By Dr George Venturini*
It can’t happen here? (continued)
In his seminal work of 2004 Dr. Britt studied the following regimes: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. To be sure, they constitute a mixed bag of national identities, cultures, developmental levels and history. But they all followed the Fascist or proto-Fascist model in obtaining, expanding and maintaining power. All those regimes have been overthrown, so a more or less complete picture of their basic characteristics and abuses is possible.
Analysis of those seven regimes revealed fourteen common threads which link them in recognisable patterns of national behaviour and abuse of power. These basic characteristics are more prevalent and intense in some regimes than in others, but they all share at least some level of similarity.
- Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign which often bordered on xenophobia.
- Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realising the objectives of the ruling élite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalising, even demonising, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.
- Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice – relentless propaganda and disinformation – were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite ‘spontaneous’ acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and ‘terrorists.’ Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labelled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.
- The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling élites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure which supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling élite.
- Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political élite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws which enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.
- A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power élite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.
- Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling élite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting ‘national security,’ and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.
- Religion and ruling élite tied together. Unlike communist regimes, the Fascist and proto-Fascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling élite’s behaviour was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling élites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the ‘godless.’ A perception was manufactured that opposing the power élite was tantamount to an attack on religion.
- Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling élite saw the corporate structure as a way not only to ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic élite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of ‘have-not’ citizens.
- Power of labour suppressed or eliminated. Since organized labor was seen as the one power centre which could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling élite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.
- Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.
- Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. ‘Normal’ and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or ‘traitors’ was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.
- Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and close to the power élite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power élite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic élite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power élite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.
- Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power élite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power élite. ( L.W. Britt, Fascism anyone ? Free Inquiry Magazine. Vol. 23, no. 2, 2004).
‘Is the Abbott Government Fascist?’
Less than two years ago, John Biggs, a distinguished retired professor, asked for the first time ‘Is the Abbott Government fascist?’.
The learned professor developed his theme under several headings: 1) A strong leader or small group of leaders with psychopathic tendencies, 2) Rules by fiat and slogan, 3) A culture of lying, 4) Defines and maintains an underclass while distributing wealth and power to an élite, 5) Filters information so that the government only receives advice it wants to hear, 6) Control the media, 7) Is nationalistic and militaristic, 8) Is a poor world neighbour, 9) Takes over industry and commerce.
And so, did Biggs find the Abbott Government to be Fascist? He answered:
“The Abbott Government would no doubt defend its policies and radical change of direction as simply implementing their neoliberal agenda, which they would say they were elected to do. The public’s highly negative reaction to that agenda post-election suggests that they were fooled.
Neoliberalism leads to the adoption of most characteristics of fascism, except for the role of government itself. Neoliberalism’s so-called “small government” just hands control and the destinies of citizens to the corporate sector, which as Joel Bakan’s film The Corporation [:The pathological pursuit of profit and power] (2003) sees as manifesting all the symptoms of full blown psychopathy.
Whether we ordinary people are being bullied by psychopathic fascist governments or by equally psychopathic corporations, it’s not nice to be at the receiving end. Worse, we seem to lack the power to do very much about it. As Richard Cooke points out in “A class of their own” (The Monthly, June, 2014), political accountability is a myth. The values and decisions of political and economic elites are basically unaffected by the needs and values of their constituents. A majority of people want less privatisation, more spending on health care, social welfare for the poor (certainly not for the rich) even if all these mean higher taxes. Neoliberal governments give exactly the opposite to what a majority of people want – and tragically for us they seem to be getting away with it. Neoliberalism is undemocratically grabbing power across much of the Western World; it is a juggernaut that must be stopped.
To answer our question: yes, the Abbott Government at least has strong fascist tendencies. That is what hard line neoliberalism does. It is itself a form of neofascism.
The good news for us Australians, as John Oliver’s little doco points out, is that Abbott and his mates are being so kack-handed about it they’ll self-destruct, to peals of international laughter.”
Hmmm? Neo-Liberalism? Neo-Fascism? One could settle comfortably for ‘the political fence of a Corporatocracy’ – perhaps.
More advantageous would be to consider the Abbott experience on the foreground of a scenario that Biggs magisterially painted in an essay ‘A wave of unreason’, published also in 2014. Even the notion of an Australian Fascism must be seen on a special stage, with lights which both limit and enlarge the resulting issues.
As the learned author alerted, “ ‘A wave of unreason’ is a phrase author Edgar Wallace used in a 1920s Gothic horror story, intriguingly entitled “The Black Abbott”. I use the phrase in another horror story, one about a wave of unreason that is currently sweeping the Western world – and Australia in particular.” Australia is a vast country, in continental Europe’s terms, from which a large contingent of the population has recently come – Germany, Greece, Italy. Australia shares no borders with other countries and it seems to have no real friends around, except perhaps New Zealand – not Indonesia, not the small and imperilled states to the east and north-east, and most certainly not Timor-Leste at the near north.
Such isolation has progressed during the past forty years, roughly from the Royal coup which ambushed the Whitlam Government.
After that, small actors – often just caricatures of real statesmen – have been playing and re-playing on the Australian stage from the same script which carries a part almost unseen and yet clearly understood even by second-rate actors, survivors of Biggs’ superb essay.
The prophets of this new world of Neo-Liberalism and its consequences were joined together in the criminal aggression on Afghanistan in 2001. They are George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard. If Bush could be safe, perhaps because the United States is not a party to the Statute of Rome of 2002 establishing the International Criminal Court, Blair and Howard can still go safe from the charge of being war criminals because the I.C.C. seems to take no interest in complaints lodged against those characters. (Search Foundation, ‘Australia’s former Prime Minister Howard accused of war crimes before the International Criminal Court in the Hague’).
But the moral decay of political life in countries to which Australia feels traditional affinity, Britain and the United States, long precedes the aggression on Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Libya, and Syria, and Yemen …
As already said, in Australia such decay goes back to the coup of 1975, which was made possible by the Governor-General’s use of his ‘reserved powers’ under the direction of agents of the American Deep State.
From that event Australian professional politicians quietly drew the conclusion that there are limits – not well delineated and from time to time referring to ‘the Westminster System’ – and unforgivably enforced by ‘real power’. Australian professional politicians have well understood that there are ‘unwritten rules’, by which any political position, elected or appointed, must abide.
The result, as Dr. Barry Jones put it some ten years ago, and quoted by Biggs, is that “The political process has been deformed, parliaments have lost much of their moral authority, the public service has adopted the cult of managerialism and been increasingly politicised, universities have become trading corporations, the media is preoccupied with infotainment, while lobbying and use of consultants ensures that vested interest is more influential than community interest.” (B. Jones, A thinking reed Sydney 2006).
The cause of this deformation of the political process, of higher education, of media, of vested over community interest, is – in the words of Biggs – the rise of Neo-Liberalism.
Neo-Liberalism asserts that the only legitimate purpose of the state is to safeguard individual liberty and private property rights, and to safeguard especially commercial liberty with free markets and free trade.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull summed it up as: “Liberty, the individual, and the free market”. The slogans might be longer now, but the show must go on. Reduced to the effective three words, slogans may be ‘borrowed’ from the American political satire Veep, and so ‘Continuity with change’ becomes ‘Continuity and change’, or from former President George W. Bush, without adaptation: ‘Jobs with growth’.
“How neoliberalism shaped social policy in Australia is clear – wrote Biggs – if we compare the situation before and after Labor’s rule from 1983 to 1996.
Tomorrow: ‘Is the Abbott Government Facsist?’ (continued)
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.