Revolt Is The Only Barrier To A Fascist America

| Strategize!

Above Photo: Donald Trump waits to assume power before his inauguration Friday. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

Note: We continue the discussion with Chris Hedges on our radio show, Clearing The FOG. You can hear the discussion on a podcast here. Journalist Rick Sterling also joins us to discuss the stifling of dissent and the undermining of choice in news with the attack on foreign media and so-called “fake news.” KZ and MF

This is a transcript of a talk Chris Hedges gave at the Inaugurate the Resistance rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

The ruling elites, terrified by the mobilization of the left in the 1960s, or by what [political scientist] Samuel P. Huntington called America’s “excess of democracy,” built counter-institutions to delegitimize and marginalize critics of corporate capitalism and imperialism. They bought the allegiances of the two main political parties. They imposed … obedience to the neoliberal ideology within academia and the press. This campaign, laid out by Lewis Powell in his 1971 memorandum titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System,” was the blueprint for the creeping corporate coup d’état that 45 years later is complete.

The destruction of democratic institutions, places where the citizen has agency and a voice, is far graver than the ascendancy to the White House of the demagogue Donald Trump. The coup destroyed our two-party system. It destroyed labor unions. It destroyed public education. It destroyed the judiciary. It destroyed the press. It destroyed academia. It destroyed consumer and environmental protection. It destroyed our industrial base. It destroyed communities and cities. And it destroyed the lives of tens of millions of Americans no longer able to find work that provides a living wage, cursed to live in chronic poverty or locked in cages in our monstrous system of mass incarceration.

This coup also destroyed the credibility of liberal democracy. Self-identified liberals such as the Clintons and Barack Obama mouthed the words of liberal democratic values while making war on these values in the service of corporate power. The revolt we see rippling across the country is a revolt not only against a corporate system that has betrayed workers, but also, for many, liberal democracy itself. This is very dangerous. It will allow the radical right under a Trump administration to cement into place an Americanized fascism.

“Ignorance allied with power,” James Baldwin wrote, “is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

It turns out, 45 years later, that those who truly hate us for our freedoms are not the array of dehumanized enemies cooked up by the war machine—the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians or even the Taliban, al-Qaida and ISIS. They are the financiers, bankers, politicians, public intellectuals and pundits, lawyers, journalists and businesspeople cultivated in the elite universities and business schools who sold us the utopian dream of neoliberalism.

We are entering the twilight phase of capitalism. Wealth is no longer created by producing or manufacturing. It is created by manipulating the prices of stocks and commodities and imposing a crippling debt peonage on the public. Our casino capitalism has merged with the gambling industry. The entire system is parasitic. It is designed to prey on the desperate—young men and women burdened by student loans, underpaid workers burdened by credit card debt and mortgages, towns and cities forced to borrow to maintain municipal services.

Casino magnates such as Sheldon Adelson and hedge fund managers such as Robert Mercer add nothing of value to society. They do not generate money but instead redistribute it upwards to the 1 percent. They use lobbyists and campaign contributions to built monopolies—this is how the drug company Mylan raised the price of an “EpiPen,” used to treat allergy reactions, from $57 in 2007 to about $500—and to rewrite laws and regulations. They have given themselves the legal power to carry out a tax boycott, loot the U.S. Treasury, close factories and send the jobs overseas, gut social service programs and impose austerity. They have, at the same time, militarized our police, built the most sophisticated security and surveillance apparatus in human history and used judicial fiat to strip us of our civil liberties. They are ready should we rise up in defiance.

These mandarins are, if we speak in the language of God and country, traitors. They are parasites. Financial speculation in 17th-century England was a crime. Speculators were hanged. The heads of most of [today’s] banks and hedge funds and the executives of large corporations, such as Walmart and Gap, that run sweatshop death traps for impoverished workers overseas deserve prison far more than most of the poor students of color I teach within the prison system, people who never had a fair trial or a chance in life.

When a tiny cabal seizes power—monarchist, communist, fascist or corporate—it creates a mafia economy and a mafia state. Donald Trump is not an anomaly. He is the grotesque visage of a collapsed democracy. Trump and his coterie of billionaires, generals, half-wits, Christian fascists, criminals, racists and deviants play the role of the Snopes clan in some of William Faulkner’s novels. The Snopeses filled the power vacuum of the decayed South and ruthlessly seized control from the degenerated, former slave-holding aristocratic elites. Flem Snopes and his extended family—which includes a killer, a pedophile, a bigamist, an arsonist, a mentally disabled man who copulates with a cow, and a relative who sells tickets to witness the bestiality—are fictional representations of the scum now elevated to the highest level of the federal government. They embody the moral rot unleashed by unfettered capitalism.

“The usual reference to ‘amorality,’ while accurate, is not sufficiently distinctive and by itself does not allow us to place them, as they should be placed, in a historical moment,” the critic Irving Howe wrote of the Snopeses. “Perhaps the most important thing to be said is that they are what comes afterwards: the creatures that emerge from the devastation, with the slime still upon their lips.”

“Let a world collapse, in the South or Russia, and there appear figures of coarse ambition driving their way up from beneath the social bottom, men to whom moral claims are not so much absurd as incomprehensible, sons of bushwhackers or muzhiks drifting in from nowhere and taking over through the sheer outrageousness of their monolithic force,” Howe wrote. “They become presidents of local banks and chairmen of party regional committees, and later, a trifle slicked up, they muscle their way into Congress or the Politburo. Scavengers without inhibition, they need not believe in the crumbling official code of their society; they need only learn to mimic its sounds.”

What comes next, history has shown, will not be pleasant. A corrupt and inept ruling elite, backed by the organs of state security and law enforcement, will unleash a naked kleptocracy. Workers will become serfs. The most benign dissent will be criminalized. The ravaging of the ecosystem propels us towards extinction. Hate talk will call for attacks against Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, feminists, intellectuals, artists and dissidents, all of whom will be scapegoated for the country’s stagnation. Magical thinking will dominate our airwaves and be taught in our public schools. Art and culture will be degraded to nationalist kitsch. All the cultural and intellectual disciplines that allow us to view the world from the perspective of the other, that foster empathy, understanding and compassion, will be replaced by a grotesque and cruel hypermasculinity and hypermilitarism. Those in power will validate racism, bigotry, misogyny and homophobia.

Our only hope now is an unwavering noncooperation with the systems of corporate control. We must rebuild … democratic institutions from the ground up. We must not be seduced into trusting the power elites, including the Democratic Party, whose seven leading candidates to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee demonstrated the other night at George Washington University that they have no interest in defying corporate power or backing democratic populism. We must also acknowledge our own failures on the left, our elitism, arrogance and refusal to root our politics locally in our communities. Rosa Luxemburg understood that unless we first address the most pressing economic and physical needs of the destitute we will never gain credibility or build a resistance movement. Revolt, she said, is achieved only by building genuine relationships, including with people who do not think like us. Revolt surges up from below, exemplified by the water protectors at Standing Rock.

Politics is a game of fear. Those who do not have the ability to make power elites afraid do not succeed. The movements that opened up the democratic space in America—the abolitionists, suffragists, labor movement, communists, socialists, anarchists and civil rights and labor movements—developed a critical mass and militancy that forced the centers of power to respond. The platitudes about justice, equality and democracy are just that. Only when power is threatened does it react. Appealing to its better nature is useless. It doesn’t have one.

We once had within our capitalist democracy liberal institutions—the press, labor unions, third parties, civic and church groups, public broadcasting, well-funded public universities and a liberal wing of the Democratic Party—that were capable of responding to outside pressure from movements. They did so imperfectly. They provided only enough reforms to save the capitalist system from widespread unrest or, with the breakdown of capitalism in the 1930s, from revolution. They never addressed white supremacy and institutional racism or the cruelty that is endemic to capitalism. But they had the ability to ameliorate the suffering of working men and women. This safety valve no longer works. When reform becomes impossible, revolution becomes inevitable.

The days ahead will be dark and frightening. But as Immanuel Kant reminded us, “if justice perishes, human life on earth has lost its meaning.” We fight for the sacred. We fight for life. It is a fight we must not lose. To be a bystander is to be complicit in radical evil.

Revolt is a political necessity. It is a moral imperative. It is a defense of the sacred. It allows us to live in truth. It alone makes hope possible.

The moment we defy power, we are victorious. The moment we stand alongside the oppressed, and accept being treated like the oppressed, we are victorious. The moment we hold up a flickering light in the darkness for others to see, we are victorious. The moment we thwart the building of a pipeline or a fracking site, we are victorious. And the moment those in power become frightened of us, we are victorious.

I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I do know these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists.




  • AlanMacDonald

    Since the comments on the 24th seemed a bit lite, I thought I should share this comment between the two adjoining articles — this one by Woodman, about the fabulously successfully organized and massive multi-million Women’s March on Washington, and 62 other cities around the whole WORLD (women are certainly much better organized than men, eh?), and between the article by Chris Hedges regarding “Revolt being The Only Barrier To A Fascist America”.

    Both these articles are true and bear on similar requirements for the principled populist/progressive mass demonstrations, protest, and public ‘actions’ being the only way for “we the people of America” to be able to accomplish anything — in the case of both parties being ‘captured’, controlled, “Occupied” and effectively killed (as Christopher Hitchens wrote decades ago of the ‘D’ Vichy Party, “‘The Democratic party is not so much dead, as actually, visibly, palpably rotting on the slab”) now that they are BOTH essentially the same as Marshall Petain’s Vichy regime working for the “Occupying” Nazi Empire.

    So, I am not doubting one bit Chris’ point that we are close to a ‘Katie bar the door’ moment of keeping our phony and weakling government from becoming a real nasty, vicious, and overtly “Fascist America” — as Chris so elegantly warns.

    However, in order for ‘the people’ to bar a complete turn into a “Fascist America” AND to accomplish the “Revolt” that Chris, Kevin, and I are mutually hoping and working for, it seems to me that two critical things have to be done:

    1. Per Kevin and Margaret’s analysis, something approaching 3% of the American people have to go ‘into the streets’ and protest —- which the wildly successful “Women’s March on Washington” seems to show can be organized and accomplished, and …

    2. That a compelling, highly focused, clearly and universally articulated, and broadly understood and agreed upon message must be presented, ‘shouted, chanted, and forcefully delivered by this massive protest movement —- which wasn’t all that clearly accomplished since the 2011 “Occupy” mass movement, nor the inspiringly (but vague two-word sound-bite campaign slogan of Bernie Sanders in 2015/6 — which lacked both an ‘object’ in its ‘action sentence, and a target for the Revolution to be “against”).

    So, if we consider the necessary strategic focus and planning to accomplish both the organization, alignment, and cooperation to achieve getting somewhere near 3% of the motivated American population into the streets, PLUS the effort to deliver a singular and compelling message ‘shouted’ to ignite a real Revolution, the vast numbers of people and the clarity of Revolutionary demand, sure seems to suggest a single, seminal, and dramatic “Shout heard round the world” that combines Chris’ focus on Revolt, Bernie’s focus on a non-violent or ‘Political Revolution’, and Occupies focus on occupying or claiming the ground of something that has ‘captured’ or controls our country today.

    Now, I know that Chris is far more intelligent, better educated, and more courageous than myself and many others, and I also know that he has written extensively about empire, as he did in “Empire of Illusion”, and many leading articles. And I know that Kevin Zeese organized an entire DC protest around the time “Occupy” started in NYC focused on Empire as a major concern that needed to be understood and addressed in any Revolutionary movement. “Occupy” itself, of course was well aware and mindful of Revolutionary movements here and abroad, as well as what successful Revolutions targeted and the strategy and tactics they employed.

    However, over the last six years or more there has been an unfortunate amount of controversy about what issue — or plethora of issues — the coming Revolution needs to be targeted “Against”. Broad organizing of the greatest number of people for a protest movement suggests multiple issues to gather people (somewhat like the Democratic Party’s weaving of a broad coalition of a great number of ‘identity issues’ — which might or might not be a winning strategic plan. On the other hand, several differing, leading, and influential intellectuals and academics (who may have a vested interest in books they’re written and ‘terms’ they’ve coined) may angle for a particular messaging or phrase that they feel is inclusive to all the evils, oppression, and problems that afflict us.

    Of course, trying to cover each ‘identity issue’, ‘symptom problem’ and offense felt, may gather more people, but collapse through dissipation of too many messages — which certainly adversely effected the DCN. But too complex, or nuanced (or even foreign-sounding) a banner term for a Revolution in America has the opposite effect of potentially turning away or confusing many average Americans unfamiliar with an overly academic term.

    I don’t pretend to know the answer to this dilemma, but clearly there is a real need for some universally understood, rhetorically effective, compelling, and exciting rallying cry if “Our Revolution” is to be successful in being a Barrier to a Fascist America. So the best I can imagine (without someone like Frank Luntz doing focus groups to develop a progressive counter-phrase to his “Death Taxes” or “Job Creators”, is for some group of intelligent. creative, and cooperative seriously left progressive socialist democratic minds to fiddle around with some combination of well known but inspiring words, terms, ideas, like Revolution, Occupy, Political, that might be targeted against some universally recognized evil, oppressive, or vicious system against which the broadest array of American protestors/demonstrators might resonant as being aligned with and include their own most important issues. But such an exercise should probably keep in mind not only the damage the DNC did to itself in spreading the message too broadly, but also the old saying that may people “can’t see the forest for the trees” or in this case, “can’t see the ______ for the issues”

    Just sayin.

  • There is, of course, a backlash against the Women’s March — by people on the left. It is, once again, tribalism. Identity politics. Apparently the Women’s March was too white, too privileged, blah blah fucking blah.

    This is why the left will never win in this country, will never succeed in forming a powerful coalition. This constant, incessant, relentless, nauseating tribalism.

  • DHFabian

    The message of the women’s march isn’t clear. What filtered through the media is a protest against the election outcome. These are the norm.

    The US has been implementing fascism (by definition) for years, slowly, and from the bottom up. Because the US itself is an economic entity, it makes sense that ours is a class-based form of fascism. The fact that we already stripped our poor of a list of fundamental civil and human rights, all without ruffling the feathers of even liberals, stood as proof that the US is ready for fascism.

  • DHFabian

    It’s not possible to discuss politics and the impact of policies on society in a way that is void of identity politics. As for tribalism, that’s a historic norm in times of stress, when segments of the population feel threatened.

    That said, we really don’t see a left in the US, and haven’t in many years. The politics of the left and right primarily center on socioeconomic policies. If we had a left, they would have been shining a spotlight on our poverty crisis as proof of the grave shortcomings of our deregulated capitalism. Today’s liberals celebrate capitalism by elevating the middle class while virtually ignoring our poverty crisis. Clearly, they so strongly believe in capitalism that they think everyone is able to work, there are jobs for all, therefore no need for poverty relief.

  • I understand. I get it. That doesn’t change the fact that the left that does exist shoots itself in the foot every time with its obsession with labeling people and slotting them into categories.

    How about this — we’re all human beings and those of us with a conscience fight for the rights of human beings, no matter their political “identity.”

    And I don’t consider the “left” and “liberals” to be synonymous. Far from it.

  • kevinzeese

    What kind of backlash are you seeing?

    January 24, 2017: Hour 2
    In hour two of Here & Now’s Jan. 24, 2017 full broadcast, we discuss Republican lawmakers’ focused efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and what possible replacement health care plans might look like. Also, we speak with Ijeoma Oluo, editor-at-large for The Establishment, about how women of color are assessing the impact of Saturday’s Women’s March.

    That’s a very anodyne way of describing what Oluo says in this interview. And I’m not on Twitter, but I’m hearing from friends who are that there’s not only backlash, but pushback to the backlash, in a seemingly endless loop. I’ll ask one of them to chime in here and hope she will.

  • Thom Rip

    Gotta stay in the streets at every turn..scare’em

  • jemcgloin

    May I suggest using that the word “revolution” is scary to many people, and not without reason. Political revolutions have a tendency to be violent, and where there is violence random things happen that only sometimes turn out how the were planned.
    One option is to call for a “counter-revolution” to the corporate revolution that is almost finished hijacking the world political economy.
    A different take on that is to call for a “cultural evolution.” Evolution takes place when changes in the environment, in this case the political economy, forces changes in behavior. “Evolution” evokes the change in attitude by the average person needed to set the earth on a better course.
    I think of myself as fomenting evolution.
    Again, just the word revolution chases many people away. There must be a better way to say what we are trying to achieve.

  • Jon

    I use the term Revel-ution–the joyous dismantling of the structures of oppression, the Berlin Wall dismantling being a prime example.

  • Jon

    My one objection to this is that after reciting the many positive things in society that this empire has effectively destroyed, Chris continues to use the euphemistic term “neoliberal!” NOTHING liberal about this neofeudal regime–one that controls every aspect of life as surely as the original feudalists. So, everyone, please abandon the euphemism!

  • Jon

    Liberals are not LEFT, only “left.” They put on the mask of “leftism” (barely) to distinguish themselves from the other neofeudalists. Was Mussolini a leftist because he didn’t kill as many people as Hitler?

  • Jon

    Good, Lisa, see my comments above in agreement. Pseudo-left is more accurate to describe liberals.

  • jemcgloin

    I like it

  • jemcgloin

    The words liberal and conservative are badly abused and misunderstood in this country. Liberal used to mean pro-free trade. Neoliberal means the new free trade at any cost religion embraced by the 1% to liberate everyone else’s money for their enjoyment.
    You are probably correct that it is more misleading than informative to use the word, even though that is the basic definition, because most Americans don’t know what it means, and probably reminds them of the rightwing insult: “liberal.” The fact that “liberal” comes from the word liberty means, and “conservatives” still think that kings make the best leaders, notwithstanding.
    Neofuedal is pretty good.

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  • 10Swords

    Of course, and there are souls who genuinely have resentment issues that are hard to get past. We can still stand together, as you yourself know.