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Fascism in the 1930s and now

By: 
Faline Bobier

April 1, 2015

PEGIDA, which in German stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, first appeared in October 2014. The relatively new group began in Dresden and organized several demonstrations in German cities. Sympathizers with this racist and Islamophobic group tried to hold a Pegida rally in Montreal in late March.
 
PEGIDA spokesperson for the Montreal group, Jean-François Asgard, describes his ideas as very close to those of the fascist National Front in France. The rally was supposed to march through Little Mahgreb, a working class, immigrant area in north east Montreal that is predominantly North African and Muslim. Fortunately, many individuals and organizations in Quebec denounced the racism and Islamophobia of the PEGIDA Quebec chapter, including Françoise David, MLA for Québec Solidaire, the Montreal Labour Council and even Montreal’s mayor, Denis Coderre.
 
The PEGIDA rally was cancelled because anti-racist groups organized to hold their own counter-demonstration to show their support for the Muslim community and to say no to the xenophobia of PEGIDA. In the end the PEGIDA forces couldn’t muster more than a handful of demonstrators for their racist cause but the organizers of the counter-demonstration made it clear they would not allow PEGIDA to march through Little Mahgreb, even though PEGIDA got a permit to march from police.
 
As one of the organizers of the counter-demo, Jaggi Singh, with No One is Illegal, said: "There's no way that their demonstration will be able to go where they want to go. They won't be able to pass. The police have given them permission to march, but that doesn't mean people in the neighbourhood or anti-racist groups are giving them permission to march.”
 
As in Montreal, the determination of large numbers of people to counter the racist filth of a group like PEGIDA in Germany, has forced them to back down in that country, where they had been holding a series of growing racist rallies targeting Muslims. The day after the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris there was a 100,000 strong demonstration in Germany, protesting against racism and for tolerance. PEGIDA was attempting to build a somewhat “respectable” face for racism by cloaking it in terms of German “patriotism” and talking about cultural differences. But the anti-racist movement, by confronting them whenever they attempted to march or rally, has been able to split the movement. And PEGIDA’s founders have been exposed as the Nazi thugs they really are. The founder of PEGIDA, Lutz Bachmann, was forced to resign after posting a picture of himself on Facebook with a Hitler moustache and the caption “He is back.” It was accompanied by a stream of racist abuse at immigrants, who he described as “animals,” “scumbags” and “trash.”
 
This does not mean that the growing threat of the far right has gone away. We can see with the existence of groups like Golden Dawn in Greece, the English Defence League in Britain and especially, the electoral successes of Marine LePen’s National Front in France, that fascism is a clear and present danger.
 
1930s
It’s important in this context to understand clearly what fascism is and what it isn’t, so we can organize effectively against it. Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the 1917 Russian Revolution, wrote a series of articles throughout the 1920s and into the 30s describing the rise of fascism in Germany and also, importantly, how to stop it. He wrote these articles after being exiled from Russia by Stalin and in a situation where he had very little contact with what was going on on the ground. In spite of these difficulties, Trotsky’s writings on Fascism: What it is and How to Fight it, remain invaluable today for those of us wanting to oppose the growing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment in country after country.
 
As Trotsky explained, fascism is the face that capitalism can adopt when the system is in serious crisis. Fascism sweeps away any notions of bourgeois democracy since it can only exist when it has created an authoritarian regime and smashed the organizations of the working class, because they are the one force that poses the most serious threat to fascist rule.
 
It might seem contradictory that capitalists would accept fascist rule when they often seem to be defenders of bourgeois democracy and such things as freedom of expression, at least in theory. But it was the big bankers and the capitalists who actually invited Hitler to take power, because they saw it as the only way to save their system and their profits.
 
Fascists in the 1930s created scapegoats in order to divide and conquer and then to take power. Racism was a critically important tool. Thus Hitler’s famous propaganda slogan in the 1930s, “three million unemployed; three million Jews.” But of course fascists targeted many other groups: people with disabilities, lesbians and gays, the Romas and of course organized labour and the trade unions.
 
Today
The backdrop to the rise of the far right in today’s context is again a serious economic crisis that our rulers have no idea how to solve, other than by forcing policies of austerity on ordinary people, by taking away all that has been fought for and won by generations of workers before us: our access to health care, education, social services. Today the overwhelming form that racism is that of Islamophobia. This has to do with the recent and continuing imperialist wars launched by the West in Iraq and Afghanistan and the continuation of bombing in Iraq and Syria against ISIS.
 
Ruling classes around the world are laying the ground for anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment to grow. Although they are not fascist, they are opening the door to fascists by continually scapegoating these groups, blaming them for unemployment and poor conditions, rather than the cutbacks governments are imposing on all of us.
 
It’s no different here in Canada where Harper’s Tories are sowing the seeds of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment to push through their agenda and to hold on to power. The Tories are certainly doing their best to attack civil liberties and democratic freedoms. They have introduced Bill C-51 and claim they are doing this to keep us safe from “terrorism,” which is a code word, of course, for Islam and Muslims. At the same time Harper makes statements calling Islam inherently an “anti-woman” religion. This would be laughable, coming from the same politician and the same party who try to deny a woman’s right to choose at every turn and who have been systematically cutting funding to organizations working for women’s equality. It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.
 
Behind the overt attacks on Muslims and Islam, this legislation targets any of us who might oppose our government’s policies, from Indigenous people standing up to defend their land and resources, to environmentalists fighting to stop the Tar Sands or other destructive projects, to the Quebec student who was recently teargassed directly in the face for participating in what was a legal and peaceful demonstration against her government’s austerity measures.
 
The reason it’s important to distinguish between right-wing governments (such as here in Canada, in Britain, or elsewhere) and fascism is because—unlike fascist governments (in Germany, Italy or Spain in the 1930s and 40s) where resistance became incredibly difficult and pushed underground—in bourgeois democracies we still have the ability to organize openly to resist policies and practices we don’t agree with. And this resistance can actually have an effect, both on the fascists’ ability to organize (as in the case of PEGIDA) and on Tory attempts to curtail our rights and freedoms.
 
Fascism will remain a threat for as long as capitalism exists, because of capitalism's inherent tendency towards economic crisis. Whether or not it can successfully come to power again depends on whether or not we can successfully unite against the racist scapegoating that fascism depends on to survive and carry that struggle forward to one that gets rid of the rotten economic system that underpins it all.
 
If you like this article, register for Rage Against the System, a weekend conference of ideas to change the world, April 24-26 in Toronto. Sessions include "Stopping Harper's agenda," "Imperialism and resistance," and "Secularism, Islamophobia and the new racism."

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