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Since the emergence of fascism in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, the term fascist has frequently been used as a pejorative epithet against a wide range of individuals, political movements, governments, and public institutions, including those that would not usually be classified as fascist in mainstream political science. It usually serves as an emotionally loaded substitute for authoritarian.
The Bolshevik movement and later the Soviet Union made frequent use of the "fascist" epithet coming from its conflict with the early German and Italian fascist movements. It was widely used in press and political language to describe either direct competition (such as the White movement) or even internal fractions of the socialist movement, for example social democracy which was called social fascism. Also the Nazi movement in Germany was described as "fascist" until 1939, when the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was signed, after which Nazi–Soviet relations started to be presented positively in Soviet propaganda.
In 1944 British writer George Orwell commented that due to the widespread use in the European press, "the word 'Fascism' is almost entirely meaningless" due to its non-specific use detached from its original political associations.
After 1941, "fascist" was used in the Soviet Union to describe virtually any anti-Soviet activity or opinion. According to Marxism–Leninism, fascism was the "final phase of crisis of bourgeoisie", which "in fascism sought refuge" from "inherent contradictions of capitalism". As a result of this approach, it was almost every Western capitalist country that was "fascist", with the Third Reich being just the "most reactionary" one. After 1941 "fascist" was used in Soviet Union to describe virtually any anti-Soviet activity: for example, the international investigation on Katyn massacre was described as "fascist libel"., the Warsaw Uprising as "illegal and organised by fascists". Communist Służba Bezpieczeństwa described trotskyism, titoism and imperialism as "variants of fascism".
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In the 1980s, the term was used by leftist critics to describe the Reagan administration; the term was later used in the 2000s to describe the administration of George W. Bush by its critics, and in the late 2010s to describe the candidacy and administration of Donald Trump. In her 1970 book Beyond Mere Obedience, radical activist and theologian Dorothee Sölle coined the term Christofascist to describe fundamentalist Christians.
In 2004, Samantha Power (lecturer at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University) reflected Orwell's words from 60 years prior when she stated, "Fascism – unlike communism, socialism, capitalism, or conservatism – is a smear word more often used to brand one's foes than it is a descriptor used to shed light on them."
In 2006, the European Court of Human Rights found contrary to the Article 10 (freedom of expression) of ECHR fining a journalist for calling a right-wing journalist "local neo-fascist", regarding the statement as a value-judgment acceptable in the circumstances.
In 2014, with the outbreak of the war in Donbass, the Russian nationalists and media returned to the "fascist" rhetoric, frequently describing the Ukrainian government after Euromaidan as "fascist", "Nazi" etc., at the same time accusing them of "Jewish influence" or spreading "gay propaganda".
In response to multiple authors claiming that the then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump was a "fascist", a 2016 article for Vox cited several historians who study fascism—including Roger Griffin, author of The Nature of Fascism—who stated that Trump does not hold (and is even opposed to) several political viewpoints that are integral to fascism, including viewing violence as an inherent good and an inherent rejection or opposition to a democratic system; rather, the article concluded that Trump should be viewed as a "much more common, and much more dangerous" far-right populist in the vein of Marine Le Pen that want to ensure traditional liberal democratic protections for their white voter base, but exclude other ethnic groups from having such protections.
Possible explanations for casual uses
Following the end of the Second World War, no group wanted to affiliate with the term "fascist" and both the propaganda systems of the USSR and Western World branded fascism as an irrational ideology because it stood in opposition to those of the Allies. The term subsequently lost all significant meaning. Marxist theorists such as Trotskyists, which harbor an economic and materialist view of history, examined fascism strictly from an economic point of view. This led them to conclude that fascism was merely a form of extreme reactionary state capitalism, since fascist states adopted corporatism, promoted class collaboration, protected private property and wanted to eradicate all forms of socialism.
While attracting criticisms for imprecision and for downplaying the extremity of actual fascism, the use of fascist as an epithet for authoritarian and intolerant power-holders has a distinct analytical basis, suggesting that fascism is a continuum or a social relation, rather than simply a political system, and that acts of repression are in some way homologous with fascist ideology. Specifically, it seems that the imputation is an interest in authoritarianism strong enough to deny interest in the legitimacy of that authority.
They employ massive overkill strategy, uh there are 30, 20 to 30 marshals daily inside the courtroom, uh, it has the atmosphere of an arms camp, uh, the law against us is rigged … and uh, our claims that this law violates our constitutional rights and it’s the same way that we claim that Mayor Daley didn’t have the right to deny us a permit to march or to assemble in the park…. I think it points a direction in the future which is that the government embarked on a course of fascism.
Several Marxist theories back up particular uses of fascism beyond its usual remit. For instance, Poulantzas's theory of state monopoly capitalism could be associated with the idea of a military-industrial complex to suggest that 1960s America had a fascist social structure; this kind of Maoist or Guevarist analysis often underpinned the rhetorical depiction of Cold War authoritarians as fascists.
Some Marxist groups – such as the Indian section of the USFI and the Hekmatist groups in Iran and Iraq – have provided analytical accounts as to why the term fascist should be applied to groups such as the Hindutva movement, the 1979 Islamic Iranian regime, or the Islamist sections of the Iraqi insurgency. Other scholars contend that the traditional meaning of the term fascism does not apply to Hindutva groups, and may hinder an analysis of their activities.
- Definitions of fascism
- Anti-democratic thought
- Godwin's Law
- Reductio ad Hitlerum
- Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire
- "It will be seen that, as used, the word 'Fascism' is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.", George Orwell, What is Fascism?, 1944
- "Наступление фашизма и задачи Коммунистического Интернационала в борьбе за единство рабочего класса против фашизма". 7th Comintern Congress. 20 August 1935. Retrieved 2015-08-31.
- "Фашизм – наиболее мрачное порождение империализма". История второй мировой войны 1939–1945 гг. 1973. Retrieved 2015-08-31.
- Robert Stiller, "Semantyka zbrodni"
- "1944 – Powstanie Warszawskie". e-Warszawa.com. Retrieved 2015-08-31.
- "Dane osoby z katalogu funkcjonariuszy aparatu bezpieczeństwa – Franciszek Przeździał". Instytut Pamięci Narodowej. 1951. Retrieved 2015-08-31.
- Dorothee Sölle (1970). Beyond Mere Obedience: Reflections on a Christian Ethic for the Future. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House.
- "Confessing Christ in a Post-Christendom Context.". The Ecumenical Review. July 1, 2000. Retrieved 2007-12-23.
... shall we say this, represent this, live this, without seeming to endorse the kind of christomonism (Dorothee Solle called it "Christofascism"! ...
- Pinnock, Sarah K. (2003). The Theology of Dorothee Soelle. Trinity Press International. ISBN 1-56338-404-3.
... of establishing a dubious moral superiority to justify organized violence on a massive scale, a perversion of Christianity she called Christofascism. ...
- Power, Samantha. "The Original Axis of Evil", The New York Times, 2004-05-02.
- "Case of Karman v. Russia (Application no. 29372/02) Judgment". European Court of Human Rights. March 14, 2007.
- Simon Shuster (2014-10-29). "Russians Re-write History to Slur Ukraine Over War". Time. Retrieved 2014-10-30.
- Snyder, Timothy (20 March 2014). "Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
- Wagstyl, Stefan. "Fascism: a useful insult". Financial Times.
- Matthews, Dylan (May 19, 2016). "I asked 5 fascism experts whether Donald Trump is a fascist. Here's what they said.". Vox. Vox Media. Retrieved August 4, 2016.
- "An Interview About the Trial with Abbie Hoffman"
- Chatterjee, Surojit (December 19, 2003). "RSS neither Nationalist nor Fascist, Indian Christian priest's research concludes". The Christian Post. Archived from the original on November 13, 2006.
- P. Venugopal (August 23, 1998). "RSS neither nationalist nor fascist, says Christian priest after research". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on July 22, 2004.
- Walter K. Andersen, Shridhar D. Damle (May 1989). "The Brotherhood in Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 503: 156–57. doi:10.1177/0002716289503001021.
- Ethnic and Racial Studies, Volume 23, Number 3, May 2000, pp. 407–441 ISSN 0141-9870 print/ISSN 1466-4356 online.