Sunday, January 16, 2005

Defining Fascism

by Andrew Young

To start with, a bit about my history to put my view of Nazi Germany in context. I grew up as a post-WW2 baby boomer military brat and son to WW2 Royal Air Force veterans. I spent part of my childhood at the "Head Quarters" Camp of "RAF Germany" and I can remember the fear of a possible WW3 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and our, retrospectively totally inadequate, preparation of our cellar as a fallout shelter. Europe was still very poor during the early 1960s and it was still very clearly recovering from widespread WW2 destruction, but our standard of living, as military occupiers, was quite high. We had long holidays and subsidized fuel coupons for our vehicles. At a young age, I chatted to friendly adult Germans in the local hotel we stayed in for several months waiting for a married quarter on the base. The hotel, with a pretty water mill, had been a Nazi HQ with a cute wooden barn lined with reinforced concrete to hide a Panzer in. A pillbox, a short walk down the millstream, had been destroyed in action in 1945. Huge bomb craters were everywhere in the woods and were great fun to play in.

We could shop in the American Forces "PX" stores in the US occupation zone were we could buy luxurious things not yet produced in Europe. On visiting Berlin via the "corridor" we could tour the Western sights and also visit the still heavily war damaged East Berlin with a British military escort, a thoroughly creepy experience. In South Eastern Germany we visited Berchtesgaden, The Eagle's Nest and some of the subterranean bunkers, which was all very impressive for a small boy. Nonaligned communist Yugoslavia, under General Tito, was a different sort of place to holiday in. Ex-fascist Italy was not very nice we thought. The still fascist Spain, under General Franco, was our preferred choice for a holiday destination. France, as a country, simply got in the way between West Germany and the North East Coast of Spain. Out of my generation of English children who seldom traveled outside the UK, I think that my exposure to most of the countries and cultures of "free" Europe gave me a rather different viewpoint to that of many of my contemporaries.

As a child, I remember that the causes of WW1 were taught in school but that WW2 was too recent and was not yet "history". During my adult life, therefore, I have witnessed the conscious national creation of an "acceptable version" of the story surrounding WW2, which has now become our "history". This experience has taught me to be profoundly skeptical about what many "historians" choose to select concerning historical events and especially the oversimplification of WW2 history.

The uncomfortable truth is that fascism can be very attractive to very many people. There were many fascists in the UK and USA before WW2, not just famous ones like the Bush family and like Oswald Mosley in the UK. Europe came very close to being voluntarily fascist during the 1930s in a block including Germany, Austria, the UK, France, Italy and Spain. We might well have had a fascist EU! Fascism genuinely seemed to be a better answer than "democracy" to many people at the time. Hitler was honestly admired in the UK during the early 1930s for getting people back to work following the economic crash of 1929 and for schemes like the Autobahn network, which was still very impressive during my childhood. When I think about how we all felt in those early years following WW2 I realize now that actually we were all just a little bit fascist at heart. We were all intensely patriotic, nationalistic, proud of our British tribe and proud of our imperial past. Later in boarding school back in the UK I remember being in the CCF (Combined Cadet Force) where we dressed up in surplus WW2 Battle Dress and carried out military drill. We learnt to shoot with WW2 rifles, played martial music and we held ecstatic torch-lit parades at night when we won a shooting prize. So we all generally behaved like good little Hitler Youth.

Some people will say that we should not throw all the versions of fascism together into one pot. That fascism in Japan was different from Italian fascism which was also different from Spanish fascism and the Nazi Party in Germany.

That Neo-Nazi Bush is not exactly like Hitler or like US "white supremacist" groups or the Ku-Klux Klan. This is all true to an extent but the real point is that the seductive core of national pride, of the superiority of "our group" and of being part of something greater than your own "self" is common to all forms of this mass-psychosis of fascism. The individual surrenders their concept of "self" to group control in a profoundly lazy and morally risky way. The group surrenders their collective control to the "leader" who develops a "triumph of the will". The real danger of fascism is that the individual citizen loses their moral compass and surrenders all freewill and the ability to make moral choices to any figure in authority. This was what clearly happened in the recent torture cases carried out by US military forces. A figure in authority told them to behave in an immoral way and they complied without hesitation or any feelings of guilt; this is just one major downside to surrendering to the comfortable ecstasy of fascism.

The spirit of the American and French revolutions was one of individual freedom and of overcoming the autocratic tyranny of feudalism. "Liberty, equality, fraternity" in France and "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" from a self-evidently "equal" people in the USA are clearly all ideas of the Enlightenment. The Italian fascist slogan of "to believe, to obey, to combat" was a return to an earlier era where "the peasants should no longer be revolting".

We must never underestimate the desire of many weak-minded people to be dominated however and of a few relatively strong-minded people to do the domination. In the USA, children are presently brainwashed from a very young age to offer unquestioning allegiance to the state: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." While this pledge might have been useful to the USA just after the Civil War, it reminds Europeans of the pledges given by our own citizens to totalitarian state authorities in the 1930s and 1940s.

What are some other dangers of fascism and of the domination of the many by the few? Well, if the "few" were very clever indeed and the "many" extremely stupid it might just work to some advantage to society. This is never the case, however. Fascism creates social tension. A lot of willful people naturally resent domination by the few, especially when the few are very obviously imbeciles. Sebastian Haffner in his book "The Meaning of Hitler" (rather than his unfinished "Defying Hitler") makes the point that Hitler was always an idiot and he was just lucky between 1933 and 1940 when he had endless apparent success. It was not that Hitler was brilliant, as many were seduced into thinking at the time, but that he was essentially unchallenged so he succeeded without effort. As soon as Hitler was seriously challenged by a stubborn UK and later by a stubborn USSR, he showed his inherent lack of judgment again and again. Unlike Hitler, Bush has never seemed to be a success for any period during his life, which makes his recent reelection appear to be all the more surprising. Bush was lucky that he could launch his fascist revolution on the back of 9/11 and he may have been lucky in the short term in his invasion of Afghanistan. However in Iraq Bush has clearly showed his stupidity and his lack of judgment, just like Hitler did when challenged by a stubborn enemy that refused to give up.

What then of the economic consequences of feudalism and fascism? Frankly they are not good. Fascism is sometimes called "gangster economics" and, like in a Mafia family, it only really pays to be at the top of the economic pyramid. The privileged oligarchy wallows in luxury while the peasant class toils endlessly to sustain them. This provides insufficient motivation for the peasants to create a surplus of wealth so economic stagnation sets in. There is no need for an educated Middle Class of people who are not in the "warrior" business and a 2-class society develops. Marauding bands of "warrior-like" economic parasites asserting domination by force have been the bane of the development of peaceful human civilization for thousands of years. Like the Mafia, fascism can also go in for illegal invasions across "territorial borders" to "asset strip" others. This is an unsustainable form of economic growth in the long-term as resistance to blatant theft becomes increasingly stubborn and fierce. Between states it means war and within a state it eventually means revolution. Hitler was driving the German economy towards bankruptcy even before the start of the real war in September 1939. Bush also appears to be hell-bent on bankrupting the USA. For Bush it is very doubtful that 18th and 19th Century British style Imperialism could still be attempted in the 21st Century, with trade wealth pouring into the central hub from the colonies. Bush shows no sign of being Machiavellian enough to pull it off. Or to pick his target list of "countries to acquire" wisely enough to generate a reasonably stable and docile Empire like the British achieved over a period of about 200 years. Indeed, if we regard "Globalization" as the true hidden nature of the present "American Economic Empire" then this reckless military adventurism in the Middle East may well have injured future prospects for it severely. Bush, by making his Imperialism explicit instead of implicit has let the proverbial cat out of the bag. Therefore, antiglobalization resistance to US hegemony and to the rather foolishly openly stated aim of "full-spectrum military and economic dominance of the globe and space" will probably now only grow exponentially.

2 Comments:

At 1/19/2005 7:56 AM , Blogger ProgressivePatriot said...

This is a great article, in that, one can absolutely link this to present day America. I especially like the description of mrauding parasites....it fits so well!!

 
At 1/19/2005 2:09 PM , Blogger wanda said...

I feel like I've had a history lesson and a lesson in reality. Both eye opening.
With the recent uproar over the pledge of alliegence I have often wondered what would happen if a child were to step up and say, "I don't want to do the flag pledge". Would he or she be forced to? Either actively by the teacher or parent, or by pressure from all sides from his peers. Agged on my thier parents and other adults.
I know that most Amerians have no idea how facist-like our society of today has become.
Thanks for an interesting and enlighting post.
Wanda ( Words on A Page )

 

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