What the elite mean by Fascism
Brendy is pretty right about current usage below but his definition of historical Fascism is weak. As a retired Marxist, he relies largely on Trotsky for a definition of it. And that definition is conventional rather than history-based. The classic Marxist lie is that Fascism/Nazism was middle class. Yet the most fanatical Nazis -- the "Sturmabteilung" -- were overwhelmingly working class. And Hitler's origins as a hobo are also not middle class.
The defining characteristics of Fascism are socialist rhetoric and extensive government control of industry. And those things are true of most developed nations to this day. Control of industry these days is done by laws and regulations rather than by having a party representative on-site at major business establishments but the result is very similar. There is great government control in both cases. So does Fascism still exist in the world today?
It does to a considerable degree. The overt hostility to other countries is gone but that is about it. Historical Fascists had great national pride and tried to take over territory from other nations -- but America's many wars abroad are not so different. The propaganda is better but there has been an obvious intention to reform other nations along American lines. America has tried to Americanize the world.
And it may be noted that most of America's wars have been entered into by people who also espouse socialistic rhetoric. Socialistic rhetoric was joined with war by Hitler and the same is largely true of the USA. Democrat President Woodrow Wilson got America into WWI. FDR got it into WW2. Kennedy got it into Vietnam. Only the Iraq intervention was the work of a Republican and that was in response to a direct attack on the U.S. homeland -- so was essentially a defensive war.
And, as with past Fascist military adventures, American interventions abroad have had very poor success. The last clear success was in Korea and even that succeeded only in the South.
But in a sense America's military efforts are incidental to American dominance. American mass culture has conquered the world. Guns and bullets are a crude instrument of influence compared to that.
So I do think that real Fascism is not only alive and well but is the dominant form of government today.
Having divorced politics from popular opinion as a way of keeping in check the presumed fascist tendencies of the masses, it is not surprising that the political class views the public’s recent attempts at ‘taking back control’, at joining back together opinion and democracy, as a return of fascism. Their great fear is that the lid they put on the masses’ latent fascism, their distancing of the political machinery from public prejudices, has been lifted. They are screaming ‘fascism’ because they see fascism in us, in ordinary people. Thus the accusation of fascism expresses a profound hostility towards democracy itself, and to the demos. It is pure elitism to see fascism in the new politics. Which is why the most elite sections of society — archbishops, princes, heads of global institutions — are often to the fore in the fascism frenzy.
And of course, what they describe as ‘fascism’ — Brexit, people worried about immigration, Trump — is nothing of the sort. These things don’t even come close to fascism. As Weismann argued, even ‘dictatorship, mass neurosis, anti-Semitism, the power of unscrupulous propaganda, the hypnotic effect of a mad-genius orator on the masses, and so on’ do not necessarily constitute fascism. Fascism, he said, was something different to all that, something more than all that. Fascism, in essence, is a mass, paramilitary movement that acts as a stand-in for normal politics and normal statehood when that politics and statehood cannot deal with a threat it faces, primarily the threat of revolution or of organised, agitating labour. As Trotsky put it, fascism occurs when the ‘police and military resources’ of a society, and its parliamentary process, ‘no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium’. In such circumstances, as happened most notably in Italy and Germany, the rulers of society give way to, or rather push to the front, a mass violent movement fashioned to crush the threatening force. Fascism, basically, is when a society in crisis green-lights civil war as a means of stabilising itself in the longer term.
This fascist movement is made up from the ‘crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralised lumpenproletariat’, in Trotsky’s colourful, cutting phrase. Brought to ‘desperation and frenzy’, this mass, paramilitarised section of society sets about ‘annihilating’ workers’ movements and of course executing anti-Semitic savagery. The consequence is that ‘a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallisation of the proletariat’ — ‘therein precisely is the gist of fascism’, said Trotsky. This is why those who say ‘the Nazis were left-wing, you know’ are wholly wrong. Fascism fundamentally represents the violent marshalling of a certain strata of society to the end of crushing the left and the working class. Yes, the Nazis in particular used socialist terms, even calling themselves the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. But as Trotsky says, that was merely the means through which a mass movement could be built. Fascism’s leaders ‘employ a great deal of socialist demagogy’, he said, for this is ‘necessary to the creation of the mass movement’.
Nothing even remotely like this exists today. None of the conditions or groups that make fascism, and which make it distinct from hatred and demagoguery and even from dictatorship, exist in Europe or the US in 2017. There is no powerful workers’ movement posing such a threat to the stability of capitalism that it needs to be destroyed. No ‘crazed’ petty bourgeoisie is being armed and goaded into civil or class war as a means of ‘annihilating’ vast numbers of their fellow citizens. People — well, ordinary people — have not been whipped into a frenzy. Indeed, it is the patience of Brexit and Trump voters in the face of incessant defamation by the media and political set that is most striking.
It is a fantasy to claim fascism has made a comeback. And it’s a revealing fantasy. When the political and media elites speak of fascism today, what they’re really expressing is fear. Fear of the primal, unpredictable mass of society. Fear of unchecked popular opinion. Fear of what they view as the authoritarian impulses of those outside their social, bureaucratic sphere. Fear of the latent fascism, as they see it, of the ordinary inhabitants of Nazi-darkened Europe or of Middle America, who apparently lack the moral and intellectual resources to resist demagoguery. As one columnist put it, today’s ‘fascistic style’ of politics is a creation not so much of wicked leaders, as of the dangerous masses. ‘Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you’, he says. ‘Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you.’ In short, not leaders but the led; not the state but the people. This, precisely, is who terrifies them. This, precisely, is what they mean when they say ‘fascism’. They mean you, me, ordinary people; people who have dared to say that they want to influence politics again after years of being frozen out. When they say fascism, they mean democracy.