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Islamic Fascism?

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In Germany, for example, as anemic economic conditions of the 1920s further deteriorated in the early 1930s, powerful business interests put pressure on the Weimar Republic to help them carry out a brutal economic austerity package: cutting wages and social spending, on the one hand, giving generous state subsidies and tax breaks to big business, on the other. Although the Weimar Republic did offer help and took some steps in this direction, German corporate leaders found such measures insufficient and unsatisfactory.

Thus, as Michael Parenti points out, "By 1930, most of the tycoons had concluded that the Weimar Republic no longer served their needs and was too accommodating to the working class. They greatly increased their subsidies to Hitler, propelling the Nazi party onto the national stage." Parenti further writes, "Business tycoons supplied the Nazis with generous funds for fleets of motor cars and loudspeakers to saturate the cities and villages of Germany, along with funds for Nazi party organizations, youth groups, and paramilitary forces. In the July 1932 campaign, Hitler had sufficient funds to fly to fifty cities in the last two weeks alone."[3]

Like Adolf Hitler of Germany, Italy's Bonito Mussolini was brought to power by big capital: "To maintain profit levels, the large landowners and industrialists would have to slash wages and raise prices. The state in turn would have to provide them with massive subsidies and tax exemptions. To finance this corporate welfarism, the populace would have to be taxed more heavily, and social services and welfare expenditures would have to be drastically cut."[4]

To undermine the workers' and peasants' resistance to these brutal austerity measures, the corporate state would have to curtail civil liberties and eliminate democratic rights that helped the masses defend their modest living conditions. "The solution was to smash their unions, political organizations, and civil liberties. Industrialists and big landowners wanted someone at the helm who could break the power of organized workers and farm laborers and impose a stern order on the masses. For this task Benito Mussolini, armed with his gangs of Blackshirts, seemed the likely candidate."

In 1922, the "Fedrazione Industriale," consisting of the leaders of industry, banking, and agribusiness corporations, "met with Mussolini to plan the 'March on Rome,' contributing 20 million lire to the undertaking. With the additional backing of Italy's top military officers and police chiefs, the fascist 'revolution' really a coup d'etat took place."[5]

Although the inner-connections between economics, politics, and cultural facets of fascism may not be as clear-cut or precise as correlations in, for example, natural sciences, they are nonetheless subject to specific social and historical laws, dynamics, and developments. In general, and in broad outlines, fascism arises as an emergency reaction, or crisis-management response, by big business to threats posed to its interests, threats that cannot be fended off by the "usual" or "normal" maneuverings of the capitalist state. Protracted and menacingly long economic crises tend to be breeding grounds for the rise of fascism.


In response to such chronic recessionary cycles, business and government leaders would, first, try "normal" restructuring or streamlining policies to stem further economic decline and restore profitability. These would include implementation of capital-friendly fiscal and monetary policies; dilution of health, safety, and environmental standards; weakening or undermining business regulations and anti-trust laws; and so on. But if the anemic economy does not respond to such "ordinary" neoliberal economic measures (and social tensions continue to mount as a result), the corporate state would then not hesitate to resort to "extraordinary" measures of economic restructuring. With varying degrees or intensities, such "extraordinary" steps would entail elements of fascistic politics and policies.

It must be pointed out here that the emergence of fascism from long periods of economic and social crises is not inevitable. For example, while the depression period of the late 1920s and early 1930s led to the rise of fascism in Europe, it gave birth to the New Deal reforms in the United States. It could as well have led to the rise of socialism in either place, especially in Europe. President Roosevelt's famous statement (in response to opposition by some ruling circles to the New Deal package) that "we need these reforms if we want to avert revolution" succinctly captured the fluidity of the U.S. social developments of the time.

Historians overwhelmingly agree that a major force behind the corporate drive to fascism in Europe was a desire to avert socialism. The late Rosa Luxemburg's warning on the eve of the rise of fascism that Europe was at the cross roads of "either socialism or barbarism" presciently captured the volatility of the European socioeconomic circumstances of the time.

These experiences (as well as the economic logic and theory of social developments) indicate that the outcome of deep socioeconomic crises is not predetermined; it all depends on the balance of power between the contending interests and the outcome of class struggle.

Now, it is obvious that, in light of the characteristics of fascism as a specific socio-historical phenomenon, the Bush administration's labeling of radical Islamic movements and leaders as fascist, or "Islamofascism," is sheer nonsense. It betrays either blatant demagoguery, or shameful ignorance, or most probably, both.

For one thing, the economic foundation of fascism, an advanced industrialized market economy, is absent in most areas or countries of fundamentalist Islamic movements and/or radical Muslim leaders. For another, militant Muslim leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Hassan Nasrallah of Lebanon, Hamas leaders of Palestine, and Muslim Brotherhood leaders of Egypt are known as people's leaders or fighters, not agents and collaborators of big business, as would be the case with fascist or fascistic figures and characters. They are, indeed, often in collision, not collusion, with big business and corrupt establishments of their communities or countries.

Furthermore, most radical Muslim movements of recent years have tended to push for more, not less, political democracy, as this would lead to their gaining political power and independence from foreign powers and their (comprador) local allies. That is, indeed, how, for example, Hamas won in the recent Palestinian elections in the occupied territories. That was also how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the President of Iran (despite the vehement opposition by the corrupt and moneyed establishment). Iraqi and Lebanese Shia Muslims have equally been keen on free elections. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has been trying for years to bring about free and transparent elections in that country, only to be obstructed by the regime of (the life-time) President Hosni Mubarak, the treasured ally of the United States.

Radical movements and individuals of the Muslim world maybe called fundamentalist, populist, nationalist, or terrorist; but they cannot be called fascist. As Marc Ash recently put it, "Blowing up an airliner full of passengers is barbaric and completely unacceptable, regardless of the objectives of those involved, but it really doesn't fit the definition of fascism." (Even if we assume, for a moment, that such wild acts of desperation can be called fascism, still they cannot be called Islamic fascism; just as the rise of fascism in Europe was not, and could not, be called Christian fascism.) Fascism "is not an isolated act of madness, it is a coordinated act of state. All the while private corporations profit wildly."[6]

But while radical groupings and individuals of the Muslim world (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter) cannot be called fascist, the neoconservative/corporate-run Bush administration does bear some major (though low-level) hallmarks of fascism. These include a tendency to curtail civil liberties and retreat from democratic principles, a penchant to view the peoples and nations of the world as "allies" and "enemies," a preference to boost the power and fortunes of big business at the expense of the needy and working classes, a desire to manufacture enemies and to invent scapegoats in order to justify wars of aggression, and so on.

This is not to say that President Bush or the neoconservative handlers of his administration can be called full-blown or mature fascists; but that their ranks, their circles of power, and their politico-philosophical agenda are infested with insidious germs of fascism that, if not contained, can develop to full-fledged fascism.

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Ismael Hossein-zadeh is a professor of economics at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. He is the author of the newly published book, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism His Web page is http://www.cbpa.drake.edu/hossein-zadeh

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