Monday, March 28, 2011

Fascism And The USA

Let's get a few things straight before we get going here. Firstly, fascism is on the right of the political spectrum. In fact, it's the furthest right position possible. It's left-wing analogue in Communism. In very simple terms, the difference is that in Communism, the state (in theory) serves the people while in Fascism, the people serve the state. Granted, the two look similar to the person suffering under them because both are authoritarian and authoritarian regimes always look somewhat similar but they have very different reasons for being authoritarian. Secondly, despise whatever lies you may have been told, fascism and socialism or communism have nothing to do with each other. While the mental picture of Fascism tends to bring to mind Hitler's Nazi party (it's not a Godwins if you're talking about legitimate history) which was called the "Socialist Worker's Party", the plain facts are that firstly, the "Socialist" appelation pre-dates Hitler's rise to leadership; secondly, the insertion of "Socialist" in the name and a couple of socialist points in the manifesto were a fairly cynical attempt to bring in extra members and thirdly, upon Hitler's assumption of power, all the Socialist aspects except the name were dropped under Hitler's instructions (the Nazi party being run under fuhrerprinzip or "what the boss says, goes").

Fascism as a political ideaology can be attributed to Mussolini, who invented (or possibly stole, it's unclear) the ideaology sometime between 1915 and 1920. Mussolini variously described the ideaology as being "the union of corporate and state power" or "corporate control of the state". It's clear that, while under Communism, the state would control business; under Fascism, business would control the state. Depending on which version of Fascism you're talking about (Mussolini's is Classical Fascism, Hitler's was Racial Fascism, there are many other variations), you can sometimes add that the state would curtail or encourage various business practices depending on what industries it considered valuable (this was far more prevelent in Hitler's version than Mussolini's). While Communism envisions the state gradually withering away entirely to leave a collectivist utopia, Fascism concentrates power into the state and the state prostrates itself to business.

Now, the topic of this essay is whether the USA can be considered a Fascist state. To that end, we shall start by looking at Dr Lawrence Britt's list of Fascism's fourteen defining features but before we start, a word of caution about Dr Britt's list: While I'm sure that Dr Britt does not intend to promote misinformation with his list, he has a tendancy to use "Fascism" as a generic term for authoritarianism and, in my opinion, misses a few pointers and gives too much weight to others. However, his list makes a good starting point so here we go.

1 - Powerful and Continuing Nationalism. This is one of the major features of Fascism and one where it can be easily distinguished from socialism or Communism. While Socialism and Communism are explicitly transnational (think of the Communist Internationale), Fascism is powerfully nationalist and, usually, nativist. The flag is seen everywhere and the nation is identified with the party. On this one, the USA is guilty as sin. The USA has always been more nationalistic than many nations. Think of popular slogans like "love it or leave it" or "my country, right or wrong". Think of how often any American criticising an American policy or historical act has to stress that they love their country. In other nations, that would just be assumed. Think of the doctrine of "American Exceptionalism" or the uproar when Michelle Obama said she was "really proud of her country" for the first time. In the USA, patriotism is not just expected but socially enforced by public approbation.

2 - Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights. Because of Fascism's use of scapegoats and fearmongering and the glorification of the state, rights are seen not as due simply for being human or granted by the divine but granted by the state, which may withdraw them as it wishes. Frequently, rights are first withdrawn from official scapegoats with the rationale that "they're only terrorists/communists/Jews/Gypsies, they don't deserve rights". Here, the USA has a mixed record. The Bush administration's hatred of human rights is well known (and their escape from accountability will forever be a stain on Obama's record). The withdrawal of habeus corpus rights from anyone accused of terrorism (including at least two American citizens) is notorious. While it's unclear whether Bush's reputed description of the Bill of Rights as a "goddamn piece of paper" was actually true or not, it's clear that they acted as if it were. The Obama administration has not gone any further in destroying humans rights than the Bush administration did. However, they have also not reversed much of the damage. Most provisions of the Orwellian-named PATRIOT Act remain in force, Gitmo remains open. So a mixed result.

3 - Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause. Fascist regimes always single out something to unite against. In this, Fascism understands human nature far better than many political ideaologies. It is vastly easier to get humans to unite and stop grumbling when you convince them that they're under attack. It's also the case that humans love to play the victim. You will rarely find any societal group, no matter how repugnant, that doesn't claim to be under attack. White supremacists claim to be under attack by race-mixing, Fred Phelps claims to be under attack from "sodomites", even Hitler claimed to be defending Germany against Polish forces (no, I'm not kidding). Here, again, the USA has a mixed record. Historically, one could mention the crazed panic of "Reds under the bed" and McCarthyism (as it turned out, while the USSR would doubtless have loved to undermine US society, they never came close to having the capacity to do so). In recent history, the Bush admin used terrorists as a unifying scapegoat (although, credit where it's due, they never equated terrorists with Muslims despite many fellow travellers doing so) while the Obama admin hasn't used it half as much. In fact, this is a far more pronounced tendancy on the American right than the left. While outright hatred of Obama in particular and liberals/progressives in general has become a cause celebre on the right and the Teabaggers sole defining characteristic, there is nothing similar on the left (no, Baggers, liberals were NOT this bad to Bush). So, mixed again.

4 - Supremacy of the Military. In Fascist regimes, the military is always given a disproportionate amount of funding, military service is glorified and glamorised. Now, is the USA guilty of this one? OH HELL, YES! The USA spends more on it's military than every other nation in the world combined. The yearly budget increase alone is more than the entire military budget of your nearest competitor. The USA has enough firepower to render the planet devoid of life several times over and that's without even using the nuclear arsenal. And military spending is sacrosanct. Even when the economy is supposedly in trouble, no-one is seriously talking about cuts in military spending. Likewise, joining the military is not just seen as performing a valuable and necessary service , as it is in other nations, but as an automatic act of heroism sufficient to give one additional gravitas even in unconnected areas. John McCain's entire campaign for president was contingent on his having spent five years as a PoW in Vietnam and, while I respect that service, one must ask how it gives him any additional insight on, say, economics or foreign relations?

5 - Rampant Sexism. In Fascist regimes, power tends to be controlled almost exclusively by males. Women are exhorted to breed, to be homemakers. Traditional gender roles are socially enforced. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are surpressed. Here, again, the USA has a mixed record. While no-one would claim that the USA is free of sexism, it has become both less prevelent and less tolerated in recent years. Divorce is relatively easily available and while gay rights still has a long way to go, things are slowly moving in the right direction. The rampant sexism often claimed by supporters of Hillary Clinton's campaign for president turned out, on inspection, to be mostly untrue (mostly, there were some seriously sexist attacks on her though). The exception is abortion. Abortion rights in the USA have always been under attack. While the Supreme Court legalised abortion under most circumstances with Roe V. Wade, the American pro-life movement (which is concentrated on the right but not exclusively so) has never conceded their loss. Challenges to the law by both individuals and state legislatures are frequent and campaigns of threats, intimidation and sometimes outright terrorism have forced many abortion providers out of business.

6 - Controlled Mass Media. The USA is innocent of this one. Fascist regimes tend to have a controlled media, either through outright state control (interestingly, the BBC, which is state controlled, is considered the global standard of scrupulous impartiality) or through sympathetic media figures and censorship is common. Here, the USA can hold it's hands up and say "not us". While the media in the USA is controlled by it's corporate ownership and therefore, the USA has the most conservative media in the free world (anyone who genuinely thinks the US media is liberally biased should shoot themselves to remove their stupidity from the gene pool), the state exerts very little control over the media itself. Regulation consists mainly of dividing up the available TV and radio bandwidth and ensuring against monopoly (although even that is very often ignored). The FCC, an organ of state, attempts to control content to ensure appropriate broadcast times (and is sometimes absurdly restrictive on sexual grounds) but censorship on political grounds is entirely absent. One must mention Fox News here. Fox News is dedicated to attacking Democrats and liberals/progressives in general and President Obama in particular. As much as they may bleat about Obama's supposed "fascism", their continued operation proves otherwise because such a 24/7 attack/smear machine would never be allowed in a Fascist regime.

7 - Obsession with National Security. This one goes in cycles. In general, the sequence goes that there is a terrorist or international incident. Then the USA goes batshit crazy about national security for a few years, stripping back rights, inconvieniencing the average person and arresting anyone who looks sideways at a landmark. Then gradually, the panic wears off and things go back to more-or-less normal and the cycle repeats.

8 - Religion and Government are Intertwined. This is another one much more true of right-wing administrations than leftish ones. It's easily observable that the USA is one of the most religiously extreme natiuons in the western world, not as a matter of policy but as a matter of the public psyche. In right-wing administrations, the state tends to push religion as much into state power as it legally can (and, in some cases, further). Again, the Bush admin should be our guide. Bush instituted the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives (as one wag pointed out "9/11 was a faith-based initiative"), positions were commonly staffed by graduates of Pat Robertson's university. Monica Goodling, a Bush appointee who ended up smack in teh middle of the US Attorneys scandal, routinely made staff recomendations based on religious views and Whitehouse prayer meetings and Bible study were, while not enforced, an expected part of life. While Obama is a Christian (or claims to be anyway, it's not my job to play No True Scotsman) and has continued the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, he has been noticeably more circumspect about bringing his faith into his public life. Partly, that can be attributed to the attention whoring of his former pastor, Rev Wright.

9 - Corporate Power is Protected. Another biggie. This, and the following entry, are two of the defining features of Fascism. The industrial and business leaders are both those who put politicians into power and those who benefit from their policies, creating a mutal cycle of corruption (in fact, if not in law). And on this one, the USA is guilty. The tremendous deference shown to wealth in the USA is easily observable, both by the almost deification of business leaders and by the public outrage shown when the Obama admin suggested raising the top rate of income tax by 3.5%. Suddenly, a wimpy moderate of a leader became "SOCIALIST, COMMUNIST!". While Obama has been less deferential to wealth than Bush, he has still been far more accomodating than most Western leaders.

10 - Labor Power is Suppressed. Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed. This is another one where there's a real left/right divide. The right, which has become simply the political arm of Big Business, is ruthlessly anti-labour and routinely presses for lower wages and benefits or, lately, the outright banning of the union's power of collective bargaining ("First, they came for the trade unionists"). The left tends to be more supportive of labour power and while teh cynical would say that's because trades unions donate mainly to Democrats (and there's an element of truth to that), they rarely ask why unions mainly donate to Democrats.

11 - Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts. Another one where the divide is pronounced. The right in teh USA is fiercely opposed to both intellectuals and the arts and has been for many years. There is a very, very strong streak of anti-intellectualism to the right which is not only suspicious of intellectual achievment but outright hostile to being taught anything. If you took a shot every time Sarah Palin bashed intellectuals, you'd almost be as wasted as Sarah Palin. On the other side, the left has a tendancy to listen to intellectuals only selectively (see for example, the fact that scientists have been ringing giant alarm bells about global warming for years) and ignore the arts altogether.

12 - Obsession with Crime and Punishment . This is another one the USA is guilty of. Of the countries which release statistics, the USA has the highest population of prisoners in the world. Red China locks up less people than the USA does. The US has over seven million people either imprisoned or on parole, around 730 people per 100,000. The nearest comparison is Russia which has 584 per 100k. And there is a marked racial disparity. 70% of US prisoners are non-white. In fact, of the three major ethnic groups in prison, whites make up the least populous group and blacks the most (Hispanics are in the middle). The USA is also one of the very few western nations which retains the use of the death penalty and by far the western nation which uses it most. In 2009 (2010 records unavailable), the USA executed 52 people. Compared to China (which executed at least 1700), that's not too bad but it stands in marked contrast to the rest of the western world which executed none. I don't want to argue the merits of the death penalty here but there is often a disturbing level of glee seen in teh USA when someone is executed. The execution seen less as a terrible necessity than a cause for celebration.

13 - Rampant Cronyism and Corruption. We're using "corruption" here in it's non-legal sense. That is, the influence of personal advantage or nepotism in policy. And here is another where the USA is guilty as sin. The revolving door between politics, business and media doesn't need any further ranting from me, one needs only examine Dick Cheney's personal history. Fox currently has at least three possible Republican candidates for president in 2012 under contract. Bush was the son of a former president, Hillary the wife of another. In itself, it doesn't prove nepotism but it is an uncomfortable observation for a country which supposedly has no aristocracy.

14 - Fraudulent Elections. Now, this one is complicated. I will go to my grave knowing that the general election of 2000 was stolen. That is known, it is proven (by the Florida Ballots Project) and it is not up for dispute. The 2004 election, I don't know. The 2006 and 2008 elections clearly weren't stolen but they may have been tampered with. What's more concerning is that the US's use of unaccountable "black box" voting machines makes it impossible to be sure of election results. That such machines are absurdly easy to corrupt is well known and has been demonstrated numerous times but what is less well known is that the state is not even allowed to examine or certify the software they use. It's proprietery software, considered "trade secrets" so the companies that manufacture the machines have to simply say "Trust us".

That's Dr Britt's list. I consider it incomplete. I would add:
- Rural populations are exhorted. Within all Fascist regimes, the simplicity of the common volk is glorified. Granted, this is also a feature of Soviet Communism (to the extent that Soviet artwork has been described as "girl meets tractor"). On this, the American right is clearly guilty. Witness Bachmann's paens to small-town America, "real America, if you will"; Palin's pride at coming from a state with the population of San Bernadino. Fascism always comes from such rural populations or, at least, seeks to identify itself with them.

- Obsession with productivity. In the words of the Nazis "Work will make you free". Work is held to be the reason for living and those unable to contribute are derided as "freeloaders" or "scroungers". The USA is guilty on this one but so is much of the rest of the world. The British ConDem government (evil, evil bastards) have made it the cornerstone of their entire economic policy.

- Looks back to a "glorious" past. "I want my country back!". How often have you heard that in recent months? This is another feature where Fascism and Communism are directly opposed. While Communism always looks forward to a glorious future, Fascism always looks back to a glorious part, a (usually imagined) Golden Age. For Mussolini, it was the Roman Empire. For Hitler, it was the Holy Roman Empire (which was neither holy, Roman nor an empire). For the American right, it's the 1950s. An era where minorities, women and children knew their place, everyone had a job that paid decent wages and the USA bestrode the world like a collossus. The irony, of course, is that much of their perception of that period is based more on Happy Days than actual history and the Democratic policies they so bitterly oppose are the ones more likely to help get back to that employment level.

So, those are my additions and we're up to 17 points. Taking those into consideration, I would say that the USA is NOT a Fascist nation (yet) but that the country is in danger of becoming so and teh American right, the Teabaggers in particular, very much are Fascists. What I hope I've demonstrated through this essay is that "Fascism" isn't just a nasty name to call someone or a synonym for all authoritarian regimes. It is a specific set of reasons and principles, a defined and identifiable ideaology.

1 comment:

  1. The "debate" over "Fascism" vs "Communism" is reminiscent of Right-Wingers that love saying America is "A *Republic*, not a *Democracy*!", thinking the terms actually have anything to do with the beliefs of Political Parties.

    I love to point out to these mental midgets that "the Soviet Union, the USSR, was the United Soviet Socialist *Republic* and there's The Peoples *Republic* of China. Is that what you mean when you say we're a 'Republic not a Democracy'?"

    I've yet to receive a coherent answer to that one.


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