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The Rise of Yuppie Fascism, Part Two: Yuppie Fascism in Practice
February 12, 2002
by Jack Rabbit

Yuppie fascism is the new form of right-wing tyranny. Last week, we examined the origins and theory of yuppie fascism. This week, we shall examine yuppie fascism in practice.

Let us first re-examine some of the highlights of last week. We examined the phenomenon of yuppie fascism, also called post-fascism, largely through the work of Hungarian intellectual and politician G. M. Tamas, whose article "On Post-Fascism", which appeared in the Summer 2000 edition of the Boston Review, is recommended. According to Tamas, the main feature of fascism, whether classical fascism or yuppie fascism, is a hostility to universal citizenship resulting in actions that constitute a reversal of the Enlightenment tendency to conceptualize citizenship as a necessary part of the human condition. Furthermore, the phenomenon of yuppie fascism adapts this classical fascist feature to a world where the power of the nation-state is in decline.

Last week, we also defined classical fascism by listing some points from an encyclopedia article co-authored by Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, himself. We gave those points in the order Mussolini presented them. Let us now reexamine them in a slightly different order, rearranged in order of the importance of the difference between classical fascism and yuppie fascism.

First, Mussolini said in fascism the state is absolute. However, in recent history, the state has declined in power and the power of the multinational corporation has risen. Thus, in yuppie fascism, the power of the corporation is absolute and all other individuals and institutions, including the state, are conceived only in how they stand in relation to the corporation.

Second, Mussolini's absolute state is expansive. However, under yuppie fascism, the state is a tool of the corporation and uses its power not so much to seize and occupy territory but to negotiate trade agreements that open foreign markets to the corporation in such a way as to set aside any barriers to corporate investment in the foreign market with the aim of corporate dominance of the market. The state's military force is used only if there is no other way to open the market or to protect the corporation's existing investments in the foreign market. In short, the relationship of the corporate state - in the new sense, where the emphasis is on corporate rather than state - of the developed world to the developing world is colonial.

Third, Mussolini's fascism renounced pacifism and embraced war as that human endeavor that "puts the stamp of nobility on the peoples with the courage to meet [its challenges]." However, only corporations directly involved in preparation for war benefit from war. Otherwise, open conflict is a hindrance to commerce; for example, no oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Karachi can be built as long as there are local hostilities in Afghanistan. Consequently, war is replaced not by peace but by a state that might be called one of security, in which tensions that arise from the imposition of corporate power over the powerless are suppressed; brute military strength is used to suppress the tensions - labor strife and peasant uprisings - only if necessary.

Fourth, classical fascism rejected egalitarian ideologies like socialism and democracy in favor of "the immutable, beneficial and fruitful inequality of mankind" which cannot be altered by "a mechanical process such as universal suffrage." Yuppie fascism also embraces inequality as beneficial to society as a whole and therefore holds that the rich deserve their opulence. Vast wealth is placed at the disposal of the members of an economically elite class for their private pleasure as a reward for their superior ability and foresight.

Finally, classical fascism rejected Marxist class struggle as a vehicle of historical progress in favor of concepts of individual "holiness" and "heroism", by which Mussolini meant "actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect." For Mussolini, the exponent of the absolute state that expanded for its own sake, a heroic act was an act of valor in war. In yuppie fascism, with the state in decline and war seen as an inconvenient though occasionally necessary evil, the hero is the entrepreneur.

This is especially true if he began in middle-class or even lower-class surroundings, becoming the hero of a modern success story written by a contemporary Horatio Alger. Collective class struggle, in which individuals band together to better the position of all, is thus replaced by the endeavor of the individual to better himself and only himself, leaving the members of the class from which to rose to be exploited by him as the head of a new corporation.

Yuppie fascism exists in Europe and America. In Europe, it is the successor of classical fascism. Yuppie fascism in Europe is promoted by political leaders such as Jean-Marie LePen in France, Jorg Haider in Austria and Gianfranco Fini in Italy. Fini coined the term "post-fascist" to describe the new approach of his party, the National Alliance, as opposed to its predecessor, the Italian Socialist Movement (MSI), which was in turn the successor of Mussolini's Fascist Party. Fini, who is the Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition government led by Silvio Berlusconi, is the most successful exponent of yuppie fascism among European politicians.

Some of the difference between classical fascism and yuppie fascism is superficial and stylistic. It is the makeover of the fascist MSI into the yuppie fascist National Alliance that perhaps is the most emblematic moment in the transition of fascist style in Europe. In America, that emblematic moment came years earlier when Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke traded his white robes and hood for a business suit and blow-dried hair. For Tamas, citizenship is restricted by European yuppie fascists by the usual political denunciations of minority groups such as homosexuals and AIDS sufferers; in this respect, they are no different from the yuppie fascist politicians in America who pander for support from the religious right. European yuppie fascists have also made an issue of immigration. Part of Jorg Haider's platform is the expulsion of foreign workers from Austria.

The issue of immigration was a major one in America in the 1990's and was an important reason for the success of the Republicans in the off-year elections of 1994. In California, one of the most passionately contested ballot initiatives was Proposition 187, promoted by its proponents as the "Save Our State" initiative. Proposition 187 called for barring illegal immigrants from public schools and other public services, including all but emergency public health care; it required state and local agencies, including doctors and school teachers, to report suspected illegal immigrants to the state attorney general and to the US Immigration and Naturalization Service; for the attorney general to maintain records and report to the INS; and to make a felony of the manufacture, distribution or sale of false citizenship and residency documents. Proponents of Proposition 187 asserted that illegal immigrants cross the border into California from Mexico because they are attracted to state social services and by denying them those services, immigration would be stopped (see http://www.calvoter.org/archive/94general/props/187.html).

This argument was adopted by the then-governor of California, Pete Wilson, who made support for the initiative a centerpiece of his campaign. In his support for Proposition 187, Patrick Buchanan added to these arguments those that Proposition 187 "are grounded in the warring ideas that we Americans hold about the deepest, most divisive issues or our time: ethnicity, nation, culture" (see http://www.buchanan.org/pa-194-1031.html).

Buchanan asked his readers: "Do we have the right to shape the character of the country our grandchildren will live in? Or is that to be decided by whoever, outside America, decides to come here?"

The phrasing of Buchanan's question is quintessential yuppie fascism. "We" are an exclusive group and "we" have the right to say who can join our exclusive little club and under what circumstances. Buchanan calls for a "time-out" on immigration, "to assimilate the tens of millions who have lately arrived." Buchanan believes that anyone can come here and "become a good American." What is between the lines of Buchanan's article is that by "good American" he means that the immigrants must embrace Anglo-American culture, customs and values. It's as though Buchanan is saying that anybody, regardless of race, color or creed, can become a White Christian Capitalist. All others should be excluded.

Opponents of Proposition 187 had a number of arguments against the initiative. They argued, perhaps incorrectly, that beefing up border patrols would better solve the problem (in reality, in the face of increased border patrols, illegal immigrants have only found new and more dangerous routes across the border). Opponents also wanted to see law enforcement crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, a feature absent from the initiative. If those arguments didn't work, there was always the argument that it would cost up to 150 times more to enforce Proposition 187 than the state was losing by providing social services to illegal immigrants. However, what opponents of Proposition 187 couldn't hide was their horror and revulsion at an initiative that was thinly-disguised racism.

Going into the campaign, Pete Wilson's job approval ratings in California were extremely low. During the campaign, Californians really didn't warm up to him. Nevertheless, by taking tough stands on immigration and crime, Wilson easily won reelection. It is hard to think of Pete Wilson as a racist on a personal level. Indeed, Wilson would denounce in strong terms the crude racist elements in the Republican Party - and actually named such offenders as David Duke and Patrick Buchanan. However, while Wilson was making such statements out of one side of his mouth, he endorsed an initiative these yuppie fascists could have written.

The success of Proposition 187 was so impressive that the Republicans took it to a national level. The elections of 1994 brought the GOP into control of both houses of Congress for the first time since the first two years of the Eisenhower administration and made Newt Gingrich speaker of the house. The House passed the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. This act constitutes not merely a remedy for illegal immigration, but had many consequences for legal immigrants as well. Under section 303 of the act, an immigrant convicted of a crime is to be detained by the INS upon his release; under section 304, the detainee is entitled only to a single deportation hearing; under section 306, judicial review of the deportation process is denied (see http://www.takatalaw.con/us/iract96.html). Cases exist where the detainee's country of origin has refused to take back the alien. In such cases, detention is indefinite. Many court cases are pending.

Even tougher immigration legislation was passed by Congress in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Instead of being convicted of a crime, a non-citizen need only be detained and deportation proceedings started on the certification of the attorney general that there are grounds to believe that the alien is a threat in any way to national security (see http://www.aclu.org/congress/l110101a.html). Again, the alien is detained until his country of origin agrees to allow him to return. Since that might not happen in the case of one labeled a terrorist, detention is potentially indefinite.

Immigrants are by definition not citizens; it therefore seems specious to argue that they are being denied the rights of citizenship in the conventional sense. However, immigrants from underdeveloped countries migrant to developed nations in Europe and North America with or without proper documentation or authority to seek a better life with higher-paying jobs than they can find in their own country. The yuppie fascist argument is that these people are undeserving of such opportunities.

Since the Republican takeover of Congress immigrants are not the only targets of yuppie fascist legislation. A good example is the so-called Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, colloquially called welfare reform. Under this act, the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program was replaced by a new Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. ADFC was a very bad example of a welfare program and was for thirty years an irresistible target for those who genuinely had the best interests of the poor at heart. But yuppie fascists do not. In many ways, AFDC was every bit as bad as its critics on the Right said. It was an inflexible system that discouraged work (earning income could result in having benefits reduced) and tore families apart (a single parent might be able to draw more benefits by remaining single).

However, TANF is really little more than AFDC with time limits and work requirements. The yuppie fascist line is that the poor are dependent on welfare and if they were threatened with being cut off after a time, they will get off the dole and better themselves. Often, supporters of welfare frame their arguments in terms of the benefits of the new system for the poor as compared to the old one. However, listening to the arguments presented by supporters of welfare reform, one may come to think that their real concern is reducing caseload rather than fighting poverty. They almost never mention that a great problem with the old AFDC system was its inflexibility. Getting off welfare and going to work was often an all-or-nothing proposition for the recipient. If the beneficiary was working, then the beneficiary apparently did not need to draw AFDC. Thus, getting a low-wage job with no fringe benefits like health insurance leaves the AFDC recipient worse off than before; a full-time worker earning minimum wage with no benefits is earning only 60 percent of the poverty line.

In all this, the poor are never heard from or seen. It is always those chosen to speak for them, which nowadays may be not Martin Luther King but a research fellow from the right-wing Heritage Foundation. The poor are thus deprived of their voice.

The war on drugs is yet one more way to deny the citizenship and humanity of a targeted group. We needn't go into detail about how the war on drugs has been a war on the poor, largely responsible for the statistic that one in three young black males is or has been under the control of the judicial system. However, they are drug users or drug dealers, so we needn't be concerned about them. There's no discussion about race and poverty in the argument; it's simply a matter of crime and punishment and denying that any inquiry should be made into root causes.

Of course, this argument goes global as well. Corporations want the government to open markets. Up to now, this has been through trade agreements favorable to corporations in the developed world. NAFTA and other trade agreements have exported manufacturing jobs from the developed world to developing nations. While the manufacturing jobs disappear in the developed world, they are replaced by lower-paying service jobs. However, these people are for the most part invisible to their middle- and upper-income compatriots. We see little or nothing of their suffering in the popular culture.

The workers in developing nations earn less money; the lack of labor laws in such countries often means that they have no right to strike and work longer hours. Occupational health and safety laws are lax, if they exist at all. The lack of environmental laws mean that money that the corporation should spend on making sure that the by-products of the manufacturing process not foul the local air and water instead goes into profits. With the talk of a shrinking world, the interdependency of various national economies and the global nature of the world economy, there is no room to discuss the worker in developing nations. He is denied his humanity for the benefit of the corporation. He is invisible. He is not seen by people in the developed world. To the corporation, the worker is the source of labor, and labor is thought of as only a commodity. The concept that this worker seeks a better life in the developed world brings us full circle; in order to benefit the corporation, the worker must remain a source in cheap labor; therefore, the nations of the developed world prohibit his immigration.

The recent state of the union address may indicate a new direction in US foreign policy. Mr. Bush's specious claims of an "axis" of evil among three nations that are not associated with each other and even at time hostile to each other, strongly that the war on terrorism will expand. However, many observers question what threat these countries currently pose to the US. European allies are incredulous. This begs the question whether the war on terrorism is expanding in order to combat terrorism or to open markets to multinational corporations based in the United States.

This invisibility of the low-wage earner in both the developed and the developing world and the lack of a counter-argument on Mr. Bush's foreign policy is accomplished by the fact that the media is under the control of the same corporation that benefits from the free trade in the global economy.

Thus, the same people who decide that capital shall cross international boundaries but labor shall not also decide what is news and have the power to limit debate. This total corporate control of news content has been major part of the political success of coalitions with yuppie fascist elements, such as the Berlusconi government in Italy and the Bush administration in the United States. For Berlusconi manipulation of the media was particularly easy. Berlusconi is at once the leading media magnate, Italy's wealthiest man and the Prime Minister. His platform is toughness on crime, promises a crackdown on illegal immigration (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article0,4273,4201739,00.html) and he treats trade unions as enemies (see http://www.zmag.org/content/MainstreamMedia/italy0122.cfm).

What Berlusconi does not own privately, he now controls as Prime Minister. As the owner of Italy's three largest private television stations, Berlusconi had no trouble manipulating the media in his favor (see http://www.commondreams.org/views01/0524-06.htm). Berlusconi used his power to make certain that he would be the most dominant figure on television during the parliamentary election campaign in 2001. The problem of Berlusconi's dominance was exacerbated by the fact that the state-run television network in Italy, RAI, does not air political advertising. Those other candidates who wished to be heard had to buy air time from Berlusconi, thus furthering Berlusconi's personal fortune in an attempt to prevent him from assuming political power.

Now that he is the head of the government, Berlusconi also controls the RAI. Between Berlusconi's private station and the RAI, 90 percent of Italian television viewers are tuned in to programming controlled by Berlusconi. Berlusconi uses his power to control the editorial content of Italian state-run media. As soon has he assumed power, Berlusconi began purging the RAI of left-wing journalists (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Aritcle0,4273,4190266,00.html).

Europeans find Berlusconi's dominance of television outrageous. There is a tradition of state-run media in Europe. However, the public expects the state-run media to have journalistic independence from the government. By moving against left-wing journalists, Berlusconi has betrayed that trust. In the United States, there is no tradition of state-run media. However, there had been a long tradition of journalistic independence. Television networks allowed their news departments this independence, in spite of the fact that the news divisions were often money-losers, because they found that viewers watching a good newscast often stayed tuned for the moneymaking prime-time programming afterwards. Today, however, news programs are expected to make money. Furthermore, they are under control of global interests that would limit discussion.

Public discourse was dealt a serious blow in 1987 with the death of the Fairness Doctrine. Under the Fairness Doctrine, a broadcaster presenting an editorial view was obligated to make time available for those who wished to present an opposing point of view. The doctrine went by the wayside when a Reagan-era FCC ruling killed it. Congress passed legislation to restore it, which President Reagan vetoed; Congress was unable to override the veto (see http://www.onlinejournal.com/Midia/Higdon080301/higdon080301.html). Today, broadcasters do not need to present an opposing point of view and usually don't. Opposing points of view on the war in Afghanistan have not been heard. Anti-globalization demonstrators are portrayed as crazy anarchists. Those at the lower realm of the American economic strata are seldom seen.

The result of this is a remarkable manipulation of public opinion. In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, Neal Gabler points out that in spite of the fact that there has been an increase in the maldistribution of income in America, politicians have a difficult time using it as an issue (see http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-000006735jan27.story). The news media does not cover issues involving wealth and poverty, and as a result Americans do not think in terms of class. Gabler admits, rightly, that there are other cultural aversions to Americans thinking in terms of class warfare. However, on the whole, says Gabler:

"[C]lass warfare has been steadily subverted over the past 20 years by defenders of the status quo: Republicans have chiefly led the fight, but so have some Democrats, captains of industry, journalists, religious leaders, radio talk show hosts and cable television babblers. They have waged this campaign on the stump, in the media and, most effectively, in the popular culture. What they have achieved amounts to a psychological revolution in which Americans not only don't think in terms of class, they don't even recognize any economic force beyond their own labor. Class warfare has been destroyed through a kind of national brainwashing."

And thus, we come to the way in which yuppie fascists deprive the members of the underclass of their global citizenship: by making them invisible in the media and popular culture. If they are portrayed at all, they are portrayed not in their own terms, but in corporate defined terms. The corporations have no more powerful weapon than this.

Yet they can argue that is not censorship because the government is not telling them what to say. This argument is specious. When the news media does not broadcast news because they are told not to, it is censorship whether it comes from the government or the corporation. This kind of control of the media is undesirable and anti-democratic no matter what the source of the censorship.

One of the most important thing that can be done to fight yuppie fascism is to restore the Fairness Doctrine so that those who currently have no voice will again have one. Again voices for the dispossessed will be heard. Again there will be people visible speaking for the dispossessed beyond our borders, who make our clothes for substance wages in poor working conditions. Again, these voices will be able to speak on their own terms and choose their own spokesmen. No more will the anti-globalization protester be the youth with body piercings and orange hair chosen by the corporate media for the purpose of frightening the uncommitted in the public, but rather one chosen by the movement for the purpose of persuading the public with well-presented arguments that invite open discussion of the issues.

Yuppie fascists embrace contested elections while their classical fascist predecessors banned them. However, a truly democratic system is more than simply voting, especially when all candidates are being financed by the same corporate money and must pander to the same corporate media to get the point across, a corporate media that may ignore those bearing a message that they find threatening to their power. Democracy requires not just voting for a candidate of one's choice, but that there be universal citizenship and that each citizen have an equal chance to have his voice heard. In the 1940's, we came to realize that democracy and classical fascism were not compatible; democracy and yuppie fascism are no more compatible today.

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