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Old 12-02-2006, 12:06 AM   #1
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What is Fascism?

Since the subject of "fascism" seems to make an appearance here about a dozen times a year, I figured it was time to ask the question of what "fascism" even refers to anymore.

So here's where I'm going to start:

http://orwell.ru/library/articles/As.../english/efasc

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Of all the unanswered questions of our time, perhaps the most important is: ‘What is Fascism?’

One of the social survey organizations in America recently asked this question of a hundred different people, and got answers ranging from ‘pure democracy’ to ‘pure diabolism’. In this country if you ask the average thinking person to define Fascism, he usually answers by pointing to the German and Italian régimes. But this is very unsatisfactory, because even the major Fascist states differ from one another a good deal in structure and ideology.

It is not easy, for instance, to fit Germany and Japan into the same framework, and it is even harder with some of the small states which are describable as Fascist. It is usually assumed, for instance, that Fascism is inherently warlike, that it thrives in an atmosphere of war hysteria and can only solve its economic problems by means of war preparation or foreign conquests. But clearly this is not true of, say, Portugal or the various South American dictatorships. Or again, antisemitism is supposed to be one of the distinguishing marks of Fascism; but some Fascist movements are not antisemitic. Learned controversies, reverberating for years on end in American magazines, have not even been able to determine whether or not Fascism is a form of capitalism. But still, when we apply the term ‘Fascism’ to Germany or Japan or Mussolini's Italy, we know broadly what we mean. It is in internal politics that this word has lost the last vestige of meaning. For if you examine the press you will find that there is almost no set of people — certainly no political party or organized body of any kind — which has not been denounced as Fascist during the past ten years. Here I am not speaking of the verbal use of the term ‘Fascist’. I am speaking of what I have seen in print. I have seen the words ‘Fascist in sympathy’, or ‘of Fascist tendency’, or just plain ‘Fascist’, applied in all seriousness to the following bodies of people:

Conservatives: All Conservatives, appeasers or anti-appeasers, are held to be subjectively pro-Fascist. British rule in India and the Colonies is held to be indistinguishable from Nazism. Organizations of what one might call a patriotic and traditional type are labelled crypto-Fascist or ‘Fascist-minded’. Examples are the Boy Scouts, the Metropolitan Police, M.I.5, the British Legion. Key phrase: ‘The public schools are breeding-grounds of Fascism’.

Socialists: Defenders of old-style capitalism (example, Sir Ernest Benn) maintain that Socialism and Fascism are the same thing. Some Catholic journalists maintain that Socialists have been the principal collaborators in the Nazi-occupied countries. The same accusation is made from a different angle by the Communist party during its ultra-Left phases. In the period 1930-35 the Daily Worker habitually referred to the Labour Party as the Labour Fascists. This is echoed by other Left extremists such as Anarchists. Some Indian Nationalists consider the British trade unions to be Fascist organizations.

Communists: A considerable school of thought (examples, Rauschning, Peter Drucker, James Burnham, F. A. Voigt) refuses to recognize a difference between the Nazi and Soviet régimes, and holds that all Fascists and Communists are aiming at approximately the same thing and are even to some extent the same people. Leaders in The Times (pre-war) have referred to the U.S.S.R. as a ‘Fascist country’. Again from a different angle this is echoed by Anarchists and Trotskyists.

Trotskyists: Communists charge the Trotskyists proper, i.e. Trotsky's own organization, with being a crypto-Fascist organization in Nazi pay. This was widely believed on the Left during the Popular Front period. In their ultra-Right phases the Communists tend to apply the same accusation to all factions to the Left of themselves, e.g. Common Wealth or the I.L.P.

Catholics: Outside its own ranks, the Catholic Church is almost universally regarded as pro-Fascist, both objectively and subjectively;

War resisters: Pacifists and others who are anti-war are frequently accused not only of making things easier for the Axis, but of becoming tinged with pro-Fascist feeling.

Supporters of the war: War resisters usually base their case on the claim that British imperialism is worse than Nazism, and tend to apply the term ‘Fascist’ to anyone who wishes for a military victory. The supporters of the People's Convention came near to claiming that willingness to resist a Nazi invasion was a sign of Fascist sympathies. The Home Guard was denounced as a Fascist organization as soon as it appeared. In addition, the whole of the Left tends to equate militarism with Fascism. Politically conscious private soldiers nearly always refer to their officers as ‘Fascist-minded’ or ‘natural Fascists’. Battle-schools, spit and polish, saluting of officers are all considered conducive to Fascism. Before the war, joining the Territorials was regarded as a sign of Fascist tendencies. Conscription and a professional army are both denounced as Fascist phenomena.

Nationalists: Nationalism is universally regarded as inherently Fascist, but this is held only to apply to such national movements as the speaker happens to disapprove of. Arab nationalism, Polish nationalism, Finnish nationalism, the Indian Congress Party, the Muslim League, Zionism, and the I.R.A. are all described as Fascist but not by the same people.

* * *

It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

Yet underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning. To begin with, it is clear that there are very great differences, some of them easy to point out and not easy to explain away, between the régimes called Fascist and those called democratic. Secondly, if ‘Fascist’ means ‘in sympathy with Hitler’, some of the accusations I have listed above are obviously very much more justified than others. Thirdly, even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it. By ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.

But Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword. -- George Orwell, 1944
And, for the record, I searched to make sure this didn't end up like the "Ben Stein" article. Yes, it appears that Orwell actually wrote this, but on the off-chance that he didn't write this and it's just yet another internet hoax, I think it's a good starting point for discussion, regardless of the author.

Thoughts?
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Old 12-02-2006, 01:14 AM   #2
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Hmmm.

Well of course the word gets bandied about a lot but that does not alter the fact that it has an inherent, albeit slippery, meaning.

Of course Nazi Germany, Franco's Spain, Portugal, Fascist Italy etc were not wholly alike... but they had similiarities all the same.

A few things that would come to mind, in my view:

1. A one-party state arrangement goes without saying. But it's not just that, it's also the politicisation of everyday life, the subsuming of general community life into various wings of an overarching movement supporting the ruling regime. So apartheid South Africa was undoubtedly reactionary but not necessarily an expression of 'fascism'.

Yes, I realise that this would put Soviet Russia in the fascist camp. I'm not sure that would be inappropriate, whatever they called themselves.

2. Certainly war is not an essential precondition, it would be silly to figure that all fascist movements are about ruling the world... they are an expression of unchecked discontent in their host community.

I think that an atmosphere of life as permanent struggle and a glorification of action over thought, are key features of pretty much any fascist organisation I've ever read about.

4. Another feature I'd tend to think worth mentioning is the tendency to see the nation, the state and its leader as one and the same... so to oppose the leader is to oppose everything. This isn't so different from your absolutist kingdoms of medieval times, and I'm not so sure that fascism isn't just a modern expression of the medieval instinct (aided and abetted by modern means of communication and opinion manipulation).
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Old 12-02-2006, 01:20 AM   #3
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Well I admit that I ignorantly use "fascist" as a replacement for asshole. It seems to offend a lot less bystanders than the latter. This was very educational though. Perhaps I should be more discriminatory in using the term.

Honestly though, perhaps because of where I am, but I hardly hear it used at all. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person in town that says it.
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Old 12-02-2006, 01:30 AM   #4
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I thought fascist was used either to describe anti-socialists or the specific political and importantly economic system of the authoritarian movements in Italy, Germany and Spain.
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Old 12-02-2006, 06:34 AM   #5
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I studied History at Uni and my speciality was the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. So that's what always springs to mind when I hear the word fascist. To me it describes an extreme right-wing situation or beliefs, be it leader, party, etc.


Dunno if I explained that well, ah well it's late.
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Old 12-02-2006, 07:38 AM   #6
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What makes it right wing? Cutting social spending and lowering taxes? Populism (which can't really be considered diagnostic of the right)?

The term right wing is bandied about a lot; it is distinct from fascist, conservative, objectivist, libertarian etc.
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Old 12-02-2006, 09:03 AM   #7
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For once I agree with a-wanderer. Like I said in my earlier post, fascism is a distinct phenomenon... I see it as more of a mass psychosis than an ideology... in fact I'd say that it would be quite possible for a mass fascist movement to, at least on the surface, espouse a variety of 'ideals', which could vary greatly depending on the local environment in a given country.

It's about subsuming thought to action, individuality to a group myth, and the aforementioned intrusion of political thinking into every corner of life.

I say I think it's a 'psychosis' because most of the fascist movements seem to me to have been fairly revenge-driven, or driven by the desire to whip large numbers into a 'movement' mentality... excitement over dull routine. And this of course, could apply to movements of the left or the right. I'd tend to pick the right more often if for no other reason than the historical mythical appeal of nation and leader/king/crown to this sort of thinking.

There are many dictatorships in the world and some of them could go on seemingly forever (as many are based on nothing in particular, they are the equivalent of a country being run as a large corporation), but the fascist movements tend to burn out on their own rage, imo.

I'm not sure Imperial Japan was fascist, anyhow. Feudal is the word I'd use.

...which reminds me of the other thing that's been bugging me about all this. 'Left' and 'right' are almost beside the point in this context, there's also the question of 'modern' vs 'postmodern' (or maybe, just maybe 'pre-modern'). I think there's a primal instinct at work in fascism, beyond the fairly recent ideas we tend to have about what constitutes 'ideology'.
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Old 12-02-2006, 09:30 AM   #8
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Fascism emerged from a world of modernism but the movements rallied against the products of modernism, at least culturally. That anti-modern mentality of rejecting social progress (be it pluralism, sexual liberty or political dissidents), romanticising the past (agrarian lifestyles, humble proletariat etc.), preaching historicism and destiny while at the same time using the technology that modernism provided (mass industrial projects, Panzers).

The role of state control when these groups come to power cannot be emphasised enough. The similarities between authoritarian states is because of control be it to achieve socialist paradise, an ethnically pure nation or a state subservent to God and his clerical class.

Are fascists, fascists when they don't have a state apparatus to carry out their will?
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Old 12-02-2006, 09:52 AM   #9
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Devil BUSH ist fascism
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Old 12-02-2006, 10:58 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by jacobus
Devil BUSH ist fascism
Trolling like this isn't necessary, and I'd like to ask everyone here, regardless of whether you love or hate Bush, to ignore this statement. Let's continue to comment on the philosophy I brought up in this thread, if you have something to say.
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Old 12-02-2006, 02:16 PM   #11
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Agreed with some of the above. I guess, to put it as briefly as possible, a fascist state is a dictatorship whose authority is based on fear, where political/religious/artistic/expressive freedom is not permitted. It (fascism) isn't a political ideology or philosophy; in other words none of us can be "fascists" unless we rule a country in our spare time.

Do people think it's worth drawing a distinction between a fascist state ruled by a single dictator (Hitler, Mussolini for example) vs. a state like the USSR that had a ruling party but a succession of physical heads of state?

Agreed with A_Wanderer re: right, conservative, libertarian etc. I think people tend to lump together people whose political views they oppose. For example, folks on the "right" (see, I just did it, but bear with me) often use "liberal" to describe anyone they perceive to be on the "left", or at least to THEIR left...but while I'm certainly pretty far to the left I'd NEVER call myself a liberal. I imagine a libertarian, for example, wouldn't describe himself as a "conservative", though someone on the left might call him one.
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Old 12-02-2006, 08:47 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by A_Wanderer
What makes it right wing? Cutting social spending and lowering taxes? Populism (which can't really be considered diagnostic of the right)?

The term right wing is bandied about a lot; it is distinct from fascist, conservative, objectivist, libertarian etc.

Like I said in my earlier post, because of what I studied at Uni that's just what happens to spring to mind when I hear the word fascist. It just happens to be an extreme right wing state. Fascism could be leftor right wing, I should've made that clearer in my earlier post .
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Old 12-02-2006, 09:26 PM   #13
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When I use the word "fascist", I'm referring to extreme right-wing politics. I recently accused one of the Christian Right groups of being fascist rather than Christian in one of my posts. Maybe this is not the most accurate use of that word. Being a history major maybe I should be a little more careful about my choice of words. Properly speaking, the word came from Mussolini's Italy and can be applied to Nazi Germany and Francoist Spain.
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Old 12-02-2006, 09:53 PM   #14
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There was a British Union of Fascists too, led by one of the leading political lights of his day (albeit a fool)... the 1930s really was the age of dictators, a very troubled time for obvious reasons, and as far as I can tell, prior to the start of the European war, it (the fascist route) was widely viewed in a positive light.

Even the US had its own ranting demagogue in Father Coughlan (and in more polite company, Charles Lindbergh).
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