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Issue #1647      July 16, 2014

Culture & Life

Private prisons and Fascism

With privately run prisons becoming more prevalent in Australia – and likely to become even more so under our present Liberal Party state and federal governments – here is a cautionary tale from the home of the private prison industry, the USA: a judge in Pennsylvania has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for conniving with the operators of prisons in the state to maximise the supply of inmates.

The more time an inmate spends in a facility, the more of a profit the prison operator reaps from the state, so the scam was simple: all young people who came up before Judge Mark Ciavarella were given the maximum sentence. In return for his helpful sentencing, Ciavarella received bribes and kickbacks totalling millions of dollars (which indicates the kind of money the operators of these private prisons must be making from state and federal governments in the US).

As well as receiving state subsidies, private prisons in the US (and here in Australia, let us not forget) also put their unfortunate inmates to work on an industrial scale, at everything from operating call-centres to manufacturing electronic components. Prison labour is union free of course, so employers can achieve maximum exploitation. They are also free of all other regulations, such as occupational health and safety. In other words, it’s slave labour, a boss’s wet dream.

Where sending people to prison becomes an opportunity for profit, efforts by greedy entrepreneurs to boost their profits through encouraging longer sentences, lobbying for the criminalisation of minor misdemeanours, and otherwise distorting the law for their corporate benefit, will inevitably increase.

The horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and their assorted imitators in (and before) WW2 put “old style” Fascism distinctly beyond the pale for some years afterwards. However, the desire of the most reactionary and aggressive elements of big business to impose their direct rule over peoples and countries remained.

With traditional Fascism so much on the nose, the corporations that favoured it had to be satisfied with a slower, softer approach, establishing the institutions and the laws to support a Fascist form of state by stealth. In short, they had to work within the confines of bourgeois democracy, when their earlier and preferred method would have been to simply abolish democracy altogether.

It has taken years, but now capitalism has established Mussolini’s goal of the “corporate state” in large parts of the developed world. Fascism in effect, without the odious trappings. But while big business chose to achieve its ends through and within bourgeois democracy, the lumpen thugs and demoralised middle class elements that make up the foot-soldiers of Fascism on the streets were still there, in bikie gangs and racist political parties.

Today, with reaction so well entrenched, the corporate backers of Fascist ideology have begun to abandon their democratic façade and instead to openly support and utilise full-blown “old fashioned” Fascist forces. Ukraine is the most visible example of this but it can be seen all over Europe, as well as in other parts of the world.

French Fascist leader Marine Le Pen has set up a group of traditional-style openly Fascist parties within the EU. Claude Moraes, an anti-fascist Member of the European Parliament, commented: “The European Union now has openly Nazi and Fascist parties in government, propping up governments and influencing governments.”

The flaws inherent in capitalism and the system’s need to find scapegoats to divert attention away from its own failings has always meant it has a vested interest in encouraging racism, fear of foreigners and religious bigotry. So even while “old style” Fascist organisations were out-of-favour, racist and anti-immigrant parties like Britain’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) sought to fill that void.

Britain’s economy is in tatters and the austerity measures imposed on the unfortunate British people by their Tory-led coalition government have made the plight of the bulk of the people worse. Not surprisingly, in these circumstances, the UKIP has made some headway, garnering a disturbing surge of votes in local government and EU elections, etc.

Naturally, the capitalist media – less interested in accuracy than in making political capital – have claimed that these votes were won in working class areas and were won from Labour. However, at a Unite Against Fascism conference in London last month, Steve Hart from the giant trade union Unite presented statistics showing that most UKIP votes came from disaffected Tories and Liberals and former supporters of the equally reactionary but now defunct British National Party. In other words, from the traditional base of support for Fascist-leaning parties.

Significantly, outside the conference, a group of Fascist thugs organised as the “English Volunteer Force” tried to disrupt proceedings by demonstrating but were kept away by police and anti-fascist stewards. There weren’t many of them, but the fact that they openly demonstrated in support of Fascism is significant.

Fascism is a weapon in the arsenal of capitalism, a weapon they pull out when bourgeois democracy no longer serves to keep the masses in check. Fascist groups may be small now, but they can grow exponentially when big capital throws large chunks of money at them and backs it up with admiring media coverage.

The spread of openly Fascist organisations across Europe, South America and elsewhere is a danger signal that should not be ignored. Fascism has rightly been described as “the last resort of capitalism in decline”, and there can be no doubt that capitalism is certainly in decline. So the message is surely “Be Vigilant!”

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