By Loz Lawrey
“… It was 1941. Europe was in flames. Spain had fallen to a ruthless dictator. Hitler had rolled over the continent, reduced France to an abject state, and was about to invade Russia. Concentration camps were filled with Jews (though we in America did not know much about that yet). Mussolini ruled Italy. Japan ravaged eastern China and southeast Asia, as her ultimate conquerors would later continue to do in Indochina. The enemy was fascism – and fascism did not exist only across the oceans …” (from the Rolling Stone article “Pete Seeger: Guerilla Minstrel” by Gene Marine, 13 April 1972).
It’s true that fascism, which emerged in Italy in the 1920s, was rearing its ugly head in America as well as Europe by the 1930s and 40s.
Social justice activists such as Pete Seeger knew their enemy well. The scrawled message “this machine kills fascists” on Woody Guthrie’s guitar said it all.
What is fascism? Most dictionary definitions describe a system of authoritarian government whose attributes include nationalism, racism and dictatorial/autocratic state control. Under fascism, military, corporate and political interests conjoin to impose their power over the people and suppress all voices of opposition or dissent. Hitler’s Nazi regime was fascist in nature.
Definitions of fascism tend to sound like neoliberalism’s mission statement, listing elements critical to the business model of … call them what you will: the wealthy elites, the one percent, the military/industrial complex, the economic rationalists, the political hard right, the corporate predators of neoliberalism … in other words, those who profit from chaos.
Socialism to fascists is what Kryptonite is to Superman. Fascists hate socialism, communism, even conservatism, which can appear too moderate in the eyes of these far-right bully boys. To fascists, concepts such as “human rights” and “social justice” are irrelevant.
Aspiring fascists prowl the corridors and back alleys of our federal parliament and public service.
Home Affairs, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton presides over a vast portfolio which, it could be argued, places too much power over others in the hands of one man.
Were he ever given free reign to exercise that power at will, without checks and balances to constrain his actions, fascism would displace the last vestiges of democracy in our country.
Were the Liberal/National Coalition government not constrained by our parliamentary system and the need to maintain an appearance of social democracy and public participation, we would now be living under an overtly fascist regime.
As it is, we are witnessing the creeping resurgence of fascism both here in Australia and globally.
I was born in 1951, only six years after the end of the Second World War, a horror chapter in humanity’s ever-repeating cycle of war, conflict, genocides and self-inflicted abominations which many of us hoped had ended with the USA’s shameful atomic mass murders at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I grew up in a time when our society truly believed fascism, which had a presence in Australia during the 1930s, had been consigned to the past, just another stain on humanity’s abysmal human rights record.
We great apes think ourselves clever, but we don’t treat each other well, do we?
It is said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Lies, misrepresentation, fear-mongering, racism, the promotion of conflict and social division, “othering”… these are the tools of the fascist trade.
Political leaders with easy access to propaganda by mass media bring these tools to the task of grasping power and imposing control. The hysterical headlines of the Murdoch gutter press are a deliberate form of brainwashing.
How easily we forget the lessons drawn from the mistakes of the past. How short is humanity’s collective memory.
In my 66 years I have witnessed a great arc of human social improvement: Progress. A genuine, educated attempt to be truly human in our values and our social organising, underpinned by a vision of utopian possibility.
I’ve observed the struggle for civil rights in western nations, the hard-won gains of the union movement, the efforts to enshrine human values of fairness and decency within so-called democratic societies.
I’ve also witnessed that same vision of fairness, inclusion and equality being dismantled over time, diluted and diminished by neoliberalism: the cult of individualism with its “winners and losers” mentality.
Although socialism always attracts bad press, history demonstrates that some socialist values and principles of inclusiveness are mandatory requirements for any successful, healthy civil society.
For a few brief decades, thanks to the activism of our trade unions, workers enjoyed better wages, working conditions and safety standards than ever before.
With a little socialist garnish to balance its greed, capitalism actually seemed to work for a while there.
Workers earned a fair wage, a single breadwinner could feed a family and business reaped the rewards of workers’ ability to spend.
Trade unions brought rogue employers to heel. Principles of decency forced governments to endorse the standards of fairness that workers demanded.
Union members made this happen, while non-member “freeloaders” also enjoyed the fruits of endless hard-fought union campaigns. For years. And years.
Yet here we are today: Union membership is at an all-time low. Our hard-won rights, wages and conditions have been eroded and subverted, sanded down and dimished to the point of practical non-existence.
The new “gig economy” is code for a deregulated law-of-the-jungle employment environment where workers’ rights and entitlements no longer exist.
Like the crazed high priests of greed that they are, business lobby groups continually advocate for lower wages and working conditions in the name of “flexibility” and “productivity”.
We recently saw the oddly-named “Fair Work Commission” cut penalty rates for low-paid hospitality workers working outside business hours or on weekends, a decision that clearly had nothing to do with fairness for workers.
The nonsensical trickle-down economic argument supporting that decision would reduce workers to the level of indentured servants, caught up in an endless struggle for survival on wages which don’t meet the cost of living.
One has to wonder: can businesses really prosper while disenfranchising and impoverishing the very workers who are also their customers?
As long as workers are treated as “units of work” rather than people, exploitation will remain an integral part of our industrial relations system.
Penalty rates were originally conceived, fought for and won by unions seeking to compensate workers for the social disadvantages of working outside normal business trading hours while the rest of society plays.
Bloody unions! Always at it, aren’t they, trying to inject fairness into the employment space! They must be stopped! Quick! Raid their offices!
Unbelievably, I recently met a young man in his early twenties who had no idea what a trade union is. To him, the job market is a toxic jungle where concepts such as “fairness” or “living wage” no longer apply.
He sees a dog-eat-dog competitive arena where only a few victorious gladiators will ever be left standing to share the spoils of success.
To him, being a worker means being thrown to the wolves. Scars are expected. Ongoing employment and economic and social survival are now mere hopes, no longer expectations.
Is the struggle for social justice finally lost?
It could be argued that fascism has always been with us in one form or another.
Perhaps it simply changes its spots, adapting like a chameleon to the temper of the times.
One could say that neoliberalism is fascism in sheep’s clothing, with its veneration of corporate power and market freedom, its deregulation, its austerity measures, its disregard for both the individual and the public interest, its attacks on social justice and denial of society’s right to social cohesion.
In other words, we now suffer from a different form of authoritarianism. Today industry and commerce run the show. Although the appearance of democracy and “people power” is maintained, governments listen first to the lobbyists of their corporate masters while paying lip service to voters, who are condemned to waiting for trickle-down benefits which may never materialise.
We are drowning in an ocean of often irrational lies and spin regurgitated by politicians quivering with excitement at the magnitude of corporate “donations” (some might say “payment for favourable outcomes”) to their party coffers.
Governments use the same fear-mongering (terrorists, North Korea etc) and “othering” (refugees, welfare recipients, “gangs”) as fascist regimes once did, in their ongoing attempts to divide, disempower and control us.
I’ve always found far greater inspiration in the stories of compassionate contributors to human betterment than those of conquering heroes and economic, social or sporting “winners”.
Some human stories warm the heart and inspire us to become our most generous selves, while others leave us mean-minded, competitive, judgmental, full of hubris, intolerance and nastiness.
I know that as a post-war baby boomer, I’ve been very lucky. I was born into middle-class comfort. I enjoyed a free education and a reasonably consistent working life, punctuated by short periods of unemployment, during which times my family was sustained by a viable social safety to which I myself contributed by paying tax, along with my fellow Australians.
While the media “dole bludger” label has always been with us, our social security system, though never perfect, ensured that few of us actually went homeless, unlike today’s reality when more than one in two hundred of us sleep rough.
“They” have turned us against each other. Maggie Thatcher’s “there’s no such thing as society” has come to pass.
Our own government constantly attacks and demonises our most disadvantaged citizens.
We are judged. If we accumulate wealth, we are “winners”. If wealth doesn’t materialise for us (for whatever reason), we are dismissed as “losers” and kicked to the curb.
As time passes, so does the past become devalued and forgotten. That’s why the historical record is so important.
I remember learning some years ago that the study of history was to be wound back in school curriculums. I knew then that we were making a mistake. How easily a generation forgets the lessons learned by its predecessor.
Once history is devalued and ignored, we’ve disempowered ourselves by throwing a precious resource of fact-based knowledge overboard.
Today we live in a world where people of lesser ability are elevated to high office, where stupidity is celebrated and fools are made famous by commercial media placing profit above the public interest.
Today I regularly encounter adults who’ve never read a book and are unaware of the precedents of history. I believe this trend has a lot to do with the resurgence of fascism we are witnessing globally.
Yes, fascism, Nazism … the ugliest variations on the theme of “Stupidity Uber Alles” are all around us. Fascism, that paradigm whereby bullies in jackboots with small brains, sadistic tendencies and no empathy whatsoever run the show.
As a player on the stage of life, I’ll eventually exit, stage left.
The world will go on without me and, apart from a few songs and scribblings floating in cyberspace, there will be little or no trace of me left behind. I hope to leave a small footprint: not too many people hurt, not too much damage done.
I love life, and while I do occasionally tumble into the slough of despond, I usually manage to remain positive in the face of what sometimes seems like universal awfulness.
There are, however, times when I’m overwhelmed by disappointment at what I perceive to be humanity’s bad choices.
My disenchantment began in the 1980s, with Thatcher in the U.K. and Reagan in the U.S., who infected our world with the toxic poison of “economically rationalist” neoliberal ideology, elevating selfishness, applauding greed and equating obscene wealth with success.
Today, things look worse than ever. Toxic regimes devour their own citizens. More global conflict seems inevitable.
History is repeating, again …
Once more, humanity’s fate is held in the hands of a few greedy, power-hungry men. Their deluded madness enslaves us all, and by their hand shall we bleed. Or perish.
Unless, of course, we choose otherwise.