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The Rot in the System
Published on Friday, November 23, 2001
The Rot in the System
by Seth Sandronsky
As 2001 lurches to a close, Americans are edgy. And who can blame them? The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks led to the Afghanistan war. Then came corporate bailouts and job cutbacks, anthrax spores, military-police build-ups, civil rights rollbacks and government censors. The corporate news media has reported these events but failed to clearly connect them to the current rot in the capitalist system. Thus the American public is being deprived of a socio-economic context for recent events.

The past is in the present. Consider one of the system’s previous responses to crises. In a word, fascism. Historically, fascism has emerged in a time of economic turbulence, featuring one political party of big business that relies partly on symbols and themes of national unity to mobilize the public.

Today there are surely signs of economic trouble that could encourage fascist-like responses. The American economy is the world’s largest and is now leading the world slowdown. The stock market bubble that helped drive the record U.S. economic expansion of the past decade is a shadow of its former self. Unemployment is increasing for American workers as corporate profits move south. U.S. consumer and corporate debt is unsustainable.

Prospects for global growth look bleak. “Recent figures from the WTO show that world trade will barely grow this year, if at all,” the Nov. 16 London Economist reported. Nations that rely on exports to America are being especially hard-hit. Gulliver sneezes and Lilliput gets sick.

Returning to historical fascism, Germany in 1933 isn't the U.S. today. Yet there are similarities. In Germany, fascism claimed to support workers but actually neutered them. In "Fascism and Big Business," Daniel Guerin detailed how Germany's National Socialism attacked and defeated unions.

Supported by Republicans and Democrats, the corporate-led war against organized labor is one reason the U.S. is simply off the charts when it comes to social indicators versus other First World nations. Here are two examples. Over 40 million Americans lack health care and two million Americans are locked up.

Fascism has arisen when a country’s ownership class resorts to military solutions when its profits are threatened by market competition. Guerin wrote, “There is, certainly, a direct link between war and fascism. They grow out of the same dungheap; they are, each in its own way, the monstrous products of the capitalist system in decline.”

During the fascist era, world trade basically ground to a halt. National economies spiraled downward during brutal competition for resources in what’s now called the Third World. The main global resource today, of course, is oil, the essential energy for the system, playing no small part of the war in Afghanistan. U.S. control of Middle East oil weakens Europe and Japan. They are the main competition for the U.S.

During the period that preceded World War II, global market competition led to worsening living conditions for the German and Italian working classes. Big businesses in those nations protected their profits by relying on a strong central government to support social movements which sounded egalitarian. In Germany and Italy, the moneyed few forced the working many to labor longer hours for less pay, then wage war to protect that wealth and the power it controlled.

Before Sept. 11 in the U.S., the drive to create low-wage work was well underway. Corporate America—through think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute—supported the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. Welfare “reform” in other words. Now that some former welfare recipients have jobs, the same corporate-funded institutions oppose a “living” wage, preferring some workers to sleep in their cars and use food banks to make ends meet. Confusing? Not to those who choose to see that the system is based on the growth of capital through the exploitation of labor.

To keep the public fearful since Sept. 11, U.S. politicians and pundits have been supporting an inquisition of sorts against darker people deemed to be dangerous. This came on the heels of government repression against the anti-corporate globalization protesters who publicly criticized the system’s major institutions such as the WTO and IMF. Creating a climate of fear in the name of security is a cloud cover to eliminate popular dissent.

On a related note, the U.S. government is protecting the profits of corporate America with taxpayer dollars. Some politicians call this “economic stimulus,” though the public’s economic security is becoming shakier. The taxpayer bailout of U.S. airlines that got billions then fired over 100,000 workers is a case in point of how the U.S. corporate-state functions, putting profits before people.

The airline bailout was a current example of a decades-long class conflict in the U.S. The American public has been abandoned by the Democratic Party for the nation’s financial and industrial elite. Their swollen wealth has come in part from the hides of the U.S. working-class.

A friend who lived through the fascist coup in Chile on Sept. 11, 1973, said America would get fascism before it got socialism. Some might say that U.S. socialism already exists—for the corporate and high-income class, fattened by years of public funds for research, development, patent and copyright protection.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government has increased its power over the public, which is funding the war in Afghanistan that feeds cash to sectors of corporate America. The U.S. population pays and big business benefits. Ben Franklin summed it up nicely. He wrote, “War is robbery, commerce is generally cheating.”

Seth Sandronsky ( ) is an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive newspaper.


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