"There are few things as odd as the calm, superior indifference with which I and those like me watched the beginnings of the Nazi revolution in Germany, as if from a box at the theater...Perhaps the only comparably odd thing is the way that now, years later...."
These words belong to Sebastian Haffner, who was a young lawyer in Berlin during the 1930s.
He experienced the Nazi takeover and wrote a first-hand account of it. It was not published while he was alive, but his children found the manuscript when he died in 1999 and published it the following year as "Geschichte eines Deutschen" (The Story of a German). The book became an immediate bestseller and has been translated into 20 languages. In English it is published as "Defying Hitler." This will likely have a disconcerting resonance to anyone familiar with the Nazi ascendancy, noting how "odd" it is that the frontal attack on Constitutional & Human rights as well as civil liberties is met with "calm, superior indifference" in our own times.
First what is fascism actually? It is described by Benito Mussolini (who is credited with coining the term and ought to know what he meant by it) as the combining of corporate and state powers. It's derived from latin...a word meaning the bundling of sticks. A single stick can be snapped and broken, where a bundle of sticks can not easily be snapped or broken.
Fascism is growing in many modern democracies today...the citizens may have trouble recognizing it for what it is....but rest assured it did not disappear after WWII. Many of the nations who fought fascism and sacrificed life and limb preventing it from global domination in the mid 20th century now see their own countries engaging in it fully a few generations later. It isn't obvious to the majority, there are no literal goose stepping parades or brownshirted thugs...not in public anyway. No, that wouldn't do in today's world...people might recognize that too easily. The methods have to be more stealthy and wrapped in the local flag...not a swastika.
|The fulfillment of
the prediction by Sinclair Lewis 'not if' but "when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag carrying a cross"|
Nazis and Those Who Enable Them
Well what we can learn from Haffner's account of the fascist's rise to power in Germany is that you don't have to be a Nazi. You can just be, well for lack of a better description, a sheep. Do nothing.
In his account, Sebastian Haffner describes what he calls the "sheepish submissiveness" with which the German people reacted to a 9/11-like event, the burning of the German Parliament (Reichstag) on Feb. 27, 1933. Haffner suggests it quite telling that none of his acquaintances "saw anything out of the ordinary in the fact that, from then on, one's telephone would be tapped, one's letters opened, and one's desk might be broken into." His his most virulent condemnation is reserved for the cowardly politicians. Do you see any contemporary parallels here? In the elections of March 4, 1933, shortly after the Reichstag fire, the Nazi party garnered only 44 percent of the vote. Only the "cowardly treachery" of the Social Democrats and other parties to whom 56 percent of the German people had entrusted their votes made it possible for the Nazis to seize full power. Haffner explains: "It is in the final analysis only of betrayal that explains the almost inexplicable fact that a great nation, which cannot have consisted entirely of cowards, fell into ignominy without a fight."
The Social Democratic leaders betrayed their followers-"for the most part decent, unimportant individuals." In May they sang the Nazi anthem; by June the party was dissolved.
The middle-class Catholic party Zentrum folded in less than a month, and in the end actually supplied the votes necessary for the two-thirds majority that "legalized" Hitler's dictatorship.
As for the right-wing conservatives and German nationalists: "Oh God," writes Haffner, "what an infinitely dishonorable and cowardly spectacle their leaders made in 1933 and continued to make afterward.... They went along with everything: the terror, the persecution of Jews.... They were not even bothered when their own party was banned and their own members arrested." In summary he says: "There was not a single example of energetic defense, of courage or principle. There was only panic, flight, and desertion. In March 1933 millions opposed the Nazis but overnight they found themselves without leaders...At the moment of truth, when other nations rose spontaneously to the occasion, the Germans collectively and limply collapsed. They yielded and capitulated, and suffered a nervous breakdown.... The result is today the nightmare of the rest of the world."
In the U.S., the Founding Fathers were not oblivious to this general behavior and it's danger.
James Madison wrote "I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.... The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home."
We cannot say we weren't warned.
IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE...YES IT CANIgnorance. Fear. Greed. Selfishness. In that order, those are the reasons that explain the phenomena of creeping fascism. And this applies to the nascent fascism in the United States and other democratic nations today. Predictably and rightfully, the majority of the population in every society strives to be safe, to have a "normal" life by local standards, to count on certain basic things like employment, family ties, entertainment, friendship. So people go about their daily lives influenced by what they see around them. their experiences in shops they use to buy things, who they might talk to, maybe some house of worship they attend, or a gathering, a party, a funeral, a baby shower, etc. The conditions that lead to creeping fascism and its eventual establishment are essentially invisible to most folks (until its too late). For these folks who are unaware of it, well their sin is ignorance, so they are arguably less culpable. (Dear reader, if you happen to be in this category, understand that further reading will make you fully aware of it, and should you decide to do nothing, then your personal level of culpability will go up).
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO STOP CREEPING FASCISM?The biggest threat to the establishment of fascism is education.
A populace with a collective high intellect is not prone to be easily duped.
The tell-tale heart of creeping fascism is the rise of anti-intellectualism, such as the one we have in the U.S. today. Ignorance is literally elevated to be the false equivalence of intellectual curiosity. The dim wit is elevated publicly to hero status (think of Sarah Palin and numerous others).
The sure fire technique to prevent the populace from developing their collective intellect is by discouraging people from engaging in any sort of deep thinking or analysis about the world around them, government and its institutions, issues related to power or wealth hierarchies, income disparity, etc.
The best way to do this is to create a situation where people are made to work at a subsistence level (hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck), to put up roadblocks to attaining a proper education, and to bombard people with, as in Roman times, "bread-and-circuses," which in today's world happens with the bombardment of the human mind with an incredibly effective propaganda machine in the form of the corporate-owned U.S. media. Think of all the 'reality' shows, and the fantasy of an obscure and unknown person making it big by winning in American Idiot, or any of the other mind rotting shows.
Think of how a news network actually fought for and won in court the right to misinform...the right to lie as a free speech issue.
In the ignorance category we can also include the religious Right, the nationalists, and the racists and how easily they are to incorporate in creeping fascism. This is because fear is the other classic way of manipulating the population. When it comes to the middle class, you have a combination of factors, including ignorance and fear (to a greater extent), and selfishness (to a lesser extent). The first priority of the middle class is to keep what they have, and to dream of possibly having something better or more. So when fascism and oppression creeps in, it succeeds if the middle class remains mainly dormant and docile through most of the process. Again until it is too late.
Usually during the first stages of fascism, it directly affects certain maligned groups such as the poor (the most maligned and defenseless target), and certain minority groups, the nascent "baby" fascist state needs to practice with minority groups in order to perfect it's system of domination before consolidating their power and applying their techniques on the general population.
THE ESTABLISHMENTThe politicians, business people, the leaders of most liberal and progressive groups, and unions cave and cower. At this stage of the acquiescence to creeping fascism is mainly the result of pure greed and selfishness. It's a willful blindness. At this stage these people in the 'establishment' possess the intellectual capacity to understand what's going on, but chooses to do nothing (or to do minimalist, don't-rock-the-boat ineffectual gesturing) out of pure short-term self interest. Greed. Like the middle class, they are more interested in keeping what they have, and possibly having more, in cushy jobs and positions, in grants and money from donors, corporations, employers, in being connected to the expanding power structure, and benefiting from it.
Have you ever wondered about the dismal lack of leadership from most of the top ranks in unions in modern times?... Or the lack of any real leadership in liberal and progressive organizations? Well wonder no more. Creeping fascism has taken them. At this level, the so-called leaders share more culpability and responsibility for allowing fascism to creep in because at an intellectual level they know full well it's happening, they choose to look the other way for purely greedy and selfish reasons.
The only antidote is the type of leader who is totally, one hundred percent driven by duty, love of humanity, by the concept of justice, and not by self interest or greed. Do such people exist?
Well yes. They do. They are rare but they exist. In India for instance, the anti-corruption campaign of activist Anna Hazare who has been bringing the entire Indian government to its knees with the force of his conviction. I firmly believe there are leaders (in wait) like that in the U.S, the U.K. and other democratic nations., but the manipulation and influence of the corporate-owned media is so total, that at this point it's nearly impossible for them to get any traction. If they ever make it to the point of being on the public radar, they are vilified, ridiculed, demonized, attacked, spied on, etc.
But I really believe those leaders will emerge once there is a significant number of people who are able to break through the mental shackles imposed by the nascent fascist regimes.
There are some signs that a large enough number of people are "waking up" from the corporate stupor and realizing what's happening, as exemplified by the occupy protests last year.
If you read this, you can't really claim ignorance any more.
Democracy is under attack from creeping fascism.
Corporations are NOT people and money is NOT free speech.
In a democracy, we consent to be governed in our own COMMON interest, not the interests of the few who can buy their own senators. We are interested in the general prosperity of all our people, not just the few who already own most everything.
There are no scapegoats folks, there is no one to blame but ourselves.
It's time to do something to deter creeping fascism.
If not now, when?