Paul Wilkinson, The New Fascists, 1981
Fascist political movements are experiencing resurgence around the world. In the United States, the 1992 presidential campaigns of David Duke, Patrick Buchanan, and H. Ross Perot echoed different elements of historic fascism. Duke's neo-Nazi past resonates, in a consciously sanitized form, in his current formulations of white supremacist and anti-Jewish political theories. Duke has embraced key elements of the neo-Nazi Christian Identity religion. Buchanan's theories of isolationist nationalism and xenophobia hearken back to the proto-fascist ideas of the 1930's "America First" movement and its well-known promoters, Charles Lindbergh and Father Charles Coughlin. In his Republican convention speech, Buchanan eerily invoked Nazi symbols of blood, soil and honor. Perot's candidacy provided us with a contemporary model of the fascist concept of the organic leader, the "Man on a White Horse" whose strong egocentric commands are seen as reflecting the will of the people. These three candidacies were played out as the Bush Administration pursued its agenda of a managed corporate economy, a repressive national security state, and an aggressive foreign policy based on military threat, all of which borrows heavily from the theories of corporatism, militarism, and authoritarianism adopted by Italian fascism.
Duke, Buchanan, and Perot all fed on the politics of resentment, alienation, frustration, anger and fear.1 Their supporters tended to blame our vexing societal problems on handy scapegoats and they sought salvation from a strong charismatic leader. Most progressives vigorously rejected these candidacies and were not reluctant to point out the fascist strains. But there are other strains of fascism active today, and the siren calls of those movements may mesmerize progressives whose anti-government fervor blinds them to historical lessons.
While much attention has been paid to the more extreme biological-determinist neo-Nazi groups such as racist skinheads, there has also been steady growth in other forms of Fascism. Corporatism (sometimes called corporativism) and the economic nationalist branch of fascism are being revived. In Eastern Europe, racial nationalism, a key component of fascism, has surfaced in many new political parties, and is a driving force behind the tragic bloodletting and drive for "ethnic cleansing" in the former nation of Yugoslavia. Other pillars of fascism such as racism, xenophobia, anti-Jewish theories and anti-immigrant scapegoating provide a sinister backdrop for increasing physical assaults on people of color and lesbians and gay men.
Further complicating matters is the reemergence in Europe of fascist ideologies that promote concepts of racial nationalism: a national socialist strain of fascist ideology called the Third Position or Third Way, and its more intellectual aristocratic ally called the European New Right (Nouvelle Droit ).2 Intellectual leaders of the European New Right, such as Alain de Benoist, are hailed as profound thinkers in U.S. reactionary publications such as the Rockford Institute's Chronicles . The more overtly neo-Nazi segment of the Third Position has intellectual links to the Strasserite wing of German national socialism, and is critical of Hitler's brand of Nazism for having betrayed the working class.3 Third Position groups believe in a racially-homogeneous decentralized tribal form of nationalism, and claim to have evolved an ideology "beyond communism and capitalism."
Third Position adherents actively seek to recruit from the left. One such group is the American Front in Portland, Oregon, which runs a phone hotline that in late November, 1991 featured an attack on critics of left/right coalitions. White supremacist leader Tom Metzger promotes Third Position politics in his newspaper WAR which stands for White Aryan Resistance. In Europe, the Third Position defines its racial-nationalist theories in publications such as Third Way and The Scorpion. Some Third Position themes have surfaced in the ecology movement and other movements championed by progressives.
The growth of fascist and proto-fascist ideology has created a dynamic where persons from far-right and fascist political groups in the United States are attempting to convince progressive activists to join forces to oppose certain government policies where there is a shared critique. The fascist right has wooed the progressive left primarily around opposition to such issues as the use of U.S. troops in foreign military interventions, support for Israel, the problems of CIA misconduct and covert action, domestic government repression, privacy rights, and civil liberties.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with building coalitions with conservatives or libertarians around issues of common concern, but a problem does arise when the persons seeking to join a coalition have racist, anti-Jewish or anti-democratic agendas. Besides being morally offensive, these persons often peddle scapegoating theories that can divide existing coalitions.
In fact, as the far right made overtures to the left in the early 1980's, some of the classic scapegoating conspiracy theories of the far right began to seep into progressive, and even mainstream, analyses of foreign policy and domestic repression.4
The promotion of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories by the Christic Institute, the Pacifica Radio network, and scores of alternative radio stations, has created a large audience, especially on the West Coast, that gullibly accepts undocumented anti-government assertions alongside scrupulous documented research, with little ability to tell the two apart. The audience was expanded through public speaking, radio interviews, sales of audiotapes and videotapes, and published articles. Elevated to leadership roles were those persons who were willing to make the boldest and most critical (albeit unsubstantiated) pronouncements about the U.S. government and U.S. society. This phenomenon has undermined serious institutional and economic analysis, replacing it with a diverting soap opera of individual conspiracies, and inadvertently creating an audience ripe for harvesting by fascist demagoguery.
While they are prodigious researchers, many of the theories and conclusions offered by John Judge, Mark Lane, Daniel Sheehan, Dave Emory, Barbara Honegger, Dennis Bernstein, and the late Mae Brussell are seriously flawed, frequently fail to meet minimal standards of logic, and on balance are unreliable.5 The views of these conspiracy peddlers are frequently promoted on alternative radio programs, and they have created a progressive constituency that confuses demagoguery with leadership, and undocumented conspiracism with serious research. Many of their followers seem unable to determine when an analysis supports or undermines the progressive goals of peace, social justice and economic fairness. This is primarily a problem within the white left, but in some Black nationalist constituencies the same dynamic has also popularized conspiracy theories which in some cases reflect anti-Jewish themes long circulated by the far right.
Conspiracism and demagoguery feature simplistic answers to complex problems. During periods of economic or social crisis, people may seek to alleviate anxiety by embracing simple solutions, often including scapegoating. This often manifests itself in virulent attacks on persons of different races and cultures who are painted as alien conspiratorial forces undermining the coherent national will. Conspiracism, scapegoating, and demagoguery are prime ingredients of fascist ideology. Certainly progressives who supported the meteoric presidential candidacy of H. Ross Perot reflected a myopic misunderstanding of the role demagoguery and anti-regime rhetoric play in building a mass-base for fascism. Perot himself was not a fascist, but the political base he was forging could easily have been shaped into a fascist movement given the necessary economic and political conditions. Historically, demagogues project an image of strength and confidence which some persons in a society facing social and economic upheaval can find attractive.6
The phenomenon of the right wooing the left became highly visible during the 1990 military buildup preceding the Gulf War. Followers of Lyndon LaRouche attended antiwar meetings and rallies in some thirty cities, and other right-wing organizers from groups such as the John Birch Society and the Populist Party passed out flyers at antiwar demonstrations across the country. While these right-wing groups undeniably opposed war with Iraq, they also promoted ideas that peace and social justice activists have historically found objectionable. Many people seeking to forge alliances with the left around anti-government and anti-interventionist policies also promote Eurocentric, anti-pluralist, patriarchal, or homophobic views. Some are profoundly anti-democratic; others support the idea that the U.S. is a Christian republic. A few openly promote white supremacist, anti-Jewish, or neo-Nazi theories.
While there is inevitable overlap at the edges of political movements, the far-right and fascist sectors being discussed in this study are separate and distinct from traditional conservatism, the right wing of the Republican Party, libertarianism, anarchism, and other political movements sometimes characterized as right wing. The John Birch Society, for instance, is a far-right reactionary political movement, but it attempts to distance itself from racialist and anti-Jewish theories. Other groups analyzed in this paper, such as the Populist Party, Liberty Lobby, and the LaRouchians, on the other hand, represent a continuation of the racialist, anti-democratic theories of fascism.
It is important to differentiate between the fascist right and persons on the left who in a variety of ways have been lured by the overtures of the fascist right and its conspiracist theories, or who have ended up wittingly or unwittingly in coalitions with spokespersons for the fascist right, or who have contact with the fascist right as part of serious and legitimate research into political issues.
In some cases progressive groups have begun to address the problems created by this courtship by the right. Radio station WBAI aired several hours of programming within a week of discovering that their broadcasts had included interviews with persons whose right-wing affiliations were not disclosed to the listeners. The Progressive, The Guardian, Z Magazine and In These Times have run articles and commentaries on the situation, as have the alternative newspapers Portland Alliance, East Bay Express and San Francisco Weekly. Pacifica radio stations KPFK and KPFA in California, however, waited months before their listeners even learned there was a debate over these issues, and continued to air persons linked to racist, anti-Jewish, and homophobic movements without proper identification for many months.
The Christic Institute has been especially reluctant to renounce publicly attempts by the fascist right to imply an alliance with their organization. Rightists such as Bo Gritz and Craig Hulet continue to imply that they work closely with Daniel Sheehan and Father Bill Davis of the Christic Institute, while the response from the Christic Institute has been tardy and equivocal.
In part, the fascist right has been able to forge ties to the left due to a serious lack of knowledge on the left regarding the complex history, different forms, and multiple tactics of fascism. Among those tactics are the use of scapegoating, reductionist and simplistic solutions, demagoguery, and a conspiracy theory of history.7 Fascists have historically used radical-sounding or populist appeals and adopted themes opportunistically from socialism and the labor movement, and then mixed those themes with theories of nationalism and racial pride. Nazi, after all, is an abbreviated acronym of the National Socialist German Workers Party.
In addition, there are a variety of forms of populism, some progressive, some regressive and dictatorial. Margaret Canovan in her study of populism describes two main branches of populism and seven sub-variants. Agrarian populism includes movements of farmers, movements of peasants, and movements of intellectuals who romanticize farmers and peasants. Political populism includes populist democracy, populist dictatorship, reactionary populism, and politician's populism. argaret Canovan, Populism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981 Peter Fritzsche in Rehearsals for Fascism: Populism and Political Mobilization in Weimar Germany shows that middle-class populists in Weimar launched bitter attacks against both the government and big business. This populist surge was later harvested by the Nazi movement which parasitized the forms and themes of the reactionary populists and moved their constituencies far to the right through demagoguery and scapegoating.8
Theories of racialist nationalism and national socialism are not widely known in the United States. If they were, it is unlikely that any serious progressive would be seduced by the right's idea of an alliance to smash the powerful corrupt center, based on a shared agenda critical of government policies. This concept has an unsavory historical track record. The European fascist movements in the 1930's flourished in a period of economic collapse, political turmoil, and social crisis. The German Nazi party, during its early national socialist phase, openly enlisted progressive support to smash the corrupt and elitist Weimar government.
When the government began to collapse, however, powerful industrial and banking interests recruited Hitler to take control the government in order to prevent economic chaos, which would have displaced them as power brokers and brought in socialism. In return for state control, Hitler quickly liquidated the leadership of his national socialist allies in a murderous spree called the "Night of the Long Knives." Once state power had been consolidated, the Nazis went on to liquidate the left before lining up Jews, labor leaders, intellectuals, dissidents, homosexuals, Poles, Gypsies (the Romani), dark-skinned immigrants, the infirm, and others deemed undesirable.
While conditions in the United States may only faintly echo the financial and social turmoil of the Weimar regime, the similarities cannot be dismissed lightly, nor should the catastrophic power of state fascism and the repression of an authoritarian government be confused.
In some cases, people who believe themselves to be progressive activists see no moral problem with alliances with the fascist right, so long as the shared enemy is the Bush Administration. Some people who consider themselves progressive even argue that a fascist government could not be any worse than the Reagan and Bush Administrations, with their devastating effects on the poor and persons of color. Because they feel current policies are nearly genocidal, they say they will work with any ally to smash the status quo. This view dangerously underestimates the murderous quality of fascism. Similarly, other progressives argued in favor of supporting Duke or Buchanan for President in order to draw votes away from Bush and thus elect the Democratic candidate. While Duke and Buchanan had little chance of election, any progressive support for their candidacies minimized the dangers involved in supporting a national political movement which uses fascist themes.9 This study seeks to sharpen the debate over how to handle the phenomenon of the right wooing the left, and is not meant to divide or attack the left, which is being victimized by these approaches. As anti-fascist author George Seldes pointed out over fifty years ago, "The enemy is always the Right. Fascism and Reaction inevitably attack. They have won against disunion. They will fail if we unite."
There are four separate but related dilemmas posed by the phenomenon of the fascist right wooing the left:
· How to educate progressive forces about the history of fascism, so the left is not lured into a repetition of past mistakes, and can more readily identify anti-democratic theories.
· How to reject unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, demagoguery and scapegoating (from the right or the left), while at the same time promoting a vigorous critique of government repression, covert action, and social injustice.
· How progressive journalists and researchers should handle contacts with the political far right, and how rightists should be identified by journalists when they are used as sources.
· How progressive political coalitions should handle overtures by the political right which suggest tactical or strategic alliances around issues of common concern, and to what extent it is necessary for groups and individuals to distance themselves publicly from fascists who imply an alliance when one does not exist.
This study begins with a brief overview of several paranoid conspiracy theories prevalent in contemporary right-wing circles. It then examines the right wing's anti-government critique and rightist influences on Christic Institute's theories of Iran-Contragate.
There is a large section on the Gulf War period, including an extensive examination of the LaRouchians' attempts to penetrate the progressive antiwar movement, as well as a brief look at the activities of other far-right groups (both pro-war and anti-interventionist) during the Gulf War. This section includes a discussion of the surprising involvement of some formerly prominent civil rights leaders with LaRouchian and other neo-fascist groups.
A discussion of left/right coalition building focuses on the appeal of radio personality Craig Hulet. The next section examines the emergence of anti-Jewish bigotry within Black nationalist movements.
In a section on Fascists as information sources, there is a preliminary attempt to establish some criteria for discussion of the complex issues involved. There is a section on logical fallacies, propaganda, demagoguery and the pitfalls of unsubstantiated conspiracism. Finally, there is a brief discussion of the overall dilemma and a suggestion that further study and open discussion are needed to sort out the complex and confusing issues raised by but, alas, not answered by this report.
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