Christmas 2015 in the Shadow of Fascism Spread by Demagogues Trump and Cruz
Christmas 2015 in the Shadow of Fascism Spread by Demagogues Trump and Cruz: Duce Trump Hits New Lows of Barbarismbabbling in Hitler-Speak about “Untermenschen,” Implied Threats to Kill Reporters, Scatological Attacks on Clinton, and Slanders of Abraham Lincoln
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Morning Briefing | Wednesday, December 23, 2015
For the first time in a long time, the approach of Christmas 2015 takes place under a threatening cloud of Fascism on the home front. The bearers of this Fascism are leading politicians of the Republican Party, including in particular the hotelier Donald Trump and the professional hypocrite Ted Cruz. We are now witnessing the appalling spectacle of how even a relatively modest fascist agitation can, in the era of the Internet, begin to degrade and pollute the entire political culture and public life of a great nation — in this case, of the United States.
Trump says he hates all reporters, but will not kill them – which amounts to a death threat. Trump talks about certain Arabs as Untermenschen – meaning literally sub-human – and thereby employs one of Hitler’s favorite expressions. Trump claims that Mrs. Clinton got “schlonged” in the Democratic primaries of 2008. He makes fun of Mrs. Clinton because she went to the bathroom. He also hates Abraham Lincoln because he put secessionist editors out of business.
Looking back to the 1930s and 40s, we would have to repeat that the United States is the anti-fascist country par excellence – a place where fascists never seized power, which never allied with fascists, and which never made appeasement of Fascism into the centerpiece of foreign policy. Nevertheless, Americans today are on the whole ignorant about what Fascism really stood for. Accordingly, this Daily Briefing will continue its efforts to educate the public about the basic features of fascism. Today we will summarize some material from two important studies of Fascism which are, to the best of our knowledge, not available in English. These are the Marxist Daniel Guérin’s Fascisme et grand capital (Paris: Maspero, 1969), and the left social democrat Wolfgang Abendroth’s Sozialgeschichte der europäischen Arbeiterbewegung (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970). We will concentrate this time on the sociology and psychology of the fascist movements, mentioning the obvious parallels with Trump and Cruz from time to time.
Fascism has often been described as the revolt of the enraged middle class as it is crushed between finance capital on the one hand, and the immiserated and super-exploited working class on the other. Fascism often starts off with a grievance, be it Italy’s lost fruits of victory in World War I according to Mussolini, or the stab in the back of the victorious German Army by cabals of socialists, liberals, Jews, and trade unionists in Berlin, according to the delirium of Hitler.
These grievances, along with the fear of losing one’s class position in society, were particularly important for the chauvinistic petty bourgeoisie, understood as lawyers, doctors, editors, small business people, shopkeepers, small farmers, and white-collar or management workers in general. According to Guérin, these types of petty bourgeois are generally docile and eager to obey the rules set down by the society. But, when they are threatened with falling into the proletariat or Lumpenproletariat (criminal underclass), the placid petty bourgeois goes crazy, and is ready to take part in actions of the most extreme type. Studies of the Nazi voter in particular, have stressed the dominance of petty bourgeois individuals in the pro-Hitler electorate.
Another indispensable building block of Fascism is the cult of irrationality, meaning the conscious and deliberate rejection and slander of human reason, in favor of a world dominated by mythology, mysticism, animism, totemism, paganism, and superstition (Aberglaube) generally. The German Nazis officially designated the operatic composer Richard Wagner and the proto-fascist philodoxer Friedrich Nietzsche as their own precursors, and this is substantially accurate. (The Nazi list of intellectual inspirations also included the British anti-Semite Houston Stewart Chamberlain, plus the anti-Semite LaGarde.)
Fascism is a form of radical subjectivism, which imagines that it can generate its own reality through the pure force of the will (see Schopenhauer’s The World as Will as will andvf. The cult of the leader as embodying the Triumph of the will, which is a salient feature of both Hitler and Trump. Fascism is also a form of pragmatism: Mussolini prominently advertised the fact that he had been inspired in his actions by the pragmatism of the American William James. In this sense, pragmatism simply means an irrational ideology which has given up on the search for truth, and is ready to welcome any form of myth, superstition, or obfuscation as useful provided it gets people to do what the fascist leaders want. All fascist are pragmatists, even though not every pragmatist has necessarily gone all the way to Fascism – although many certainly have.
Fascists believe in magic formulas, incantations, magic spells, and other irrational formulas. Ted Cruz stands out as a political demagogue who believes deeply in the overriding value of mindlessly repeating certain mantras or slogans – such as his views about what he calls radical Islamicist terrorism. His argument with Obama is that the current president seems to be a warlock from a different coven who does not value the specific incantation that Cruz has decided to make into his signature rap.
As Guérin points out, fascism needs mystical magic because any fascist movement is bound to be heterogeneous, with the billionaires who finance the operation rubbing elbows with the petty bourgeois and working-class dupes who have decided to tag along as cannon fodder. This tension can be masked using mysticism. Fascism needs to manifest total contempt for human reason because it cannot by its own very structure ever base itself on an appeal to reason. It cannot appeal to intelligence, and therefore it appeals to hate and fear. Fascism also remembers that its recruits are largely found among the broken souls – the malcontents and disgruntled failures who have fallen by the wayside in the brutal economic crisis of finance capital.
Mussolini was an avid student of a book on the psychology of crowds – one might say on the psychology of mobs – by the Frenchman Gustave LeBon. Fascist leaders have frequently boast of their demagogic ability as mob orators to turn a crowd in any direction they wanted. Mussolini opined more than once that crowds have a feminine mentality and cannot do anything except what is imposed on them from the outside. They do not respond to theory, but only to emotion. Hitler agreed, noting that most people in the crowd have a feminine mentality which means that they can be dominated by powerful feelings and sense certainty rather than by reflection or abstract ideas. Mussolini was so devoted to irrationality that he created a school of fascist mysticism in Milan, among those in the staff we find the later Italian Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani, whose official title was nothing else than “Professor of Fascist Mysticism.”
Notice here the overwhelming misogyny or hatred of women, which has been widely identified as a key feature of Fascism. Mussolini and Hitler hated and feared women as an organized or cultural force. As for Trump, his misogyny is legendary, and has during this campaign included raving attacks on a comic actress, a TV anchorwoman, and his rival candidate and NSA consultant Carly Fiorina. The sociologists should soon be able to tell us whether the audience of the notoriously misogynistic radio program Opie and Anthony are now supporting Trump.
Both Hitler and Mussolini stress that fascism must be seen as a religion – in practice, a pagan religion of fear and hatred which is implacably opposed to all existing churches and denominations.
Fascism functions as a kind of pantheon, into which were incorporated the idols of a series of cults. The central one of these is the cult of the leader, of the man on horseback, of the dictator. Mussolini was Il Duce, and Hitler became Der Fuhrer. These titles show the plain intent of the fascist movement to install its leader as a kind of Gnostic prophet. Italian fascists were adamant very early on that Mussolini was always right. In Italy, the movement preached a religion of national chauvinism, while in Germany, the element of racist superiority was also emphasized.
Italian and German fascism developed a pervasive and permanent cult of the dead – meaning those fascists who had been killed along the way to the seizure of power. In 1935, Hitler celebrated the 12th anniversary of his Munich beer hall putsch, featuring 225 lugubrious black pylons, draped with black cloth to commemorate all those who had died for Nazi-ism in the pre-1933, struggles.
Another cult of Fascism is youth. The anthem of the Italian fascists was quite simply “Giovinezza” – meaning “Youth.” The Nazi existentialist philodoxer Martin Heidegger proclaimed upon taking over as rector of the University of Freiburg that the decision to give power to the National Socialists had been made by the youngest part of the German nation.
Fascism makes a cult of violence, as we have seen at various Trump rallies -where violence against protesters and hecklers is explicitly incited by the demagogue – and also in the activity of the allegedly “pro-life” organizations who have incited the assassination of medical doctors working for Planned Parenthood, and who today are supporting Cruz. Mussolini was a big fan of the French rabble-rouser Georges Sorel, author of the inflammatory tract Reflections on Violence (1908). The big concept here was “purgative violence.”
There was also a special cult for the veterans of the trench warfare of World War I. Hitler claimed his mandate for dictatorship based on the fact that he had served in the German Army in the savage trench warfare along the Somme River. He claimed that only unknown and obscure individuals had been able to save the German people, and only by virtue of the fact that they had been at the fighting front. Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess the claimed that the Third Reich was based on an idea which had “come up out of the trenches.”
In Germany, the special experience of trench warfare battles was considered absolutely indispensable as a qualification. Here the talk was of the Fronterlebnis – the experience of having been in the trenches at the fighting front. This also became the theme of a branch of popular literature which included a novel like The Storm of Steel by the fascist publicist Ernst Juenger.
The subtitle of Hitler’s first book Mein Kampf is “the art of conquering the masses. Other Nazi bigwigs were adamant that propaganda was one of the most essential functions of the modern state, as they saw it. Hitler told his associates that the masses had a great deal of trouble in assimilating concepts. Their ability was very limited, their understanding was very narrow, and their memory was notoriously weak. For Hitler, good propaganda ad to be limited to a very limited number of points which had to be incessantly repeated so that even the most humble in the audience could get the idea.
The ideal setting for this kind of indoctrination was, of course, the Nazi mass rally, which is widely imitated in our own time.
The social Democratic or socialist leaders who tried to oppose fascism were largely colorless hacks who had abandoned any perspective of mass struggle in favor of a very arid parliamentary routine. Think of a cringing toady like Bernie Sanders and the problem will be clear. Sanders grovels for Hillary and propitiates her. The hack politicians of the fascist era were unable to match the Nazi use of radio, airplanes, loudspeakers, and motorcades. The Social Democrats were also crippled by their own Marxist ideology, which claimed that psychological changes were the automatic consequence of alterations to the means of production, or other “material” factors. This meant that the socialist leaders could not understand the mass psychology they actually found before them, and were swept away.
The Tax Wall Street Party calls on all persons of good will to study the real content of fascism and Nazism, and to join us in warding off fascist seizures of power in the coming months and years.