The escalating confrontations in Wisconsin and Ohio are ultimately about preventing the United States from becoming a full-on fascist state.
The stakes could not be higher—or more clear.
As defined by its inventor, Benito Mussolini, fascism is “corporate control of the state.” There are ways to beat around the Bush—Paul Krugman has recently written about “oligarchy”—but it’s time to end all illusions and call what we now confront by its true name.
The fights in Wisconsin, Ohio, and in numerous other states are about saving the last shreds of American democracy. They burn down to five basic realities:
1) The bulwark of modern democracy is the trade union. This has been true since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. All social programs can trace their roots to union activism, as can the protection of our civil liberties.
The first Germans Hitler put in concentration camps were neither Jews nor gypsies—they were trade unionists.
The attacks on state workers in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere have nothing to do with balancing budgets. That could easily be done without destroying collective bargaining.
For the hard-right, this is about busting unions, the last organized force standing in the way of total corporate control of the United States by the rich and richer.
2) The material essence of fascism is the extreme separation of rich and poor, a massive transfer of wealth from those on the bottom to those on the top.
The unbalanced budgets in Ohio and Wisconsin are rooted in huge tax cuts given to the rich at the expense of the middle and lower classes. Widespread poverty among those who might otherwise rebel is essential to fascist control of a government.
A largely ignored aspect of this fight is the hundreds of billions of dollars currently locked up in union, government and Social Security pension funds. With unions destroyed, this huge cache of dollars will fall quickly into corporate hands. The additional “benefit” for the financial elite will be tens of millions of impoverished elders desperate for low-wage jobs in virtual slave labor situations.
3) The crisis crippling states everywhere is directly related to the massive destruction of social resources by war. Since the end of the New Deal and World War II, the American elite have engineered the biggest dump of material wealth by military means in human history.
The trillions of dollars of pure martial waste poured into the Cold War and those in Southeast Asia, central America, the Middle East, Southwest Asia and elsewhere could easily have clothed, housed, fed, educated, and provided otherwise decent lives for all human beings the world over.
Instead, poverty, desperation and stratification have been guaranteed.
The entire economic crisis now gripping the United States can be directly traced to the military budget, which exceeds the sum of what’s being spent by all other nations combined. In a brilliant recent column, Robert Greenwald points out that the entire alleged shortfall in Wisconsin could be covered by bringing just 180 troops home from Afghanistan.
But the purpose of that deployment is to undermine national security, not to protect it. A frightened, impoverished, insecure nation is one dependent on its fascist elite.
Democracy demands and protects true material security among the people as a whole. That’s what’s really at stake in the battle to cut the military budget. The fights in Ohio and Wisconsin are surface manifestations of that bigger battle.
4) Mussolini also made it clear that corporate control of the media is essential to fascist rule. Whoever would seize power first took the radio stations, then the television stations. Now the Internet is under attack. The free flow of information is fascism’s ultimate enemy.
So the relentless Foxist portrayal of the battles in Wisconsin and Ohio as pitting “responsible, austerity-minded” governors versus “lazy, irresponsible state workers” is utterly predictable.
So is the appearance of the media-created Tea Party “movement” on the side of the corporations. It’s standard corporate procedure to invent a faux “grassroots” to fight unions and working people. So finding phony corporate “populists” like Sarah Palin and New Jersey’s Chris Christie in the right-wing media limelight is utterly predictable.
5) It is no accident that the “job loving,” union-hating governors of Wisconsin and Ohio (along with Florida) have rejected billions in federal funds for re-building passenger rail service that would create thousands of jobs.
A corporate state relies on central control of energy. Rail service threatens the power of the oil and auto lobbies. Renewable energy would replace centralized “King Cong” (coal, oil, nukes & gas) sources with decentralized Solartopia photovoltaic panels, bio-fuels, windmills, increased efficiency and the like. The push for federal nuclear loan guarantees is central to the corporate state.
The anti-union governor of Ohio is strongly focused on killing not only train service but all incentives for renewable energy. His energy plan is for extreme right-wing nuke-based monopolies like FirstEnergy to run the show. Atomic power is the ultimate weapon against community control.
For decades the term “fascist” has been dismissed from use in this country, and perhaps rightly so. Corporations have been dominant in the US since the 1880s, but we have managed to maintain a modicum of democracy.
It’s hard to see that happening if the remnants of the organized labor movement are crushed in Wisconsin and Ohio. Both states have long, important traditions of union activism.
In the wake of Citizens United, with the courts, media, Congress and presidency firmly in corporate control, we see no easy road to victory for working people.
“Vote the bastards out” has become a pipedream in the age of electronic voting machines. Especially in Ohio, a reliable electoral vote count is a thing of the past.
We also have a president who was elected with strong labor support and who is now genuflecting toward the unions. But US history is filled with Democrats who have betrayed their working-class backers, and this one may prove no exception.
So in the long run, we have only ourselves to rely on. The way to survival is not clear.
Ultimately, as Martin Luther King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
But from time to time, it does break. If these uprisings in Wisconsin and Ohio fail, there will—literally—be hell to pay.
Somehow, we must find a way to make sure they don’t.
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman have co-authored four books on election protection, which are at www.freepress.org, where Bob’s FITRAKIS FILES also appear. HARVEY WASSERMAN’S HISTORY OF THE US is at harveywasserman.com, along with SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH. Originally published by freepress.org.