MUST READ: Uncomfortable Choices


THE GREAT MORAL CHOICE of the 1930s was between communism and fascism. The so-called “Great Powers” which had not yet succumbed to fascism: Britain, France and the USA; did not strike those in search of a better world as its most likely midwives. The first two still presided over vast empires in which wealth and liberty were allocated strictly according to skin pigmentation. At home, Uncle Sam followed a very similar distribution scheme, even if, internationally, he presented himself as the enemy of European imperialism. When push came to shove, however, and most especially if that shove came from below, the liberal democracies proved to be neither liberal nor democratic. The Soviet Union, or at least the version of it presented in the newsreels, seemed to be reaching for something higher. A future dedicated to something more uplifting than the doctrine of white supremacy and the global looting it underwrote.

The great moral choice of the twenty-first century is no longer between fascism and communism. The history of “actually existing socialism” – a devastating human tragedy made all the more unbearable by the sheer scale of its multiple and murderous betrayals – utterly discredited the Soviet blueprint. Tragically, fascism has fared a great deal better than its historical rival. Adolf Hitler may have failed – a betrayal of sorts – but his belief in the superiority and right-to-rule of the Aryan peoples never wavered. His ghost, and the spectre of his ideology, have proved alarmingly easy to raise. Which leaves neoliberalism as the only “actually existing” contender to fascism redux. Neither a happy, nor a particularly comfortable, choice. But, as the neoliberals are so fond of asking: “What’s the alternative?”

It is the ongoing inability of the Left to answer this question that makes the present era so hard to bear. Since actually existing socialism blipped-off history’s screen in 1991, capitalism has had nothing to restrain its worst “animal spirits”. The social ruin produced by so much unconstrained greed has, entirely predictably, provided an ideal breeding-ground for fascist ideas.

The smashing of the West’s trade unions in the 1980s, and the contemporaneous ideological subversion of the social-democratic political parties they had created, left a yawning chasm between the casualties and the beneficiaries of the new, neoliberal, world order. Stripped of effective economic and political defences, the western working-class was left to wither and rot as the factories that had sustained it for nearly two centuries were shut down and their jobs shipped off to China, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil.

The upshot? Millions of desperate white men, gripped by a toxic nostalgia for the days when being Caucasian and male “still meant something”, found themselves transformed into a tempting political prize. But although the parties of the racist right were successful in persuading members of the decaying working-class to give them their votes; those same voters were singularly unsuccessful in persuading the all-conquering neoliberals to bring back their secure, well-paying jobs. This resentful remnant would become, indeed, the “grapes of wrath”; a bitter vintage just waiting for the trampling feet of opportunistic populist politicians.

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Which presented the hyper-capitalist, hyper-globalised economy with a really big problem. For the One Percent who clip its ticket, and the narrow social layer of managers and professionals who make it run, it is absolutely vital that their delicate economic mechanism be kept as far away from stupid people as possible. The extreme sophistication and complexity of the science and technology that make hyper-capitalism work are violently allergic to ignorance. The woeful responses of populist regimes to the global Covid-19 pandemic have made this agonisingly clear – in both human and economic terms.

Hyper-capitalism and its neoliberal defenders cannot, therefore, allow a repeat of the fatal alliance between the fascist brutes who seized control of the German state in 1933, and the highly-sophisticated civil servants, managers and professionals who, in spite of Nazi brutality, kept the German economy and German society functioning until the bitter end. Neoliberalism’s hyper-capitalist china-shop, and the clumsy ignorance of fascist bulls, are a dangerous combination – as Trump’s America proves.

Neoliberalism’s dilemma is how to keep fascism at bay without raising the spectre of communism. Or, more bluntly, how to combat right-wing populism without resurrecting the politics of class conflict? The solution which presented itself most persuasively to neoliberal ideologues was “identity politics”. By shifting the focus of left-wing attention away from the injuries of class: inflicted by capitalism; and directing it instead towards the injuries of race, gender and sexuality: inflicted by whites, men and straights; identity politics made the broad political unity needed for a successful struggle against the capitalist system much more difficult to attain.

Better still, by branding whites, men and straights as the “structural” enemies of justice and equality, identity politics set its followers on a collision course with the very same white working-class males the far-right were seeking to recruit. Neoliberalism, which has always been supportive of racial and sexual equality (both of which enlarge the capitalist marketplace) seized the opportunity presented by this bitter cultural clash to inoculate the next generation of professionals and managers against the fascist distempers unleashed by their unenlightened brethren. Hyper-capitalism is now ready to embrace the “woke” – and heaven help any employee who declines to polish her corporate employer’s public image by challenging, even privately (via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter) the new orthodoxy.

Increasingly, this will be the choice confronting those coming of age in the 2020s. Embrace Neoliberalism’s belief in racial and sexual equality; adopt its secular and scientific world view; and cultivate the technocratic, multicultural, global outlook required of those who keep the machinery of hyper-capitalism humming. Or, throw your support behind the defenders of the national people’s community; agitate for an end to free-trade and globalisation; and use any means necessary (including violence) to uphold the social, sexual and racial hierarchies of your ancestors. That is to say – become a fascist.

Neither of these options has anything to offer the poor. Neither of them will restrain the rich. Neither will do anything like enough, or anything at all, to combat climate change. Neoliberalism believes itself to be rational. Fascism claims to reflect the natural order. But the followers of both ideologies remain content to be carried on the backs of human-beings whose rights and aspirations they do not consider worthy of serious regard. It was to these people that the socialists used to speak.

“Workers of the world, unite!”, cried Karl Marx. “You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win!”

If only he and his socialist successors had given a little more thought to how they should win the capitalists’ world – and what to do with it when they did.




  1. Looking at ACT’s latest economic policy for NZ I would say we have our very own little hyper capitalist cluster in full stride. Or should that be full twerk.

    • Apart from the axing of obscene top public servant salaries, the Act policies are designed to plunge this country back into the misery of Victorian England, which started it all in the first place. Life is sadly circular.

    • As ‘ Our very own little hyper capitalist cluster’, ACT representation in parliament is by my calculations 0.08% of parliament. If all left leaning people in Epsom voted strategically for National (Jacinda and Helen Clark couldn’t say this) we could make that smaller (0.00%) and the newly elected Nat MP might have to do something for his $3000 plus a week salary and Mr Seymour could apply for a real job; perhaps pole dancing.

  2. Possibly the only redeeming feature of Trotter’s article is his recognition that the woke – far from being the holy warriors they see themselves as – are in fact the useful idiots of neoliberalism. Very few on either the left or the right want to know about this. Look at a right-wing blog site, and you’ll see paranoia about Jacinda’s supposed agenda of creeping “communism”, and universities being overrun by “marxists” (I know plenty of academics, and only one of them is a marxist). Look at a left-wing blog site, and you’ll see woke hysteria about “structural racism”, misogyny, transphobia, white supremacy etc.

    It’s hard to see the justification for the “hyper-capitalist” label that Trotter seems to apply to contemporary regimes in the West. What we have in NZ is a creaky neoliberal edifice propped by a dysfunctional welfare system and handouts like the winter energy payments and Working for Families etc. Hardly hyper-capitalist, but certainly dysfunctional.

    Trotter frames nationalist opposition to neoliberalism as “fascist”. This might be a reasonable description of the current situation in Hungary, but it’s lazy and cheap to imply that (say) Brexit is about “uphold(ing) the social, sexual and racial hierarchies” of the past. Wanting your laws made in your own country, wanting your country to have control of its own borders – these reasonable desires don’t make you a supporter of fascism, or a white supremacist.

    But, the way out of our current situation is blocked by the current constellations of political traits in most western democracies. Boris Johnson seemed to offer a smart solution by combining a leftward economic shift with moderate nationalism, and opposition to the excesses of identity politics. It’s really unfortunate that his character weaknesses seem destined to prevent him getting very far with his agenda, and he’s likely to be replaced by either a Thatcherite Tory or a supine UK Labour Party.

  3. My first comment to the woke is you will not do marginal groups any favours by making them much more important than they are and then push them to the side, so who will control everything if we lose our identity.

    Today’s technology isn’t good enough to filter out skin colour or say one is more superior than another and so. Isn’t it wonderful that those climbing up the digital revolution can be anyone from anywhere on the internet?

    Whatever happens, the internet is absolutely the most dynamic systems humans have ever produced. Here is the problem, post-modern neo-Marxist want to get rid of fascism, racism, patriarchy or whatever but keeps its most diverse tool the internet which is a deeply neoliberal thing to do. Here there is no ideology because the tool to achieving equality is embedded in the economic structure of capitalism.

    That’s the problem with the internet is that most people can just look up the answers but most people don’t take any of it seriously because most people are not ivy league professors with multiple Ph.Ds. There is falseness in logic in the way that is how knowledge can practically engage with people and at the end, the definition of what a human is will change.

  4. Well I guess a main point here in Chris’ look back, is that class struggle as a distinct popular ideology and way forward, has effectively been subsumed in terms of it being easily recognised, and articulated, by a number of the people that still live it every day! Workers have been divided on so many things to hate sections of their own class way more than the bosses.

    Neoliberal individualist psychology and Post Modernist philosophy have helped render working class unity and participation into something resembling a busted mirror.

    I will just throw in a few points here,
    • if the NZCTU had not been formed in 1987 we might still have a fighting central labour organisation that could lead a national campaign for the roll back of neo liberalism–(with the support of NZ marxists). The FOL was no far left organisation! but with Jim Knox at the helm it met Governments head on for centralised negotiations on various matters and workers got involved in strikes and rallies and campaigns, and extended solidarity to other workers, including internationally.
    • NZ’s formation by colonial takeover and subjugation of the indigenous people and the land has had ongoing implications for class struggle, as do the preponderance of small businesses, and farming, and the foreign ownership of much of the economy and parasitic finance capital.
    • The NZ Communist movement had significant members and influence in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, but ultimately diminished itself to todays online discussion groups, with sectarianism and over reliance on international affiliations as opposed to internationalism.

    So there are many obstacles to the capacity of the NZ working class to mount a fight back, but it must still be attempted. As long as capitalist surplus value extracted at point of production, oppression, and exploitation exist so will classes and class contradictions and the chance for a shift in class power. My view is it will be the old and new marxists and Māori rights fighters influence in all sorts of places, that will help out in the current crisis of “Covid Capitalism” and conspiracy neo-nutters and develop the required direct action and community support.

  5. Identity politics an invention of neoliberal ideologues? Yeah, right…

    More likely a response to fill the academic vacuum created when class-based arguments collapsed along with the Soviet Union.

    • What we lack is an education system that produces experts. That is to say, lefties should not answer questions but formulate the questions properly. For me, it is not a question about tolerance but how to give access to everyone a sense of satisfaction. The problem is when we do this it makes people feel good and the real left disappears.

    • The proposition, Ada, is not that neoliberals manufactured identity politics out of whole cloth for their own purposes, but that they saw in the left’s drift towards identity and away from class politics a heaven-sent opportunity to exacerbate the divisions this new ideological trend in left-wing thought was opening-up.

      It is one of the most interesting aspects of neoliberalism: its willingness to borrow ideas and tropes from the Left – and the success which these appropriations have occasioned.

      • Your further explanation makes more sense, but I don’t believe neoliberals were organised or smart enough to exacerbate the Left’s divisions from identity politics.

        More a case of ‘when your enemy is making a mistake, don’t hinder them’.

        • Jacinda doesn’t threaten violence. She doesn’t give orders, she doesn’t pretend to be an authority. This is what the left wants in its leadership. Just be the servant of the people.

          • Yes we need to go back to the post second world war when good leaders like Jacinda understood that the way out of a disaster (second world war) was to setup a shared system of wealth redistribution of our own commonwealth asset and resources and they called it “egalitarianism” and that was my own upbringing I felt connected with during 1950 to 1965.
            I recall this part of what Gareth Morgan was the drawbacks but all in all the financial system then was far more balanced between rich and poor and Superannuates as Gareth speaks out there. We looked after our elders then far better than we do today sadly and the rich paid far more to society then that now.


            We need to back to this ‘era’ to rediscover our past strengths; -as then we were globally admired by many counties then as being the ‘second best country to live in then after Sweden’ and that was our strongest strength we ever achieved.

            • it’s actually taken a lot to silence all the surplus budget and anti-marijuana nut jobs inside Labour. It’s just you don’t win referendums without the support of both major parties so we are going yo have to give National what they want. Give national a crack war.

  6. Brilliant. An absolutely brilliant Post @ CT.
    Surgically compiled and rationally dispensed.
    Now lets see what Sesame Street does with it?
    As much as I loath the neo wealthy who can gleefully and without conscience, manipulate and then exploit the many to gather about them millions, billions and trillions … far more than is needed, far more than they can ever spend.
    But when it all boils down to froth in the pot, it’s money that we one or two must have to survive. To buffer ourselves against the abysmal, terminally stupid, dull witted, grunter-snorters whom we must share our biosphere with who will mindlessly fall in step ( goose ) behind their masters/abusers.
    Is that why moats and draw bridges?
    It’ll be a great day for our fellow non-human biosphere inhabitants; to watch the last human death-spiral down the plug hole. Imagine the pan species, global sigh of relief?
    We humans have an almost mystical ability to imagine wondrous things and we have the opposable thumbs to turn dreams into realities but look at what we’ve done ?
    We’ve ignited our biosphere with the consequences of our narcissistic egos. We’d rather die in vicious fights and flames than allow our common sense to over ride the sentiments of our penises and vaginas whispering in our ears.
    How can we be so brilliant and yet be so fucked?
    I have an answer to our woes.
    Ecstasy powder. Good Ecstasy powder.
    Replace the toxin sugar in junk food with Ecstasy powder.

    Sugar Sweet: the pilled-up rave that united Belfast during the Troubles
    Who cares if one or two mopes might try to hug Polar Bears?
    Who cares if the kiddies get into mummy and daddy’s stash then go off to live in the stuffed toys department at The Warehouse?
    Who cares?
    Scientists? Here’s my challenge to you.
    The next time there’s a White Supremacist / Black Lives Matter confrontation about to happen?
    Go there, use a helicopter or drone to crop dust the confrontation with good E and see what happens?
    Pop on a track or two like this…why waste good police megaphones, right?
    A violent and potentially deadly confrontation will turn into tears and hugs. Guaranteed.
    Would that mean that a manipulative and exploitative Master Control of us all would dissolve into nothing ?
    Couldn’t hurt to give it a go.

    I’ve just received this from an old and dear friend.
    “ I have just read ” The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat ” by Oliver Sacks.
    A tour de force of technical terms. However it explains a lot about the quirks of folks…
    ” All the “hyper” states can become monstrous, perverse, aberrations, “para” states: hyperkinesia tends towards parakinesia – abnormal movements, chorea, tics; hypergnosia readily becomes paragnosia – perversions, apparitions, of the morbidly heightened senses; the ardours of “hyper” states can become violent passions.
    The paradox of an illness which can present as wellness – as a wonderful feeling of health and well-being, and only later reveal its malignant potentials – is one of the chimaeras, tricks and ironies of nature. It is one which has fascinated a number of artists, especially those  who equate art with sickness: thus it is a theme – at once Dionysiac, Venerean, and Faustian- which persistently occurs in Thomas Mann – from the febrile, tuberculous highs of The Magic Mountain, to the spirochaetal inspirations in Dr Faustas and the aphrodisiac malignancy in his last tale, The Black Swan. ”
    ” Enhancement not only allows the possibilities of a healthy fullness and exuberance (us) but of a rather ominous extravagance, aberration , monstrosity – the sort of too-muchness which continually looms as patients, over-excited, tend to disintegration and uncontrol; an overpowering by impulse, image, and will; possession ( or dispossession) by a physiology gone wild
    Great work @ Chris Trotter.

  7. The moral choice today is still between fascism and communism properly understood.

    These are the two futures we have to choose between.

    Fascism is the reactionary nationalist mobilisation of the petty bourgeoisie and lumpen workers against the revolutionary working class.

    Post WW1 fascism used identity politics by appealing to chauvinism, both national and sexual, racism and religion, to divide and demobilise the working class in times of crises.

    The main enemy of fascism is actual communism (read the Communist Manifesto) – the genuine fear of finance capital of being overthrown by the revolutionary working class. Fascism used and continues to use identity politics to to cut across class consciousness and smash workers unity.

    Since the enemy of capitalism is actual communism (for Marx the future society which is classless and stateless) then it has to misrepresent it as the ultimate cause of the plight and suffering of the masses in the capitalist states.

    Before they came for the Jews, thieves, homosexuals and the priests, the Nazis came for the communists.

    Today, fascism is on the rise using the same methods and in a period of crisis even greater than the interwar period as capitalism is destroying nature along with threatening human extinction.

    Against the fascist appeals, today there is plenty of evidence that the attempts to divide workers by means of identity politics will not prevent the class struggle from aligning and uniting the exploited and oppressed along class lines.

    For example nationalism and racism cannot prevent mass movements of the exploited and oppressed from uniting in a class struggle such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa.

    These movements overlap and include whites as well as blacks, colored and indigenous people, men and women, and migrants of many nationalities.

    The fact that these movements are building and pose a threat to the ruling classes is most evident in the rise of fascist movements and the increase in armed confrontations on the streets.

  8. Kind of interesting, Chris, but you miss so many absolutely crucial aspects.

    Firstly, unless you define fascism, how can you label any person or nation fascistic?

    According to Mussolini, who is attributed with popularisation of the term, fascism is the mending of the interests of the state, the military and the commercial sectors -all bound together, as per the Roman symbol of an axe shaft strengthened by rods bound to it. .

    By that definition, the US became a fascist state in the late 1800s, when corporations such as that of Rockefeller and Harriman, began to wield enormous power and had their agenda facilitated by politicians. Pilkington’s agents were the blackshirts of the times, physically attacking and murdering anyone who got in the way of the corporations -especially poor workers in the factories who had thoughts of a better life.

    The money-lenders had quite a battle establishing control over America, with Andrew Jackson closing down their ‘pit of vipers’ in the mid-1830s, but with Lincoln assassinated (no more of that terrible issuing of the state’s money by the state) the bansksters were well on the way to establishing full control; and by 1914 they had achieved it via the arch-traitor Woodrow Wilson (who subsequently repented: too late of course) facilitating the establishment of the Federal Reserve -a privately owned bank- as creator of fake currency.

    Against that background there was the Monroe Doctrine, whereby the US saw itself as the ‘rightful heir’ to the largely decaying Spanish Empire, literally ‘stealing large chunks of Mexico through violence and taking over in Cuba and the Philippines etc., killing anyone who put up resistance.

    Smedley Butler made much of Central America safe for American corporations, such as United Fruit, via murder. He ‘saw the light’ 20 or 30 years later, and when there was a plot to convert the US from a covertly fascist state into an overtly fascist state, he blew the whistle.

    Of considerable interest is the fact that many powerful Americans admired Hitler and did their best to support him: most notable was Prescot Bush (grandfather of George W)) who financed much of Hitler’s activities, until stopped by Roosevelt in 1942 via the Trading With the Enemy legislation. That legislation didn’t stop Standard Oil from providing aviation fuel additive to the Luftwaffe via Spain, nor did it stop IBM providing the Nazis with information systems needed to process millions of Jews through slave camps and extermination camps.

    So, the Second World War was not about defeating fascism bur was about which group of fascists would prevail. And when it was clear that Germany would not win, the money-lenders established the US dollar as the global reserve currency, via Bretton Woods, facilitating the manipulation of all nations tied to it.

    Just to ensure that Britain was ‘killed off’ the Americans refused to loan Britain funds necessary to rebuild and recover from the devastation of WW2. Indeed, the Americans only relentd when Churchill pleaded with them and pointed out that a collapsed Britain would almost certainly become a communist state. Although the socialist of the post-war government was too much for the American fascists, outright communism would be even worse. Similarly, the US refused to help Europe until the specter of communism arose. The purging of socialist and communists by British and American troops in occupied Europe via assassination was only partially successful.

    The toppling of socialist governments in Korea and Iran soon after WW2, and the toppling of numerous socialist governments in South America and Central America makes perfect sense when viewed through the lens of the US being a fascist state. As does the murder of students at Kent State University and the hunting down of ‘The Weathermen’ in the 1960s.

    We could note the fabrications and pretexts under which the US engaged in invasions of sovereign states in the twenty-first century, primarily to acquire resources for American corporations and reconstruction contracts once everything had been thoroughly trashed by the military, which provided lucrative contracts for the the ‘defense’ sector.

    Where Trump fits in this fascist state of America is a matter of conjecture. He has talked the talk about ‘bringing the troops’ home, but just like Obama -who did nothing to curtail the industrial-military complex and did much to enhance it- it seems to be all talk and no action.

  9. I have just done the vote compass test and I voted on all questions as a National supporter but it was interesting that my score came in at 67% National 61% Labour. What does that tell you about our two main parties

  10. NZ remembers, I dunno about other places. All those who grew up in the Welfare State can be reminded that the people are the foundation. That will pass soon.

    What a scungey bunch of elders, Douglas and his colleagues. All of our younger generation are our real elders, understand social democracy. I spose that includes me.

    • Sumsuch – Yes, and as others have commented, the idealistic younger generation could also be the saving of the Green Party, they‘re pretty good – and if you’re one, that’s good too ! Kia kaha.

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