Fascism Defined: Parallels with the New American Ideology?
Posted 09 March 2003 - 10:42 PM
From: NLG Civil Liberties Committee
by Chip Berlet
This article is adapted from the author's preface to Russ Bellant's book "Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party," co-published by South End Press and Political Research Associates.
"Fascism, which was not afraid to call itself reactionary... does not hesitate to call itself illiberal and anti-liberal."
We have all heard of the Nazis_but our image is usually a caricature of a brutal goose-stepping soldier wearing a uniform emblazoned with a swastika. Most people in the U.S. are aware that the U.S. and its allies fought a war against the Nazis, but there is much more to know if one is to learn the important lessons of our recent history.
Technically, the word NAZI was the acronym for the National Socialist German Worker's Party. It was a fascist movement that had its roots in the European nationalist and socialist movements, and that developed a grotesque biologically-determinant view of so-called "Aryan" supremacy. (Here we use "national socialism" to refer to the early Nazi movement before Hitler came to power, sometimes termed the "Brownshirt" phase, and the term "Nazi" to refer to the movement after it had consolidated around ideological fascism.)
The seeds of fascism, however, were planted in Italy. "Fascism is reaction," said Mussolini, but reaction to what? The reactionary movement following World War I was based on a rejection of the social theories that formed the basis of the 1789 French Revolution, and whose early formulations in this country had a major influence on our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
It was Rousseau who is best known for crystallizing these modern social theories in . The progeny of these theories are sometimes called Modernism or Modernity because they challenged social theories generally accepted since the days of Machiavelli. The response to the French Revolution and Rousseau, by Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and others, poured into an intellectual stew which served up Marxism, socialism, national socialism, fascism, modern liberalism, modern conservatism, communism, and a variety of forms of capitalist participatory democracy.
Fascists particularly loathed the social theories of the French Revolution and its slogan: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."
*** Liberty from oppressive government intervention in the daily lives of its citizens, from illicit searches and seizures, from enforced religious values, from intimidation and arrest for dissenters; and liberty to cast a vote in a system in which the majority ruled but the minority retained certain inalienable rights.
*** Equality in the sense of civic equality, egalitarianism, the notion that while people differ, they all should stand equal in the eyes of the law.
*** Fraternity in the sense of the brotherhood of mankind. That all women and men, the old and the young, the infirm and the healthy, the rich and the poor, share a spark of humanity that must be cherished on a level above that of the law, and that binds us all together in a manner that continuously re-affirms and celebrates life.
This is what fascism as an ideology was reacting against_and its support came primarily from desperate people anxious and angry over their perception that their social and economic position was sinking and frustrated with the constant risk of chaos, uncertainty and inefficiency implicit in a modern democracy based on these principles. Fascism is the antithesis of democracy. We fought a war against it not half a century ago; millions perished as victims of fascism and champions of liberty.
"One of the great lies of this century is that in the 1930's Generalissimo Franco in Spain was primarily a nationalist engaged in stopping the Reds. Franco was, of course, a fascist who was aided by Mussolini and Hitler."
"The history of this period is a press forgery. Falsified news manipulates public opinion. Democracy needs facts.
_George Seldes Hartland Four Corners, Vermont, March 5, 1988
Fascism was forged in the crucible of post-World War I nationalism in Europe. The national aspirations of many European peoples_nations without states, peoples arbitrarily assigned to political entities with little regard for custom or culture_had been crushed after World War I. The humiliation imposed by the victors in the Great War, coupled with the hardship of the economic Depression, created bitterness and anger. That anger frequently found its outlet in an ideology that asserted not just the importance of the nation, but its unquestionable primacy and central predestined role in history.
In identifying "goodness" and "superiority" with "us," there was a tendency to identify "evil" with "them." This process involves scapegoating and dehumanization. It was then an easy step to blame all societal problems on "them," and presuppose a conspiracy of these evildoers which had emasculated and humiliated the idealized core group of the nation. To solve society's problems one need only unmask the conspirators and eliminate them.
In Europe, Jews were the handy group to scapegoat as "them." Anti- Jewish conspiracy theories and discrimination against Jews were not a new phenomenon, but most academic studies of the period note an increased anti-Jewish fervor in Europe, especially in the late 1800's. In France this anti-Jewish bias was most publicly expressed in the case of Alfred Dreyfus, a French military officer of Jewish background, who in 1894 was falsely accused of treason, convicted (through the use of forged papers as evidence) and imprisoned on Devil's Island. Zola led a noble struggle which freed Dreyfus and exposed the role of anti-Jewish bigotry in shaping French society and betraying the principles on which France was building its democracy.
Italy was the birthplace of fascist ideology. Mussolini, a former socialist journalist, organized the first fascist movement in 1919 at Milan. In 1922 Mussolini led a march on Rome, was given a government post by the king, and began transforming the Italian political system into a fascist state. In 1938 he forced the last vestige of democracy, the Council of Deputies, to vote themselves out of existence, leaving Mussolini dictator of fascist Italy.
This obsession with a racialism not only afflicted the German Nazis, but also several eastern European nationalist and fascist movements including those in Croatia, Slovakia, Serbia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Ukraine. Anti-Jewish bigotry was rampant in all of these racialist movements, as was the idea of a link between Jewish financiers and Marxists. Even today the tiny Anti-communist Confederation of Polish Freedom Fighters in the U.S.A. uses the slogan "Communism is Jewish."
One element shared by all fascist movements, racialist or not, is the apparent lack of consistent political principle behind the ideology_political opportunism in the most basic sense. One virtually unique aspect of fascism is its ruthless drive to attain and hold state power. On that road to power, fascists are willing to abandon any principle to adopt an issue more in vogue and more likely to gain converts.
What distinguishes Nazism from generic fascism is its obsession with racial theories of superiority, and some would say, its roots in the socialist theory of proletarian revolution.
Fascism and Nazism as ideologies involve, to varying degrees, some of the following hallmarks:
*** Nationalism and super-patriotism with a sense of historic mission.
*** Aggressive militarism even to the extent of glorifying war as good for the national or individual spirit.
*** Use of violence or threats of violence to impose views on others (fascism and Nazism both employed street violence and state violence at different moments in their development).
*** Authoritarian reliance on a leader or elite not constitutionally responsible to an electorate.
*** Cult of personality around a charismatic leader.
*** Reaction against the values of Modernism, usually with emotional attacks against both liberalism and communism.
*** Exhortations for the homogeneous masses of common folk (Volkish in German, Populist in the U.S.) to join voluntarily in a heroic mission_often metaphysical and romanticized in character.
*** Dehumanization and scapegoating of the enemy_seeing the enemy as an inferior or subhuman force, perhaps involved in a conspiracy that justifies eradicating them.
*** The self image of being a superior form of social organization beyond socialism, capitalism and democracy.
*** Elements of national socialist ideological roots, for example, ostensible support for the industrial working class or farmers; but ultimately, the forging of an alliance with an elite sector of society.
*** Abandonment of any consistent ideology in a drive for state power.
It is vitally important to understand that fascism and Nazism are not biologically or culturally determinant. Fascism does not attach to the gene structure of any specific group or nationality. Nazism was not the ultimate expression of the German people. Fascism did not end with World War II.
This widely-accepted, albeit misleading, historical record has been shaped by filtered media reports and self-serving academic revisionism rooted in an ideological preference for those European nationalist forces which opposed socialism and communism. Since sectors of those nationalist anti-communist forces allied themselves with political fascism, but later became our allies against communism, for collaborationists became the rule, not the exception.
"The great masses of people. . .will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one."
Posted 12 February 2005 - 12:58 AM
The Mothman Prophecies
Posted 13 July 2005 - 05:16 PM
Berlet's game is to idealize fascism and to conceal its true nature. He says it's a reaction to the French revolution. Then how come fascism took 140 years to react to it? He says it's a result of post-WWI European nationalism. European nationalism is a lot older than that.
The two things that created fascism were the Great Depression and the Bolshevik revolution. When the workers of the world began to starve because of the greed of the rich, communism showed them the way out and the Soviet Union stood there to give them encouragement and support. Fascism was the solution of the ruling class for hanging on to its money and power. Blackshirts financed by capitalists were the guard dogs of the rich against the mobilized working class.
The main defining feature of fascism isn't gassing jews or scapegoating. Italian and Spanish fascism never scapegoated anyone. Franco and Mussolini didn't spout any absurd race theories, they just eliminated the enemies of the ruling class. The defining feature of fascism is the totalitarian hegemony of the ruling class over the entire nation. The fascist state merges with the ruling class - the industrial cartels in Germany or a combination of landowners, clergy, and capitalists in Spain - and all the various organs of the body politic submit to it. There is no more independent judiciary or parliament. No academic freedom. No non-governemental organisms except in name. No trade unions except as garrisons of the working class under the command of the fascist government.
The second defining feature of fascism is its anti-rational and antisocial ideology. The only thing that fascism idealizes is violence and the triumph of the strong over the weak. Ideas of justice, equality, and the preservation of peace are anathema to it. The social darwinstic and anti-intellectual ideology of fascism is vital to protect the privileges of the ruling class. The apolitical masses are mystified by the simplistic and brutal message of fascism that promises to solve their problems like Hollywood action heroes do: By killing people, blowing things up, wearing spiffy uniforms, toting big guns, and saluting smartly.
So the US's affinitity for fascism is not recent but of long date. The principal organs of the state have long been controlled by corporations in a way that scandalizes europeans. Trade unions have been either controlled by organized crime or totally toothless ever since Woodrow Wilson's "red scare" when the last dissident trade unionists were locked up in concentration camps. The fascination with violence, militarism, and guns has kept getting stronger despite the short hiatus caused by the defeat in Vietnam. The rabid hatred for any social measure protecting the underprivileged or minorities and the contempt of the poor or jobless has spread out from the militant core of Reagan neoconservatives to the whole of society. And finally, the anti-intellectualism and irrationalism of fascism has taken root in the form of religious fundamentalism.
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