|Spanish Antifascist Poster, c. 1938|
The interesting thing to me has always been that Franco's fascist Spain endured through WWII and for many decades thereafter, in some respects it endures today. Latin American dictatorships during and after the War were largely modeled on European fascism. And most of the anti-communist dictatorships supported by the United States, wherever they were found, were more or less fundamentally fascist throughout the Cold War era.
In other words, World War II did not actually defeat fascism. Depending on your perspective, it wasn't a war against fascism at all. (Soviets saw it a little differently of course.) Apart from the Soviets, it was a war of one faction of corporatist-imperialists against another for global hegemony. As the Nazi-fascist faction was defeated, the Enemy then became, almost instantaneously, the Global Communist Conspiracy centered in the Soviet Union, the chief enemy of the fascists, and the one the United States had focused on prior to WWII.
All of this long ago convinced me that a faction of the fascists actually won World War II, despite the hoop-lah and propaganda of Allied Victory. I grew up in an era of intense anti-communism and propaganda, a near absence of civil liberties (such as freedom of speech, assembly and association), and an ongoing civil crusade against "subversion." In the background was the constant drumbeat of immanent nuclear war of annihilation between the stalwart USofA and the perfidious Soviet Russians. It was many years before I understood that had it been up to the Soviets, none of this would have happened. There would have been no Cold War, no arms race, threat of instant incineration. It was all a fever dream and fantasy in a way.
So as I read "The Peril of Fascism" by A. B. Magil and Henry Stevens, the parallels between their view of what was going on in the USA c. 1938 and what we know today is more and more striking. The book is mostly contemporaneous reporting and an interweaving of various threads of knowledge. We see much the same kind of thing in the many news aggregators of today, each of which operates with a certain point of view and political bias, but each of which, if you apply critical thinking to them, can provide excellent insight into what's really going on.
The chapter called "Terror, Incorporated" seems to me to be particularly germane given recent events:
On May 22, 1936, the lifeless body of Charles Poole, an employee of the Works Progress Administration, was found lying in a ditch on the outskirts of Detroit. It seemed like another murder story. But before many days had passed, there grew out of that tale of death the ominous outlines of a far-reaching conspiracy whose victim was to be not that pitiful bullet-ridden body found in a ditch, but the rights and liberties of thousands of Americans. The Black Legion, flinging its shadow across the American scene, jolted the unwary and incredulous into a realization that it could happen here.
The Black Legion may appear in retrospect a bit fantastic and unreal, but no more so than Hitler's rowdies in the Munich beer hall days. The full truth about this brotherhood of hate and murder will perhaps never been known. Too many higher-ups of the industrial and political world were involved for complete candor. But enough has been revealed to indicate that while this terrorist organization may have been born in more or less spontaneous fashion, it was suckled and reared by the great automobile corporations of Detroit and Michigan. Of course, even the so-called spontaneous birth of such movements is possible only in a society which breeds fascism as filth breeds germs.
The two chief weapons of fascism are demagogy and terror. And in both, amateurdom gives way to science, the sporadic and haphazard are supplanted by system and organization. The lynch mobs of the South which spring up suddenly, live briefly and as suddenly melt away, the vigilante bands which function only during specific labor disputes, are the Black Legion in embryo -- but only in embryo. In the period of mounting disintegration and decay, when capitalism is beset by chronic ills it never knew before, these primitive forms of mob violence no longer suffice. Organizations of a more permanent kind, with a more stable membership and a more elaborate program are required. Hence, the modern Ku Klux Klan, the Black Legion, the Silver Shirts -- groups for whom terror is a profession and murder an art.
It is an omen of what can happen here that this country gave birth to one of the earliest semi-fascist terrorist organizations in the world, the modern Ku Klux Klan. Launched in November, 1915, it antedated the Fascisti of Mussolini and the Storm Troops of Hitler. It is significant, however, that not until after the World War, in the wake of the social dislocations that followed the conclusion of imperialist bloodshed, did the Ku Klux Klan, like the Fascisti in Italy and the various terror groups in Germany really come into its own. The Klan was, however, in its first stage less pronouncedly fascist than were the Italian and German murder gangs.
It will be noted that the period of the Klan's greatest strength coincided with the post-war crisis of capitalism and the first emergence of fascist tendencies throughout the capitalist world including the United States. Furthermore, the Klan, after its eclipse during the years of temporary capitalist stabilization, has been revived in another period of economic and social stress. It is significant, too, that while the Klan's main emphasis in the days of its great efflorescence was on anti-Catholicism, it soft-pedaled the anti-Catholic issue when it re-emerged during the economic crisis and directed its main energies against labor under the guise of combating Communism.
Thus the New York Sun of May 5, 1933, wrote:
The Ku Klux Klan, almost killed off seven years ago by the exposure of a series of flogging cases and other criminal activities attributed to it, has been revived in the South for the announced purpose of "educating" the Negro against Communism and other radical doctrines.
The shift in prejudices to which the Klan is appealing is a measure of the growth and deepening of those fascist tendencies which first manifested themselves after the war. The Black Legion, too, while its creed included attacks on Catholics, Jews, Negroes, and the foreign-born, made these subordinate to the fight against labor.
Yet it would be foolhardy to conclude that Catholics, Jews, Negroes, and the foreign-born would find any security should the forces which the Klan and the Black Legion represent gain power. In Germany the Nazi drive on labor merely constituted the hub of the wheel of repression that moved relentlessly against Jews, Catholics, Protestants, liberals and all who by any stretch of the imagination could be regarded as critical of the Nazi regime. The breadth of the orbit of hatred within which the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Legion moved offers no reason to suppose that fascist dictatorship in this country would be any less ruthless and sweeping.
Together with the growth of the Klan grew the trail of blood and terror that it left behind it in state after state. And the KKK learned to combine organized hooliganism with political action. Before long the three great Southwestern states, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, were completely under the thumb of the Klan. Elsewhere, too, the Klan became a power in city and state politics and entrenched itself in the police forces in many parts of the country. This expansion took place despite considerable opposition which the organization met not only from Catholics, Jews, Negroes and the foreign-born, but from many native white Protestants for whom the Klan represented everything reprehensible, stupid and reactionary in American life.
On its revival in 1931-32, the Klan left no doubt as to its militant anti-labor character. "The Klan Rides Again -- Communism Must Be Destroyed!" read handbills distributed throughout the South. In an Atlanta dispatch to the New York Post of September 14, 1934, David G. Wittels wrote:
The Ku Klux Klan has entered the strike picture in the South
Primed into new life by money from Anti-New Dealers, it is gathering strength for a battle against organized labor -- and eventually against President Roosevelt.
Rejuvenated three months ago, it has 30,000 members in Georgia, and 100,000 throughout the South.
In a few places in the South the Klan went so far as to adopt the Nazi trick of appearing to be pro-labor. At Columbus, Georgia, where 11,500 mill workers were striking, the KKK participated in a Labor Day parade. And at Griffin, Georgia, it was even instrumental in calling a strike. This will recall the Nazi "support" of the Berlin tramway workers' strike in the fall of 1932 on the eve of Hitler's accession to power.
In the mining town of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the Klan in 1936 distributed printed cards -- with a union label -- listing the following program:
1. Deport illegal aliens
2. Drive out Communism
3. Restore Constitutional government
4. Keep church and state separate
5. Buy American-made products
6. White supremacy
It will be noted that anti-Catholicism has here been relegated to fourth place and euphemized into the inoffensive "Keep church and state separate." Number five shows that the Klan has taken over Hearst's "Buy American" campaign. In fact, the entire program, with the exception of points four and six, is identical with the public pronouncements of Hearst and the other big business reactionaries.
The revived Klan has been particularly active in Florida. Under the leadership of Kleagle Fred McLendon Bass, who was also a member of the executive committee of the Orlando, Florida, American Legion post, the Klan kidnapped and murdered Frank Norman, International Labor Defense organizer, in April, 1934. The most flagrant of the revived Klan's acts of violence was the kidnapping and flogging at Tampa, Florida, in November, 1935, of Joseph Shoemaker, Dr. Sam Rogers, and Eugene Poulnot, leaders of a liberal group known as the Modern Democrats. This outrage, which proved fatal to Shoemaker, was perpetrated with the connivance of the Tampa police whose chief, R. G. Tittsworth, was a member of the Klan.
While this excerpt has focused mostly on the violence of the Ku Klux Klan (and there is a great deal more documented than I have excerpted here), there were many other similar and affiliated fascist terrorist groups active in the United States during the period, many with the active complicity of the local authorities. It was not an easy time to be a labor organizer, a Negro, a Catholic, a Jew, or of foreign birth anywhere in the country. All were considered "suspect" by America's good-upstanding-white-christian folk, and many were considered a priori Communists. Terror tactics were commonly employed, much more widely and against a much broader cross-section of Americans than is generally believed. If you were a member of one of the designated and targeted out groups, there was essentially no way to avoid it. But this was one of the great benefits of "small government" back in the day. There was no way to protect people from this sort of constant terror by various groups, especially when the police were part of the terror-forces.
This is something Americans seem to have little collective memory of. Because there is very little collective memory of this domestic terror apparatus that operated as a public-private partnership in service to the financiers and capitalists, it's easy enough to revive it when conditions warrant. We've seen it already in some of the border control and other militias, in aspects of the Tea Party, and in the vast expansion of private mercenary forces at home and abroad. It's not an altogether new phenomenon. And as always, these domestic terror forces are in service to their sponsors and owners, the vaunted 1%.