A friend recently sent me a link to the latest episode of the BBC news programme “Our World” in which correspondent Katya Adler examines the rise of far-right extremism in Germany. Adler reports on the public outrage after it came to light that a group of three neo-Nazis had been able, in spite of being well-known to the authorities, to go on a ten-year killing spree of racially-motivated murders.
The programme is available here.
Watching it has caused me to reflect again on that biggest of all historical questions, which is how so many Western democracies — including Germany of course — surrendered to the spell of Fascism during the middle part of the Twentieth Century. My own modest attempt to address this enormous issue had been intended to form the basis for one chapter of a book – a book that I’ve been trying to complete for many years. The chapter, provisionally titled “Into The Abyss”, was to have been one part of a larger section that I have since decided to abandon. Looking through the drafts again, I came to the conclusion that much that I’d already written about was perhaps more pertinent than ever. Having updated and edited those thoughts one last time, I have therefore decided to present them in the form of the following extended post.
1. Not all Fascists look alike
Nazism, some claim (and I have encountered this claim on a number of different occasions), should not to be properly regarded as Fascism at all, but was precisely what it claimed to be, National Socialism. A casual inspection indeed gives credence to this contention.
Aside from the superficial facts that the Nazi flag was of a vibrant red, a colour it evidently shares with the flags of both Communism and Socialism; and that the Nazi Party (known in German as NSDAP) was, albeit prior to Hitler’s takeover, the German Workers Party (DAP); there is also, and more surprisingly perhaps, support for the argument on the basis of Hitler’s original manifesto, which is well-peppered with traditional leftist rhetoric1.
Actions, however, speak much louder than words, and Hitler and the Nazi Party did not wait around too long before revealing their true intent. So rather than pursuing policies that might have brought about a fairer redistribution of wealth, as any Socialist government is supposed to, the Nazis immediately set about protecting a select group of private corporate interests against the interests of the majority, and rather than promoting the rights of workers, they instead made fervent attacks against the trade union movement.
Apart then, from the flags and banners of fake solidarity, Nazism paid absolutely no heed whatsoever to the ideologies of Socialism, but was fixated instead with a much more ancient system of politics – a fixation that it shares with all Fascist ideologies – the belief that aristocracy in the literal sense of “rule by the best”2 is the only legitimate form of government. The trick with the Nazis having been one of camouflage, of using what might nowadays be described as ‘left cover’. A ploy that is necessary whenever any self-select elitist clique wants to ingratiate itself with the plebs it secretly wishes to oppress.
So it comes as little surprise to discover that today’s more openly neo-Fascist groups are also employing the same old strategy of over-stressing their tremendous concern for the plight of the common man. I have even heard reliable accounts of how our own Fascists, the British National Party (BNP), have sometimes tried to drum up electoral support in key constituencies by lending a hand, mowing the lawn or fetching the shopping. Al Capone made comparable efforts to increase his own popularity within the Italian community of Chicago by providing soup kitchens, Christmas meals and so forth. The parallel is hardly accidental.
Orwell, who wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, was also quite aware of how the Fascism of Germany had ridden piggy-back on the youthful Socialist movement. He had named the central party in his book Ingsoc and this gesture was obviously intended to provoke a reaction from both left and right alike. To clarify his own position, however, he later sent two press releases to counter claims from American reviewers (especially those working for Time-Life Corporation journals) – as well as objections from certain Communists – that Nineteen Eighty-Four was intended as an explicit attack on Socialism. The warning he delivers in the second of these statements (quoted below without abridgement) I think is clear enough — and especially so in the second paragraph:
“George Orwell assumes that if such societies as he describes in Nineteen Eighty-Four come into being there will be several super-states. This is fully dealt with in the relevant chapters of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is also discussed from a different angle by James Burnham in The Management Revolution. These super states will naturally be in opposition to each other or (a novel point) will pretend to be much more in opposition than in fact they are. Two of the principal super states will obviously be the Anglo-American world and Eurasia. If these two great blocs line up as mortal enemies it is obvious that the Anglo-Americans will not take the name of their opponents and will not dramatise themselves on the scene of history as Communists. Thus they will have to find a new name for themselves. The name suggested in Nineteen Eighty-Four is of course Ingsoc, but in practice a wide range of choices is open. In the USA the phrase “Americanism” or “hundred percent Americanism” is suitable and the qualifying adjective is as totalitarian as anyone could wish.
“If there is a failure of nerve and the Labour Party breaks down in its attempt to deal with the hard problems with which it will be faced, tougher types than the present Labour leaders will inevitably take over, drawn probably from the ranks of the Left, but not sharing the liberal aspirations of those now in power. Members of the present British government, from Mr Attlee and Sir Stafford Cripps down to Aneurin Bevin, will never willingly sell the pass to the enemy, and in general the older men, nurtured in a liberal education, are safe, but the younger generation is suspect and the seeds of totalitarian thought are probably widespread among them.”3
2. You don’t have to be mad to be a Nazi but it helps
The Nazis promoted all the usual extreme right-wing dogma about nationalist supremacy, militarism, and the Triumph of the Will (‘will’ in this context meaning only ‘the Will to Power’), with these hardline ideals then baked (or perhaps that should be ‘half-baked’) together with much odder and more exotic ingredients, such as the pseudo-scientific claptrap about a pure Germanic ancestory descended from the Aryan “master race”; archeological evidence supposedly washing up from the entirely mythological land of Thule. Thule being a sort of chilly Atlantis of the Arctic.
Justifications for the Nazis obsession with racial purity were also greatly assisted by dedicated (although now very obviously) quack scientists who went around measuring and cataloguing human skulls amongst other things; going to enormous efforts in order to sort out the “great races” from the “untermensch”. With hindsight, it’s all-too easy to see how the red of Nazism never symbolised the life-blood of the ordinary people, but had actually always represented blut of altogether more Aryan hue.
At this point it is important to realise how Nazism, like all other forms of Fascism, owes a very great legacy to the wrong-headed but persistent pseudo-Darwinian belief which chews up “survival of the fittest” and spews it back as “the fittest ought to survive”. Might becomes right, more or less by Fascist definition. Advocates of this view had found convenient support in the works of ‘Social Darwinists’ like Herbert Spencer, who viewed society as a larger kind of organism with its own parallel course of evolution. Society, the Social Darwinists argued, must be run on the basis of the natural order of the world itself: thus encouraging and not ameliorating the constant battle for survival, the Hobbesian “war of all against all”, because it is this perpetual striving that ensures strength both within species and, purportedly by extension, within races and societies.
With this in mind we can see that all of the preposterous racist pseudo-science was an attempt to prove solidly what was already so abundantly apparent (at least to the Nazis): that the master race was destined to rule the world. But did the Nazi elite actually believe any of this self-glorifying codswallop? Well, it seems very certain that many did, along with other beliefs that are far stranger again.
For instance, there was a secret order known as the Thule Society (an organisation that had adopted the swastika as its own signifier long before Hitler rose to power), and which had ties to Madam Blavatsky’s Theosophists. The Thule Society included some of the highest ranking Nazis, Rudolf Hess being one such, and behind the scenes many of the Nazi in-crowd were also drawn to the mysterious black light of the esoteric. Nor is it a mere Hollywood fantasy that the Nazis were on a quest to secure the Holy Grail, since, and as bizarre as it may sound, there seems little reason to doubt that one member of Heinrich Himmler’s elite SS, a man called Otto Wilhelm Rahn, was recruited with precisely that objective in mind4.
Inside Himmler’s SS headquarters Castle Wewelsburg, Hitler’s second-in-command and the other SS commanders, also played out their other fantasies, very earnestly believing they were the new Knights of the Round Table. It remains unclear as to whether or not the Fuhrer himself regarded such arcane escapades with any degree of seriousness, but that occult and ritualistic Nazi goings-on took place is beyond all reasonable doubt. It has even been reported that Churchill, learning of this Nazi foible for dabbling in the supernatural, planned to send false astrological reports in one of the more surreal attempts to trap his enemy. One report allegedly translated as follows:
“Mars is in the ascendant, so now is an auspicious time for meglomaniacal Taurians to press full-steam ahead with their schemes for absolute dominion. The world will soon be your oyster, and there could hardly be a better time to mount an invasion of Russia…”
Embedded below is the excellent German documentary “Schwarze Sonne” (Black Sun) written and directed by Rüdiger Sünner (released 1998) in which he explores the importance of esotericism and occultism in Nazi ideology, ceremony and ritual:
3. Not all Fascists goose step
Needless to say I was taught nothing of this at school. Perhaps none of it was considered relevant for some reason. What they taught me instead was that the rise of Nazism was due in a great respect to the severe reparations inflicted on the German people after their defeat in the First World War: a form of extortion that had left the hungry and huddled masses desperate for a quick fix to make their country strong again. It’s a version of history that holds more than a grain of truth.
Times were unimaginably tough during the depression years of the 1920s and 1930s, and especially so for a German people, held to ransom by the victors of the Great War and suffering from economic meltdown caused by unprecedented hyper-inflation. At the height of this crisis, prices were doubling every two days, and so, in less than two years, the Mark had been devalued by a staggering trillion to one. More than enough to bring any people to their knees.
Yet the question hangs: why the special appeal of Nazism? Why too, the steady growth of other Fascist movements all across the Western world? The simultaneous rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy, of General Franco in Spain, of the largely forgotten dictator António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal, and also, we should never forget, of Oswald Moseley back home in Blighty, and the simultaneous reawakening of white-supremacist Ku Klux Klan in America. The German depression had surely opened the wound upon which Nazism could gorge itself, but it must have attracted a whole variety of competitors, Communism being an obvious rival, alongside other more benign forms of Socialism, similar in kind to Roosevelt’s New Deal in America. So why the appeal of Fascism? The history I was taught in school failed even to speculate on any alternatives.
No less importantly, my high-school history lessons failed to inform us about how Nazism had appealed to so many from the ranks of the British ruling classes. We learnt about appeasement, which was an altogether more cross-party affair, but no special emphasis was ever given to the Cliveden Set, led by Lord and Lady Astor, with Lord Brand and Lord Halifax amongst the disreputable others, guiding the hand of Nevelle Chamberland as he signed that infamous piece of paper. Nor was there any mention of the more secret and scandalous affection of Edward and Mrs Simpson, and their romancing of the Third Reich.
Moreover, the history lessons had failed even to distinguish the ill-advised pacifistic motives of many who wished only to avoid more war (which is naive but understandable given such recent shadows cast by “the war to end all wars”), from the active support of Hitler by the so-called British Fascisti and the British Union of Fascists. There was no mention of either of these organisations or of their close ties to the British Conservative Party, which was, and of course remains, very much the political arm of the ruling classes. We also learned nothing of the Anglo-German Fellowship founded in 1935 by English merchant banker Ernest Tennant, with a membership that included the Governor of the Bank of England, Norman Montague alongside Hitler’s finance minister, Hjalmar Schacht.
Indeed, lessons in history stopped well short of pointing accusing fingers anywhere toward the leading industrialists and businessmen in Britain and America. Failing to record mention that companies like Standard Oil, Du Ponts, and IBM all made enormous profits from collaborating with the Nazi regime, whilst perhaps the greatest American industrialist of all, Henry Ford, had even been awarded the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, a medal given to foreigners sympathetic to Nazism.
Nor was any part of our syllabus devoted to Prescott Bush and the helpful part he played in Hitler’s rise to power. Prescott was the father to George Bush snr, who during the time I was learning the history of WWII had himself risen to become Ronald Reagan’s Vice President. However, and almost exactly a half-century earlier, his dad, then a managing partner of ‘the world’s largest investment bank’ Brown Brothers Harriman, was providing the American financial base that supported German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen. For his part, Thyssen was one of Hitler’s main financial backers; very probably his most important.
Back in school we were not even taught about how the British and American news media (with a special mention here to the Daily Mail) had consistently praised Hitler in glowing terms throughout the pre-war period. The clamour for Fascism being apparently just something like a noxious gas that had bubbled up unexpectedly from the depths – this was at least the impression I’d been given. But then perhaps the bigger truth is always a little too complicated for the classroom. After all, we were also taught that the First World War was the result of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajavo. Comedian Rob Newman dismissed that particular theory with his own blunt and wholly rhetorical question: “I mean, just how popular can a guy be?”6
4. Fascism is more than just a swearword
By the early decades of the twentieth century, the Fascists had spread their obscene ideology across much of the industrialised world. But what precisely is Fascism? Is it even a useful term? It may come as a surprise to discover that Orwell, who was of course staunchly anti-Fascist, considered the term itself to be unhelpful, writing in 1944 (so just a few years after fighting against Franco) that:
“The word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else… almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’.”7
This is widely quoted – and as a matter of fact I’ve lifted the above quotation deliberately unaltered from the pages of wikipedia.8 My purpose here being to illustrate how Orwell’s intended meaning is often significantly altered by abridgement. The complete passage revealing that Orwell is not in actual fact saying the word ‘Fascism’ has no meaning whatsoever, but only that different opponents of Fascism confuse the same term in different ways. Allow me then to reveal what was left clipped out by way of the ellipsis:
“…Yet underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning. To begin with, it is clear that there are very great differences, some of them easy to point out and not easy to explain away, between the régimes called Fascist and those called democratic. Secondly, if ‘Fascist’ means ‘in sympathy with Hitler’, some of the accusations I have listed above are obviously very much more justified than others. Thirdly, even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it. By ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.”
Just as importantly, Orwell’s remarks are taken entirely out of context. For he is not advocating that we abandon the label of ‘Fascism’, but merely offering his account of why its nail is so hard to hit. Though it is only in his conclusions, laid out in the subsequent paragraph, where this finally becomes apparent:
“[But] Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.”
5. Being Fascist means never having to think for yourself again
Whereas there are no doubt a few corners of academia in which the debate continues regarding whether or not Hitler and the Nazis were Fascist in any strict sense, there can be no argument at all when it comes to Mussolini. The blackness of Mussolini’s shirt is never seriously questioned. It was Mussolini, after all, with help from his propagandist Giovanni Gentile, who had together outlined the first formulation of the political doctrine of Fascism. It was Mussolini indeed, who coined the term ‘Fascism’, drawing it from the Latin word ‘fasces’, a symbol taken from the Roman Empire which employed a bundle of sticks tied around an axe to signify “strength in unity.” So what then, did Il Duce have to say for his bastard child?
To begin with, in his “Doctrine of Fascism”, Mussolini states that Fascism is fundamentally anti-individualistic, going on to explain that:
“The Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal will of man as a historic entity.”9
In other words the Fascism he describes directly contends with, and flatly contradicts the Enlightenment vision of man, to the fundamental extent that it denies the individual even the basic right to be the self-possessing justification of their own existence. The state is everything, Mussolini is saying, and you are nothing unless it decrees otherwise, and he backs all this up saying later:
“The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value.”
Adding a little later again that:
“Fascism, in short, is not only a law-giver and a founder of institutions, but an educator and a promoter of spiritual life. It aims at refashioning not only the forms of life but their content – man, his character, and his faith. To achieve this purpose it enforces discipline and uses authority, entering into the soul and ruling with undisputed sway. Therefore it has chosen as its emblem the Lictor’s rods, the symbol of unity, strength, and justice.”
In other words then, Fascism, at least according to Mussolini’s formula, is totalitarian to the extent that it imposes a collective weltanshauung – one all-embracing philosophy for all – a worldview that claims to guarantee absolute escape from the burden of individual freedom, with all the worry and responsibility that being free entails. But the price is high, of course, at least for those of us in the common herd, for what Fascism ultimately demands is nothing less than our souls:
“The Fascist conception of life is a religious one, in which man is viewed in his immanent relation to a higher law, endowed with an objective will transcending the individual and raising him to conscious membership of a spiritual society. Those who perceive nothing beyond opportunistic considerations in the religious policy of the Fascist regime fail to realize that Fascism is not only a system of government but also and above all a system of thought.”
Above all a system of thought… Yeah, yeah!
6. Fascists hate liberals, lefties, do-gooders, peacemakers and women (obviously)
“State ownership! It leads only to absurd and monstrous conclusions; state ownership means state monopoly, concentrated in the hands of one party and its adherents, and that state brings only ruin and bankruptcy to all.”
These are the words of Mussolini too. Old Mussolini, the bringer of Fascism, and not of course, Mussolini the young Communist. By this point Mussolini despised all things socialistic. He despised leftist ideologies just as whole-hearted as he despised liberalism and democracy, and he was unabashed in saying so:
“After socialism, Fascism trains its guns on the whole block of democratic ideologies, and rejects both their premises and their practical applications and implements. Fascism denies that numbers, as such, can be the determining factor in human society; it denies the right of numbers to govern by means of periodical consultations; it asserts the irremediable and fertile and beneficent inequality of men who cannot be levelled by any such mechanical and extrinsic device as universal suffrage.”10
And yet for many trapped within the lower social echelons, Fascism promises glory in the grandest terms. Why? Because firstly it says you can forget about your own sad and pathetic lives, which will in any case amount to nothing. For so long as you remain as individuals, acting in desperate isolation, you are nothing, and just as helpless as children. Not that you are about to be given much choice in any case, because the other promise of Fascism is that any who imagine otherwise and attempt to stand in the way of progress, will, of necessity and for the greater cause, be crushed like insects. There is no choice and yet Fascism demands that you choose: to sacrifice your nothingness to the greater triumph of the nation – although, I say ‘nation’ simply because historically Fascism has always wrapped itself in national colours, but actually flags of any kind might equally serve the same ends.
The impulse here, as Mussolini rightly claims, is a religious one. Religious because it offers meaning in exchange for sacrifice. A twisted religious meaning, certainly, in which the teachings of Christ are totally up-ended, so that the weak are condemned and Caesar anointed. And whilst Mussolini wishes merely to eradicate the meek and the feeble, he prefers to cast all the peacemakers straight to hell:
“Fascism does not, generally speaking, believe in the possibility or utility of perpetual peace. It therefore discards pacifism as a cloak for cowardly supine renunciation in contradistinction to self-sacrifice. War alone keys up all human energies to their maximum tension and sets the seal of nobility on those peoples who have the courage to face it. All other tests are substitutes which never place a man face to face with himself before the alternative of life or death. Therefore all doctrines which postulate peace at all costs are incompatible with Fascism.”11
Mussolini said that he owed much to William James, and in particular James’s famous essay “The Moral Equivalent to War”. Yet he must have read it badly. Perhaps the title of his own copy had been mistranslated to read: “morality is equivalent to war”. But then war is always a splendid diversion for tyrants, whilst also a clearing of the way for the proper redistribution of wealth in the Fascist sense: from the poor to the rich obviously.
7. Fascists see Fascism as natural
“The maxim that society exists only for the well-being and freedom of the individuals composing it does not seem to be in conformity with nature’s plans, which care only for the species and seem ready to sacrifice the individual. It is much to be feared that the last word of democracy thus understood (and let me hasten to add that it is susceptible of a different interpretation) would be a form of society in which a degenerate mass would have no thought beyond that of enjoying the ignoble pleasures of the vulgar.”12
You have no doubt already guessed that these are also the charmless words of Benito Mussolini. Laying down a challenge to what he regards as the innate decadence of liberal democracy, leading to “a degenerate mass [that] would have no thought beyond that of enjoying the ignoble pleasures of the vulgar”. Had Mussolini only had the opportunity to watch “American Idol” or “Britain’s Got Talent”, he would no doubt have cited both as exemplary footnotes.
In the same paragraph, Mussolini is also claiming support for his ideology on the basis of Science, or more specifically what was then the comparatively new theory of Darwinian evolution. What he says is nonetheless scientific gobbledegook, although sadly it is gobbledegook that a great many will still inevitably mistake for truth. So to redress the matter succinctly, nature does not have any plans: that’s what Darwin actually said, and what modern biologists still believe. Whether the scientists are right or wrong is beside the point, the point being only that Mussolini and the other Fascists can derive no validation or justification from Science whatsoever.
I have also selected this passage because it shows Mussolini as ‘the improver’, and it is very likely the case that Mussolini, and Hitler, and Franco, and the rest of the wrecking crews regarded themselves as true social improvers 13. This should probably be our gravest concern about Fascism: that its main advocates are also ardent believers. They have come to love the smell of their own farts so much that they genuinely mistake them for perfume.
8. Fascism offers a diseased form of escapism
“If we want to fight Fascism we must understand it. Wishful thinking will not help. And reciting optimistic formulae will prove to be as inadequate and useless as the ritual of an Indian rain dance. In addition to the problem of the social and economic conditions which have given rise to Fascism, there is a human problem which needs to be understood.”14
These are the words of the great social psychologist and humanist, Erich Fromm, writing in 1941. The problem, Fromm argues, has to do with our need for belonging. A basic human need, that if unsatisfied, bursts out as an unassailable urge to sacrifice all else in order to secure it:
“The kind of relatedness to the world may be noble or trivial, but even being related to the basest kind of pattern is immensely preferable to being alone. Religion and Nationalism, as well as any custom or belief however absurd or degrading, if it only connects the individual with others, are refuges from what man most dreads: isolation.”15
Fascism actually has two faces, which is one of the reasons Orwell and others have found it such a brute to nail down. On the one hand, it is simply a highly effective way for the ruling class to maximise their control over the lower orders – Fascism being an extreme form of oligarchy, and one in which the oligarchs frequently prance around truly believing they are the new gods. Meanwhile, the ordinary Joe Fascist is given to understand that their own subservience makes them greater in a different way. In this it taps deep into unconscious desires, offering a quick fix to plug up a sometimes festering ‘God-shaped hole’:
“Brotherhood implies a common father. Therefore it is often argued that men can never develop the sense of a community unless they believe in God. The answer is that in a half-conscious way most of them have developed it already. Man is not an individual, he is only a cell in an everlasting body, and he is dimly aware of it. There is no other way of explaining why it is that men will die in battle. It is nonsense to say that they do it only because they are driven. If whole armies had to be coerced, no war could ever be fought. Men die in battle — not gladly, of course, but at any rate voluntarily — because of abstractions called ‘honour’, ‘duty’, ‘patriotism’ and so forth.
“All that this really means is that they are aware of some organism greater than themselves, stretching into the future and the past, within which they feel themselves to be immortal. ‘Who dies if England live?’ sounds like a piece of bombast, but if you alter ‘England’ to whatever you prefer, you can see that it expresses one of the main motives of human conduct. People sacrifice themselves for the sake of fragmentary communities — nation, race, creed, class — and only become aware that they are not individuals in the very moment when they are facing bullets. A very slight increase of consciousness and their sense of loyalty could be transferred to humanity itself, which is not an abstraction.”16
These are the words of Orwell again, a man who knew perfectly well what it feels like to be facing bullets. He also understood more clearly than most political thinkers, how virtues such as loyalty and courage can be coerced and corrupted to the detriment of all. So he writes in a review of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”:
[Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flag and loyalty-parades…. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.17
9. Fascism never went away
All of which finally brings me to an article I found on the Channel 4 website entitled “What is fuelling the rise of the far right?”18 Here is a pertinent extract:
While the far right movement means different things in [different] countries, these groups share a nationalistic cultural identity. However, perhaps surprisingly, it is also characterised by traditionally left-leaning economic policy.
The Demos study found that respondents were anti-establishment, anti-capitalism and supportive of the welfare state – but only for the country’s citizens.
“All of these groups have another thing in common – they are anti-traditional elites,” he told Channel 4 News.
But the main point being missed here, as in most, if not all, of the mainstream analysis, is that in Europe, America and much of the rest of the Western world, the political system has already been captured by a version of the extreme right. Not the old-style right of Hitler or Mussolini, which was built upon the foundations of bombastic nationalism, but a new brand of increasingly far-right extremism that cleverly disguises itself as non-ideological, tolerant and even moderate – I heard political commentator Tariq Ali recently refer to it as “the extreme centre”.
This new extremism chooses new methods to promote and protect its crony insiders. It says sorry but you really have no choice, these other chaps are simply too big to fail, adding, almost as an aside, that democracy wasn’t working in any case. And it finds new justifications for engaging in aggressive foreign wars that we are told have absolutely nothing to do with conquest and exploitation. War being nothing more than a matter of preemption, or if that fails to impress the populous, of humanitarianism. However, the new extremism finds old and very well-tested excuses when it comes to clampdowns on our individual freedoms, with the main one being, ironically enough, to protect us from ‘extremists’. The other, to protect us from ourselves, what else!
Bush and the rest of the neo-cons appeared to many (myself included) as a gang of Fascists, whereas Obama was supposed to bring ‘hope and change’. The sad truth is, however, that under Obama there has been an almost uninterrupted continuity of agenda.
It was Obama, not Bush, who recently passed into law the right to indefinitely detain without charge, and granted tacit but executive permission for security agencies or the military to torture and assassinate American citizens. It was Obama who expanded the wars into Pakistan, Yemen and Africa by increasing the use of mercenaries and drone strikes. Meanwhile, and as the US policy of ‘extraordinary rendition’ continues unabated, Guantanamo not only remains open, but is about to be upgraded.
The British government, which is soon to flood the streets of our Capital with military personnel all in the name of security, is also getting ready to grant legal permission for warrantless surveillance and secret trials. As the clampdown accelerates, Western governments far and wide are also selling off their national assets and much else besides: the prisons, police forces and even the military. All these are being corporatised. They are being made ready for a fuller merger of corporation and State, almost exactly as Mussolini had conceived in his own Fascist system.
At the same time, our governments which, wretched as they are are, nevertheless form some kind of insulating democratic buffer from pure totalitarian rule, are deliberately surrendering their own independence, and with it, our national sovereignty. A clique of unelected, and thus untouchable, ‘technocrats’ steadily taking over the reins to better serve the special interests of that small, offshore globalist elite they actually represent. So the truth is that our creeping case of Fascism (since this is the only valid description – totalitarian is too polite) did not arise from the kinds of fringe movements identified and surveyed by the trendy lefties at Demos, but is being rammed down our throats by the powers above.
Back down at street level, the new attraction of the far-right should come as no surprise to anyone at all. When times get tough, Fascism of all kinds has an unerring habit of rearing its filthy head and trying to look respectable. And it will automatically seem like an appealing final solution for some stuck at the bottom of the current social scrapheap, whilst appealing as strongly to many in ‘the squeezed middle’ who are suddenly feeling as abandoned as those they had previously despised for being beneath them. Free to throw-off any last pretenses of liberalism, they can relish the licence granted to fully unleash their always latent bigotry.
To those who sympathise, the allure of Fascism will always appear like a new kind of freedom, although it ought to go without saying that the low-ranking Fascist cheerleaders are greatly deceived. Any appearance of new freedom being a complete illusion, and if licence is ever fully granted to release the full furies of outright Fascism, they are almost as likely to become fresh victims as the staunchest of anti-Fascists.
Fascism only actually serves the special interests of the dominant and already established minority. It elevates the rule of the old aristocracies, the mega-wealthy and the super-connected, alongside the most powerful financial and business leaders of the major corporations. Such an absolute consolidation of political power in the hands of the few depends upon the thorough trampling down of the overwhelming majority, and this is really the essence of Fascism. Traditionally, as well as economically, Fascism also relies on the maintaining of a ceaseless and expansionist war.
Obviously Fascism tries to look radical and new, and in this reincarnation the more sophisticated front has audaciously stolen the gown of multiculturalism. Even elements of street-level Fascism now pretend to be all-inclusive; the outstanding example being the English Defence League, which has stepped forward to replace worn-out whites-only clubs of the old National Front and the BNP. Fascism has gone postmodern, so beware… beneath the thinnest of disguises nothing has really altered. Fascism, whether at street level or within the highest echelons of our societies, is always the oldest and most reactionary game in town.
1 The party program of the NSDAP as proclaimed on 24th February 1920 by Adolf Hitler at the first significant party gathering was subsequently summarised as 25 points. Point 13 states that: “We demand the nationalization of all associated industries (trusts). Point 14 states that: “We demand profit-sharing in all large industries. Point 15 states that “We demand an improvement in old age welfare. Point 20 states that: “We demand the education at the expense of the State of outstanding gifted children of poor parents without consideration of station or occupation.” Point 21 states that: “The State is to care for the elevating of national health by protecting the mother and child, by prohibiting child-labour…” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Socialist_Program#German_Party_program
2 Aristocracy deriving from the Greek aristokratia with aristo- meaning ‘best’.
3 The first press release read as follows:
“It has been suggested by some of the reviewers of NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR that it is the author’s view that this, or something like this, is what will happen inside the next forty years in the Western World. This is not correct. I think that, allowing for the book being after all a parody, something like Nineteen Eighty-Four could happen. This is the direction in which the world is going at the present time, and the trend lies deep in the political, social and economic foundations of the contemporary world situation.
Specifically the danger lies in the structure imposed on Socialism and on Liberal capitalist communities by the necessity to prepare for total war with the USSR and the new weapons, of which of course the atomic bomb is the most powerful and most publicised. But danger lies also in the acceptance of a totalitarian outlook by individuals of all colours.
The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: Don’t let it happen. It depends on you.”
Both press releases are recorded in Bernard Crick’s essay “Nineteen Eighty-Four: Context and Controversy” published in “The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell”, edited by John Rodden, p.154.
4 Rahn wrote two books: Kreuzzug gegen den Gral (Crusade Against the Grail) in 1933 and Luzifers Hofgesind (Lucifer’s Court) in 1937. Following publication of the first of these, Rahn’s work came to the attention of Hitler’s second-in-command and Head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. Rahn was invited to join up as a junior non-commissioned officer and then became a full member of the SS in 1936.
5 “How Bush’s grandfather helped Hitler’s rise to power” written by Ben Aris and Duncan Campbell, published by the Guardian on September 25, 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/25/usa.secondworldwar
Although not attributed, the original research can actually be traced back to Webster G. Tarpley’s “George Bush: The Unauthorised Biography” which was published more than a dacade earlier in 1992 and that is available for free online at http://tarpley.net/online-books/george-bush-the-unauthorized-biography/
6 Here is a report taken from the Guardian newspaper (29th June 1914):
“The Austrian royal house has had enough tragedies in its history, and facts might well have spared it another. It was not to be. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of Emperor Francis Joseph and heir to the throne, has been most cruelly murdered at Sarajevo, and his wife, Duchess Hohenberg, has shared his fate. Two attempts were made on their lives in the course of the day, a fact that would seem to point to conspiracy. What its motives may have been we do not know, nor do they greatly matter. Had the archduke been a cruel tyrant, and had the records of Austrian rule in Bosnia been as bad as they have in fact been good, the murder would still have been an abominable crime. It is a difficult and at present an ungracious task to speculate on what influence the crime may have on Austrian politics.”
This is the original version as republished a few years ago. For some reason it has since been slightly altered but a version can now be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/1914/jun/29/fromthearchive
I find the report interesting for two main reasons. Firstly, it highlights the likelihood of some kind of conspiracy – and clearly journalists of the day were unafraid of using the c-word. Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, there seems to have been little concern about the wider repercussions outside of Austria.
7 “What is Fascism?” essay by George Orwell, first published in Tribune. — GB, London. — 1944. http://orwell.ru/library/articles/As_I_Please/english/efasc
8 I can no longer find any entry on wikipedia that precisely matches the quote with ellipsis as stated although I can find other truncated versions in a number of wikipedia articles in which Orwell’s full statement has been abridged to produce the same effect.
9 A translation of the Benito Mussolini “Doctrines” section of the “Fascism” entry in the 1932 edition of the Enciclopedia Italiana. From the publication “Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions”, by Benito Mussolini, 1935, ‘Ardita’ Publishers, Rome. All quotes have been taken from the only complete official translation I can find on the web. http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/Reading/Germany/mussolini.htm
13 “The Fascist negation of socialism, democracy, liberalism, should not, however, be interpreted as implying a desire to drive the world backwards to positions occupied prior to 1789, a year commonly referred to as that which opened the demo-liberal century. History does not travel backwards. The Fascist doctrine has not taken De Maistre as its prophet.” Also taken from Benito Mussolini “Doctrines” section of the “Fascism” entry in the 1932 edition of the Enciclopedia Italiana.
14 “The Fear of Freedom” by Erich Fromm, published by Routledge, 1960. Extract taken from Chapter 1, “Freedom – a psychological problem?”, p3.
15 ibid, p15.
16 From “Notes on the way” by George Orwell, first published in Time and Tide. London, 1940. http://orwell.ru/library/articles/notes/english/e_notew
17 From a review of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, written by George Orwell, published in New English Weekly, March 21st, 1940.
18 From an article entitled “What is fuelling the rise of the far right?” published November 14, 2011. http://www.channel4.com/news/has-the-euro-crisis-fuelled-a-rise-of-the-far-right