Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I Am Rubber, You Are Glue

Following is my reply to a left-wing blogger ranting about a right-wing author's claim that liberals are fascists:

I swear, it's like watching two teenaged boys, both straight, arguing about which one is gayer.

Both of you appear to be having a knee-jerk reaction against the word "fascist" because it's been reduced to a snarl word that generally means "stuff I oppose" rather than referring to an Italian political movement in the 1930s.

Being a 21st-century American leftist, you equate "fascism" principally with racism and also, to a lesser degree perhaps, with vigilantism. Your opponent, Goldberg, being a 21st-century American right-winger, equates the word with socialism and totalitarianism.

In that much, you're both right. The problem is that you each appear to think it means exclusively the definition you've assigned to it, so when he calls your ideological camp "fascist," meaning collectivist and favoring a domineering government, you hear "racist vigilante" and say, "Nuh-uh! YOU'RE the fascist!" He hears that as "Nuh-uh! YOU'RE the radical, nanny-state socialist!" and denies it right back at you. This could go on forever, and neither of you would benefit.

Let's clear up a couple things that should move this debate forward. In early 20th-century European politics, the term "conservative" referred to aristocratic landowners who favored protectionist policies and an agrarian-based economy. "Liberal" referred to their political opponents--the wealthy urban factory owners, bankers, etc. who favored free trade, military growth, and imperialism, and a system in which power and status went to the rich rather than to the well-born.

These were the two political camps in power at the time. As we see in our bicameral system today, they were only able to work together on things they agreed on. Where they opposed each other, there was gridlock. Neither group represented the common people, though.

The people had their own political movements--socialism, distributism, and various other schemes for giving common workers a voice, and there was disagreement within these movements. One of the socialist sects was the Bolsheviks, which grew to become the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Centered in Moscow, they wanted all other European socialists to pledge fealty to the Communists. The Fascists (in Italy) and the German Workers' Party (later the National Socialist German Workers' Party, a.k.a. "Nazis") resisted Moscow.

It was this division, not anti-socialist sentiments, that led to the Nazis persecuting German Bolsheviks. The Nazis didn't rise to power telling people they were going to murder millions of Jews. They promised--and delivered--a slew of social welfare programs like government-paid health care, education, and retirement, all to be funded by heavily taxing the rich.

Who have we heard promoting that kind of policy lately? The Republicans? The Tea Party?

"But the Nazis were racist, and the Republicans are racist, therefore Republicans, not Democrats, are Nazis! And fascist is just another word for Nazi, so Republicans are fascists! Q.E.D."

In Weimar Germany, antisemitism was at least as commonplace as animosity toward Wall Street bankers and one-percenters in general is in America today--and for similar reasons. It wasn't considered a shameful or taboo topic the way racism is seen in America today. The popular view in Germany (among gentiles, anyway) was that Jewish financiers were largely responsible for destroying Germany's economy. The actual Fascists (in Italy) weren't really all that troubled by Jews. It was at the insistence of their larger, more powerful ally, Nazi Germany, that they started persecuting Jews.

In America, we on the left enjoy this tale of Nixon's "Southern strategy" whereby all the Southern bigots used to be Democrats (Dixiecrats) and then moved en masse to the Republican Party in the 1960s. But do we also claim that all the previously non-racist Republicans likewise left the GOP for the Democrats, to get away from the racist newcomers? In truth, both parties were full of racists up until the mid-20th century when attitudes started to change--not unlike attitudes toward LGBT folk have been changing in recent years. Like antisemitism in the Weimar Republic, white racism against blacks was accepted as normal and proper among whites of both parties for a very long time.

So while American racists today are pretty heavily concentrated among the party of the right-wing, that doesn't make racism an inherently and exclusively right-wing trait. Was Kennedy a right-winger when the racists were Dixiecrats? Was FDR? What I'm saying is that today's Republicans are both right-wing AND racist, but that fact alone doesn't make racism a necessarily right-wing trait. Whether one is racist or not has nothing to do with being left- or right-wing. One can be a racist socialist...as Hitler demonstrated.

At best, then, neither of you are fascists. At worst, you're both capable of becoming such. If a third-party candidate came along addressing exactly the issues that mattered to you, ones that both Republicans and Democrats routinely ignored, and that candidate had such massive support that it looked like he had a good chance at winning and delivering on his promises, it wouldn't be easy to say, "No, I can't vote for this guy because he might be unkind to the people I don't like."

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