The resurgence of fascism

2 Apr 2018

Adolf Hitler, the German leader who held the Jews responsible for the economic exploitation of the German people before and during World War-II, can be considered as the epitome of a fascist. While the Jews did own a large part of the economy at that time, Hitler committed genocide on the Jewish and expropriated their assets. The German people condoned this barbarism, accepting the government’s falsely fabricated excuse for their own personal economic benefit. Over the past two decades, a gradual increase in the spread of fascism has been seen in many countries around the world. It is imperative to understand the reasons behind this trend.

In the recent past, the world lived through a ferocious Cold War between communism and capitalism. Eventually, communism collapsed and the Cold War slowly faded away, allowing the capitalist system to reign supreme worldwide. But, it must not be forgotten that the capitalist system has its own dark side. Mixing capitalism and democracy produces certain dysfunctions in a society. Economic disparity increases in free market settings. This occurs, to a great extent, due to a monopoly over resources and restrictive practices put in place by the ruling class. The opportunities for economic growth and development for the poor plummet, while the rich only get richer.

In such a society, misery, poverty, and hopelessness become ubiquitous. In these circumstances, when a demagogue raises their voice against those who oppress and exploit the people, a glimmer of hope can begin to shine among the previously hopeless. This leader is then viewed as a saviour: the person who will improve their economic conditions and rid them of the people who are exploiting them economically. These groups that are seen as oppressors or exploiters can be any ethnic or religious group within the country, such as the Jewish for Nazi Germany, or a separate nation, such as the US or India for Pakistan. When these divisive leaders appear on a country’s national stage, the gulf between that country’s people and those of other countries widens.

Since the last US election, the world has found itself looking for the answer to the question, “How could an educated and aware nation like the US choose to elect a person like Donald Trump?”

Looking at the world economy of the last 100 years, it is easy to conclude that the 2008 economic recession was the biggest one since 1929.The effects of this recession could be felt around the world. In such moments of crisis, people need hope. That is why a large number of people, especially in the Islamic world, reverted to religion, in some cases going so far as to adopt religious fundamentalism. Religion, when interpreted and explained through the lens of violent extremism, is also a kind of fascism. While some people were turning towards religion, others started moving towards the far-right wing of the political spectrum.

Since the last US election, the world has found itself looking for the answer to the question: How could an educated and aware nation like the US choose to elect a person like Donald Trump president? This is a country that has produced leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, who pleaded for equality, and talked about the end of differences between people of different races.

As with religious extremists, fascism is formed out of a grotesque version of extreme nationalism, allowing phenomenon like American exceptionalism to spring from it. The US was unable to get itself out of the 2008 economic crisis because its banks were going bankrupt. Americans needed a charismatic personality to pull them out of the economic morass and to stabilize the country’s economy. As a result, a personality in the shape of Donald Trump then appeared on the scene. It was his divisive rhetoric that won over the American people. Trump heavily criticised the other countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), claiming that only the US was spending money in the NATO alliance. He claimed that China was pumping cheap goods into US and international markets on purpose, to affect US business. He used slogans based on fascism to make the American people believe that they were victims of economic exploitation by the other nations of the world and that illegal foreigners were stealing American jobs. He portrayed the US as a country oppressed by the world and with his firebrand statements made the American people stand behind him, convincing them that Trump would free the US from the economic conspiracies of the world. Trump has recently imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, an act which is being seen as the beginning of a business war between the US and the world.

On psychological level, how did the average American turn into a supporter of a fascist demagogue? To find answer this question, we must first understand the basic psychology of human beings. Abraham Maslow, a psychologist and intellectual, said that when a human being is made to confront the issue of their basic needs, then all other matters — including morality — sink into oblivion. When a country is passing through a phase of economic crisis, the public wants to get out of that situation any way possible. So, why then would they not choose to follow a fascist or a dictator?

Russia offers another glaring example of modern day fascism. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, Russia went through a period of economic turmoil. At that time, Putin appeared on the political horizon and was able to concentrate political power in his hands. Putin has brought Russia back on track through his charisma and political acumen. His success lies in the Russian economic recession that prevailed at that time he came into power, which he then overcame to bring prosperity and development to the nation.

China is another country where fascism is currently progressing at a steady rate. China recently removed their two-term limit on the president. There are economic reasons behind this change, which the ruling party keeps in mind. If the incumbent Chinese President Xi Jinping can remain president continuously, then China will be able to achieve its target of becoming an economic superpower.

There is also the case of Turkey, on the other hand, where economic development has begun to fall in the last few years, particularly after the Turkish strategy in Syria proved futile. The resulting economic crisis sent Turkey on its way to embracing fascism. The president’s five-year term was extended to ten years and all the powers of the prime minister were delegated to the Turkish president instead.

In the case of India, there is Modi, whose hands were soaked with the blood of innocent Muslims in Gujrat. The Indian people voted Modi on the basis of hope about economic development in the country. Modi had improved the economy when he was the chief minister of Gujrat, so the Indian people condoned his past behaviour and elected him India’s Pradhan Mantri.

The trend of fascism taking root around the world is far from over. Fascists can still find their way into power in Europe, Asia, as well as in many other countries in the near future. The only solution seems to be tackling the acute economic disparity which plagues the capitalist world today, to allow human morality to overcome the blindness caused by a lack of basic economic needs.

Published in Daily Times, April 2nd 2018.

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