This is the second installment in a two-part series. Read last week's article here.
Big business’s potential payoff for being on the right side of a fascist state is clear. Just look at the corporate partnerships that enabled Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Franco’s Spain. But for those today investing in fascism, be prepared: expecting the ideology to take over remains a long shot.
This is apparent, for example, in the way America's right-wing Heritage Foundation was willing to direct money toward a new leaderless Dutch far-right group that only had a few hundred members. Another example of a larger movement that is still distant from taking over government power – although not so distant from disrupting it – is the populist Tea Party, bankrolled and supported by billionaires such as Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers.
In the case of the Heritage Foundation, does this organization really expect small leaderless movements to gain power? Or are there others reasons it is sponsoring fascist organizations and encouraging far-right populism at home and abroad?
On the one hand, it seems reasonable to suggest that some uber-capitalists are pumping money into the far-right on ideological grounds. After all, the hierarchy of capitalism dovetails with fascism’s belief in the superiority of a few who must govern over the many. But there are far stronger motivating explanations as well.
1. Shifting the “Center” of Politics Right
In the book Invisible Hand, historian Kim Phillips-Fein shows the degree to which, since the 1930s in the U.S., the 1% has been pumping money into far-right organizations that rejected and sought to repeal the progressive policies of the New Deal. The Heritage Foundation is very much a part of that story, as a group standing on the ideological shoulders of smaller, fringe, far-right political organizations. In the meantime, many small institutions – whether hard-line neoliberal, far-right or openly fascist – have opened up space to make their ideas more palatable to the next generation. Phillips-Fein’s message is that we would not have the neoliberal system we have today if it were not for the capitalists investing in small far-right groups from the 1930s onwards.
Take, for example, the Tea Party. Within the context of American contemporary politics, it is easy to argue the group's populism opened the door for Donald Trump to overtake the Republican Party. In parallel with Tea Partiers, the New York real estate, casino and entertainment billionaire has managed to package himself as an anti-establishment candidate – something not only contradicted by his own wealth, but by the continuing corporate support he receives, not least from tech companies like Facebook and Google.
2. Distract and Rule
Looking across the Atlantic, there are many parallels between Trump’s rhetoric and the successful Brexit campaign. Again, you can find many billionaires who bankrolled Britain's Leave campaign. One of the largest Leave funders, Gladys Bramall, who donated £600,000, was also a registered supporter of the far-right British National Party.
On one level, Bramall's motivation may stem from grievances over E.U. policy. For instance, climate deniers reject carbon cutting regulations of any kind. Casino capitalists may dislike the way the E.U. curtails some of the worst aspects of their business. But if you look at British politics this year, the Brexit debacle has in fact strengthened the 1%’s grip on power.
In early spring there was a great deal of focus on how Britain was facing simultaneous crises. It still seems not unlikely that the UK housing crisis could trigger the next financial crash. The population is also facing debilitating inequality at a time when the government wants to sell off the health service, privatize schools and ramp up neoliberal, austerity-driven policies that helped create the inequality in the first place. On top of all this, the Panama Papers evidenced systemic fraud going right to the top of British politics.
Setting aside the likely exit of Scotland and Northern Ireland from Britain, since Brexit, the Westminster-City of London axis appears far better situated. Multiple crises continue to escalate nationwide in the aftermath of the racist, divisive and distracting referendum campaign. But the ongoing saga gave the corporate media another crisis to shift the focus.
3. A Racism-Industrial Complex?
The E.U. referendum caused a direct rise in racist hate crimes across Britain. Similar spikes in racist hate crimes have also been reported in Austria, in connection to the rise of the far-right Freedom party; and in the U.S. along with the rise of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Alongside populist politicians, the corporate media also support racist movements, giving today's demagogues the oxygen they need to thrive. This point is illustrated in the airtime given to Trump versus the coverage. The trend has been repeated with the anti-E.U. UKIP Party. Collaging anti-immigration and racist newspaper covers explicitly show these weapons of mass hatred in action.
Another high-profile racist campaign was Conservative Zac Goldsmith’s unsuccessful bid for London Mayor. If you look at who bankrolled his campaign, it was billionaires – including many who had made a killing from the 2008 financial crash.
The consequence of corporate manufactured hatred working alongside home-grown hatred is that it creates a win-win for capitalists: by escalating fear. And the result is a "support the lesser of two evils" type of politics. For instance, the Brexit campaign – where the “progressive” option seemed to be with the Remain camp – was bankrolled by Goldman Sachs. We see this trend again with the race to the White House, where there are strong calls for progressives to vote for the Wall Street-backed, pro-free trade, pro-war candidate in Clinton, all to stop the rise of a billionaire sociopath with far worse rhetoric.
Capitalists manufacturing racism and fascism create a tame monster: something that drags the political center of gravity to the right, holding the door open for corporate stooges or worse to seize power. The “big lie” has always been associated with the far-right. But perhaps the biggest deception is the way capitalists and fascists have made – and in today's era of political crisis, continue to make – such cosy and convenient bedfellows.