Contribution by Andy Robinson on the p2p research list, which I’m upgrading, because of its thoughtfullness, to a full blog entry.
(please note though that I strongly disagree with the use of the concept of fascism to explain both China and some western states – mb)
“The Chinese political model is very close to fascism (nominally Stalinist but pretty much contentless in that regard) – bear in mind the state-controlled media, world’s biggest firewall, one-party state, vicious policing of dissent, bans on opponents and minorities (Falun Gong, Tibet, Xinjiang, Tiananmen Square), “biopolitical” practices such as organ harvesting, literally massive use of the death penalty after unfair trials, everyday control such as street wardens, etc. Worryingly, David Harvey argues that China’s success has led to the corrosion of liberal democracy in America, Britain, Europe etc – once capitalists realise they don’t need liberal democracy, they dispense with it. The summit “red zone” model is partly developed from Chinese practices (keeping protests out of view of leaders – a practice demanded by the Chinese during state visits) and so are some of the neo-totalitarian practices elsewhere (e.g. Britain now has Chinese-style police wardens). This said, China’s regime is also suffering from the impact of technologies which make censorship difficult – they’ve had to liberalise both their protest control model and their media censorship model recently, and are facing a wave of protests and unrest each year – given the lack of formal channels, protests in China nearly always turn into mass revolt with police routed and official buildings/vehicles torched or trashed, and with tools like proxies in widespread use, the regime is finding it impossible to suppress public knowledge of events (in contrast to Tiananmen, which I gather from word of mouth is still not public knowledge in China).
I also suspect the Chinese economic / development model is short-lived – it’s a rehashing of the Korean-Taiwanese-Indonesian-Malaysian-Singaporean models, cheap sweatshop production for export, which went into crisis in these other countries and is vulnerable to undercutting the moment standards of living or currency values start to rise. The (relative) stability of the regime is mainly based on its economic (relative) success, and will collapse the moment some of the longer-term effects of its development trajectory manifest themselves – notably massive urbanisation due to land grabs, mass unemployment and shortages – all of which have been deferred by slowing the process of dispossession of the peasantry (and by other means such as population “control”), but which are manifest in most of the instances of revolt (often in rural areas and focused on land grabs, pollution, corruption, brutality and mistreatment).
The Finnish model would seem to be rather different – a niche model based on high-value-added skilled production and rents on resource extraction – and while I’d be delighted to see the rest of Europe become more like Finland, I wonder if this isn’t a continuation of the German and Japanese economic model of the 80s and early 90s. For a long time this model was posited as the main alternative to neoliberal capitalism because Germany and Japan were outshining America and Britain, but it disappeared from the discourse on economic models when both countries went into crisis in the 90s (Germany largely because of reunification, Japan along with Korea etc, because of punishment of East Asia by neoliberal stock-marketeers). Germany, Japan, Korea, even Denmark and Sweden have since moved towards more neoliberal models, though none of them are anywhere near as neoliberal as Britain or America.
I think something akin to fascism (at least to the “normalised” kind of fascism or Stalinism which existed, say, in Spain or Czechoslovakia in the 70s), which I term neo-totalitarianism, is coming into existence, indeed already exists, in Britain, and possibly also America, Australia etc, and is sadly rather expansive at the moment (countries like Holland, Greece, France, Denmark are moving in the same direction albeit from further away to begin with). I think it’s similar to totalitarianism because of the micro-regulation of everyday life, the impossibility of “legal and tolerated opposition” beyond a very limited sphere (dissent automatically renders one a “dissident” and at risk), the promotion of a near-monolithic public discourse, the unshackling of various state agencies to operate with impunity and without effective limits, the rejection of limits to state power in relation to various professions and groups (lawyers, journalists, academics, doctors, etc), the creation of agencies of political and microsocial policing/control, extremely harsh surveillance and punishment practices, requirements to adopt a model of the subject (neoliberal “employable” citizen) as a condition of social inclusion, and the systematic denial of liberal and democratic values (albeit disguised as affirmation of these values – one might speak of de jure democracy alongside de facto totalitarianism). There are only three ways in which Britain today differs from classical totalitarianisms of this kind: it still has a nominally multi-party system, it still has a nominally free press, and it still has some judicial limits in terms of human rights. I suspect these are all due to insertion in the EU system and especially the ECHR, and further, that only the third is really disruptive at all – the main parties are now really sub-factions of a ruling party (similar to the electoral factions in Iran), and the media is so successfully integrated that direct media control is not needed, being replaced by subtle media control (it is the case that minor parties and media are periodically persecuted and even shut down, as with al-Muhajiroun, the Indymedia server raids etc; street activities of small parties have been viciously attacked, so small parties and media have mainly survived via the Internet – which of course, is notoriously hard to control). Neo-totalitarianism does practice very effective media control in terms of how the regime’s frame infiltrates and spreads to the population through the media – acceptance of categories such as extremism, security concerns, a constant terrorist threat, various feared Others, “preachers of hate”, “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe” and tropes of this kind… through the way repression is used by the media as proof of a problem needing repression (3000 under-fives excluded for offences such as “threatening behaviour” and “sexual misconduct” is universally taken as proof of growing indiscipline rather than ridiculous repressiveness)… granted they cannot control the Internet or samizdat media, but nor could the classical totalitarianisms control the media of their day – nearly everyone in Nazi Germany listened to BBC World Service radio broadcasts for instance.
The model seems to be spreading, though not from efficiency (it has been economically disastrous for all the countries which have tried it) – more because neo-totalitarian regimes act as a focus of attraction for authoritarians and “deep states” elsewhere, and because they viciously promote their own regime-type through international institutions. Ultimately I think it has the same flaws in economic terms as classical totalitarianism – it can make very systematic, programmed use of the latest economic forms for awhile, but it is unable to pioneer new models or forms due to its social closure, and has difficulties adapting to new models or forms from elsewhere (look at the fear instilled in such regimes by the Internet for instance), plus it is horribly corrupt (out-of-control individual power-holders and institutionalised quasi-corporations can extract resources with impunity), and it is unable to produce effective commitment, only a kind of grudging conformity out of fear (of the regime or of its others), which hits its ability to perform in sectors requiring active worker commitment (I’ve witnessed first-hand the horrible decline of British academia and earlier of schooling along these lines, the replacement of self-motivation with kafkaesque standards and procedures which homogenise at a very low level the process of intellectual production) – but it will seek, and is seeking, to prolong a kind of decadent primacy in spite of its lack of economic vigour, by means of military control, blackmail, imperialism, etc. Capitalism relies on addition as well as subtraction of axioms – it depends on life-flows for its force, even though it also has to contain and exploit these flows – and neo-totalitarianism cuts off or decomposes flows to such a degree as to take away the life-force (it grows, I think, from the statist as much as the capitalist logic). I also suspect that, while in the short-term it has drastically decomposed movements of protest and resistance, in the long-term it will lead to the emergence of more militant autonomous movements, from a generation growing up with the regime and fed up of it. (I say this because early types of similar regimes can be detected in the emergence of autonomous movements in Italy, Germany, Japan, Greece, Latin America and eastern Europe in earlier periods – sometimes inducing liberalisations of these societies).
The model you’re discussing, Ryan, sounds to me very similar to the idea of the “global city” in Sassen (to a lesser degree also the diffuse smoothed capitalism of Hardt/Negri and William Robinson). Where I think it differs is that the “global city” model is actually very exclusionary – a few nodes become very dense sites of capitalist intersections while most others are marginalised; so one ends up with a dense web of small local sites drawing in resources from a massive, geographically proximate periphery. Since the periphery gains little from this, and since neoliberalism undermines the old mechanisms of integration (patronage, buy-offs, developmental nationalism, etc), the centrifugal forces of the periphery are pulling away from the global cities, resisting the extraction of resources for use in these core nodes (think of MEND, Tata Nano, Chiapas, Bougainville, Papua, Manipur, the piqueteros, Niger’s Tuareg, NWFP, etc etc). Rural China already has a similar status, and I would not rule out the margins of Europe (semi-core sites such as Finland) or margins within European countries (such as the British North) and within America (such as Michigan, Illinois, and the west and south) developing along the same lines. I see the space of alternatives emerging in this periphery through delinking and relinking (transversality), the assertion or re-emergence of indigenous and ecological forms of life combined with the creation of new kinds of transversal connection between otherwise disconnected localities by means of tool-like technologies such as the Internet. What I’d hope to see is a kind of network of affinities and resonances where an attack by the system (the global cities and their military allies) at any one point produces negative effects throughout the entire web of delinked and partially delinked sites. Also hopefully a reconfiguration of technologies to disempower the core sites (negation of the advantages of air power is crucial – this is currently the core’s one form of reach into marginal areas). “