What is Fascism?
“Fascist” and “fascism” have been part of public vernacular for over 70 years, but unfortunately are little understood and often mis-defined.
The word “fascist” will often be used refer to authority figures, or to describe the curtailment of a freedom.
For some people, this will be the be and end all of the term, and consequently start using it to describe police services doing their job, or even anti-racist activists trying to stop bigots from spreading their hate. Popular media culture has certainly not helped here in spreading the misconception. To an extent, neither have some anti fascist activists who may also be prone to using the term a little too loosely to describe people who are certainly bigoted, but not actual fascists.
So what is a fascism and who can we consider to be fascist in today’s world?
In 1995, A man called Umberto Eco wrote the “Eternal Fascism” essay describing a number of characteristics of Fascism, drawing on his experience growing up in 1940s Italy under Benito Mussolini. These characteristics are widely accepted as accurately describing what constitutes fascism, so can be used as the basis to search for the existence of the ideology in today’s world.
I should emphasise that holding individual characteristics from the list below does not make someone a fascist, but exhibiting a number of the characteristics is a strong indication that this is the case.
The Cult of Tradition
The modern fascist will often look back wistfully to the past, believing it to be a far more agreeable time. British fascists for example will proudly reflect on the empire and colonies, while conversely also harking back to the years before immigration opened up from the commonwealth.
Imagery from the past will feature strongly – historical figures associated with past glories such as Winston Churchill, or going further back, images of the crusades and their fight against the “barbarian” masses threatening western civilisation.
The Rejection of Modernism
This is an extreme take on conservatism. Modern attitudes, studies or discoveries which threaten (the cult of) tradition are strongly opposed by the fascist.
This will manifest in many forms in today’s world. The denial of climate change and often opposition to renewable energy is a trait of the fascists who want to protect their investment in traditional industries regardless of the impact on the future – it is no coincidence that opposition of climate change science is almost always on the right wing of politics. Social science and advances in psychology will be ridiculed and dismissed out of hand. The needs of a changing world will be blindly rejected to conserve the status quo.
The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake
Fascist individuals and groups rely on a frequent call to action in order to draw in those with little interest in intellectual discourse.
Often, attendees of the march will have limited understanding of the issue they are marching for, other than the propaganda slogans they have been fed and have blindly accepted. In fact, many attendees will promote issues unrelated to the organisers intention, but this will not matter as the net effect is the same – a swollen loud angry crowd unified in hatred.
2018 saw pro Brexit and anti Terror marches become “Free Tommy” marches with attendees protesting the incarceration of far right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon aka Tommy Robinson.
A well attended Football Lads Alliance (FLA) march against terrorism became an anti Islam event with several prominent attendees speaking against Islam and immigration.
Several marches have featured banners from the anti Islam For Britain Party, UKIP, Make Britain Great Again, and ethno-nationalists Generation Identity – all taking advantage of attendees raised on hateful rhetoric to boost their own groups.
Disagreement is Treason
One clear characteristic of the wave of populism sweeping the world in the past few years, is that those who oppose the aims of fervent nationalists are viewed as traitors.
In Britain, this characteristic has become more visible primarily due to the 2016 referendum to leave or remain in the EU. The feeling amongst certain groups that those who support the European Union are traitors has grown to the point that any criticism of the decision to leave the EU, or the way it is being managed, is considered a direct attack on the sovereignty of the nation. Many of those who voted to leave are angered by any subsequent analysis of the impact of leaving the EU, demanding loyalty over critical reasoning.
Criticising the actions of the British Empire or revered historical figures such as Winston Churchill is also viewed as treasonous – particularly if the criticising party originates from outside the UK at which point it works hand in hand with another characteristic, Fear of Difference (discussed in the next point). Even critics of an ally of the government and hero of populism, Donald Trump, are viewed as traitors by the British hard right.
This appears to be even more so In the United States, where there is a cult of hardline Trump supporters who will consider any opposition to their president – from Democrats or within the GOP itself as treasonous. Also, as with the UK, criticism of prominent historical figures in US history will lead to accusations of hatred of the nation from flag waving patriots.
Fear of Difference
Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of fascism, but also one which often results in run-of-the-mill bigots being incorrectly labelled as fascists, is Fear of Difference.
For a number of years, the primary focus of this fear has been the adherents of Islam. Terror attacks put Islam under the microscope, and has resulted in an entire industry of hate forming with the purpose of attacking the religion from every angle possible. Criticism ranges from valid questions about the compatibility of certain literal interpretations of scripture, to absurd attacks on cultural elements which have very little to do with core beliefs.
This has been exasperated by the wars which have ravaged the Middle East and resulted in millions of refugees fleeing to Europe – a catastrophe which the far right have thrived on, allowing their movements to swell and a once hidden racist undercurrent to burst into full public consciousness. Pan-European movement Generation Identity has emerged as a consequence, and individual far right nationalist organisations have gained traction. Even mainstream parties have shunted to the right in order to attract support from the growing populist and often unashamedly racist attitudes of their voting populations.
Both mainstream and social media have been complicit in the dissemination of hatred towards those deemed different. Newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express sell issues on the basis of highly divisive headlines designed to stir up fear and hatred of immigrants and Muslims. The pro-Leave referendum campaigns in Britain strongly drew on these feelings to threaten the voters with hordes of immigrants if the UK remained in the EU, and the tactic worked. It now seems to be not just acceptable, but the norm to abhor multiculturalism and diversity, with the far right mockingly using these terms whenever any crime is committed by a migrant or non-indigenous citizen.
The growth of Islamaphobia in particular has been a godsend for closet racists, who are now able to publically air their bigotry as long as the target is a Muslim. The defence of “Islam is not a Race” is used to shield them from being associated with the negative connotations of racism, while “Islamaphobia is a made up word” prevents anti-Muslim hatred from ever becoming as reviled as racism.
Obsession with a Plot
This is another strong characteristic of fascism, and clearly present in the far right movements today. There are several “plots” which the far right are obsessed with at the moment – some will be limited on a national scale, whilst others transcend national and continental boundaries.
One such plot popular amongst the European far right is that of a plan to overrun Europe with migrants from the 3rd world. There are various flavours to this plot, with different perpetrators.
For example, believers of the Kalergi Plan are sure that various world leaders are secretly enacting a plot which will “dilute” European culture and identity with non-European migrants, in order to create a European population which is less independent and easier to control. Others may not specifically call it the Kalergi Plan, but will insist that European civilisation is being deliberately weakened by “Cultural Marxism” and/or “Globalists” to create a more compliant population. They will prove this pointing at the huge influx of migration happening around the world, suggesting that the troubles have been purposely started to achieve this aim.
Such conspiracy theories were also peddled in 1930s Germany – in fact “Globalists” and “Cultural Marxists” have always been thinly veiled descriptions of successful and prominent Jewish people. It’s not surprising that the number one alleged protagonist for these plots is a Hungarian billionaire Jewish man called George Soros.
On a national level, the far right in Britain are pushing the idea that there is plot to silence those who criticise Islam or immigration. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon aka Tommy Robinson, along with various other prominent far right activists are constantly claiming their free speech is being curtailed, yet simultaneously constantly appear on mainstream media. Publicity photos showing these activists with tape over their mouths has been popularly shared over social media. It seems that the irony of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party using exactly the same imagery claiming that their free speech was being curtailed in late 20s Germany, is lost on today’s far right.
Enemy is Simultaneously too strong and too weak
For some years, this tactic has been used to describe immigrants the world over. Whether we are talking about hard right Republicans and their attitude towards migrants crossing the US southern border, or the far right in the UKs views on refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
The migrants will be painted as a fierce fighting-age invasive force who will destroy western civilisation and unleash a wave of irrepressible violence and destruction. Muslims will be accused of attempting to take over society through devious manipulation with the ambition of creating an islamic state. Simultaneously, the migrants will be accused of having weak barbaric culture, an unwillingness to work and a lack of intelligence. Aspects of the migrants culture such as their attire and traditions will be roundly mocked. The fascist will see themselves as superior to the migrant, whilst also afraid that the small % of migrants amongst their population will destroy their way of life.
Contempt for the Weak and Machismo
These two characteristics go hand in hand with the modern fascist. There will be contempt for those perceived as weaker than their role requires. This is often seen with regards to police officers attempting to engage with the community. Videos of officers joining in activities at a Caribbean festival, or Pride event will attract the wrath of fascists who want their law enforcement officers to be distant, authoritarian and impassive.
The language used by fascists is also designed to show contempt for those opposing them by associating them with “weak” stereotypes. “Soy” and “Cuck” are the obvious examples, mostly used to describe men who do not exhibit what they regard as required masculine characteristics.
Meanwhile, chauvinist groups such as Patriots Prayer/Proud Boys will be lauded and held in comparison to members of opposing groups they see as weak – images of unfit, alternative sub culture counter protesters used to emphasise the power and strength of the fascist movement.
Today’s far right movements and prominent individuals constantly claim that they speak for the silent majority, the disenfranchised, the victims of the elite. They will claim that their media reach proves that their opinions are shared by the majority, and attempt to influence Government.
It was such populism which resulted in a British Conservative government agreeing to hold a referendum on membership of the EU. Since the resulting leave decision, prominent Leave campaigners have insisted that they represent the will of the people, and have gone as far as threatening civil unrest if the leave decision is not implemented to their expectations.
Fascism is alive, kicking and gaining traction day by day in today’s world. We mustn’t get caught in the trap of comparing the ideology today with the fascist regimes of yesteryear. Today’s fascists will deny what they are by arguing that they do not want a one party state, or they do not want to inflict genocide on the Jewish population. Or they will claim that the “real” fascists are the anti hate activists who attempt to disrupt them. This is all a smoke screen designed to disassociate themselves with the negativity of the ideology they follow, and hope to strengthen with more recruits from a gullible public.
This is a guest article and was first published on Qoor Rema