Are We Heading towards Totalitarianism? Weren’t We already there?

By Jorge Majfud on November 16, 2020


On March 11, 1889, the now-forgotten former U.S. President Rutherford Hayes wrote in his diary, “In the national Congress and in the state legislatures, hundreds of laws are passed in the interest of big business and against the interests of the workers…” This is not the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This is the government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations. Three years later the greatest economic crisis of the 19th century would break out and forty years later, for the same reasons, the greatest economic crisis of the 20th century, which would be mitigated by the social policies of President F. D. Roosevelt. Thirty more years and the neoliberalism of the Milton Friedmans would strike back to reverse these “socialist policies” (according to the accusations of the time) that had saved millions of workers from hunger and the United States from disintegration.

On July 18, 2019, USA Today published a research on the dynamics of American democracy. In a period of eight years alone, the state legislatures of the nation’s fifty states had received 10,163 bills written by major corporations, of which more than 2,100 were passed. In many cases it was a simple copy-and-paste with minimal variations. Nothing new, and much less obsolete. Kidnapping the progress of humanity has always been a specialty of the all-powerful private companies that then claim all the credit for the well-being of others and for their own moral good.

Throughout history, pandemics have often changed ways of seeing the world and have shattered unquestionable truths. Although it all depends on how serious and how long the one we are dealing with now lasts, if it does not break down the neoliberal wall, at least it will leave its mark on social policies, on the way human needs are managed that cannot be solved either by the invisible hand of the market or by the visible myopia of self-interest. It will also help to confirm the awareness that no one can defend themselves from a virus with either weapons or the world’s most powerful armies, which is why soon a new majority in warring countries, such as the United States, may begin to question the meaning of astronomical spending for some and traditional contempt for others.

An unwanted consequence, according to the warning of various critics and analysts, would be the increase of authoritarian states. This probability, apart from being real, is also an ancient expression of another authoritarianism that has dominated narratives and fears for many generations and is therefore not recognized as authoritarianism. This fear and warning is not altruistic or innocent. They are a legacy that comes from the capitalist model in its various forms, which needs to demonize everything that is in the hands of governments, unions, social organizations and even small family or community businesses, and idolize the dictatorship of the mega private corporations.

Authoritarian tendencies are not the heritage of those who are in favor of the protagonism of States (everything depends on which State we are talking about) nor was it born with the pandemic. The current neo-fascist and authoritarian wave precedes the very appearance of Covid 19. But both are the consequence of a destructive reality based on the infinite accumulation of financial powers and corporate sects, their insatiable thirst for profit, power and a consumerist culture that, like a sick individual, has progressively changed the pleasure of an addiction to depression and suicide. In the excluded classes (that is, in the majority of the people), the emotional and erratic response of the fragmented groups tries to fill this emptying of social, individual and existential sense, with the colors of a flag or a sect, with the repeated effect of contempt and even hatred for everything else that does not fall within their very small circle (the other excluded), which they confuse with a universal truth to which, it is assumed, only they have access to in a magical, secret and exclusive way. The perfect distraction.

This new crisis has proven not only the chronic ineffectiveness of the neoliberal models to confront a global and even national problem, it has not only revealed the superstition inoculated in the people (“private people do everything better”, “free enterprise and freedom are the same thing”) but, in addition, they are the same cause of the problem. The pandemic cannot be dissociated from its general framework: consumerism and the ecological crisis.

Although in its origins capitalism meant a democratization of the old and rigid feudalist society (money increased the mobility of the common people), it soon became a neo-feudal system where the financial and business sects of a few families ended up concentrating and monopolizing the wealth of the nations, dominating the politics of the countries through their democratic systems and even dispensing with this formality altogether.

Who votes for the owners of capital, for the managers of national and international banks, for the transnationals that arrogate to themselves and to themselves the right to harass or overthrow governments and popular movements in distant countries? To that long history of authoritarianism we must now add the kinder and sexier dictatorship of giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter and other media in which the majority of the world lives, informs and thinks. What people voted for them? Why do democratic governments have so little say in their decisions that affect billions of people? What interests do they respond to, apart from their own ultra-million class in the name of democratizing information? Is there anything more demagogic than this? How do you guess what two friends talked about the previous afternoon, climbing a mountain or walking on a beach without using any electronic instruments? They guess (ideas, desires) what they themselves induced. These two people were only walking a path established or planned by the corporations they know to what an individual will think in a month, in a year, as if they were gods.

The dominance is such that the peoples below, confined to passive consumption and without any power of decision over the algorithms, social policies and ideology that govern their desires, are the first to defend with fanaticism the idea of “individual freedom” and the benefits that come from these omnipresent gods.

In other words, the fear that we are heading towards state totalitarianism comes, to a large extent, from the opposite interest: the fear of corporate authoritarianism that states may, in some way, come to regulate their traditional and altruistic abuses of power.

Source: America Latina en Movimiento, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau