The stench of new face of fas­cism

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY RICHARD DEATON GUEST OPIN­ION Richard Deaton, lives in Stan­ley Bridge and has a Ph. D. in In­dus­trial and Busi­ness Stud­ies from the Univer­sity of War­wick, U.K.

The stench of fas­cism is upon the land. Or, is it? The rise of Don­ald Trump in the U.S. with his fact-free speeches, Marine Le Pen in France, the Golden Dawn in Greece, and right-wing Ul­tra­Ortho­dox set­tlers in Is­rael, amongst oth­ers, all with their shrill racial rhetoric, and threats of violence, beg ques­tions about the na­ture of democ­racy and the rise of fas­cism in coun­tries with a demo­cratic tra­di­tion. But are th­ese groups fas­cists, or just me­dia- savvy Know-Noth­ings?

Many years ago my par­ents gave me a copy of Sin­clair Lewis’s clas­sic 1935 novel, It Can’t Hap­pen Here, about the elec­tion of a dem­a­gogic pop­ulist fas­cist as pres­i­dent of the U.S. What needs to be em­pha­sized is that in this novel fas­cism comes to the U.S. through elec­tions. How­ever, con­trary to what most peo­ple think, Hitler was demo­crat­i­cally elected (the Bavar­ian peas­ant party cast­ing the de­cid­ing votes).

So what is fas­cism? How do we de­fine it? The term is thrown about so im­pre­cisely that it loses any mean­ing. The Amer­i­can me­dia has re­ferred to Trump as the “New Furor” (pun in­tended), while the lib­eral Is­raeli news­pa­per Haaretz refers to right-wing Ul­tra-Ortho­dox set­tlers and their violence as theo­cratic fas­cists.

Defin­ing fas­cism is dif­fi­cult and of­ten de­pends on the na­tional and his­tor­i­cal con­text. Fas­cism as a po­lit­i­cal move­ment is com­plex and takes dif­fer­ent forms — that is, there are a va­ri­ety of fas­cisms — as many his­to­ri­ans have noted. There is a ten­dency how­ever, to equate au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism, dic­ta­tor­ship, and racism, with fas­cism. But th­ese are not syn­ony­mous. Nor does fas­cism nec­es­sar­ily have to be racist or anti-Semitic.

So what is fas­cism? Fas­cism is a spe­cific statist ide­ol­ogy, which may or may not be racist in a par­tic­u­lar na­tional con­text, and is based on a par­tic­u­lar form of eco­nomic or­ga­ni­za­tion. His­to­ri­ans and econ­o­mists have iden­ti­fied those com­mon­al­i­ties which de­fine fas­cism from other eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tions.

Fas­cism takes both po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic forms. In terms of eco­nomic or­ga­ni­za­tion fas­cism is statist in that it at­tempts to rec­on­cile the dif­fer­ing eco­nomic and class in­ter­ests of gov­ern­ment (state), the busi­ness sec­tor (cap­i­tal­ists), and unions and work­ers (labour).

Ger­many, Italy and Ja­pan are of­ten viewed as the stereo­typ­i­cal fas­cist mod­els, how­ever there were sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences be­tween them; Spain un­der Franco was an ex­am­ple Cler­i­cal Fas­cism. The fas­cism of the 1930s of­ten ex­hib­ited three com­mon­al­i­ties. First, the mid­dle-class, and ini­tially the work­ing class, sup­ported the rise of fas­cist gov­ern­ments as a re­sult of their de­te­ri­o­rat­ing eco­nomic po­si­tion and their de­sire for so­cial sta­bil­ity. Sec­ond, a re­pres­sive po­lit­i­cal ap­pa­ra­tus was used against in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion, such as the con­cen­tra­tion camps in Ger­many; and third, of­ten a reliance upon a na­tional “cre­ation myth” such as the Ja­panese be­ing de­scen­dants of the Sun God, the Ger­man Volk, or Ital­ians glo­ri­fy­ing an­cient Rome. To­day the He­brew “Cho­sen Peo­ple” in­voked by Is­raeli set­tlers is the same.

Italy is an in­ter­est­ing case in point. Anti-Semitism was never part of Ital­ian fas­cist ide­ol­ogy or its pro­gram. Mus­solini once fa­mously said,” We are Fas­cists, not anti-Semites.” He also had a Jewish mis­tress. Mus­solini took power in 1922, but his regime did not be­come of­fi­cially an­ti­Semitic un­til 1938 as a re­sult of Ger­man pres­sure. As his­to­rian Susan Zuc­cotti (Columbia Univer­sity) has writ­ten in her, The Ital­ians and the Holo­caust, “Many [Ital­ian] Jews were loyal Fas­cists from the start” and “many Jewish busi­ness­men … helped fi­nance the fledg­ling Fas­cist move­ment”; many Ital­ian fas­cist lit­er­ary mag­a­zines of that era had Jewish ed­i­tors.

But it is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous for peo­ple to con­fuse form and con­tent when defin­ing fas­cism. History does not have to re­peat it­self with black jack boots, torch­light pa­rades or swastikas to be fas­cist or Nazis. History rarely re­peats it­self or takes the same form.

The new right-wing dem­a­gogues in var­i­ous coun­tries rep­re­sent the frus­tra­tions and fears of their po­lit­i­cal base. By overus­ing and abus­ing the term fas­cism we run the risk of “cry­ing wolf.”

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