Tag Archives: nazi germany

LePage, race, and what this is all about

Trigger warning: racism, Nazism

If you haven’t watched this detailed recap of the on-going contentions against Governor Paul LePage (R-Maine), please do. While laying out all of these racist statements is in and of itself useful, what stood out to me most in the whole set is what Rachel Maddow’s guest Bill Nemitz said-

“What nobody seems to be able to get their head around is this fixation on race. I mean, if, yes, Maine like many other states has a real problem with this inflow of drugs into our state, and there’s unanimity on that, that we need to do something about it. What people can’t figure out is why whenever he raises this problem, he has to overlay this issue of race on to it, rather than just address the fact that we have to stop the drugs.”

In a nutshell, what has left many confused is the way that a rational, reasonable discussion about social problems caused by drug trafficking and abuse has been transformed by LePage into rants about race.

The reality of drugs in Maine is a problem for security and public health, independent of the race of the sellers, consumers, and others affected by the availability of drugs. But that understanding is of that in and of itself as an issue. The presumption here is that in LePage’s mind this issue is in and of itself relevant, rather than a potential opportunity to raise his reading of a manifestation of a broader political reality – one that is about race.

That’s a concept that might, to those not used to reading certain historical pieces, seem strange, but if you have read up on some branches of anti-fascist criticism, you may have run across a similarly confused assessment. Here’s Ernesto Laclau on page 121 of Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (published in 1977):

[T]he radicalized German petty-bourgeoisie which was experiencing in a confused way the post-war crisis, the iniquity of the Versailles Treaty, inflation, foreign occupation, etc., was interpellated by nazism as a race. All the anti-plutocratic, nationalist, democratic aspects, that is to say all those elements which constituted the identity of the dominated classes as ‘people’, and which thus expressed their contradiction with the power bloc, were present in Nazi discourse but the interpellated subject was a racial one. Through this identification of popular traditions with racism, a dual aim was achieved: all the jacobin radicalism proper to a radical confrontation with the system was retained whilst its channeling in a socialist direction is obstructed.

Like much of Laclau’s work, it can be difficult to decipher this tidbit, but in essence the exact same transformation as that of today’s Governor LePage played out under the Weimar Republic. A set of messy yet interrelated issues – the Versailles Treaty, inflation of the Reichsmark, French and Belgian occupations of the Rhineland – were not really addressed by the Nazis so much as subsumed into their politics within which race was an inescapable foundation. What could have been subjects in and of themselves became vehicles for discussing the primary issue for Nazis under their worldview: the topic of race.

Ausstellung "Der ewige Jude"(A 1937 Nazi poster describing Jewish people as having “typical external features”.)

What does it say that a remarkably similar dynamic to one of the Nazis’ has cropped up in, of all places, Maine? It’s easy to very this as another piece of evidence to sew into the broader debate about whether the Republican Party under Donald Trump is veering into fascism. That’s too easy though. This is a public official elected governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014. His racist comments on this particular issue began before the Iowa Caucuses and before eleven of the seventeen major candidates in the Republican primary had dropped out.

Perhaps this says less about LePage or Trump as individuals than it does about the Republican Party nationally.

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Fascism, democracy, and demagoguery

Trigger warning: racism, antisemitism

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I only rarely post on the weekends. Well, debating whether one of the most likely nominees for president next year from a major party is fascist is a pretty exceptional circumstance, so here’s a quick bonus column on that.

I laid out on Thursday a look at Trump as fitting Roger Griffin’s standards for fascism – in a nutshell, palingenetic rightwing ultra-nationalism. Intriguingly, Vox has put out a similar checklist examination of Trump with Griffin as an included source, in which Trump squeaks by as just demagogic right-wing populism. There’s a lot of talk about individualism, which in their description is primarily about the aesthetics of Trump’s followers, but they do make a main point about Trump, fascism, and democratic values:

There are enough differences between the relevant fascist regimes — Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, perhaps Francoist Spain — that identifying commonalities that do not in turn implicate plenty of clearly non-fascist regimes is tricky. But there is general agreement about some requirements.

[…]

fascism must involve calling for the ‘rebirth’ of the nation. That might at first glance sound like Trump’s promise to ‘make America great again,’ but Griffin insists on a distinction. Rebirth, in his theory, actually requires the dramatic abandonment of the existing political order. ‘There has to be a longing for a new order, a new nation, not just a reformed old nation,’ he told me. ‘As long as Trump does not advocate the abolition of America’s democratic institutions, and their replacement by some sort of post-liberal new order, he’s not technically a fascist.’

Matthew Feldman, a fascism expert at Teesside University in the UK, agrees. ‘He’s still in the democratic family,’ he says. ‘Trump is calling for ethnocratic small-l liberalism. It’s liberalism that’s racially tinged. If you were white in apartheid South Africa, you had all the rights and benefits of a liberal state. For you it was a democracy. But it didn’t feel that way for blacks in South Africa.’

[…]

When the original fascist regimes emerged, ‘the existing governments seemed to be incapable of providing leadership, providing what was needed for this wounded country,’ [Columbia University Professor Robert] Paxton tells me, ‘and so fascists were in favor of totally overthrowing the existing constitution, which was usually democratic and perceived as weak. This was wildly popular. We are not in that position today.’

Trump definitely attacks the current government as ‘weak,’ which Paxton says might be termed a ‘borrowing’ from fascism. But it’s a far cry from the outright support for ending democracy that characterizes true fascists.

Here’s the problem with all of that – only one of the three fascist regimes mentioned in this article came to power by means other than the democratic process, and it’s the one qualified with a “perhaps” as to whether it was fascist.

The Nazi Party in Germany – holding an electoral plurality – famously manufactured a series of crises culminating in the Reichstag Fire to justify curtailing the democratic system. Ultimately, their emergency powers combined with pre-existing challenges to the democratic system in Germany created the highly authoritarian system that we now look back on Nazi Germany critically for having. In short, the profoundly anti-democratic nature of fascism in Germany emerged as an aspect of it, rather than appeared immediately.

What’s less well known, and ultimately even more discrediting to this view, is that Mussolini’s fascist Italy operated with democratic elements for years until those aspects of it finally eroded into his dictatorial control. That’s the example that gives us the specific word “fascist” – shouldn’t that count for something?

45070271_90e687a85a_o.jpg
A fascist-era addition to the Piazza Augusto Imperatore in Rome, showing an angel carrying a fasces, or bundle of sticks. The Roman-derived symbol of national unity is the origin of the term “fascist”. From here.

Whether we limit our fascist models to just those two cases or include Franco’s regime in Spain (which is also more nuanced in terms of anti-democratism), the general model for fascism appears to be one in which democratic norms and processes aren’t immediately challenged but slowly eroded and dismantled. It’s shocking to see not only a news organization like Vox but also a whole slew of political scientists and social theorists engage in the sleight of hand of presenting the conditions only truly manifest in Nazi Germany circa 1937 as the essentials of fascist organization and philosophy.

Admittedly, I’m leaning more heavily on the opinions of other academics and journalists than those consulted by Vox, namely David Neiwert. That being said, a sizable chunk of Neiwert’s work has drawn from and largely agreed with exactly the same thinkers – Paxton and Griffin particularly – whom Vox has cited. Neiwert quotes Paxton (“Fascists despise thought and reason, abandon intellectual positions casually, and cast aside many intellectual fellow-travelers.”) in the midst of describing how fascism is often uniquely difficult to define because it adopts and rejects different policy positions for a whole host of opportunistic and goal oriented reasons, including support for democratic norms.

That slipperiness of what policies can even be defined as fascist brings us to perhaps the only thing equally stunning as the curious claims about how overtly anti-democratic fascism always necessarily is. That would be the bald insistence that there is no such thing as fascist economics.

In some sense, Vox is correcting a common misunderstanding about fascism – that it’s use of state economic intervention makes it similar to socialism or communism, or even socialism and communism versions of it. That view often focuses the Nazi Party’s early platform, which called for rather active government intervention in the economy, namely the nationalization of several industries. What’s often overlooked is that that process of nationalization happened before the Nazis came to power (under the staunchly anti-communist and center-right Weimar Republic), and once in power, the Nazis themselves privatized almost all of those briefly publicly controlled companies. Just like with democracy, the fascists were all over the place in terms of what policies would work best for the country.

The language the Nazis used to describe the need for nationalization provides a clue as to why that discrepancy between what their Party said and did came about. Their early platform described a lot of those industries as being in the hands of “usurers” – a not so subtle clue that what they objected to wasn’t private ownership but Jewish ownership. By severely limiting Jewish liberties, including economic ones – which the Nazis did once in power – they no longer had the same aversion to private control over major industries and public amenities. The borderline socialist calls for public ownership and democratic control melted away into rather capitalist-friendly demands for perceived efficiency and private ownership.

That switch is arguably one of the most quintessential elements to facsism, as not only a political but also an economic phenomenon. Most overtly, here’s Ernesto Laclau in Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory on the economic rhetoric from fascism (page 120):

“[T]he radicalized German petty-bourgeoisie which was experiencing in a confused way the post-war crisis, the iniquity of the Versailles Treaty, inflation, foreign occupation, etc., was interpellated by nazism as a race. All the anti-plutocratic, nationalist, democratic aspects, that is to say all those elements which constituted the identity of the dominated classes as ‘[the] people’, and which thus expressed their contradiction with the power bloc, were present in Nazi discourse but the interpellated subject was a racial one. Through this identification of popular traditions with racism, a dual aim was achieved: all the jacobin radicalism proper to a radical confrontation with the system was retained whilst its channeling in a socialist direction is obstructed.

That’s a rather academic way of describing what I wrote about earlier, that fascism is fundamentally about harnessing populist economic demands and repurposing and distorting them. Typically that’s done towards not just dictatorial or nationalist goals, but ultimately colonialist and racist ends designed to reorganize and “properly” stratify different social groups – think of the return of major industries and public amenities in fascist Germany into the hands of people then legally able to own them, almost entirely non-Jewish.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s insistent on his fitness for office and visceral stereotyping of Mexican and Muslim people, that seems to alarmingly coincide with his politics. His statements on immigration, namely that mass deportation would “help wages grow” in fact earlier coincides with the ethnically -charged way that the Nazi Party called for mass deportations in the name of “opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for” ethnic Germans. The unsettling part of that examination is that it implicates in the end most of the Republican Party, who if not fascist have for years encouraged fascist concepts within their Party and this country.

I suppose, ultimately, that’s my question for anyone who reflexively labels Donald Trump as a non-fascist: to what extent is that an avoidance of recognizing what it says about not only him, but his Party, and even our broader political system?  How much of that is about the chilling conclusion it implies?

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How to miss the point

Sigh, I’ve been trying for a while now to work out something approaching civil to say to Niall Ferguson’s “critiques” of Keynes and his astounding not-apology for the implications of it. Yes, his sorry-you-were-offended response contains an on the nose reiteration of his main point: that Keynes was (some variety of) queer and that’s a valid point to raise in analyzing his policy recommendations.

As several other members of the “self-appointed inquisitors of [the] internet” (as Ferguson called us) pointed out, this is not a new point for him, which he’s been making in several forums for almost a decade now. The only substantive evidence of this he’s ever pointed to is that, as a British public figure assessing the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, Keynes pushed for lighter punishments for Germany for “starting” the war (which every modern historian worth their salt tends to credit to a French interest in payback for the embarrassing Franco-Prussian War). Ferguson in 1995 credited that perspective in whole to Keynes falling “so hard for the representative of an enemy power”, Carl Melchior. Meanwhile, in the modern day, Ferguson explains that Keynes’ “strong attraction he felt for the German banker Carl Melchior undoubtedly played a part in shaping Keynes’ views on the Treaty of Versailles and its aftermath”.

You know those queer men – they’re just like women (whether straight or queer) in how they fall all over themselves when around someone they like like! They’re just so illogical when it comes to math, or science, or engineering, but those few “good ones” that are passable just fall apart near attractive people because their tiny brains can’t take it. Now, what exactly did Keynes miss because of his googly eyes over Melchior? After all, his most famous work of the aftermath of the first World War in Germany is largely seen as prescient of the destabilization of Germany and rise of power of Adolf Hitler. Seduced as he was, history has largely proven him correct, but sadly at the cost of millions of lives, including the thousands of queer men imprisoned as degenerates by the Nazi regime (and, in most cases, after the Allies liberated the concentration camps, they were merely incorporated into the rest of the prison population).


(Above, queer men imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, from here.)

Against this backdrop of Ferguson’s career-long contention that Keynes was really, really gay, Ferguson recently made an “unintentional” remark that of course Keynes famously joked “in the long run we’re all dead” because he was queer, and queer people don’t have children or reproduce, and not having children is tantamount to declaring the future is dead to you. Having won the idiots’ bingo, Ferguson is only making this non-apologetic apology after being reminded (read: informed) that Keynes’ wife did become pregnant at least once, but that that only tragically ended in a miscarriage. Ferguson outright implies an apology in this trainwreck, saying, “This was doubly stupid. First, it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations. Second, I had forgotten that Keynes’ wife Lydia miscarried.”

Within the context of heterosexism (or as Ferguson oh so with it writes, homophobia), this misses the point that Ferguson is only valuing biological reproduction and automatically discounting a queer person from having any status understandable as parental on the basis of their queerness. Among the questions this writing raises is what exactly Ferguson is “apologizing” for – being wrong about the particulars of Keynes life? Or about the assumption of how kinship and family function? It seems like he errs rather close to the former and doesn’t even realize how he has come across on the latter.

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Israel, please think about this for a minute

TW: potential Israeli-Iranian conflict, Nazi Germany, war crimes, aggressive war

Perhaps you’ve already heard over the past few weeks how Israel is all but preparing for a first strike on Iran. If you’ve already read The Economist’s coverage of the Israeli debate, it seems that the principle matter is whether Israel will be alone in attacking or joined by the United States and potentially other allies. The article returns to that question repeatedly,  with liberal-leaning papers wondering why Prime Minister Netanyahu was “resolved to attack even though the preponderance of opinion in the defence establishment opposes unilateral Israeli action.” This isn’t even a simple argument between doves seeing the risks of unilateral military action and hawks like Netanyahu seeing the risks of inaction for the lack of international support. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has persisted that “if [the United States] felt Israel was on the brink of exercising its own, albeit more modest, option of military action” then “America was far more likely to act.” The distinction between Israel acting alone and as part of a broader military coalition, he seems to claim, isn’t a strict as we might think.

The worrisome part of all this is that only the immediate risks to Israel and other nations are being weighed. The Economist describes civilian preparation for a potential aggressive war against Iran as consisting of “queueing to upgrade their gas masks at civil defence stations” and similar measures to protect against combat spilling into civilian areas. The ignorance this suggests of the Israeli state’s own modern origins, as part of the fallout of the second World War, is painful. In Jewish and Israeli history, the role of Nazi Germany seems to namely be that of an undeniable threat to the Jewish community which convinced major Western powers of the need for a Jewish state, with the massacres of various non-Jewish targets often included, but as peripheral or secondary atrocities. This is a stark contrast to the prevalent understanding of the war throughout Eastern Europe, and consequently the horrors of Nazi Germany are seen as only as the dangerous capacity of antisemitism, and not of aggressive war as well. Forgotten is the fact that the planning and waging of an aggressive war against both the states and civilians of nearly all of Eastern Europe was one of the central facets to the Nuremberg Trials.

There lies the longer term danger to Israel if the current government chooses to wage an aggressive war. Even assuming that like the Bush Administration there will be no culpability for the infraction of international law, there’s a lesson in the way much of Eastern Europe still recalls World War II. In Russia, every May 9th, the anniversary of the victory against Nazi Germany is still heralded with massive public performances, pyrotechnics, and night-long celebrations. In the staunchly anti-Soviet former Yugoslav republic of Serbia, the same day is still celebrated much the same. Between those two countries, in the now radically more Western-friendly Ukraine, artistic references to the war with Nazi Germany and subsequent occupation provoke sobs from people far too young to have lived through the war. The aggressive war fought by Nazi Germany against all of those people have left an indelible mark on their history that they struggle to live with.

Israel, especially if receiving aid from the United States or other nations, will quite likely be able to stunt the nuclear capabilities of Iran and dramatically reduce its overall nuclear prowess with a preemptive attack. But what if, like the residents of the many countries slated for forced relocation under Nazi Germany’s Generalplan Ost, Iranians and any other civilians of nearby nations affected by a potential war remember this act of Israel for seventy, eighty, perhaps even a hundred years. Israel’s past relations with Egypt have repeatedly shown the enormous value in having neighboring allies, so the foolishness in waging an aggressive war seem inestimable – as both a threat to existing and future alliances. Can Israel actually afford the risk of alienating nearby allies for decades, let alone as long as a century?

(As this is post on Israel, I reserve the right to shut down the comments section if an unproductive or hostile discussion develops.)

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