(Photo credit – Wikipedia)
On January 6, 2021, in our (Canada’s) great southern neighbour, the now notorious “Capitol Riot”, or attempted coup, as many now view it, shook the democratic world. As is well known, it is currently under investigation in the US Congress and a number of criminal trials. One of the frequent terms used in connection with those events is “Fascism”. Many upholders of constitutional government have taken the view that the January 6 uprising was an attempted Fascist coup.
Are there Fascist elements at work in the present political scene in America? Most assuredly. Are there Fascist elements seeking to make inroads in other Western nations? Certainly. Do we have Fascists in Canada? Of course! But in every case, let us tread carefully before we assume we are headed for concentration camps!
In most cases, active Fascists will not openly adopt labels that too readily identify that that is who they really are. It is becoming increasingly clear that many ordinary and well-meaning citizens are sympathetic to elements of Fascist thinking and tactics for gaining influence and even political power. Nevertheless, I would suggest that most Western nation citizens really know next to nothing about what Fascism actually is in the flesh.
There is a real danger in too readily throwing this inflammatory political term around to label all kinds of disparate movements, groups, and provocative behaviours. There is enough frustration and anger abroad among the populace to create fertile ground for the spread of real Fascism to be a real concern, and many groups and causes have begun to latch on to Fascist-appearing ideological strains and tactics to make themselves heard. Careless, angry language just obscures the truth.
All of this is contributing to the palpable growth of the “Right vs. Left” divide in many countries as large numbers of people, especially among the less-financially secure parts of the population, feel increasingly forgotten, ignored, disenfranchised, and scorned by the actions and neglect of the sitting governments and regulators whom they perceive to be elitist while claiming to have the progressive enlightenment needed to guide (coerce?) everyone into the new society they envision.
The use of loaded language by these leaders in demeaning and minimizing the concerns, feelings, and convictions of the “ordinary folks” they seem to have less and less ability or desire to relate to does nothing to improve this sense of a yawning “great social divide” and downright disenfranchisement. For example, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pejoratively calling people who disagree with his government “anti-vaccers”, “unpatriotic Canadians” and that their opinions and views are “unacceptable” and “un-Canadian” only pours gasoline on the smouldering fires of anger and resentment. He regularly alienates a significant segment of the population who often don’t support his party (the Liberals) and agenda. He demeans them as second-class, morally and intellectually inferior citizens.
At the time of this writing Ottawa, the national capital of Canada, which is 30 minutes drive from my home, is experiencing a “Freedom Demonstration” of individuals and groups identifying with disenfranchisement and disentitlement. The participants are from every region of the country, originally led by truckers who have felt persecuted by certain policies supposedly designed to reduce COVID exposure at their expense. From their perspective, all kinds of other, potentially much more effective measures have been either lifted or never implemented. Many of them subscribe to a conspiratorial suspicion of a hidden agenda being connived at by big Corporations (Pharma, etc.) and deceitful politicians and their regulatory toadies. To their mind, the fact that no representative of the government or regulatory officials has deigned to recognize the legitimacy of their concerns or even speak to them confirms their convictions. Throughout the two-year COVID crisis, this has remained a constant.
While I do not subscribe to these notions, I believe I understand where they come from.
The demonstrators have effectively subverted their own cause by letting extremist fringe elements take over the demonstrations and dialogue, allowing the manifestation of Swastikas, Confederate flags, and defacing of national monuments and private property.
We need to understand some basics about Fascism before we can sort out what we are really witnessing. We need to quit being run by our emotional responses to the extreme tactics and verbiage of the rival factions saying horrible things about the other side while being totally closed to any kind of discussion.
Standard dictionary definitions of Fascism are not very helpful in determining if we really dealing with a serious return of Fascism.
Real, ideological Fascism is the only major socio-political-economic ideology to emerge in the 20th Century. It was born at the end of the First World War. It flourished in the 1920s but especially the 1930s, which were years of upheaval and tumult ensuing from the calamitous aftermath of “the Great War” (1914-18). It thrived in countries where the people felt betrayed by what had happened in and as a result of the war. To many at the time, Fascism seemed far more effective in dealing with the terrible economic collapse of the Great Depression and social and political chaos in the Western nations. The only alternative seemed to be Communism, which had been revealed in Russia to have been completely brutal.
The first country to be taken over by Fascism was Italy, in October 1922, when Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party orchestrated a daring coup. The Fascists did not represent anything like a majority of the population, but, endorsed by the King and with little coherent opposition to stop his para-military militia from marching on and occupying Rome, “Musso” soon had taken control of the machinery of government. He set about converting Italy from a nominal liberal democracy teetering on the brink of becoming Communist to an authoritarian state with only one authorized political party and movement.
Mussolini’s success inspired other groups and parties to undertake similar coups, some successful, some not so much. When the 1930s rolled in with the terrible effects of the Great Depression sweeping the world and even further undermining faith in liberal democracy as a system capable of answering the desperate needs of masses of unemployed and poverty-stricken citizens, the Fascist model assumed enormous appeal. For some years, Italy suffered less than most countries, and the Fascist system seemed to help explain why. A strong, centralized, nationalistic government led by a single supreme leader (“Il Duce”) did not need to deal with rival political forces to take measures to provide people with basic necessities and launch new assistance and employment programs.
The 1930s saw Fascism move into government in several more European states, such as Romania, Hungary, and Austria. But its greatest victory was on January 30, 1933 in Deutschland – Germany – with a peculiar brand of Fascist ideology called Nazism (National Socialism).
Here are some generally accepted characteristics of Fascism as it has been seen in history:
- Strong nationalism with a sense of the nation’s special mission in the world;
- Centralized and exclusive political authority. Dictatorship is the usual format coupled with a single party State. The Dictator often takes a title other than “President” to denote his/her unique position above all others, e.g. Italy – Il Duce, Germany – Der Führer, Spain – El Caudillo;
- Police state: arbitrary “justice”, with regular violations of human rights;
- Centrally controlled economy, although still nominally Capitalist and Private Corporate;
- Racism and xenophobia (can be manifested in various ways); other forms of discrimination as well – oppression of homosexuals (the LGBTQ+ “spectrum” was not recognized) and repression of women’s rights being among the most flagrant;
- Persecution and oppression of excluded minorities, frequently sending them to special facilities (concentration/re-education/labour-penal camps). The Nazi Third Reich also practiced wholesale extermination;
- Removal of individual rights and constitutional protections.
Most of these characteristics are found together when Fascism gains control. Others are subsets of these, such as censorship and tight control of media and education.
The discussion of Fascism current today in the social and mainstream media usually ignores and is largely ignorant of the real, historical experience of Fascism. This is deplorable when these examples are still within living memory of our oldest citizens, many of whom are survivors of the terror of having lived under real fascist governments and persecution.
It is even worse when the political and academic leadership of nations and major influential institutions so blithely and flippantly trot out and resort to name-calling, using labels such as “neo-Nazi, Fascist, extreme rightist”, or various forms of “—-phobe”, etc., to demonize their opponents who dare question the rationale of controversial decisions and measures, including some taken to silence adversaries and unwelcome opinions.
Personal denigration and demonization of opponents has, historically, been the typical tactic of both extreme right and left when preparing to push for oppressive measures to silence opposition. We need to remember that the lowest form of “argument” is personal attack on an opponent. Labelling and name-calling really demonstrate the blatant poverty and weakness of the attacker’s case, not its rightness.
Sadly, here in Canada and in much of the West, vicious personal attack has now become the usual way of dismissing opponents who are or, until recently, would have been considered in the moderate middle, and who are voicing objections to views and measures which, in a true democracy, should be subject to free and open debate.
TO BE CONTINUED