JR'S Free Thought Pages
What is Fascism?
An historical Note: Henry Ford who greatly admired Hitler and apparently George W Bush’s grandfather were fascist sympathizers and supporters of a plot with many other members of the US corporate elite to assassinate Franklin D Roosevelt and assume power. In 1934 a special Congressional committee was appointed to conduct an investigation of this planned coup intended to topple the administration of FDR and replace it with a government modeled on the policies of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The shocking results of the investigation were promptly whitewashed like so many other unpleasant facts of American history and stashed in the National Archives. While the coup attempt was reported at the time in a few newspapers, including The New York Times, the story disappeared from public memory shortly after the Congressional findings were made available to President Roosevelt. Like the 500 year genocide and ethnic cleansing of native peoples it’s not the sort of item that would appear in our biased patriotic flag waving history books.
interesting snippet: John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen Dulles, were the
lawyers looking after Bush family fortunes and investments in Nazi Germany. John
Dulles would later become the US Secretary of State and the great power and
influence in the Republican Party of the 1950s. Allen Dulles would become head
of the CIA.
When fascism comes to America it will be draped in the flag and wearing a cross – Sinclair Lewis
But I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, then Fascism and Communism, aided, unconsciously perhaps, by old-line Tory Republicanism, will grow in strength in our land. - Franklin D. Roosevelt, November 4, 1938
Fascism has unfortunately become a catchphrase of derision for any group representing a political entity that represents a political opponent. In recent years pundits on both the right and left invoke the term fascist to describe socialists, Marxists, conservatives and even liberals (who represent the very antithesis of what it means to be a fascist). But that doesn’t stop an ultra-conservative Jonah Goldberg of the National Review from writing a ludicrous book with the self-contradictory title of Liberal Fascism. Conservatives like Goldberg try to argue that the Nazis were an example of a 'socialist' government as part of their effort to discredit socialism and leftist policies in general. Perhaps Goldberg is duped by the Nazi party using the name National Socialist. I’m surprised that Goldberg didn’t try to argue that the KKK is a liberal or socialist organization. Goldberg’s sophistry is rather like using the example of the former East Germany, the German Democratic Republic, to discredit democracy. It demonstrates the writer’s inability to adhere to conceptual and metaphysical reality. The notion that workers controlled the means of production in Nazi Germany as in a Marxist utopia is a cruel joke. It was actually a combination of aristocracy and unfettered capitalism. Goldberg is either deluded or knows very well what he writes is drivel and takes pride in it. Since most people, never having been taught how to think critically, don’t have the ability to distinguish between a cogent argument and a fallacious one, this sort of rhetorical rubbish is often effective in convincing them.
Part of the problem results from Goldberg committing the same mistake to which he rightly accuses people on the left, misusing language and rendering a term meaningless. While it is true that Fascism is a statist ideology that does not mean that all proponents of a strong state are Fascists (remember Logic 101, "all men are mortal” does not imply “all mortals are men"). But anyone who has read any political philosophy (or even consulted a dictionary*) ought to know that the political continuum from left to right starts with Communism of the extreme left, onwards to socialism, social democrats, liberals, conservatives and on to the extreme right to fascism, theocracy, monarchism and other variations of authoritarian ideology. These divisions have been blurred to such an extent by pundits and propagandists on the left and right that they no longer resemble the traditional conceptualizations that are accepted by historians and political philosophers, even dictionary definitions. For example, leftist writers refer to Republicans as fascists and those on the right refer to Democrats as socialists. I really don’t see a huge distinction between the two conservative parties in the United States because nothing much changes for the average person regardless of what party holds power. The United States is really a single party plutocracy and honesty should induce one to refer to it as the “Repulicrat” Party.
[* The American Heritage Dictionary defines fascism as: "A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."]
A sure way to make money and get air time on Fox News is to write a book that tells the rabid right just what they want to hear. Historical ignorance and amnesia is a national obsession so forget history, logic or reason. It's a 'smoke screen' because it's meant to disguise the creeping neo-fascism of the neo-conservative extreme right in our political systems in North America. Anyone who's read a good book on fascism such as the recent Oxford University Press publication of Fascism by Kevin Passmore or even the '14 characteristics of Fascism' will quickly see that the conservative/right wing in our political system is, by far, much closer to fascism than any liberal could ever be. I didn't think anyone could do worse research than Ann Coulter, but this guy comes awfully close. If you read the piece “14 characteristics of fascism” that is posted at the Free Inquiry web site and various other web locations, you will be shocked at the congruence between the criteria cited and the current Bush administration.
Quite clearly, Jonah Goldberg has a facile and frivolous grasp of history. He cherry picks facts to fit his needs instead of trying to differentiate concepts as they are generally accepted within academia or the true picture of lineage in the political spectrum. It is specious to think that modern progressive movements have any lineage to Mussolini. Goldberg tortures facts to get them to fit his fantasy Procrustean bed. To his credit, Goldberg does know how to write and maintains a far more serious veneer than the likes of his fellow culture warriors and intellectual lightweights such as Shawn Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.
One of the defining characteristics of fascism is its unqualified contempt and hatred of free thought and liberalism. Consequently for the uninformed and ignorant masses here has been a great deal of conceptual confusion regarding fascism. Among historians and political scientists of the twentieth century there has been universal acceptance of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco as the consummate representatives of fascism. In their younger days Both Hitler and Mussolini dabbled with socialism but any reading of Hitler’s Mein Kampf or his many Reichstag speeches will dispel any illusion about his alleged leftist leanings. When Hitler first gained absolute power his first order of business was to eradicate the parliamentary system, crush anyone with leftist sympathies including trade unions, libertarian socialists and leftist intellectuals of every stripe. The Nazis abolished trade unions, collective bargaining and the right to strike. An organization called the “Labor Front” replaced the old trade unions, but it was merely a propaganda instrument of the Nazi party and did not represent workers interests in any way. It’s true that the Nazis tried to develop an ideology of quasi-socialism — one based on Christianity, in fact. Part of their party platform was the idea that the public need should be put before private greed, and this principle was part of the statement of how they were perceived as a Christian political party. In Germany under Hitler, religion was not purged from public policy. Both Hitler and Mussolini signed Concordats with the Pope and in Mein Kampf Hitler wrote that he was an agent of the Creator. German soldiers during World War Two wore belts buckles that read "Gott mit uns" (God is with us). The head of the fascist government in Slovakia was Jozef Tiso a Catholic Priest and anywhere fascism has prevailed, the Catholic Church was a complicit partner. It is extremely deceptive of Goldberg to link FDR and other liberals with Fascism. The Liberty League and other American Fascist groups of that era hated FDR and even tried to overthrow him in a coup.
In reality, though, Nazi policies did not reflect anything that remotely resembles socialism. How can anyone describe a government that persecutes leftist intellectuals, outlaws the Communist Party and abolishes the right to strike or engage in collective bargaining as “socialist”? Socialists are exponents of democracy, egalitarianism and consideration for the welfare of the worst off in society as well as racial and gender equality, ideals that for Hitler were anathema. Rabid American conservatives like Goldberg are concerned that the USA not come too close to the “socialism” of Nazi Germany, but it is the laws which work against collective bargaining and union activity which cause America to begin to resemble Nazi Germany, not any so-called socialist policies of this or that leftist group. Socialism may or may not be an ineffective way to organize an economy or society, but criticizing the Nazis is surely not the way to make this point. Notwithstanding the empty socialist rhetoric in which he appealed to the masses, Hitler’s labor policy was a windfall for the industrial cartels that supported him. Nazi law gave total control over wages and working conditions to the employer and compulsory slave labor was the crowning achievement of Nazi labor relations.
The same economic reality existed in Italy between the two world wars. In that country, nearly all industrial activity was owned or controlled by a few corporate giants, F.I.A.T. and the Ansaldo shipping concern being the chief examples. Land ownership in Italy was also highly concentrated and jealously guarded. Vast tracts of farmland were owned by a few latifundisti (huge estate landlords). The actual farming was carried out by a landless peasantry who were locked into a role essentially the same as that of the share cropper of the U.S. Deep South. As in Germany, the few owners of the nation’s capital assets had immense influence over government. As a young man, Mussolini had been a strident socialist, and he, like Hitler, used socialist language to lure the people to fascism. Mussolini spoke of a “corporate” society wherein the energy of the people would not be wasted on class struggle. The entire economy was to be divided into industry specific “corporazioni”, corporate bodies composed of both labor and management representatives. The corporazioni would resolve all labor/management disputes, and if they failed to do so, the fascist state would intervene. Unfortunately, as in Germany, there laid at the heart of this plan a swindle. The corporazioni to the extent that they were actually put in place, were controlled by the employers. Together with Mussolini’s ban on strikes and collective bargaining, these measures reduced the Italian laborer to the status of medieval peasant. Mussolini the one-time socialist went on to abolish the inheritance tax, a measure which favored the wealthy. He decreed a series of massive subsidies to Italy’s largest industrial businesses and repeatedly ordered wage rollbacks. Italy’s poor were forced to subsidize the wealthy. Sound familiar? In real terms, wages and living standards for the average Italian worker dropped precipitously under fascism.
As I have mentioned, the Communist Party was declared illegal by Hitler. We all know about the book burnings. Hitler was a Catholic so the church worked in lock step with the Third Reich and the Vatican never questioned anything Hitler did. There are scores of photographs of prominent Catholic priests and dignitaries at Nazi celebrations and functions giving the old Zeig Heil salute and every German infantryman had a belt buckle with the inscription “Got Mit Uns” (God is with us). Moreover, the Vatican was instrumental in facilitating the escape from Germany of numerous Nazi criminals that were destined to be tried at the Nuremburg Tribunals.
Even the religious fanatics who were responsible for flying the airplanes into the WTC on September 11, 2001 have been referred to as Islamo-fascists. This sobriquet is not entirely without merit because fascism has much in common with fundamentalist religion in the sense that both entail an all-encompassing faith based messianic hierarchical world view and ideology that cover all aspects of man’s existence. The regime of Franco in Spain from 1939-1975 is universally considered the classic paradigm of fascism and like Hitler, the alignment of Catholicism with Franco’s totalitarian regime is no accident. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 Franco would never have achieved victory over the short lived democratic Republic without the military assistance of both Hitler and Mussolini. Ironically but not surprisingly the Western Democracies such as France, England and the United States did nothing to help the republican cause since they were more interested in protecting the investments of their financial elites than in promoting democracy for Spain. The United States in particular recognized and supported the tyrannical fascist dictatorship of Franco during his entire rule.
But as the quote by FDR suggests, fascism is clearly on the opposite end of the political spectrum from communism and hence right wing along with conservatism, monarchism and totalitarianism. In fact one of Hitler’s first acts after gaining total control of Germany was to eliminate trade unions and persecute anyone on the left including leftist intellectuals, communists, socialists and anarchists. Jews, homosexuals and atheists were also big on the Hitler hit list. As in Spain under Franco, the Catholic Church, which one could convincingly argue is a classic fascist organization, cooperated and aligned itself with the Third Reich. Hitler was after all an avowed Catholic. Since the Soviet Union’s Bolshevik revolution after the death of Lenin in 1923 morphed into totalitarianism with the advent of Stalin, one could argue that it had many characteristics of a fascist state as well. It certainly in no way resembled communism as articulated by Marx.
Roosevelt well understood the extent of fascism’s popularity and appeal at the political box office during the 1930s; so does Umberto Eco, who takes pains in the essay “Ur-Fascism,” published in The New York Review of Books in 1995, to suggest that it’s a mistake to translate fascism into a figure of literary speech. By recovering from our historical memory only the vivid and familiar images of fascist tyranny (Gestapo intrusions into private lives, firing squads and death camps for dissidents, suspension of civil rights and the right to collective bargaining for workers, hyper-patriotism, racism, labor camps, book burnings, anti-intellectualism, anti-communist and the chimneys at Auschwitz), we lose sight of the faith-based initiatives that sustained the tyrant’s rise to dominance and power. The several experiments with fascist government, in Spain as well as in Italy and Germany, didn’t depend on a single portfolio of dogma, and so Eco, in search of their common foundation, doesn’t look for a unifying principle or standard text. He attempts to describe a way of thinking and a habit of mind, and on sifting through the assortment of fantastic and often contradictory notions— Nazi Christian paganism, Franco’s National Catholicism, Mussolini’s corporatism, etc.—he finds a set of axioms on which all the fascisms agree. Among the most notable are:
*The truth is revealed once and only once.
*Parliamentary democracy is by definition depraved because it doesn’t represent the voice of the people, which is that of the sublime leader.
*Doctrine and faith supersede reason, and science is deemed universally suspicious.
*Critical thought and skepticism is the province of degenerate intellectuals who betray the culture and subvert traditional values.
*The national identity is provided and sustained by the nation’s enemies.
*Cogent argument is tantamount to treason.
*Control of the mass media is paramount.
*Religion and Government (God and The State) are intertwined so that barriers between church and state are blurred.
*Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause and Obsession with National Security
*Perpetually at war, the state must govern with the instruments of fear.
*Citizens do not act; they play the supporting role of “the people” in the grand opus that is the state.
*Hyper-patriotism with invocations of God and the Glorious Leader blessing the sanctified State and with national anthems played at every possible opportunity with the flag waving incessantly.
Eco published his essay over ten years ago, when it wasn’t as easy as it has recently become to see the hallmarks of fascist sentiment in the character of an American government, especially under George W Bush. Roosevelt probably wouldn’t have been surprised by it. He’d encountered enough opposition to both the New Deal and to his belief in such a thing as a United Nations to judge the force of America’s racist passions and the ferocity of its anti-intellectualism and vulgar religiosity. As he may have guessed, so it has happened.
If the characteristics of fascism cited above appear eerily similar to the present political and cultural environment in the United States, it ought to create concern for everyone throughout the world. The Nazis in the 1930s were forced to waste precious time and money on the inculcation of the German citizenry, too well-educated for its own good, against the contamination of impermissible freedom of thought. The plutocrats who run the United States government can count it as a blessing that they don’t bear the burden of an enlightened, educated, skeptical and inquisitive citizenry. The systematic destruction of the public school and library systems over the last thirty years, a program wisely carried out under administrations both Republican and Democratic, protects the market for the sale and distribution of the government’s propaganda posters. The publishing companies can print as many books as will guarantee their profit (books on any and all subjects, some of them even truthful), but to people who don’t know how to read or think, they do as little harm as snowflakes falling on a frozen pond. And most people who do read do not read quality books but instead turn the sort of mindless rubbish contained within #1 best sellers like The Secret and other quasi-religious self help crud or escapist sensationalist fiction.
One can find a similar cultural bond between Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 30s and the Bush administration’s imperial foreign policy and its tax policies, which not only benefit America’s richest people and institutions but are deliberately aimed at eviscerating the social security system or what’s left of it. The United States has achieved its overwhelming military power at the same time and in close connection with a revolt against liberalism, which is arguably as deep as the one that reached its climax with the establishment of the totalitarian regimes of the 1920s and 1930s. Local crises are emerging at the state level all across the United States. The perpetual War in Iraq is bankrupting the public purse, educational institutions have been “dumbed down” and are being starved of funding; science courses at all levels are under siege from Christian fundamentalists, benefits to the poor are being slashed; the proportion of Americans living in poverty is up, as is inequality; crises in Medicare and Social Security loom while tax breaks for the rich and the corporate world continue unabated. And these results are a product of deliberate policy, promoted through a an immoral and illegal imperialist war along with a program of deep tax cuts which promise to erode the financial capacity of the government to undertake any but the most minimal welfare functions.
Observing political and economic dialogue in North America since the 1970’s leads to an inescapable conclusion: the considerable corpus of legislative activity favors the interests of the financial elites and large commercial enterprises. Big business is very well off, and successive Canadian and U.S. governments, of whatever political stripe, have made this their primary objective for at least the last 30 years. Digging deeper into twentieth century history, one finds this steadfast focus on the well-being of big business in other times and places. The exaltation of big business at the expense of the citizen was a central characteristic of government policy in Germany and Italy in the years before those countries were devoured by fascism. Before the rise of fascism, Germany and Italy were liberal democracies. Fascist dictatorships were borne to power in each of these countries by corporatism and they served the interests of big business with remarkable ferocity. These harsh facts have been lost to the popular consciousness in North America. Fascism could therefore return to us and in fact perhaps it has since we will likely not even recognize it when it happens. Indeed, Huey Long, one of America’s most brilliant and at the same time most corrupt politicians, was once asked if America would ever see fascism. His answer was, “Yes, but we will call it anti-fascism”.
In the post-war period, this flawed notion of freedom has been perpetuated by the neo-conservative school of thought. The neo-conservatives denounce any regulation of the marketplace until and when they need a bailout package (like the one during the trillion dollar S & L scandal during the Reagan era or the more recent taxpayer bailout of Bear Stearns) or tax reform, interest rate manipulations or interest free loans from the Conservative Nanny State to rescue them form their own larcenous ways. In so doing, they mimic the posture of big business in the pre-fascist period. Under the sway of neo-conservatism, Thatcher, Reagan, Mulroney and George W. Bush have decimated labor and exalted capital. (At present, only 7.8 per cent of workers in the U.S. private sector are unionized — about the same percentage as in the early 1900s.)
Neo-conservatives call relentlessly for tax cuts, which, in a previously progressive system, disproportionately favor the wealthy. Regarding the distribution of wealth, the neo-conservatives have nothing to say. In the end, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. As in Weimar Germany, the function of the state is being reduced to that of a steward for the interests of the moneyed elite. All that would be required now for a more rapid descent into fascism are a few reasons for the average person to forget he is being ripped off. Hatred of Arabs, fundamentalist Christianity or an illusory sense of perpetual war may well be taking the place of Hitler's hatred for communists and Jews.
Neo-conservative intellectuals in the United States often acknowledge the need for violence and oppression to protect what they regard as freedom and the never-ending imperialist wars consistent with the dogma of Manifest Destiny since the early 19th Century are a testament to that need. Thomas Friedman of The New York Times has written enthusiastically that "the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist," and that "McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15." As in pre-fascist Germany and Italy, the laissez-faire businessmen call for the Conservative Nanny state to do their bidding even as they insist that the state should stay out of the marketplace. Put plainly, neo-conservatives advocate the use of the state's military force throughout the world for the protection of private profit. Their view of the state's role in society is really indistinguishable from the businessmen and intellectuals who supported Hitler and Mussolini. There is no fear of the powerful nanny state here, something usually attributed to socialists - there is only the desire to make it a conservative welfare state and to wield its power. Neo-conservatism is thus fertile soil for fascism to grow again into an outright threat to our democracy.
By matching Eco’s list of fascist commandments against our record of achievement, we can see how well Bush et al have begun the new project for the next millennium—the notion of absolute and eternal truth embraced by the evangelical Christians and embodied in the strict constructions of the Constitution; the national identity provided by anonymous Arabs; Darwin’s theory of evolution rescinded by the fiat of “intelligent design”; a state of perpetual war and a government administering, in generous and daily doses, the specter of fear of an Islamic terrorist under every bed; two presidential elections stolen with little or no objection on the part of a complacent populace; the nation’s congressional districts gerrymandered to defend the White House for the next fifty years against the intrusion of a reform-minded president; the news media devoted to the arts of celebrity, fame and trivia, busily minting images of corrupt corporate executives like those of the emperor heroes on the coins of a decadent Rome.
An impressive beginning, in line with what the world has come to expect from the innovative Americans, but surely we can do better. The early twentieth-century fascisms didn’t enter their golden age until the proletariat in the countries that gave them birth had been reduced to abject poverty. The anthems and the jingoistic marching songs rose with the cry of vultures from the rubble of the domestic economy. On the evidence of the wonderful work currently being done by the Bush Administration with respect to the trade deficit and the national debt - to say nothing of expanding the markets for global terrorism - I think we can look forward with confidence to character-building bankruptcies, long line-ups of street people at gloomy soup kitchens along with thrilling processions of splendidly uniformed mounted police carrying truncheons.
Here is Chris Floyd of the Moscow Times (English edition)….
Fascism in America won’t come with jackboots, book burnings, mass rallies, and fevered harangues, nor will it come with black helicopters or tanks on the street. It won’t come like a storm—but as a break in the weather, that sudden change of season you might feel when the wind shifts on an October evening: Everything is the same, but everything has changed. Something has gone, departed from the world, and a new reality will have taken its place. All the old forms will still be there: legislatures, elections, campaigns—plenty of bread and circuses. But “consent of the governed” will no longer apply; actual control of the state will have passed to a small and privileged group who rule for the benefit of their wealthy peers and corporate patrons.
To be sure, there will be factional conflicts among the elite, and a degree of debate will be permitted; but no one outside the privileged circle will be allowed to influence state policy. Dissidents will be marginalized—usually by “the people” themselves. Deprived of historical knowledge by a thoroughly impoverished educational system designed to produce complacent consumers, left ignorant of current events by a corporate media devoted solely to profit, many will internalize the force-fed values of the ruling elite, and act accordingly. There will be little need for overt methods of control.
The rulers will act in secret, for reasons of “national security,” and the people will not be permitted to know what goes on in their name. Actions once unthinkable will be accepted as routine: government by executive fiat, state murder of “enemies” selected by the leader, undeclared wars, torture, mass detentions without charge, the looting of the national treasury, the creation of huge new “security structures” targeted at the populace. In time, this will be seen as “normal,” as the chill of autumn feels normal when summer is gone. It will all seem normal.
The Ongoing Fascist Threat
Is Fascism behind the Turmoil in the Ukraine?
By Johnny Reb, March 2014
"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster” - Friedrich Nietzsche
When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. - Sinclair Lewis.
As Wilhelm Reich [has] said, the average mind is structured for fascism - for authoritarianism, for dominance, for power. The mind attaches itself to power, it respects power, it defers to power greater than its own, it uses power on individuals' minds that are weaker than its own. If that's true, then it's very much easier for the right to win an election in this country than it is for the left, because it has so little way to go to tap into the worst instincts of all of us. - E.L. Doctorow
In the 1920s and 1930s fascist parties rose to prevalence and power across much of Europe. The conditions and reasons for their rise following the "War to End all Wars" have been well documented.* Consequently, millions, soldiers and civilians alike, were killed in the Second World War and the anti-Semitic pogroms by fascists in Germany and elsewhere slaughtered millions more. Yet since the Second World War, fascism is on the rise once more in all major European states and far right parties are have been elected and won many converts. The defeat of the political left in the past three or four decades has been almost total as many former social democratic parties have either disappeared or (like the NDP in Canada and the Labor Party in Britain) have moved so far to the right, that they have been rendered indistinguishable from liberals and even many moderate conservatives. I am addressing this phenomenon in another paper in the works, titled Malfunctions of the Left.
* In 1922 Italy the Federazione Industriale, composed of leaders of industry, along with members of the banking and agribusiness associations, met with Mussolini to plan the "March on Rome, contributing 20 million lire to the undertaking. With the additional backing of Italy's top military officers, police chiefs and other conservative organizations, the fascist revolution - in reality, a coup d'état - took place. Within two years Mussolini had effectively shut down all left wing newspapers and labor unions and crushed all communist, socialist and liberal political parties which combined had commanded 80% of the popular vote. Peasant groups, labor leaders and most of all, the communist party members were beaten, exiled and murdered by the black shirt fascist terrorist thugs called the squadristi.
In Germany a similar, even more vile and violent version of complicity between fascists and capitalists emerged. German workers had previously won the right to unionize, the eight hour day and unemployment insurance. But to return to obscene profits during the Great War, industry and big finance wanted unions abolished, wage cuts and huge subsidies and tax reductions from the state. The Weimar Republic had made too many concessions to the working class and Hitler was their man to change all this. Big business interests and tycoons provided Hitler with the financing for the SA, Hitler's paramilitary goons, fleets of automobiles with loudspeakers to saturate the cities and countryside with propaganda and airplanes to fly about the country during the 1932 election campaign. In that election the Nazis were only able to garner 37% of the popular vote but the liberals and social democrats, true to form, refused an offer of a coalition by the Communist Party that would have prevented Hitler's rise to power. Instead they sided with reactionary conservatives and Hitler's fascists to keep out the Red Menace". As the right wing coalesced behind the Nazis, Field Marshall von Hindenburg, the conservative candidate, promptly offered Hitler the position of Chancellor. He accepted of course. The rest of the story is the sordid history of the Third Reich of which even the most ill-informed are fully aware. As in Mussolini's Italy, the political left in Germany was decimated and many of its leaders who were not murdered became residents in his first death camp at Dachau.
Although it was virtually non-existent for the three decades following the Second World War, fascism has returned since the early 1980s, because fascism is a recurrent feature of modern capitalism.* Fascism thrives on bitterness and alienation, both of which capitalism nourishes with regularity in the form of recurrent recessions, doses of unemployment, massive economic inequality, exploitation, injustice and other crises. This fuels despair and social unrest, which further stimulates fascism to grow and flourish. Fascism lives off racism, sexism and elitism, while capitalism promotes more of its own prejudices, guised as common-sense beliefs while and holding out material enticements which appear to be consistent with people’s experiences, while effectively holding them back from challenging a gamed system that does not serve their interests. Like the venal ideology of neo-conservatism that has dominated our global economy for the past three decades, fascism never intended to offer an overall social solution, for the general populace. The aims of neo-conservatism and fascism are anti-democratic and reactionary, to offload the all the burdens, costs and losses of a predatory capitalism onto the working classes while at the same time serving big business and wealthy financial elites. Benito Mussolini called it "corporatism". It's a phoney revolution claiming a "New World Order" that represents the same old moneyed interests of conservative entitlements.
* Corporate Capitalism has proven to be extremely adaptable to any right wing political ideology, including fascism and various other authoritarian systems. Hitler regularly spoke about saving the big industrialists, banks and financial elites from Bolshevism. In addition to serving the interests of capitalism both Hitler and Mussolini (and their close political cohorts) made sure at every opportunity that arose, they lined their own pockets. High ranking Nazi officials and SS commanders amassed personal fortunes during the ascendancy of the Third Reich. Huge profits were made by big corporations such as I G Farben and Krupp by paying off Nazi officialdom and using slave labour from the concentration camps. Hitler was personally able to accumulate a massive fortune that included plundering assets such as priceless works of art from the public domain and an endless personal slush fund provided by big business so long as obscene profits continued. Despite his claims to asceticism, he lived the lavish life of an autocratic member of the nobility with a fleet of luxury cars, a vast staff of servants and country and mountain estates where he entertained European royalty including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
The paradigm of centralized power embedded in the synthesis of corporatism and the State, the latter, itself the more powerful the better, in order to serve and protect the business system, its dominance over labor, its penetration of foreign markets, its further concentration through preventing internecine competition, is equally characteristic of 1930s Germany. This underpinning, not the concentration camp or gas chamber, establishes the bedrock on which the fascist edifice rests, makes them possible, embodied in militaristic aggression in Germany, but, for the US, and as Barrington Moore pointed out, in Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, for Japan as well, what is critical to fascism is not only business-government interpenetration (Masao Maruyama years ago termed this, for Japan, the “close-embrace” system), but also the regimentation of the people, glimpses of which appear in the NSA wholesale surveillance of the public, and a prepackaged ideology of permanent-war readiness buttressed by a saturated climate of counterterrorism. John Kerry and Joe Biden are quintessential cheerleaders for imperialism and, increasingly, militarism, for they, and Barrack Obama, recognize the two are inseparable, to which they seem especially dedicated. The Ukraine has found its soul mates.
What is happening in the Ukraine with the American and European coup that has installed far right zealots and fascists in the Ukraine is not new. Italian and German fascism had their admirers within the North American and European business communities as well as many high ranking conservative political icons. Bankers, publishers and industrialists including Henry Ford travelled to Berlin to pay homage, receive awards and set up lucrative business deals with the Third Reich. Many did their utmost to serve Hitler's military ventures, sharing military secrets and engaging in clandestine contracts with the Nazi government even after the US entered the war. During the 1920s and 1930s, major publications like Fortune, Wall Street Journal, Saturday Evening Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Christian Science Monitor hailed Mussolini as the man who rescued Italy from the communist and socialist hordes. Publications such as these spun rhapsodic fantasies of a resurrected Italy where poverty and deprivation had disappeared, where "Reds" have been vanquished and "Black shirts" had restored a "new democracy" of peace and freedom. As with Mussolini, so with Hitler. Apologists were not uncommon, with a strong contingent of "Give Adolph a Chance" acolytes within the mainstream conservative press. William Randolph Hearst personally instructed his correspondents in Germany to file friendly reports about Hitler's dictatorship, even opening the pages of his newspapers to guest columns by Herman Goring and Alfred Rosenburg.
So, what happened to the U.S. businesses that
collaborated with fascism? The Rockefeller family's Chase National Bank used
its Paris office in Vichy France to help launder German money to facilitate Nazi
international trade during the war, and did so with complete impunity.
After the war, Hermann Abs, head of the
Deutsche Bank and in effect "Hitler's paymaster" was hailed by David Rockefeller
as "the most important banker of our time." According to his New York Times
obituary, Abs "played a dominant role in West Germany's reconstruction after
World War II."
Neither the Times nor Rockefeller said a
word about Abs' Nazi connections, his bank's predatory
Corporations like DuPont, Ford, General Motors, and ITT owned factories in enemy countries that produced fuel, tanks, and planes that wreaked havoc on Allied forces. After the war, instead of being prosecuted for treason, ITT collected $27 million from the U.S. government for war damages inflicted on its German plants by Allied bombings. General Motors collected over $33 million. Pilots were given instructions not to hit factories in Germany that were owned by U.S. firms. Thus Cologne was almost leveled by Allied bombing but its Ford plant, providing military equipment for the Nazi army, was untouched; indeed, German civilians began using the plant as an air raid shelter.
For decades, U.S. leaders have done their part in keeping Italian fascism alive. From 1945 to 1975, U.S. government agencies gave an estimated $75 million to right-wing organizations in Italy, including some with close ties to the neo-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI). In 1975, then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with MSI leader Giorgio Almirante in Washington to discuss what "alternatives" might be considered should the Italian Communists win the elections and take control of the government.
Hundreds of Nazi war criminals found a haven in the United States, either living in comfortable anonymity or actively employed by U.S. intelligence agencies during the cold war and otherwise enjoying the protection of high-placed individuals. Some of them found their way onto the Republican presidential campaign committees of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H W Bush. One of them, Boleslavs Maikovskis, a Latvian police chief who fled to West Germany to escape Soviet war crimes investigations and then to the United States, was heavily implicated in the Nazi slaughter of over two hundred Latvian villagers. He served for a time on a Republican party subcommittee to re-elect President Nixon, then fled back to Germany to avoid a belated U.S. war crimes investigation, dying at the ripe old age of 92. Nazi war criminals have been aided by Western intelligence agencies, business interests, the military, and even the Vatican. In October 1944, German paratroop commander Major Walter Reder slaughtered 1,836 defenseless civilians in a village near Bologna, Italy as a reprisal against Partisan activities. He was released from prison in 1985, after Pope John Paul II, among others, made an appeal on his behalf - over the strenuous protests of relatives of the victims.
In Italy, from 1969 to 1974, high-ranking elements in Italian military intelligence and civilian intelligence agencies; members of P2, a secret lodge of upper-class reactionaries, pro-fascist Vatican officials, and top military brass; and GLADIO, a NATO-inspired anticommunist mercenary force, embarked upon a concerted campaign of terror and sabotage known as the "strategy of tension." Other participants included a secret neofascist group called the Ordine Nuovo, NATO officials, members of the carabinieri, mafia bosses, thirty generals, eight admirals, and influential Freemasons like Licio Gelli (a fascist war criminal recruited by U.S. intelligence in 1944). The terrorism was aided and abetted by the "international security apparatus," including the CIA. In 1995, the CIA refused to cooperate with an Italian parliamentary commission investigating the strategy of tension . The terrorist conspirators carried out a series of kidnappings, assassinations, and bombing massacres (i stragi), including the explosion that killed eighty-five people and injured some two hundred, many seriously, in the Bologna train station in August 1980. As subsequent judicial investigations concluded, the strategy of tension was not a simple product of neo-fascism but the consequence of a larger campaign conducted by state security forces against the growing popularity of the democratic parliamentary Left. The objective was to "combat by any means necessary the electoral gains of the Italian Communist party" and create enough fear and terror in the population so as to undermine the multiparty social democracy and replace it with an authoritarian "presidential republic," or in any case "a stronger and more stable executive."
In the 1980s, scores of people were murdered in Germany, Belgium and elsewhere in Western Europe by extreme rightists in the service of state security agencies (Z Magazine, March 1990). These acts of terrorism went mostly unreported in the U.S. corporate-owned media. As with the earlier strategy of tension in Italy, the attacks were designed to create enough popular fear and uncertainty so as to undermine the existing social democracies.
Authorities in these Western European countries and the United States have done little to expose neo-Nazi networks. As the whiffs of fascism develop into an undeniable stench, we are reminded that Hitler's progeny are still with us and that they have dangerous links with each other and within the security agencies of various Western capitalist nations.
In Italy, in 1994, the national elections were won by the National Alliance, a broadened version of the neo-fascist MSI, in coalition with a league of Northern separatists, and Forza Italia, a quasi-fascist movement headed by industrialist and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi. The National Alliance played on resentments regarding unemployment, taxes, and immigration. It called for a single tax rate for rich and poor alike, school vouchers, a stripping away of the social benefits, and the privatization of most services.
The Italian neo-fascists were learning from the U.S. reactionaries how to achieve fascism's class goals within the confines of quasi-democratic forms: use an upbeat, Reagan style optimism; replace the jackbooted militarists with media-hyped crowd pleasers; convince people that government is the enemy—especially its social service sector—while strengthening the repressive capacities of the state; instigate racist hostility and antagonisms between the resident population and immigrants; preach the mythical virtues of the free market; and pursue tax and spending measures that redistribute income upward.
Conservatives in the Western nations utilize diluted forms of the fascist mass appeal. In the USA, they propagate populist-sounding appeals to the "ordinary Middle American" while quietly pressing for measures that serve the interests of the wealthiest individuals and corporations. In 1996, right-wing Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, while proffering a new rollback agenda that supposedly would revitalize all of society, announced "I am a genuine revolutionary" Whether in Italy, Germany, the United States, or any other country, when the Right offers a "new revolution" or a "new order," it is in the service of the same old moneyed interests, leading down that well-trodden road of reaction and repression that so many Third World countries have been forced to take, the road those at the top want us all to travel.
After World War II, the Western capitalist allies did little to eradicate fascism from Italy or Germany, except for putting some of the top leaders on trial at Nuremberg. By 1947, German conservatives began to depict the Nuremberg prosecutors as dupes of the Jews and communists. In Italy, the strong partisan movement that had waged armed struggle against fascism was soon treated as suspect and unpatriotic. Within a year after the war, almost all Italian fascists were released from prison while hundreds of communists and other leftist partisans who had been fighting the Nazi occupation were jailed. History was turned on its head, transforming the Black shirts into victims and the Reds into criminals. Allied authorities assisted in these measures. In France, very few of the Vichy collaborators were purged. "No one of any rank was seriously punished for his or her role in the roundup and deportation of Jews to Nazi camps" (Herbert Lottman, The Purge (New York: William Morrow, 1986), p. 290); much the same can be said about Germany. U.S. military authorities restored fascist collaborators to power in various Far East nations. In South Korea, for instance, Koreans collaborators and the Japanese-trained police were used to suppress left democratic forces. The South Korean Army was commanded by officers who had served in the Imperial Japanese Army "and were proud of it." Numbers of them had been guilty of war crimes in the Philippines and China.
Under the protection of U.S. occupation authorities, the police, courts, military, security agencies, and bureaucracy remained largely staffed by those who had served the former fascist regimes or by their ideological recruits -as is true to this day. The perpetrators of the Holocaust murdered six million Jews, half a million Gypsies, thousands of homosexuals, several million Ukranians, Russians, Poles, and others, and got away with it—in good part because the very people who were supposed to investigate these crimes were themselves complicit.
For most of this century U.S. foreign policy has been devoted to the suppression of revolutionary governments and radical movements around the world. The turn of the twentieth century found the McKinley administration in a war of attrition against the people of the Philippines lasting from 1898 to 1902 (with pockets of resistance continuing for years afterward). In that conflict, U.S. forces slaughtered some 200,000 Filipino women, men, and children. At about that same time, in conjunction with various European colonial powers, the United States invaded China to help suppress the Boxer Rebellion at substantial loss of life to the Chinese rebels. U.S. forces took over Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam and in the following decades invaded Mexico, Soviet Russia (complicit with many other capitalist countries of the West in the "White/Tsarist) counter-revolution against the Bolsheviks that incited a brutal civil war from 1917-1922) , Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and other countries, actions that usually inflicted serious losses upon the populations of these countries.
The real transgression of leftist revolutionaries is that they championed the working classes against the wealthy conservative elites who were the benefactors of brutal monarchist, fascist and other tyrannical regimes. Ruling classes today and throughout history despise and fear any form of socialism not because it is undemocratic but rather it attempts to bring about social democracy, justice and egalitarianism. This they would never have the honesty to admit; it's not in the "national interest". Surely all but the most credulous among us now know what is meant by "the national interest". Any and all advancements toward social justice and programs of limited scope obtained without revolution have been paid for by the blood of protestors and strikers who had to fend off corporate goons, police and the military. These gains are now being taken back as corporate fascism has won the day; and future generations are going to have to fight the same battles once again (As corporate marauder Warren Buffet admitted: "There's been a class war going on for the past thirty years and our side has won" ).
That last point frequently goes unmentioned in discussions about the ethics of revolutionary violence. The very concept of "revolutionary violence" is somewhat falsely cast, since most of the violence comes from those who attempt to prevent reform, not from those struggling for reform. By focusing on the violent rebellions of the downtrodden, we overlook the much greater repressive force and violence utilized by the ruling oligarchs to maintain the status quo, including propaganda by corporate dominated mass media, FBI, CIA and police spying, pogroms such as the infamous Red Scares in the US following the two world wars, trashing left wing and trade union offices and sabotaging their meetings, armed attacks against peaceful demonstrations, mass arrests, torture, destruction of dissenting groups, suppression of dissident publications, death squad assassinations and the extermination of whole villages and so on. When you hear the phrase "serve and protect" with regard to policing, first ask "serve and protect whom?".
Prominent leftist critics and protestors of the prevailing hegemonic ideologies and their conservative elites have always been under attack - and when and wherever possible - marginalized, ostracized and preferably incarcerated. Consider three high profile intellectuals: Noam Chomsky, the late Howard Zinn and Michael Parent, all three who have written extensively and been involved in various levels of civil disobedience against injustice, racism, imperialism and war. All three have been attacked by police, vilified by the corporate dominated right wing media, incarcerated for brief periods and spied upon. All have extensive police and FBI dossiers. Chomsky is a world renowned linguist at MIT and Zinn a celebrated historian who wrote a ground breaking book called A People's History of the United States. Both were instrumental in assisting Daniel Ellsberg get the Pentagon Papers made public, exposing the lies and deceit by the US government regarding the Vietnam War. Because of their stature and high profile within the global intellectual and academic community, they were more or less untouchable, despite the fact that the corporate state wanted to shut make them disappear. Zinn had taught history at Spellman, near Atlanta, a black college for women and became actively involved in the civil rights movement in the early 1950s. Michael Parenti, on the other hand, was a young relatively unknown, yet brilliant, political science professor at Yale when he was arrested in the late sixties for participating in an ant-Vietnam War protest. As a result, he was fired from his position at Yale and blacklisted, thereafter never able to gain any meaningful employment as a university teacher anywhere in the US. But he went on to became an equally brilliant free lance writer and is one of the best ever social critics of American culture, militarism and imperialism. The late Tommy Douglas, Canada's greatest Canadian according to a CBC poll and the who was the key figure in getting universal health care for all Canadians, has an 1100 page RCMP file that the family is still trying to get released. These men typify what life is like on the political left. On the other hand - and not surprisingly - if you belong to an association on the far political right wing such as a neo-Nazi or other fascist group, John Birch Society or the KKK and you will have little trouble with authorities in conducting your bigoted business activities unimpeded.
For those local and international elites who maintain control over most of the world's wealth, social revolution, peaceful or otherwise, is akin to the anti-Christ - an abomination. Whether it be peaceful or violent is a question of no great importance to them. Peaceful reforms that infringe upon their unfettered profitable accumulations and threaten their class entitlements and privileges are as unacceptable to them as the social upheaval imposed by revolution. The stark reality for revolutionary movements and their very survival is contingent on gaining state control and then facing the reality of pre-existing institutions and systemic economic structures that support the entitlements of the displaced ruling classes. The first obstacles that must be overcome are: (1) Breaking the stranglehold of the mechanisms and institutions of the state that control the resources, wealth, laws, police, military and judiciary in the service of the deposed oligarchy and (2) Being prepared for the inevitable reactionary counter-revolutionary response, frequently in the form of violence. This was the case following the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Cuban revolution of 1959 and in every attempt from below of people to free themselves from oppression and servitude.
The fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the state and accepts the individual insofar as his interests coincide with the State - Benito Mussolini
Fascism, as expressed by Mussolini, preaches the authoritarian rule of an all-encompassing state and a supreme leader. It extols the harsher human impulses of conquest and domination, while rejecting egalitarianism, social justice, democracy, compassion, collectivism, and pacifism as doctrines of weakness and decadence. A dedication to peace, Mussolini wrote, "is hostile to fascism." Perpetual peace, he claimed in 1934, is a "depressing" doctrine. Only in "cruel struggle" and "conquest" do men or nations achieve their optimal realization. "Though words are beautiful things," he asserted, "rifles, machine guns, planes, and cannons are still more beautiful."And on another occasion he wrote: "War alone... puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to meet it"
Fascism's national chauvinism, racism, sexism, militarism and patriarchal values served conservative class interests and received their enthusiastic support. Without that conservative support, neither Mussolini nor Hitler would have risen to power. Fascist doctrine, particularly the Nazi variety, demands an explicit commitment to racial supremacy. Human attributes, including class status, are said to be inherited through blood; one's position in the social structure is taken as a measure of one's innate nature. Appeals to genetics and biology were used to justify the existing class structure, not unlike what some academic racists, patriarchal Christian fundamentalists and many neo-conservatives today are doing with their "bell curve" theories, homophobia, warmed-over eugenics and economic ideologies of corporatism, elitism, wanton self-interest and rejection of any notion of the common good.
In Nazi Germany, racism and anti-Semitism served to misdirect legitimate grievances of the working classes toward convenient scapegoats. Anti-Semitic propaganda was cleverly manufactured to appeal to different audiences. Unemployed workers were told that their nemesis was the Jewish capitalist and Jewish banker; for debtor farmers, it was the Jewish usurer; for the middle class, it was the Jewish union leader and Jewish communist. Here again we have a consciously rational use of irrational images used so cleverly by powerful neo-conservatives in the US to build the Tea Party movement. The Nazis might have been psychopathic but they were not stupid. What distinguishes fascism from run-of-the-mill right-wing patriarchal autocracies is the manner in which it attempts to cultivate a faux revolutionary aura. Fascism bamboozles the masses by serving up a beguiling mix of revolutionary-sounding mass appeals and reactionary class politics. Even the Nazi party's full name was the National Socialist German Workers Party, a left-sounding name co-opted from a defunct leftist movement.
Both the Italian fascists and the Nazis made a conscious effort to adopt the rhetoric of the left. Sadly, the unthinking docile masses are not difficult to propagandize and deceive. The strategy by those in power continues unabated today. There were mass mobilizations, youth organizations, work brigades, rallies, parades, banners, symbols, and slogans. There was much talk about a "Nazi revolution" that would revitalize society, sweeping away the old order and building the new. For this reason, mainstream writers feel free to treat fascism and communism as totalitarian twins, a case of conflating essence with form as the similarity in form is taken as sufficient reason to blur the vast difference in actual class content. But in the Italy and Germany of that period, most workers and peasants understood the firm distinctions between fascism and communism, as did industrialists and bankers who supported fascism out of fear and hatred of communism, a judgment based largely on class realities.
Fascism should not be understood primarily as an ultra right wing ideology, but as a specific form of reactionary or counter-revolutionary mass movement. This is not a novel interpretation, but one that was articulated as the first fascist parties emerged. Fascism, like so many political ideologies in recent decades has been conceptually and historically maligned and distorted, particularly by conservative apologists, historians and political pundits. Fascist has been one of the most frequently invoked political pejoratives, normally intended to connote “police state,” “repressive,” "tyrannical", "autocratic", "coercive" or “dictatorial”. But these adjectives employed to describe fascism are not descriptive of political regimes exclusively on the political far right. In fact, in consideration of the authoritarian and hegemonic nature of our present alleged "democratic" corporatist/imperialist neo-conservative regimes in North America and Europe in recent decades, those adjectives are becoming apt. Particularly in light of the 2007-09 global corporate bailouts that were void of any democratic process or consultation with the citizenry and recent revelations of Edward Snowden and other whistle blowers. Our so-called social democracy, what semblance of the genuine article that we've enjoyed in the three or four decades following the Second World War, is a decaying cadaver.
The common view today is that fascism never succeeded in solving the irrational contradictions of capitalism. I think one could reasonably argue that it did accomplish that goal - but only for the capitalists, not for the general populace. Fascism never intended to offer a social solution that would serve the public will and support the common good - only a reactionary one, forcing all the burdens and losses onto the working classes. "Privatize profits and socialize losses" quite succinctly defines the ideology of neo-conservative economic dogma; the corporate bailouts following the global economic meltdown of 2007-09 conform this adage. Divested of its ideological and organizational paraphernalia, fascism is nothing more than a final solution to the class struggle, the totalistic submergence and exploitation of democratic forces for the benefit and profit of financial capital in all its venal forms.
In short, fascism is a phony revolution. It cultivates the appearance of popular politics and a revolutionary aura without offering genuine revolutionary class content. It propagates a "New World Order" while serving the same old moneyed interests and traditional conservative entitlements. Its leaders are not guilty of confusion and stupidity but of cunning deception. That they work so hard to mislead the public does not mean they themselves are misled. To cite one minor example, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's inane "Economic Action Plan" ads that have been endlessly splattered all over every corporate television station (including CBC) have cost the taxpayers close to $200,000,000 so far are void of content and laced with deceit. It doesn't seem to bother Canadians that he is propagandizing the populace with its own money and has done nothing to dig the Canadian economy out of depression save for the big banks and oil companies that he serves.
Abuse of language by conceptual distortion and obfuscation has been addressed brilliantly in the past by great thinkers such as George Orwell and more recently, intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky. It's one of the intellectual scourges of our times. I'll mention just one example I've dealt with in another essay. It's disconcerting to anyone who values truth and conceptual transparency how the word “entitlement” has been mangled and redefined by conservatives in general, the propagandists at their well-financed think tanks and the hacks at right wing corporate media such as Fox News. Conservative elites are forever buttressed in this indoctrination by the bias and propaganda system of our pervasive corporate controlled lapdog media and our neo-conservative corporatist governments throughout the industrialized world. Historically the word entitlement referred to members of the aristocracy who had “titles” such as prince, pope, baron, lord, and so on. In recent decades, conservatives have remapped the language in so many ways. Liberals are now considered fascists and Hitler and Obama* are called socialists by conservative know-nothings such as Jonah Goldberg of the National Review Defying logic, conceptual accuracy and historical fact, Goldberg recently wrote a farcical book with the oxymoronic title Liberal Fascists. These are books that are devoured by not only conservatives, but credulous members of the working class who know nothing of history or political philosophy. Now, thanks to conservatives like Goldberg who have redefined words by some Orwellian ruse to mean their exact opposites, those who have entitlements are not members of the wealthy plutocratic class and corporate world, but the dispossessed, those on social assistance or unfortunate members of the working poor underclass who, if they work long enough, may receive paltry pensions by age 65 (if they are fortunate enough to live that long) or those trying to subsist on welfare or unemployment insurance.
* One of the reasons why we hear so much shrill bat shit crazy rhetoric from today’s right – where Republicans refer to the neo-conservative manager of Wall Street and American imperialist empire like Barack Obama a "Kenyan Muslim socialist" - is that they are trying to re-establish the battles that brought them to victory with Reagan in 1980. And while they can get some traction from their efforts at making radical distinctions that are irrelevant or simply do not exist, it can’t get much. In fact, the level of the desperation by Republicans to create inconsequential differences between them and the members of the other big business party, the Democrats, is farcical. When elected the only differences are the levels of Christian evangelical fervour. I think the long-term indicators are negative for the declining Republican Party. But for 99% of Americans this means precious little since the present incarnation of the Democratic Party is about as conservative and corporatist as any Republican administration in recent history. In fact, in comparison to ultra-conservative Barrack Obama, former Republicans party leaders such as Herbert Hoover, Dwight D Eisenhower and Barry Goldwater look like liberal moderates.
To cite another glaring example of this sort of misrepresentation, according to the Canadian historian William Irvine, the consensus among many conservative historians and political philosophers is now to argue that French fascism was Jacobin, socialist and left wing. Such a reinvention of history, he argues, is only made possible by a curious selective process. The conservative perversion of logic is as facile as a child’s game: this first party met with conservatives, therefore it was merely right wing and respectable, while this second party contained a small number of members who had formerly been socialists, therefore it was left wing and fascist. There is a seemingly endless supply of intellectual rubbish such as this that flows from the pens and mouths of conservative whack jobs and our prevailing corporatist controlled mass media. It is clear that such arguments drain these concepts of any real meaning. Condemnation of anti-fascism is based on evidence taken from contemporary police files, in which antifascists, unsurprisingly, receive short shrift. Compared to the shoddy treatment of left wing groups during the many Red Scares and communist witch hunts by our so-called liberal democracies, many of whom were socialists, union organizers, pacifists, civil rights workers, proponents for social justice, women's rights and environmentalism, the many fascist groups such as the American Nazi Party, the KKK and the British Union of Fascists were either tolerated or handled with kid gloves by government agencies and the police. Many of America’s many home-grown fascists have attempted to infiltrate the Republican Party. Their success can be seen in former leading Klansman David Duke’s 1991 campaign to become Governor of Louisiana. Despite his well-documented Nazi background, and his continuing racism, Duke was nominated as the official Republican Party candidate, and nearly won a majority of the vote in the final election contest. Duke's successful penetration of the Republican Party apparatus in the US is one of the many examples of the alarming ideological affinity of conservatism with fascism.
Many writers have contended that Ukraine’s ongoing turmoil of civil disobedience and signifies the growth of fascism. Others claim it's a diverse group of protestors and that fascism is not predominant. Notwithstanding the widespread presence of fascist symbols, slogans and anti-Semitic violence in the Ukraine from both sides of the dispute is the fact that generally accepted liberal European countries such as France and Austria are currently facing perhaps even more serious ultra-right threats. The presence of Ukrainian fascists should nonetheless be taken seriously and the Ukrainian "democratic process" needs to be legitimized. One factor that seems to be ignored is the fundamental global economic crisis of capitalism that has precipitated the ongoing political one. The Ukraine is not an isolated case; demonstrations and civil unrest of varying degrees of violence and chaos are appearing throughout the world. People are pissed off, and for valid reasons. When 85 of the richest individuals have more wealth than the bottom half of the planet (about 3.5 billion people) something is gravely amiss. Anyone who can refer to such a state of affairs as even remotely representing democracy simply doesn't understand the concept. More to the fact, capitalism has always thrived best under complicit totalitarian states, including the fascist variety - and anyone who insists on conflating capitalism with democracy, as our conservative elites have done, ought to study a little political philosophy.
The substitution of description for explanation and conceptual analysis resembles much of the historical debate on fascism, with predominantly liberal scholars characterizing fascism as a nebulous phenomenon that is best defined with reserved pessimism. Fascism can be rightly deemed anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-Semitic, frequently anti-clerical (with exceptions such as in Franco's Spain and in Hitler's Third Reich in which the churches, including the Vatican, as they generally do, eventually acquiesced to prevailing political power, fell in line and gave their patriotic support), anti-democratic, anti-liberal, authoritarian and so on. Reflecting on the Cold War era goal of conservatism (a short half-step to the left of fascism on the political continuum) and the distancing of Nazism from Western capitalism while comparing it to the Soviet Union instead, totalitarianism’s emphasis on an all-intrusive dictatorship, and not economics, struggled to explain the timing, and thereby the causes and implications, of fascism’s rise.
And it is this factor of historical timing that provides the greatest indication of what fascism in fact really is. As Karl Polanyi noted in The Great Transformation:
"In reality, the part played by fascism was determined by one factor: the condition of the market system. During the period 1917-23 governments occasionally sought fascist help to restore law and order: no more was needed to set the market system going. Fascism remained undeveloped. In the period 1924-29, when the restoration of the market system seemed ensured, fascism faded out as a political force altogether. After 1930 market economy was in a general crisis. Within a few years fascism was a world power."
As Marxist historians of fascism have long argued, fascism at its essence is an outcome of capitalism in crisis. The quintessential counterrevolutionary movement, fascism responds to capitalism’s invariable crises by redirecting potentially revolutionary threats to capitalism to nationalist, racist (and its appendage within Europe’s right wing today, multiculturalism) and militarist violence that preserves the basic material conditions of a class based society. However, unable or uninterested in merely returning to conditions of social democracy and the social contract that existed in the few decades following the Second World War, the defence of neo-conservative corporatism (Mussolini's expression for the fusion of state power and capitalism) and unimpeded private profit amidst economic hardship for the 99% frequently entails imperialist expansion abroad and the racially and culturally justified appropriation of public wealth at home.
In this sense, the rise of the Third Reich is graphically symbolic. Although the Weimar Republic in Germany experienced recurrent crises throughout much of the 1920s - from the punitive Versailles Treaty that was criticized so harshly by John Maynard Keynes to the failed Munich Soviet to the Beer Hall Putsch and hyperinflation - the Nazis did not escape electoral irrelevance until the global economic collapse of 1929.
Complaining that their profits were being compromised or confiscated due to the intractable political power of Germany’s strong political left wing and trade unions, big business threatened to stop investing altogether unless the government, increasingly impotent amidst the intensifying crisis, aborted the rise of socialism and weakened labour’s influence. Indeed, the late stages of the Weimar Republic, in addition to many countries such as Britain, Austria and Italy during the early years of the Great Depression, was characterized by vicious street-fighting between communists and various socialist factions and fascists, united in their shared hatred of the collapsing center but attempting to resolve the crisis in diametrically opposed ways. Notably and typically, only the former two were aggressively persecuted by the state, as state leaders, Junkers, industrialists and conservative elites increasingly understood that only the fascists did not fundamentally threaten the capitalist status quo and prevailing political order but could in fact be used to preserve it by exploiting fascism’s mass appeal. While the Communist International's description of Adolf Hitler as the mere dupe of capital has been long rejected as a facile generalization, it's important to note a key fact. That being conservative icon and nobleman Franz von Papen, the German Chancellor in 1932 who was the principal political figure in orchestrating Hitler’s rise to the pinnacle of power as Chancellor with himself as Vice-Chancellor. Indeed Hitler had come to enjoy not only the virtually unanimous and wholehearted support of big business, but huge swaths of the conservative establishment such as the military, churches, wealthy investor classes and landed aristocracy. The next step was to eliminate any semblance of the political left in Germany. Many have forgotten that the combined Socialist and Communist (SPD/KPD) vote surpassed the Nazi vote in 1932, and as the Nazi vote declined in the November 1932 election it appeared to most observers that Hitler had missed his opportunity. Sadly, such was not the case because conservative forces in Germany, as they have done in so many other instances of people's movements throughout history, made sure they would not happen.
In January 1933, shortly after Hitler was appointed Chancellor, one of his first political moves was to immediately outlaw independent trade unions, freeze wages and sent socialists and communists to the first concentration camps such as Dachau, and resolve the ongoing business-labour crisis to the exclusive benefit of big business. Not unlike what has happened in North America and throughout Europe in recent years, Hitler resolved Germany’s domestic capitalist crisis by crushing unions and attacking labour while removing any obstacles to exploitation, profit and wealth accumulation. In the Third Reich class consciousness was replaced with national-racial consciousness. The Nazis’ driving geopolitical aim was the destruction of the “Judeo-Bolshevist” Soviet Union. The Nazis ultimately murdered over 20 million Soviets, including 3.3 million out of 5.7 million POWs, destroyed 70,000 villages, 30,000 factories, and the USSR’s 20 largest cities in what Princeton historian Arno Mayer described as a “crusade.”
Certainly Europe is different today than it was in the 1930s, not the least of which, there is no powerful organized opposition to capitalism, let alone a perceived communist alternative governing the biggest country in the world. While counterrevolutionary movements, as political scientist Corey Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind, has noted, often have contempt for the ruling elites - which they decry as decadent and inept – as much as they fear revolution, a ruling regime is unlikely to employ fascism – which has little regard for the rule of law* – as a barricade to revolution even if there is no revolution at hand.
*How else (but "fascist") can one describe the undemocratic nature of the 2007-09 multi-trillion dollar bailouts of criminal financial conglomerates (was the public consulted as to whether they wanted their tax money used for such nefarious purposes?), the shameless suppression of the Occupy Wall Street movement, spying and on and containment of Environmentalists, and the daunting surveillance state that presently exists worldwide, thanks to the revelations of Edward Snowden.
Notwithstanding Polanyi’s description of how fascism waited in the hallways during periods of market stability, growing fascist movements today will likely wait in the economically depressed wings (Svoboda in the Ukraine occupies 8% of Parliament, while Golden Dawn occupies 6% of Greece’s Parliament, not mentioning the movements in Hungary, Austria, France, and the Netherlands) until they are called upon to destroy a serious (or even potentially serious) political threat from the anti-capitalist left should one arise.
Final Comments and Further Reading:
The term “fascism” has been cavalierly tossed about by pundits on both the left and right, to the point of losing its historical meaning and conceptual clarity. Rather, it has become a catch-all for reactionary social movements and political antics of individuals, allowing the more dangerous causal factors such as capitalism, militarism, imperialism, patriotism and so on to remain in a shadow or otherwise assumed and thereby neglected. Fascism is a political ideology on the right of the political continuum and comes in many forms; one size does not fit all, tempting as such an analysis might be. Nor is there an historical line drawn in the sand, the crossing of which acts to confirm the genuine article. One thing history has shown is that conservatives from various sectors of the power elite have been the facilitating factor in bringing fascists to political power. This was clearly what happened in the case of Franco's rise to power in the events leading up to and in the aftermath of the brutal Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 which led to the demolition of the short-lived Spanish Republic in Spain and Hitler rise to power in Germany in 1933. In fact it was the military and financial support of Hitler and Mussolini in the Spanish Civil War and the unashamed abandonment of the Republic by the European capitalist democracies that led to the Republican defeat by the fascist forces of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War.
Fascism did not spontaneously arise like a genie from a magical bottle with, for example, Mussolini’s Italy in the 1920s. Fascistic-appearing practices have been experienced earlier, as noted in Barrington Moore’s superb essay, “Totalitarian Elements in Pre-Industrial Societies,” in his Political Power and Social Theory. But such requisite practices, from Red Scares and Communist witch hunts in North America following the two World Wars, to political hooliganism such as McCarthyism, to ideological force-feeding, whether earlier, or more recently, in nonindustrial settings, such as Spain and Portugal, have lacked what was exhibited on the structural level, first, in Italy, and then, Germany. The more rigorous organization of the business system, politically inspired and executed through government in collaboration with leading segments of the industrial and financial communities - a state formation better to serve business needs in its particulars, but more basic the treatment of capitalism as a systemic consideration, its problems, societal tensions, means of self-propagation on increasingly more monopolistic lines, all with the context of international politics and economic always in mind. This is the level on which fascism as a meaningful construct operates, not the hate-mongering and rants of a KKK klavern, John Birch Society or a Kiwanis club luncheon. That may seem obvious, but in practice we underestimate the locus of power in modern society, what one could call the standard interpenetration of business and government, and go after, rather, the kooks, who, although not harmless, are, whether or not they realize, the shock troops of an advanced capitalism in need of a climate of fear both to prosecute wars and unload surplus production onto anaesthetized, docile and credulous consumers.
Much has been written about the growth of fascism that led to Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. For those readers interested in pursuing a conceptual interpretation of fascism I highly recommend Robert O Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism. One can also read Lawrence Britt's succinct synopsis called Fascism Anyone posted online here.