What are some of the economic factors that contribute to the growth of fascist movements? What can we learn from history and what are the troubling parallels that we see today?
In his latest Global Capitalism lecture, Prof Wolff gave brief updates on the US military intervention in elections and the economics of advertising, after which he tackles this big topic: the rise and fall of American capitalism.
“If you have rising wages for 150 years you develop in your people a peculiar mentality: they begin to think that they live in a charmed place. You can call it the American dream, you can call it the capitalist system, but it's this feeling that you as an American citizen are somehow entitled. It's important to get that in your mind because that's what's been taken away from a large number of Americans and made them very, very angry. And you saw that on January 6.”
However, during the pandemic of the last 10 months, the richest 600 or so Americans have become much richer still, while 60 million Americans had to file for unemployment compensation for some or all of the same period. As Prof Wolff said, you have to go back to Ancient Egypt to see similar levels of inequality.
“Not wearing a mask is craziness. Climbing up the Capitol’s wall, that's craziness too. But it would be a terrible mistake to give it some abstract theoretical explanation without understanding its roots in genuine, real lived experience. That's what makes those people think and act the way they do and if that isn't changed they will continue, and their neighbors will, and their children will…”
Prof Wolff’s lecture examines the history of rising fascism in Germany after World War I. He describes the three economic blows that hit the German people in quick succession: a lost war, inflation, and a great depression. In 1923, fifty years of savings bought you a quarter pound of butter. Prof Wolff says this drove the German working class crazy.
In an 1923 event known as the Beer Hall Putsch, Adolf Hitler and a group of young, white men (“looking an awful lot like those who took over the Capitol on January 6th in D.C.”) stormed a building in downtown Munich, Bavaria, in an attempt to take over the government. They were unsuccessful. Hitler was arrested, tried, found guilty; he spent almost a year in jail. He wasn’t well known to the public at the time, but just 10 years later, in 1933, he became the head of the German government. Why? Because, as Prof Wolff says, the capitalist system of Germany only got worse in the intervening 10 years. This grew an audience of desperate people looking for reasons to their suffering, and Hitler and his Nazi party organized themselves and provided answers and promises for drastic change.
“There is a lesson: if you don't make the basic changes that are causing these social divisions and crises, they will get worse. If Mr. Biden chooses to continue to be the kind of central Democrat spokesman for the corporations, then he will be recreating the conditions that produced both Mr. Trump and those disastrous events at the Capitol. Only the next time, those folks who cheered that on will very likely have learned better ways to go about the same tasks aimed at the same objective.”
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