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Fascism: History Repeats, Again

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.


40 comments

  1. Cool Pete

    Dutton IS a fascist. So is abbott. And you think the same way I do, Loz.

  2. pamelac65

    Dutton is doing to refugees what he would like to do to the rest of us. Why cant Australians smell the danger?

  3. Pierre Wilkinson

    The libs have adopted Goebbels maxim that a lie repeated often enough and stridently enough will come to be perceived as truth…
    and to denounce any opposition us unpatriotic and treasonous…
    control the media and your borders, create xenophobia and minority groups… all straight from the text books.

  4. paul walter

    Fits well with the Vicki Rollinson posting on Greens and Labor squabbling.. the real enemy continues to sneak by unnoticed.

  5. paul walter

    A last thought before showers, ablutions and feeding the inner man…The Andrew Bartlett ad attacking Labor over the Fair Work Commission when he should have been attacking the LNP government for the last five unhappy years and for IR crap under Howard?

    Can it really help?

    If he had attacked Labor over lack of vigor concerning “security” laws orFTA’s, their details and release of information the public is entitled to know to plan for its own future(s), THEN I would have given him a pat on the back.

  6. Keitha Granville

    Great article, exactly right I am sad to say. A post-war baby boomer myself – my parents had very little but we wanted for nought.. My mother’s family survived 2 world wars always managing to keep a job or two and stay afloat.
    Do you think that rampant consumerism has blinded us all to those at the top ? In our efforts to have all the “stuff” we forget that some have nothing at all. How do we fix it ? Is Labor social enough or have they moved to far to the middle in an effort to stay meaningful ? It is going to be up to our children’s generation to fix it. I hope they have the strength, and the means.

  7. Marcus

    A brilliant article. I am reminded that no thought we ever have is original and that it’s often reassuring to know that there are many of us who are rallying against the creep of fascism.

  8. Zoltan Balint

    Call it what you like and link it to what ever name or political dogma. Even democracy in the hands of a dictator will oppress the stupid and ignorant people of the land and keep them as slaves.

  9. Florence nee Fedup

    I was born 1941, 10 years older than the author. Due to family illness, I spent much time in the city of Sydney. Meant mum spent time in the newsreel theatres each day. It was the time we were learning the real hell the second world was.

    I seem to recall, not sure how, that we realise that democracy was fragile, can disappear overnight if we aren’t always alert.

    Maybe the is why communism was seen as a danger.

    As a community we have moved to a place where most don’t appreciate what we have, don’t see our democracy in danger, leading to dictators.

  10. Kevin Arnold

    I was born in 1942, a child of the Second World War. My father was born in 1915, a child of the First World War. He grew up in the years after the War to End All Wars. The Great Depression, working in shearing sheds with broken men, working for four bob a day on the dole formed a great distrust in the capitalist system that he took to his grave. He was a committed unionist. I was lucky. I grew up in the fourties and fifties enjoying the fruits of union sacrifices. The raison d’etre of fascism was to crush communism or any form of socialism that sprang from it. One War helped create both systems and killed fifty million people(depending on what source you read).
    The other war killed a similar number, a direct result of the first. Peter Dutton and his band of mis-fits would be quite comfortable in the atmosphere that existed between these wars. This mentality also existed in the ranks of the ruling classes, as it does today. The camp followers were there then as now. Read any book on the Third Reich and you can fill in the modern day equivalents. Although my generation started out well in the sixties I am afraid we threw away all our grandparents and parents sacrificed for. The young man in your story had better start learning about trade unions or his and his children’s futures will be very bleak indeed.

  11. Jon Chesterson

    Alas I wear the very same glasses and shout the same mantras from the hilltops, but we are not heard in the marble palaces of ‘man’, and we are certainly not kind.

  12. Elizabeth

    Excellent article. I am of a similar age to the author and watch with a mixture of anger and despair as so much of what is valuable is destroyed by the greed and dishonesty of those with power. Australia is at a turning point, either we stop the corruption and erosion of our democracy now or we will all pay heavily for the consequences.

  13. paul walter

    Btw, why are we not talking about the latest bloodbath in Gaza, if we want to talk about fascism?

  14. Michael Taylor

    What’s happening over there is outright murder, Paul.

  15. paul walter

    Just up again..restless, watching Al Jazeera with an in depth report there, also a bit on Yemen. Then a quick look at the BBC and the pathetic Guardian, where the nearest you get is Malalai Yusafa who is more a Western icon than one for Palestinians.

    I wonder at Western msm ignorance in arrogance and vice versa.

  16. Peter F

    I was born in 1944 and can therefore relate to what you say. The power of the Murdoch Press has to be broken, but will the next government have the will power to do this?

    If anyone would like a further insight into what has happened to this country, read “Game of Mates- how favours bleed the nation’,Cameron K Murray and Paul Fritjers 2017 for a depressing view of the reality we exist in.

  17. Loz Lawrey

    Thanks to all of you who read my piece and responded with such interesting comments.

  18. Adrianne Haddow

    Your excellent article resonates with my fears. Of the same generation as yourself, Loz, I have had a safe, secure life. Not wealthy, but enjoying the comfort that satisfying work and modest material wants has brought. None of this would have been possible without the strength and support of the socialist policies forced on past governments by the advocacy of the trade unions.

    When my son and my friend’s kids were at school, I remember an argument with the parents claiming history was a subject that their kids didn’t need to study. They believed it was irrelevant to their present and future lives. My argument was that you have to know where you came from, to guard against the dangers of history repeating itself.
    Our present situation of misgovernance in this country is an example of the value of knowing what to guard against, and the value of having a collective voice to guard against it.

    I fear for the future of these children of ours, with casualised employment and minimum wages, used by business owners and shareholders to create profit, in which they have no share or certainty of future employment.
    I fear the fiddling with education that reduces the knowledge that students attain to what is valued in the economic market.

    I believe the neo liberalism which has overtaken the world to be another Dark Age, modern medievalism.
    How did working people let it come to this?

  19. Kronomex

    “What goes around comes around.” Again and again and…

  20. Christian Marx

    Excellent article Loz. A brilliant read. I have shared it on DLATP. 🙂

  21. helvityni

    Why did our PM give so much power to Dutton…

  22. paul walter

    Peter F, it is good you mention Frijters, who was a victim of conservative harassment at the University of Qld. A feature of creeping fascism is the hounding out of independent minded academics.

  23. Zathras

    “With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”

    It was actually Italian philosopher Giovanni Gentile who wrote the entry in the Encyclopedia Italiana that said: “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Mussolini, however, affixed his name to the entry, and claimed credit for it.

    As the 1983 American Heritage Dictionary called fascism “A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.”

    In 1923 Mussolini wrote, “If classical liberalism spells individualism, Fascism spells government.” But not a government of, by, and for We The People; instead, it would be a government of, by, and for the most powerful corporate interests in the nation.

    In 1938, Mussolini brought his vision of fascism into full reality when he dissolved Parliament and replaced it with the Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni—the Chamber of the Fascist Corporations. Corporations were still privately owned, but now instead of having to sneak their money to politicians and covertly write legislation, they were openly in charge of the government.

    Eighty years later with various interest groups calling the shots, part-private government partnerships, a compliant media, rampant nationalism and racism, Mussolini’s fascist vision seems to be coming true.

  24. Lindsay Maxwell Stafford

    I was recently reading a blog by David Brin (a science fiction author and more) and was interested in this postulation

    “Professor Deneen deliberately excludes the fourth and by-far largest creature in our political bestiary — the elephant in the room — feudalism. In its various forms, aristocratic hierarchism dominated almost all societies for 6000 years.
    Inheritance lordship by owner-caste oligarchy is arguably the most natural form of governance, having dominated nearly all societies that had agriculture. It never went away, and indeed is roaring back.”

    http://davidbrin.blogspot.com.au/

  25. Hefina

    When Dutton became a liberal MP the country became worse off , he is evil, he is obnoxious,he is a dictator ready to jump into the PM seat, ( never)
    Dutton I suggest you go back to being a cop, one of those cruel ones in QLD :at least the good ones can keep an eye out for your evil ways,
    You deserve nothing but the worse punishment we can give you.
    To the seats of Dickson please voters do the right thing and vote this man out.

  26. John L

    Why diminish and minimise history?
    Those who control the past, control the future. Those who control the present, control the past..
    I am appalled by what I see developing, here, and overseas. My missus, who was always a conservative, until recently, says she can hear the echo of Jackboots in the street.
    As for the m.s.media……! They should all be stripped of the label, Journalists, for starters. It’s starting to feel as though we’re living in a bad dream, and people can’t, or rather, won’t see what is happening……!

  27. ajogrady

    Make Australia great again. Join a union.

  28. Andreas Bimba

    The central business districts of our major cities are a metaphor of what we have become. The corporate logos of the financial services and mining sector oligarchy are held high, fabulous wealth is extracted and controlled in those towers as is the agenda for the political class and the mainstream mass media. The factories are closed down and at street level some of the masses scurry around buying worthless happiness while others sleep on some cardboard and are ignored.

    Yet under these circumstances in South Australia, supposedly one of Australia’s most progressive states, the electorate recently chose an even more neoliberal and corporate oligarchic/fascist path.

  29. Stu Holmes

    You are right Loz, Pity more people don’t understand this before we are plunged into a great abyss. The saddest part is the masses have been duped into not understanding the power they truly have working as a collective. If only they realised that together WE hold the power over Government & Corporate greed. If people refused to buy from & deal with companies that didn’t promote good social policies their profit margin would soon force them to change. Sadly like sheep we are being led to slaughter too scared to stand up to the bully boys & say enough is enough if you want to break one of us you must break us all!

  30. Jamboree

    Cannot disagree with your piece but want to say that here at least there is no torture or murder for dissidents, though the off shore camps are getting a tad close. ..My uncle was in a German labour camp, 1944 or so, said the food was crap; a guard overheard him and told him that he would soon learn what bad food was. Next day he is off to Auschwitz, where he shoves his best friend’s corpse into the furnace. Nazism was worse. Interesting that on a Jewish web site recently bloggers said that to call Dutton a Nazi was to trivilialise the third Reich. Some truth in that.True you do not say Nazism but fascism, which is not as racist. I find this lot worse in a way than the Nazis though, because the nazis were at once technocratic and sentimental about trees and rivers. Not much love for nature with this lot. You might note that the deification of sport is what this lot, fascism and Nazism have in common, also.

  31. Freethinker

    Excellent article Loz Lawrey, I share your views.
    Born in 1946 in South America I have seen a lot and today it is a very sad day for all of us that believe in justice, protecting the poor, the indigenous and the environment.
    The bad news come from Brazil convicting Lula da Silva for something that even it is not proved and not even giving him the chance to defend himself in court.’
    The extreme right and fascism is coming ruthless globally with any basic respect for the constitution or laws in the countries that they like to control.
    I am not optimistic, the masses are divided, disorganised and selfish.

  32. Glenn Barry

    Something perhaps to look forward to – Dutton hanging upside down like Mussolini in the town square so that we can all walk past and spit on him

  33. Zoltan Balint

    If you would not piss on Potato head if he was on fire why bother spitting on him.

  34. Glenn Barry

    Leave him to burn so that we can have the pleasure of spitting on his corpse

  35. Reddirtmailbag

    Thanks Loz for that brilliant piece. The scary bit is that the tools for fascism are already in place with a dog staining at the leash… confecting a crisis.

  36. nonsibicunctis

    An excellent piece, Loz, would that I had the ability to summarise and write as well. Most views here are empathetic to what you have expressed, as are my own.

    I do, however, take issue with the comments of Glenn Barry and Zoltan Balint. They add nothing of substance either to your work or to those who have commented substantially about it. On the contrary, they are indicative of the very type of thought and behaviour which underpins ideologies such as Fascism and the actions of the leaders and followers of such movements. They should have no place on a forum such as this.

    Sadly, as I am very much opposed to censorship, it seems that I must put up with this type of slurry and accept that it will also be targeted at all those who respect reason and sound argument over opinionated abuse, regardless of at whom that abuse is aimed.

  37. Paul Desmond Parker

    Every person here has a different idea of what fascism entails. It’s a nebulous boogeyman.

    A true democracy means to be ruled by the mob, no matter what fresh lipstick you care to smear on the pig.

    Our Australian democracy means to be ruled by the men and women who control the media and education system.

    Democratic rights should be restricted to those who contribute via taxation. Full stop.

    Even if the country went in a direction I could not approve of, I’d rest easy in the knowledge that they had earned the right to make the mistake.

  38. John L

    “This kills Fascists” on a guitar…. It’s fast coming to a stage where it’ll be inscribed on a 7.62…….

  39. Bilal Cleland

    Fascism is a growing threat to us, with the rise of the populist know-nothings. The reluctance of the mainstream parties to resists this is also a worry. The LNP has what seems to be a fascist wing and there are some very shady ALP members as well, although not as many. Attitudes to the present shooting of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza is one indication of commitment to humanity. We do not come out well at all.

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