Monday, November 14, 2016

Sleepwalking into a new era of fascism

A little over 80 years ago an outspoken Austrian seized power and took Germany on a course few will ever forget. That man was of course Adolf Hitler.

His rise to power came after the 1932 German general election. Although he had no absolute leadership at the time, Hitler managed to oust Hindenberg as his party grew. Two successive federal elections left the Nazis as the largest party in the Reichstag and anti-democratic parties in control of a majority of its seats. Under this political climate, Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in January 1933.

Soon after judges were forced to sign allegiance to the party and the so-called People's Court was established. There was no presumption of innocence, and most cases brought before the People's Court had predetermined guilty verdicts.

The court was established in 1934 by order of Adolf Hitler, in response to his dissatisfaction at the outcome of the Reichstag fire trial, in which all but one of the defendants was acquitted.

Newspapers of the day such as the Völkischer Beobachter and the associated publication llustrierter Beobachter followed the party line of criticising the verdict and labelling socialists, communists and others as so-called enemies of the people.

And so began the erosion of civil rights and a consolidation of power  by the Nazi party led by Adolf Hitler.

Sleepwalking into a Fascist state

Post-Brexit, and more recently post-Trump, there has been some concern that the democratic West is sleepwalking into new era of fascism.

There are those that would say such claims are exaggerated. Neither May's government nor Trump have yet seized absolute power, nor have people's rights yet been eroded. The police are not wearing jackboots, there are no concentration camps and the judiciary is still independent. But there is a language coming from today's politicians that has strong echoes of Germany's dark past.

The vote to leave the European Union was partly won on the back of arguments surrounding immigration, and some might say outright racist language.

Unnerving parallels

UKIP's Nigel Farage in particular was criticised for his campaign where he focused on the large numbers of refugees fleeing war zones such as Syria.

One particular poster caused outrage with many likening it to Nazi propaganda [New Statesman].

Hours after the vote to leave the EU was announced racist attacks increased dramatically. Poles in particular received a barrage of abuse, but Muslims, Jews and others also found themselves in the line of fire of emboldened racists.

It certainly wasn't a state-sponsored Kristallnacht but for those on the receiving end of the attacks this mattered little. One Pole was murdered in one Essex town after being set upon by youth apparently for simply speaking in a foreign language.

During the Tory Party conference Angela Rudd suggested employers keep records of all foreigners they employed [Guardian / BBC].

Even members of her own party aired their concerns. "This kind of divisive politics has no place in 21st Century Britain," the Conservative MP Neil Carmichael, chair of the Commons education select committee and member of the Open Britain campaign, said. Meanwhile Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said "drawing up lists of foreign workers won't stop unscrupulous employers undercutting wages in Britain".

Her full speech was carefully worded to avoid accusations of extremist ideology [Spectator] However, many felt the overall feel was one that drifted further towards the politics seen only a few decades ago in Nazi Germany.

LBC radio presenter James O'Brien likened her speech to the rhetoric found within the pages of Hitler's autobiographical treatise on political ideology Mein Kampf [Independent].

"For the state must draw a sharp line of distinction between those who, as members of the nation, are the foundation and support of its existence and greatness, and those who are domiciled in the state, simply as earners of their livelihood there." [Adolf Hitler-Mein Kampf]

The lines from Mein Kampf seen by themselves are not far removed from the rhetoric coming from certain right-wing politicians.

"Enemies of the People"

In early November a High Court ruling was announced that said the British parliament must have a free vote before Article 50 - which triggers the negotiations to leave the EU - is invoked.

The anger that followed, especially in the right-wing pro-Brexit press, was staggering. The Daily Mail led the pack calling the three high court judges "Enemies of the People".

The irony was not lost on some who likened the headline to those seen in papers that once backed the Nazi party in the early 1930s. "Compare and contrast Nazi Illustrierter Beobachter 1933 and the Daily Mail 2016" @HistoryNed said in a tweet.

The headline was essentially the same, although many misread the pictures of those in the Illustrierter Beobachter to be judges . They were in fact journalists, political activists and lawyers, as FullFact later pointed out. However, the comparison was clear. Many newspapers, especially post-Brexit, had become even more right-leaning and had now begun to attack the same enemies once attacked by the Nazi party.

Immigrants, refugees, left-wing journalists, political activists, the so-called liberal elite and judges have all been attacked in British media. Immigrants and refugees have been blamed for all number of ills while political activists, the so-called liberal elite and judges have been lambasted for daring to question the EU referendum.

Meanwhile Nigel Farage proclaimed there would be "anger on the streets" should Brexit be hindered and called for a 100,000 strong march on the Supreme Court when the government appeals the decision. At the same time UKIP's Suzanne Evans said she felt that judges "should be subject to some sort of democratic control" or even sacked.


Britain is not the only country that has swung to the right. The presidential election in the US, which saw Donald Trump elected as the 45th president, has stunned the world.

Britain's foreign secretary Boris Johnson has described the Trump victory as a "Good thing for Britain" and a "Moment of Opportunity". But Trump was a man who came to power on an almost overtly racist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, protectionist ticket.

Trump has been on record as wanting to ban Muslims from entering America. He has called Mexicans rapists and criminals. And he has dismissed accusations of sexual assault as "locker room banter". He has also called for his Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton be locked up for her crimes, something that has echoes of Ernst Thälmann's incarceration soon after the 1932 German general election.

"Make America great again"

Trump's main slogan was "Make America great again" which raised the question as to when America wasn't great.

One could dismiss some of what Trump said as rhetoric, merely saying things to whip up a crowd who feels disenfranchised.

One core view appears to be one of isolationism and protectionism. He has called for TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] to be abandoned. He has suggested the US might pull out of the WTO and called NAFTA the "worst trade deal ever.". And he has threatened a trade war with China. For what is a globalised world, the Trump victory on the face of it does not look good.

He has questioned NATO's role and also the role the US plays in its policing the world. But he is also seen as a dangerous individual who may go as far as pressing the nuclear button.

Concerning civil rights he is known to be pro-life [anti-abortion]. He has expressed what might be construed as anti-gay message and is opposed to same-sex marriage [BBC].

The ghost-writer Tony Schwartz, the journalist who authored "The Art of the Deal," Donald Trump's best-seller, has called Trump a sociopath [BBC / YouTube / New Yorker].

There are others that are concerned over Trump's association with the likes of Alex Jones [ABC / JonRonson / Amazon / YouTube].

Trump's other bed fellows have included UKIP's Nigel Farage who was the first UK 'politician' to meet with the president-elect.

This raised eyebrows in Britain where some Tories suggested Farage might even act as a go-between the UK and Trump [Sky News / Guardian / Time].

"Big change in the world"

Johnson's assertion that Trump's win has brought about a Big change in the world is not wrong [Guardian]. But whether it's a good change is debatable.

The win has emboldened the far-right with the KKK in the US claiming victory on the back of Trump's election and the likes of Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilder in the Netherlands and Norbert Hofer in Austria seeing it as their chance to capitalise on the back of a growing disenfranchised electorate with populist, and, some might argue, racist politics.

Trump proclaimed his victory would be "Brexit, plus, plus, plus". However Brexit has come to mean any number of things since 24th of June 2016. For some it is the banner of taking back control, of reclaiming sovereignty and independence. For others it has become a symbol of increased government control, a dissolving of sovereignty and intolerance. Some Brexit campaigners have claimed that the European Union was trying to achieve what Hitler had failed to do by creating a federal Europe with more integration. However, the Brexit vote has given ammunition to the hard right and fanned the flames of Fascism. Europe too is in danger of becoming sucked into the populist nationalist fervour that has so far taken over both the UK and US.

Lessons of history

It is often said that man should learn the lessons from history. Sadly however, people very quickly forget the past. The warnings are more than clear as movies like Schindler's List, Labyrinth of Lies and The Pianist indicate. Lincoln's dreams of bringing together America also seem lost. There is, as Alex Jones seems so willing to convey, a New World Order developing. But it may well be far darker than he envisaged.

It is time the free world wakes up before it's too late and walks into a new era of Fascism [BBC / Guardian / Independent / Seeatblogs]

tvnewswatch, London

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