The Chris Hedges Report: Struggle makes us human

The neofascist movements currently rising around the globe differ from the fascist movements of the 20th century. Fascism in the last century arose to break radical workers’ movements, many organized by the Communist Party. But the current neofascists, figures such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Narendra Modi in India, do not need to focus on destroying unions, which have already been decimated by globalization. Instead, they can directly channel the anger of the unemployed and underemployed towards minorities and the vulnerable.

Vijay Prashad addresses these deformations—and explains how we can fight back—in conversation with Frank Barat in his new book Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism. Prashad, an Indian historian and journalist, is the author of 30 books, including Washington Bullets, Red Star Over the Third World, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, and The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. He is the chief correspondent for Globetrotter and a columnist for Frontline. He is also the chief editor of LeftWord Books. Joining me to discuss his new book, Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism, is Vijay Prashad.

Chris Hedges interviews writers, intellectuals, and dissidents, many banished from the mainstream, in his half-hour show, The Chris Hedges Report. He gives voice to those, from Cornel West and Noam Chomsky to the leaders of groups such as Extinction Rebellion, who are on the front lines of the struggle against militarism, corporate capitalism, white supremacy, the looming ecocide, as well as the battle to wrest back our democracy from the clutches of the ruling global oligarchy.

Watch The Chris Hedges Report live YouTube premiere on The Real News Network every Friday at 12PM ET.

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Pre-Production: Kayla Rivara
Studio: Adam Coley, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Adam Coley


Transcript

Chris Hedges:  Welcome to The Chris Hedges Report. The rise of neo-fascist movements across the globe differs from the fascist movements of the 20th century. Fascism in the last century arose to break radical workers’ movements, many organized by the Communist Party. That was the point of Mussolini and Hitler. But the current neo-fascist figures such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil or Narendra Modi in India do not need to destroy workers’ movements and unions. These have already been decimated by globalization, which depletes trade union power and the instrument of nationalization.

The neo-fascists channel the anger of the unemployed and underemployed towards minorities and the vulnerable. This, of course, is the historic task of fascism. White men who once believed there was a place for them in society flock to the cult-like Republican Party built around Donald Trump, the Le Pen movement in France, or Alliance for Deutschland. They attack migrants, as if migrants, rather than the ruling financial elites, are responsible for their misery.

Vijay Prashad in conversation with Frank Barat in his new book, Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning From Movements for Socialism, addresses these deformities and explains how we can fight back. Prashad, an Indian historian and journalist is the author of 30 books, including Washington Bullets, Red Star Over the Third World, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, and The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. He is the chief correspondent for Globetrotter and a columnist for Frontline. He is also the chief editor of Leftword Books.

Joining me to discuss his new book, Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning From Movements for Socialism is Vijay Prashad. So I use that in an introduction because there are many, I thought, great points in your book, but that difference between classical fascism and neofascism I think is important. And I wondered if you could elaborate a little bit on that in terms of perhaps other differences or why neofascism sometimes doesn’t look like traditional fascism?

Vijay Prashad:  First, Chris, it’s an honor to be with you. I’m really happy to be speaking with you as far as we are going to be allowed to speak, because it seems like every other day people get their shows removed and so on. We’re living in very difficult times. So I’m very happy to be here with you.

I’ve been struck by the language of fascism that gets thrown about to describe things. And sometimes there’s a kind of laziness that sets in. Things look like fascism, or if you don’t like somebody, you call them a fascist, and so on. But there was a great literature that developed in the 1930s and ’40s, even after the war, to try to explain the rise of the first wave of fascism with Mussolini, with Hitler, and of course others.

And that literature suggested that fascism developed largely, but not exclusively, as a way for ruling elites to have a hammer to break down the great threats posed by the growing workers’ movements. It’s also true that after the Russian Revolution of 1917, most of the revolutionary movements in Western Europe, but also in Eastern European, in Hungary, in Germany and so on, had been defeated. The uprising in 1919 was defeated in Germany. The working class was quite disoriented by that defeat. But nonetheless, by the time of the Weimar period in Germany, certainly in the 1920s with the big Turin strikes in Italy, working class movements had begun to assert themselves again. And given the kind of crises faced by owners of property with the Great Depression and so on, fascism was the great stick wielded by sections of the elite to beat back a worker’s movement.

So, that’s one interpretation of the rise of classical fascism. What happens in the 1990s and 2000s is we see something quite different take place. In this contemporary period, it’s very clear that the workers’ movement was greatly disoriented by globalization, which is to say by the incorporation of workers from around the world into the international capitalist system. This includes workers in the former Soviet Union, workers from China, workers from much of the Third World who had been, in a way, held off from the global capitalist system by mechanisms such as the prevention of open exports through import substitution regimes in the Third World, or by, in the Soviet union, the enclosing of the Soviet economy, the preserving of the sovereignty of the economy and so on.

All of this breaks down in the 1990s. You see this vast tide of workers enter the factories of multinational corporations. This really damages worker power. And then of course on top of that it also weakens the sovereignty of states along the global commodity chain. So by the time of the 2010s, workers’ movements are really much weakened around the world. So then you ask the question, well, when this new wave of fascist-like movements develop or fascistic movements develop in India and Brazil and so on, they don’t fit into the definitions of classical fascism. Something else is at work here.

Well, one of the things that interests me, and interests me a lot in assessing this period, is really the kind of evisceration, the destruction, the desiccation of liberalism. And what’s left of social democracy in most parts of the world is beaten by the kind of austerity regimes driven by the International Monetary Fund, the kind of neoliberal policies of privatization, of commodifying areas of social life, of cutting back on social welfare and so on.

This global wave against, effectively, social democratic policies, it delegitimizes liberalism, in fact, collapses liberalism on itself. You barely see liberal or social democratic parties emerging, standing, by the 2010s. In India, the Congress Party, pale shadow of itself. In other parts of the world, in Europe we see the Labor Party completely disrupted by this move. The left is marginalized, and even when it attempts to make a revival under Jeremy Corbyn, beaten back by the forces of, well, neoliberalism I suppose is the word to use.

So in that, what one sees is that the elites, in a way, lose whatever marginal liberal core that was held together in the previous period, either by the residues of national liberation movements, and that’s in the Third World, or by the great, as it were, post World War II boom that took place in the West, which provided allowance for a kind of liberalism. All of that collapses by 2010 politically. And here are the hard right, which is not just the Bolsonaros and the Trumps and others.

I mean, in effect, in terms of policy, most ruling class parties end up, in a way, as hard right parties. In the United States, the Democrats, of course, are different from the Republicans, perhaps less repellent in their attitude towards culture, in their attitude towards social minorities and so on. But in terms of the kind of basic class hatred of the poor, there’s a unanimity of political opinion. And so, as the elite moves in that direction, the neofascist section legitimates itself with its arguments against minorities, immigrants, and so on, and begins to strengthen its pull in society.

Meanwhile the left, already weakened by globalization, is weakened doubly. Because as social democracy disappears and as the center moves rightward, the left NGO-izes itself. Many of the people who would’ve been, say, important left politicians, enter the NGO sector, enter the nonprofit sector, essentially to provide the kind of social relief in a private sector form that the state used to provide previously. And this, of course, weakens the left. It makes the left providers of relief rather than people who are providing an imagination for a new society.

So, I mean, in that sense, the lane for the hard right opens, Chris, much more easily. Because the left, both weakened by globalization, and then secondly weakening itself by becoming providers of social relief rather than those who create an imagination for a different society. I mean, that’s really, in my opinion, the opening for this new kind of neofascist wave in which we still live.

Chris Hedges:  Just to juxtapose with the ’30s. There was also a collapse of liberalism, of course, in Weimar. What’s interesting about the rise of fascist movements in Italy and Germany is that before they took power, they cloaked themselves in the language of socialism. There’s the great strike in Berlin organized by the communists, and Goebbels and the rest of the Nazi Party realized that, although they are about to outlaw unions as soon as they take power, they have to join that strike in order to get the workers. The other interesting difference, I think, is that in the ’30s with the rise of fascism, they set up parallel structures to replace the state, including the iconography and symbols of the state. But we don’t see that now.

Vijay Prashad:  Yes. And that’s interesting, Chris, because in my opinion, there is a kind of intimacy. There’s a real intimacy between the hard right and the sections of statecraft, let’s say the permanent bureaucracy in states. What do I mean by that? I mean, look, in the period just before, and I think Latin America is an apposite place to make these reflections. In the period just before, in the 1970s particularly, we saw the coup d’etat as the instrument by which the elite using the military was able to come to power, clobber student movements, clobber the emergence of a new left and so on. Clobber, you know, the Cuban influence on Latin America. They used the military. They very much used the coup d’etat as the form.

Well, in this recent period, we also saw the left rise, this time not perhaps only the Cuban example, but also of Hugo Chavez. There were a series of left governments that came to power. Evo Morales in Bolivia and onward. Well, the instrument used to tackle this rise wasn’t the coup d’etat, except of course in Bolivia. That was used in Bolivia and in Honduras. In other countries, the right has found it actually quite possible to use the constitution, to use whatever institutions exist to their benefit.

So we’re beginning to see things that we call “lawfare,” the use of the law against the left. How the law was mobilized to delegitimize Lula to prevent him from running against Bolsonaro in the last election. Then there’s a use of the legislator, massive amounts of money used to buy off slim majorities in the legislature. That was used against Dilma. Dilma Rousseff was removed from the presidency by a kind of legislative coup. So, I mean, if you take these three or four different ways, that’s one.

In India, the hard right has found it completely possible to use every instrument of the state. And in fact, those instruments of the state that they don’t find valuable, they use the state to hammer them. They use other instruments of the state. So there’s a kind of unfortunate intimacy between the hard right and the state. They actually don’t find democratic institutions to be an impediment anymore. You don’t need to have the March on Rome. You don’t need to have the burning of the Reichstag by itself.

Now this doesn’t mean that the hard right doesn’t use terrible forms of violence on the street. In India, for instance, again, it’s a good example. It’s quite clear that in the elections in Uttar Pradesh in Northern India, political scientists have looked at this carefully, and they’ve seen that in parts of Uttar Pradesh where the hard right has engineered what is in India called communal violence. So violence against Muslims in particular, but also against oppressed castes, where they’ve had these sort of small acts of extreme violence in one town or in one village. These have operated almost homeopathically to change the mood in the entire state and swing the election for the hard right.

So they use violence surgically. There’s no need to, again, overthrow the constitution to come to power. And I think that’s a very disturbing thing because it shows you that it’s not enough to stand in defense of the constitution against the hard right. In the United States as well, Trump won an election. However narrow the election was and however poor US democratic systems are, they came to power through the election. And it’s likely that in the next election, Mike Pompeo is going to be the president. So you can’t defend the constitution and say, well they are attacking the constitution.

In fact, they are using the instruments of democracy, in some ways suffocating them by money and media power, which are of course the same thing, in order to open their road. So I think this fatal intimacy between the hard right and democratic institutions is something for people to really consider. What’s been happening in many of our societies is the decline of public action. Robust public action has actually demoralized and demobilized majorities of people and has allowed the hard right to have a grip on so-called democratic institutions. That’s the problem. Our antidote has to be to revitalize public action.

Chris Hedges:  Well, that’s what you call [“demofare”], democratic institutions that are used to subvert democracy, because of course they have been captured by the corporate elite, including the courts and the legislative branch. You write that “the forces of the elite win elections because the system does not allow anyone else to prevail. Second, people sometimes do not vote because of the futility of the process.” That’s 80 million registered voters in the United States. “Frustration with the institutions indicates that people believe that it can be better, that they want their sovereignty to be better managed, that the system, as it is, is inadequate. Third, there are a range of barriers to participation, including holding elections on working days, preventing people from [registering to] vote.”

But you write later in the book about how, I forget the term you use, but reducing democracy to the kind of ritual of elections itself is a mechanism by which you weaken and destroy democracy.

Vijay Prashad:  You know, the key word for me, Chris, is confidence. What do people have confidence in? And do they have confidence in themselves to be able to, let’s say, change things or transform things at most, but also just change things or have an impact in the world? I think to a great extent we live in a culture – Globally. I mean this, globally – We live in a culture, global culture, where confidence in your capacity to act in the world is diminished.

In many ways, the advertising media culture, but also just the nature of, let’s say, systemic unemployment and underemployment and so on has created a kind of sense in people, made us into more consumers than citizens, more into spectators than actors. And that’s big. That should be, I think, worrying for people who believe in concepts like democracy. That lots of people just watch the news. They don’t feel like they can make the news.

And that thing of becoming a spectator in the world, that’s disturbing to me. I mean, I understand. People must have a complicated attitude to the world. You don’t always have to be an actor. You don’t always have to be a citizen. You can also be a consumer and so on. You can also just sit back and watch other things happen. You know, there’s an uprising in Egypt. You don’t have to get on a plane and rush there, or to replicate it necessarily in your own society in a kind of adventurous way. It’s happening somewhere, you can watch what people are doing.

But that’s one thing. At the same time, do you feel like you’re always watching history being made? This, I don’t even call it anymore the great man version of history. But this sort of televised version of history. You know, history is happening somewhere else. Other people do things. Joe Biden is doing things, and I just sort of drive to the grocery store, buy groceries, come home, put the news on, and watch him doing things, making history. That sort of attitude, I think, goes quite deep in our world. And that’s a civilizational crisis for the concept of democracy. It’s not a crisis that I’m particularly gripped by or worried about and so on. That should be the worry of people who believe in concepts like democracy. You can’t have a democracy which is absent public action.

The pandemic was a really, really good example of this. When the pandemic struck the world, Cuba, a small country, 11 million people, 11,000 medical students walked out of their dormitories. 11,000 medical students left the dormitory, and they went house to house and tested every one of the 11 million people in Cuba.

I was in the United States asking people, has anybody from the government knocked on your door? Has anybody, not even from the government, has anybody from your community knocked on your door? In Kerala, a state of 35 million, in the city of Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala, the student movement decided to galvanize themselves. They took clipboards. They went door to door checking, particularly to see if elderly people or people who were disabled and so on, needed any assistance. Did they need medicines purchased for them? Did they need food delivered? And so on. This act of going door to door made them folk heroes in Trivandrum. And one of the students, Arya Rajendram, age 21, then won the election and is now the youngest mayor in India. She’s just over 21, maybe 22 years old, Arya Rajendram. And she came to the public’s notice because, as part of the student and youth movement, they just, by themselves, decided to go door to door.

That’s an act of democracy, that kind of public action. And I fear that just because I’m telling you these one or two stories, that’s what they are, is one or two stories. This should have been happening all over the world. And it wasn’t. Partly because as people we have been, like a military after a war, Chris, we have been demobilized. We’ve been told to quickly mobilize for the election. You come to the election, you vote, and then you are demobilized. Go back home. The government will take care of everything.

That’s not how a democracy should function. A democracy should function so that every citizen feels always mobilized to act, to help other citizens, to assist people, to advance the cause of humanity, and so on. Now, again, I just want to make sure I’m clear about this. This doesn’t mean that every day you need to be doing something and so on. But you need to feel like you can get involved. You could go out and do something.

That sensibility, that confidence, I feel has been quite badly damaged by austerity regimes, neoliberalism, atomization of people. And a lot of it is driven by the kind of advertising or cultural world produced by what I think they quite cleverly did, which was to make us into consumers, to constantly beat us with the idea that we are consumers. The idea that we are consumers more than citizens.

Chris Hedges:  Well, totalitarian states invest quite heavily in elections and orchestrate them to give themselves legitimacy. Getting into that atomization, can you talk about this concept of platform capitalism that you write about?

Vijay Prashad:  Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. Long before the pandemic, of course, because Amazon, which is the leader here, was founded long before the pandemic, and moved from books to everything long before the pandemic. It’s a simple matter of scale, of returns on scale. If you are able to get the ability to get me anything I want. Let’s say I want teabags. I want to buy tea bags. If you are able to deliver teabags to me at a certain price point which is attractive to me, I can get the tea bags left at my door stop. If you’re able to do that, and you prevent me from having to go into my car, drive to a shop, buy the teabags, and come back home, chances are I might actually just let you come and deliver the teabags to me.

Well, that’s a logical thing in terms of price point. But we have become used to it, because of hundreds of years of going to the market. We became used to getting into the car, going to the store, walking down to a shop, taking your bag, buying what you need, walking back home and so on. There’s a culture of shopping, going to the market and so on. Going and trying on shoes. You know, an entire culture developed. Well before the pandemic, firms grew because of the returns on scale. Firms like I think Zippo is the name, or Zappos. They sell you shoes where you can go online, order a pair of shoes, they’re delivered to you. Enormous, enormous carbon footprint for this. You try the shoes on, they don’t fit, you can return it at no cost, they send you another one and so on and so forth.

These firms had developed before the pandemic. But during the pandemic, during the lockdown, it’s almost like in many societies, not just in the richer countries, but in many countries, that we were suddenly all sent to platform capitalism university. Because even those who are not used to buying online, who didn’t want to buy online, who had sort of moral problems with buying online, or who enjoyed going to the market, were forced now to go online and buy. And a lot of the basic human activity, which had disappeared during the lockdowns in particular. In some countries the lockdowns were quite long.

In that period, we were trained to just start buying things off the web, and basic human activity was denied us. Not just for the period of the pandemic, but in a way, the pandemic allowed platform capitalist firms like Amazon and a whole series of firms to train us to the so-called convenience and price points of buying online. And you know, around the world, and studies have shown this, that many people have, even though the lockdowns were released and people could go back to shops, they just didn’t. They continued to buy things like groceries off the web, off the platform.

And that actually even deepens atomization. You might remember, Chris, the book that Robert [Putnam] wrote maybe half a generation ago called Bowling Alone, where he made the argument that people were not going out and forming groups and so on. And he was pilloried for it, I thought slightly unfairly. Because, well, he picked the concept, the activity of bowling, which had already had two problems. One, the elite academics mocked that he chose bowling, which is largely, I imagine, in the United States a working class activity. But also bowling itself was losing its place in popular activities even by that time. It was a little anachronistic. He could have picked many other things instead of bowling alone.

But anyway. The broad point Kaplan was making is correct, which is that lots of collective activity was already being depleted a long time ago. The point he was making is people weren’t joining extracurricular organizations. They were coming home harried, long commutes because of the terrible transportation problems in very many parts of the United States. Long commutes, get home tired, get some sort of quick meal, put the TV on. And with the decreased price of buying consumer goods, you can have two or three TVs. So people watch different TV shows in different rooms.

And Kaplan’s was a cry in the dark against that. Well, if you think what Kaplan was talking about was bad, it’s worse now. You know, my father who died in 1999, he lived in Calcutta in India. He used to say, every day I get dressed so I can go and talk to people in the shops. You know, it was a form of activity. He lived in a big apartment building. Go down, talk to people in shops. He found that to be a form of socializing that kept him alert, alive. Also forced him to take a bath, shave, get dressed, and go out.

Well now you just sit at your computer and buy things. And I think one should be a little concerned about this. One doesn’t have to take a nostalgic view. I think Kaplan’s book had a little bit of nostalgia in it for some great past. You don’t need that. You don’t even need to have a conservative view that values, all values have been depleted. But we can still, I think, acknowledge the fact that this form of capitalism, this platform capitalism further atomizes people. People used to complain that people don’t know their neighbors. Well, you don’t know your community. That depletion is, I think, quite serious for the development of politics.

Chris Hedges:  I want to talk about violence, state violence. “The capitalist state,” you write, “is not a dignified state. It is a state of police officers not social workers, a state of tax collectors not teachers and health workers. The capitalist system burns clothes and wastes food. It is not dignified. It is an abomination, an obscenity. It is decadent. The system is violent. So we are not abstractly in favor of nonviolence. We want to create a nonviolent system, a socialist system.” Talk about that.

Vijay Prashad:  Wow. That’s a lot of rhetoric in those sentences, Chris. I’m blushing a little bit, I think. Wow. Okay. Look, here’s the thing. You and I are speaking just after the United States has experienced one more school shooting. And it’s interesting, Chris. There are weapons all over the world. You and I were in a film, in the same film, Shadow World. And you made a good point in that film. You said the principle problem in the Middle East is not terrorism. It’s the weapons industry. I thought that was a very astute observation. It’s awash with weapons. When that film was being made, I was living in Beirut. In fact, while they filmed me, there was gunfire in the background and I had to pause for a minute to acknowledge the, not 21-gun salute, but a thousand gun salute outside my window.

Anyway, there’s this school shooting. What’s interesting is the debate in the United States is around guns and so on. But I was interested in the fact that it’s always, not always, but often, schools that experience this shooting. There are guns in society. People could go into movie theaters. Sometimes they do. People could go and shoot at rock concerts. In Las Vegas, they did. Those things happened.

But there seems to be a preponderance of violence at schools. That was interesting to me, and there seems to be little discussion about that. Tells you a little bit about the violence of schools, where teachers are denigrated. You know, there’s a conversation now, let’s arm teachers is the conversation, it seems to me. From the right, at least. You won’t allow teachers to choose the books they are teaching, but you’re going to arm them. Such disrespect is given to teachers routinely. Then the bullying in schools, toxic masculinity, all of this. It’s a place, I think, of great concern for people. Should be. Well, it seems to be a front line of some kind of violence taking place there.

But then you pull the camera out from that. Violence exists in society. You know, violence is there. The state imposes violence upon society, and violence exists in society. There seems to be no antidote to that in advanced countries. This is very disturbing. I mean, you look at the budgets. I often tell people that you don’t judge the morality of a country by its constitution, you should judge its morality by its annual budget. If a country spends more on weapons, weapons systems, militarism, police, and so on than it spends on ending hunger, then it’s a depleted society. It’s lost its way, because it’s not willing to acknowledge that the imposition of hunger on people is a form of violence, and therefore that’s no different.

The lack of funding to end hunger is, in a way, the same as the increase of funding to the police force. They’re actually both the same thing. They’re both acts of violence. If we just take the United States, I would say the annual budget of the United States is a violent budget. It’s a violent budget towards society, and then society engenders violence. And what then typically happens is that, as Frantz Fanon wrote, I think beautifully in the first chapter of Wretched of the Earth called “Concerning Violence.” Fanon doesn’t say let’s go out and burn things down and let’s be violent. It’s actually not a handbook for violence. It’s very poorly understood.

What Fanon is saying is when the state is violent, when the state makes society violent, then when people explode in anger because they are frustrated, they can’t eat, there’s no opportunities for them. They explode violently. It’s Langston Hughes’s poem, what happens when there’s A Dream Deferred? Well, it explodes. That explosion comes, Chris, not because some force is out there telling people to go out and riot.

Rioting is actually the normal expression of a society that is violent. You know, this gun violence in schools, and I don’t want to be misunderstood. I don’t think it’s correct. I think it’s all bad. But I think it is produced by a violent society. You know, we need to find an exit to that. The exit to that is not going to come through violence. And on the other hand, you can’t just be out there calling on people who are rioting to be nonviolent. The focus of our anger, of our annoyance must be the violent state and the violent processes that impose violence on people.

That’s where one has to turn one’s objection. The kind of moral jeremiads against the rioters, say, in Minneapolis or in Los Angeles, I think this is misfired criticism. The real violence is the violence imposed on ordinary people who don’t have any other avenues easily available to them than to go out onto the street and throw a rock through a window and take out a television set and so on. Or to go into a grocery store and just take bread for their families.

That act of desperation is a mirror reflection of the society one lives in. I think the indignation of the elite at that is not appealing to me because that same elite is the one that imposed the violence in the first place.

Chris Hedges:  Great. We’re going to stop there. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team: Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, Dwayne Gladden, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.