John Vachon Paramount Theater and dairy truck, 44th Street, NYC 1943
Like most of you, I too see an increase in the use of the term ‘fascism’ in the media, and it is -almost- always linked to the rise of Donald Trump in the US and various politicians and parties in Europe, Le Pen in France, Wilders in Holland, Erdogan in Turkey, plus a pretty bewildering and motley crew of ‘groups’ in Eastern Europe (Hungary’s Orban) and Scandinavia. I guess you could throw in Nigel Farage and UKIP in Britain as well.
And while I -sort of- understand why the term is used the way it is, and it’s not possible to say it’s used wrong simply because ‘fascism’ knows so many different interpretations and definitions, very few of which can be classified as definitely wrong, that doesn’t mean that just because you’re not definitely wrong, you’re therefore right, and certainly not comprehensive or complete. And there’s a story in there that deserves to be told. Who is really the fascist? From Wikipedia:
George Orwell wrote in 1944 that “the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless … almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist'”. Richard Griffiths said in 2005 that “fascism” is the “most misused, and over-used word, of our times”. “Fascist” is sometimes applied to post-war organizations and ways of thinking that academics more commonly term “neo-fascist”.
I’m inclined to venture that ‘terrorism’ is a good second for most misused word, but something tells me that once you get into economics and the way terms like ‘stimulus’, ‘unemployment’ and ‘inflation’ are used, this is an argument that would never end. Let’s stick with ‘fascism’ for now.
The prevalent definition -and public notion- of fascism today is connected first and foremost to Adolf Hitler, to the Holocaust, the SS and other German WWII ‘phenomena’. And it’s quite something to link Trump or Le Pen to that, even if they say things at times that may make you shudder. It seems at least a tad hyperbolic, no matter how much you may not like these people. Neither is responsible for the deaths of millions of people.
What’s more interesting, because it can provide perspective, is to look at what fascism is (or was) prior to, and beyond, Hitler and Germany. One man stands out in this: Benito Mussolini, Italian prime minister slash wannabe dictator from 1922 till 1943, who’s even often labeled the founder of fascism (though its roots go back much further). But for Mussolini, fascism was not what Hitler has made us define it as.
For Mussolini, fascism was much more about corporatism (or corporativism, or fascist corporatism), of letting corporations write, define and perhaps even execute a country’s economic policies. And have a strong man -he meant himself- coordinate these policies in government. Where civil servants would inflict them on the people. Mussolini’s idea(l) of fascism was very nationalistic, but also -surprisingly?- anti-conservative. It was “against the backwardness of the right and the destructiveness of the left”.
“Fascism, sitting on the right, could also have sat on the mountain of the center … These words in any case do not have a fixed and unchanged meaning: they do have a variable subject to location, time and spirit. We don’t give a damn about these empty terminologies and we despise those who are terrorized by these words.”
Hitler, in his early days, remained very close to Mussolini’s (and other people’s) definitions. Nazism stands for national socialism.
But what I’m really trying to get at is that if you look closer at these definitions and interpretations, you can made a solid case that it’s not Trump and Le Pen who are the fascists, but instead the present incumbents in our governments, as well as those belonging to the same political class and parties as them, and who aspire to one day fill their seats and shoes.
That the fact that politics and economics (‘politico-economics’) can no longer be seen as separate entities, as I argued recently in “The Only Thing That Grows Is Debt”, conforms pretty much one-on-one to Mussolini’s definition of fascism.
‘Politico-economics’ (a.k.a corporatism) is our present form of government, even of organizing our entire societies, and it’s the very thing people protest against when they vote for Trump and Le Pen (and against Cameron when they vote for Brexit). This would seem to put the claim that Trump is a fascist on its head. Trump is the reaction to fascism as defined by Mussolini, as are le Pen and Orban and Wilders and the others, even as they are accused of being fascists themselves.
Corporations, the elite, govern our societies, no matter that there is still a thin veneer of democratic rights -barely- visible. It makes no difference in the States whether you vote Democratic or Republican, they are the same thing – except for a few intentionally well-conserved minor details.
The same is true all across Europe. In Greece, left-wing Syriza governs in a coalition with very-right-wing Independent Greeks. In Holland, former adversaries from the left and right sit happily in a cabinet and nobody thinks that’s strange. That why people like Le Pen and Wilders and Trump can become what they are today. There is a politico-economic vacuum.
The former differences between parties don’t matter anymore because on major issues politicians have no decision-making voice, they simply do what they are told. And if they do that well, they get handsomely compensated for it. The ultimate paragons of this development are not Trump and le Pen, but Obama, Cameron, both Clintons, Hollande, Merkel, the list is endless because the corporatist takeover is well-nigh complete across the board.
These ‘leaders’ represent a society in which there is no dividing line between politics and economics. They, and their paymasters, have achieved Mussolini’s ideal, something he himself -ironically- never accomplished.
And we could take this argument a step further: even if you would want to talk about the ‘Hitler brand of fascism’, the violence, the large-scale murder, you still have Trump and Le Pen with zero kills to their name, while Obama, Cameron, both Clintons, Hollande, Merkel et al are responsible for hundreds of thousands of lives lost. Just watch what’s coming in the next batch of Clinton emails Wikileaks is set to publish.
In a next step, while we’re at it, we could hold up Mussolini’s fascism ideals and look at what they have in common with trade deals such as TPP and TTiP. Plenty, obviously. Though they are not in sync with the nationalist component of his definition, they do represent a much larger drive than anything that has preceded them in human history, to hand over -the last vestiges of- political power to the corporate sector.
And who’s in favor of these deals? The incumbent politico-economic classes that have taken over our governments. Even as resistance to the deals is surging, they are undoubtedly as we speak scrambling to find ways, legal or not, democratic or not, to push them through. Trump, Le Pen, Wilders want nothing to do with them.
So when I read things like a recent Salon headline:“Fascism is rising in the US and Europe – and Donald Trump is the face of this disturbing new reality”, it makes me think that this is at the very least a little one-sided, if not blind-sided, and for more reasons than one.
Obviously, the sitting parties in Congress want nothing more than for Trump to be branded a fascist. Which is why Hillary Clinton not long ago compared him to Adolf Hitler. Through a wider philosophical and historical lens, there are two issues with that claim. First, Trump hasn’t killed anyone. Second, the person making the claim has.
The problem for Hillary is that a lot of Americans understand this. And that because of this such claims have started to backfire in a 180º turnaround. You can witness the same process in Britain’s Brexit debate, and in many other countries.
I’m not writing this to support Trump or Le Pen, they’re not my kind of people at all. But neither is Hillary. I write it to warn people away from vacuous claims and statements. Which are not only dishonest, they have started to support the very people they’re made against. The political climate is changing, because the economy is tanking.
And I write this to indicate that fascism may well already be amongst us, and it would be a good idea if we learned to recognize it. To suggest that perhaps, if we’re honest, Hillary is closer to Mussolini than Trump is to Hitler.
Look, we could talk our faces blue about the differences and analogies between fascism and racism, something the ‘new right wing’ seems to have plenty of, and something Muhammad Ali’s death and yesterday’s Orlando massacre should teach us yet another lesson about. And we could talk about what they might potentially do if/when they acquire political power. But none of that makes these people fascists. Whereas the other side of the equation, the incumbents…