A review by Dale Wharton

Dale Wharton is a retired computer programmer who writes two-page (900 word) book reviews as a hobby. He was a seaman in the US Navy at the end of WWII. He received his B.A. in Journalism from the University of Missouri in 1949.

Frienndly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America by Bertram Gross

M. Evans: New York
410 pp.

Bertram Gross worked as an insider. He taught political science at Hunter College (CUNY) and served as executive secretary of President Truman's Council of Economic Advisors. In this latest major book he seems resolved to tell all, tell it straight, set down the insights-- and some of the errors--of a career. He acknowledges dozens of students and colleagues. The notes cite 440 quotations and sources.

Fascism emerged in 1919 in Milan (after Italy came Germany, Japan, and Spain). It supplanted loose working arrangements that jelled during world war 1. Manufacturing and finance had drawn closer. Industrialists, alongside government officials on wartime agencies, saw firsthand the beauties of economic planning and cooperation. Unlike communists, the fascists--while uncouth--did not menace the survival of old structures.

In seeking the gist of fascism Gross skips the optional extras: the single charismatic leader, the one-party dictatorship, rigid censorship, regimentation of industry/commerce/finance, etc. What remains is big government in alliance with big business: corporate authoritarianism that subverts constitutional democracy.

World War 2 broke the great depression of 1929-39. Would hard times return with peace? Global events alarmed the West: 1945 Ho Chi Minh, 1947 Gandhi, 1949 Mao Tsetung, etc. America's economy grew problematic, as well. The US responded vigourously, with a "remarkably flexible--even to the point of sharp internal conflicts--structure of business-government partnership" (p. 34). It saw that without reforms, only federal spending could fend off another crisis. But heavy spending on welfare and public works might actually alter the economy. It might shift demands among industries, create new channels and institutions (remember TVA?), even redistribute income. On the other hand, an arms buildup as industrial policy could rally the economy with little risk of change to structures.

Some transnationals evolved into conglomerates. Components spread to different sectors and might cluster--to foster oligarchic cooperation. In finance, a lead sector in the expanding golden international, a constellation of banks would be called a "consortium" or "group." A cluster might embed its activities in networks or complexes of research institutes, foundations, law and accounting firms, etc. One example is the automobile-highway-petroleum-trucking complex. With a boost from President Eisenhower's Highway Trust Fund, this complex helped to promote suburban growth (and to undermine mass transit in the cities). Who are the individuals who run this political contraption, those who constitute the US Establishment? Gross sketches a ziggurat: a terraced pyramid of power. At the peak dwell the ultrarich, near their corporate overseers (most of them unknown to the public) and chief executive network, including a righteous White House. These provide strategic guidance. (The Business Roundtable and a Canadian organization, initials BCNI, spring to mind.)

Some of their lawyers and accountants--valets of the ultrarich--have lifted tax avoidance to high art. "Like an old-fashioned lady's hoop skirt, the corporation's annual statement conceals far more than it reveals and directly touches no sensitive parts.... (Some) reserves, slush funds, and political contributions never appear..." (p. 60).

Economist Paul Samuelson: "If we made an income pyramid out of a child's blocks, with each layer portraying $1000 of income, the peak would be higher than the Eiffel Tower, but almost all of us would be within a yard of the ground" (p. 59). The book gets graphic. Charts describe Three Worlds (First, Second, Third), trace stages in making policy/opinion/law.... Tables show who goes where to school, the apex's apex, FBI riot-control phasing strategy, corporate crime, etc.

Obstacles to a sudden pounce would likely cause friendly fascism to creep in on little cat feet. Inertia, the US Constitution, rifts among the great ones all combine to require subtlety--silent, usually piecemeal encroachments--in its relentless logic. A thrust at one level may be followed by a pause or temporary retreat at another level. Superficial reforms might flow from publicized episodes of repression (as at Kent State, Jackson State, Attica, Pine Ridge...).

In manipulating information, we see a departure from classic fascism. Then it was ceaseless propaganda backed by spies and informers, to bind elite support and to mobilize masses--often using the new technology of radio. The friendly way is with monitoring (using opinion polls and focus groups) and ad hoc communications aimed at passive acquiescence. Faceless oligarchs manage the minds of elites via learned journals, the business press, and educational programs. They mystify and immobilize the masses via the hypnotic use of electronic media, mainly television.

The book expresses sympathy for civic enforcers, a lowly station in the established order. They must contend with larceny, burglary, and robbery--forms of self-employment that vary inversely with available jobs. "Police susceptibility to graft is closely connected with morale breakdowns created by `war against crime' rhetoric.... The defeated foot soldiers in this phony war are hemmed in between a criminal- justice system which is corrupt or inefficient, radicals who brand them as pigs or fascists, and intellectuals who see them as incompetent or stupid" (p. 113).

Gross offers faint hope of averting neofascism. He does prescribe raising aspirations: setting forth clear lofty goals, broad enough to embrace a great majority. But expectations? He calls for realism--to reduce frustration and apathetic withdrawal. Gross asserts that help from insiders is both essential and available. "[M]any co-optees will change colors again" (p. 380). Bubbling upward from all levels of the Establishment are longings for fulfilling employment disconnected from consumer exploitation, environmental degradation, or militarism.


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