomi Klein's book) and "disaster capitalism". Advocates of economic shock therapy, people who guided US foreign policy for decades and who still hold a great deal of influence, argued that shock and catastrophe were a necessary evil to liberate populations from economically oppressive governments.
5. Neoliberal economic policy affects more than trade deals. A Trump presidency can be internationally protectionist and domestically neoliberal at the same time.
6. Observers from the European left have repeatedly called Brexit/Trump an indication of "the end of the postwar consensus". The postwar consensus was that a welfare state would be necessary in order to see off the very real threat of communist revolution (this is also called Keynesianism). We should remember that after years and years of restructuring, the welfare state nowdays is a Jenga tower and that the destruction of the postwar consensus is the ultimate goal of neoliberal reform.
7. Climate change, an economic crisis and a divided working class present great opportunity for disaster capitalists because all of these things make it more difficult to build a strong protest movement. This is why it is imperative for new social movements to create structures that allow us to care for one another in ways that the state doesn't, or to replace structures that people like Bannon are dedicated to smashing. The Black Panthers saw this years ago when they built systems for collective care and mutual aid. As did the LGBTQ community when it created illegal clinics to fight AIDS...
8. ...and this raises another point: Marginalized communities have been organizing systems of mutual aid for centuries, often as a reaction to white supremacy and settler colonialism. White, middle class people need to acknowledge this and understand that we can not be leaders here, whether we're talking about organizing a march "for women" where involving women of color is an afterthought, or trying to understand and react to what's happened within the myopia of American exceptionialism. Pointing out divisions that already exist - especially folks from marginalized backgrounds are doing it - is not the same as being divisive. We can learn to anticipate these divisions, to work to heal them, and to stop situations from being created where Black women and queer people end up putting emotional labor into correcting our mistakes for us. Moreover, any movement that fails to anticipate or smoothes over these problems at the beginning is doomed to fail later on.
9. Resistance to a Trump regime will have to revive the spirit of cosmopolitanism and working class solidarity that was at the heart of the Alter Globalization movement and that has remained at the heart of Idle No More and the Arab Spring. This is an opportunity to tap into the anger of the working class at the very real repercussions of globalization on its material conditions. The Trump campaign exploited this anger, but it was only able to because Democrats were divided over it. Yet Egyptian workers at the Suez Canal have more in common with the maids in Trump hotels than they have in common with Steve Bannon. The Algerian Harragas will have more in common with Honduran migrant youths trying to reach the United States than with the elites of their own countries - or of ours. And the Movement for Black Lives invested more this election season in building a strong relationship with the people of Palestine than it did knocking on doors for the Clinton campaign.
White, middle class people can and should participate in these new networks of international solidarity if we can do so with humility - up until 2008, globalization was very good for us. And this brings me back to Bannon's words about the establishment. A visionary internationalist politics built on solidarity and mutual aid offers far more hope than the Trump campaign did - and the latter didn't capture the majority of working class voters or mobilize a huge turnout relative to previous elections. As the old saying from the alter globalization movement goes: another world is possible. Let's relive that possibility.