Orwell’s fascism, our normal

“Socialism is the only real enemy that Fascism has to face,” George Orwell wrote in 1937, less than a year before taking a Fascist bullet to the throat.

While precisely defining “fascism” is notoriously difficult, Orwell’s general meaning–that the only alternative to a society of hierarchical domination is political and economic democracy–is as true today as ever. And while the  jackbooted Fascism of mass rallies and book burnings has been defeated, its conqueror was the very same “capitalism-imperialism” that Orwell decried in a 1937 letter.

Fascism after all is only a development of capitalism, and the mildest democracy, so-called, is liable to turn into Fascism when the pinch comes…I do not see how one can oppose Fascism except by working for the overthrow of capitalism, starting, of course, in one’s own country. If one collaborates with a capitalist- imperialist government in a struggle ‘against’ Fascism, i.e. against a rival imperialism, one is simply letting fascism in by the back door.

Orwell does not elaborate on the sense in which he believes that fascism is just developed capitalism, but it’s a fair guess that he was at least partly thinking about the way that capital (money being invested for profit) allows individuals to accumulate unlimited (at least in principle) social power. In this way, a “free” market simultaneously expands to include most every facet of human life (parks and hospitals become privately owned, culture is influenced by strategic advertising, etc.) and concentrates power into fewer and fewer hands. As in Highlander, so in the global economy: “In the end, there can be only one.” As firms compete, weaker ones go out of business after strong ones take all their customers. And because we happen to live in a world where economies of scale are, ceteris paribus, more efficient than mom’n’pop businesses, large firms will tend to take the customers of small firms before being beaten themselves by still larger firms. The upshot of all this is that over time, in capitalism, many small firms tend to turn into a few big firms, i.e. monopoly occurs (literally! Mono-poly; “one” overtakes “all”).

Source: The World Top Incomes Database

We happen to live under this very form of capitalism-imperialism, in which democratic self-determination has been largely ceded as a mechanism of social determination to the whims of private-property owners (who are compelled by competition to whim in the direction of short-term power and profit). Some find it comforting to know that impersonal property law, and not the edict of some villainous central executive, determines control over resources. They may of course prefer as they please, but the combination of our current police state with our various government-industrial complexes (military-, prison-, etc.) amounts to fascism: a few people are in charge, and the rest are kept in line via promises and guns.


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