THE ORIGIN OF FASCISM AND NAZISM: THE GREAT DEPRESSION
Fascism and Nazism were the product of the Great Depression. The enormous deterioration of the economic situation, which had a very negative effect on the quality of life and well-being of the popular classes, created a severe problem with the credibility and legitimacy of the democratic systems and governments. Fascism (in southern Europe and the US) and Nazism (in central and northern Europe and also in the US) capitalized on this discontent, which grew substantially in the pre-World War II period. They bothacquire significant influence on both sides of the North Atlantic, governing several countries of Western Europe.
Their message was authoritarian and anti-democratic (considering any other political option illegitimate, subject to being eliminated), with extreme nationalism (supposed defenders of Christian civilization), based on racism and machismo (promoter of force and violence against the contrary, defined as an enemy). They were also profoundly anti-union as well as anti-communist and anti-socialist. This last characteristic made them attractive to the economic and financial power establishments in each country that felt threatened by protest movements created by the labor movement, which questioned their power. Hence, large sectors of such establishments financed fascism and Nazism in each country.
THE DEFEAT OF FASCISM AND NAZISM IN WORLD WAR II: THE EMPOWERMENT OF THE POPULAR CLASSES AND THE EMERGENCE OF THE UNIVERSAL SERVICES AND TRANSFERS OF THE WELFARE STATE, WITH THE REDUCTION OF INEQUALITIES
Fascism and Nazism were militarily defeated in World War II, a war against Fascism and Nazism, resulting from a broad alliance of political and social forces to achieve this goal. The victory over both political options and the economic and financial powers that had supported them allowed a redefinition of power relations between the social classes, particularly between the owners and managers of capital on one side and the working classes on the other. It opened new possibilities, one of them being the empowerment of the working classes that led to the establishment of welfare states in each country and to the reduction of inequalities. Where the working class was stronger, as in the Scandinavian countries, the redistribution of income and ownership of capital was greater and the welfare state more extensive. Where the working class was weaker, such as in southern Europe and the US, such redistribution and establishment of the welfare state was practically non-existent (as happened in Spain and Portugal, governed by a fascist government, the first governed by a fascist government and the second governed by a fascistoid one) or very limited (as occurred in the US). The latter country had (and continues to have) a democratic system highly biased in favor of conservative and liberal political forces. Its working class was (and continues to be) very weak, with unions prohibited by law (Taft Harley Act) from acting on behalf of the entire working class, limiting them to defend segmented and highly decentralized sectors. A general strike was and continues to be prohibited in the US. Its federal electoral system was and is barely proportional, having a legislative chamber, the Senate, constituted in a scarcely representative and much-biased way in favor of the conservative and rural territories of the country. The financing of the electoral process was and is fundamentally private, giving great opportunity to purchase politicians by the financial and economic establishments. It was and is the “liberal economic and political model” par excellence.
THE RESPONSE OF THE SOCIAL CLASS OF OWNERS AND MANAGERS OF ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CAPITAL TO THE EMPOWERMENT OF THE POPULAR CLASSES: THE NEOLIBERALISM THAT CREATED THE FOUNDATIONS FOR THE LATER GROWTH OF FASCISM AND NAZISM
The defeat of Fascism and Nazism redefined power relations, empowering the working classes. One consequence of this was an increase in labor income, as part of national income with a proportional decrease in capital income during the post-World War II period until the end of the 1970s. This situation led to a protest of the economic and financial establishments that determined a response: the establishment of neoliberalism initiated by President Reagan of the USA and Mrs. Thatcher in Great Britain and incorporated later in most of the governing social democratic parties (the majority parties within the European left) through the Third Way. This new version of liberalism promoted the globalization of economic and financial activity with complete freedom of capital and labor mobility, with a significant increase in migration and displacement of capital, primarily industrial to the countries of the Global South. Such globalization also included the deregulation of the labor market, increased regressive fiscal policies and austerity, and the great containment of public spending.
Such policies aimed to weaken the working class in countries on both sides of the North Atlantic and reverse the distribution of capital and income in favor of capital income. The decline of income derived from labor as percentage of national income declined significantly from the last seventies (in the end of the period known as the Golden Age of Capitalism, 1955-1978) to the peak of neoliberalism, in the second decade of this century. United States declined from 70% to 63%, Germany from 70% to 65%, France from 74% to 68%, Italy from 72% to 64%, United Kingdom from 74% to 72%, and Spain from 72% to 58%. For the average of the countries which would form the EU 15 declined from 73% to 66%. This neoliberal revolution was primarily promoted and led by the US federal government and later also by the European Union governments, predominantly of conservative and liberal sensibilities, and other US national government-led organizations such as NATO. NATO expanded its influence in areas of the North Atlantic where it did not exist in the previous stage, such as the countries of Eastern Europe and now Ukraine, programming its incorporation into NATO. The objective of such an organization was and is the defense of what the U.S. federal government perceived to be of U.S. interest, including the promotion of the existing neoliberal model in the US. An example of this is what is happening in the economic and labor policies that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (clearly influenced by the US government and Western Europe) are forcing Ukraine to condition the delay of the payment of foreign debt by the Ukrainian State to the approval by that State of a change in the right to own land in Ukraine to allow international companies (primarily American and European) to also have such property rights, currently restricted in that country for foreigners. The Ukrainian government, also with a neoliberal orientation, is in favor of this measure, which is certainly very unpopular, as is the massive deregulation of the labor market that this same government had already proposed before the war and that it approved just a few weeks ago. Both measures have been imposed by those international organizations and approved by the Ukrainian government under the assumption that they are necessary to “attract foreign capital to facilitate the reconstruction of the country.” Foreign capital” means North American and European companies.
THE CONVERSION OF THE LEFT-WING GOVERNMENTS TO NEOLIBERALISM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES, EVEN IN COUNTRIES WITH LONG PROGRESSIVE TRADITIONS LIKE SWEDEN
The neoliberal reforms in the 1980s spread throughout the North Atlantic to the extent that the left-wing governments diluted their resistance to them and ended up making them their own. The greater the strength of these governments, the greater was the delay in the application of such policies. And the latest most notorious case has been Sweden, the country where progressive forces have historically had the most power, and the Social Democratic Party has governed the longest. From 1932 to the late 1970s, the Social Democratic Party ruled Sweden with average support of 48% of the electorate. The changes began in the 1980s, although it was from the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century that neoliberal policies reached their maximum development. The expansion of fascism was a direct consequence of the application of such neoliberal measures. It was easily predictable that such a movement would grow almost exponentially to the extent that the detrimental effect of such neoliberal policies would affect the electoral behavior of the social classes most negatively affected by those policies. And so I predicted in my article What happens in Sweden? , Publico (06/09/2013). It was precisely the Swedish social democratic government that initiated the neoliberal measures led by its finance minister that were later expanded by the governing alliance of conservative and liberal parties (known in Sweden as the Bourgeoisie Alliance). These measures included all the neoliberal policies such as the deregulation of the labor market (which allowed employers to pay workers according to their criteria, whereby employers, including the State, began to hire and pay weaker workers less, that is, immigrants), the facilitation of the growth of immigration which increased dramatically, the introduction of privatization(including by private profit-seeking companies) of the management of public services such as health and education, and the deregulation of housing prices, among many other measures.
Most of these policies had a very negative effect on the welfare and quality of life of the Swedish working class, with large sections of that class distancing themselves from the social democratic party, abstaining electorally or voting for the Nazi party (known as the Swedish Democrats) which presented itself as the “anti-neoliberal establishment” party, against the establishment political class. This party swept the last election.
The Swedish capitalist class favored these neo-liberal policies, even though sectors close to the Social Democratic Party were uncomfortable with the language and values upheld by the Nazi Party. The vast majority of the media (which are controlled by economic groups belonging to such a class) did everything possible to destroy the parties to the left of the social democratic party, in order to prevent them from channeling the existing anti-neoliberal establishment anger in the popular classes. This is how the Nazi Party grew. Everything that happened was totally predictable.
THE ENORMOUS POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CRISIS OF THE SWEDISH PROGRESSIVE MODEL
In the last elections that took place a few weeks ago, the progressive alliance – the Social Democratic Party, the Left Party, and the Green Party, won 163 seats in Parliament, three fewer than the Right, 166 – the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, and the Nazi party. Such a party, known now as the Swedish Democrats, was founded in 1968 as heir to the Swedish Nazi party, got 20% of the vote, becoming the second force in the Swedish Parliament. The majority party, the Social Democratic party, received the most votes, with 30.3%. The Nazi party attracted large numbers of voters from the other right-wing parties but also from sections of the working class who previously voted for the Social Democratic party. Support for the Nazi party has grown even among trade unionists from the union closest to the Social Democratic Party (the LO). Half of them supported the Nazi party, the majority among men. 60% of the men in this year’s elections voted for the right, including the Nazi party.
The causes of these vote transfers are easy to see: the neoliberal policies initiated by the Social Democratic Party and expanded by the liberal-conservative alliance that ruled Sweden for six years. This alliance was later replaced by the Social Democratic Party, which has been governing for the last six years, during which it maintained those policies while adding other austerity measures, such as the reduction of public health and disability insurance, that were very unpopular. Austerity policies and labor market deregulation were especially important in also explaining the antagonism to immigration that increased substantially in this period. It was in 2015 when the immigration crisis occurred with the arrival of 662,000 foreigners, many of them from Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan.
All these measures explain the marked growth of the Nazi party during this period. They had obtained in the 2011 elections only 5.7% of the vote cast (only 8% of the population in that year believed that immigration was a problem). Only four years later, in 2015, when the almost exponential growth of immigration culminated, the Nazi party obtained the support of 20% of the population, and a year later, 24% of the population indicated that immigration was the most significant Sweden’s problem. And lately, 44% of the people cited immigration as one of the biggest problems in the country. The slogan used by the Nazi party during the last elections was that the socialists were ” reducing social rights to free up public funds to assist immigrants”. To this slogan was added: “Sweden is for Swedes”, which indicated that immigrants did not deserve the rights of true Swedes.
THE EXPERIENCE AT THE OTHER POLE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE NORTH ATLANTIC: THE ENORMOUS POLITICAL CRISIS OF THE NEOLIBERAL MODEL OF THE UNITED STATES
The growth of fascism in the US was equally predictable. The Reaganian neoliberalism that began in the 1980s was expanding, and it was President Clinton who fully incorporated it into the Democratic Party and his government.. His 1992 program was relatively progressive, even adopting in his programmatic proposal the establishment of a national health program that had made the left-wing candidacy of Jesse Jackson in the 1988 Democratic Party primaries and that would have guaranteed the right of Americans to access the health services of that country. However, Clinton changed once elected and in addition to approving the highly unpopular free trade agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico, he renounced many of his proposals, including establishing the national health program. And later, his wife, Hilary Clinton, (Foreign Minister, known in the U.S. as Secretary of State) during the Obama administration, promoted the process of globalization with a very notable increase in the mobility of industries to what is called the Global South.
The consequences of this neoliberal globalization were devastating for the working class in the industrial sectors. There are thousands of examples. For many years, Baltimore (where Johns Hopkins University is located) had the steel industry as one of the city’s most important centers of employment. The largest steel company left the city, and the neighborhoods of steelworkers (mostly white, blue-collar, and well-paid) changed dramatically and are now desolate. Mortality in such areas has significantly increased due to diseases of despair (suicide and drug addiction). The overwhelming majority of the population in these neighborhoods voted for Trump.
Today the neoliberal political and media establishment is deeply discredited among the popular classes and especially among the working class, primarily among whites (who mostly abstain in the electoral process). This situation is responsible for the growth of the ultraright that preceded Trump, which he has used in a very astute way by presenting himself as an “anti-neoliberal establishment”. I have explained in another article that such a movement has the characteristics of the fascist movement of southern Europe, presenting itself as the defender of the homeland and Christian civilization. Its leading ideologue is Steve Bannon, who is trying to structure a new ultra-right International that includes Putin, Bolsonaro, Le Pen Vox, among many others.
IS TRUMPISM A FASCIST MOVEMENT?
The Republican party establishment has been losing its mobilizing capacity, being replaced by Trumpism, characterized by a discourse aimed mainly at the popular classes, using a populist workerist terminology, which presents the federal political-media establishment, based in Washington, as the enemy. The Trumpist movement is assigning responsibility to the Biden administration for the enormous economic crisis in the U.S. (which affects very negatively the wellbeing of the popular classes) as well as for the Ukrainian war. Today such a movement controls most of the Republican party that will likely win the elections for Congress this November and later in 2024 the presidency, with devastating consequences not only for the United States but also for the world. This reality seems to be ignored by the European Union political establishment.
The Democratic Party, whose apparatus is primarily controlled by Clintonians (whose major influence is in its foreign policy) is led by Biden, who cunningly ( and pressured by the left led by Bernie Sanders ) presented himself as an heir to Roosevelt, favoring a New New Deal which had progressive elements, but which have been boycotted or eliminated due to internal resistance within the party and by economic interests and business and corporate lobbies. This situation has disappointed large sectors of the Democratic electorate. The extremist measures of Trumpism, such as the abolition of abortion by the US Supreme Court, already controlled by such a movement, have mobilized some resistance. Still, the central point today is the economic deterioration that mobilizes the majority of people and hence the predictability of what I indicated before.
One last note on the US: there is not full awareness in the political and media establishments of the European Union of the fascist character of Trumpism since they consider such a definition an exaggeration. An anecdote, however, reflects the error of these reservations. Trump attempted to mobilize US Army generals to stage a military coup on January 6th, documented by Peter Baker and Sussan Glaser in the New Yorker (and commented at length in the New York Times of 09/08/2022). The lack of receptiveness of the military establishment frustrated and angered Trump, by disobeying his orders and/or not agreeing with his proposal. Trump explicitly stated that he wanted loyal generals as Hitler had. Later, in a private conversation, an aide reminded him that some German generals had tried to assassinate Hitler and almost succeeded, to which Trump replied, with characteristic anger, that this was not true. According to him, the generals had been entirely faithful to Hitler, which was what he wanted from his generalship. And which he demanded of the Chief of Staff of the US Armed Forces, Mark A. Miller, before proposing him for the position. The General did promise him that he would do anything he asked. What the General did not expect is the type of requests that Trump would make of him. He spotted it quickly when at a Black Lives Matter black liberation movement demonstration in Washington, President Trump proposed to the General to have troops fire directly at protesters, which he chose not to do. After many other cases, the General was tempted to resign and wrote a letter to the President that was never sent but was published recently in the New Yorker, (and extensively commented on in the New York Times‘ article cited before) in which he accused Trump of having values typical of Fascism and Nazism. Discussing World War II, which he defined as a war against Fascism and Nazism, the General wrote the following remarks to the President. It is evident to me now that you do not understand the meaning of that war. You do not understand what that war meant. In fact, you subscribe to many of the principles that we fought against. I cannot be part of this project.
The fact that the General did not support the President’s attempted military coup does not mean that there were not sectors of the Army and the security services that did.
LAST NOTE: URGENT NEED TO APPLY PROFOUND CHANGES TO SAVE DEMOCRACY AND IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF LIFE AND WELL-BEING OF THE POPULAR CLASSES, TODAY DRAMATICALLY REDUCED BY THE APPLICATION OF NEO-LIBERAL POLICIES
Although this article has focused on the growth of Fascism and Nazim on two poles of the political spectrum of the North Atlantic (Sweden and the U.S.), a similar experience has occurred in many other countries responding to the same causes (the application of neoliberal policies by their governments) with similar consequences (the dramatic decline of the quality of life and wellbeing of the popular classes, even more accentuated by the pandemic). Today we are seeing a general discontent with the liberal democratic system that is facing a profound legitimization crisis on both sides of the North Atlantic. And if things do not change, things will get even worse. A growing number of protests are being channeled by these ultra-rightwing parties that present themselves as the anti-establishment.
The only way to respond to this threat to democratic systems and defend the well-being and quality of life of the popular classes (the majority of the population in any country) is for the progressive parties to recover their commitment to a profound transformation of their societies. There is a need to reverse the enormous concentration of economic, financial, mediatic, and political power that has been occurring since the 80s with the application of the so-called neo-liberal revolution. For that to happen, there will be a need for popular pressure to democratize the state institutions and diversify the major means of information and communication, which are highly controlled in the current times. And at the international level, it is imperative to change and oppose this neo-liberal globalization and the wars it has created that threaten humanity’s mere survival. The evidence clearly shows that to stop those suicidal policies, they need to be substituted by solidaristic policies because (as the persistence of the pandemic on the one hand and the enormous climate changes on the other have shown) the wellbeing of the majority of the populations cannot exist within the current international order based on the enrichment of the few and at the cost of misery for the many.