By Tony McKenna
The latest Trump scandal hitting the news – the interment of children in cages, the forcible separation of screaming toddlers from their parents. It seemed to have touched a level of inhumanity which is breathtaking, even by the standards of the current US administration; an administration which already feels like the court of Caligula set to an episode of bad reality TV, with a soundtrack handily provided by the loony toons. Fortunately, the president has stepped back, has issued a decree which will reverse the vile and traumatising project of cleaving immigrant parents from their kids – though the practise of locking them all up in the same cage still seems to fall somewhat short of a positive exercise in empathy and human rights.
As a result of such events, Facebook was deluged with a variety of memes: but all carrying the same essential message. Trump, it was averred, is a fascist. Some of these were done with wit and verve: the image of a famous brand of margarine appeared, with Trump’s big sniggering face gurning out, underwritten by the slogan ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Hitler’. Others were significantly more serious; a host of images appeared split into two halves: on the top a photo of immigrant children who have been imprisoned in 2018 in American border camps, on the bottom images from Nazi concentration camps of emaciated Jewish children – wide, haunted eyes gazing out from behind writhing barbed wire. Others pointed out with mournful gravitas that Hitler did not begin with the Final Solution, that he worked his way up to it, and all it took was good people not to act. Trump 2018, then, reimagined in the guise of early thirties Nazi Germany.
Clinton lost to Trump, not because millions of poor people were mobilized by a fascist message; but because millions of poor people didn’t turn out to vote; they understood that Obama was a friend of war, a guardian of Wall Street, and a keeper of the neoliberal status quo.
It is easy to understand such comparisons; the dehumanising of others, the reduction of people – both rhetorically and literally – to the status of caged animals has been part and parcel of Trump’s ongoing polemic and political project, and has clear affinities with fascist thought in terms of its othering of minorities, immigrants, and the disempowered more generally. But fascism is about more than just ideology.
Fascism evolved out of the need to neutralize strong mobilizations of the working class, so for instance, Hitler’s antecedents, the Freikorps, developed out of the struggle against the proletarian revolution which took place in Germany in November 1918, as they helped suppress the uprising, murdering its leaders, most famously Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Mussolini’s movement and his Black Shirts evolved out of the need to destroy a very powerful workers’ movement which had formed works councils amid sweeping industrial unrest in the north in cities like Turin during the early twenties, and a Socialist Party which had hundreds of thousands of members.
Crippling democratic expression
In the case of Hitler himself, in combating a militant, highly industrialised German working class, he had not only forged his own party apparatus, but had amassed a personal army of hundreds of thousands of troops in 1932 (the year before he took power) – an army not only separate from the national army but also one far greater in number. He was able to do away with the liberal democratic institutions because of this, and because the ruling elite backed his play, for they themselves felt that the working classes were a threat to the capitalist system per-se and could no longer be contained within the parameters of parliamentarianism. …