On the question of State Fascism

This text was written about 2 years ago, long before the Covid19 pandemic. When the text talks about techniques of government and power that set in motion a process of fascisation of the state, it certainly includes “biopolitical techniques” that are part of the control and stabilisation of the population. Foucault has drawn attention to the various legal, disciplinary and security technologies and rationalities of government that correspond to different techniques and ways of dealing with an epidemiological phenomenon (exclusion, quarantine, vaccination). Contagion and epidemics are always also cultural categories whose management and administration is the result of a particular, albeit temporary, political rationality. With the pandemic, life has slipped from the biological-demographic-medical control of the population and thus of each individual as a living being, via a foreseeable encounter – albeit largely repressed by the Western world – of our bodies with a dangerous animal materiality.

Marios Emmannouilidis writes: “The state apparatuses thus choose to do what is logical, or simply to do what they know how to do and enter the fragmented, segmented space of the nation-state. National segmentations, inherently mutually exclusive, function as modes of containment that intercept transmission. As a result, state apparatuses ask us to protect ourselves from a virus that has taken over everything, a virus that is both present and absent. At a primary level, the state policy of rescue is introduced horizontally: The entire inner national space is quarantined. Of course, within its own logic, the state will accuse the population of not protecting itself enough, of not obeying, of trying to transfer the moral burden (as during the financial crisis). But the state divides and manages internal space differently. Some places are free of quarantine restrictions, others are completely sealed off. Workplaces, nursing homes, prisons, refugee facilities (even cruise ships) are to a large extent vital disciplinary structures; they become spaces where either a useful or an abandoned – though publicly closed – population is concentrated, where quarantine is not in force, leading to internal transmission of the virus.”

It should be noted that the state, as the oft-cited “ideal total capitalist” (Engels), must of course ensure that a reasonably healthy population remains, which is the reserve for wage labour and other precarious activity. But he remains only an ideal total capitalist; capital is not governed by the state, but the individual capitals must follow the laws that total capital sets as a transcendental condition. Thus Alex Demirović rightly writes in AK: “For the sake of profit, it can make sense to close the factories: The market is cleared, costs can be avoided in the face of low demand, state support can be collected and wage earners, tied to the companies with short-time work benefits, can be protected in terms of health at the same time, only to be immediately brought back into production when the economy picks up again. It is a contradictory movement: When are the losses greater or lower, when are the immediate costs higher? What long-term competitive advantages or costs can be expected? Capital interests are different and quite conflicting. The state does not advocate for the interest of capital in general, because there is no such thing.”

Here is the text:

Terms such as totalitarianism, post-democracy, authoritarian democracy or authoritarian etatism/neoliberalism appear increasingly unsuitable to describe the characteristic and novelty of current state transformations.
In a text from 1973, the sociologist Manfred Clemenz introduced the term “structural state fascism” (Clemenz 1973). By way of explanation, the author presupposes that there are no fundamental functional differences between the forms of parliamentary democracy and the fascist exceptional state, but only phenomenological changes, which could, however, take on drastic forms, including ruptures. The underlying question here has definitely shifted. With regard to the current processes, we are indeed not dealing with a new type of state, but neither are we merely dealing with phenomena whose addition could then result in something like state fascism.
The coming fascism, which is to be put in inverted commas as “fascism”, does not necessarily take on the form today in which it was perhaps still thought of in the 1970s. However, it is also important to note that the concept of fascism, especially on the left, often has to step in where transformations, exceptions and fractures are to be named for which terms are still lacking. But if, as a result, the concept of fascism is completely left out of the struggles for hegemony in theories and discourses, this can hardly be the right answer. The abandonment of a concept does not create a discursively empty space. So we are on difficult terrain.
In order to emphasise the moment of risk and prevention in it more strongly, we propose the term “state fascisation”, which is also intended to refer to the transformations of states in the context of capitalist globalisation, as we have briefly outlined, as well as to new national and international class and power relations.
“State fascisation” in this context means that the state not only reacts to conditions, crises and conflicts (for example, by bailing out private banks with taxpayers’ money, as it did after the financial crisis of 2008, and at the same time initiating policies of social aggravation and racist exclusions), but in particular tries to anticipate coming crises and conflicts and to construct trends. In this way, it follows a specific preventive logic, precisely by engaging in permanent and proactive crisis management both internally and externally. Even more, the concept of state fascisation, which emphasises the processual moment from the outset, also includes a conjunctural or situational change in governance, a shift and finally a reorganisation of state apparatuses and governance/governmental forms that have not yet found a final shape, so that, on the one hand, the ordinary capital state has not been abolished, but on the other hand, it has not yet been decided whether the process of fascisation will actually result in an exceptional fascist state. The “institutional preventive dispositive” (Poulantzas 1978: 192) that characterises the current state and is constitutive of state fascisation, which for Poulantzas also characterised authoritarian statism in the 1980s, has today been so elastically and at the same time intensively ground into state and non-state apparatuses and institutions. In the process, it has developed into a fundamental dispositive (alongside the official state of parliamentary democracy) that one can no longer speak only of an osmosis between the preventive dispositive and the official state, as Poulantzas still does, but rather of the temporary dominance of a creeping fascisation process characterised by the preventive logic and the correlating paranoia, which is new in its structure and does not correspond to any previous historical period of statehood. Particularly due to the inscription of preventive logic and a specifically coded crisis scenario (counter-terrorism), the current security state is taking political and legal measures that permanently change the apparatus of the normal capitalist state and transform its rule of law, but without having to deny it itself.1
This development, in turn, points to important changes in the relationship between the international movements of capital and the operations of the state, which, however, affect not only its economic functions and modes of action, but also its political and organisational spheres. The current state is not only constantly trying to find semi-effective answers to economic crisis processes and to the worldwide fluctuation of economic risks, but specific preventive logics are being transported into the various governmental techniques and administrative areas, which undoubtedly have their final condition in the capitalisation that has long since been converted to the future. And this also means that the transformations of the state can by no means be clearly identified as a strengthening or a weakening of its power potentials, but rather indicate an uneven development. With regard to the state’s power potential in relation to the capital economy, one can speak of a weakening; with regard to the forms of police management, one can speak of a strengthening (although here, too, state management is being supplemented or replaced by the increasing influence of private security services. The state is thus increasingly privatising parts of its core, the monopoly on the use of force, which is at the same time being expanded in its entirety, precisely insofar as the means of coercion today must be diversified: diplomatically, economically, socially and culturally, which leads to the multiplication of private apparatuses as well. In this context, those of the financial system are certainly the most effective, since its effects can destabilise the entire social body.
The concept of state fascisation, as we use it here, is therefore based on historical conditions that did not exist in the 1970s. We should mention above all the processes of arming the financial war machines and future-oriented capitalisation, the transforming crises and phases of recession, especially those of industrial capital, the implementation of neoliberal measures and projects such as new state governance techniques and forms of regulation, austerity policies, privatisation of public institutions, the global fragmentation of production processes and the corresponding production of a fragmented global proletariat. The resulting effects are now globally tantamount to an ecological and social disaster programme: climate change, for example, is taking on ever sharper contours and in the peripheries more and more people are forced to vegetate in the slums of the big cities or in “failed states”.
We assume that these crisis developments will continue to increase in frequency and intensity and that the social polarisation of the population will intensify not only in the South but also in the metropolises of the West, but that at the same time a return to the national-social-state compromise of Fordism, i.e. a special historical period characterised by system competition, class compromise, corporatism and Keynesian economic policy, no longer seems possible today. For the reasons mentioned, the regulation of societal fragmentation is increasingly solved through policing measures rather than material gratifications. To the extent that the state reduces social benefits, it must arm itself in its function as social police, for example, by increasingly orienting labour policy towards the use of repressive methods (restrictive administration of unemployment and poverty by the Federal Employment Agency; HartzIV). Austerity and social police belong together. Or, to put it another way, the market and a strong state are mutually exclusive in neoliberal doctrine, but not in its practice.
The new structural fascisation of the state, however, is by no means exclusively a reaction to economic crisis processes and business cycles, but refers to the anticipation of possible coming social trends, the coming economic, social and political crises and conflict potentials that are to be prevented today, which is always clearly stated in the corresponding official announcements.2 To this end, the state is developing a series of techniques, such as new control and surveillance instruments that record, accumulate and evaluate data, techniques for the further quantification and measurement of the population and those of a police and military nature. In this process, the transformation of the ordinary capital state into a fascised state does not necessarily result from a spectacular rupture, but rather from the creeping but steadily driven accumulation, the shift, compression and intensification of restrictive police operations that follow a preventive logic. All in all, through reconstructions and measures of the social police, which do not necessarily have to lead to a fascist state, but do not exclude a break with the present state structure either. The creeping infiltration of the state by the war machine of capital is taking place. The state-owned war machines, in turn, include above all the comprehensive militarisation and expansion of access of the police authorities (they are permanently given further technical means, legal possibilities and executive competences) within the framework of an increasingly unfolding security state with simultaneous restriction of fundamental rights. Further measures include the merging of police and military, of police and secret services and also of civil and armed authorities; Based on this, the comprehensive surveillance, data collection and storage by the state services, furthermore, the increasing integration of the mass media into the ideological state apparatuses, the perpetuation and criminalisation of poverty while at the same time lowering the level of reproduction of further parts of the population, the cooperation of “security authorities” with fascist and terrorist networks at home (and militias abroad) and an increasingly aggressive foreign, geo and military policy. The tightening of laws, regulations and directives up to the establishment of a criminal law against the enemy and legally anchored powers of access far in advance of concrete crimes – up to preventive detention – are evident. On the other hand, however, the executive branch is constantly rushing ahead of this development and anticipating it: for example, the Pentagon and the CIA have been researching the scientification of torture for decades, and the so-called “white torture” and other methods were extensively tested in excess as early as the 1970s, while the ban on torture still exists. In the USA, an exorbitant increase in extralegal executions abroad, mostly by drone strikes but also by special forces, which are not preceded by any judicial proceedings, has become known since 2001. If an illegal practice becomes known, this usually does not lead to its cessation, but to its subsequent legalisation or tacit toleration. Increasingly, the boundaries between war, police operations and covert activities are becoming blurred. (Cf. Szepanski/Weiler 2018: 240ff.)
The interplay of civil and repressive power in the state correlates to the new war machines of capital, whereby the two components in the state tend to become indistinguishable, so that one can already speak of their condensation in the social police. The state has long since tended to privilege executive power and to deeply transform its administrative and juridical functions, the latter becoming redundant through the almost daily production of laws, decrees and directives, while at the same time continuing to fuel the functions of the social police. Carl Schmitt already described the state as a “motorised legislator” and noted in particular the growing motorisation of the executive machinery. (Schmitt 2003: 407) Today, the transactions and risk productions of financial capital in particular go hand in hand with speeds that require that laws concerning the economy in particular, which in the past still required parliamentary investigation and blessing, be replaced by rapid decrees. These requirements are thus produced by the accelerations of the “market laws” themselves. After decrees, directives express the next stage of the structural adaptation of political representation to the executive. While the decree is considered a motorised law, the directive is a motorised decree. Thus, the general rationality of the law is replaced by an instrumental, the technical rationality of decrees and directives. Thus, spaces for procedures and projects characterised by legal arbitrariness are opened wide, insofar as what has held the political and juridical fragmentation processes together until now, namely the law, is subject to constant transformation precisely through a multiplicity of directives, norms, jurisdictions and rules. The excessive proliferation of regulations, directives and decrees, as well as the rewriting of laws on the occasion of political events, certain conjunctures and situations, is part of the abolition of law, or, to put it differently, it constitutes a new excessive process of jurisprudence that is inseparable from the abolition of classical law. Wolfgang Pohrt has summarised this as follows: “Organised capitalism does not eliminate the lawlessness that is always erroneously attributed to the liberal era, but makes it its law” (Pohrt 1976: 197). Applicable laws are adapted or abolished according to current requirements and previously valid legal guarantees are levelled or adapted in such a way that they only exacerbate the condition of the precarious. Here we can think of special laws, the dismantling of rights, the specialisation of the courts and the bringing forward of criminal law, new police laws, techniques of facial recognition, data surveillance and biometrics, pathologisation in the field of forensics, etc.
This specific kind of technologisation of the state apparatuses takes place through the training and deployment of private, informal and state regimes of experts who, through techniques that propagate in series of projects, practices, channels and supports, create a statistical body of people that must be constantly monitored, evaluated and at the same time mobilised precisely by exercising power over it. New codes, ranking and rating procedures are constantly installed and varied, inscribing the operation of power into a matrix of molecular segregation of the population.
The shift of power from the legislative to the executive, the loss of importance of the parties, the expansion of the bureaucracy and the shift of decision-making to informal power networks operating parallel to the official and externally visible state were already used by Poulantzas to characterise authoritarian etatism. For him, the processes were a concomitant of the intensification of the economic intervention of the state, which now not only constantly issues rules, directives and regulations within the framework of a short-term economic policy and technical rationality according to the conjunctures, fractures and cycles of capital movements, but must itself function as a kind of enterprise. The rationality of this corporate form also affects all legislative initiatives and procedures, which are elaborated and reworked in the bodies of the executive, passed on regionally and locally, supplemented by decrees, directives and regulations and inscribed in financial, fiscal, social and economic policy. Increasingly, they serve the particular interests of big capital instead of still expressing an at least formal generality and universality guaranteed by law.
Even the governments and the state apparatuses today have to take even more care of their own outputs, which are supposed to be promoted by their own state evaluation techniques and at the same time are monetised by the financial markets. The state is thus transformed into a factory of laws, decrees and regulations, indeed it becomes a machine that produces new rules day after day and manufactures executive power. The state is a (neutered) enterprise. On the one hand, it withdraws from social and economic spheres, on the other hand, it aggressively supports the capital economy internally and externally as a kind of repair shop and at the same time as a social police force. In addition, it economises its own areas and apparatuses. For this, Taylorism in Fordism could offer a certain organisational basis, conceived as a mode of political command and the shaping of a parcelled and at the same time homogenous, continuous space-time, in which each unit has its functional place and space and time are oriented in interpenetration towards a finished product. The real influence here, however, is not to be seen solely in the technical organisation of the networks and dispositifs of administration, but lies in the specific organisation of political power, which in turn means that the divisions of labour found in the economy are not simply mapped in the state, but take on transformed forms in the state administrations and bureaucracies. In this context, state fascisation does not simply aim at the expansion of repression or authoritarian, racist and nationalist discourses and systems of opinion, but requires the use of highly technologised techniques of power, which do not aim exclusively at the control of free citizen-individuals, but rather reinterpret the population as a potential source of danger and precisely for this reason require a lasting change in the materiality of the state apparatuses and their interventions.

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Foto: Slyvia John

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