Michigan’s ‘Emergency’ Financial Regime: What Fascism Looks Like
Fascism is not all about jack-boots and guys with mustaches. It is a system of economic and social control. The particularities of fascism in any given nation grow out of the special dynamics of that country. Fascism in the United States will be blow-dried. And its legal and bureaucratic form will take shape in places like Michigan, where an innocuous sounding piece of legislation called the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act is the prototype for a host of laws designed to make government—the state—a compliant tool for the dictatorial rule of the most predatory sections of the ruling class. In 2011 America, that’s Wall Street, finance capital.
Michigan’s law allows the state to appoint emergency managers to nullify contracts, including labor agreements—which is what has unions upset. But the scope and intention of the law is much deeper and wider than simply anti-union. The legislation allows emergency managers to nullify the powers and authority of local governments of all kinds. One of its supporters gave the game away when he spoke of the need to impose a kind of “financial martial law” in which all pretense of democracy would be abolished in targeted communities. The community the Republican politician had in mind was Detroit, the Black metropolis, where the public schools were promptly put under emergency state control. But there is nothing to stop the state from abolishing democratic governance in any of Michigan’s cities, if an emergency can be declared or created. On April 15, the mostly Black city of Benton Harbor, the poorest jurisdiction in the state, was placed under total financial martial law, its citizens suddenly made more powerless than Blacks in Selma, Alabama, prior to the civil rights movement.
Fascism always requires an “emergency,” a “crisis,” to justify the surrender of whatever citizen liberties previously existed. Its mass organizing principle revolves the “Other”—the scapegoating of a hated group that can be blamed for the emergency. Historically, in the United States, that “Other” has been Black people—although other “Others” have been added to the list. The U.S. has always been fertile ground for fascist politicking—in fact, I have long maintained that White Terror under southern Jim Crow was a peculiar form of American fascism.
Fascism is also associated with militarism and the national security state, which are certainly familiar aspects of modern Americana. More importantly, the militarization of the inner cities has been an established fact since the mid-1960s. The proof is in the one million African Americans behind bars.
The “crisis” that justifies the outright abolition of democracy—beginning, of course, in Black America—is the crisis afflicting finance capitalism. Wall Street then imposes instant emergencies on the larger society by starving cities and schools and the public sector in general, in order to strip down, privatize and commodify every asset in sight. Michigan’s fascist model will doubtless be duplicated across the nation, as Wall Street moves to rule directly, through its emergency managers, by one name or another. The permanent emergency has begun.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
—Black Agenda Report, April 26, 2011