[PEN-L:10916] Fascism

Carrol Cox cbcox at SPAMilstu.edu
Tue Sep 14 14:47:54 MDT 1999

"Craven, Jim" wrote:

> "Only one thing could have broken our movement: if the adversary had
> understood its principle and from the first day had smashed with extreme
> brutality the nucleus of our new movement."
> Adolf Hitler (Speech to Nuremberg Congress, September 3, 1933)
> "I am afraid of those who proclaim that it can't happen here. . . .

Jim, this displaces the debate, which is not over whether "it" can
happen here but over the precise nature of the "it" -- which we
need to know if we are going to fight against its appearance.

Remember, one of the foundations for the joke about military
intelligence being an oxymoron is the propensity of generals to
be prepared to fight the last war but not the next war. Focusing
too much on a carelessly defined "it" can have two separate
disastrous consequences: (1) And you should know this better
than anyone, the focus on fascism (and especially on fascism
just defined as nastiness) can obscure just how horrible and
intense repression up to and including genocide can be in a
perfectly sound bourgeois democracy. About half or more
of what often goes into definitions of "what can happen here"
are simple descriptions of what can't happen here because
it has always been here. (2) *If* (as really is possible) the
fascism we are trying to define was in fact historically limited
to a particular conjunction of circumstances, then a focus on
it is preparing for the last war and not looking ahead to the
next war. There is always a danger of losing democratic
rights, of some sort of directly authoritarian and repressive
regime. Just as Hitler was really quite different from Bonaparte,
so the next round of threats of the same genus may look
terribly and unpredictably different specifically. A focus on
fascism can lead to blindness to new dangers.

Sinclair Lewis's *It Can't Happen Here* was a lousy novel -- in
part because Lewis was a lousy novelist but mostly because he
defined the "it" that could or couldn't happen as a mere carbon
copy, ignoring the probability that a U.S. fascist movement would
of course campaign under an anti-fascist banner. My own best
guess as to what an American "Hitler" would look like is Jerry
Brown of California. It wouldn't be "fascism," it would probably
be something worse. "Soft Fascism" made for a good and useful
title, to catch people's attention to certain (dangerous) variations
within u.s. democracy -- but in the long run it is mistaken to play
games with  words in this way.


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