Dear Small Business Owners: We need to talk about fascism

Most of the time when people talk about capitalists, we’re talking about the ones whose net worth tens of millions and up. Small business owners are generally categorized as “the little guy” that makes America function. I suppose there’s a degree of truth to that, but this pandemic and the response to it have highlighted a class conflict that will cause a lot of problems if we don’t figure out a way around it. It’s not a new problem, and I think a lot of it has to do with how incentives are structured, and “morality” is constructed under capitalism.

As we entered the pandemic, it was clear very early on that the best possible outcome for the most people relied on a real lockdown, enabled by massive government assistance to those who could not make ends meet without their wages. This, of course, was unacceptable to a capitalist class whose view of the world revolves entirely around profit and the capitalist religion’s deity, The Free Market. It was surreal to watch politicians and pundits tear their hear out over the “moral hazard” of paying people to stay home during the most deadly pandemic in a century. No real lockdown was achieved in the U.S. Instead, there was a strange “compromise” that meant people who were already well off got to isolate and protect themselves, and people who had no political power – workers – disproportionately non-white, and the elderly trapped in various end-of-life care facilities – were still being exposed, and they made up a sizable chunk of the 671,000 deaths we’ve counted so far.

The only clear benefit the working class got was the now-expired eviction moratorium. The inadequate stimulus checks, and the good – and now expired – unemployment assistance were nice, but for the most part they went directly into the pockets of the rich, as people spent that money on the myriad of large price tags the United States has placed on being alive.

But small business owners – particularly those who ran in-person services – didn’t see that income, because people were trying not to catch a deadly disease. Rather than simply pushing for more direct relief for their businesses, a lot of them pushed for an end to relief for the working class. They called for the government to basically starve the population into working for poverty wages, while exposing themselves to a deadly disease.

I talked before about how a lot of people aren’t willing to take the jobs they used to have, because the way they were fired at the first sign of trouble demonstrated that the one thing that had made their poverty wages worthwhile – the reliability – was a fiction. The short-term gain of firing workers who couldn’t work has led to longer-term problems, as workers aren’t willing to work themselves to death for wages that don’t even cover the cost of living, and a boss who will cut them loose to fend for themselves the second they think doing so is better for their own bank account.

What’s interesting about all this is that small business owners – the ones who actually own small businesses, not the hedge fund manager types who’re classified as “small businesses” because there aren’t many people working for them – are often playing at being capitalists more than they actually are capitalists. If they take a serious hit, and their business fails, they become (horror of horrors) workers. And that seems to terrify them.

This desire to be capitalists, as opposed to workers, has historically led small business owners, to side with the anti-union, anti-worker, pro-capitalist policies of fascism, while turning a blind eye to the racial and ethnic elements, and to the escalating atrocities and injustice. As with firing workers at the beginning of the pandemic, all of this makes perfect “business sense.” A lack of active, organized socialists means no danger of your business – and the hope of wealth – being taken away by the workers (which would put the owner in the nightmarish position of becoming a worker). A lack of trade unions means your workers can’t bargain collectively, so you can do things like paying each one as little as you think they’ll accept. A lack of ethnic minorities means there’s nobody around to make you think about what happened to them, so you can just go about your business in peace.

One of the primary projects in maintaining capitalism is the constant moral indoctrination. We are taught to separate our sense of morality along the class divide. It’s good to care about other humans, but that’s separate from “the economy,” and if the economy is hurt, well that clearly hurts everyone, right? And we’re taught that any effort to make our society a better system for human happiness will hurt the economy, which will then hurt the same people you’re trying to help. God has a pla -sorry, wrong theology- The Free Market will fix everything if we just put our faith in it, and serve it without question.

Part of the reason the propaganda on this subject is so relentless is that this is the primary place where the mythology of capitalism collides with reality. The free market really is a myth, and it always has been. Capitalists rely entirely on the government to enforce their claims to ownership, and to use the lethal dangers of poverty to force workers to accept wage slavery in exchange for survival. Try to maintain that fiction and its inherent contradictions indefinitely, and the lower classes, ethnic minorities, and members of the majority who can’t stomach the endless rivers of blood for profit start to fight back, and fight for change.

And that, historically, seems to be where a capitalist country turns to fascism.

I want to pause here to address something about the United States. I can’t say with confidence that the US is unique in this regard, but it certainly stands out, and not just because of that country’s status as the center of a global empire. It is an unquestioned fact that U.S. racial policy and practices directly inspired the leaders of Nazi Germany. It’s also a simple fact that the United States has had a fascist movement within it since before that political ideology had a name beyond white supremacy. As fascism rose in Europe for the first time (I wish I could say the only time), it also rose in the United States, and has never really gone away. It lost popularity after Pearl Harbor, but even some the soldiers who the U.S. lionizes as “The Greatest Generation” retained their sympathy for fascists, driven by their bigotry, as shown by this excerpt from Howard Zinn’s account of Freedom Day in Hattiesburg, Mississippi (the censored words are my doing):

As we entered the jailhouse a few minutes before 8:00 a.m., the police dogs were growling and barking in their kennels. We turned over the bond money.

A moment later, Oscar came down the corridor unescorted. A few moments before, the corridor had been full of policemen, but now there was not a soul around. Oscar was still wearing his badly worn corduroy pants, and his old boots, caked with mud. His blue workshirt was splattered with blood, and under it his T-shirt was very bloody. The right side of his face was swollen. His nose looked as if it were broken. Blood was caked over his eye.

He told us what had happened. They had put a prisoner into his cell who was in a state of great agitation, very upset about the demonstration at the courthouse. He had been a paratrooper in World War II and told Oscar he “would rather kill a n****r lover than a Nazi or a J*p.” He pushed a cigarette near Oscar’s face and said he would burn his eyes out. Oscar called for the jailer and asked to be removed from the cell. The ex-paratrooper asked if Oscar was “one of them n****r-lovers.” The jailer nodded. The next thing Oscar knew he was lying on the floor. He had been unconscious. Now he was being kicked. He was bleeding. The police came and took the ex-paratrooper out of the cell. Oscar made his phone call.

If the United States is the greatest in the world at anything, it seems to be at telling pretty lies about itself, and convincing most of its population to believe them.

I took time to touch on the history of fascism in America because that history acts as camouflage for the fascist movement of the present. In 2019, for example, we learned that one reason Twitter wasn’t treating right-wing extremists the way they treat groups like ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, was because the algorithm couldn’t tell the difference between U.S. right-wing extremists, and a number of GOP politicians. The simple reason for this is that there is no difference. The political backlash from openly naming the Republican Party for what it is was more than even Twitter, a huge and powerful corporation, was willing to risk. This level of open fascism in the GOP is new, in some ways, but a lot of it is very, very old.

I want to take a moment to review Laurence Britt’s 14 characteristics of fascism again. Remember that not all fascist movements will necessarily have every simple element on this list:

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
    Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
    Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
    The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
  4. Supremacy of the Military
    Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
  5. Rampant Sexism
    The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.
  6. Controlled Mass Media
    Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
  7. Obsession with National Security
    Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
  8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
    Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.
  9. Corporate Power is Protected
    The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
  10. Labor Power is Suppressed
    Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed .
  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
    Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.
  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
    Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
    Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
  14. Fraudulent Elections
    Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

I really hope it’s clear to you how this description maps onto the modern U.S. conservative movement and the GOP, especially in light of what we’ve seen in the last year. Many people have been making this case throughout Trump’s time as the leader of the GOP, but think a bit about this list, and about American history. The only two items that haven’t been very clearly a part of US society for most of the last century are control of the media and fraudulent elections. Even there, the Red Scare was an effort to deliberately crush leftism, both in media, and in politics. Any idea that was viewed as anti-capitalist was conflated as anti-American, and the FBI, the Secret Police of the United States, has spent government resources to crush left-wing politics in the United States so effectively that even the moderate social democratic (and still capitalist) policies of people like Bernie Sanders are treated as murderous extremism, with wealthy media figures like Chris Matthews melting down on national TV about the fear of being executed in Central Park.

In many ways, the basic infrastructure of fascism is the background radiation of the United States, and has been all along. It just sits there, waiting for someone to decide it’s worth the social risk to make use of it.

And so as the shift has been made, closer and closer to a fully and openly fascist society, it’s been hard for some people to see it, because it doesn’t look that different from what they’ve always known. And since I know I’m a good person, and I haven’t had a problem with it thus far, that must mean that it’s not fascism! If it was, then I – as a good person – would be horrified and taking to the streets. But it doesn’t seem that much different from everything else, and I’ve got this small business that’s struggling – it’s taking up all of my time and energy, and now I can’t find workers who will take what I’m willing to pay them!

So small business owners ask the government to help us out by threatening or simply removing the workers’ food and shelter, so working for them – at whatever wage the boss offers – is the only way to survive. The government also helps by undermining unions, so that employees don’t have the means to exert any kind of power over the jobs that eat up most of their lives. Of course that helps the “little guys” a bit – they get a desperate, fearful workforce to keep the bosses from BECOMING workers – but much more than that, it protects corporate power (number 9 on the list) by suppressing labor power (number 10 on the list).

But again, it does help the small business owners cling to their status as “capitalists,” and so they support the party that does the most of that, and try hard to find reasons to justify it, and to justify looking the other way for the escalating nationalism, the minority scapegoating, and so on.

This is one way that liberal people, who would press a “save that person” button if it was offered, can end up passively supporting a fascist movement. After that point, the worse things get, the higher the emotional toll of accepting reality gets, and the more pressure there is to keep looking away. And humans don’t like being told that we’re bad people, so some small business owners get defensive and angry. They begin to hate those who try to fight back against the regime, because those people are a constant reminder that those who aren’t fighting back might be bad people for it. They support the regime, and they are generally rewarded for it. In modern America this ranges from people going out of their way to buy products they don’t need, to the support of legislators, to crowdfunding campaigns to support people seen as “heroes for the cause.”

This seems to be the path we’re on right now, and as the climate continues to throw chaos at us, and the Democrats continue to focus on failed policies like austerity and “free market” solutions, I fear it will get worse. I hope I’m wrong, but with the way things are going, I think small business owners are going to have to make a choice about whether to side with life and justice, or with their short-term economic interests, and the horror of an openly fascist United States of America.

There’s a famous antifascist play called “On the Frontier” by W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, a play that I once had the pleasure of being in actually, in which a wealthy arms manufacturer called Valerian makes weapons for a fascist dictator.

At the climax of the play the fascist dictator is overthrown, by his own people who also kill Valerian himself. But just before that there’s a crucial scene in which Valerian’s friend comes to him and says, “It’s all over, the revolution has happened, you need to run away with me now and abandon all your wealth and power and flee to another country with me.” And Valerian says, “No.”

He chooses to stay, and moreover, he chooses to give his money and weapons not to the people trying to overthrow the fascist dictator but to the fascists. And it’s choice that distinguishes Valerian from the victims of the fascist government he supports.

I’m not suggesting we should start executing industrialists; I’m illustrating that if you’re a fascist, and antifascists come for you, you have a choice.

You can give it up. […] And the historical evidence supports this: when fascists in a particular city stop getting together and organising antifascists go back to their lives as well. In fact some antifascists engage with fascists and provide services to try and get them out of the movement so they get on move on with their lives.

But if you’re a person of colour, if you’re trans, or a person with a disability, or gay, or Jewish, or whatever and fascists come for you there is nothing you can do that will make them happy except stop existing.

Abigail Thorn, The Philosophy of Antifa

Strangely, the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve spent on rent over the years haven’t reduced my need to keep paying richer people than me for the right to live. Due to my immigration status, this is my only form of income for the foreseeable future, and it’s currently not enough to make ends meet. If you like the work I do, please share it around, and please consider supporting me at It costs as little as $1 per month (though more is appreciated), and gets you access to a little bit of extra content, and early access to some things like my climate-related short stories.


  1. Alison Hiles says

    Could be talking about Covid Britain, too except that we’ve got no ‘Eviction Moratorium’!

  2. says

    Scotland had an eviction ban while I was there, which was some comfort, even though we managed to make rent. The landlord tried to keep our deposit over a few tufts of dog hair, of course.

    As far as I know that ban ended at the end of March, though :-/

  3. says

    No Respect @1 – At this point people like u gotta come correct or fuck off and die – or the human species dies. Take your pick, fucko. I cannot possibly care less about your opinion, except insofar as it provides additional motivation at the guillotine project.

    The middle class in the USA is the heart and soul of fascism here! Indispensable tools for white supremacist billionaires. For creeps like the Mercers white supremacy is a hobby, for middle class business owners like the inauguration day insurrectionists, it’s a religion.

    They’ve chosen their side and I don’t have much hope of them flipping, no matter how often the fash they elect keep fucking them raw on main street. As long as the GOP keeps saying the right dog whistles and cutting taxes, they’ll keep bending over for it.

  4. says

    @Mynax – fixed! Thank you for that!

    I don’t mind sending more people to the Philosophy Tube video, but apparently I was on some kind of copy/paste autopilot when I put that link in >.<

  5. Robert B says

    On “wage slavery”

    In Marx’s day, wage earners in Europe were indeed miserable and wretched. Whether or not that is equivalent to being literally owned as a chattel slave is highly questionable and problematic to say.

    Today, with unions and government interventions, it is really wrong to talk about wage slavery. Perhaps inequity, but slavery? Even Communists and Socialists must agree we all have to work. The problem is alienation caused by property and its control producing especially cruel and unsatisfying practices.

    Today, the “wage slaves” would be more like migrant workers who toil in the hot sun for a pittance, or children in certain countries who chip away at mine shafts looking for precious minerals for our iPhones. That’s closer. I think there is such a thing as an aristocracy of labor that may tend to forget the plight of workers who do not have, say access to college and student loans at all, let alone to have it for free. I don’t object to affordable college, but a college educated wage slave just doesn’t ring very true.

  6. Robert B says

    The thesis that small business owners may be a primary source of fascist sentiment seems to be true. Voting patterns in Nazi Germany say this. They were big supporters. Also, Donald Trump gets a supermajority of small business owners.

    It is the relative precarity and simple-minded fear of the small business owner that cause them to vote in such a terrible way. They think that are the boss but really they fear being the employee. So they hate the people directly below them.

    In recent decades a lot of focus has been on the middle class. Biden talks about serving the middle-out not the top down. This is probably sound policy, as long as it leads to both increases for the poorer classes and assuaging the fears of the middle class (the petit bourgeois.)

  7. says

    On wage slavery, the people you deem to fit that definition in other countries are, as I’ve said elsewhere, part of the same global capitalist system. Ditto those working in the United States, including child workers in dangerous jobs.

    Things in the United States are currently better than back then, for most workers, but that is solely because of the victories of left wing movements past, and I think it would be foolish in the extreme to assume that capitalists (who are happy to profit from those conditions elsewhere) won’t revert to scrip, company towns, and massacres if they can get away with it.

    Edit: On the “college-educated wage slave”, I find that an odd thing to bring up. Firstly because nobody had mentioned college-educated people till you brought it up, and second because by now it’s well known that a college degree guarantees just about nothing, in terms of income. It can get you a better job, but you could just as easily end up doing food delivery, or working for Amazon. While those jobs aren’t as dangerous as, say, mining cobalt it’s become quite clear in recent years that they are dangerous jobs, that often don’t pay enough to make ends meet, and that regular do permanent damage to the bodies of workers.

    While I take your meaning, I think it is counter-productive to split hairs over where, exactly “shitty, exploitative, dangerous job” ends, and “wage slave” begins. It feels a bit like trying to parse whether prison workers are technically slaves, because they get paid like a dollar per hour. Whether it’s a cobalt miner or an Amazon worker, the pressures creating those dangerous conditions are the same, and the way to get better conditions is to recognize that we’re fighting against the same people, for the same reasons, and to act in solidarity.

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