I started writing this article in February 2022, and it quickly expanded into a short book, which I am still writing in April. I’ve decided, therefore, to publish its individual sections on this website separately as they are completed. This will inevitably entail me going back to and revising earlier sections as the later ones are completed and the structure of the whole takes form, but I hope this will make this already long text more accessible. And if I think it’s worth doing, I will make the whole text available as a pdf file on completion.
As readers of the Austrian economist, Friedrich Hayek, will recognise, my title is taken from his enormously influential book, The Road to Serfdom, which was published in Britain in 1944 during the Second World War. Rejecting the Marxist argument that fascism was the reaction of a decaying capitalism to the rising threat of socialism, Hayek argued that Italian fascism, German National Socialism and Soviet communism all had common roots in central economic planning and empowering the state over the individual. He therefore opposed the UK following the model of socialism that had been laid out in the hugely popular Beveridge Report in 1942, and which the post-war Labour Government would fail to implement fully in the creation of the Welfare State. While I share neither Hayek’s equation of fascism with communism nor his championing of liberalism and capitalism as defenders of the rights of the individual — both of which have been refuted by the return of fascism in the most advanced capitalist economies over the past two years — Hayek’s fears and warnings about the threat of the state to the freedom of the individual are even more relevant today than they were then. If millions of Europeans had lived under fascist nation states for a decade and more when Hayek was writing, how should we describe the digital serfdom to which the global biosecurity state is reducing the billions who are living in the former neoliberal democracies of the West today? It’s under the banner of this warning, therefore, that I’m publishing The Road to Fascism.
‘Fascism redrew the frontiers between private and public, sharply diminishing what had once been untouchably private. It changed the practice of citizenship from the enjoyment of constitutional rights and duties to participation in mass ceremonies of affirmation and conformity. It reconfigured relations between the individual and the collective, so that an individual had no rights outside community interest. It expanded the powers of the executive — party and state — in a bid for total control. Finally, it unleashed aggressive emotions hitherto known in Europe only during war or social revolution.’
— Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, 2004
Table of Contents
- The Return of Fascism
- Eternal Fascism
- The Fascist State and Human Rights
- Fascism and the Decay of Capitalism
- The Psychological Structure of Fascism
- From Kitsch to Woke: The Aesthetics of Totalitarianism
- Fascism and the Left
- The Camp as Biopolitical Paradigm of the State
- For a Popular Front Against Fascism
- On Humanity in Dark Times
For my generation, which grew up during the neoliberal revolution implemented in this country by the Governments of Margaret Thatcher, the accusation of ‘fascist!’ was most closely associated with the character of Rick, played by a young Rik Mayall in the TV series The Young Ones, which was screened by the BBC between 1982 and 1984. Emblazoned with political lapel badges opposing everything and everyone, Rick was the stereotype of political impotence that was not, unfortunately, confined to student anarchists but extended to the entire British Left. This stereotype has continued up to today with Antifa, the anarchist movement which — before most recently advocating locking up the ‘unvaccinated’ and joining police in opposing anti-lockdown protesters in Germany — was known for calling far-right groups ‘fascist’. This has attracted the censure and mockery of an older generation who lived through fascism in Germany, Italy and occupied Europe, and who look with frustrated tolerance at a generation raised on the freedoms won by them in the Second World War. From this perspective, the accusation of ‘fascism’ was an expression of the apparent end of history for the children of Europe’s middle-classes, who were too busy developing the orthodoxies of multiculturalism, political correctness and identity politics to notice the very real and unorthodox politics going on beyond the borders of Europe, most obviously in the expansion and violence of US imperialism in South America, East Asia and the Middle East. While accusations of ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘antisemitism’ and all the other ‘isms’ learned by rote in the institutions of political correctness are now made publicly, with impunity, without proof, on a daily basis and with often ruinous effect for the accused, ‘fascism’, in contrast, has been made all but unusable, its use identifying the speaker as unworthy of attention, childish, innocent of history. And while I am terrified at how the adolescent accusations of woke ideology have found such rapid translation into ever more repressive laws further removing our human rights under the guise of protecting us from ourselves and others, I have, by and large, agreed with reserving the term ‘fascism’ for its historical manifestations.
Fascism, as I have written before, is particular to a certain stage in the development of capitalism and a certain formation of the capitalist state, arising out of the relatively late unification of the Italian and German nations in 1871, the desire of their governments and perhaps their people to share in the colonial spoils on which the British and French empires had fed for centuries, and in response to, respectively, humiliation and defeat in the Great War, the revolutionary upheaval of 1918-19, post-war hyperinflation, the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. There are, undoubtedly, many more factors contributing to the coming to power of fascist governments in Italy (1922-43), Lithuania (1926-40), Hungary (1932-45), Germany (1933-45), Portugal (1933-74), Latvia (1934-40), Austria (1934-1945), Greece (1936-41), Romania (1937-44), Albania (1939-43), Slovakia (1939-45), Spain (1939-75), the Netherlands (1940-45), France (1940-44), Serbia (1941-45), Croatia (1941-45) and Norway (1942-45), including the long history of antisemitism in Christian Europe, the revival of nationalism by the Great War, and the threat presented to capitalism by the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. And given the complexity and contingency of these historical forces, what justification can there be for using the word ‘fascism’ in anything other than a historical context? None, I would have said, and for this reason have always avoided using this term to describe the imperialism, militarism and brutality of our politics, laws and military aggression since 1945.
Until now. In this series of articles, I’m going to look at what the term ‘fascism’ means 100 years after it first came to power in Italy; what grounds there are for using it to describe the current formations of power within the global biosecurity state and the Fourth Industrial revolution in 2022; and what are the benefits and dangers of using this term. My point in doing so is not to adjudicate over a question of terminology proper to an academic discussion in which I have no interest, but to alert us to the seriousness of the threat we are facing from the revolution in capitalism we have been undergoing in the former neoliberal countries of the West over these past two years, where failure to counter this revolution will lead, and, finally, the necessity of doing so before — as happened in Europe in 1939 — the world is thrust into a disaster from which it cannot extract itself except at the cost of millions of lives. Indeed, as I write these articles, this brink may already have been crossed. But even if it has, we should be in no doubt about what is driving this revolution, what its political and financial aims are, and what means it will employ to attain them, and not be afraid to call it what it is. I believe that, not in its economic infrastructure, certainly, but in its ideological superstructure — that is to say, its emerging governmental, juridical and cultural forms — its name is ‘fascism’.
1. The Return of Fascism
I want to start by distinguishing what I understand by ‘fascism’ from ‘neo-fascism’. The latter is a term used by neoliberal governments and their media to describe far-right groups in Europe and the USA that nostalgically look back to the 1930s, even when their countries and people suffered under historical forms of fascism. Favoured as a pejorative description by anarchists, antifascists, socialists, social democrats and liberals who see no problem in thereby aligning themselves with right-wing governments, this term has functioned to turn our eyes away from what has always been the real threat of the return of fascism. This is not, in my opinion, from these violent but largely impotent political and cultural movements, but rather from the neoliberal governments themselves, which are not above using neo-fascist groups to further their own geopolitical agendas — most recently, for example, conveniently deciding that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is more ‘neo-fascist’ than Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Ukraine.
The word ‘fascism’ comes from ‘fascio’, the Italian word for ‘bundle’, and derives from the Latin ‘fasces’. Derived from Etruscan civilisation and adopted by the Ancient Romans, the fasces was a bundle of rods surrounding an axe with the blade projecting that, carried by a lictor or bodyguard, symbolised the legal authority and supreme power (imperium) over the Roman military. Imperium was the form of authority held by a citizen elected to the office of civic magistrate, including consuls, praetors, and proconsuls, and in Roman law was distinguished from and superior to the coercive power of the law (potestas) or individual prestige and influence (auctoritas). On the magistrate’s command, however, the fasces could also serve a more practical function, with the rods being used for corporal punishment and the axe for capital punishment. The unity of the bundle, therefore, was only achieved at the cost of the subjection of the individual to the obligations of citizenship, which were modelled on the military and were enforced with all the authority and power of the state.
Revived in the Twentieth Century, most famously by the fascist movement, the fasces was used as a symbol of civic authority beyond fascist Italy. It appeared, most inconveniently, on the reverse of the ten-cent ‘Mercury’ coin struck by the United States Mint between 1916 and 1945, surrounded by the motto E pluribus unum (‘out of many, one’), which was the motto of the USA until 1956 when it was replaced by ‘In God We Trust’.
This isn’t surprising, given that the USA has modelled its empire on that of Rome, and in doing so has adopted not only the latter’s terminology of Republic and Senate but also its classical architecture and its military symbolism, the most obvious borrowing from which is the Imperial Eagle. Taken by the Founding Fathers from the military standards of the all-conquering Roman legions they wished to emulate, the eagle was also adopted, and for the same reasons, by the Third Reich. And unlike the Nazi swastika — an ancient symbol even older than the fasces, which has become anathematised and even illegal to display in many countries — the fasces continued to be used as a symbol of collective power long after the Second World War. To an extent, this reflects the difference of censure imposed by the victorious Allies on, respectively, National Socialist Germany and fascist Italy, but it also tells us something about the structure of state power. A pair of bronze fasces still appear, to this day, behind the House Rostrum in the US House of Representatives. Indeed, in an echo of Rome, the seat of my former local magistrates, Lambeth County Court, has a bas-relief of a fasces over the door of its Neo-classical building, which was built in 1928. I know this court well, having organised a demonstration outside in March 2017 as part of our campaign to stop the eviction of a single mother by the Guinness Trust, her not-for-profit housing association. Later that year, however, the court was closed by the Government and sold by the freeholder — the Duchy of Cornwall, which owes most of the land around here — to the aptly-named property developer Lucrum, which in Latin means ‘profit’, ‘advantage’, ‘love of gain’, ‘avarice’.
It would be wrong, therefore, to see the authoritarian unity symbolised by the fasces as belonging to a historical period and politics now surpassed. Instead, fascism should be understood as a latent presence in the structure of all judicial, executive and legislative authority, and a warning of what can happen when the individual and his legal rights are subsumed within the politically declared needs of the collective. Fascism, in this sense of the word, is the other side of the coin that is struck when we agree — willingly, out of convention or under duress — to the formation of the state. For this reason, it would be not only historically incorrect but also politically naive to confine fascism to the past. On the contrary, fascism — I am not alone in believing — is making a return to our politics; or, perhaps more accurately, fascism is unveiling the axe it has kept hidden in the bundle of rods with which our backs have been beaten on the justification of ‘the common good’.
Over the past two years, this transcendental signified — the ultimate, absolute, irreducible, transparent and utterly illusory referent to which all biosecurity ‘measures’ are supposedly subordinate — has been decided not only or even primarily by the elected governments of nation states, but also and with far greater authority by the various institutions and organisations of global governance that have been formed by the West largely since the Second World War. To remind us of the membership, extent and reach of their undemocratic, unelected and largely unaccountable merger of corporate and government power, these include, but are not limited to:
- The Bank for International Settlements, originally founded in 1930 to oversee the payment of reparations after the Great War, with a membership of 61 central banks in 2022.
- The United Nations, founded in 1945, with 193 member-states in 2022.
- The International Monetary Fund, founded in 1945, with 190 member-states in 2022.
- The World Bank, founded in 1945, with 189 member-states in 2022.
- The World Health Organisation, founded in 1948, with 194 member-states in 2022.
- The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, founded in 1949, with 30 member-states in 2022.
- The European Court of Justice, founded in 1952, with 27 member states in 2022.
- The European Economic Community, founded in 1957, incorporated into the European Union in 1993, with 27 member-states in 2022.
- The European Commission, founded in 1958.
- The European Parliament, founded in 1962.
- The European Management Forum, founded in 1971, renamed the World Economic Forum in 1987, with over 1,000 member-companies in 2022, and whose Board of Trustees includes the CEO of BlackRock, the Managing Director of the IMF, the President of the European Central Bank, the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, and the UN Envoy for Climate Action and Finance.
- The Trilateral Commission, founded in 1973, with roughly 400 members from North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region in 2022.
- The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, founded in 1973, linking more than 11,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries in 2022.
- The European Council, founded in 1975, with 27 heads of state or government of the EU member-states in 2022, plus the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission.
- The Group of Six (G6), founded in 1975, expanded to the G7 in 1977, to the G8 in 1997, and to the G20 in 1999, with 20 member-states in 2022, including the UK, the US and the European Union.
- The Group of Thirty (G30), founded in 1978 on the initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation, with 30 members in 2022 comprising the current and former heads of the central banks of 17 countries, including the UK and US, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the European Central Bank, the Bank of International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, founded in 1988, with 195 member-states in 2022.
- The Global Environment Facility, founded in 1992, with 184 member-states in 2022.
- The World Trade Organisation, founded in 1995, with 164 member-states in 2022.
- The European Central Bank, founded in 1998.
- The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, founded in 2000, renamed GAVI the Vaccine Alliance in 2014, and funded (in order of proceeds between 2016 and 2020) by the UK, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the USA, Norway, Germany, France, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Japan, the European Commission and 20 other countries.
- The International Criminal Court, founded in 2002, with 123 member-states in 2022.
As an example of the axe blade hidden in this bundle of unelected power claiming to protect the world, on 3 March, 2022, as NATO declared its media war on Russia, the European Council adopted a decision to authorise the opening of negotiations for an international agreement on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response. Under this agreement, the 194 member-states of the World Health Organisation will be legally bound to implement restrictions on human rights and freedoms, such as mandatory face masks, compulsory vaccination and lockdowns, decided by the WHO. The basis of this agreement is Article 19 of the WHO Statutes, which states that the General Assembly of the World Health Organisation can adopt agreements that, if passed by a two-thirds majority, are binding on all member states. Under these agreements, nation states, including the UK and 193 other members of the WHO, will concede their sovereignty to decide which restrictions the elected executive and legislature will impose on their populations. Crucially, once written into a legally-binding treaty, the efficacy or logic of these so-called medical ‘measures’ — none of which have been used before as responses to viral epidemics, and all of which have been shown over the last two years to be ineffective, dangerous and to endanger more people than the virus — will no longer be open to debate. Instead, the WHO will effectively become a global form of SAGE, a technocracy to which heads of nation states can defer when they choose to, and which serves to depict undemocratic forms of governance as technical responses to new crises. ‘No one is safe until everyone is safe’, the slogan that first entered public discourse around February 2021 and was quickly adopted by the G7, the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, the European Union, GAVI and an ever-increasing number of governments, including the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Norway, Greece, Serbia, the Ukraine and the USA, is as perfect an expression of the totalitarian aspirations of the global biosecurity state as ‘Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’ was of the Third Reich.
It’s on the evidence of such unilaterally imposed biosecurity programmes that my argument for the return of fascism is built. The ‘crisis’ in public health manufactured in response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been the occasion to expand the power of existing organisations of governance and establish new legislation, new powers of enforcement, new ideologies and new technologies that will bring to a completion the erasure of the nation state as the primary form of governance in the West, and replace it with the expanded powers of a global technocracy for which national governments will primarily function as the administrators and enforcers of laws and policies made by collectives of multinational corporations. Undoubtedly, 40 years of neoliberalism have paved the way and removed most of the political, state and societal obstacles to this revolution in global capitalism; but the construction and implementation of the global biosecurity state, the violence with which it has been enforced by nation states, and the readiness with which the residual forms of democracy in civil society have accepted, accommodated and become instruments for its dictates, represents the transition to a new world order which draws much of its politics (technocratic rule), juridical procedures (state of emergency) and ideology (totalitarian) from historical fascism. Fascism is not just a form of governance, a configuration of the state or a social contract, but how these are imposed on a population; and the increase in state violence against the populations of previously neoliberal democracies over the past two years marks a watershed to a new willingness of governments to use the power of the state against its own citizens.
What distinguishes the return of fascism from the fascist states of a century ago is, necessarily, the different stage of capitalism we have reached today. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany operated within an imperialist model of capitalism which, as I have said, represented the attempt of these countries to catch up with the more established imperialisms of the UK, France and the US, and to some extent accounts for the crudity and violence of their implementation, using military conquest to accelerate colonial expansion and economic exploitation. A century later, the monopoly capitalism of the past forty years has reached the stage where global corporations wealthier than all but the very wealthiest countries are now intent not only on dictating the economic infrastructure of our societies but also on using their power to create a new politics — a politics which, in the sense that it erases the polis, is the end of the classical model of politics.
It’s in this sense that the World Economic Forum, which of all the institutions of global governance formed since the Second World War has been the most open about its intentions to create an unelected technocracy, has become emblematic of this revolution, even though its power to affect such change pales beside other, far more powerful, global organisations. Much has been made about the revelations that many statesmen in the former neoliberal democracies of the West are former Young Global Leaders, a sort of corporate Ivy League for Europe founded by Klaus Schwab in 1993 with members from over 90 countries in 2022; and certainly many of the most active promoters of the global biosecurity state appear to have passed through its doors. Alumni occupying former or current ministerial positions in Western governments include Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the UK; Angela Merkel, the former Chancellor of Germany; Nicolas Sarkozky, the former President of France; Sebastian Kurz, the former Chancellor of Austria; Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg and former President of the European Commission; Justin Trudeau, the current Prime Minister of Canada; Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian Finance Minister; François-Philippe Champagne, the Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry; Emmanuel Macron, the President of France; Amélie de Montchalin, the French Minister of Public Sector Transformation and the Civil Service; Alexander De Croo, the Prime Minister of Belgium; Lea Wermelin, the Danish Minister for the Environment; Karien van Gennip, the Dutch Minister of Social Affairs and Employment; Leo Varadkar, the Irish Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Niki Kerameus, the Greek Minister of Education and Religious Affairs; Jens Spahn, the former German Minister for Health; Annalena Baerbock, the German Minister for Foreign Affairs; Sanna Marin, the Prime Minister of Finland; Annika Saarikko, the Finish Minister for Finance; Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary; and Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. That’s just the figures in publicly-elected office. In this respect, the WEF is the think-tank for the aspirations of Western capitalism, formulating, announcing and indoctrinating its populations into supporting the policy of a global rather than national government. And just as the UK Government is the administrative body of UK capital, so too the economic forces behind the WEF, the WHO, the EU and the UN are the real drivers of this revolution in capitalism.
In its economic infrastructure, therefore, which includes the emerging technologies and markets of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, what I’m arguing is the return of fascism in the West is qualitatively different from historical fascism in Europe; but in the ends to which that revolution is being put and the effects it is having on our governance, our laws and our society, it bears comparison. The current revolution — which, as I will go on to argue, is the West’s response to a systemic crisis in finance capitalism — is effecting our transition to a new form of fascism: one formed not around the nation states of imperialist capitalism, but around the international biosecurity state of a global technocracy. Indeed, what the past two years have shown to those who believed — or at least argued — that the European Union and its attendant court, commission, parliament, council and central bank represented some last defence of human rights and freedoms against the predations of global capital is that, to the contrary, it is the forum in which the policies the nation state will enforce are made without any representative or direct vote from their populations. As we will see — and with our own eyes — that will be whether those policies are for a programme of mandatory ‘vaccination’ against future declared ‘pandemics’, the implementation of Universal Digital Identity as a condition of the rights of citizenship, or the move to Central Bank Digital Currency programmed with restrictions and limits on expenditure linked to our health status, individual carbon footprint and social compliance. This is the axe in the bundle of rods that’s been wielded over our heads these past two years on the justification of the common good; this, I believe, is where we can accurately speak of fascism having returned as the present to which the road we’ve so blindly followed has led us.
Architects for Social Housing
In the next section, ‘Eternal Fascism’, I’ll be looking at the ideological manisfestations of fascism, and illustrating them with examples drawn from the global biosecurity state constructed over the past two years.
Collections of articles by the same author about the UK biosecurity state :
- Virtue and Terror: Resisting the UK Biosecurity State
- Brave New World: Expanding the UK Biosecurity State through the Winter of 2020-2021
- COVID-19: Implementing the UK Biosecurity State
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