“Fascism is coming; probably a slimy Anglicized form of Fascism, with cultured policemen instead of Nazi Gorillas and the lion and the unicorn instead of the swastika.” Thus it was that George Orwell neatly captured the very way our culture refuses to learn anything from history. Whilst researching this piece I stumbled over the use of this very same phrase from Orwell by the Green Party to suggest that their mission was to halt UKIP – and, by extension, its form of slimy Anglicized Fascism. The Orwell quote itself is not lifted from his 1941 essay “The Lion and the Unicorn” – instead it predates it coming from his 1937 book “The Road to Wigan Pier“. It remains one of his more obscure predictions if his most prescient.
Orwell’s words echoed seventy years later by Columbia University’s historian Robert O. Paxton who, in his 2004 book “The Anatomy of Fascism“, wrote:
“No swastikas in an American fascism, but Starts and Stripes and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.”
He went on:
“Can fascism still exist? [..] We need not look for exact replicas, in which fascist veterans dust off their swastikas. [..] As long as they remain excluded from the alliances with establishment necessary to join the political mainstream or share power however, they remain more a law and order problem than a political threat. Much more likely to exert an influence are extreme Right movements that have learned to moderate their language, abandon classical fascist symbolism, and appear “normal“.””
This is by no means a unique analysis. Take this well known quote misattributed to American writer & Nobel Prize Laureate Sinclair Lewis in 1935:
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”
The quote itself does not date to 1935 and it true attribution is in dispute. Still it is not dissimilar to a paragraph in Lewis’ 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here”:
“But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.”
It is true that great minds think alike. In the USA it may well be that elements of the evangelical Christian movement has fascist-like tendencies. Yet I wish to focus back upon contemporary Britain and the sage words of Orwell. You need only Google the phrase “slimy anglicised fascism” to see how people have read this. For good reason this slime is associated with one particular element of modern British right-wing politics. UKIP. Yet, as the Bright Green Scotland blog concedes:
“It’s voters are by no means all racist, and its representatives range from those motivated by bigotry to those who see it as a useful tool to defend their wealth.”
About the latter we know a lot, but the former? How did bigotry become such a powerful force that it came to over-ride all forms of common decency and simple common-sense? For this Paxton gave us a clue:
“…many ordinary citizens never feared fascist violence against themselves, because they were reassured that it was reserved for national enemies and “terrorists” who deserved it.”
I relay these words in the day after the terrorist attack on the Paris office of the satirical cartoon paper Charlie Hebdo in which 12 people died. Already tensions are running high and news of reprisal attacks against innocent muslims flood in from France. This only a week or two after massed marches in Germany by groups calling themselves the “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West”, or Pegida. How easy it is to slide into hatred.
Why do we give into hate? In “The Third Reich – A New History” by Michael Burleigh writes
“Sentimentality was arguably the most modern feature of National Socialism, in that turn-of-the-millennium politics are permeated, if not by presentiments of apocalypse, then by a cloying sentimentality from politicians hard to distinguish from preachers…”
The Nazis “relied more on the mindless razzamatazz of entertainment, parades and marches. By contrast, their rivals on the left developed a belated appreciation of the emotional potency of symbols and the irrational.”
The appeal of the far-right remains forever based upon irrational fears. Such fears are so easy to stir up in a modern world where tribal loyalties run deeper than most of us admit. We no longer need a reason to fear foreigners, we just need a darn good show. This is hatred as entertainment. Philosopher Martin Cohen’s portrayal of Hitler renders the German dictator as quite “blokey” and popular with the ladies – it reminds us so much of the current British right-wing demagogue. Cohen describes Hitler writing in Mein Kampf of a Germanic ‘super-race’ that seemed to exclude most Germans. He asked why it was so popular if this were true?
“If that seems strange, it’s only like the well noted paradox today whereby you can advocate the channelling of wealth towards a privileged few and the working class majority will applaud enthusiastically even though they’ll gain nothing and indeed may have to pay, yet they prefer to imagine themselves as one of the elite.”
An elite that, by definition, they are excluded from. This is powerful stuff – the power of ideas. Cohen goes on to quote Hitler who wrote:
“…all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.” – Ever wondered why politicians are so dogmatic, and must repeat one point all the time?”
This is the age of politics as theatre. This is the end of democracy. Take this powerful “open letter to UKIP Voters” from write Owen Jones published by The Independent in January 2014. Jones surveyed the actual policies that a majority of UKIP voters wanted and found them utterly at odds with UKIP policies. It was a matter he returned to in his 2014 book “The Establishment” where he demonstrated just how out of line voter wishes are with the policies of the political establishment who run the country:
“…politicians and big business demonstrated just how far out of touch they were with the British public opinion. [..] An earlier YouGov poll revealed that nearly six out of ten Britons advocated a new 75 per cent tax band for those earning £1 million or more, a position even four out of ten Tory voters supported. Neo-liberal dogma might be treated as received wisdom in Britain’s citadels of power. But out in the streets and communities of the country, the key tenets of the Establishment were regarded as fringe, marginal opinion. [..] ..the ideas of the Establishment are unchallengeable.”
Do UKIP voters imagine themselves to be “one of the elite” as Cohen contends? Or is it simply lack of choice? What we have is far more subtle. People do not vote for policies. Policies are to be buried deep into manifestos that nobody ever reads. Even if they did politicians will renege on those promises, they always do – and most people know it. So disenfranchised are the electorate that they have long since stopped listening to any of the substance of what is said by party leaders. It comes down to impressions, feelings, emotion, all built up around carefully crafted media images and selected sound-bites. Hence all we really know is that there is a party out there run by a nice blokey-bloke who drinks beer (just like us!) who tells us that all are problems are caused by immigrants. If we could just leave the EU this problem would be fixed and UK sovereignty restored. Hurrah.
It is a fantasy. Not even an eloquent one. UKIP policies withstand no scrutiny whatsoever. Immigration remains the reason Britain is wealthy. Immigrants run essential services and pay the taxes that keep the lights on. Big business has long since absolved itself of any social responsibility for such things. Yet still it is business too who wish to remain in the EU – after all they are our biggest trading partner. As Jones puts it:
“I’m not going to waste your time or patronise you by preaching the benefits of immigration. Instead, I want to ask you this. Who has caused our country most problems: the bankers who plunged us into economic disaster, the expenses-milking politicians who have the cheek to lecture us on benefit fraud, the wealthy tax-dodgers keeping £25 billion a year from the Exchequer; the poverty wage-paying bosses and rip-off rent-charging landlords; or Indian nurses and Polish fruit pickers?”
So if UKIP policies make no rational sense why does anyone still vote for them? Their representatives give us the impression of a shambolic party, stumbling from one embarrassing racist remark to the next shameful misogynist tweet. A party could barely try more hard than UKIP to be utterly crap – at all things. But here lies the curios paradox. UKIP are utter shite but still roughly one-in-nine of us wish to vote for them. What is it exactly that these people can see that the rest of us do not?
Now don’t tell me for one instance that this is a protest vote against the establishment. UKIP are the establishment on speed – all millionaire stock-brokers from privileged backgrounds. Mostly male, white and old, they went to all the right schools and have all the right connections, they have everything it takes to make a political party, they already have power, money and influence. Yet they do not represent the nation of Great Britain, they represent a gentleman’s club from the 1950s. It is a shameful indictment of our own intelligence that anyone should take such clowns seriously.
How do you defeat something utterly illogical? How, in the words of Douglas Adams do we fire a missile at right-angles to reality? The blogger on the Brighter Green Scotland suggests that this may well once have been the job of Labour so we need to “accept that progressive movements today aren’t the democratic centralists”. Whereas I can agree with the following sentiment:
“People are, more than for a long time, angry with the establishment. And right now, that anger is being captured by the elite, and channelled at those who least deserve it.”
…it remains to be seen if adherence to any form of left/right dogma offers us any solution to this crisis in democracy. In this I have a great deal of sympathy with Russell Brand who speaks for many of us in our frustration with Westminster politics. I read the Green Party manifesto several years ago and was unimpressed. If the Green Party simply ends up being a rest of home for people who call themselves “Socialists” then it will not be fit for Government.
So if the opposition to the establishment is either non-existent or ineffective what choices are there? Not voting itself will only make things worse. People who always vote will always vote for the existing establishment. This is a far worse outcome. Voting remains important although not very effective. It is a fig leaf of democracy but a fig leaf is better than nothing at all. We have to make it count. We have to get informed about the true policies of parties and connect that to the true wishes of voters.
In short; we all need to be a little more intelligent. To do that we need to remove propaganda from our culture. As Owen Jones suggests it might be a good starting point to break up the monopoly control on the media who so ill-inform us. People need to be drilled in reality not fantasy.
Can anything really save us from this death spiral? This road to serfdom, this race to the bottom? If we are to make intelligent choices at the ballot box then we first need to understand that we are a modern industrial economy in a post-industrial decline. Our establishment see the future as an economy that looks like an impoverished third world country. The 1% will live in elegant protected gated communities whilst the 99% will live in abject poverty. The 1% will feel a duty of care for the 99% that would be familiar to Scrooge in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. This is not the kind of serf society any of us want – it is not what we deserve – it is not even economically efficient. It just serves the wants of a minority rather than the needs of the majority. Until our democracy can learn the lessons of the crisis of democracy from the 1930’s then we are doomed to return to those times.
There are only dark clouds ahead.