Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, doesn’t know what a fascist is.
Speaking with NPR this week, multimillionaire Mackey tried to express how much he hates Obamacare. Back in 2009, he hated Obamacare so much that he called it “socialism.” But now, in 2013, Mackey thinks Obamacare is “fascism.”
“Technically speaking, [Obamacare] is more like fascism,” he said. “Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it, and that’s what’s happening with our healthcare programs and these reforms.”
Mackey has since walked back this description saying he “regrets using that word now” because there’s “so much baggage attached to it.”
But, whether Mackey meant to or not, it’s about time someone injected the word fascism back into our political debate. Especially now that corporations wield more power today than they have in America since the Robber Baron Era.
First, let’s take on Mackey’s definitions of socialism and fascism, which he likely procured from the Google machine after typing in, “What are the differences between socialism and fascism?”
Yes, socialism encourages more democratic control of the economy. Or, if Mackey insists, more government ownership of the economy – in particular, ownership of the commons and natural resources.
Fascism, on the other hand, is something completely different. Reporter Sy Mukherjee, who blogged about this story over at ThinkProgress.org notes, “Although fascist nations do often control their ‘means of production,’ Mackey seems to have forgotten that they usually utilize warfare, forced mass mobilization of the public, and politically-motivated violence against their own peoples to achieve their ends.”
The 1983 American Heritage Dictionary defined fascism as: "A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."
Fascism originated in Italy, and Mussolini claims to have invented the word itself. It was actually his ghostwriter, Giovanni Gentile, who invented it and defined it in the Encyclopedia Italiana in this way: "Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power."
In other words, fascism is corporate government – a Libertarian’s wet dream. It’s a government in which the Atlas’s of industry are given free rein to control the economy, just how they’re regulated, how much they pay in taxes, how much they pay their workers. It should be noted here that, ironically, John Mackey describes himself as a Libertarian.
In 1938, Mussolini finally got his chance to bring fascism to fruition. He dissolved Parliament and replaced it with the "Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni" - the Chamber of the Fascist Corporations. Members of the Chamber were not selected to represent particular regional constituencies, but instead to represent various aspects of Italian industry and trade. They were the corporate leaders of Italy.
Imagine if the House of Representatives was dissolved and replaced by a Council of America’s most powerful CEOs – the Kochs, the Waltons, the Blankfeins, the Dimons, the Mackeys, you get the picture.
Actually, that’s not too difficult to imagine, huh? But, that’d be similar to what Mussolini defined as fascism.
As we know, fascism was eventually defeated in World War 2. But just before the end of the war, with the fascists on the ropes, the Vice President of the United States at the time, Henry Wallace, penned an op-ed for the New York Times warning Americans about the creeping dangers of fascism – or corporate government.
He defined a fascist as, “those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion.”
Under that definition we can throw those CEOs who’ve decided to evade Obamacare’s mandate to provide health insurance to their employees, like New York City Applebee’s franchise owner Zane Terkel, Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter, and executives at Darden Restaurants.
Or, perhaps, Wallace is referring to the banksters at Goldman Sachs who knowingly evaded laws and sold investors “shitty deals” or scammed entire cities into bankruptcy or illegally foreclosed on thousands of Americans through fraudulently robo-signing all in the name of short term profits and all in the name of preserving their monopolistic, too-big-to-fail status.
Either way, evading laws meant to protect the public in order to pad your own pockets has become the name of the game in Corporate America today.
Wallace goes on to write, “The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism.”
Can anyone say Fox News, or the rest of the Conservative media complex? Or, those on the Right who divide working people and turn them against each other: makers versus takes, public sector workers versus private sector workers, and white people versus brown people.
“They use every opportunity to impugn democracy,” wrote Wallace. Does that sound familiar after months of Republican efforts to disenfranchise large swaths of the electorate with voter suppression ID laws, as well as restrictions on early voting and voter registration in largely Democratic areas?
Or what about what Republicans in Pennsylvania are doing right now to rig the next Presidential election by changing how Electoral votes are counted in the state?
Wallace continues, “They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”
We often hear of free enterprise from the likes of Wall Street, Big Oil, and the defense industry. Yet these are the same corporations that also lobby to keep generous taxpayer subsidies, bailouts, and no-bid contracts in place that allow them to reign supreme over the markets and crush their smaller, more independent competition.
And the common man suffers as a result. Wages as a percentage of GDP are lower than they’ve ever been. Unionization rates are lower than they’ve ever been in more than a half-century. And yet, corporate profits as a percent of GDP are higher than they’ve ever been in American history.
At the time Wallace was writing this op-ed, he was confident that the fascists had been adequately held in check in America by the Roosevelt Administration. As he wrote, “Happily, it can be said that as yet fascism has not captured a predominant place in the outlook of any American section, class or religion.”
But, he went on to warn that in the future, “[Fascism] may be encountered in Wall Street, Main Street or Tobacco Road. Some even suspect that they can detect incipient traces of it along the Potomac.”
Sure enough, the bastions of fascism can be found on Wall Street. Main Street, which used to be lined with local independent businesses, is now lined with predatory, transnational giants. And along the Potomac, we find politicians who are more than happy to do the bidding of their corporate overlords.
Today in America, we are dangerously close to seeing Wallace’s fascistic, dystopic America come into fruition. We see the traces of it everywhere.
Unfortunately, too many Americans just didn’t have a word to define what’s happening. But, thanks to John Mackey, and thanks to the foresight of Vice President Henry Wallace, we do have the right word now: Fascism.