Severe economic downturns hurt people. The longer a downturn lasts, the more the people are hurt, until inevitably, they get riled up. Many who had been apolitical under “normal” conditions, now want their voices heard. Unfortunately, their lack of political sophistication and analytical insight makes them easy targets for the glib slogans, facile solutions, and deceitful finger pointing of dangerous elements seeking economic and political power at the people’s expense. This was the situation in Europe when fascist forces exploited the ‘30s Depression, came to power, and caused the ultimate slaughter of the people who once supported them. This scenario is again presenting itself in global capitalism’s industrially advanced nations mired in long-term depression conditions.
In Greece, where there is 28% unemployment and people have seen their disposable income slashed by 40%, “the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has promoted openly racist beliefs, and in Hungary…the far-right Jobbik Party backs a brand of ethnic nationalism suffused with anti-Semitism” (The New York Times, 11/9/13). The right-wing Danish People’s Party is gaining followers and the anti-Islamic Party for Freedom in the Netherlands attacks immigration, with its leader demanding that the Quran be banned. In the same Times article we read that “The platform of France’s National Front promotes traditional right-wing causes like law and order and tight controls on immigration,” and, reflecting the rabid nationalism common to right-wing movements, “it rails against globalization as a threat to French language and culture.” Germany has a neo-Nazi party and in the United States our flag-waving anti-government Tea Party is waging war against people’s benefits in the name of freedom.
Also common to these movements, past and present, is that they assiduously avoid the core problem of a failed economic system – one that, because of its inherent mechanism that concentrates wealth in a small elite, cannot meet the material needs of the rest of society. Blame for the people’s plight is always placed elsewhere: The Nazis blamed the Jews; today’s neo-fascists blame immigrants and Muslims; the Tea Party blames Obama. These fascist movements are often engendered by (the Koch brothers in the US) and/or supported by (German industrialists of the 1930s) the capitalist elite. This elite is so clever that, when it perceives popular displeasure with corporate power, it will pander to this perception by also denouncing it. This was one of Hitler’s tactics – and why he named his party the National Socialist Party (Nazi), the “Socialist” implying a turn from capitalist power, which was a total ruse.
Opposition to fascist movements has always come most strongly from – and usually initiated by – the political left critical of capitalism. In fact, Europe’s fascist movements gained momentum by attacking the left – primarily the Communist parties. Even the world’s capitalist-controlled democracies – the US, France, England, etc. – so preferred fascism to a socialist resolution to economic misery that they not only tolerated but often colluded with fascist regimes. Until it was too late – and over 70 million people paid with their lives in WW II. When in 1936 the Spanish fascist Franco launched his attack against Spain’s first democratically elected government that was perceived as left-leaning, not a single Western democracy came to that government’s aid – while Hitler and Mussolini poured guns, planes, and men into Franco’s war machine.
Many today believe that, because of an entrenched history of democracy, a fascist resolution to economic problems cannot take serious root in the industrially advanced nations. While one can easily concur with that, ignorance and complacency can be extremely harmful. These right-wing movements are affecting policy in Europe. And here in the US, the Tea Party, through its congressional representatives, succeeded – against the popular will – in closing the government and bringing it to the brink of financial default. Complete control isn’t necessary to further impair a public that’s already reeling from the deprivations imposed by a failed economy.