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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nationalism Rising

Australia and the western world need to heed the lessons of history.  Recent events have stimulated national pride in the defence of so-called national values. In Australia, we have seen this manifested most recently in the arguments over asylum seekers and the accusations that 'foreigners' do not have values that are compatible with Australian life.

Similar arguments purporting to defend national interests were made during the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, with Jews being the main target of nationalist anger. From this arose two political parties with particularly influential leaders, namely:

  • the National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazi Party) led by Adolf Hitler 
  • the National Fascist Party led by Benito Mussolini

Both embraced extreme right wing politics which were anti-communist and anti-capitalist with a unique blend of right and left wing policies.

Hitler's socialism included dramatic improvements in infrastructure, employment and encouraging mothers to stay at home to support and nurture their husbands and children whilst Hitler encouraged the men to work hard in order to be the breadwinners and financially support their families.  Economically this raised both the cost of living and the standard of living which was generally welcomed throughout Germany after the effects of the Great Depression.

Hitler's nationalism resulted in the military receiving the vast bulk of funding ahead of employment programs which also ended up being channeled into the military.   This enabled him to implement his expansionist policies which resulted in his devastating attempt to instill a new world order that he believed would have the Third Reich reign for 1,000 years.  He also implemented a terribly brutal anti-semitic, anti-subversive, anti-religious regime resulting in the deaths of over 17,000,000 people, of which an estimated 6,000,000 were Jews.

The problem with Hitler and his National Socialists was not so much the economic policies, but the nationalism.

Mussolini founded the National Fascist Party and was leader of the Italian Social Republic.  The National Fascist party developed what it called a 'third way' which was an alternative to both capitalism and communism, called corporatism.  This was designed for workers and businesses to come together in order to cooperatively address wages and other industrial relations issues.  However, this fell apart quickly when the business community felt that the system favoured workers.  Mussolini acceded to their requests and made changes which resulted in the system of corporatism favouring business.  The National Fascist Party also created national syndicalism which opposed class based society, anarchism, liberal democracy and Marxism's class struggle in favour of a corporatist model of class collaboration. Initially,Mussolini's policies improved public works and employment in Italy.

As with Hitler, the socialist policies, the capitalist policies, the economic policies of Mussolini were not the major issue; the nationalism was.  

The reason that nationalism was more of a concern than their unique blend of socialism and capitalism was because Hitler and Mussolini both embraced territorial expansionist policies based on their nationalist ideals.  This was coupled with the waging of impressive propaganda campaigns against so-called subversives who criticised them, including communists, capitalists, Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, religious and rival political groups.

An argument has recently been made that today's left wing idealists such as the American Democrats, are ideologically descended from Hitler and Mussolini and according to American conservative author, Jonah Goldberg, should therefore be called 'liberal fascists'.   The reality is that because of the eclectic nature of Hitler and Mussolini's idealogies, an argument can be made that every political party in the world, whether left or right wing, has some commonality with the National Socialists and the National Fascists. Hitler detested Marxists, even though he introduced some left wing policies such as social welfare and nationalising some services.  On the other hand, he also believed in a free market and privately owned property, which are right wing policies even though he hated capitalism.

Modern politics is heavily influenced by large corporations and industry groups.  The rise of this corporate power should give us cause for concern. It does not allow any representation by the individual. It empowers corporations and the richest of the rich through unequal and undue representation at the expense of the electorate. Mussolini stated, 'Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power'.

Few parties from either the left or right support the supremacist fascism that dominated Hitler's policies.  But where it does exist, it is usually the extreme right wing which embraces white supremacism as Hitler did, while the left wing generally promotes the ideal that all are equal, regardless of race, gender, religion, nationality.

Few if any, adherents of left or right wing parties in the 21st century would agree with or support Hitler's Nazism and even fewer would condone the extreme actions he took to rid the world of those he hated.  At least not consciously. Yet we are seeing western nations embracing nationalism and authoritarian policies as many Germans did during the rise of National Socialism.  For instance with the passing of the Patriot Act in the USA, far greater power has been invested in Washington to censor media and other publications and to detain anyone without charge than ever before.

Political debate throughout the western world is becoming more nationalist through propaganda campaigns and misplaced xenophobia, resulting in many people mistrusting muslims, refugees, asylum seekers and anyone from the Middle East.  There is an increase in the number of people adopting a supremacist attitude believing that  Christians and 'white people' defend justice, democracy and freedom for all, while claiming Muslims want to kill everyone and that they resent our freedoms.  This form of supremacism may be far removed from Hitler's, but how easy would it be to convince people that we should exterminate those who are different to us if they threaten our existence, if they don't fit in?

The United States instigated a global War on Terror which put all countries on notice with President George W. Bush's totalitarian declaration that 'Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists' in his address to a joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001.

But who is a terrorist?  Certainly those who kill innocent civilians are rightly called terrorists and often their reasons for doing so are influenced by their own brand of nationalism, such as fighting for territorial rights for Palestinians, Tamils, Israelis or Kashmiris.   But this does not make everyone of the same religion, nationality or regional area a terrorist.  Modern nationalism often tars innocent people with the same brush through stereotyping them if they are from certain countries, religious or people groups or even of a particular appearance.

The rise of nationalism in Australia has occurred through the right wing politicization of social issues which on the surface appear to have the best interests of a nation's citizens at heart.  Yet, under the surface resides a deep-seated racism and sense of racial superiority, which is highly critical of indigenous issues, refugee issues and views non-white people as less deserving and incapable of becoming a valued member of Australian society.  It establishes that 'they' do not have the same high moral fibre and values that white Australians do. Adherents of this nationalist rhetoric believe that they are being patriotic, however there is a fine line between patriotism and the racist fervour of nationalism.  It is evidenced in the language and values espoused on car-stickers and t-shirts promoting the ugly side of this so-called patriotism, such as:

'We grew here, you flew here'

'Fuck off we're full'

'Speak english or piss off'

'This is Australia, we eat meat, we drink beer and we speak english'

Western countries such as Great Britain, Australia and the United States of America have a long proud history of integrating other nationalities for centuries.  The nationalism that we see now is undermining this and resulting in accusations of these countries being racist.

The most dangerous part of Hitler's ideology was nationalism, which many Germans accepted without criticism because it masqueraded under the banners of patriotism, parochialism and jingoism.  We need to be aware of the insidious danger of nationalism that resides in what many think is the best interests of the nation, yet is a shallowly concealed doctrine of hate.

It is unlikely that any modern nationalists would want to introduce the death camps that Hitler did, however, at what stage do we draw the line in our approach to other peoples? It is a slippery slope that nationalists walk.  Already we have seen a war waged on false pretenses using nationalist fears and fervour, we have seen innocent men, women and children who are legally entitled to enter Australian waters to seek asylum, being incarcerated without charge and held in an abusive and soul-destroying system for months and in some cases, years.  A system which further traumatises the traumatised victims of nationalist inspired fascism and terrorism, such as those who escaped the regimes of Saddam Hussein or the Taliban.

Now we see even the Australian Labor Party willing to condemn refugees, including unaccompanied children, to the abuses of the Malaysian prison system and few people in Australia care.  Many people in Australia see refugees as criminals, not as victims of crime and therefore they feel that refugees are less deserving of humane and ethical treatment.... and no-one cares.  How easy would it be for a charismatic white supremacist with exceptional oration skills to stir up national fervour and have the population willingly embrace fascism?

A willingness by all of us to learn the lessons of history and to better understand and appreciate other cultures and religions will go a long way toward building the bridges necessary to combat the bigotry and danger of nationalism.

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