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L_Monty
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The Anatomy of Fascism: Week 1 (p. 1-86)

It's long been a tenet of the historiography of the rise of fascism that WWI in some ways created it. But this analysis typically extends to the punitive terms of Germany's "war guilt" in the Versailles treaty or in the economic dislocation created by total-war/total-employment economies adjusting to peacetime needs.

In The Anatomy of Fascism, author Robert O. Paxton reproduces these arguments but also adds an argument which, for the sake of discussion, I'll call "the necessity of absence." Simply put: that Paxton views fascism as an ideology that can't address competing ideologies until they themselves abdicate some aspect of the public sphere. Because it is in some ways a political program without a philosophy, it's necessarily reactive and has to feed on the omissions of others, rather than on any generative ideas of its own. For instance, he writes:

Fascism, too, has historically ben a phenomenon of weak or failed liberal [here he uses the classical definition of "liberal," which Americans would now associate with something like the urbane libertarianism of the Cato Institute — M.] states and belated or damaged capitalist systems rather than of triumphant ones. The frequent assertion that fascism stems from a crisis of liberalism might well be amended to specify crises in weak or failed liberalisms. (81)

Paxton examines this concept by looking at crises of food supply and harvest in Germany and Italy, compared to a struggling France, whose government asserted itself to ensure that the marketplace did not experience a food scarcity. But another omission might be more striking, a more fundamental crisis of liberalism:

Liberals offered [John Stuart] Mill's pallid "marketplace of ideas" to people whose ears were ringing with nationalist and revolutionary propaganda. But it was liberal Europe itself that had violated all its own principles by letting itself be swept into the barbarity of a long war that it was then incapable of managing. (82)

Paxton wants to caution against determinism, but do you agree or disagree that liberal societies' inaction in the face of fascism is a fundamental cause in its rise, or were European fascisms internally powerful enough that the inaction of the state isn't that critical? Perhaps more importantly, does WWI represent liberalism's abandonment of rationality, of state non-intervention, of the triumph of reason in a competition of state systems? If so, is that abandonment really enough to allow fascisms to grow, or are they opportunistic enough that they could appeal to irrationality even in a world that had not so recently succumbed to it?
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Re: The Anatomy of Fascism: Week 1 (p. 1-86)

This article seemed timely for consideration of Fascism.   The British Minister for children and schools predicts a possible return to fascism as a result of the current economic situation.

 

Is this a realistic possibility?  

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Re: The Anatomy of Fascism: Week 1 (p. 1-86)


Everyman wrote:

This article seemed timely for consideration of Fascism.   The British Minister for children and schools predicts a possible return to fascism as a result of the current economic situation.

 

Is this a realistic possibility?  



Well, I'm trying to argue from what I know of the book as "we've" read it so far, so I don't want to jump ahead in the syllabus and provide a comprehensive answer based on the book just yet. (Although I can come back later and do that, if you'd like.) But, from the standpoint of the first third, I would say Paxton's answer would be an emphatic no, for the following two reasons:

1. Although Britain is in an economic crisis, it's not in a constitutional crisis. While the government might change, there really isn't an open debate amongst the nation as a whole, or even amongst a sizable minority, about what Britain is, how British power should be constituted, etc. The institution of British democracy as it is known still endures conceptually.

2. That Britain's National Health and dole systems both provide a substantial safety net for citizens and militate against fascism's need for a government that has totally abandoned whole demographics. Because the British system is interventionist on behalf of its citizens, it defangs fascism's most popular cry—to action!


Personally, I would add a few more arguments as to why it doesn't seem possible:

- Britain's proudly anti-fascist credentials far outstrip its fascist credentials. Oswald Mosely's British Union of Fascists was pretty small-potatoes and was essentially crushed in one afternoon by a bunch of East Londoners who got fed up with them. You can argue that late-seventies punks had more people wearing swastikas than any other group in English history. When push comes to shove — as in, the rest of the citizenry finally feels like shoving back — British fascists have a proud and enduring tradition of getting their butts kicked and their teeth knocked out.

- Much of the "eliminationist" rage that you see in Britain is directed at people from the former colonies emigrating to Britain and "leeching off the system." While the eliminationist rhetoric could be labeled fascist, almost everything else in this formula isn't. Wanting "them out" doesn't really bespeak much of a program for anything else. Further, the rage at the exploitation of the system likewise defangs the fascist impulse that something "must be done," because there is an elaborate largely working system already in place. What needs to be done, at best, is legislate how the system works.

- It's a news article and a government minister talking. Neither are going to be too particular about their usage of fascism because that's just the sort of sloppiness that's crept into the word's usage over decades. I'd be very interested to see whether the groups they're worried about are explicitly fascist or, say, Thatcherite+Racism, which would be disgusting, but wouldn't carry with it all the other vital elements of a fascism. (Although some anti-Thatcherites probably vehemently disagree.)
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Re: The Anatomy of Fascism: Week 1 (p. 1-86)

[ Edited ]

- It's a news article and a government minister talking. Neither are going to be too particular about their usage of fascism because that's just the sort of sloppiness that's crept into the word's usage over decades. I'd be very interested to see whether the groups they're worried about are explicitly fascist or, say, Thatcherite+Racism, which would be disgusting, but wouldn't carry with it all the other vital elements of a fascism. (Although some anti-Thatcherites probably vehemently disagree.)

 

It is also a news article from the Daily Telegraph, the British newspaper that traditionally supports the Conservatives.  Ed Balls  was an advisor to our present (Labour Party) Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and he is part of the Labour Party 'inner circle'.    

 

There have been attempts by the BNP to exploit the current wave of strikes regarding the employment of labour from Italy, under EEC rules.  However, this is not so much racism on their part but part of their policy of opposition to UK membership of the EEC -more zenophobia than racism perhaps.  

 

As you have posted Monty, there is a strong tradition in the UK of opposition to any fascist party and any meeting of theirs is vehemently opposed, usually by various groupings of those on the left wing of the political spectrum.  The mainstream media are also hostile towards them.  There are currently 46 BNP local Councillors out of a total of approx 19,689 in the UK and there are no BNP Members of Parliament or in the House of Lords.  The 46 BNP Councillors represent wards where there are a significant number of ethnic minority residents in towns with a high proportion of ethnic minorities - usually of either Afro-Caribbean or Asian origin.  Their numbers increase/decrease at each election depending on the general mood of the voting population towards immigrants and, in particular, whether the tabloid press, such as the Daily Mail or The Sun is 'whipping up' hostility towards immigrants and/or asylum seekers.  (The Daily Mail has a long history of this sort of coverage, dating back to their pre-war support of Moseley.)

 

I think it can be seen from these statistics that there is, in fact, very little support for fascism in the UK but that support is often irresponsibly exaggerated by the media.   That being said, I agree with Ed Balls that there is likely to be an increase in fascist party/BNP activity during this time of recession/depression because it is an ideal time for such parties to exploit the fact that the UK has a large number of immigrants.  Whether or not our 'welfare state' will protect us from this becoming a political problem will depend upon the length and depth of the recession and how much our interventionist government can do to assuage this.  As you say, a system is in place to deal with this - like dealing with illegal immigration - but it often does not seem to work very well.  (There are those who would argue that this is because our police are institutionally racist and deliberately do not take action when they should, thereby generating racial hostility which leads, in turn, to more punitive laws against immigrants/immigration.)   

 

Our system has also coped with two political and economic crises in recent times, the first being the so-called 'Winter of Discontent' which brought about the fall of the Callaghan government and the second was the Miner's Strike and  economic crisis under Margaret Thatcher which led to 4 million unemployed, 15 per cent interest rates and 8 per cent inflation - more than double the figures we have today.  These two events resulted in orderly changes of government and neither increased the influence of British fascist parties. 

 

During the 1980s when Thatcher was in power, there was a decrease in membership and activity of the BNP (then called the National Front) and this was thought to be because some Conservatives became fairly right wing and racist at this time so fascists had no need to assert a separate identity.  They 'sheltered' under the Conservative wing and quite a few fascist-type speeches were made in Parliament, especially in relation to Apartheid, which was supported by Thatcherites.  When the Conservatives again moved to the centre of the political spectrum, under John Major, the BNP began to mobilise and when Labour was elected in 1997, with a more tolerant attitude towards immigration and ethnic minorities, they finally reached the miniscule strength they have today.        

 

As for our late seventies punks - and there are still quite a few around:smileyhappy: - I think their use of the swastika was more about it being an icon which shocked the older generation than it was about their supporting fascism.  As this piece points out many of the punk rock bands supported the Rock Against Racism gigs organised by the Anti-Nazi League in the 70s.               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


L_Monty wrote:

 


Everyman wrote:

This article seemed timely for consideration of Fascism.   The British Minister for children and schools predicts a possible return to fascism as a result of the current economic situation.

 

Is this a realistic possibility?  



Well, I'm trying to argue from what I know of the book as "we've" read it so far, so I don't want to jump ahead in the syllabus and provide a comprehensive answer based on the book just yet. (Although I can come back later and do that, if you'd like.) But, from the standpoint of the first third, I would say Paxton's answer would be an emphatic no, for the following two reasons:

1. Although Britain is in an economic crisis, it's not in a constitutional crisis. While the government might change, there really isn't an open debate amongst the nation as a whole, or even amongst a sizable minority, about what Britain is, how British power should be constituted, etc. The institution of British democracy as it is known still endures conceptually.

2. That Britain's National Health and dole systems both provide a substantial safety net for citizens and militate against fascism's need for a government that has totally abandoned whole demographics. Because the British system is interventionist on behalf of its citizens, it defangs fascism's most popular cry—to action!


Personally, I would add a few more arguments as to why it doesn't seem possible:

- Britain's proudly anti-fascist credentials far outstrip its fascist credentials. Oswald Mosely's British Union of Fascists was pretty small-potatoes and was essentially crushed in one afternoon by a bunch of East Londoners who got fed up with them. You can argue that late-seventies punks had more people wearing swastikas than any other group in English history. When push comes to shove — as in, the rest of the citizenry finally feels like shoving back — British fascists have a proud and enduring tradition of getting their butts kicked and their teeth knocked out.

- Much of the "eliminationist" rage that you see in Britain is directed at people from the former colonies emigrating to Britain and "leeching off the system." While the eliminationist rhetoric could be labeled fascist, almost everything else in this formula isn't. Wanting "them out" doesn't really bespeak much of a program for anything else. Further, the rage at the exploitation of the system likewise defangs the fascist impulse that something "must be done," because there is an elaborate largely working system already in place. What needs to be done, at best, is legislate how the system works.

- It's a news article and a government minister talking. Neither are going to be too particular about their usage of fascism because that's just the sort of sloppiness that's crept into the word's usage over decades. I'd be very interested to see whether the groups they're worried about are explicitly fascist or, say, Thatcherite+Racism, which would be disgusting, but wouldn't carry with it all the other vital elements of a fascism. (Although some anti-Thatcherites probably vehemently disagree.)

 

 

Message Edited by Choisya on 02-11-2009 05:19 PM
Message Edited by Choisya on 02-11-2009 05:21 PM
Message Edited by Choisya on 02-11-2009 05:27 PM
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Re: The Anatomy of Fascism: Week 1 (p. 1-86)


L_Monty wrote:

Paxton wants to caution against determinism, but do you agree or disagree that liberal societies' inaction in the face of fascism is a fundamental cause in its rise, or were European fascisms internally powerful enough that the inaction of the state isn't that critical?

 

I'm not really knowledgeable enough with regard to this topic to offer an independent opinion of whether or not "liberal societies' inaction" contributed to the rise of fascism.  Paxton seems to pretty clearly offer that yes it did.  His, as Monty noted, "necessity of absence" position soundly argues that if there wasn't a political space for fascism to fill-if it wasn't reacting specifically against some substantial failing of the current system of government-fascism was not likely to "take root."  And, more so than inaction, Paxton seems to imply that there was a certain complicity within states where successful fascist movements arose. 

 

For instance, in his discussion on the Blackshirts' demonstrations in Po Valley, Paxton offers that it wasn't just landowners who looked to the squadristi for help, in the absence of an intervening state authority.  According to Paxton, "local police and army commanders lent arms and trucks, and some of their younger personnel joined the expeditions."  Likewise, "local prefects, resentful of the pretensions of new socialists mayors and town councils, turned a blind eye to these nightly forays, or even supplied vehicles" (62).  And in the discussion of the German movement, Paxton notes that "it has often been alleged that German businessmen paid" Hitler's mass demonstration bills (66).  And, towards the end of the chapter, Paxton's discussion on fascist violence shows both a public and a government aware of, though not really resistant to, "carefully selective violence" targeting "‘terrorists' and ‘enemies of the people'" (85).  With fascists successfully demonizing an "internal enemy" and offering violence as a "harsh necessity in the face of Left provocation," even the "orderly bourgeois...would take some vicarious satisfaction in a carefully selective violence" (84-85).  The public, mindful of the violence, turned a blind eye to that which did not threaten them personally, possibly even appreciating the violence directed at the demonized "others."  See note 85, where Paxton cites Eric A. Johnson's work stating that the "German population...did not perceive the Gestapo...as terribly threatening to them personally" (274).  Meanwhile, the state commuted the death sentences of five SA men responsible for the murder of a communist laborer, as a result of the ‘necessary' violence. 

 

Perhaps the most interesting implication of the necessity for complicity in order for fascist movements to take root is in the discussion of the failed groups.  Following the accounting of La Rocque's Croix de Feu, turned Parti Social Francais, Paxton offers four explanations for fascism's failure in France.  Among them, "Mainstream conservatives did not feel sufficiently threatened in the 1930s to call on fascists for help" (71).  Further, Paxton notes that, in addition to a host of other factors, fascism required a "cooperation from existing elites" in order to find success (75).  Thus, in contrast to Paxton's discussions of the Italian and German movements, states that did not seek fascists' assistance and were not complicit in fascism's targeting of an "internal enemy" did not host successful fascist movements.  For Paxton, part of Hitler's and Mussolini's ability to successfully root fascism relied on their ability to "engage in the compromises and deals needed to fit into the space available" (83).  And that inevitably offers that, in addition to states having available space, the current ruling elite had to be willing to engage in those compromises and deals with the likes of Hitler and Mussolini and their type of politics.

 

I think it's useful to note Paxton's implications of complicity in light of his earlier discussion regarding intellectuals' involvement with fascism.  As he notes, many intellectuals defined and explored the weaknesses of government that fascism then exploited.  However, Paxton states that these "intellectual and cultural critics" are not the "creators of fascism," rather they "account better for the space made available for fascism than they do fascism itself."  He goes on to argue that it's not the intellectual accounting of space that created fascism, emphasizing that "concrete choices and actions were necessary before fascism could come into being" (39).  To parallel that, perhaps one can argue that it's not the mere existence of political space that permits fascism to take root, it's the complicity of some of those both responsible for the space and threatened by it that gives fascism its real license.

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Re: The Anatomy of Fascism: Week 1 (p. 1-86)


Choisya wrote:
It is also a news article from the Daily Telegraph, the British newspaper that traditionally supports the Conservatives.

Thanks. I didn't know which way the Telegraph leaned, so I didn't want to commit to saying anything about their interests. I knew the Mail didn't have the most creditable history as regards far-right elements, and The Sun, as you say, does a great job of mindlessly exploiting racial tension (to what benefit outside their bottom line is anyone's guess).


Our system has also coped with two political and economic crises in recent times, the first being the so-called 'Winter of Discontent' which brought about the fall of the Callaghan government and the second was the Miner's Strike and  economic crisis under Margaret Thatcher which led to 4 million unemployed, 15 per cent interest rates and 8 per cent inflation - more than double the figures we have today.  These two events resulted in orderly changes of government and neither increased the influence of British fascist parties.
Thanks for mentioning these. I had thought about it, because Americans don't tend to know about them, but I also don't feel really comfortable with my level of education about them either. I think most American audiences would consider the Winter of Discontent almost impossible to fathom, as the level of breakdown occurring throughout England was so thorough. I think New Yorkers who sat through 1970s garbage strikes might be able to glean some sense of the paralysis, but even then it'd just be a sense and nothing like real familiarity. I'm curious, though: despite the orderly changes of government, were there significant flare-ups of anything like racial violence/paramilitary groups/far-right demonstrations during these periods? Were they squelched by the orderly transition, or did they fade away?


During the 1980s when Thatcher was in power, there was a decrease in membership and activity of the BNP (then called the National Front) and this was thought to be because some Conservatives became fairly right wing and racist at this time so fascists had no need to assert a separate identity.
It works much the same in the U.S. During Clinton's presidency, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked an increase in hate groups, paramilitary groups and far-right parties in the U.S., all of which declined under Bush, and all of which are getting more vocal again today. I certainly don't mean to blame it on a specific courtship from conservative leaders, nor am I comfortable with naming any one cause. But as these groups tend to be anti-gay, anti-minority and anti-"communist", I think it was easier for them to slip under the fringe of the republican tent during the recent republican administration, because anti-gay, anti-immigration and pro-free-market rhetoric would have resonated with them. (Although Bush to his credit was very heterodox about immigration.)


As for our late seventies punks - and there are still quite a few around:smileyhappy: - I think their use of the swastika was more about it being an icon which shocked the older generation than it was about their supporting fascism.  As this piece points out many of the punk rock bands supported the Rock Against Racism gigs organised by the Anti-Nazi League in the 70s.
Oh, yeah. I wasn't trying to imply they were racist themselves. Just that it spoke to how tenuous fascism's appeal was in Britain that the most mobilized group wearing swastikas in British history was probably just disaffected teens trying their best to say, "NO, YOU SHUT UP, DAD!"
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Re: The Anatomy of Fascism: Week 1 (p. 1-86)

[ Edited ]

I'm curious, though: despite the orderly changes of government, were there significant flare-ups of anything like racial violence/paramilitary groups/far-right demonstrations during these periods? Were they squelched by the orderly transition, or did they fade away?

 

I think they would have been thoroughly 'squelched' by the large number of left wing people involved in the strikes had they raised their heads above the parapet at this time and they 'faded away' under right-wing Thatcherism.  Similarly, their attempt to exploit the recent 'foreign worker' strikes has been 'squelched' by trade unionists. As noted in another post, it is the left wing which is traditionally opposed to fascist uprisings and this has been very much the case in the UK.  Perhaps it was a case such as Paxton outlines (I think) that in 1979 they were looking for the political 'space' which might have arisen had an orderly transition of power not taken place.  It occurs to me as I write this that the quick transition of political power in the UK - a period of around 4 weeks from resignation of one government to the installation of another - might be another factor militating against the establishment of fascism here?

 

And perhaps the likelihood of any para-military involvement was taken care of by the Callaghan Labour government sending in the actual military to collect rubbish, bury bodies etc., which is exactly what Churchill Conservative government did during the even bigger 1926 General Strike. 

 

Although the 'Winter of Discontent' attracted a hostile press and might have seemed to those overseas that Britain was on the brink of a revolution, it was a very orderly and 'stiff upper lip' business for the majority of citizens:smileyhappy:.  The Miner's strike under Thatcher was much more militant because she sent large numbers of London Metropolitan police into small mining villages, which provoked a hostile response not only from the miners but from the public at large, who raised a huge amount of money to support the miners and their families in the strike. She won the battle but it lost her (and the police) a lot of working class support.      

 

I certainly don't mean to blame it on a specific courtship from conservative leaders, nor am I comfortable with naming any one cause.

 

Although from what I read, Paxton seems to think that is more likely to be by alliances with conservatives in both politics and industry that fascists might gain power.  It is perhaps significant that Hitler courted both the British ruling class, including the monarchy, and top British and American industrialists, in his rise to power.  Mussolini too courted the Italian aristocracy.

 

..how tenuous fascism's appeal was in Britain that the most mobilized group wearing swastikas in British history was probably just disaffected teens...

 

Yes, and when it was sported by a possibly disaffected Prince it created a furore:smileyhappy:   

 

 

 


L_Monty wrote:

Choisya wrote:
It is also a news article from the Daily Telegraph, the British newspaper that traditionally supports the Conservatives.

Thanks. I didn't know which way the Telegraph leaned, so I didn't want to commit to saying anything about their interests. I knew the Mail didn't have the most creditable history as regards far-right elements, and The Sun, as you say, does a great job of mindlessly exploiting racial tension (to what benefit outside their bottom line is anyone's guess).


Our system has also coped with two political and economic crises in recent times, the first being the so-called 'Winter of Discontent' which brought about the fall of the Callaghan government and the second was the Miner's Strike and  economic crisis under Margaret Thatcher which led to 4 million unemployed, 15 per cent interest rates and 8 per cent inflation - more than double the figures we have today.  These two events resulted in orderly changes of government and neither increased the influence of British fascist parties.
Thanks for mentioning these. I had thought about it, because Americans don't tend to know about them, but I also don't feel really comfortable with my level of education about them either. I think most American audiences would consider the Winter of Discontent almost impossible to fathom, as the level of breakdown occurring throughout England was so thorough. I think New Yorkers who sat through 1970s garbage strikes might be able to glean some sense of the paralysis, but even then it'd just be a sense and nothing like real familiarity. I'm curious, though: despite the orderly changes of government, were there significant flare-ups of anything like racial violence/paramilitary groups/far-right demonstrations during these periods? Were they squelched by the orderly transition, or did they fade away?


During the 1980s when Thatcher was in power, there was a decrease in membership and activity of the BNP (then called the National Front) and this was thought to be because some Conservatives became fairly right wing and racist at this time so fascists had no need to assert a separate identity.
It works much the same in the U.S. During Clinton's presidency, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked an increase in hate groups, paramilitary groups and far-right parties in the U.S., all of which declined under Bush, and all of which are getting more vocal again today. I certainly don't mean to blame it on a specific courtship from conservative leaders, nor am I comfortable with naming any one cause. But as these groups tend to be anti-gay, anti-minority and anti-"communist", I think it was easier for them to slip under the fringe of the republican tent during the recent republican administration, because anti-gay, anti-immigration and pro-free-market rhetoric would have resonated with them. (Although Bush to his credit was very heterodox about immigration.)


As for our late seventies punks - and there are still quite a few around:smileyhappy: - I think their use of the swastika was more about it being an icon which shocked the older generation than it was about their supporting fascism.  As this piece points out many of the punk rock bands supported the Rock Against Racism gigs organised by the Anti-Nazi League in the 70s.
Oh, yeah. I wasn't trying to imply they were racist themselves. Just that it spoke to how tenuous fascism's appeal was in Britain that the most mobilized group wearing swastikas in British history was probably just disaffected teens trying their best to say, "NO, YOU SHUT UP, DAD!"

 

Message Edited by Choisya on 02-17-2009 06:52 AM