Fascist (insult)

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Protester opposing the 2018 state visit of Donald Trump to the United Kingdom

Fascist has been used as a pejorative epithet against a wide range of individuals, political movements, governments, public, and private institutions since the emergence of fascism in Europe in the 1920s. Political commentators on both the Left and the Right accused their opponents of being fascists, starting in the years before World War II. In 1928, the Communist International labeled their social democratic opponents as social fascists,[1] while the social democrats themselves as well as some parties on the political right accused the Communists of having become fascist under Joseph Stalin's leadership.[2] In light of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, The New York Times declared on 18 September 1939 that "Hitlerism is brown communism, Stalinism is red fascism."[3] In 1944, the anti-fascist and socialist writer George Orwell commented that fascism had been rendered almost meaningless by its common use as an insult against various individuals and groups, and posited that in England fascist had become a synonym for bully.[4]

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was categorized by its former World War II allies as totalitarian alongside fascist Nazi Germany to convert pre-World War II anti-fascism into post-war anti-communism, and debates around the comparison of Nazism and Stalinism intensified.[5] Both sides also used the epithets fascist and fascism against the other. In the Soviet Union, they were used to describe anti-Soviet activism, and East Germany officially referred to the Berlin Wall as the "Anti-Fascist Protection Wall." Across the Eastern Bloc, the term anti-fascist became synonymous with the Communist stateparty line and denoted the struggle against dissenters and the broader Western world.[6][7] In the United States, early supporters of an aggressive foreign policy and domestic anti-communist measures in the 1940s and 1950s labeled the Soviet Union as fascist, and stated that it posed the same threat as the Axis Powers had posed during World War II.[8] Accusations that the enemy was fascist were used to justify opposition to negotiations and compromise, with the argument that the enemy would always act in a manner similar to Adolf Hitler or Nazi Germany in the 1930s.[9]

After the end of the Cold War, use of fascist as an insult continued across the political spectrum in many countries. Individuals and groups labeled as fascist by their opponents in the 21st century have included the participants in the Euromaidan demonstrations in Ukraine, the government of Croatia, United States president Donald Trump, and supporters of Sebastián Piñera in Chile.


Soviet and Russian politics[edit]

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 its ideological opponents, such as the White movement, or even internal fractions of the socialist movement, such as social democracy, were called social fascism and even regarded by communist parties as the most dangerous form of fascism).[10] In Germany, the Communist Party of Germany, which had been largely controlled by the Soviet leadership since 1928, used the epithet fascism to describe both the Social Democrats and the Nazi movement; in Soviet usage, the German Nazis were described as fascists until 1939, when the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was signed, after which Nazi–Soviet relations started to be presented positively in Soviet propaganda. Accusations that the leaders of the Soviet Union during the Stalin era acted as red fascists were commonly stated by both left-wing and right-wing critics.[11]

East German military parade in 1986, celebrating the "25th anniversary of the Anti-Fascist Protection Wall", the official name of the Berlin Wall

After Operation Barbarossa in 1941, fascist was used in the Soviet Union to describe virtually any anti-Soviet activity or opinion. In line with the Third Period, fascism was the "final phase of crisis of bourgeoisie", which "in fascism sought refuge" from "inherent contradictions of capitalism", and almost every Western capitalist country was fascist, with the Third Reich being just the "most reactionary" one.[12][13] The international investigation on Katyn massacre was described as "fascist libel"[14] and the Warsaw Uprising as "illegal and organised by fascists."[15] Polish Communist Służba Bezpieczeństwa described Trotskyism, Titoism, and imperialism as "variants of fascism."[16]

This use continued into the Cold War era and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The official Soviet version of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was described as "Fascist, Hitlerite, reactionary and counter-revolutionary hooligans financed by the imperialist West [which] took advantage of the unrest to stage a counter-revolution."[17] Some rank-and-file Soviet soldiers reportedly believed they were being sent to East Berlin to fight German fascists.[18] The Soviet-backed German Democratic Republic's official name for the Berlin Wall was the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart (German: Antifaschistischer Schutzwall).[19] After the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai denounced the Soviet Union for "fascist politics, great power chauvinism, national egoism and social imperialism", comparing the invasion to the Vietnam War and the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.[20] During the Barricades in January 1991, which followed the May 1990 "On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia" independence declaration of the Republic of Latvia from the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union declared that "fascism was reborn in Latvia."[21]

During the Euromaidan demonstrations in January 2014, the Slavic Anti-Fascist Front was created in Crimea by Russian member of parliament Aleksey Zhuravlyov and Crimean Russian Unity party leader and future head of the Republic of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov to oppose "fascist uprising" in Ukraine.[22][23] After the February 2014 Ukrainian revolution, through the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the outbreak of the war in Donbass, Russian nationalists and state media used the term. They frequently described the Ukrainian government after Euromaidan as fascist or Nazi,[24][25] at the same time using antisemitic canards, such as accusing them of "Jewish influence", and stating that they were spreading "gay propaganda", a trope of anti-LGBT activism.[26]

Western politics[edit]

In 1944, the acclaimed English writer, democratic socialist, and anti-fascist George Orwell wrote about the term's overuse as an epithet, arguing: "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. ... [T]he people who recklessly fling the word 'Fascist' in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it. By 'Fascism' they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept 'bully' as a synonym for 'Fascist'. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come."[27] In 2004, Samantha Power, a 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."[28]

In the 1980s, the term was used by leftist critics to describe the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The term was later used in the 2000s to describe the presidency of George W. Bush by its critics and in the late 2010s to describe the candidacy and presidency of Donald Trump. In her 1970 book Beyond Mere Obedience, radical activist and theologian Dorothee Sölle coined Christofascist to describe fundamentalist Christians.[29][30][31] In 2006, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found contrary to the Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the ECHR fining a journalist for calling a right-wing journalist "local neo-fascist", regarding the statement as a value-judgment acceptable in the circumstances.[32]

In response to multiple authors claiming that the then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was a fascist,[33][34][35][36] a 2016 article for Vox cited five historians who study fascism, including Roger Griffin, author of The Nature of Fascism, who stated that Trump either does not hold and even is opposed to several political viewpoints that are integral to fascism, including viewing violence as an inherent good and an inherent rejection of or opposition to a democratic system.[37] A growing number of scholars have posited that the political style of Trump resembles that of fascist leaders, beginning with his election campaign in 2016,[38][39] continuing over the course of his presidency as he appeared to court far-right extremists,[40][41][42][43] including his failed efforts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election results after losing to Joe Biden,[44] and culminating in the 2021 United States Capitol attack.[45] As these events have unfolded, some commentators who had initially resisted applying the label to Trump came out in favor of it, including conservative legal scholar Steven G. Calabresi and conservative commentator Michael Gerson.[46][47] After the attack on the Capitol, the historian of fascism Robert O. Paxton went so far as to state that Trump is a fascist, despite his earlier objection to using the term in this way.[48] Other historians of fascism such as Richard J. Evans,[49] Griffin, and Stanley Payne continue to disagree that fascism is an appropriate term to describe Trump's politics.[45]

American politics[edit]

In the United States, fascist is used as an insult to imply that Nazism, and by extension fascism, was a socialist and left-wing ideology, which is contrary to the consensus among scholars of fascism.[5] An example of this is conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism, where modern liberalism and progressivism in the United States are described as the child of fascism. Writing for The Washington Post, historian Ronald J. Granieri stated that this "has become a silver bullet for voices on the right like Dinesh D'Souza and Candace Owens: Not only is the reviled left, embodied in 2020 by figures like [Bernie] Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren, a dangerous descendant of the Nazis, but anyone who opposes it can't possibly have ties to the Nazis' odious ideas. There is only one problem: This argument is untrue."[5] Another example are Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene's numerous statements, such as comparing mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. According to cultural critic Noah Berlatsky writing for NBC News, in an effort to erase leftist victims of Nazi violence, "they've actually inverted the truth, implying that Nazis themselves were leftists", and "are part of a history of far-right disavowal, projection and escalation intended to provide a rationale for retaliation."[50]

Chilean politics[edit]

In Chile, the insult facho pobre ("poor fascist") has been the subject of significant analysis, including by figures such as Alberto Mayol and Carlos Peña González.[51][52] The insult was used in the aftermath of the 2017 Chilean general election, where right-wing Sebastián Piñera won the presidency, against those who voted for right-wing candidates.[53] Peña González calls the essence of the insult "the worst of the paternalisms: the belief that ordinary people ... do not know what they want and betray their true interest at the time of choice",[53] while writer Oscar Contardo states that the insult is a sort of "left-wing classism" (Spanish: roteo de izquierda) and implies that "certain ideas can only be defended by the priviledged class."[51]

In 2019 left-wing deputy Gabriel Boric publicly criticized the phrase facho pobre as belonging to an "elitist left", and warned that its use may lead to political isolation.[54]

Serbian politics[edit]

In Serbian politics, the fascist label is often reserved for inflammatory statements and dehumanization of Croats and Croatia. During the Croatian War of Independence in 1991, Serb-controlled Yugoslav Counterintelligence Service launched Operation Labrador as a false flag operation, intended to bomb Jewish cemeteries in Zagreb, in order to portray then internationally unrecognised Croatian government as fascist and undermine their chances for international recognition.[55] In modern Serbia, Dragan J- Vučićević, editor-in-chief of Serbian Progressive Party's propaganda flagship Informer, holds belief that the "vast majority of Croatian nation are Ustaše" and thus fascists.[56] The same notion is sometimes drawn through his tabloid's writings.[57] Aleksandar Vulin, one of the country's leading politicians, also frequently comments on Croatia in a similar manner.[58][59][60] After he was banned from entering to Croatia, Vulin commented the ban by saying that modern Croatia is a "follower of [Ante] Pavelić's fascist ideology."[61]

Marxist explanations for broad uses[edit]

Several Marxist theories back up particular uses of fascism beyond its usual remit. Nicos Poulantzas's theory of state monopoly capitalism could be associated with the idea of a military-industrial complex to suggest that the 1960s United States had a fascist social structure, although this kind of Maoist or Guevarist analysis often underpinned the rhetorical depiction of Cold War authoritarians as fascists. In a 1969 interview with the Viking Youth Power Hour, Abbie Hoffman stated: "They employ massive overkill strategy, there are 30, 20 to 30 marshals daily inside the courtroom, it has the atmosphere of an arms camp, the law against us is rigged ... and 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."[62]

Some Marxist groups, such as the Indian section of the Fourth International and Mansoor Hekmat-led or influenced groups in Iran and Iraq, have provided analytical accounts as to why fascist should be applied to groups like the Hindutva movement, the Iranian regime born after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, or the Islamist sections of the Iraqi insurgency. Other scholars contend that the traditional meaning of fascism does not apply to Hindutva groups and may hinder an analysis of their activities.[63][64][65][66]

See also[edit]


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