One short definition (mine) of fascism is:
"Fascism is a politico-economic system in which there is: total executive branch control of both the legislative and administrative powers of government; no independent judiciary; no Constitution that embodies the Rule of Law standing above the people who run the government; no inherent personal rights or liberties; a single national ideology that first demonizes and then criminalizes all political, religious, and ideological opposition to it; the massive and regular use of hate, fear, racial and religious prejudice, the Big Lie technique, mob psychology and mob actions to achieve political and economic ends; and total corporate determination of economic, fiscal, and regulatory policy."
With the probable election to both Houses of Congress of a number of "Tea Party" (otherwise known as really, really, really Right-Wing Republicans) the questions of the possible advent of some form of fascism in the United States arises again. I recently received an emailed comment looking at that possibility from the historical perspective. It said in part:
Fascism has never triumphed in a country that had no rural peasantry. The US has virtually eliminated the small family farm, most of the people in the countryside work for corporations for a wage, and even the farmer-operators are virtual debt-slaves.
Fascism has never triumphed in a country that has no organized working-class opposition party - and where the ruling class faced no imminent existential threat from its own people. We have none.
Fascism has never triumphed in the capital nation of the dominant world empire.
There has never been an empire that dominated nearly the entire world, nor has such an empire ever collapsed before.
Capitalism has reached the end-game of a 600-year cycle - a unique event - and the world-scale meltdown of the monetary and financial system such as is now unfolding has never happened before.
Never has the understanding by its people of the purposes of a world empire diverged so widely from the reality that its soldiers learn and bring home with them, nor have the beliefs of a people about how their system worked ever diverged so widely from the reality. Their reaction as they grasp what has happened is unforeseeable.
No ruling class has ever before had before it the evidence that its system and its military machine could end human life on the planet, including its own. Whether they will remain split over this is unknown.
None of these unprecedented circumstances - nor others I could mention - are any guarantee against fascism. Perhaps some of these make it more certain, perhaps not. I merely wish to caution against despair based on a belief that we are doomed to repeat the past. Who will be on which side as the present crisis unfolds is unpredictable, and how a civil war will play out if - God forbid - one should erupt is anyone's guess. Our situation and our moment in time are unique and the outcome is still unknown.
Fascism, as defined above, first appeared not in a major power but in the remnant of one, Hungary in 1919. History had been littered with monarchies that were authoritarian and entirely repressive and one of the prime examples of that, the Romanov Dynasty of Czarist Russia, had just been overthrown. The first civilian authoritarian regime, that of Admiral Miklos Horthy, was created in a counter-revolution against a short-lived Communist government in Hungary. No such regime had ever appeared before in history.
Fascism next appeared in Italy, in 1922. Like the Hungarian form, a titular monarch was left in place, but the regime functioned as an entirely civilian one. It featured a very close linkage between the government and industry, one that had never been seen before.
The German form was also unique at the outset, sold as it was in part against a totally fictional threat of the takeover of that country by the Jews. The real threat to the German ruling class was of course from the organized trade union movement, lead by the Communists and the Socialists. The Nazis railed against them too, and repressed them very quickly after taking over the government on January 30, 1933. But compared to its two major predecessors it too was unique.
As was the Japanese form. There was violent repression of the Communist-led trade-union movement there too, but the Emperor, as far as we know, wielding no real power, was symbolically at the front of the government in the traditional Japanese form going back to the days of the Shogunates.
In fact all of the "smaller" examples of fascism, such as those found for example in Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Paraguay have their own unique characteristics. Now it is certainly true that no other country besides the United States: has developed industrialized farming, providing a major profit center to food producers/manufacturers besides the United States; has been the single world-dominant nation in modern times (for not since Rome's domination of the then-known Western World has there been one), nor has such a nation collapsed (yet); nor has a ruling class ever had before itself the evidence that its industrial/extractive/military machine could end life on earth as we know it.
But if we look at the examples above, of the first fascist country, and then the three major ones, each has had more than one unique feature. So uniqueness is surely not going to save us. Nor does it seem that the knowledge of the US ruling class that their never-ending drive to enhance highly profitable production that is literally killing the earth going to stop them from doing what they are doing.
Fascism comes to a country when the ruling class decides, part consciously, part unconsciously, that in order for it to stay in power it must abandon democratic forms and install the authoritarian/repressive forms of fascism. This happened in Hungary, Italy and Japan. It also comes to a country when the former is operational but when, also, an ideology based on hate and fear of the manufactured "other" takes over the consciousness of some significant portion of the population.
In fact, in Germany there were major centers of power within the ruling class that did not support the Nazis. When Hitler was installed by Hindenburg on January 30, 1933, major right-wing leaders in the Reichstag saw him as being in power for a few months, very useful for suppressing the trade-union movement, especially the Communist sector of it, and then they would move back into power. But Hitler was very well-organized, had no intention of giving any power back to anyone and had the fear of the "other" (not only the Jews but the gays and other "non-Aryans") at his back.
Rove and his "establishment Republican" minions are not just whistling Dixie when they issue warnings against a "Tea Party" takeover of the GOP. It is not that they have major policy differences. But the hate that is gunned up by the likes of Limbaugh, Beck and "Smash-the-liberals" Levin can quickly get out of control, especially in a country that is so heavily gunned-up as is the United States.
There is no guarantee that fascism will come here. But the argument above that it will not is based on the observations that the United States occupies an historically unique position in the world power hierarchy, and that its ruling class "really recognizes" the threat of global destruction that is due to the US-led profit-based industrial policy that guarantees catastrophic climate change. Unfortunately that argument simply doesn't hold water. It's sort of like the "There are banks that are too big to fail" one. In each instance, there were no precise historical parallels when fascism came first to Hungary, then to Italy, Germany and Japan. The United States ruling class is becoming ever more focused on the maximization of profits at the expense of everything and anything else. The US working class may not remain asleep at the switch forever. And there is the manufactured Tea Party, which already may be spinning out of control. "It Can't Happen Here?" Think again.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for Truthout/BuzzFlash (http://www.truth-out.org/, http://www.buzzflash.com), Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to Op-Ed News.com (http://www.opednews.com/), a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.