Friday, August 1, 2014

Red overalls, Nazis, the EFF and fascism

People forget that the German Nazi Party were also 'socialist': they were national socialist. As such, they claimed to speak for 'the people', 'the people' of Germany - or, as they put it, the volk.

South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighters are not made 'left wing' because they wear red overalls and claim to speak for 'the people', 'the people' of Africa - or, as they put it, 'the poor'. All parties claim to speak for 'the people', and none would say it is not on the side of the poor, least of all in autocracies.

The questions for South Africans of all colours are: what is the EFF's programme? Is it practical? Could the aim of economic freedom be attempted, let alone carried out, without coercion - without the loss of civil and political freedoms? If it cannot, can the EFF be said to be democratic?

If the EFF are not left wing and not democratic, are they fascist?

Fascism takes many forms: it differed in Spain and Italy, in eastern Europe and South America; it differs today in parts of the Arab world and Africa. Nazism remains only the most notorious version.

But all versions are more or less an irrational cult, appealing to the emotions, often the most basic like envy or revenge, not to logic or the pragmatic. Hitler's favourite word was 'fanatical'.

Fascism is intolerant of all views differing from its own and ready to resort to violence, on which it thrives; it is especially hostile to the ideals of the left, equality and a common  humanity, and embraces racism as and when necessary. Fascism, most notably, centres around and promotes a messianic leader, whose authority is absolute and beyond challenge. The Leader is not, needless to say, elected or subject to any democratic process. He is above all that.

Very many factors give rise to fascism and they depend on time and place. In the case of Germany after WWI, the Treaty of Versailles could be exploited by the nationalist right and Hitler in a way that obviously could never be repeated elsewhere. The humiliation of defeat got the party that became the Nazi Party off the ground: it was a particular situation. Even then, no one condition was enough: the Great Depression had to come into the mix, a decade later. And the presence of Adolf Hitler from start to finish was decisive.

In the most general terms, what prepares the ground for the rise of fascism is widespread discontent (commentators of the right and left like to boil it down finally to 'economic causes'). But central to the discontent is always the all-knowing Leader, who appears to have and to be the Answer. It is human nature to look for a messiah.

Nor should we overlook human ambition and ruthlessness. There is a built-in desire, it appears, to dominate others while claiming it is for their benefit - the very opposite of anything that might be called a democratic or humane tradition. Not that fascist leaders are all thugs; fascist leaders employ thugs.

Not slowly but very surely, the EFF emerge as less a genuine party, more a revolutionary band dedicated to the overthrow of what perhaps many of their members, and certainly some of their leaders, deem 'bourgeois', counter-revolutionary institutions. The EFF participate in these institutions more to disrupt than to debate and decide, seeking to discredit them while exploiting them for publicity.

If the red overalls are not the band's uniform in this project, it is impossible to say what they are. The EFF do not exclusively represent 'the poor' and, from a showy life style and dress pursued outside SA's legislatures, appear to a large majority not to represent them at all.

It is for you to decide whether that is socialist, democratic, or fascist.


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