Fascism as Capitalism's Emergency Protector
A compilation of a recent Twitter thread detailing the relationship between capitalism in crisis, fascism, conspiracy theories, and the religious-ization of exploitation
This article is an annotated collection of tweets from a thread posted on November 5th, 2021. It details how fascistic movements in the 20th century and now in the 21st function as emergency protections of capitalistic exploitation in the face of unrest and calls for reform. Original posts will stand as they appeared, while added commentary will be denoted with an asterisk (*)
1)When capitalism starts to buckle and the people demand dignity and equality, liberalism’s soft pressures and meritocratic promises give way to fascism, which reinforces the economy through violence and offers meaning through war.
* Important to note, right from the beginning, that we are living in a moment of crisis where, indeed, capitalism is buckling. Both from its own internal contradictions - as wealth becomes more concentrated, the workers are made incapable of affording products, setting off a chain reaction that leads to a meltdown - but also a predictable cultural backlash where the people being exploited reach a point of frustration and anger that they can only either tear down the system or else find meaning in the fascistic components this writing details. It’s a crossroads, and we are standing here, waiting to decide on a route.
A clarification for those wading into this: liberalism here refers to our current dominant worldview, a reality where the law and economics regulate our behaviors over religion, a mindset that has claimed in the past to establish individual liberties and enlightenment as it propagates. That “betterment of life” is what liberalism promises in exchange for accepting capitalism and involves a whole host of incentives for people to keep showing up at work and investing in the system into perpetuity.
2)The market disguises patriarchal, white supremacist hierarchies, blaming human suffering on forces “beyond the benefactors’ control.” When that fiction wears thin, fascism celebrates those ideas as natural and supernatural, the bedrock of society, and protects them as sacred.
* It’s important to remember that “market forces” were designed by and protected by those wealthy and powerful who benefit from them. But having them there, the “desires of the market,” allows those who benefit to express that they wish they could help people or make the world more equitable/tolerable, but refer to those market forces as irresistible. In this way, programs that would benefit us, whether it’s healthcare or infrastructure or even housing, are rendered undoable and unachievable, because of the forces “beyond” their control. Eventually, once that illusion loses its luster, fascists are quick to laud those forces as religious institutions.
3)Fascism rises from the stumbling of capitalist systems, replacing the internal, quiet systems with bombastic violence and attacking reformers as traitors and conspirators until the society is brought under widespread, self-destructive control.
* Promises that we can “work hard enough” or “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” constitute a religious faith that the system is fair and the toil of our labor will eventually save us. When we realize that isn’t true, as we are doing now, there is a requirement that someone will step in and make us do work. Soft pressures, such as poverty and the specter of financial ruin, give way to outright violence that has been legitimized by groups who begin attacking us as traitors and conspirators.
4)The religious, esoteric nature of fascism, with its spectacle and cult of power and mysteries, is an answer to the alienation and underlying nihilism of exploitation and production. It turns material pursuit of profit into sacrament, industrial sacrifice into martyrdom.
*The essence of liberalism was to remove religion from the day-to-day mechanics of politics, allowing for capitalism to work without the interference of religious wars, including the battle between Catholicism and Protestantism, which was destroying Europe and killing large swathes of people. Extraction of faith in favor of legal and economic systems benefited individual liberties, but left the processes of life, for some, feeling empty and meaningless. Fascism solves the internal contradictions by continuing the system of economic exploitation, but also imbuing it with “new meaning,” or a new religion focused on both personal sacrifice to the state but also steadied on a foundation of increasingly absurd invented myths. Organizing society around production, while minimizing the worth of the individuals making it possible, leaves populations open to these poisonous appeals.
5)What we’re seeing, with these conspiracy theories, is a masking of economic exploitation with religious mythologies that attempt to transfer blame from the wealthy class to their political enemies. It’s a spiritual weapon and it happens over and over again.
* The Republican Party is both currently engaged in this but also has a long history of these tactics. As politicians who serve the wealthy as a public relations front, this framing of reality is not only conducive but necessary to protect the financial elite from anger, reforms, and uprisings. In this mindset, de-industrialization and globalization are blamed not on economic forces or seekers of profit, but scapegoats fashioned by religious and nationalist mythologies that already hold sway over the popular imagination.
6)The answer is to find faith in one another and meaning beyond consumerism, nationalism, and personal advancement. These things bleed into fascism as capitalism breaks the emergency glass. But this crisis is as spiritual as it is political or economic.
* For over a century now the American system of capitalism has used the chasm of meaning between production and alienation to market products that are, through psychological means, sold to us as sacraments that might be the material means by which we find happiness. This existential problem, of not knowing what any of this is for, of wrestling with the cold, material conditions of liberal capitalism, is a perfect environment for the peddling of these goods. To break this cycle and defeat the threat of fascism, not to mention make our lives actually better, is going to depend upon finding a new faith that affirms trust, solidarity, and meaning through the bonds that bind us.
7)These conspiracy theories feed off the taught belief that we are all economic competitors and to trust one another means risking oblivion and apocalypse. That’s been the story we’ve been told and it’s to the benefit of wealthiest few. And they’re powerful triggers for fascists.
* This is an idea some call “Homo Economicus,” or the idea that we are naturally distrustful and selfish, a reflection, it should be noted, of the Christian concept of “original sin.” Within this mindset, we cannot possibly trust one another and must, at at all times, be prepared to defend ourselves and our property from those who wish to take them from us. Not only does this idea make a consumerist, hypercapitalistic society possible - and poisons it while doing so - but it provides a quick and easily manipulable worldview for fascists to weaponize as they divide society into a war between “Us” and “Them.”
8)So, as economic conditions worsen and calls for reform grow, the wealthy turn up cultural terror, warning their base that they’re under attack, an apocalyptic threat looms, then aims the blame at the reformers and dissatisfied classes. Meaningless struggle becomes religion.
* Our current culture war stems from the consumer-domination of politics, which has come to replace democracy as representative politics has been effectively rendered null and void. It creates cultural fights that feel like they have political import but are largely expressions of consumer preferences and identities. The message, however, on the Right is that shadowy, evil forces are conspiring to create these battles, which is why their conspiracy theories always involve “puppetmasters” controlling the media and reality itself. This tells people to ignore reality in general in favor of a “different reality” that suits their own purposes. Suddenly, the struggle is no longer economic or material. It becomes a battle for the very future and soul of humankind.
9)CRT, the War on Christmas, immigration, all of it becomes a purpose to people desperate for meaning. The toll and toil of the economy leaves them searching for something. The conspiracy theories off a crusade, a threat to meet. Suddenly the system needs saving from enemies.
* You’ll notice that all of these “threats” invite the base to suddenly double-down on the status quo and reject any progress that might have been made. They begin fighting for education to reaffirm the mythologies that keep them working and making less. They come to define themselves through rampant consumerism which is meant to be a salve over the pain of exploitation. Instead of realizing they actually have more in common with immigrants who have been oppressed and exploited than the oppressors and the exploiters, they push them out while dehumanizing them. The fascist playbook is about turning the system of exploitation into a faith that gives meaning, ensuring that those captured by the system not only continue operating within it but come to celebrate and defend it through fealty and violence.
10)Finally, the meaningless sacrifice of working becomes tantamount to heroism, sacred martyrdom. It’s a spiritual act to do more and be paid less. The system becomes a religion that “cures” the meaningless toil and the agitators are purged as heretics/evil threats.
* Once fascism realizes its purpose to sanctify the system and protect it from reform, tasks shift toward purging. This is legitimized both through the apocalyptic fear of conspiracy theories and the usage of religious orthodoxy. Soon, anyone disagreeing with the fascists and the established system are treated as dangerous heretics who have forfeited any right to individual liberties and their lives. The hope is that the orgy of violence will intimidate most into silence and subservience, while violence, incarceration, and murder are all on the table to dispose with those who refuse. In this way, society is reshaped, workers are made to toil for less and less, and the wealthy and powerful hold their place at the top of the system. The usage of totalitarianism, however, does not roll back. Once the wealthy employ fascism as an emergency measure they lose control of society to the fascists they once employed and are, often, the targets of their violence and power should they step out of line.
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