‘…We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town..’
Fascism, not surprisingly, is a political creed that has a bad reputation; therefore people take offence when they are referred to as Fascists. Today, Fascism hides behind the ‘gentler’ name of populism.
It is also important to point out that National Socialism or Nazism, is a by-product of Fascism, very much the work of an evil monster.
I have chosen to include this topic as the last in the trilogy as the rise of the far-right needs to be examined if we are to understand what the political landscape of the UK might look like, which will be the subject of next week’s summary of this trilogy.
Fascism was born out of the trenches during the latter stages of WW1, based on the belief in the honesty of military virtues over tricky politicians.
Now, none of the new groups on the populist right believe in military conquest or have a thirst for glory, and living space. Rather the reverse.
Originally, it sought to glorify violence, speed, and movement whereas today most of the new far-right try hard to distance themselves from this, with varying success.
As Frederico Finchelstein (1) wrote, the adoption of violence to impose fascist authority was a key element of fascism both as a movement and as a regime, starting with street violence, and then through the militarization of government.
Fascist leaders took power not just through popular support, but thanks to the action of violent squads, which become integrate into the state machine as paramilitary formations.
Whilst the scenes on January 6th in Washington didn’t lead to a coup, they showed that Trump and his supporters were prepared to use violence.
Within the mob were members of the ‘Proud Boys’ who have often acted as ‘shock troops’ for the far-right in the US, Trump included.
On the other hand, Finchelstein explains, ‘populism combines low level actual violence with high level rhetorical violence,’ applying it to ‘an authoritarian way of understanding democracy.’ In that is another important distinction between fascism and populism: ‘fascism is never a democracy, while populism undermines democracy, but doesn’t remove it.’
‘fascism is never a democracy, while populism undermines democracy, but doesn’t remove it.’
A central tenet of fascism was a hatred of communism and a desire to beat it on the streets, smashing working-class organisations in the process. Today, neo-liberalism has already done this, even the communists are capitalists.
The concerns of the new far-right are immigration and globalisation, forces which weren’t issues in the 1930s.
A core belief is often opposition to Islam and linking it directly to its most radical, and violent manifestations, together with a distinction between Islam and Western or European values.
In the UK there, there is a dislike of the EU and the euro: in the United States it is multinational organisations.
Some groups are socially liberal on issues like homosexuality and feminism, e.g., the Dutch ‘Freedom Party’ makes this a mainstay of its assault on Islam. Whereas others, such as the ruling ‘Polish Law and Justice Party’ and many Trump supporters, echo more traditional concerns with ‘degeneracy’.
What the new groups and the old ones have in common is an overriding concern with identity and nationalism and how it relates to blood and soil, scorn for ‘politics as normal’, and the failures of an elite.
Their concerns about immigration, globalisation, or the European Union take centre stage when there are economic problems, and, for different reasons, an insecurity about the future direction of the world.
Nationalism is an important concept, maybe even the most crucial, for most far-right parties.
The politicians of parties in countries like Hungary, Poland, Germany, and other countries in Europe have consistently expressed their worries about losing their nationalism to people who were not born in their country.
Their worries are confirmed by the EU’s stance on immigration, i.e., open borders, has led directly to parties such as Alternative for Germany (‘AfD’), who contacted the anti-immigration Pegida movement, which held weekly marches against what it called ‘the Islamisation of the West’.
This is little different to how the Nazi Party targeted and persecuted Jewish people as being alien to German Society. There is no doubt that Germany, and most of its population are still sensitive about their war history, however the rise of the AfD suggests that some may not have yet learned from it.
there is admiration for strong leaders, and a feeling they alone can express the will of the people
As events since 2016 have highlighted the sensitivities about ethnic and national identity are as raw now as they were in the 1930s.
In both the new and old groups, there is admiration for strong leaders, and a feeling they alone can express the will of the people. Taken further, it is the force of the leader’s own will which triumphs over the compromises common to lesser politicians.
The rise of populism was helped by the election of Donald Trump, who denounced illegal immigrants, claiming to ‘Make America Great Again’.
What is particularly worrying about Trump’s rise, is the ripple effect it has on the rest of the world, allowing small far-right parties in other countries to flourish.
Trump’s travel bans in 2017 and 2020, were disproportionately aimed at Muslim countries, and similar to what was being called for in some European states.
Trump was a text-book populist:
- He divided society into two camps, ‘the people’ and ‘the elites’,
- He was antagonistic toward intellectuals,
- He rejected culture and knowledge in favour of instinct,
- He actively promoted polarizing views,
- He demonised his opponents,
- There was a general contempt for the judiciary, military, and political powers,
- A strong intolerance of free press
Novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco, took this one step further in his 1995 essay titled ‘Ur-Fascism’ in which he wrote that distinguishing between populism and fascism may not even be necessary, as it’s enough for a political doctrine to share the archetypal elements and values of fascism to then be part of what he calls ‘eternal fascism.’ These elements and values include:
- the cult of tradition and the past, of action over thought, of machismo,
- the fear of difference,
- the appeal to a frustrated middle-class,
- the obsession with international conspiracies,
- an exaggeration of the power of enemies,
- the demonization of ‘rotten’ parliamentary governments,
- the use of simple, impoverished language,
- the glorification of the people as a monolith holding common views.
Whilst Trump may be a spent force in the US, there are others such as the extremist Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene ready to take his place.
Her support for the racist conspiracy theory QAnon and other extreme positions is causing turmoil among Republican lawmakers and across Congress, with comments such as, ‘the real cancer for the Republican party is weak Republicans who only know how to lose gracefully’.
Snippets of her comments include suggestions that no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr’s airplane.
Looking to the UK we can ask, how different was the Trump administration to Johnson’s current Tory government?
As Alistair Cook, the travel writer, observed, Britain is often a few years behind the Americans, but we often emulate their ideas and actions albeit in a British way.
how different was the Trump administration to Johnson’s current Tory government?
It is true that we haven’t seen anything as shocking as the storming of Congress. However, British MPs have been subjected to abuse by hardcore Brexit supporters, and we should never forget Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, who was assassinated by a far-right nationalist.
We have our own culture wars where the mob scuffles with the police, and popular sections in the media pumping out conspiracy theories about the woke and the elite, against mask-wearing and lockdowns. There is, already, a powerful and pervasive right-wing in this country.
Analysis from the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (‘ISD’), show that at least 14 Conservative MPs, including several ministers, cabinet minister Michael Gove and several prominent Tory commentators joined ‘Parler’, the social media platform favoured by the far right that was recently forced offline for hosting threats of violence and racist slurs.
Milo Comerford, senior policy manager at ISD, said: ‘By positioning themselves as a safe haven for free speech and an alternative to the alleged ‘liberal bias’ of social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter, platforms like ‘Parler’ attracted a motley crew of ultra-libertarians, violent extremists and conspiracy theorists, as well as more mainstream ‘free speech fundamentalists.’’
Comerford added: ‘Platforms like ‘Parler’ must be understood as part of a broad online extremist ecosystem, ranging from mainstream social media platforms, imageboard sites like ‘the chans’, to encrypted-messenger apps like Telegram, all of which play roles in helping extremists to mobilise, organise and propagandise.’
At least nine of the Tory MPs on ‘Parler’ joined the platform in an apparent show of support for free speech following Donald Trump’s clashes with Twitter over remarks he made following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota last year.
The social media giant warned that one of Trump’s tweets ‘glorified violence’, the first time it had applied such a warning on any public figure’s tweets.
Twitter’s row with Trump prompted a campaign by American right-wing voices to move en masse to ‘Parler’, which encouraged Trump followers to join on 15 June with a declaration for internet independence.
Other users include Deputy PM Michael Gove, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly, Brexiter Steve Baker MP, trade minister Ranil Jayawardena, and Ben Bradley MP, who was recently accused of linking free school meals with ‘crack dens’, joined ‘. Bradely was the most prolific Tory MP on the site, sending 52 ‘parleys’ and had more than 12,000 followers.
Another Tory MPs to joining was Mark Jenkinson, who last year alleged that food parcels were sold or traded for drugs in his Cumbrian constituency without offering any proof.
Far-right provocateur Katie Hopkins joined on the same day, after her Twitter account was permanently suspended, owned ‘Parler’s’ largest UK account with 435,000 followers when it was taken offline.
Finally, we need to consider why we are seeing the return of far-right politics?
N.B. There is no evidence any Conservative MP posted anything untoward or what might be considered extremist or far right. Some of the accounts had been hardly used and some of those activated in June 2020 appear to have been set up only to support the free speech protest.
Finally, we need to consider why we are seeing the return of far-right politics?
Unsurprisingly, the defeat of the far-right Axis Powers in WW2 saw the demise of their political creed. What followed outside of the ‘Iron Curtain’ countries was a series of moderate centrist governments focused on reconstruction and prosperity. Within this came a liberal society, which, in the eyes of some, became degenerate.
The late 1960s saw a rise in worker protest and strikes as workers sought their share of the prosperity, which continued into the 1970s. The UK was beset with strikes, one even bought the Conservative government of Heath down.
The number of days lost through disputes peaked at 29.4m during the so-called ‘winter of discontent’ of 1979. The average number of working days lost each year in the 1990s was 660,000 compared to 7.2m in the 1980s and 12.9m in the 1970s (2).
In the UK this led to a swing toward the right, and the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, followed in 1981 by the election of Ronald Reagan in the US.
Thatcherism emerged over the course of her premiership, by the mid-1980s the Conservative government’s economic policy was based on a handful of core principles:
- Controlling inflation was preferred to full employment,
- Trade Unions were effectively crushed,
- Industrial policy was based around denationalising industries such as BT, which was seen as broadening the appeal of capitalism through shared ownership.
- Tax cuts encourage entrepreneurship for people who ‘wanted to get on in life’.
- Council houses were sold broadening the base of home ownership,
Since 1979, the Tories have formed C.66% of UK governments, Thatcherism has been a continuing influence.
External factors include the break -up of the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. This newfound ‘freedom’ saw an almost immediate rise in nationalism in several Balkan states, the worst example being the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and the civil war and atrocities that followed.
In parallel with this the EU was exploring open border between member states, via the 1985 Schengen Agreement, which included measures intended to abolish border checks at the signatories’ common borders. In 1990 the Agreement was supplemented by the Schengen Convention which proposed the complete abolition of systematic internal border controls and a common visa policy, this became EU law in the Amsterdam Treaty of 1999.
This freedom of movement allowed migrants from the new EU members in Eastern Europe to enter and work in more prosperous regions such as the UK, Germany, and France. This ‘flood’ of migrants to Germany led to the rise of the AfD.
In the UK, the Blair government in 2005 allowed almost unrestricted migration, which was economically beneficial to the UK economy as migrants often filled jobs and, or, worked for rates the local population wouldn’t entertain. London, whilst absorbing, the majority experienced falling unemployment prior to 2008.
this ‘flood’ of migrants partly explains the ‘Leave’ majority in the 2016 EU referendum
Despite the economic reality this ‘flood’ of migrants partly explains the ‘Leave’ majority in the 2016 EU referendum.
Another factor in the rise of far-right politicians is the appearance of Muslim fundamentalism.
This appears to have started after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan of 1979, in support of the Afghan Communist Party who had seized power earlier that year. They were opposed by local insurgent groups, known collectively as the Mujahideen, who were backed primarily by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UK.
Out of the Mujahideen came terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, who later found infamy with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.
These attacks led the then US president, George W Bush to declare war on states that ‘sponsored’ terrorism, leading to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which spawned more Muslim fundamentalists.
If immigration was one issue that drove the ‘masses’ to support Brexit, the second was the feeling of being ‘left behind’ as a result of the GFC of 2008, and the austerity measures that followed.
The twin policies post the GFC of quantitative easing and austerity served to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. This income inequality, which had been increasing since 1979, was exacerbated by governments response to the events of 2008. Income inequality was covered in detail in last weeks article.
Many commentators suggest that there was no ‘recession’, post 2008. Indeed, if we accept that stock markets are a measure of wealth, then everything appears rosy. This simply endorses my comment; the rich have got richer whilst the poor have got poorer. For example:
- Few people saw any wage growth post-2008,
- Inflation, whilst not at previous level, still rose, making people worse off,
- Even if you had funds to invest yields, by historic levels, were low, this coupled with inflation, eroded the ‘real income generating value’ of savings.
An interesting feature of modern-day Fascism, Populism, is ‘direct democracy’.
As I wrote in ‘Brexit, the most English of Revolutions’ this was pioneered by the Five Star movement in Italy, who used social media and the internet to create a new model for political communications.
From a single on-line platform, members could discuss and vote on policy, and nominate and elect each other to run for office while being steeped in party propaganda. This made supporters believe that the movement’s identity was emerging from their online interactions, whilst party leaders could guide those interactions with messaging from above.
This direct democracy appeals as it appears to be government by the people, for the people.
This can manifest itself in different ways, e.g., the GameStop saga, which resembles the 6 January riots on Capitol Hill. Both are about hordes of angry, foul-mouthed social media addicts laying siege to sacred institutions of their despised establishment.
hordes of angry, foul-mouthed social media addicts laying siege to sacred institutions of their despised establishment
The ‘democratisation’ of the hallowed stockmarket that has accompanied the rise of cheap online brokerage platforms is another form of direct democracy.
One such platform, ‘Robinhood’, provided the digital infrastructure behind the GameStop rebellion, allowing ordinary people to buy shares in companies for small amounts of cash on their phones. Its own mission, repeated by its founders almost ad nauseam over the past few years, has been to ‘democratise finance.’
In conclusion, there are few, if any, lines of demarcation between fascism and populism, despite this there are many followers A report this January by the Institute for Global Change (3), found that ‘there are 17 populists in power at the beginning of 2021, just as there were at the beginning of 2020. The world has lost one cultural populist in Trump, but it has gained one with Slovenia’s Janez Jansa.’
In his political style Trump was a throwback to the 1930’s swaggering fascist bullies such as Mosley and Mussolini.
Whilst he was dangerous, he was predictable and obvious, you could see him coming.
Others, including our own government, are more subtle, you only see them coming after they have arrived which, in many ways, makes them more of a threat. Extreme right-wing governments don’t always seize power by violent means, Herr Hitler came to power via the ballot box.
Whatever the method, whether the rise of the far-right is good or bad is for the individual to decide!
‘You can’t ignore the beauty of the things that you love
Like you can’t stand the hatred and the lies..’
- Federico Finchelstein is an Argentine historian and chair of the history department at the New School for Social Research.
Another epic from Philip as he makes a more detailed examination of another of the recurring themes in his column – this time its ‘to show the links between fascism and populism’; some would consider his observation that ‘neither is very nice’ to be slightly understated, and who could fail to be intrigued by ‘what I find fascinating is the appeal it has to the old who glorify in the war that defeated fascism’.
Philip has long drawn parallels between the circumstances that spawned fascism and populism, and shows that much of their ideology is common, even if the changes in nomenclature have potentially made the modern iteration seem somehow more benign.
Most will recognise the importance of nationalism and symbolism in this context, and few will doubt the fear – real or whipped up – of auslanders; the break up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia and the determination of the EU to allow open access and allow free movement are manna from heaven to those keen to exploit those very fears.
The other recurring thread is that of inequality and the ‘left behind’; those that are, or feel, disadvantaged being corralled into taking action against those that they believe are ‘responsible’ for their predicament – be they immigrants, multinationals or the ‘establishment’.
Trump’s insurrection and even the Brexiteers’ triumph needed someone or something to rail against; fascinatingly, Philip takes it one stage further to suggest that the recent ‘attack’ on Wall Street by those ramping GameStock was yet another example of people coming together on social media to mobilise against a common enemy, although whilst Robinhood may have given the rich a bloody nose, there is an altogether bloodier battle to be fought before finance is truly ‘democratised’.
Some that piled in at $17 and bailed at $469 may find their moral compass has gone temporarily haywire.
As if wrestling with a pandemic and the return of the Beast from the East, isn’t enough, we have a couple of lyrics to challenge you for fun only; first up David Bowie and ‘Fashion’ and a new one to me, the intriguing Big Black and ‘Steelworker’. Enjoy.
Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s