|Spanish Anti-fascist poster, c. 1938|
This is likely to be the last installment of excerpts from "The Peril of Fascism" by A. B. Magil and Henry Stevens published in 1938 by International Publishers of New York.
I'm not a historian, but history fascinates me, and I have learned quite a bit from this volume. If you can find a copy of it, I highly recommend it as something of a prism through which to view -- and possibly understand -- the march of Neo-Fascism today.
Among the things I've learned from reading this book is that the same sorts of people and in some cases the descendants of the same people, the same corporations or their successors, and the same kind of financial chicanery (called "free markets" and "capitalism") are involved in today's economic catastrophe and the modern rise of fascism as were involved in the economic catastrophe and the rise of fascism in the 1920's and '30s. Today's forces are the same, but there is no ideological counter to them now while there was one then.
The final chapter of the book, written in 1938, remember, deals with the prelude to war, another world war, which at the time seemed inevitable due to the constant aggression of the Italian, German, and Japanese fascists in their openly declared march to world domination. The fact is, at the time the whole world was falling under fascist domination (except for the Soviet Union) with or without wars of aggression. Fascism was fashionable -- for one reason because it was successful, or at least it appeared to be. Much of Europe was already fascist-ruled, same with Latin America, same with large swathes of Asia. Fascism was well-established, though not completely ruling, in most of the English-speaking world as well. Yet it wasn't enough for Hitler and Mussolini and Hirohito; they would not be satisfied until they had shattered the Soviet Union, destroyed Communism and ruled the entire world either directly or through their puppets.
Surely we don't face anything like that today... or do we?
There is no Soviet Union, for one thing; and "Communist" China is perhaps the most successful and dynamic managed capitalist nation in history. What is being battled by the neo-fascists of our own time are the pitiful remnants of the social democracies in the West and rival sort-of fascists in the Muslim
East. It doesn't take a global war, nor even more than a handful of aggressive invasions for the Western Neo-Fascist forces to impose their will (if not outright conquer) on targeted nations.
Magil and Stevens argue that fascism -- as they knew it and presumably as it is currently conceived by the modern heirs to the fascist legacy -- is the natural consequence of unbridled capitalism especially when facing an existential crisis as it once again is today. Fascism is the necessary consequence, for it is the means by which otherwise rebellious peoples are to be kept in check.
Today's conditions differ in many ways from those of the 1930's, however. In those days, global war was less than a generation in the past, and part of the consequence of that war was the global financial collapse that began 10 years after the Armistice. It's been almost 70 years since the end of World War II, and it is not likely (at least in my view) that there will be another global war similar to either of the World Wars in the near -- or even distant -- future. Such rivals as there are to the rule of finance capital and neo-fascism are politically and economically weak and rather easily compelled to yield. Governments, by and large, find the fascist operating system to their liking. Iran is not a rival state, no matter the propaganda out of Jerusalem about it. China could one day become a rival, yet on the other hand, it is looking more and more like the Chinese will ultimately be the ones in charge, and China will once again be the Middle Kingdom of lore and legend. There is no need to fight China; China is showing the way forward.
None of this was even imaginable in the 1930's. So we've come a long way. Or have we?
Those isolationists who fear lest sanctions provoke Japan to a military attack against the United States are panicky indeed. It is hardly likely that Japan, either alone or in combination with Germany and Italy, would dare challenge a coalition of the nature described. [The authors proposed that the United States, France, Britain and the Soviet Union could through their united and collective efforts essentially quarantine the fascist aggressor nations of Germany, Italy and Japan by imposing economic and other sanctions against them. This proposal was based on a speech regarding collective security and quarantining the fascist aggressor nations made by President Roosevelt in Chicago on October 5, 1937.]
The United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France are far stronger in men, military equipment, industry, resources, and financial reserves than the fascist alliance. Not even the megalomaniacs who rule Germany, Italy and Japan would dare to challenge the democracies if they are firm and united. The real danger of today lies in disunity of the democratic nations and in their capitulations to fascism. It is on this disunity and weakness that fascism thrives, and by piecemeal conquests may reach the point where it will be sufficiently strong to wage successful war against the strongest democratic states.
Foreign Commissar Litvinov of the Soviet Union put the matter succinctly in a speech before the League of Nations Assembly in 1936. He warned:
The aggressor who is basing all his policy on superiority in brute material force with only threatening demands, bluffs, and menaces and the tactics of the fait accomplis in the arsenal of his diplomacy is accessible only to a voice no less firm than his own, and to a cold calculation of the relative strength of forces. Any exhortations and entreaties and still more concessions to his illegal and senseless demands and economic bribes offered to him merely produce on him an impression of weakness, confirming his consciousness of his own power and encourage him to further intransigence and illegalities.
Yet the aggregate power of the peace-loving countries, both in the economic and in the military sense, their total resources in manpower and in the war industries, considerably surpass the strength of any possible combination of countries which the aggressor might rally around him. I am deeply convinced that it would be sufficient for these forces in some way to combine, to display merely the possibility of joint action, for the peril of war to be averted and for the aggressor to be obliged to ask, sooner or later, to be admitted himself to the common system of collective security.
The alternative to collective security is continued chaos and ever more destructive wars. No nation is safe from the fascist firebrands; no one is certain where the war-mad dictatorships will next strike. Hitler seeks to lure his starving people into a crusade against the Soviet Union by promising them that Germany "will swim in prosperity" if he can seize the Urals and the Ukraine; but at the same time Hitler attacks Spain and builds up his military and propaganda machines for possible action against Czechoslovakia, France, and even Britain. Japan threatens to strike northward against the Soviet Union and then swiftly moves into the Yangtse valley, where British and American holdings are concentrated. The fascist threat is in all directions; everywhere where there is territory to be conquered, booty seized and people to be enslaved. And in this lies the logic of collective security, of common action against a common danger.
The obstacles to such a change v[from traditional American isolationism] are great, but by no means insuperable. Open fascists like Hearst and Coughlin, Trotskyist allies of fascism who conceal their reactionary program under pseudo-left jargon, blind and vociferous pacifists of the isolationist school are actively at work perpetuating the illusion that the United States is unaffected by the fascist offensive. But there are signs that increasing numbers of Americans are becoming aware of the reactionary character of "neutrality" and turning towards collective security as a means of strengthening American peace and democracy.
The Crisis of American Democracy
American democracy is threatened in as real and as compelling a sense as was German democracy in 1930-32. Whether the United States will succumb, as did Germany, to the black legions of fascism or move ahead toward a broader democracy is the question at stake. The one certain thing is that it cannot stand still. In the life-and-death struggle between the forces of democracy and fascism, the one or the other must advance. Secretary Ickes indicated the issue in his radio address of December 30, 1937:
Underneath the unchanging words of the Constitution, underneath the unchanging appearance of our public institutions, there is happening here, as truly as in Europe and Asia, a struggle for power, for the control of lives, labor and possessions of whole peoples -- a struggle between the many and the few, a struggle between those who would live and let live and those who want the thrill of the power of ruling others.
Here in America it is the old struggle between the power of money and the power of the democratic instinct. In the last few months this irreconcilable conflict, long growing in our history, has come into the open as never before, has taken on a form and an intensity which makes it clear that it must be fought through to a finish -- until plutocracy or democracy -- until America's 60 families or America's 120,000,000 people win.
This is the nature of the American crisis. It is a crisis which permits of no neutrality, and which increasingly divides the American people into two huge warring camps, progressive and reactionary.
The 1936 elections marked the first large-scale battle between the gathering hosts of progress and reaction. Since then, the struggle has grown in scope and intensity.
For a brief moment after the 1936 elections there was a lull in the struggle. Reactionary organizations momentarily withheld their savage attacks against the Roosevelt administration and suggested that the wounds of the election battle be healed and an "era of good feeling" inaugurated -- suggestions based on the hope that Roosevelt, having won re-election, would abandon his reform policies and veer sharply to the right.
... If reaction is victorious it will move along the fascist path already indicated by the pronunciamentos of the employers' associations and in the writings of big business spokesmen like Walter Lippmann and Dorothy Thompson, who learnedly prove by the inverted logic of reaction that "majority rule" means tyranny and that true liberty lies in the unrestricted right of the monopolists to exploit and plunder as they please. It will annul the right of collective bargaining, slash unemployment and farm relief, reduce wages and living standards, and extend on a national scale the system of corporate overlordship which it long exercised in the company towns. It will further whittle down the scope of democracy until nothing remains but the open terrorist dictatorship of big business. [My emphasis.]
Already the army of incipient fascism has attained enormous proportions.
At its head of course are the economic royalists, the small handful of financial oligarchs who control the means of production upon which depends the livelihood of the American people. Statistics of the Bureau of Internal Revenue reveal that in 1935 less than five percent of the corporations owned 87 percent of all corporate assets in the United States; and this group of giant corporations was controlled in turn by a small clique of financiers. As President Roosevelt clearly recognized in his monopoly message to Congress on April 29, 1938, the monopolists and the oligarchs of finance, maintaining a stranglehold on the American economy, constitute the source of the fascist danger. They have used their vast powers to build up black legions of reaction which penetrate deeply into every sphere of American life.
... The progressive movement, although still largely inchoate and unformed, has been described with considerable reason by Thomas Woodlock of the Wall Street Journal and other discerning reactionaries as an embryonic People's Front movement. The nature of this trend has not been widely understood, however, because it assumes forms completely different from those of the People's Front movements in Europe. These distinct political forms are determined by the peculiarities of party politics in the United States, by the weight of American tradition, and by the size and complexity of the country.
...Here we have no large workers and farmers or other middle-class parties. The Republican and Democratic Parties, both equally dominated in the post-war years by big capital, and both embracing within their ranks the vast majority of the oppressed and exploited, have hitherto practically monopolized American politics. The growing democratic movement cannot, therefore, assume the form of a clear-cut alliance of class parties, but instead develops in the complex form of progressive movements within the old parties and to a lesser degree, in the form or regional independent labor, farmer-labor and progressive parties. A national farmer-labor party, representing an alliance of all progressive strata, appears to be the most likely American form of the People's Front. But this stage of development has not yet been reached. At the moment, the democratic movement consists of scattered progressive groups and tendencies, developing toward greater cohesion and unity. It represents the embryo of a People's Front, but is not yet the People's Front. The coalescence of the scattered progressive groups and currents is, therefore, better described by the term democratic front.
And there we'll leave it for now, because, to all appearances, "progressives" are still scattered, inchoate, and "embryonic."
Isn't that something....