Democratic Underground  

American Fascism
January 23, 2003
By Andrew Sarchus

The word "fascism" has been bandied about for so long all across the spectrum of the left that the word has lost meaning and impact. Hollering "fascist" on the Left has the same utility as barking "liberal" does on the Right - the words are spoken as universal condemnations of all political opponents. Thus, they muddy rather than clarify debate about the philosophies they represent.

Yet we must examine what has happened to politics and society in the United States since January 2001 to see just how much our national discourse is drawing parallel to the fascism that gripped Italy, Germany, Spain, and (yes) the Soviet Union during the 1930's.

In 2001, the American people were awarded, by judicial fiat, a government that in many ways is repeating the same steps that led to World War and, as Churchill put it, "the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science." If we are to sidestep a new abyss, we must recognize the disturbing similarities between 20th century fascist socio-political behaviors and the thoughts and actions of our current national leaders.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines fascism as "a system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism." Sound familiar? Just on its surface, the Bush regime is following the above definition. Witness the parade of corporate CEOs that now populates the president's cabinet and key advisory bodies. Observe how quickly the Bushites snap at the patriotism of anyone - anyone - who challenges their worldview.

Of course there is much more to bother us about Bush and his corporate brethren when it comes to unnerving historical parallels. For instance, both the Nazi and Soviet regimes of the 1930's paid a great deal of attention to the Law. Stalin had a whole new Constitution written in 1936 and proclaimed it the "most democratic in the world." Which it was on the surface. Only in the details did one notice that the people were the State and the State was the Leader, so only Comrade Stalin had the "freedoms" written in the Soviet Constitution. Nevertheless, Soviet life proceeded under the new Constitution to follow the Law as it was written. In Germany, the Nazis co-opted the judiciary before the Reichstag passed laws stripping Jewish citizens of their rights. And Chancellor Hitler was granted "emergency powers" by the democratically-elected Reichstag that he might become the Fuehrer.

In like fashion, the Bush administration is attempting to re-write or re-interpret laws that have afforded our citizens and non-citizens civil rights protection for almost a generation, while moving to stack our courts with judges that will uphold the "new" laws. What separates fascism from more pedestrian forms of dictatorship is its working to make the legal system a tool of state power. Score one point for the Bushites here. They are following the script.

Next among the hallmarks of fascism is the need to have permanent enemies and scapegoats to blame for national misfortunes. In Soviet Russia, we saw an endless parade of fascists, Socialists, Trotskyites, and "reactionaries" used as justification for massive military expenditures, arrests, executions, and "re-education" camps. Francisco Franco branded as "Communist" any group that fought his hard-right suppression of Spanish democracy. The Nazis raised scapegoating to the ultimate horror in their mass extermination facilities for Jews, gypsies, and anyone else blamed for debasing the German kultur.

Now we have the Bushites doing well at defining Mr. Sadaam as the enemy, although Iraqis have thus far done nothing since the 1991 Gulf War to provoke the U.S. When Sadaam is no longer credible as the enemy, another will take his place, as he took the place of Osama Bin Laden. The official scapegoats for American fascists are homosexuals, judging from the endless paranoiac screeds against their "lifestyle" that fuel the right-wing press. The Bushites tread delicately here, but send their troops the message that "special rights" will not be tolerated for gay Americans--therefore persecution and discrimination against them is really okay, but don't quote us. Smirk.

Which brings us to the mass media. The Nazis were pioneers in using a linkage of popular broadcasting and captive print media to spread their twisted gospel. We still acknowledge Josef Goebbels for his observation that a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. And so it is today, with Fox news, the Washington Times, The Standard, and other right-wing media outlets spewing false stories and twisted statistics so that "average" tax cut amounts apply to everyone, and the University of Michigan operates a "quota" admission system. The less ideologically tilted media take the lead from these distorters. The Bushites, aided by the Republican National Committee, are modern masters of Dr. Goebbels' dictum. In order to find the facts about what is happening in our country, we increasingly must turn to the BBC and Canadian news sources.

Churchill's chilling remark about "perverted science" referred to Nazi attempts to prove that "superhuman" and "subhuman" races existed. Nazi scientists squandered millions of marks measuring foreheads and comparing eye shapes in these efforts. Stalin's scientists attempted, at great human cost, to create a "Soviet" human model using the bogus theory that acquired physical characteristics can be passed along genetically.

Likewise, the Bushites trot forth "scientists" who dispute global warming despite overwhelming evidence. Administration representatives to the United Nations scoff at human nature and proclaim that worldwide sexual abstinence will curtail both population growth and the spread of AIDS. Again, willful ignorance of scientific truths is a prime symptom that fascism is at work in a society.

Then there is the well-known fascist preoccupation with the use of military force. The Nazi leaders could hardly wait to blood their storm troops in a real war. Hitler was "relieved" that the Poles decided to fight him instead of capitulating to German demands. Mussolini sent his forces gleefully to war against Ethiopia for no better reason than wanting to beat up a sixth-rate military power. The obvious allusions to the behavior of our current regime in Washington would be funny if the expected outcome of their policy was not so tragic.

Twentieth-century fascism was built on "mass movements" that provided electoral muscle for the political parties that advanced the ideology. The Nazis had their Brownshirts, the Italians the Blackshirts, the Spanish the Falange, and the Soviets the Red Guards. For American fascism, the mass movement role has fallen to the Christian fundamentalists, who may be counted on to turn out loyally in elections, infiltrate local governments, undermine public education, and persecute the chosen scapegoats. In a perverse twist of history, the fundamentalist American fascist base has inoculated itself against charges of anti-semitism by unqualified support for Israel's hard-line policy towards Palestinians. Thus, organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, which served for over 50 years as watchdogs against fascism in our country, are suddenly taking sides with the fundamentalists.

A final, somewhat depressing observation about fascism: to fascist leaders, the masses of people they lead are disposable assets. That offers a possible explanation why the Bush administration does not show much concern for the jobless or those whose retirements are threatened by collapsed 401Ks. It also explains Donald Rumsfeld's blithely calling Vietnam veterans "what was left" after the best and brightest found a way to dodge military service.

Of course, under fascism some people do matter. In Nazi Germany, Party Leaders and Industrialists were nicknamed "the Golden Pheasants" for their lavish uniforms and lifestyles. Likewise, right-wing American corporate leaders are doing just fine, and will conceivably do even better, given Bush tax policy. Meanwhile, those who perform the corporations' labor will receive less and less as their income stagnates.

So this is what lies before us--those of us who grew up in a country that fought and defeated foreign fascism. Democracy triumphed over a dark age. Many of us thought fascism was gone forever. Now it is alive again, and in our own land. Again, we must turn to the words of Churchill:

"We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."

Liberals must wage war against American fascism on the airwaves, in the print media, on the campuses, in the legislatures, the courts, the Congress, and on the streets. The war is one of ideas, not of guns and bombs. The truth is our weapon, but the greatest weapon of mass destruction is our silence.

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