Over 50 years after the defeat of the European fascist powers, the extreme right-wing political philosophy has returned to the continent, once again appealing to disillusioned voters.
France, Germany, Austria and Russia all have to contend with significant fascist parties. With support for fascism on the rise, the moderate parties that have governed since World War II are having to move to the right to keep up with voters.
It's an understatement to say that fascism got a bad name during World War II, particularly for its militarism and its persecution of the Jews and other minorities. But, even its supporters lost heart when it lost to the allied western democracies and the Soviet Union.
Today, no extremist party calls itself fascist. Contemporary names range from the National Front (France), to the German People's Union (Germany), the Freedom Party (Austria) and National Socialist (a label some Russian politicians use to describe their own ideals). Whatever the name, fascism is still the game.
Collins Standard Reference Dictionary defines fascism as “a system of government characterized by dictatorship, belligerent nationalism, racism, militarism, etc.”, a definition that would accurately describe the successive “beasts” of the books of Daniel and Revelation. The final rise of the Beast power will also likely share these characteristics.
First tried in Italy from 1922, Italian fascism seemed at first beneficial. Its leader, Benito Mussolini, famously got the trains to run on time. He didn't persecute the Jews, but his troops did invade some neighboring countries and Abyssinnia (Ethiopia).
Hitler's brand of fascism was much more terrifying, partly because of added German efficiency. Hitler came to power by accident, receiving about one third of the votes in the 1933 election. His party was, however, the biggest single political party represented in the national legislature and so he was asked to form a government by the figurehead president, von Hindenburg. When the old president died one year later, Hitler's supporters had him proclaimed the Fuehrer (Leader), with absolute dictatorial powers. The rest, as they say, is history.
Other European nations opted for fascism at the same time. An alliance of the central European fascist powers came very close to world domination in the early 1940s.
Since World War II, democracy has seemed ascendent in Europe, first in the west, now also in the east. But economic problems throughout the continent have led a new generation to look for simple solutions to complex problems, a recipe for extremism.
France first saw the rise of a fascist party under Jean Marie LePen. With about 15 percent of the vote, it may be impossible for a future conservative government to hold power without the support of the extremists. Austria's Freedom Party is the second largest party in the country and is led by the charismatic Jorg Haider. (Remember, the charismatic Hitler also came from Austria.)
A turning point this year came in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, formerly a part of communist east Germany. Here Gerhard Frey's German Peoples' Union received 13 percent of the vote-better than Hitler's Nazi Party did the first time round. Cleverly using American election techniques and targeting the dispirited young (19-29 year-olds) and those over 65 (many of whom were members of the Hitler Youth), Frey's party came from nowhere and forced two other political parties out of the state parliament.
The local leader of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's party said of the election result: “I was astonished. We have experienced the whiff of Weimar here.” (The Weimar republic was Germany's brief and ill-fated experiment with democracy between the two world wars.)
The above quote is taken from an article in The New Republic (“Thunder on the Right” June 28, 1998.) The same article pointed out that “about 17 percent of the population is ready to contemplate voting for right-wing parties…. Researchers questioned 6,600 Berlin youths in high school to arrive at the conclusion that the majority would rather vote for an extremist party on the right or left or none at all.”
Germany's political system of proportional representation means that just five percent of the vote guarantees a political party a place in parliament (the Bundestag). Five percent of the vote can also mean that a small party can be the kingmaker. German governments are usually coalitions made up of one or more political parties. Without support from others, no party would have the 50-plus percent of seats needed to form a government, so smaller parties are often involved. Historically, the liberal Free Democrats (with anywhere from 5 percent to 12 percent of the national vote) has played a major role. By switching allegiance from one of the two big parties to another, it could bring down a government, forming a new one in the process without an election.
The Free Democrats failed to get five percent of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt and are no longer represented in the state legislature. But the fascists are. They are only a minor party right now, but national elections scheduled for September this year could see them becoming a bigger force in the federal parliament. “As Germany heads into a tumultuous election period…the prospects for the far right look increasingly favorable” (ibid. The New Republic ).
It is in Russia, however, that right-wing extremists could to come to power first. Faced with increasing economic problems, more and more people are blaming western style democracy and the free market for their woes. Although the communists remain the biggest political party in the Duma (parliament), right-wing former generals command big followings and seem more likely headed for power.
Britain's Economist magazine had this to say in its July 11th, 1998, issue: “It has become something of a commonplace to say that Russia will never go back to what it was-to orthodox Soviet-style communism. True enough…..
“Far more likely…if things continue to go sour, is that Russia will swing the other way-not all the way to fascism but towards something nearly as bad, a kind of extreme nationalism: intensely prickly and pan-Slavic, anti-semitic, hostile to foreigners beyond and within its boundaries, eager to absorb the Slav heartlands of Ukraine and Belarus within the Russian fold, eager to make the Baltic trio of countries as weak and jumpy as possible.
“This quasi-fascism would also, in economic terms, be protectionist, corporatist and loth to privatize any more of Russia's ailing industry or let people (certainly not foreigners) buy land…. The armed forces and the successors to the KGB would be raised again to a position of special eminence within the state. The press and television would be corralled. Russia would become an angry place-neither democratic, nor prosperous, nor kind to its neighbors. It is a nightmare scenario.”
A nightmare scenario indeed. But not only in Russia. A worse case scenario would be fascist domination of both Russia and the European Union, a scenario now increasingly possible. WNP