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Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Scapegoat for Hitlerism.

Better Dead than Red.

The American Right has been desperate lately to promote the view that fascism, particularly the notorious Hitlerite variant known to us all as Nazism, was and is a left-wing movement. There is a tendency on the American Right to try and scapegoat the Left as the source of all problems. And the motivations of this, appear to be strictly partisan as usual and are probably part of the "culture war" that conservatives have waged since the early 1990s. Though, it could be more than just partisan politics, this could be an attempt of the American Right to distance themselves from the "dirty word" of fascism and turn the word against the liberals, who are all too enthusiastic to hurl it against the likes of the Bush administration. Some have even gone as far as distorting the political spectrum, so that left and right are determined according to the statism and individualism of the ideology. This would mean that fascism and socialism are both left-wing, as they are ideologically statist, whereas conservatism and libertarianism are right-wing because they are supposedly anti-statist and individualistic.

There are more flimsy arguments in favour of this view, such as the fact that the Nazis' full title was the National Socialist German Workers' Party and from that we should conclude that the Nazis were socialists. According to that logic, North Korea is democratic as it's official title is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The Nazis viewed communism as part of an international Jewish Bolshevik conspiracy. Though, it is true that the national socialists were opposed to laissez-faire capitalism, as they regarded it as "decadent" and associated it with Judaism. It should be noted that fascist movements tend to utilise socialistic titles, slogans and rhetoric in order to gain popular support from the working-class. This is particularly true of the fascist movements of the 1930s, as socialism still carried a considerable moral weight and appealed to many working-class people. The same can be argued in regard to national syndicalism, the labour movement associated with the Italian Fascists, the official ideology of the Falanges in Spain.

It was in 2008 that a conservative writer named Jonah Goldberg published a book entitled Liberal Fascism. Since then the pundits at Fox News, as well as radio hosts Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh, have jumped on the idea. Though, Michael Savage once called George Bush a "fiscal socialist" and referred to the Republicans as Mensheviks, the smaller faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party that ultimately lost to the Bolsheviks. So it's not surprising that Savage has leaped on this argument. Whereas, Rush Limbaugh has used it to attack Obama's health-care reforms drawing a comparison with the National Socialist policy on health-care. Though, what Limbaugh neglected to mention in his rant is that every developed country in the world except for the United States and South Africa has some form of a national health service. The same can be said of Glenn Beck, who has even promoted a documentary The Revolutionary Holocaust which draws comparisons between Stalinism and National Socialism.

In regards to the arguments that draw analogies between fascism and communism, based on the similarities between the actions of fascist and communist states, there is a major flaw which is often overlooked. According to Marxist theory, revolution could only occur within developed capitalist societies and this would exclude Tsarist Russia, as it was not a fully developed capitalist society when the "October Revolution" took place. Lenin was well aware of this, but the "Revolution" he led in Russia was not intended to take the country into socialism, it was intended as a "holding action" to prepare the society for the "Revolution" which would take place in the most advanced capitalist country. To Lenin, Russian society required a vanguard which could "push" society through capitalism to socialism and eventually to communism. This is the reason that Lenin utilised tools of oppression to crush political opposition and to destroy instruments of workers' democracy such as unions, worker councils and even soviets ironically. Therefore, it could be said that Marxist-Leninist regimes are not communist states.

In a rebuttal to his numerous critics, Jonah Goldberg has claimed that no one has successfully "rebutted" the argument that fascism is left-wing as it rejects traditionalism and laissez-faire capitalism, while embracing statism. First of all, to claim that fascists rejected traditionalism is a simplistic generalisation. Goldberg is ignoring the way in which fascists "intervened" in culture. In the case of Nazi Germany, this included the banning of so-called "degenerate art" and the creation of "Positive Christianity", which was a form of Christianity compatible with national socialism. Let alone, the persecution of homosexuals, banning of birth control literature and abortion that was typical of fascist states. Though, abortions were permitted and "encouraged" as part of Nazi eugenics for the stated purpose of "racial hygiene". Under fascist governments, women were marginalised to the role of housewives, the importance of child-bearing was emphasised greatly. Surely, these practices only differ from traditionalism in that they are more extreme.

Better Blue than You.

This may be because fascism is more of a palingenetic ideology, which Roger Griffin differentiates fascism from the rest of the Right, palingenesis is the "rebirth" or "reincarnation" of something. In fascism, it is the rebirth of a glorious imperial past, with an emphasis on cultural, military and racial superiority. This is the reason that Nazi Germany was referred to as the Third Reich as it was seen as the Third reincarnation of the Holy Roman Empire, the Second Reich being the German Empire. It could be argued that Italy's invasion of Ethiopia was palingenetic, as it was an attempt to recreate the Roman Empire in the 20th Century. The same could be said of Franco's struggle to hang onto the remnants of the Spanish Empire. There is no such palingenetic characteristic among socialist and anarchist movements. The only exception that comes to mind, is the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia. Though, it should be noted that the Khmer Rouge ideology was more of a radical combination of communism and nationalism than communism; the aim of the Khmer Rouge was to return Cambodia to it's glorious past as an invaluable part of the Khmer Empire.

In the symbolism of the fascist movements, which is typically nationalistic, there is evidence of this palingenetic tendency, as it relates to the past of the country. The colours red, white and black that are used in Nazi symbolism originate in the flag of Imperial Germany. The Swastika has it's roots in pre-Christian mythology and folklore of Europe. The word fascism derives from the Latin word "fasces" meaning "bundle". But the symbol fasces, which consists of a bundle of rods tied around an axe, which was included on the Fascist Italian flag, was a symbol of authority in Ancient Rome. The symbols of the Falanges, a bunch of arrows tied together by a yoke, and the Greek Fascists, a double-headed axe once used in Ancient Greece, are also palingenetic. Communist symbolism like the hammer and sickle carry connotations of the industrial and agricultural working-class. The colour red was chosen for communist flags as it is symbolic of the blood of the working-class spilt in the class struggle.

Now let's assess the notion that fascism is left-wing as it is a statist and totalitarian ideology. If we define the Right as focused on individual liberty and a small government consistent with a market economy, where does this leave right-wing dictators like Augusto Pinochet on the political spectrum. The Pinochet regime in Chile stood for individual liberty and small government when it came to the economy, but socially the regime has often been compared to fascist states. The Chilean people were totally oppressed, unions were crushed, dissidents were tortured and killed. All the while, Pinochet pursued the privatisation of state-industries, the dismantling of the welfare state and the liberalisation of the markets. On one hand, Pinochet was a monster who killed thousands of his own people; he brought about an economic miracle. In a sense, there is no point at which Pinochet can be placed on this spectrum, as he can be seen as both a fascist and a liberal. It would seem that the Left-Right spectrum, as defined simply by individualism and statism, is overly simplistic as it cannot accommodate neoliberal dictatorships.

On a more sophisticated spectrum fascism could be placed near on the centre-right economically and socially on the authoritarian far-right. There was a great deal of central planning under fascist regimes. However, there was a place for private property and corporations, whereas trade unions and the labour movement were harshly repressed, under such regimes. An exception being Fascist Spain, where there was room for unions but they were subject to state-control.  These fascist regimes had typically corporatist economic policies, which they promoted as a "third way" to capitalism and communism. These policies, some of which today would be regarded as Keynesian, were directed at boosting demand and decreasing unemployment. Mussolini was adored by the business community, the same was true of Hitler and Franco. In fact, corporations like General Motors, Ford, BMW, IBM and Coca-Cola flourished in Nazi Germany. Coca-Cola launched Fanta for the German market and IBM created a traffic management program for the concentration camps.

Perhaps, the American Right are worried about the similarities that can be drawn between the Tea Party Movement and the fascists of the 1930s. Though, we should not mock them, for they are people who have legitimate reasons to be angry, just like the people of Weimar Germany. But the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck are not spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Instead, they are telling them that there is a "liberal elite" - which have infiltrated the government and the media - that is "clogging" the functions of the free-market and preventing the whole country from flourishing. This is similar to the 2006 demonstrations against the Socialist Party in Hungary, the participants of these demonstrations believed that Hungary had yet to achieve "true capitalism". For them, the only way to realise capitalism is to "purge" society of all communists posing as captains of industry. Just like the Hungarian populists, which aimed at repeating the "Velvet Revolution", the Tea Party Movement aims to embody the spirit of the Boston Tea Party and the "American Revolution" through palingenesis.

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Anonymous said...

I always motivated by you, your opinion and attitude, again, thanks for this nice post.

- Norman

Anonymous said...

excellent points and the details are more specific than somewhere else, thanks.

- Murk