Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
The threat of fascism is not going away anytime soon. These are contentious times and the current presidential administration has made matters easier for ultra-right wing groups such as the Neo-Nazis to emerge from the shadows of American politics and embrace some mainstream acceptance.
Nobody likes the Nazis or any group associated with fascism. There’s a good reason for that. They were born from a period of upheavals and violent protests. In addition, they gained power feeding off the public’s xenophobic reaction to radical and racial groups. When societies were at their weakest, they emerged as false prophets. And, if history has taught us anything, the end results were often worse than the problems that propelled them into power in the first place.
Thus, it’s important to know what fascism is and how to recognize its symptoms. Additionally, It’s important to get the information right. This is why, the dubious message from a recent article claiming fascism is actually a left-leaning socialist group, needs to be seriously scrutinized.
The article has a simple objective title; however, it is anything but an objective piece. The Writer accuses liberals, socialists and other left-leaning groups of being fascists. He goes further to state that anti-Trump supporters, intellectual academics (or Academia, as he likes to call them), atheists, and progressives are accomplices in the rebirth of fascism.
Fascism is a dangerous label as well as an evil ideology. These days, however, it’s become a snarl word that gets tossed around by those opposed to another’s ideology – whether from the left or right. This is something, at least, the Writer of the questionable article got right. However, the Writer does little to remedy this situation by going out of his way to accuse groups he personally doesn’t like of being fascists. It’s time to expose the myths it perpetuates and reveal the truth. Fascism is a not a game to play in politics.
To be frank, this article is a difficult read. The Writer packs it with vague references, rehashed talking points, clichés, non-sequiturs, and faulty allegories. In addition, his abhorrence for socialists and liberals know no limits. It becomes clear (despite the wordiness of a few passages) that the Writer is desperate to vilify liberalism and those that identify as socialists rather than write an objective piece of literature.
Most of his accusation are only a single sentence in length. Still, they propagate and dominate the text. And, the connection between the evidence and the thesis is barely plausible. For example, he mentions that Hitler was a vegetarian. How does that support his thesis that fascists are socialists (or liberals since to him the terms are interchangeable)? Does this minor detail about Hitler mean that all socialists/liberals are vegetarians? The concept is fallacious (as will be explained later).
Additionally, he doesn’t provide links or adequate sources. There’s no doubt he culled the Internet to find his evidence that suited his personal belief. As a result, one is left with names and quotes to look up on the Internet, which may or may not be genuine.
Still, the article has one certainty; it caters to a particular audience rather than provide detailed and well-researched information. It’s for those that will tune in for the key words and phrases that will affirm their beliefs. Its success, in other words, pertains to a built-in audience who share the confirmation bias that the Writer expressed.
Through it all, he sprinkles snarl words and pejoratives meant to lambast the ideological groups he doesn’t like.
Article’s Meandering Format
The article meanders through a lengthy section on Benito Mussolini – the Italian dictator credited as the founder of fascism. After that, it jumps into lengthy “definitions” before touching upon National Socialists (Nazis). Eventually it delves into President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Progressives, and his interpretation of Liberalism. Finally he closes out with a section on Antifa, the radical anti-fascist group he believes is actually fascist.
Through it all, he sprinkles snarl words and pejoratives meant to lambast the ideological groups he doesn’t like. In addition, he packs it with several questionable quotes. This includes a truncated and altered quote from noted commentator, Walter Lippmann (the original quote was longer than the two-sentence version presented in the article).
The rest of the article is an exercise in two modern rhetorical devices:
- It incorporates the Gish Gallop – a tactic in which the writer or presenter offers many vague details in an attempt to overwhelm an opponent from deciphering and disputing the claims.
- It becomes the epitome of the Godwin Rule, which states that most political arguments on the Internet or media will eventually resort to comparing Hitler, the Nazis, fascist, or Stalin with the opponents.
The Gish Gallop, alone, makes for difficult reading. As a result, many details – true or false – had to be left out in this assessment. Simply put, the Writer believed a quantity of evidence, rather than the quality of them, was going to get his point across.
Vilification through Words
In fact, his use of certain ideological terms as pejoratives is quite telling of his position. Most are clichés and reflect the attempt by pundits from right-wing media to vilify the opposing side. In order to associate liberal groups with fascism, the Writer weaponized the following terms:
Pejoratives of political terms are not immune to one side of the political spectrum. Fascism, itself, is a very common one. In fact, the Writer gets that partially right in the second paragraph when he writes:
“The ‘left-wing' Democrats call President Trump and his supporters ‘Nazis’ and ‘Fascists.’” He writes. “This ignores the historical fact that a Fascist or a Nazi is FIRST A SOCIALIST – precisely what the leftist proudly claims to be.”
Still, his uses of the terms were negative and “demonic”. In a sense, he truly views the difference between ideology as a “black-and-white” issue rather than the “shades-of-gray” that they are.
So What is Fascism?
Fascism is not an easy term to define. It has gone through several meanings and usages. It started as jargon used by trade-unions in Italy (and had origins in ancient Roman culture) and was later borrowed (or hijacked) by fanatical nationalist groups such as the ones started by Benito Mussolini.
The Writer attempted to define it. He provided a long, multi-paragraphed, definition. Exactly how he came up with it is a mystery. As mentioned, He supplied little, if any, source.
The following is a summarized version of some of the claims he offered:
- It was created by mobs and thugs in Italy that were trying to disrupt the government;
- It was a leftist cause with origins traced back to the French Revolution;
- It pertains to government ownership of the economy while leaving ownership in private hands;
- It favors a central government and leads to totalitarianism;
- It is anti-capitalists
In reality, however, the Writer was partially right. Fascism had its roots in Italy during the early 20th century and many of its members were disgruntled thugs that took to the streets in violent clashes (including Mussolini). Most however, were driven by a sense of nationalism – an ethnocentric ideology that promoted economic and cultural preference of a nation (often combined with racial or cultural preferences).
Moreover, many fascist leaders ignored this aversion when they realized that major corporations often supplied the capital to get their ideologies off the ground
Also, with similarities to socialists, fascists favored a strong central government and regulation of some programs (at least that was their claims before taking office). He was also correct (as mentioned later in the article) that both ideologies open themselves up for a takeover from a totalitarian regime (although fascism makes it much easier, considering that the leaders are already authoritarians and designate a leader to be a dictator).
In addition, his claim that the left wing form of government came from the era of the French Revolution is technically true (as did the right wing, considering it was actually a reference to where legislative members of differing ideologies sat in the French parliamentary house before and after the Revolution). How the latter supports his definition of fascism is a bit of a stretch, considering his loose interpretation/connection of both ideologies.
Moreover, he is correct when he states that fascists, like socialists, are anti-capitalists. There’s evidence to support that belief; however, the reasons for it is often anti-Semitic (Hitler and the Nazis believed that all capitalists were Jews).
Moreover, many fascist leaders ignored this aversion when they realized that major corporations often supplied the capital to get their ideologies off the ground. In many cases – especially in Nazi Germany – major private firms and the government worked together to transform the country into a military economy before the outbreak of World War II.
Still, there are several crucial components missing from the Writer’s definition. While many scholars have different, sometimes conflicting definitions, there’s enough to compile several common traits.
In an article from Livescience.com, Professor Robert Paxton, emeritus of social science at Columbia University in New York (a person the article states is the “father of fascism studies”) defined it as:
“A form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques for an anti-liberal, anti-socialist, violently exclusionary, expansionist nationalist agenda.”
In his book, Fascism: A Graphic Guide, Stuart Hood listed 14 common traits that defines racism. Among the traits listed are hatred for communism and socialism; a strong state with a powerful executive (usually a dictator); nationalism; programs empathizing conformity; aversion to intellectuals; and nostalgia for a mythical past.
The complete list is as follows:
Click on Image to Expand
While these explanations can support part of the Writer’s argument, it can’t support his overall message that socialism and fascism are the same thing, considering that these definitions indicate that the two ideology were mortal enemies of one another.
The Twisted Tale of Mussolini
Mussolini is often associated with creation of the fascism. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the Writer spends a considerable amount of time on him.
The Writer claims Mussolini was a socialist who based his philosophy of fascism on atheism and the Theory of Evolution.
The reality: It’s true that Mussolini identified himself as a socialist in his early years. In addition, he joined the Socialist Party and founded a newspaper for the organization. However, Mussolini had a colorful history of flip-flopping – as well a history of violence.
In his youth, Mussolini was expelled from his first Catholic boarding school for stabbing a student. By the age of 14, he stabbed another student (but only received a suspension). During his 20s, he expressed anti-government views and joined the socialist movement. It’s questionable if he truly believed in socialism, considering he spent much of his time advocating for confrontation and street violence (which leaders of the socialist movement didn’t support).
A change of philosophy came after World War I. He was a soldier and reportedly fought with distinction (and like Hitler, reportedly loved his wartime experience). However, the war must have changed his mindset. In 1919, he turned against the Socialists. This happened at a time when post-war Italy was in disarray and besieged by clashes with left and right wing groups.
Mussolini gained swift power during this time by going after the socialists and communist organizations. His actions caught the attention of King Emmanuel III of Italy – a conservative in his own right. After dissolving Parliament, he appointed Mussolini as Prime Minister. As time went on, Il Duce – as he came to be known – consolidated his power as a dictator. In the process, he arrested leaders of socialists and communists organizations, had socialist parliament members removed from office, and made scapegoats out of the communist Bolsheviks in order to blame them for all of Italy’s problems.
In Addition, Mussolini proclaimed to be an Atheist; however, at the beginning of his reign he publically “found God” and earned the support of the Catholic majority. His conversion included the act of having his three children baptized, doing his marriage redo before a Catholic priest, and signing the Lateran Pact. The latter was significant, for it established Vatican City as an independent state. Another move Mussolini made was to incorporate Catholic theology into the curriculum for secondary schools.
In private, Mussolini kept his atheistic beliefs until the final years of his rule and eventual death. Still, the notion that his atheism played a part in the formulation of the fascism was (and still is) undetermined. More likely, his hubris -- or narcissism to be precise -- did. He desired to be seen as a living god. He often stated that his name should be capitalized in texts; especially in text mentioned with god in it.
As a side note, the reference to Mussolini’s supposed atheism implies that all fascist are atheist. However, this ignores the slew of South American dictators and fascists that existed in European countries (such as Francisco Franco’s Spain) before World War II. Many gained support of the church and were devout parishioners, despite their own demagoguery.
[Paxton] claimed Mussolini and the rest of the fascists rarely kept their early promises.
In many cases, religious leaders were accused of being in collusion with fascist leaders. Pope Pius XI (who once praised Mussolini) was criticized for ignoring or being complicit in Nazi atrocities, even after they began to target Catholic priests opposed to the Nazi regime.
As for the claim about the Theory of Evolution? There’s no definitive text out there that mentioned that this was a factor. However, Mussolini was a fan of the philosopher Nietzsche and may have ascribed to social Darwinism (which is not from Charles Darwin nor is related in any way to the Theory of Evolution). The latter, however is undetermined.
Another issue to consider comes from Robert Paxton. In his interview with Livescience.com, He claimed Mussolini and the rest of the fascists rarely kept their early promises.
An article on the American Historical Association’s website supported Paxton’s argument: “The proclaimed aims and principles of the [Italian] fascist movement are perhaps of little consequence now. It promised almost everything, from extreme radicalism in 1919 to extreme conservatism in 1922.”
Nazis and the Guilt of Association
An article about fascism is not complete without mentioning the Nazis. The Writer delivers on that…well, sort of. The Writer didn’t just conflate Nazism with socialism; he did it with American progressivism of the 21st century, too.
He makes several claims:
- Nazis (an acronym) were socialist because it's part of the name stands for “socialist”;
- Wanted to nationalize (term is different from nationalism) healthcare, education, industry;
- They were anti-capitalist;
- Adolf Hitler was influenced by a socialist;
- Hitler was a vegetarian while Heinrich Himmler was an animal rights advocate;
- Supported abortion and established an anti-smoking campaign.
- Supported gun control
The reality: any attempt to paint Hitler and the Nazis as liberal-loving socialists is ludicrous. It flies in the face of documented statements made by Hitler and others within the Third Reich. It goes against the late journalist, William L. Shirer who wrote the classic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, and actually interviewed several key players within the party (He was an American correspondent stationed in Berlin and Vienna before the U.S. entered the war, making him an eye witness to the events that unfolded).
The Writer horribly misconstrued and misrepresented several accusations. Here’s a breakdown of what actually happened under Nazi rule:
- Public education existed before the Nazis took over; however, Hitler, who had contempt for intellectual academic life, stripped it of comprehensive education and “Nazified” it into a form of indoctrination of the myths and racial politics of Nazis.
- The supposed “socialist” was Gottfried Feder, a member of the Nazi Party who fell out of favor with the party – and became disgruntled enough to leave the party. Contrary to the Writer’s belief, there’s no evidence that he was a socialist, despite being identified as an anti-capitalist.
- Many members of the Nazi Party – including Hitler – not only changed their opinions about capitalism, they helped to weaken worker’s unions and widened the gap between the rich and poor. Working conditions faltered as did morale, despite efforts to force "vacations" on them.
- There were restrictions imposed on abortion that made it essentially impossible for a woman to get one (incidentally, abortion was legalized in West Germany in 1974, but some of the restrictions imposed during the Nazi era are still in place to this day).
- Hitler supposedly became a vegetarian near the end of his reign, but reports indicated he was an avid meat eater as late as 1937. Also, there is evidence that Himmler supported animal rights measures.
- The Nazis were one of the first governments to seek laws to ban smoking .
- With a few exceptions,the Nazis actually loosened gun control laws first imposed in the waning days of the Weimer Republic in Germany.
The Writer flooded his article with references to his personal, steadfast belief that the Nazis were socialists by taking isolated cases of behavior and personal beliefs that fit a stereotype he had of liberals. In many respects, this is a fallacious argument known as Guilt by Association. In his own logic he believes that all liberals support gun control, animal rights, veganism, free education and atheism. Socialist, who are liberals (to him) believe in the same thing, thus, they are the same. And, since the ultimate fascists, Hitler and Himmler, are either vegans or animal rights advocates, this means fascism is socialism. Therefore, liberals are fascists.
Still, historical documents don’t support this argument. Hitler’s first action was to weaken and ultimately eliminate socialist and communist groups in Germany. Some of the first people sent to concentration camps were political prisoners. On top of that, he purged schools and the press of those deemed left leaning in order to transform his country into totalitarian regime.
So if Hitler and the Nazis abhorred the socialists, why did their party’s name translate to National Socialist? Deceptive politics. When Hitler took over a small fringe group called the German Worker’s Party from Anton Drexler, he made the decision to change the name (as well as coming up with the swastika design). The socialist part gave the impression that the Nazis were a party for all people and they wanted to unify all under the concept of nationalism.
This play on name is something common among political groups; especially those that want to garner votes from a large sector of society. As Hood and Paxton mentioned in their definition, part of the fascist ploy is to have liberal or socialist sounding names while actually conducting extreme right-wing policies.
The ruse generated support from those that would not have voted for this party if they knew what it was really about – an authoritarian party that was racially charged and anti-Semitic. In fact, according to Shirer, some socialists voted for the Nazis –as well as a few Jewish individuals – believing that they were a socialist party. These people eventually recognized they had made a mistake when the Nazis began acting against their beliefs. However, by that time, left-leaning groups lost much of their power to oppose them.
The rest of the article devolves into a mixture of rants, quote mining, straw man tactics and gas lighting that distorts, exaggerates or blatantly misrepresents the supposed connection between fascism and liberalism/socialism. After a while, it gets exhausting, perusing it for any significant information. It’s all in vain. All it does is become a disservice to the truth – something the Writer preaches about in previous articles.