Adolf Hitler, Along with Mussolini's son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano (to Hitler's right), and Joachim von Ribbentrop, attend a NSDAP (Nazi Party) rally, some time in the 1930s.
(Image by Jared Enos from flickr) Details DMCA
In Germany during the start of the 1930s, the economic damage the country had already been undergoing throughout the last decade or so due to its imperial collapse from overconfident military adventures combined with the Great Depression to bring nationwide desperation. The suffering of the masses was exploited by the Nazis, who justified their scapegoating of the Jews through a mishmash of antisemitic conspiracy theories. They claimed that the Jews had conspired to "stab Germany in the back" following World War I, and that the only way to right this wrong was to eliminate the Jews so that the "Aryan nation" could then grab up the land it would need to sufficiently develop.
The incredible thing was how fast it took for Germany, despite having possessed a supposedly safeguarded liberal "democracy," to descend into fascism after the economy gave out. The depression started in 1929, and just four years later Hitler was dictator. This "democracy" proved to be so fragile, both in Germany and in the numerous other capitalist countries which went fascist during the era, that the unthinkable suddenly became fact.
This dynamic is on its way towards being repeated in the United States. The dynamic where a liberal society's collapse into fascism occurs in the blink of an eye, and those opposed to the ideas of mass extermination and political persecution are either blindsided on how to prevent it or unwittingly complicit in its rise. Fascists depend on the truth to be distorted whenever they take power. And as we're seeing with the current campaign of right-wing conspiracies, the fascists have ways of engineering this type of mass confusion.
Just look at the central themes behind QAnon, the conspiracy theory that's pivotal to the most extreme elements of the 2020s American fascist movement. QAnon posits that a "cabal" of blood-drinkers are running the world and trying to take over America, and that the MAGA movement is the only thing which can take the cabal out of power. This is nothing more than a repackaging of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the fabricated document which sought to implicate the Jews in a plot to enslave the world. Its emphasis on Jewish billionaires like George Soros, along with its repeat of the trope about Jews drinking children's blood, have made Nazi viewpoints mainstream, shared by the over 1 in 10 Americans who believe what QAnon says.
Another parallel between the fascist propaganda of then and now is the anti-communist position that they originate from. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was created in czarist Russia during the decade before the Russian revolution, after which the document provided perceived legitimacy for the claim that the revolution was orchestrated by the Jews as part of a plot for world domination. This narrative of "Judeo-Bolshevism" has now been adapted to implicate the Jews in the paranoid fantasies of American anti-communists, with the sinister vision that the "cabal" and the "globalists" supposedly have for the U.S. always being implied to be a communist one.
It doesn't matter that this makes no sense given the nature of Marxism, given how socialism is not some kind of Jewish ethnic supremacy doctrine but a model for empowering proletarians of all ethnicities. The goal of the fascist propagandists is to obfuscate and deceive, to wipe out facts in favor of a warlike worldview that's based not around reason but around emotion alone.
"To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country," wrote Umberto Eco in his list of the characteristics of someone who's adopted fascism. "This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the U.S., a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson's The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others."
For now, the American fascist movement's promotions of these conspiracy narratives are paradoxically centered around an effort to get the movement's followers to dismiss the crises our society faces. There's a vague perception that America needs to be "saved" from malign forces, but the crises that have resulted from capitalism and imperialism are portrayed as alarmist claims which shouldn't be taken seriously. Covid-19 is said to be blown out of proportion (though the pandemic is at the same time blamed on the Chinese), global warming is painted as a trivial problem, and the country's growing racial and economic inequities are obfuscated in favor of fearmongering about black "maggots and parasites" being encouraged towards violence by leftist "extremism" and cultural "degeneracy."
When the country's deep economic woes are mentioned by the pundits on MAGA-adjacent networks like Newsmax and OAN, the suffering of the masses is blamed not on our bipartisan neoliberal austerity paradigm but on the "socialist" policies that the Democrats supposedly represent. There can be no coherent socioeconomic analysis in this echo chamber, only quippy rhetoric designed to further fascism's obfuscation agenda.
"All these crises, the 'climate crisis,' the 'racism crisis,' are just ways of making you panic so that you'll give up your freedoms," concluded the rightist Andrew Klavan recently on Newsmax. "But, you know, it's socialism with a fascist tinge." This last statement shows how modern fascists not only seek to confuse people about the direness of our conditions, but seek to intellectually disarm the masses; if anyone can be labeled as "fascist," the actual fascists can hide from scrutiny. They're manufacturing confusion within our political discourse for the fulfillment of fascism's end goal.
What's the end goal? It's power for power's sake, which is to say the internal consolidation of capitalist power via ethnic cleansing and the outward expansion of the oppressor nation's imperial holdings. These were the actions of the Nazis, who preserved bourgeois control through iron-fisted repression, killed millions who they saw as a threat, and invaded numerous surrounding nations with the goal of turning Eurasia into a big settler-colony for the "Aryans."
When our crises get severe enough, and the country is facing nationwide power grid failures, pandemics worse than Covid-19, and climate-related catastrophes that force millions of U.S. residents to permanently relocate, the equivalents of these atrocities will be carried out by the American fascists. This will be the point when the fascists are forced to fully acknowledge the climate crisis, which they'll respond to with an explosion of militaristic aggression and mass extermination campaigns. The way the fascists have already responded to the unprecedented refugee crisis at the southern border, which is a symptom of global warming that can't be denied, portends to these near-future horrors that will occur when global warming's other impacts can no longer be dismissed. The inhumane detention camps, border militarization that's been used to tear gas migrant families, and deportations to unsafe southern U.S. neo-colonies are test runs for a wider array of 21st century U.S. war crimes. As are the drone strikes, carpet bombings, and occupations that the U.S. has been perpetrating throughout the War on Terror.
When will things get to this point? Whether or not 2024 sees the election of a Republican who's closer to Hitler than anyone before, the lurch into our next stage of collapse into fascism is going to come harder and faster than our society can anticipate. These additional waves of right-wing terrorism, ethnic cleansing policies, and militarized police state atrocities will come as unexpectedly as this last year's storming of the Capitol, rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, or Gestapo-style detainments of protesters within unmarked vehicles. It's a process of escalation, one whose next steps we can get a sense of by examining the nature of the fascist movement's trending conspiracy theories. And if QAnon has brought back the Nazi theories about Jews orchestrating a nation's demise, the movement's next steps are going to be alarming.