Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fascism and Western Politics

I recently used the word Fascism and watched a number of other bloggers go crazy, while others suggested that they were disappointed with my rather angry outburst. So, though I admit that the outburst was initially a little strong, (and I rewrote it the same day), there is an important issue here that should be discussed.

Fascism is a word that is particularly provocative and raises the shackles of many, particularly in right-wing circles where they don’t like being accused of any association with this particular political approach. However, it should be made clear, and I have talked about it on my blog before, that despite the excessive emotion that the word elicits, it is a word that applies quite well to many Western Governments and political parties.

Mussolini famously defined Fascism as a significant collusion between Big Government and big business. And it is conveniently forgotten how popular Mussolini was in North America in the 1930s. This popularity resulted in a special edition of Forbes magazine devoted to Mussolini’s politics which suggested that this was the future of Capitalism. This particular edition of Forbes is now almost impossible to obtain but it makes clear how Capitalists and Conservatives felt about Fascism.

Then in the 50s an American academic and statesman named Bertram Gross wrote a remarkable book entitled Friendly Fascism which outlined how, despite the war, the US had slowly instituted fundamental principles of Fascism through the back door, though with less of the blatantly racist and militaristic rhetoric of the European fascism of the 1930s.

Since Bertram’s book, the fascist mechanisms in the US and other Western countries have dramatically increased and the connection between big business and big government has continually expanded, though in many cases this relationship is so cozy and inherent that it goes unnoticed. Another writer who has talked about this is of course Gore Vidal who documented the military-industrial complex of the US in a startling fashion. Noam Chomsky has also added a great deal to this discourse as have Howard Zinn and a number of other writers. 

Last year I wrote a long blog discussing why the Harper Government is essentially fascist as outlined by Mussolini, Gross, and Vidal. This is not hyperbole but a serious political discourse which most people in the West are unwilling to engage in simply because they don’t want to admit the fundamental ways in which Government has become aligned with business. Furthermore it is not hyperbole to talk about the ways that supposedly moderate parties like the Liberals under a leader like Ignatieff could be seen as inheritors of the friendly fascist tradition. Besides Mr. Ignatieff’s obvious support for Western militarism (including the militarism of the State of Israel), Ignatieff has defended torture, and uses a political discourse that is at times frighteningly Euro-centric and stands up for many of the basic assumptions that neo-conservatism stands for.

Though a blog does not afford the space to properly address the intricacies of these issues, we ignore them at our peril. Democracy in the Western nations is increasingly in crisis: participation rates are falling, public discourse is narrowing (largely as a result of media ownership), access to political office is becoming increasingly more difficult, political discourse is creeping ever closer to business discourse, and Conservative parties are continually attacking basic human and labour rights. I recommend Gross’s book as well as several books by Vidal in order to realize that suggesting a link between Western Governments (and Parties) and Fascism may sound provocative but is by no means hyperbole. Conservatives (and even Liberals) may bristle at the connection but if they ignore it they are not being honest about political discourse. 


L. Miller said...


While it is true to describe Fascism as involving a particularly close relationship between business and government, Fascism is in fact broader than that. Rather Fascism involves a particular type of "corporatism" wherein all the various business, ethnic, farmer, labour, military, patronage, and religious groups are represented.

Taking the Hitler Regime as an example, the Deutsche Arbeitsfront was the official German Labour organization, which carried out the role that you'd expect a Labour union to do, just within the German Fascist context (remember that "NAZI" means "National Socialist"). The Nazi Teacher's Association did much that you'd expect from any teacher association. Etc...

The NAZI regime re-established German Society around these corporatist structures, balancing the interests of each segment of the society in its own way.

It wasn't a "true" corporatist system, of course, because it was actually a dictatorship. But the structure of society was more-or-less fascist, which fundamentally requires corporatism and not merely an alliance with big business.



kirbycairo said...

Hello L. Miller
Indeed, you make good points here. But the point I have been trying to make is that these wider structures of corporatism are slowing creeping into many Western Countries with a slightly 'friendlier' and less threatening face. Furthermore, the political style of Stephen Harper aims fairly clearly at manifesting these kinds of structures in Canadian society. Though it is clear that there are no specific labour organizations to play the role that they did in Germany, we must remember that Germany is not the only model of European Fascism that existed. Spanish or Italian fascism is more relevant to our discussion here. Furthermore, the use of the Socialism by the NAZIs was an intentional effort to mislead people about the nature of the NAZI regime. The systematic murder of socialists by Franco makes this issue pretty clear. If we us a wider definition of Fascism than NAZI to describe a destruction of democratic institutions and processes and a gradual alignment of cooperate interests with government efforts, then I think it is pretty safe to argue that Stephen Harper is part of a move toward fascism. (But it should also not be interpreted in a partisan way, because I believe that there are many elements in the Liberal Party which is also moving in this direction).

L. Miller said...


I see your point, and I read your posting from 2008. But it is one thing to be accused of having a 'political style' that metaphorically aligns with elements of 'fascism' and quite another to actually transform the Canadian state and the function of parliament, shutting down representative democracy.

For instance, the Parliament buildings in Germany were burned down shortly after the NAZIs took power and they suspended almost all civil liberties and subsequently arrested thousands of their political opponents as terrorists. Two years later the Nuremberg Laws were passed.

I'm wondering what specific citizen rights have been abrogated, or what elements of democracy have been repealed, since Harper became Prime Minister.

kirbycairo said...

Hello Miller
First of all it should not be forgotten that I have made a point to comment quite specifically about Gross's book entitled Friendly Fascism, and it is called that with good reason.

Secondly, part of the issue here is not simply specific changes in institutions but a repositioning of ideology throughout society. For more on this I point to Gramsci's theory of Hegemony.

Third, there are specific things that we can point to that are very important and influential. Among these things I would include the following. The elimination of the funding for court challenges. Challenges to the supreme court over issues tied to the Charter is one of the most important ways that individual citizens can keep the government in check regarding individual and minority rights. The elimination of almost all adult literacy programs in the country. It is clear that adult literacy is a central part of how people not only view government and their relation to it but it is central to the degree to which they are able to challenge government's role in their lives. And, of course, people all over the world have commented on the Harper government''s role in reducing transparency, particularly in regard to freedom of information, one of the most central parts of democracy. Within Parliament itself the Harper Government's efforts have been quite clear including a handbook for committee chairs to manipulate and close down debate. Furthermore, the proroguing of parliament was very clearly an effort to undermine the sovereignty of the house. This event made Harper's dangerous centralism very clear as he misled the Canadian public into believing that the 'people' elect the PM which has never been true in the British Parliamentary system. He portrayed the will of the House as a potential coup and shut down parliament. And he did so in his personal political interest. The tie to Fascism here is very clear. Also significant is the constant use of advertising by the Government, attacking any perceived threat against their hold on power as well as the war in the middle-east. Let us not forget that a central part of most fascist thought is the idea of maintaining a constant sense of war or threat which allows them, in this case, to stand up in parliament and accuse any opposition of being tantamount to treasonous.
None of these issue is very significant in and of itself but only within the context of the shifting ideological structures.
Once again, I have to say that you are too attached to the German model as the only model of Fascism. In regard to 'friendly' fascism as defined by Bertram Gross, Italy is a much better model. Furthermore, Spanish fascism functioned for forty years as a pseudo-democracy but was de facto a fascist state.
All of this, coupled with what I believe is a very basic crisis of democracy's credibility and the creeping influence of money in the process, makes me say there is a real danger here.