Sunday, December 12, 2004

If Bush=Hitler, then Blair=Mussolini 

When on Friday I mentioned that Australia's conservative Prime Minister John Howard was having a tough time deciding whether to support his fellow British conservatives or his pro-war Labor friend Tony Blair at next year's election, one of the readers mentioned an article by Nicholas Farrell, a recent biographer of Mussolini, who goes on to argue that Il Duce and Tony "have rather a lot in common." As he writes
"Blair extols the virtues of the Third Way, which was the phrase coined by the Fascists, no less, to describe their alternative to capitalism and communism. Blair began as a left-wing pacifist and became a right-wing warmonger. He is dictatorial and ignores Parliament if he can and he is a master of propaganda (spin). He is also a bit of a musician - always a dangerous sign in a politician - and plays the electric guitar. So was Mussolini. He played the violin."
Yes, Farrell does seem to be serious, having chanced upon a grand musical fascist conspiracy, which obviously also involves Bill Clinton (sax) and John Kerry (guitar). What it proves, I'm not sure, except that it makes it more difficult to call the non-musical George W a fascist (although Hitler was not a instrumental virtuoso either). Farrell continues:
"Both men started out as left-wingers but to get power both moved right. Then, to keep power, they both moved righter still. Both marketed themselves as of the left. But their product was not of the left. It was something else.

"People, especially people on the left, tend to forget - presumably because it is inconvenient to remember - that Mussolini was a revolutionary socialist before he was anything else. They forget, too, that he founded Fascism not as a right-wing dictatorship but as a left-wing revolutionary movement that provided an alternative first to socialism then to communism."
That's the crux of Farrell's thesis - that Blair's Third Way is some sort of a modern manifestation of fascism:
"When, during the second Bill Clinton presidency, Blair and Clinton started holding summits on the Third Way, they really were verging on the truly Fascist. The Fascist Third Way between capitalism and communism aimed to abolish class war and replace it with class collaboration. This meant the promotion of the productive elements in society from whatever class and the abolition of the parasitical elements from whatever class.

"The means by which the Fascists attempted to impose their Third Way was the corporate state. This did not involve the nationalisation of the workplace as in Marxist-inspired solutions, but its incorporation...

"The Fascist corporate state was never really tried. But one finds traces of its corporatist ideas in Blair's Government. The Prime Minister has quickly but quietly dropped the phrase 'Third Way' from the vocabulary. But he talks, with mounting frenzy, of 'public-private partnerships'."
It's amazing that an intelligent person who has studied Italian fascism for five years can make these sorts of glib comparisons, which seems to rest rather comfortably on a fallacious argument: A doesn't equal C, and B doesn't equal C, therefore A equals B; or, both fascism and the Third Way were meant to be half-way alternatives to the "extremes" of laissez-faire capitalism and communism/socialism, therefore fascism is like the Third Way. Mussolini's economic program would make today's harder left weep with joy; like Blair (and just about everyone else) he did practice a form of "mixed economy," but the driving idea behind his corporatism was to subordinate the sphere of private enterprise to the interests and ends of the state. When Blair talks about "public private partnerships" he's moving in the entire opposite direction to Mussolini - to involve the private sector in areas of activity that were previously the exclusive domain of the state.

Farrell's foreign policy parallels are another example of ignoring the context in a search for the lowest common denominator:
"Take their respective attitudes to war. Like Blair, who was a member of CND, Mussolini started out as a pacifist and led anti-war demonstrations... But it was war ... that caused Mussolini to abandon the Socialist Party...

"Like Mussolini, Blair has ended up declaring aggressive and legally dubious wars amid much protest from grassroots members of his own party. Neither his war in Kosovo nor that in Iraq had a UN mandate. In war, like Mussolini, Blair has played second fiddle to a greater force; in Mussolini's case Hitler, in Blair's case, first Clinton, and now George Bush."
Never mind that Mussolini went to war in Africa for the glory and self-aggrandizement of building the second Roman empire, while in both Kosovo and Iraq Blair used force (at least in part) in order to stop dictators from tyrannising their subjects and to bring freedom and democracy to long-suffering victims of totalitarianism in the Balkans and on the Euphrates. In a strange universe that Farrell and so many others seem to inhabit lately, standing up to fascist dictators like Milosevic and Saddam makes you, well, a fascist yourself.

But don't despair - Blair is not a complete Mussolini clone. There are some important differences between the two dictators: Blair "is in many ways more right-wing," meaning that his economic policies are actually pro-market (but hang on; wasn't he meant to be a corporatist?), he tries to appeal to the middle classes (whom Mussolini treated with contempt), and "unlike Mussolini, Tony Blair has not made the trains run on time."

It will all, of course, be music to the sophisticates' ears. After all, they already consider Blair to be a dangerous renegade from the "decent left"; first, he didn't dismantle the economic compact put in place by that awful Thatcher woman; now, he's running around the world alongside a dumb Texan cowboy getting into fights without Kofi Annan's permission. The sophisticates for quite some time now had a pretty strong gut-feeling that Blair was a bit of a fascist (isn't everyone who actually doesn't agree with them?); now they can quote around a dinner table a few glib lines from Farrell to give a pseudo-intellectual gloss to their ignorant prejudice.

Most people who parade around with signs that equate Bush with Hitler or castigate "Amerika" are fools who have absolutely no idea what the real fascism and Nazism were like. What's really sad is that someone like Farrell should know better. I guess it just goes to show that a ton of intellect is not a substitute for an ounce of common sense.


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