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An incantation against neo-fascism

Late Capitalism Fascism
Forfatter: Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen
Forlag: Polity Press, (USA)
CAPITALISM / Is not the struggle now about the right not to be exploited, but the right to be allowed to participate? There is much that is valuable in Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen's short book about the possible return of fascism in today's world – but it is weak in terms of empirical documentation.


Late Capitalism Fascism is a short book consisting of three chapters: an introduction, a chapter on "late capitalism as a crisis" and one on fascismn as staging (the spectacle of fascism). The central claim is that modern democracies are moving in a fascist direction. In the introduction, Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen, who is an art historian and a prolific author, establishes an understanding of fascism that does not presuppose comparison with the interwar period. It is a useful but debatable delimitation. Some still argue that the term should be reserved for the historically specific experience in Italy below Mussolini.

Looking for signs of fascism in today's capitalist society is an exercise with a certain historical momentum. In the 1970s, Western Maoists were ardent advocates of a view that their societies were heading towards fascism. They also talked about "late capitalism". In other words, capitalism has been late for quite a long time, and when Rasmussen claims that it is in a crisis, echoes from decades ago are heard. It is true that capitalismn creates its own crises, but it is no less true that the system has so far proved extremely viable, admittedly often with the help of artificial respiration from the state.

A clear political strategy with totalitarian and exclusionary goals.

Rasmussen's broad definition of fascism reads "an extreme nationalist ideology intent on rebuilding an imagined organic community by excluding foreigners". The point, which is important enough, is that nationalism functions in exclusionary, often racializing ways – and helps to perpetuate capitalism's destructive treadmills and global inequality. In one of the best parts of the book, it is argued that xenophobia and nativism channel popular frustration and dissatisfaction in a destructive direction and consequently block the possibility of a positive alternative to capitalism. The lessons from the interwar period, when fascists and communists competed for the favor of the working class, are relevant. This is a genuinely significant insight that causes the warning lights to flash.

Fascism and racism

The book is short and polemical, but it must still be possible to make some demands for nuance and documentation. Both parts are largely absent. To take the phenomenon of Trump, which is given great attention in the second main chapter in particular: As the author suggests, the ignorant Trump has hardly heard of fascism, but is governed by narcissistic, anti-democratic and fundamentally anti-human instincts. However, to call these impulses from the reptilian brain fascist is misleading as fascism in its broadest sense, both in its original form and in later incarnations, is a clear political strategy with totalitarian and exclusionary goals. Apartheid is an example. Modi's India and Orbán's Hungary also represent ideological projects that go far beyond the improvisational approach that characterized Trump's reign.

Rasmussen has no noticeable problems with his confidence. The book contains more answers than questions. He states, without documentation, that the pandemic was handled well – not because the states ensured it, but because the people's creative potential was mobilized. This is how a believer speaks. He may well be right, but he doesn't show why. Speaking of the pandemic, he claims that the racist explanations were clear when it hit. Oh well? Research from Norway shows that the pandemic was racialized to a rather small extent. Later in the book, the author talks about "mainstreaming racist sentiments on social media", but hasn't there been a lot of attention about possible racial discrimination (bias) on Google and Facebook? How mainstream is racism in social media? He does not try to justify that.

From A Demonstration With Yellow Vests

Under late capitalism

Introverted nationalism is not the same as fascism, even if it excludes foreigners. If so, today's South Africa would have to be considered fascist, as the discrimination and harassment of migrant workers from other African countries is gross and extensive. Brexit was in that case also a step in the fascist direction. Such a broad definition runs the risk of obscuring rather than clarifying. Both Russia, India and Brazil are developing in illiberal directions, but in different ways. Chinas path towards a totalitarian surveillance society with an efficiency Mao could only dream of represents a fourth variant. As Rasmussen places so much emphasis on racial exclusion, it is necessary to ask how significant this factor is in the politics of our time. Mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion are everywhere. Brutal and xenophobic exclusion is not typical of capitalist societies. On the contrary, many would think. What was it really like with the Aztecs and their human sacrifice, or the extreme racism African students experienced in Moscow and Beijing during communism? It is not certain that the situation is worse now, "under late capitalism".

The Middle East is becoming a giant hangar for holding refugees and migrants that nobody wants.

#Neoliberalism#, which triumphed some forty years ago, represents the opposite of fascism. It is anti-nationalist and tries to make the whole world into one market. Some of the most powerful political actors in the world, namely the leaders of global technology companies, want to include everyone, regardless of gender and race, in their portfolio. Neoliberalism's goal is to ensure that market mechanisms prevail over social community projects. Fascism is such a community project.

They are redundant

Rasmussen considers a return to fascism as a means of dealing with the crises of capitalism. I am not convinced. It is well known that large fortunes in Europe and the USA have been built on slavery, and the purchase of cheap, often racialised labor is widespread even today. But even racialized workers are partially included, as they are needed. The wall against Mexico, on the other hand, was designed and partly built because there were millions of redundant Mexicans and other Latin Americans on the other side. In other words, there was no demand for their labour, not even on the cheap. This is also the reason that large parts of the Middle East are becoming a giant hangar for holding refugees and migrants that no one wants, in the same way that the USA keeps a large part of its black male population in prison indefinitely . They are redundant; they are not even spare labor. Rasmussen's perspectives on the exclusion of the redundant and the increase in global inequality are important, and he is right: the fight is now not about the right not to be exploited, but about the right to be allowed to participate. But when he says that the standard of living in the United States has fallen by between 20 and 30 percent (since when?), the reader searches in vain for documentation or at least a citation.

Rasmussen further states, again without any attempt at documentation, that the period after the Second World War has been part of a "brutal fascist geography of violence and the crushing of rebellion". Others would emphasize that life expectancy worldwide has increased, and that more and more people are completing a basic education. When he states that Western economies have been in decline since the 1970s, the claim should be well substantiated. In this period, world trade has quadrupled, and in the US GDP tripled in just twenty years from 1993. The growth has the feel of a financial bubble (which occasionally bursts), it contributes to increased inequality (not least in the US, but especially between countries), but that there should have been economic decline for over forty years is a claim that is so strange that it should be documented. When I was in high school over 40 years ago, the converts among us (those who had become MLers) believed that the "shipping crisis" would lead to the collapse of capitalism within a short period of time. It was also discussed at the time lazy capitalism, implied: It won't take long now before we get rid of the hell. It is true, as Rasmussen says, that the profit rate is falling, but this has so far been compensated by enormous growth in productivity and consumption. The limit will be exceeded, and the system will collapse, not because the people rise up in protest, but because the planet is destroyed and partly unlivable for carbon-based life.

Fascism flourishes from below.

Nor, when the people rise up in protest, is it necessarily to get a fairer society; it may just as well be about lower diesel prices. In recent times, there have actually been battles between left-wing and right-wing yellow vests. None of the factions has described a path towards a better society. Rasmussen is no stranger to this fact and writes that the protests he mentions are against existing practices, not for a better society. Are these protest movements essentially anti-racist, without fascist potential? Barely. The fact is that fascism flourishes from below. It is worth noting that both Brexit and Trump were realized thanks to the support of people who felt declassed and excluded.

Some of the reactionary withdrawal Rasmussen describes gives associations to the culture wars in the United States and elsewhere. There is no indication that anti-racists and cosmopolitan people have been forced into silence in this context. There is no dialectic in the analysis.

Social media

The chapter on the social media and the manipulation of reality raises some of the same questions as the first, about the crises in allegedly late capitalism. Is distortion of the truth also a characteristic of fascism? In that case, Emperor Nero and Joseph Stalin stood in the forefront among the fascists. This chapter, which is largely about Trump, is surprisingly resigned, considering the high stakes in the criticism of capitalism. The fact is that right-wing populist and right-wing authoritarian politicians are in many cases able to win elections. Voters from the white working class and lower middle class assume that the slick career politicians who talk about European cooperation and streamlining the public sector do not represent their interests.

In Norway, for example, we have a bland, bald politician who constantly spices up the language with the expressions "All of Norway"

In Norway, for example, we have a bland, bald politician who constantly spices up the language with the expressions "All of Norway" and "Norway, which we are so fond of" – it is this type of politician, and not the sensible, liberal cosmopolitans, who get wind in their sails when adversity is in sight.

That neoliberalism has often been established by social democratic parties is a correct observation, but this shift is not a recipe for fascism as Rasmussen claims. On the contrary, it is the opponents of this regime who end up in the clutches of fascism, often the same groups that would have previously become communists.


Don't get me wrong. Like Rasmussen, I am also convinced that capitalism is destructive by destroying nature, by creating social inequality and by colonizing life worlds with the market principle. In the Anthropocene, capitalism is clearly part of the problem and not part of the solution. It is nevertheless difficult to see how an incantatory pamphlet like this can contribute to anything other than further polarisation, where the pure and simple are confirmed in their flattering self-image and given carte blanche to define those who have not yet seen the light.

Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo.

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