Who is a fascist?
The Portuguese version of this post is here.
Fascist, beyond being a political characterization, has become an insult with a tendency to lose meaning. But I will try to stick to the essentials.
For many years, the most common characterization, among Western intellectuals, has been a Marxist explanation of how class struggle leads to a part of the marginalized population being willing to be mobilized by big capital to destroy workers' organizations. Sometimes this explanation works, sometimes it doesn't. It has the advantage of placing communists and Marxists as the leading anti-fascists, but it misses the facts more often than it gets them right.
As I stopped being a Marxist many years ago – and I sincerely believe that political ideologies mislead more than they enlighten – I prefer simpler definitions.
For me, fascism is an ideology and the political practice of extreme authoritarian nationalism.
As you see, I refrain here from the why and the how. I believe that such considerations would lead us into byzantine and sterile discussions.
Fascism is nationalistic. It professes the mystique of the nation, a spiritual entity greater and of much greater longevity than its inhabitants, endowed with a historical destiny and a mission. Usually, that mission is to subjugate its neighbors by force of arms. That the neighbors don't want to be subjugated, doesn't matter. In fact, what are weapons for? At a more incipient and, let's say, more progressive stage, nationalism is born as the ideology of a nation seeking its independence. But once this is achieved, it quickly evolves into its most aggressive version.
Fascism always defends one part of the nation against the others. That part of the nation is seen as the bearer of the national banner.
They are the Aryan race to the Nazis, the Christians to the Christian Fascists, the Muslims to the Islamic Fascists, the White Russians to the Russian Fascists, the ethnic Han to the Chinese, the non immigrants, non Black, non Gypsy “real Portuguese”, for our homegrown version.
The other parts of the nation, or the other nations, are made up of untermenschen, inferior beings, intruders, parasites, heretics, infidels: Jews, migrants, Blacks, Moors, Gypsies, Browns, every minority, or even overly cosmopolitan people who like foreign ideas like democracy, inclusion, or human rights. They may even be, as in Putinist propaganda, the fascists who have, they imagine, taken over enemy nations.
Fascism is authoritarian. The national destiny, the glory of supremacy, is expressed in the worship of the fuhrer, the duce, the dictator, the president for life that produces the orchestration of an obsessive personality cult. The dictator is the bearer, in his deified person, of the redemptive design of the great (or small) war apocalypse, which will wash in blood all the humiliations, real or invented.
Fascism is, of course, antidemocratic. It cannot trust the people to be willing to sacrifice their lives on the altar of the nationalist war. Given a choice, the people will always want to live their lives in peace, make a living, raise their children, enjoy what little happiness they can access. Only a hallucinated few want to “march against the cannons” (as is said in our national anthem), to cover themselves with glory or, more probable, to turn into muddy mincemeat, and even then, only during brief phases of nationalist hysteria. To orchestrate these phases of hysteria and ensure that they last as long as possible, fascism needs a powerful propaganda apparatus, centrally commanded by the dictator and his clique and without any democratic control. Their propaganda, generally quite crude and lying, cannot be countered by dissenting ideas, so they need media control.
Fascisms are, finally, fragile regimes. They depend on obsessive propaganda and suppression of dissenting voices by a powerful political police. As we say in Portugal, there is no fascism without Pide (the political police of our old dictatorship), without arbitrary arrests, without torture, without murder of opponents.
Fascists are bad rulers. They ruin their countries with corruption, irrational government and incompetence. Their stay in power would be brief, if it were not for the powerful repressive apparatus they surround themselves with.
What else do fascists fear? They fear normality, in which their incredible incompetence, corruption and ruinous government is made more apparent, without the distraction of paranoid propaganda and fear-mongering of military, terrorist or other threats. They fear that their own people will take advantage of some sort of crisis to take back their democracy and get them out. That is the real threat for dictators.
The fascists know that, no matter how much their propaganda says otherwise, democracy is still in fashion, there are countries where it works, and the citizens subjected to the dictators, if they could, would like to have a democracy at home too. Ideas stubbornly circulate despite censorship and borders, and finally, in the words of one of our poets, no axe can cut off the root of thought.
What dictators fear most is that, in the midst of a crisis, the protests will become too large, the repressive apparatus will refuse to attack their own citizens any further, and they themselves will suddenly find themselves in exile or dead. This is what Putin calls, with enormous contempt, a color revolution.