Fascism: A Thing of the Past?
Mussolini said that fascism should more properly be called "corporatism" since it was, under Mussolini, a blending of state and corporate power. He should know: he was the first fascist leader. As an economic system, fascism was widely admired in the Northern hemisphere. But fascism has other elements apart from an economic system in which corporations and governments serve each others needs. Many people think that fascism is a thing of the past but if one examines the ideology behind the word, we find that it is as alive and thriving today as it ever was.
Bernie Dwyer talked to Philip Agee, ex CIA agent, who has lectured on the different aspects of fascism and its re-emergence in Europe and the United States and asked him about the meaning and history of fascism and its manifestation today.
[Philip Agee] I think that fascism is one of those badly used words like democracy. It can mean practically anything to anybody and it's dangerous to use those kinds of terms and labels unless you mean something specific.
In terms of historical fascism we all know that this is a political concept of the extreme right. It has its origins in the reaction to the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. We know that in the 19th century various philosophers and thinkers put out tomes of material attacking the achievements of the Enlightenment and their embodiment in the French Revolution and of course in the US constitution and Declaration of Independence, particularly in the first ten amendments to the US Constitution known as the Bill of Rights.
The rights of the individual in a fascist system are always subordinated to the needs of the state. A fascist system is totalitarian and normally has one dominant political party that calls itself any thing it likes and allies itself with the entrepreneurial and certain leaders of the working class. The goal of fascism, in order to control a country, is to co-opt the working class movement in alliance with the entrepreneurial class for the good of the state. Individual civil rights and human rights take a back seat.
The manifestations of fascism really began to appear in the early part of the 19th century and take their form as political movements after World War I, particularly in the early 1920's when you see fascism developing in Italy and Hungary, Germany and Spain. These fascist movements developed across much of Western Europe---and they were all different---but they had a number of elements in common which were broad national super-patriotic fronts on the political scene led by a sole political party and in some cases a single leader having no peers. They also had an element of racism to them and of racial superiority, this being most evident, I believe, in the German Nationalist Socialist Party led by Hitler, but in practically all these fascist regimes one can find the racial element. Benefits in such a system flow naturally to the party leadership, to the captains of industry and to certain professionals.
In economics fascism is generally laissez-faire, it is a freedom for capital to operate in the form that it wishes, in its natural form of accumulation. And the working class movement, the trade union movement, is subordinated in its purpose and rights to the development of capital. And so, as a legacy of the 19th century development of the trade union movement across Europe and also in the US, one finds that progressive ideas particularly with respect to workers rights and to individual rights are anathema to a fascist regime because, as already mentioned, the individual is totally subordinate to the well-being of the state. That is where the repression of the left comes in. Fascism and the philosophy on which it is based, of racial superiority and nostalgia for things past, is opposed to new and progressive ideas. It needs an enemy opposition, a béte noire, to create contempt and hatred, and these are socialists and communists. Repression of dissenters and the political opposition is severe and exemplary in order to intimidate.
Where fascism more recently is concerned, you see many of these same elements emerging, showing that fascism has never disappeared. I don't think that you could say that with the end of World War II and the defeat of the Axis powers that fascism disappeared because Fascist Spain continued on until 1975. Fascism in Portugal continued until 1974. Portugal, I believe became a founding member of NATO, if not, very close to the beginning. And this was a fascist country since the 1920's. Those powers like the United States and Britain that fought against fascism in Europe, particularly against the Nazi movement in Germany, were not opposed to fascism in principle. They were opposed to fascism for other reasons, that is, the US opposed Nazi Germany in order to save Great Britain that was under threat of invasion, and it made the temporary alliance with the Soviet Union as a path of convenience to try to contain Germany in the east, easing the threat to Britain.
So to sum up: fascism has been around for quite a long time. You could trace it back nearly two hundred years to a reaction to the French Revolution and to all things new and progressive. Today one calls the Bush regime in the US, or the Bush junta, better said, a fascist regime, because it has some of the elements of traditional fascism.
[Bernie Dwyer] Fascism has always had a strong following. Can you throw any light on what it is that attracts people to fascism?
[PA] Fascism has at times attracted a great following. Part of the reason is the militaristic aspects of fascism which appeal to people: the uniforms, the marching, the music, and the mass demonstrations for which fascism is so famous. They are excellent at mobilizing large groups for political manifestations in stadiums or in the street. They are also very effective in the use of goon squads: that is, fascism has also had its paramilitary side wherein militants form groups that attack and intimidate their opposition in the streets. This has led to lynching and outright murder.
The appeal of fascism is also the appeal of patriotism. It's a super patriotism which in a way has its racial content as well. Certainly in the United States and other countries, there has always been a movement based on a belief of racial superiority. This has not died out at all in the US in recent years, despite gains by minority races such as African-Americans, and every now and again a new treatise will come out trying to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race over all others. There's also a strong religious element in U.S. fascism. People will find citations from scripture, from the holy books like the Bible, to support this idea of a chosen race. These things, all taken together, make an appealing set of beliefs and actions for many people who are subjected to the propaganda and the sense of belonging that a fascist movement will give.
[BD] There many countries that have uniforms, symbols and national anthems, etc. that also engender a sense of patriotism in the people. What is it that separates them from fascism?
[PA] The difference is in purpose and beneficiaries. We are talking here in part about international relations, the foreign policy of a fascist state. I believe that fascist states tend to be expansionist, seeking the righting of supposed past wrongs, which was the case in Germany when they sought expansion to the east. This justified the move to Czechoslovakia and Poland and on into the Soviet Union.
As fascism is essentially opposed to socialist movements of the working class, as opposed to their allied capitalist class, the German fascist movement felt totally justified moving against socialism as it existed in the Soviet Union. They saw the socialist movement there as a threat, and even though both systems used the word socialist, there was a world of difference between national socialism and the socialism preached and put into practice in a certain way by the Soviet Union. One was nationalist and the other was internationalist. One benefited rulers and owners, and the other benefited the people without distinction, at least in theory. International socialism is based on the international solidarity of the working class. This was the kind of socialism that the Russians adopted from Marx and Engel and Lenin as well. It grew out of the 19th socialist movement, which attempted to show the union of interests and to unite the entire working class in opposition to the entrepreneurial or capitalist class.
[BD] Can you give an example of a fascist state in operation today?
[PA] Fascism tends to be expansive and militarist and one sees this in the United States today. The doctrines that have come out of the Bush regime are doctrines that would have been unthinkable by sane persons fifteen years ago. They began in 1992 with the leaking of a Pentagon document called Defense Planning Guidance attributed to Paul Wolfowitz, then number three in the Department Defense, now number two behind Rumsfeld. The ideas in that document were then adopted in 1997 in the "Project for the New American Century," a propaganda operation founded by Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld and other conservatives, and they were effectively adopted by the current Bush government in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
The 1992 document called for a US defense policy for the foreseeable future based on unilateral action around the world and on the determination never to be challenged again by another power, regionally as well as globally, as the U.S. was challenged for so many years by the Soviet Union. This included China, India, Russia and any NATO power like Germany, and NATO as an organization or any other regional organization or powers. And it was spelled out quite clearly. The document was not published. It was leaked. I think it was leaked in part and not as an entire treatise. In any case this is the doctrine that the Bush administration is putting into practice as we speak, and it includes some things that are certainly hard to believe. One is the concept of preventive war based on unilateral U.S. decisions. This was a part of the doctrine long before the attacks on September 11 that simply provided the pretext on which to inaugurate this new self-proclaimed power.
The first item on the agenda after the attacks was the passage of the Patriot Act. This
law was passed by Congress in such a hurry that almost none of the people who voted for it even had time to read it. But it was approved very quickly and made a mockery of the first ten amendments of the Constitution. It took away all sorts of civil liberties, and until mid-2003 there has not been, as far as I know, a test case in the courts to challenge the constitutionality of this law. Now there is a challenge, but it will take many months to make its way through the courts.
The Bush regime not only imposed the Patriot Act, but an even more repressive Patriot II has been written. It was clear from the first one that it had been written long before the 9/11 terrorist attacks because it is a 131-page document that went to Congress within days. It could never have been written in such a short period of time after the attacks but was prepared beforehand. The terrorist attacks were not only horrible in themselves and what they caused in terms of damage and human suffering to the victims, but they opened the door to the introduction of a fast track toward fascism in the United States itself because of its infringements on civil rights. In this I include the super patriotism and the treatment that dissenters have received since the attacks. This has been abominable. It has been a disgrace to the United States when you read about teachers in grammar and secondary schools or university professors who have tried to show the reasons behind those attacks and why people may hate the United States because of its Middle Eastern policy, especially regarding Israel and the Palestinians. These people have tried to explain that policy as the possible root of these attacks, and they have been treated as traitors. They lose their jobs. This has happened more than once since then.
It's not paranoia on the part of progressive people in the U.S. to feel threatened and intimidated as they now do. The cause for fear is really there, and the government has such expanded powers now, they can practically do anything to you if they can just label you as a supporter of terrorism. I don't think that they even have to prove it. They don't even have to prove that you are an enemy combatant. You are just labeled that, and you have no legal appeal. Then you lose all your rights: your citizenship can even be taken away and you can be deported from your own country under Patriot II. This is what it has come to in the United States. So you have the element of super patriotism and the repression of dissenters. You have an expansionist militaristic foreign policy in the doctrine of preemptive wars and the never-ending war on terrorism in any corner of the world. And you have an enormous financial-military-industrial sector allied with the regime and making handsome profits.
One also has the effect on the Bill of Rights, which before guaranteed Americans the integrity of their person before the government. That too has taken a big blow. Racism is also a part of this process through selective repression of people with Arab names and appearance. Racism is perhaps the worst scourge that the US has ever suffered in its history, and now it's getting worse. It has been manifested in different ways all through the life of the country even before the US independence. Racism was always there and certainly with this Bush junta there is a racial superiority coupled with extreme nationalism that is also one of those concepts that fall into the definition and the practice of fascism. The arrests and secret captivity of hundreds of people in the U.S. after 9/11, together with the criminal, inhuman treatment of the Taliban and other prisoners at the Guantanamo base in Cuba, reflect the unrestrained state power of a fascist regime.
[BD] I'm sure the ordinary person in the United State does not view their government as fascist and if they did, do you think they would accept a fascist government?
[PA] No, I don't think many people in the United States see the US government as fascist. I think that a huge majority don't even know what the word fascist means. They may think of 'Fascist Pig' meaning a put down of a police officer attacking a crowd or something like that, but in actual fact a meaning of the word fascism or where the word comes from is not part of the historical memory of many Americans. There is a problem of political education, but what is most important is not really to understand that this is a fascist regime but to understand what a fascist regime is, that is, what the erosion of civil liberties means to the individuals and what it means to the opinion of the United States in other countries when a president lies to the people in order to justify a war, and hundreds of Americans are killed and wounded in a war that was fought on false pretences, and approval for the war was obtained from Congress based on lies. Nobody can deny that now.
Although we are now in July of 2003, the question is not going to go away. The Democratic Party has been pretty timid in picking up on this but are finally doing so, focusing on the various elements of the false pretences, such as the supposed purchase of uranium in Africa by Iraq which was a complete falsehood. They are picking up all these various elements. I hope they are going to hold Bush's feet to the fire in the coming elections. But they too are subject to being labeled as traitors and anti-patriotic because in a country like the United States, there is a tremendous amount of nationalism, a tremendous amount of love-of-country that can be manipulated. This can reach extremes. It's a complex situation, a complicated country, but in the end a lot of Americans will be drawn to support this government because they believe America has to be right without judgment and that God is on our side: these too are fascist concepts.
But if you ask someone who supports the Bush government if they think it's a fascist government, most will probably say "no," these are our rights, we are just exercising our right to defend ourselves from international terrorism. And while some 50 years of outrages around the world were justified under the cause of anti-communism, now we are facing an endless series of outrages under the cause of anti-terrorism. There will always be an excuse to exercise power around the world justified by the enemies of the day. I think that mainly this comes from the domestic system within the United States. I could be wrong on this, but I think a country's foreign policy is a product of its domestic system.
We have a domestic system within the United States that is exclusive. It's exceedingly unjust. It's riddled with racism that you can find in the prison system, the penal system and the justice system. You can find it in the schools and the work place and anywhere you look, you will find this very heavy quotient of racism, directed mostly by whites against non-whites, although there are many exceptions.
Because of the social and economic injustices in the United States, and the corruption within the political system, the system is fundamentally unstable. The foreign policy that comes from it is designed to preserve the domestic system as are the body of laws governing the country, which comes out of this instability in the domestic system. It means that in order to maintain the system within the US, the US has to have access to the primary products and to the labor and markets of countries outside the United States. The US, since the frontier closed in the 1880s, has not been able to survive as an autarchy, and it has depended on foreign trade ever since.
That need is as great today as ever, probably greater than it ever has been. So without access to those primary products and raw materials that the country lacks, without access to the cheap labor of foreign countries to produce those materials and finished products at a very low cost, and without access to the markets of those countries for disposing of surplus production within the US, the system within the United States collapses. That is why the foreign policy of the US is designed to preserve the exploitation of other peoples and other countries, in my opinion.
If a fascist regime is required within the US to do that, then it will be a fascist regime because there is a political class within the US that makes the decisions, and this is not a lot of people, a very small proportion of the entire population. This is a political class that is very aware of the internal threat in the US, the internal threat of collapse and the different ways that it could happen, and they design the foreign and domestic policy in order to avoid that collapse. And they are always with their finger in the dyke trying to prop up the system one way or another. This latest Bush foreign policy of, among other measures, preventive wars, is simply another way to assure stability or to put off the collapse of the system at home.
[BD] It appears, from what you are saying that the economic success of the United States relies on their interference in the internal affairs of other countries. How does that relate to Washington's attitude towards Cuba?
[PA] US policy towards Cuba is a very good example of how the United States cannot accept a country that declares real independence, which decides to regulate for itself the activities of foreign countries in its territory. Here I am talking about the fact that from the earliest days of the revolution, from January 1st 1959, there was US interference.
At a National Security meeting in March 1959 President Eisenhower and his top advisers discussed how to replace the government in Cuba, what now is known as regime change. This policy was established in 1959, and it has been the same ever since. They tried with the invasion of the Bay of Pigs, with diplomatic and commercial isolation, with terrorism and sabotage, and with attempts to assassinate the leadership. Since the 1990's they have given special emphasis to the development of a political opposition disguised as civil society, that is, NGOs in such areas as human rights, libraries, journalists, lawyers or medicine, everything that money can buy to create a political opposition in Cuba.
Now after twenty years they haven't gotten very far. I know how those projects work, and I've written about it with the details on how every one of the people involved with the so-called dissident movement are part of written US government projects with money and with the designation of who gets the money and how. And they have set up a whole series of NGOs mostly based in Miami that receive many millions of dollars from US government to create counterpart groups in Cuba in order to turn back the clock.
Why? Look at what the Cubans have achieved. They have achieved what even developed countries have failed to achieve. They have free education through to doctoral level. They have developed world class scientific and research institutes and laboratories, a world class pharmaceutical industry. For a country with a population of 11 million people, they are the leading sports power in the world, when you weight for the size of the population. They also have universal medical care, which practically no other country has and at a very high level. They have two or three thousand volunteer doctors around the world at any one time in their foreign aid program, and these are doctors and nurses that go out to the most remote areas, where I certainly could not live very long, working in the most primitive of conditions. They are serving the ideals of the Cuban revolution. It is an amazing program, and I could go on and on about this. But why then should the United States want to destroy this project?
The reason is that it is a bad example because they have been able to do these things under the most adverse conditions. They forgot their proper place and got uppity. They had a subsidy from the Soviet Union and that helped them, but they didn't collapse when that disappeared, and they have taken steps forward ever since. This is a very dynamic and pragmatic situation where if one solution doesn't work, they drop it and they try something else. This revolution is not going to collapse by any means with the passing of Fidel Castro, as so many of Cuba's enemies hope. It's going to go on because it is institutionalized. It will never be accepted by the United States government until they can accept something that is different, a Cuba that rejects tutelage is not dependent economically on the US.
Cuba has set an example, to the rest of Latin America at the least, and they have been in the foreground of the opposition to the free trade zone of the Americas which is fundamental to US policy for dominating these countries, what I mentioned earlier about the markets and the labor, primary products and raw material. That is the way the US hopes to penetrate, and then come to dominate, the countries of Latin America and thereby prop up the system in the United States.
Well, Cuba has been opposed to this from the very beginning, and now you have Chavez in Venezuela, a much more important country to the United States than Cuba, and Brazil and even Argentina showing signs of opposing the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Chavez is not only opposing the free trade area dominated by the United States, he is calling for the union of the Latin American and Caribbean economies which together could negotiate much better deals with the European, US and Canadian trading blocks.
The Cuban example has been a thorn in the side of the US for forty-five years now, and it's going to continue to be as long as the Cubans are adamant about retaining their independence. The US may adopt all kinds of fascist programs, but they will continue to find little satisfaction in their programs to turn back the clock here.
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