Greg Wilpert talks to sociology Professor William I. Robinson about his just-released book, The Global Police State, in which he outlines the confluence of interests between transnational capital, 21st-century fascism, and the general policing of society.
Welcome to theAnalysis.news podcast. I’m your guest host, Greg Wilpert. I’m recording this podcast
episode a few days after a new wave of Black Lives Matter protests following a decision not to charge
the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor. Of course, as usual, there was plenty of repression against
the protests which took place across the United States. What the protests and the police repression
highlight is the extent to which inequality, and resistance to inequality and injustice, and the repression
against the resistance fit together.
One sociologist who has argued that this is part of a worldwide trend is William I. Robinson. As it
happens, he just released a book on this topic called “The Global Police State,” published this month by
Pluto Press. Will Robinson joins me today to discuss his book. He’s a professor of sociology at the
University of California, Santa Barbara, and is the author of numerous books on the topic of
globalization. Thanks for joining me today, Bill.
Pleasure to be with you.
So your book actually covers a lot of ground, including your larger theory of globalization and global
capitalism. But let’s start with the issue at hand, the global police state. Why has it become a global
phenomenon at this point, and how does it express itself?
Yes, well, the starting point for any discussion of the global police state has to be the crisis of global
capitalism. Of course, I finished this book in October of 2019 so I could not see the pandemic coming,
but the system was already in an acute crisis, and I’m going to suggest really the most acute crisis of its
500 years, that is world capitalism well before the pandemic. And the only thing the pandemic did is to
aggravate this crisis and aggravate everything, pushing us towards an intensification of global police
And certainly, the crisis that we’re in is multidimensional. There is the ecological dimension, which
makes it an existential crisis. And then there’s the social dimension of the crisis in the sense that billions
of people around the world cannot survive. But that only becomes a crisis, the social dimension, until
and unless these billions of people rise up, and that’s taking place now. But I think we need to focus on
two other dimensions of the crisis. One is what we call the structural dimension, and that is that the
global economy has been increasingly stagnant.
And in the face of that stagnation, the building up of a global police state is a way of continuing to throw
firewood on the dying embers and stagnant embers of a global economy, and I’ll get into this in a little
more detail in a little while. But this structural dimension of the crisis is driving global police state, and
then global capitalism is facing a deep political crisis of legitimacy and of hegemony. And global police
state is a response to this multidimensional crisis of global capitalism.
I would say that we’re in a moment of inflection, an extremely dangerous moment. We are slipping into
the threat of fascism. But also, this moment opens up tremendous opportunities for emancipatory
projects. The capitalist states have been unable to cope with the crisis and with the pandemic, which has
exposed them as instruments of wealth and of corruption. And it has pushed these states, since the
pandemic got underway, to intensify global police state. You mentioned the Black Lives Matter uprising
in the United States, but here the global police state is on full display around the anti-racist protests.
But I want to suggest that the concept of global police state is really essential to understanding where
we’re at in September 2020, and the nature of global capitalism and its crisis. It’s really an analytical and
theoretical framework is helps us understand everything unfolding now, including the anti-racist
uprising in the United States. You know, and I’ll summarize my response to your question by saying for
me, there are three dimensions of global police state. The first is the extension and intensification of
transnational systems of repression, and social control, and warfare.
And this is to contain the actual and the potential rebellion of what I call surplus humanity, the several
billions of people that are marginalized, and the global working class in the face of unprecedented
inequalities. Such inequalities in global society require extreme repression, and that’s the first function
of global police state. But secondly, building up systems of warfare worldwide and deploying those
systems of transnational repression and of social control, all of this is immensely profitable, and it has
helped keep the global economy going in the face of stagnation.
And the third dimension of global police state is this move towards political systems that increasingly we
can characterize as 21st-century fascism. Now, these three dimensions of global police state; again, this
extension of repressive systems around the world, the making profit through warfare and repression,
and the move towards fascism. Each one individually is not necessarily new, but they can’t be separated
from one another. And we need to see how they are intertwined in a new way that signals this
extremely dangerous phase in global capitalism, with this crisis as the backdrop.
Now, I guess what I want to start with is in, terms of this crisis I mean, you outlined a number of
different crisis points. But one of the ones that people who don’t follow global economics so closely
might be puzzled about is your comment that there’s been a stagnation. Now, is does that stagnation
about, and how does it manifest itself? Because after all, just before the pandemic hit, we had a 4%
unemployment rate, and the stock market was booming.
In what ways does this global stagnation really manifest itself?
Sure. So we have to start that response by talking about global inequalities. And many of the listeners
are going to be familiar with the data that one percent of humanity now controls more than 50 percent
of the world’s wealth. But the next piece of data is the more significant one. 20% of humanity, that
portion of humanity that can still consume within global capitalism, controls 95% of the world’s wealth.
That means that 80% of humanity has just five percent of the world’s wealth, and this intensified
inequality is a result of capitalist globalization in recent decades, starting in the late 20th century.
But what does it mean? It means that the global economy has the ability to produce and pour into the
global market. All of this wealth, all of this output. But the global market cannot absorb that output
because 80 percent of humanity cannot consume. So the deeper, the more extensive and deeper the
inequalities go, the more the global economy slips into stagnation. Now, you mentioned that there was
low unemployment and there is a positive levels of growth in the last few years.
But we have to see why. What has been driving that growth up until now, apart from global police state.
One, is unbelievable speculation in the global casino, financial speculation. So the real global economy
produces goods and services worth 75 trillion dollars every year. That is goods and services that people
want, and need, and can consume. But financial speculation is 1.4 quadrillion dollars. So what’s going on
here is that the transnational corporations, what I call the transnational capitalist class, has accumulated
But those profits cannot find ways of investing, or they cannot find profitable outlets could continue to
invest, so that trillions of dollars in profits has gone into financial speculation. Also, growth has
continued forward through debt. Consumer debt in the United States is at its highest point ever. State
debt worldwide is now some 250 trillion dollars. It’s the highest in the world, government debt
worldwide. So financial speculation, debt-driven growth, have been reaching their limits.
They can’t continue. And so global police state becomes a third outlet, a new way for the incredible
profits accumulated by transnational corporations to find profitable investments outlets. I mean, the
examples are numerous, and this is what I call in the book, “Militarised Accumulation” or Accumulation
by repression, meaning that capital continues to accumulate, the global economy continues to move
forward through systems of warfare and repression. So just to give the listeners a few examples, the
Pentagon budget increased from 1998 to 2011.
And of course, 2001 is the key turning point here because it opens up a much more sweeping
militarization of global economy and society, it really brings us fully into a global war economy. But the
Pentagon budget increased 98% between 1998 and 2011, and worldwide military spending by states to
continue to fuel the global economy increased 50% just between 2006 and 2015. And this does not
include state secret budgets, police budgets, intelligence, homeland security budgets. I calculate that if
we combine all of the state spending, just the state spending alone is 5-6% of the global economy.
And this doesn’t include private corporate spending, the rise of military, and private security, and
mercenary firms which are increasingly central to the whole global economy. Warfare and repression
are evermore privatized, and there’s numerous examples we can we can talk about. But let me give you
an example of this link between fueling the global economy, and intensified systems of warfare,
repression, and social control. So the day after Trump won the elections in 2016, and this isn’t particular
to Trump global police state, but the day after he won those elections, the stock value jumped 40% of
the Corrections Corporation of America, which is the largest corporation running private immigrant
detention centers, because Trump had promised to intensify the war on immigrants, and so capital
massively invested in private immigrant detention companies. In April of 2017, there was a U.S.
Tomahawk missile bombardment of Syria. Those Tomahawk missiles are produced by Raytheon. Literally
overnight, the bombardment took place in the evening U.S. time, by the next morning, Raytheon stock
had increased by one billion dollars. Also, Trump is making a lot out of this new military branch, the so-
called Space Force.
But this started way before Trump, and it has been the result of a massive lobbying by the aerospace
industry so that there would be new markets for its satellites and its other space systems. The global
market and so-called homeland security is now valued at 500 billion dollars. That means that
transnational corporations are making 500 billion dollars in profit by supplying the so-called homeland
security market. The military-industrial profits quadrupled from 2001 to 2011, and now the arms
industry worldwide employs three million workers worldwide.
And you have to add that to their families. An increasing number of workers worldwide are dependent
on this industry. But it’s not just arms, making and selling arms. There’s also been this incredible
proliferation of private military firms. They are now active on every continent. They are actually
subsidiaries of the major transnational corporations and banks, and they’re cross-invested with one
another, meaning the banks and the global production corporations are in turn linked to global police
In Russia alone, after the Soviet Union collapsed, 10,000 new private security firms were created. And
these private military firms employ 15 million workers worldwide. Private police forces worldwide
employ 20 million workers. Now, in 1/2 of the countries in the world, there are more private police, that
is for-profit policing and that’s the key point here, more private police than public police. And that
includes many cities in the United States, such as Detroit.
The biometric industry is worth now 35 billion dollars. And, of course, biometrics is used by states and
by private capital to monitor and control the movements of people through these biometrics. There’s
also been a rapid increase in imprisonment worldwide. Of course, with the incredible inequality I was
talking about, there has to be mass repression, and part of that mass repression are systems of mass
incarceration. But here’s the point, that private prisons worldwide, there are now 200, they are in every
continent, they’re dramatically expanding, and they are for profit. So the corporations that create these
private prisons, just as with the immigrant detention centers, want to increase immigrants that are
being thrown into detention centers because that’s profit, and want to criminalize populations that have
been outcast in order to throw them in private prisons and make profit that way. Here’s another piece
of data. You know, we can go on and on. But let me just a couple more examples, because this shows
the extent to which the whole global economy and society has become militarized, a system of mass
repression and social control, and how it is immensely profitable.
So it is helping the capitalist system to respond to its crisis of stagnation. So the European Union border
security program was launched in 2005 and that spending increased on that program by 3688% between
2005 and 2016. And this is not government spending, this is governments giving private corporations
free reign to run these programs and make billions and billions in profits. And by the way, 40,000
immigrants and refugees died since then, trying to cross borders into Europe.
So, I mean, we can go on and on everywhere, you look at it. But there’s another dimension that we can
talk if you’d like to go into that, which is the Silicon Valley global police state connection. But the point
here is that any and every sector now in the global economy is becoming more and more dependent
and integrated into accumulation of capital and profit-making through repression, through warfare,
through social control. So that is the economic dimension you were asking me about. That’s the
economic dimension. There is, of course, the political dimension, in that the extreme levels of inequality
in global society require extreme repression. And that’s what we’re seeing, of course, in Portland, and all
around the United States with this uprising. But we’re seeing it worldwide.
Mm-hmm. I just want to stay with the topic briefly of stagnation. And you also put it in the content in
the book, you put an emphasis on the fact that this is really also a constant problem of capitalism, the
over-accumulation of it cannot basically find markets for all the stuff that it produces. Now, clearly,
you’re outlining here, when you’re talking about the global police state, you’re outlining a solution to
this crisis it seems, that is from the perspective of capital, that is to sell all the stuff, to make stuff for the
military-industrial complex basically, form the global police state, and sell it essentially to the state for it
to use, and to use it productively in the sense of repressing the population.
Now, isn’t that a kind of potentially long term resolution for this, what you call a contradiction of over
Not in the long term, no, not in the long term. I’ll explain why in just a moment. But I want to mention
that development of a global police state is a solution on two fronts. Economically, it’s a temporary
solution to stagnation. How can the transnational capitalist class continue to make profits? Through
repression, through war, because they can’t do so otherwise. So it’s an economic solution in the short
term, but it’s also a political solution in the sense that once again, when 80% of humanity is locked out,
when even that 20% is moving downward, and accelerated through the pandemic.
And we need to get into the discussion of technology here because the fourth industrial revolution of
technologies, which are being accelerated now in the face of the pandemic, is going to mean that a
significant portion, even of that 20%, is deskilled and downgraded, if not simply losing their jobs because
of the replacement of their labor by technology. So there’s also, global police state offers the political
solution to how you control the mass of humanity, and how you suppress real and potential rebellions
And before I go back to the economic dimension, I just don’t want to forget that there’s this quote. I just
want to point this out, that the ruling groups worldwide are terrified by the prospects of an uprising of
the vast majority of humanity. And if you read the book, you know that there’s some juicy quotes there
expressing this. So John Rupert is the CEO of the Cartier Jewelry, upscale jewelry company worldwide,
it’s one of the biggest jewelers in the world.
And he famously said in an interview a couple of years ago that he can’t sleep at night because the
prospects of the poor rising up keep him in jitters every single night. One of the quotes here, you and I
will get back to, you know, why this is not a long term economic solution, and it’s also not a long term
political solution. But here’s another quote. The editor of the London-based Financial Times, a very
important, you know, worldwide daily newspaper, was explaining that he was interviewing extremely
wealthy people in New York and in global cities.
And he wrote, “one thing I’ve heard from a lot of people, a lot of the very wealthy people these days,
since the election of 2016 of Donald Trump, is that they all have escape plans. Rich people are buying up
ranches in New Zealand, and creating bunkers in the Bahamas, or wherever they’re going, thinking that
they’re somehow going to be able to avoid the apocalypse when it comes. There’s actually a business
that operates in New York. It’s a boat that will come, you can apparently pre-buy tickets. If there’s some
political crisis or some danger moments, then they’ll come and pick you up, and whisk you up the
Hudson. So here you see on the political side the extreme fear that the ruling groups have of this
uprising from below. And of course, we’re seeing the uprising unfolding. But at the same time, they turn
the need for repression to contain that uprising into profit-making. But this is not a viable long-term
I mean, there are eventually limits to how much you can simply turn the whole world into a
battleground in order to continue to sustain accumulation. This is what was known as military
Keynesianism previously. This is a much more intensified deep aversion, but the idea of military
Keynesianism is that the stagnation after the post-World War II boom of after 1945, post-World War II,
there was an economic boom. As that started petering out, the government states around the world, led
by the United States, started increasing military budgets.
And the idea was military Keynesianism is a way that those military budgets, military spending, will
And that created all kinds of distortions in global capitalism and capitalism.
I’m not going to go into particular detail, but it’s not a long-term fix for stagnation. The only real long-
term fix, apart from overthrowing capitalism, within capitalism, is a massive project of redistribution of
wealth downward. Expansion, and inclusion, and integration of billions of people into the global
economy under new patterns of production and distribution. And that will only come from mass
struggle to bring it about.
But I’m wondering why, I’m still not sure if I completely understood why it’s not a long-term solution
economically speaking, I can see certainly politically it might not be, because the resistance will be
overwhelming eventually, I think.
But still, economically speaking, it seems to be working out to some extent. But so far, the indicator is
that it’s not going to work out?
Well, it’s working out for the time being, but we’re looking forward into the future, it’s not a long term
fix. So, the US military budget is, and then, of course, there’s all the secret dimensions of it, but I
estimated it at about a trillion dollars. Officially, the Pentagon budget alone is close to 800 billion. So
where does that trillion dollars or more come from? Well, it comes from the tax base. So on the one
hand, you have increasingly the vast majority of people in the United States are part of the working
class, and increasingly they can’t pay very many taxes because they have starvation wages, or simply are
massively unemployed or underemployed.
So, tax bases for states to manipulate finance in such a way that it can expand military spending and
spending on repressive systems is limited. Now the rich want to maximize their income, and
corporations want to maximize their profits. So, they have pushed worldwide for regressive taxation,
and of course, Trump passed, but with Republican, and also plenty of Democrats and the whole
transnational capitalist class was thrilled with his incredibly regressive tax bill. But what that means is
that states around the world faced fiscal crises.
They can’t raise funds, and so they can print money for more global police state spending, for more
private, you know, to pay for more private immigrant detention centers, for so-called border security,
for wars in the Middle East. But then printing more money creates incredible macroeconomic
imbalances, the threat of hyperinflation, you know, and yet basically incredible macroeconomic
instability. And that’s what we’re in right now. So, these are some of the reasons why it’s not a long-
Let me give you another example. So part of global police state, and we don’t want to limit the analysis
of global police state to state military spending or repression spending. That’s a significant part of it, but
even taking the state out of the picture, so a Chinese mining corporation goes to Ecuador to exploit the
resources on indigenous lands. And you know this because you’re a Latin Americanist Greg, and this is
actually taking place in Ecuador. And so the Chinese mining company, to get at some mineral in the
Amazon in Ecuador, take takes over indigenous lands. The indigenous rebel, right? And so the mining
company, whether it’s Chinese, or U.S., or Canadian, employs private security forces. I mentioned
there’s 20 million private police working for private firms in the world. Just just in Russia alone, there’s
10,000 private military mercenary firms. So they employ these private firms. And so, again, that’s part of
global police state, that the private firms are making profit. They’re part of now the production of
minerals and mining operations worldwide in order to provide security and to repress the indigenous in
But what I’m getting at is that in turn, you eventually get those minerals, they go back to China, those
minerals maybe are used to create iPhones and iPads or whatever industrial goods come out of the
Chinese factories, and exported to the world market, but that world market cannot absorb that actual
output. So you keep on running, one or another way you look at it, you keep on running into this
contradiction of over accumulation. So it’s a short term fix, which, by the way, if you want to get into
this, leads us to the third dimension of global police state, which are systems of a 21st-century fascism,
where we’re being pushed by these explosive contradictions, both the political and the economic
contradictions, towards more intensified forms of social control and repression coming out of the state.
And that’s what I refer to as 21st-century fascism. So, I mean, that’s the third part of this conversation,
right? Is the political need to repress surplus humanity in the global working class through global police
state, the economic need or the incredible economic profitability of global police state in the face of
stagnation, and the third is this threat of 21st-century fascism.
Yeah, lets think into that a little bit more. And you also mentioned the connection to the technology
companies, which is something that most people are really completely unaware of I think. We always
have this tendency to think that companies such as Google and Facebook, despite all of their problems,
and doubts that people have about Big Brother, and the monopolies that they control, that they are in
some ways, still kind of enlightened or something like that. So what’s the connection there to the global
Yeah, well, that view that these giant tech companies are enlightened is a result of their own corporate
propaganda and public relations, and of course, doesn’t correspond any way to reality. First, we want to
remember that these chilling new systems of warfare, social control, and repression, I haven’t even gone
through all of those systems, they’re there, not just police and military. They’ve been made possible by
digitalization, by A.I. powered systems of weaponry and surveillance, everything from drones, to these
new microwave guns, to state and private data mining, and so forth.
But we want to remember that computer and information technology, and the Internet, was originally
developed in the 1960s by the Pentagon, by its DARPA program, in cooperation with the military-
industrial corporations and the early tech companies. And Internet and computer information
technology was originally developed as technologies for warfare, counterinsurgency, surveillance, and
repression. Then we get to the 1980s and the government turns over the Internet to the corporate
consortiums. And that’s the origins of these tech giants.
So the tech industry is conjoined at birth to the military-industrial security complex, and to global police
state. And we see a four-way fusion here. The giant tech firms are interlaced with the repressive state
and its surveillance and repression apparatuses. They are interlaced with the banks, with transnational
finance capital, which invests in them, which finances them. They are interlaced with the military,
industrial corporations, all of the Silicon Valley companies, all of the ones we know, Amazon, Google,
They are interlocked and invested with Raytheon, with Northrop Grumman, with Lockheed Martin, and
so forth. Google and all of the other big tech companies, they work with the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA,
the other intelligence and military agencies, with police forces. That’s all coming out now, with the
repression of the BLM protests, and immigrant enforcement, all of this repression against immigrants
wouldn’t even be possible without the big tech industries, and its big-time, trillions of dollars in profits
for Silicon Valley.
Let’s remember that Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, is the single richest man on the planet. He’s
moving, he now at 200 billion dollars to his name. He is a contractor, an advisor, to both the Pentagon
and the CIA. So global police state technologically would not be possible without Silicon Valley tech
companies, which are at the very technological and political core of global police state, and are making
trillions through the global police state. So I would mention that, if we have this image that they’re
benign and liberal and so forth, that’s their public relations propaganda, and just doesn’t in any way
correspond to reality.
Now, the other aspect, I think, of 21st-century socialism, not socialism, I meant to say fascism, 21st-
century fascism, that your book emphasizes, is also the extent to which it’s kind of a global
phenomenon. And one of the puzzling things, I guess, that I think many people would find puzzling is
that fascism is usually associated with nationalism. And so the question is, well, you know, how is 21st-
century fascism different from the 20th-century kind?
And aren’t we seeing perhaps actually a regression towards 20th-century fascism in Western Europe, for
example, Trump’s, and then you’ve got also Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Modi in India, and Erdoğan in
Turkey, and so on, and they’re all nationalists of some sort or another, or at least that’s the way they
present themselves. So couldn’t you say that this is actually just a regression towards 20th-century
No, because there are key differences. I mean, they’re both equally as dangerous, except 21st-century
fascism might be more dangerous, given the destructive and repressive technologies that exist now, and
the fact that we’re in an existential crisis. And so there’s a lot of overlap between 20th and 21st-century
fascism. But the nationalism is real political, right? That’s how you mobilize a fascist base, through
political mobilization, through nationalism, and ideological and cultural mobilization. So nationalism
does play a key role in the fascism that we’re seeing sweeping across the world at this point.
But it is a little bit distinct, an analytical level, from 20th-century fascism. So 20th century, the difference
is that between the 1930s and 1940s on the one hand, and the 2000s, the early 2000s now, that the
commanding heights of capital worldwide have now become transnational. So corporations which were
at one time national and competing with corporations in other countries, are now transnationally
integrated. The dominant heights, in other words, of the global economy are these giant transnational
corporations that have no nationality, and that operate all around the world.
That’s the key difference. But either 20th of 21st-century fascism, in both cases, first of all, they are a
response to the deep crisis of global capitalism. It is a particular far-right response to the crisis, whether
that’s in India now, whether that’s in Eastern and Western Europe, whether it’s in the United States,
whether that’s in Brazil and Colombia, it’s still a response to crisis, as it was in the 1930s. The severe
crisis of the 1930s, fascism was one response.
And fascism in the 20th century involved a three-way triangulation. You had, on the one hand,
reactionary and repressive political power in the state, such as the Italian state or the Nazi state, that
was fusing with national capital. The giant German corporations needed room to expand, and they
needed the fascist state to open up that room for them to expand in competition with British and
French and US corporate capital. So that’s the second wing in this triangulation of fascist projects.
And the third is a fascist mobilization in civil society. So you still have this three-way triangulation, but
now it is transnational capital, not national capital. But that’s what’s so dangerous. We’re talking about
21st-century fascism in the moment we’re living right now, and you can see it acutely in the United
States. We already have repressive and reactionary political power in the state in the form of the Trump
regime. It’s been building up for several decades, it didn’t just start with Trump at all. And you have that
repressive and reactionary political power. You have that fusion with the interests of transnational
capital. Trump’s whole program might sound nationalist, but what Trump has done is gifted
transnational capital in the United States with everything that it’s wanted. Regressive taxation, total
deregulation, a further gutting of social welfare and public spending, the opening up of public lands to
private plunder, and so forth and so on.
So you have transnational capital, you have this repressive regime, Trump, and now you have this
incredibly rapid fascist mobilization in civil society itself. The three of them are coming together. We see
it on the ground, how they all come together. And this is what makes the current moment so dangerous,
really building up to this conjuncture of the elections in November. So here, you know, we have the
abstract discussion of the threat of 21st-century fascism, and we have actually the conjuncture we’re in
is bringing us dangerously close to that.
But let me add one other thing Greg, if I just may, I want to say that we want to also understand that
fascism is a major logical and political component, and you are touching on that with nationalism.
Nationalism is how you mobilize that fascist base in civil society. Nationalism, xenophobia, race and
culture supremacy in the United States, that’s white supremacy, this idealization of a mythical past,
extreme national chauvinism, a masculinist culture, militaristic culture. You know, all of this is part of the
package, the political, and ideological, and cultural package of fascism.
And in that sense, it’s the same as the 20th century.
But it seems to me that this 21st-century fascism that you described, is inherently far less stable than
the 20th-century variety, precisely because the 20th-century variety could coordinate the nationalism
with national capital. And then, of course, a national movement, whereas the 21st-century variety needs
to coordinate nationalism with transnational capital, which are inherently, I guess on some level, must
be incompatible with each other since they pursue somewhat different objectives, don’t they?
Absolutely. And this is a really key point. 20th-century fascism, in Italy, in Germany, and elsewhere., it
had a certain material payoff for the in-group, in the sense that there was massive expansion of
employment opportunities and other social subsidies for so-called Aryan’s in Germany. There was actual
material basis to fascism. There was a payoff to its supporters. I mean, the outgroup was subject to
genocide, repression and genocide. And those in the ingroup had to shut their mouths and follow Nazi
But there was a certain material payoff. But now we have capitalist globalization, taking off since the
late 20th century, deepening as we speak. And so when capital globalizes, it removes the ability of
individual nation-states to capture surpluses, to capture a tax base, to redistribute that wealth into any
type of a payoff. So just as in the 20th century, what we’re seeing now, but I want to elaborate, I want to
touch on exactly what you’re saying, it’s much more extremely unstable. The project of 21st-century
fascism seeks to organize a mass base. You can’t have fascism without a mass base. And what is that
social base in the United States, and certainly in Europe, is historically privileged sectors of the global
working class, particularly male and white in the United States, although not exclusively, that saw rising
standards of living in the 20th century, and then with capitalist globalization, are experiencing social
and economic destabilization, heightened insecurity, downward mobility, and so forth.
That’s what’s been taking place, with deindustrialization, with capitalist globalization, with increasing
deskilling of labor, replacing of labor by technology, and so forth and so on. The gutting of social welfare
states that we’ve been talking about. So fascism in the U.S. and elsewhere still needs to mobilize a mass
base, but it no longer has the material ability to give any payoff. So the wages of mass fascism right now
are strictly psychological, strictly psychological. There’s a promise, and you see this with Trump’s
rhetoric to his own base, to restore stability, security, to relieve this mass anxiety generated by the crisis
of capitalism and the inability to survive.
You see that promise. But there’s no material ability to carry through on that promise, which means that
scapegoating and sublimating mass social anxiety to scapegoated community such as immigrants, or
whipping up the fear of so-called anarchism and chaos in US cities, becomes so important to this project,
or in India, sublimating all of the mass social anxiety and insecurity towards Muslims and towards the
lower castes. So that’s the key difference. And this is why, once again, there’s an inability in 21st-century
fascism to actually give anything to the mass base of fascism beyond a psychological wage.
And that makes it very unstable. And it means that the repressive dimensions of global police state
remain critically important for the ruling groups and for the project of fascism. But remember, reality is
driven by contradictions. Everything is contradictory. Global capitalism is a system that’s chock full of,
every minute that we speak, all of these contradictions, explosive contradictions. So it’s not surprising
that the project of 21st-century fascism is very contradictory, and will by definition be very unstable.
Um, actually, I just wanted to touch on another contradiction that occurs to me when you mentioned
the idea that part of 21st-century fascism is precisely, of course, or any kind of fascism, is the
scapegoating of various others. And one of the big scapegoats, of course, for Trump, especially in this
pandemic, has been China, accusing China of bringing the virus and so on, and then, of course,
heightening tensions with China more generally.
And this seems to be not just Trump. It seems to be that the military-industrial complex in the United
States is actually kind of on board with the demonization of China, and as a matter of fact, Biden has
even promised to be just as tough or tougher against Chi than Trump. And so this kind of begs the
question then. Well, you know, if this military-industrial complex is global, why wage war against
another sector of its own class, so to speak? What’s going on here?
Right, well, even if we didn’t have the threat of fascism, the contradictions of capitalism, the inequality,
the incredible levels of inequality and so forth, means that you need to somehow externalize the
tensions, the political and social tensions, the anxiety we were speaking about. You need to externalize
it. And so one way, of course, is scapegoating communities such as immigrants, and the other is through
an external enemy. I mean, that was the key role in the Cold War of the so-called communist threat.
So China and Russia, at least for the Democrats, both China and Russia now are a mechanism. The
aggression, the hostility with China and with Russia is a mechanism for externalizing these tensions that
are internal to the political system of the United States, and to each country, its internal to global
capitalism and its own contradictions. So that’s part of the same phenomenon. You have stakeholder
communities such as immigrants, and then you have externalising this through geopolitical tensions.
But here’s the thing. Those geopolitical tensions become extremely dangerous because they take on a
life of their own. They absolutely take on a life of their own. But you do have a contradiction between
transnational capital that wants to freely accumulate both in the United States and in China and in
Russia and anywhere in the global economy without any impediments to its movement and its profit
making all around the world. And you have the leading transnational corporations are thoroughly
invested in China, they’re thoroughly interlocked with some leading Chinese private, and many of the
state firms as well in China.
So China is integrated into global capitalism. It’s interlocked in that integration with U.S. based,
European based, and so forth, transnational capital. So you don’t really have an economic contradiction
between capitalist groups, the big giant capitalist groups coming from different parts of the global
economy. But you have this political contradiction, and this political tension, and the role of fanning the
flames of war with China and Russia being an externalization of tensions, politically internal with global
capitalism. So that’s the thing. We have this disjuncture between an economic reality, and a political
reality, reality of political crisis, and that can’t be resolved in any easy way.
And I am very fearful also, remember that wars, I’m not talking about so-called little wars, like not little
for the people that suffer them, but Yemen, Syria, but big wars like the US and China, the U.S. or Europe
and Russia, the role that wars have historically played in responding to the crisis of legitimacy of
capitalism, and to sublimating all of these tensions of capitalist crisis towards war, and jingoism, and
nationalism. And in this age of 21st-century weaponry, any major war would signal the end of humanity.
Now, for the past 40 or so minutes, we’ve been talking a lot of gloom and doom. So let’s try to turn to
what the possible answers or responses could be to the situation. And, of course, one of the big ones
that some people have suggested, and which you mentioned briefly earlier, was the idea of some kind of
global redistribution of wealth, of, I guess what some have also called a kind of global Keynesianism
perhaps, where the inequalities between the countries and within the countries are somehow
ameliorated on a global level in order to address this crisis of overaccumulation of inequality.
What do you think of that? I mean, this global Keynesianism kind of solution that people such as, I guess
you could say, Joseph Stiglitz, and Jeffrey Sachs, and other economists have proposed. And I guess to
some extent the Democrats are part of that idea, although they haven’t really made that explicit.
Right, and I discussed that, of course, in the book, in the final chapter, the reformists among the
transnational elite that are pushing for global Keynesianism, a global redistribution.
And then certainly this opens up the real possibilities, and really the urgency of multiclass political
coalitions and alliances, which I’ll get to in just a moment. But certainly, there’s plenty we need to be
fighting for short of 21st-century socialism. Eventually, socialism is the only real viable solution to
capitalism, and all of its discontents. But we need a massive redistribution of wealth and power
downwards. And that would look like restoring social welfare systems, particularly health and
educational systems, massive programs of massive public investments, progressive taxation, rather than
the regressive taxation that we have now.
State regulation of corporate capital, reregulating transnational corporate capital, a tax on financial
speculation, obviously ecological measures, and a green new deal, I mean, all of these are dimensions of
a program of radical reform from below, which might involve alliances between the global working class
and progressive sectors with reformist-oriented elements of the elite. I mean, you mentioned some of
the leading figures associated with that, just such as Joseph Stiglitz. But I also want to point out, you
know, in this regard, that a massive global revolt was underway before the pandemic.
Remember that the fall of 2019 was this incredible upsurge in global revolt. Remember Chile, Lebanon,
Iraq, the yellow vest movement in France, here in the United States. And there was a wave of strikes in
2018, 2019 here in the United States, which was the biggest wave of strikes since I think the early 1970s,
led by the teachers and all different sectors. So there is this massive revolt already underway, and it’s
that pressure from below which will push us towards, at least in the shorter term, towards some type of
a global new deal, a global green new deal.
And of course, the revolt was taken off the streets by the pandemic, but that’s temporary. People are
already back on the streets right here in the United States, but also in Chile, also in Lebanon, and
elsewhere. But we do have a problem that we need to address, those of us on the left and those of us
just trying to bring about progressive social change, and undercut the threat of fascism. And it’s that we
have his burgeoning of social movements.
Very often they’re not even social movements are simply spontaneous. But even when they are social
movements, we have this at a time when the left is in this deep institutional crisis, this deep political
crisis, there’s no significant socialist left. So you have that disjuncture. And so we desperately need as
we fight back, we need a revitalized left, a revitalized Democratic left that can link up with and give
some long term vision to all of these mass social movements and the spontaneous rebellion from below.
And we also need to rebuild in new ways. And this is part of what I also get into in the book. We haven’t
had a chance to discuss it, but worker organizations and, you know, we haven’t spoken about surplus
humanity and also about the precarious nature of work, but we really need to fight back to push for that
reform program that we were talking about. We need a triangulation of social movements, with work
organizations and trade unions, and with revolutionary political organizations or left organizations.
And we don’t have that at this point. So that’s something we really need to think about. And then finally,
I’d also say on this point that at this moment, at this extremely dangerous moment, and other people
have been calling for this, we need an anti-fascist united front desperately, involving multiclass
coalitions to prevent fascism. But I think within this united front, the popular sectors, the working-class
sectors, should not dilute the demands for redistribution and more radical transformation.
Well I think that’s one of the things, of course, that every time there’s some kind of coming together,
there does seem to be a demand that we need a different solution in the long term. At least some
people on the left have been proposing for some kind of redistribution as a solution, as a response to
really Trumpism. In other words, that we can’t go back to a neo-liberal status quo ante that we had
under Obama. But you also said that this kind of a global Keynesianism and reformist program can’t be a
long term solution, and I’m wondering, well, explain, why do you think that’s not a longer-term solution?
Because clearly some of these economists that I was referring to do think it is.
Right, well, it’s more of a longer-term solution than global police state, more than fascism, but it’s not a
long term solution because as long as we have capitalism, the impulse for simply for any economic
activity to take place, for people to be able to go into a factory, to a plantation, to a mine, to a service
center, and work, has to be profitable.
That is what drives capitalism. You have to accumulate, everything has to be profitable, everything has
to be commodified, and unless states are able to suppress enough of the drive to accumulate capital to
override its most, you know, its most glaring impulse, then this is not viable. But we don’t have a global
state. In other words, what I’m trying to say is that in order for a global Keynesianism or a global
redistribution to take place, you need to massively tax transnational capital, and you need to be able to
Right? States need to be able to capture surpluses, and states then need to redistribute those surpluses
downward through social spending, and public employment, and so forth and so on. But there’s no
global state. So that takes place at the level of the nation-state. But capital has gone transnational.
That’s the key, you know, one of the key theoretical premises of my whole theory of global capitalism,
that as capital broke free of the nation-state in the late 20th century in order to get around the ability of
mass social movements, of trade unions, of workers struggles, to control capital. That was what we had
in from the 1960s and 50s, 60s and 70s and on, we had mass social movements, mass workers struggles,
forcing capital to be heavily taxed, and heavily regulated, heavily controlled.
And that was the nation-state Keynesianism. So capital wants to break out of that, to resume its profit-
making, and its profit maximization, and it launches globalization. It breaks free of the nation-state. And
so, unless there’s some political power that can clamp down on transnational capital now to implement
that, a global Keynesianism program, it’s going to be very, very untenable. So certainly, if we can find
those mechanisms, of some of the worst edges of the crisis can be ameliorated, not just in the short
term, but maybe in the mid-term.
But then there’s the other issue of the ecological crisis, the existential crisis. And even if, let’s say,
stagnation were temporarily overcome through a global Keynesianism, and the global economy, you
know, started to stabilize with high growth rates, we’re still headed towards this ecological collapse and
absolute disaster. And that brings the ability of a global Keynesianism within the logic of capital
accumulation to a more tenuous situation.
Now, it seems to me though, that, of course, if you’re talking about kind of an anticapitalist solution, a
socialist solution to the crisis that we’re facing, at least if they happen on a national level, they would
face the same problem of transnational capital.
In fact, you can say that every time a country, no matter where, has tried that kind of a national kind of
solution or anticapitalist option, it failed precisely because it was still embedded in the global capitalist
system. Now, does that mean then that the only thing that’s really an alternative is a global socialism?
And if so, how do we get there?
No, yeah, really great question. Well, of course, that’s the story of the last four decades, that as capital
went global, individual nation-states cannot really design their own political-economic system. And the
first big, you know, the first time that lesson was brought home was 1983, when François Mitterrand
(past president of France) came to power. He came I think in 82, and in 83, he had completely reversed
his initial social-democratic program of taxing capital, and redistribution, and expanding the social
welfare state in France.
That was the famous example that even a rich country like France, one of the core countries of the
world system, had to simply bow down to the demands of transnational capital in the early 1980s, so
much less Venezuela, Cuba, any country in the world can simply create its own internal system and
resist the pressures of transnational capital. Its global financial markets and the global investors that
now dictate policies and restrict anything that a particular country or nation-state can do absolutely.
And so, again, that’s the story of the last 40 years of capitalist globalization. But what this means is that
if we’re talking about a fight back, if we’re talking about solutions, it has to be transnational. And so we
need transnational struggle. I mean, I’ve been talking about this for the last 30 years, but I’m not alone
now anymore. Everyone’s talking about the urgent need for national struggles to be coordinated
transnationally, for transnational social movements, transnational programs that we agree on across
borders and fight for.
I mean, this discussion is not new. The Progressive International is this forum that I’m sure many
listeners are familiar with. It was formed earlier this year, sort of not to replace, but to move beyond
what remains of the World Social Forum. And this time it includes political organizations, not just social
movements. And this time it’s talking about a actual platform, a collective platform of struggle across
borders. So that’s the direction we need to be moving in. And I’m going to say something which has
been said over and over for the last 30 years, if capital has transnationalized, resistance to it has to.
But that means coordinating struggles across borders. So when capital moves from one place to
another, and finances move from one place to another, that there’s coordinated resistance and a
coordinated response. So, again, that’s what everyone is talking about, and that’s a very positive sign
with the progressive international.
OK, well, I think that’s a very good note to end on. We’ve covered a lot of ground in a very broad sense,
but I think it was really an excellent discussion, and I highly recommend everybody to read the book.
“The Global Police State.” I was speaking to William Robinson, professor of sociology at UC Santa
Barbara, and author of that book, “The Global Police State”, published by Pluto Press. Thanks again, Bill,
for having joined me today.
Thanks so much for having me on.
And once again, I’m Greg Wilpert, guest host for theAnalysis.news podcast. If you liked this and other
theAnalysis.news podcasts, please head over to our website and make a donation so we can keep this
going. Thanks again for having tuned in today.