( – promoted by buhdydharma )
Along with “socialism”, “fascism” has become one of the right-wing’s favorite scare word to describe President Obama.
They use the word fascism with an assortment of other scary adjectives. For instance, we have “liberal fascist”, “fascist socialist”, “socialist fascist”, “socialist/fascist/communist”, and my personal favorite, “national socialist fascist communist”.
According to one unscientific, online poll, 91% of conservatives were lumping Obama in with “Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin”.
The problem for the right-wing is their complete and total ignorance of not only the meaning of the word “fascism”, but also of the history surrounding this political and economic movement.
Il Duce, Redux?
The American Spectator jumped the shark and compared Obama directly to Mussolini. What surrounds these charges are what conservatives call “the nationalization of the banks”, because that was supposedly how Mussolini started.
What can you say about a group of people that focus on the smallest, most irrelevant point of economics in order to prove a point that is obviously false?
For instance, Hillyer says “It first started with the take-over of the banks”. Hillyer seems to have forgotten that Mussolini did a few things before that. Such as the March on Rome, i.e. Mussolini’s de facto coup.
Has Obama organized a paramilitary organization of Blackshirts and launched a coup? And wasn’t it President Bush that originally intervened in the banks, not Obama?
These are all rather simple and obvious mistakes by the right-wing and can be laughed off as simple ignorance of history. The real problem is that the right-wing doesn’t seem to have any real understanding of what fascism is. They use it interchangeably with socialism, communism, atheism, and any other word that scares them.
Words mean things. If they didn’t then you might as well be speaking random gibberish or “speaking in tongues”. We can’t have a real discussion unless we have an agreement on what the words actually mean.
Fortunately, there is a clear, historical precedence for fascism. So we can look at their actions and policies to see what defines fascism.
Qualifying a word
A lot of right-wingers like to equate fascism with socialism because the Nazis called themselves National Socialists. My reply to that is if self-imposed labels were “proof” of anything, then East Germany during the Cold War was a Democratic Republic, rather than the totalitarian, communist, puppet state that we remember it being.
Someone can label themselves anything they want to, especially politicians. It doesn’t have to have any relationship with reality.
So if labels don’t mean anything, then what does? My answer is that you judge a movement by three things: it’s enemies, it’s allies, and most of all, it’s actions.
Enemies and Allies
The first Nazi concentration camp was at Dachau. The first 200 prisoners at Dachau were communists.
Dachau was not set up as an extermination camp to murder the Jews, but rather as a camp for political prisoners, mainly Communists and Social Democrats, who were opposed to the Fascist regime of the Nazis.
In August 1922, just a few months before the March on Rome, Mussolini’s Blackshirts crushed an anti-fascist general strike. Mussolini had already made his opinions of the left-wing very clear.
“We declare war on socialism, not because it is socialist, but because it has opposed nationalism….”
– Benito Mussolini, 1921
It’s true that Mussolini was once a socialist, but then Ronald Reagan was once a New Deal Democrat. The question isn’t what they once were, but what they became.
At first, the Fascists [PNF] were concentrated in Milan and a few other cities. They gained ground quite slowly, between 1919 and 1920; not until after the scare, brought about by the workers “occupation of the factories” in the late summer of 1920 did fascism become really widespread. The industrialists began to throw their financial support to it. Moreover, toward the end of 1920, fascism began to spread into the countryside, bidding for the support of large landowners, particularly in the area between Bologna and Ferrara, a traditional stronghold of the Left, and scene of frequent violence. Socialist and Catholic organizer of farm hands in that region, Venezia Giulia, Tuscany, and even distant Apulia, were soon attacked by [Black Shirt] squads of Fascists, armed with castor oil, blackjacks, and more lethal weapons. The era of Squadrismo, and nightly expeditions to burn Socialist and Catholic labor headquarters had begun.
– historian Charles F. Delzell
As for Nazi Germany, they were more kind to the word “socialism”, and as late as 1941 Hitler was still associating himself with it. However, Hitler kicked out the Black Front in 1930 and exterminated all the remaining leftists from the Nazi party on the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.
Like the fascists in Italy, the Nazis in Germany were given overwhelming support from the rich capitalist industrialists. All of them saw fascism as an effective answer to communism.
Without question, the fascists and communists saw themselves as mortal enemies. In fact, Mussolini met his end at the hands of communists. There was no overlap except for the sole fact that they both believed in using a totalitarian state to achieve their objectives. Their objectives were diametrically opposed and incompatible. There was a clear divide between their friends and allies.
To call someone a “fascist communist” is the equivalent of calling them a “pacifist warmonger” or an “atheist christian”. The words make absolutely no sense together.
“If the communist party is the party of revolutionary hope, then fascism, as a mass movement, is the party of counterrevolutionary despair.”
– Leon Trotsky
Actions Speaking Louder
While the list of friends and allies is helpful, the actions and policies is where the rubber meets the road.
Hillyer claims that the “first step” of Mussolini was the state financing for the banks. In fact, that didn’t happen until 1926. Mussolini came to power in 1922. Starting in 1923 the Italian fascists passed such laws as:
* privatizing the life insurance industry
* suppressing the inheritance tax (aka the Death Tax)
* repealing the luxury tax
* slashing taxes on corporate executives by half
* opposed the municipalization of industries
* privatized the state telecommunication system
* suppressed all independent labor unions and outlawed strikes
In other words, the early fascists of Italy carried out most of the current Republican agenda.
Starting in 1927 the fascist policies turned more towards big government work programs. These include the draining of the Pontine Marshes, massive military spending, and building railroads, bridges, and dams. Tariffs were raised to protect domestic industry.
More than anything, fascists believed in corporatism and nationalism. To fascists, whatever they considered to be good for the nation trumped all other concerns. Individuals were just parts in a great machine, to used and disposed of as the state saw fit.
“The basic feature of our economic theory is that we have no theory at all.”
– Adolf Hitler
Unlike the Italian fascists, the German Nazis were not nearly as focused on economics. Early on, the Nazis had many leftists-sounding proposals. Once in power they carried out many Keynesian-type public works programs – such as building the Autobahn and massive military spending.
However, like the Italian fascists, they immediately outlawed independent labor unions and banned strikes. Large companies were favored over small businesses.
The government pursued economic policies that maximized the profits of its business allies, and, in exchange, business leaders supported the government’s political and military goals. While other Western capitalist countries strove for state ownership. Nazi Germany transferred public ownership and public services into the private sector.
On the political side, fascism has contempt for democracy, despite manipulating it to get power. Fascism embraces violence against its enemies both internal and external, and takes a masculine, warrior mentality towards most issues.
Fascism believes that the proletariat is incapable of effectively ruling itself, and instead believed in rule by a merit-based aristocracy.
I’m not going to examine the policies of Italy and Germany after 1939 because once a nation goes to all-out war then its policies also trend towards the extreme. For instance, in both WWI and WWII America went to a system of rationing and suppression of suspected dissidents. These steps would not have happened without a state of war, and I believe that some of the steps Italy and Germany made after 1939 can be attributed to the state of war.
Being right for the wrong reasons
The conservatives in America have so many things wrong in their attempts to label Obama a fascist.
They ignore historical precedents. They take events out of context. They rewrite recent history (in this case, accusing Obama for subsidizing the banks rather than Bush). They even ignore commonly used definitions of the words.
Because of all these obvious fallacies its easy to ignore the irony, and the significance, that their comparison involving banking and fascism has some merit.
After the financial system collapsed in Italy in 1932, the government bailed out the banking system again by buying up its assets at inflated values through the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction. This has some resemblance to how the TARP program was originally designed to function. These assets were mostly businesses that were unable to pay their debts. By 1935, three quarters of all Italian business relied on the government for funding.
It’s interesting to note that the Italian government didn’t become a dominate factor in its economy by design, but by bailing out its failing state banks. The fascist government didn’t nationalize any company.
What instead happened was a partnership between the capitalist companies and the government. Profits would be shared, but the taxpayer would suffer all the risk, much like the recently created PPIP Program is supposed to function for Wall Street.
Only through total and complete ignorance of history have the conservatives been able to prove their point in reverse.
Their warning that the Wall Street bailout was an indication that we are drifting too far to the left – and to fascism, is actually an indication that we are drifting too far to the right – and to fascism.