The Predictable Resurgence of Fascism and Nazism On Both Sides of the North Atlantic and Its Consequences
Fascism and Nazism were militarily defeated in World War II, a goal achieved through the broad alliance of political and social forces. The defeat of those political options and the weakening of economic and financial powers that supported them allowed for a redefinition of power relations between social classes, particularly between the owners and managers of capital on one side and the working classes on the other. It opened new possibilities, including the empowerment of the working classes that led to the establishment of welfare states and to the reduction of inequalities.
The Origins of Fascism and Nazism: the Great Depression
Fascism and Nazism were the products of the Great Depression. The deteriorating economic situation had disastrous effects on the quality of life and well-being of the popular classes and undermined the credibility and legitimacy of democratic systems and governments in the United States and Europe. Fascism in southern Europe and the United States, and Nazism in central and northern Europe and also in the U.S., capitalized on the resulting discontent. These movements acquired significant influence on both sides of the North Atlantic, ultimately governing several countries of Western Europe.
The message of each was authoritarian and antidemocratic. Fascism and Nazism regarded all other political options as illegitimate, the basis for justifying their elimination. Both advocated extreme nationalism based on classism, racism,and machismo, presenting themselves as defenders of the Christian civilization and promoting force and violence against the “other”, whom they defined as an enemy. The two movements were profoundly antiunion, anticommunist, and antisocialist. These views made them attractive to the economic and financial power establishments who felt their power threatened by protests fueled by the labor movements. Hence, influential sectors of these establishments financed Fascism and Nazism.
The Defeat of Fascism and Nazism In World War Ii: The Empowerment of the Popular Classes
Fascism and Nazism were militarily defeated in World War II, a goal achieved through the broad alliance of political and social forces. The defeat of those political options and the weakening of economic and financial powers that supported them allowed for a redefinition of power relations between social classes, particularly between the owners and managers of capital on one side and the working classes on the other. It opened new possibilities, including the empowerment of the working classes that led to the establishment of welfare states and to the reduction of inequalities. Where the working class was stronger, as in Scandinavia, the redistribution of income and ownership of capital was greater and the welfare state more extensive. Where the working class was weaker, as in southern Europe and in the U.S., the redistribution and establishment of the welfare state was practically nonexistent (as happened in Spain, governed by a fascist government, and Portugal, governed by a fascistoid one) or very limited (as in the U.S. where the labor and social rights of the labor force were very reduced) and its class, race, and gender inequalities were very extensive. The structure and modus operandi of its democratic systems have always been clearly structured in favor of conservative political forces. As a consequence, the working class in the U.S. has been historically very weak. Federal law, namely the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, restricts the activities and power of labor unions, limiting them to defend segmented and highly decentralized sectors of the labor force. General strikes are prohibited. The federal electoral system in the U.S. is hardly proportional or representative, with each state, regardless of population, represented equally by two senators, which inherently biases the legislative chamber, the Senate, in favor of the country’s rural and more conservative regions. Financing of the electoral process is fundamentally private, which enables the financial and economic establishments to “buy” politicians. It is the “liberal economic and political model” par excellence.
The Response of the Social Class of Owners and Managers Of Economic and Financial Capital to the Empowerment of the Popular Classes
The defeat of fascism and Nazism redefined power relations, empowering the working classes. A consequence was an increase in labor’s share of national income, with a proportional decrease in capital income during the post-World War II period through the decade of the 1970s. This led to protests by the economic and financial establishments and the advent of neoliberalism. Established in the U.S. with the election of President Ronald Reagan and in Great Britain with Margaret Thatcher, it was incorporated later in most governing social democratic parties—the majority parties within the European left—through the so-called Third Way.
This new version of liberalism promoted globalization of economic and financial activity with complete freedom of capital and labor mobility, creating a significant increase in migration and displacement of capital, primarily industrial, to the countries of the Global South. Such globalization also resulted in deregulation of the labor market, increased regressive fiscal policies, and the great containment and reduction of public social spending.
These policies aimed to weaken the working class in countries on both sides of the North Atlantic and reverse the distribution of income in favor of owners and managers of capital—at the cost of labor-derived income. The decline of income from labor as a percentage of national income declined significantly from the late 1970s, the end of the period known as the Golden Age of Capitalism, to 2019, before the pandemic started. Between 1978 and 2019, the United States saw a decline in labor-derived income from 70 to 63 percent, Germany from 70 to 62 percent, France from 74 to 66 percent, Italy from 72 to 62 percent, the United Kingdom from 74 to 70 percent, and Spain from 72 to 56 percent. The average decline in labor income among the fifteen countries that would form the European Union (EU 15) was 73 to 64 percent.
This neoliberal response was promoted and led primarily by the U.S. government, (joined later by the European Union whose governments were predominately of conservative and liberal persuasions), and by other U.S.-led organizations such as NATO. NATO expanded its influence in areas of the North Atlantic, including the countries of Eastern Europe and now Ukraine, programming its incorporation into the organization.
During this neoliberal period, as part of the globalization led by the United States, an objective has been the expansion and promotion of the existing neoliberal model. An example of this is the economic and labor policies being put forth by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These policies, which clearly have been influenced by the U.S. and countries of Western Europe, are forcing Ukraine to condition the delay of payment of its foreign debt upon approval of a change in the right to own land in Ukraine. Current law restricts property rights for foreigners. The policy change, however, gives international companies the right to own property in the country. The Ukrainian government, which has a neoliberal orientation, favors these policies which are very unpopular. Equally unpopular is the massive deregulation of the labor market proposed by this government before the war and approved just a few weeks ago. Both measures have been imposed by international organizations and adopted by the Ukrainian government under the assumption that they are necessary to “attract foreign capital to facilitate the reconstruction of the country.” Foreign capital, in this case, means North American and European companies.