At the beginning of the 20th century, Europe and the world entered one of the darkest periods in their history. And there have been many. Fascism was resurgent. War erupted. Millions died. In the end, the values of social liberalism, democracy, and justice won. And Britain returned home to create the welfare state and social democracy.
Now, in the 21st century, we are at the precipice of the same fight. We will experience loss, trauma and, at times, hopelessness. But be in no doubt fascists – we will win again. And we will not just recapture lost ground. We will transform our world for the better in the process.
Echoes of the past
There are so many echoes of the 20th century rise of fascism today that it feels a little like a sickening deja vu. Not only are the fascists using the same playbook, but the conservative and liberal media are, too. I’ve written extensively on that in a previous piece, but to recap some core elements.
The role of the conservative media
Conservative media outlets have taken justified resentment and distrust of the prevailing economic and political order, and diverted it towards victims of that order. People of colour, left-wing activists, the LGBT community, sick and disabled people, and unemployed people. The conservative media has vilified and derided these groups, and labeled them as the problem.
Previously, it was instrumental in bringing Hitler to power, and in efforts to shore up British support for his party. They kept up the drumbeat of victimhood for the persecutors, and vilified the victims. In 1934, Daily Mail owner Viscount Rothermere intervened personally to warm the British public up to fascism.
The role of the liberal media
The reaction of neoliberals and their media outlets has been eerily reminiscent of their past failure to challenge the far-right. The liberal media has continued to embrace disaster capitalism. Meanwhile, the economic ‘normal’ has meted out devastating impacts on individual, community, and social goals. This is happening in the US, but it is echoed across the world. Established Western democracies are facing a political revolution from the far-right, while the liberal media continues to demonise left-wing challengers and champion neoliberal economics.
First, they legitimise the grievances of right-wing victimhood. They say we should have listened more. And that we shouldn’t have dismissed people as racists and bigots (whether they were racist and bigoted or not, you know, because freedom of expression). They dismiss alternative economic and political solutions which would shrink the wealth gap and dilute the feeling of scarcity – the very solutions that would decrease societal division.
By making a laughing stock of solutions from the left, they make the right look sensible. You can see this in the ceaseless attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, the SNP, and the Green Party – while French fascist leader and potential prime minister Marine Le Pen was treated with kid gloves by the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Remembrance Sunday.
Secondly, they adopt a ‘muscular liberalism’ narrative which basically raises its fists to the far-right’s perceived untermenschen (sub-humans) on their behalf. The problem, they say, is not the establishment liberalism that was just trounced by the far-right. It was the failure of the left, being too progressive and expecting too much acceptance of diversity.
Labour analysis of Trump coalescing around 'march of plutocrat-led ultra nationalism in US proves that the people are ready for Corbyn.'
— Rafael Behr (@rafaelbehr) November 12, 2016
— Nick Cohen (@NickCohen4) November 14, 2016
The liberal media’s normalisation of the far-right
Thirdly, there is a process of normalisation. The liberal media reaction to Donald Trump nominating Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff is a case in point. Priebus is being trailed in all liberal news sites as a mainstream Republican figure, and proof that Trump is reaching out beyond his base. But Priebus is far from any kind of moderate. He has argued that “the facts say” that children with same-sex parents do worse in life, despite the scientific research on the matter saying the exact opposite. He is to the right of Trump on abortion, and has provided political cover for racist, sexist and homophobic behaviour by Republicans during his tenure as Chair of the Republican National Committee.
And that’s before we even get into Trump making Breitbart propagandist and white supremacist Steven Bannon his chief political strategist. Here are just some of the headlines that sum up Bannon’s time at Breitbart:
BILL KRISTOL: REPUBLICAN SPOILER, RENEGADE JEW
WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION REPORT: TRANNIES 49 XS HIGHER HIV RATE
THERE’S NO HIRING BIAS AGAINST WOMEN IN TECH, THEY JUST SUCK AT INTERVIEWS
BIRTH CONTROL MAKES WOMEN UNATTRACTIVE AND CRAZY
With each new appointment announced by President-elect Trump, we get a clearer view of his intention to deliver on the worst elements of his campaign. All the while, as minorities and Trump’s untermenschen feel a growing sense of panic, predominantly (but not exclusively) white liberals are telling them they’re being alarmist. Or worse. That they should be holding out the hand of friendship to Trump voters. Listening and understanding their hurt feelings. And avoiding insults like ‘bigots’ and ‘racists’.
The early 20th century was no different.
For example, this was how The New York Times reported on Hitler in 1922:
Defeating fascism, and building a world that works for everyone
One reason to be hopeful that the 21st century defeat of fascism will be swifter than the last? Democracy. One key reason Hitler was able to dismantle the mechanisms of German democracy and justice so quickly in the 1930s was that Germany had only been a democracy for a generation. Its institutions were barely hatched, and its leaders failed to prove that democratic leaders could create economic and social progress.
But this is not the case today. Both Britain and the US have experienced leaders of great vision and effectiveness. And they can again. Jeremy Corbyn could be a 21st century Clement Attlee. Only the most hysterical of conservative and liberal commentators fail to spot this potential.
One reason this fight could be harder and longer? Liberals and conservatives alike have spent a generation enabling the bonfire of civil liberties, the erosion of privacy, and the building of the surveillance state. All these powers of intrusion, surveillance and suppression are now being handed to fascist leaders. First Trump, and possibly others soon. This will make it harder for us to organise and resist, and easier for the state to dismantle and disrupt our opposition.
The fight of our generation
Be in no doubt. This is the fight of our lives. This moment and those that come after it will define our generation – just as our parents, grandparents and great grandparents were defined by World War II and the political movements for change that came before and after. It is on us.
It is no good sitting here in despair waiting for the cavalry to come. We are it. We are the cavalry. Every kind, visionary, compassionate, open-hearted, open-minded citizen of the world is going to be conscripted. So volunteer now. In every action and interaction, be a force for the better angels of our nature. Build progressive alliances. Build movements. Create a tsunami of progress that wipes the floor with fascism. We are not fragile snowflakes. We are a blizzard. And we will not shelter from the storm. We will bring the thunder. We will right this world. And we will win a better day for our children and theirs.
It will get dark. It will get scary. And we will experience moments of abject terror and hopelessness that feel like lifetimes. But together, we will triumph over it all.
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