20 January 2017

Are the British UKIP and the American Trump fascists?

The fascistic aspects of UKIP and Trump are not enough to label them fascists

Talk on the left often compares the anti-liberal xenophobic nationalism behind Brexit and Trump with the rise of fascism in the 1930s. Is the comparison valid?

Some similarities clearly exist: the attack on liberal values, on rational expertise and cosmopolitanism, through a promotion of ethnic chauvinism, authoritarian nationalism and economic protectionism; and all of this tied up with a vision of a utopian future created out of an imagined past. These ideas do contain elements of fascism, so the label ‘fascistic” could be legitimately applied to the thinking and also to those who promote it.

Yet outside eastern Europe, the populist right has worked within, rather than threatened, democratic structures – and the mainstream populist right have so far not engaged in a cult of organised violence against their domestic opponents. Thus attaching terms like fascist, let alone Nazi, to UKIP and similar parties would be inaccurate.

But, of course, the world today is different from that of the 1930s. Then the workers’ movement was a powerful contender for power; now it is not. Business, today, much of it multinational, does not need nationalist extremists to protect its interests against a weak and largely unorganised working class. So the far right’s main opponent is bourgeois liberalism, not socialism or communism; and therefore its configuration and tactics are different.

But the lesson of the Nazi assumption of power should teach us one thing. Weimar democracy was far from perfect, but Germany until 1933 was a civilised country. In a relatively short time the Nazi regime was able create a chamber of horrors with the complicity of the existing state apparatus. The vulnerability of liberal democracy should never be underestimated. Who would have thought a year ago that EU citizens in the UK, many who have been resident for years, would be be reduced to bargaining chips in the May government’s Brexit negotiations?

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