Imraan Buccus | 09.08.2013 07:49 | World
Fascism first reared its ugly head in Europe in the crisis of the 1930s. In Germany, Spain and Italy fascist governments came to power, all with disastrous consequences. German fascism, under Adolf Hitler, became the most evil regime of the modern era, resulting in a terrible war and the mass murder of the Jews and Romany people across Europe.
Fascism only emerges in times of crisis. It is a form of socialism that is wrapped up in hyper-nationalism and organised via a political authoritarianism under a demagogic leader. It is able to exploit economic and social crisis to offer young men a feeling of belonging and an illusory path to respect.
As a number of commentators have noted recently, the Nazi party campaigned on a platform of nationalising industry and expropriating land, but unlike a left-wing socialist party, it mixed this up with hypernationalism.
Fascism, or national socialism, tries to rally the working class and the poor behind an authoritarian politics.
Since the end of World War II, fascism has appeared in a number of countries in the global south. Chile became fascist in the 1970s, and the Bharatiya Janata Party in India and the Golden Dawn in Greece are fascist.
Fascism only emerges when liberal politics has failed and the Left has failed to offer a credible alternative. This gives demagogic leaders the opportunity to mobilise people behind hyper-nationalist and authoritarian politics.
South Africa is in a serious crisis. The middle classes don’t really feel it, but for the masses, life is increasingly impossible. There is no work, education is appalling and corruption is endemic. When people have tried to organise themselves they have faced serious repression.
The ruling party does not have the capacity to resolve the crisis.
The Left has failed to offer a credible way out of the crisis. Most of the middle-class Left has retreated into NGOs and universities where it has failed to connect to mass struggles and popular organisations.
The middle-class Left has also tended to obsess about policy and legal questions rather than building real solidarity with popular struggles. It has been common for the Left to assume that it can win control over popular struggles by throwing money at them. Again, this has also proven to be a total fantasy.
There is a vibrant grass-roots Left in South Africa, particularly in Durban. However, this Left is vulnerable to repression and doesn’t have the resources to organise nationally.
Consequently, while there are vibrant local struggles, the national arena has been left wide open for Malema.
Malema is demagogic and authoritarian. His recent comment about “Afrikaners and Indians” being behind his problems with Sars has proved this. He is perfectly capable of descending into racism to hide his own personal failures. Although no popular organisations have rallied to his banner, a number of individual opportunists have declared their support for Malema, including at least one person with an anti-Indian agenda here in Durban.
With dictators like Gaddafi and Mugabe as his role models and his preference for militaristic political symbolism, it is clear that he has nothing but contempt for democracy.
Malema and his EFF are not as fascist as the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Golden Dawn, but it is clear that they are closer to fascism than to any other political ideology.
A number of young people have bought the idea that Malema is some sort of left-wing radical. This is very far from the truth. For one thing Malema was quite happy to plunder the public purse until he was kicked out of the ANC.
He has no record of real day-today solidarity with the struggles of workers and the poor. Malema became rich off the state via corruption and at the expense of the poor.
The problem with dealing with fascism in a democratic context is that fascists are happy to use elections to come to power. Hitler was elected. But fascists have nothing but contempt for democracy and once they have power they will never cede it to the popular will.
As a democracy, we have to give Malema the same space as everyone else to run for office. But simultaneously, we need to be clear about what he stands for and redouble our efforts to build a society in which there is decent work, education and housing for all.
This means that the Left has to sort itself out. The sectarian tendencies that have done so much damage to the Left in recent years must be isolated.
The NGO Left needs to understand that its role is to support and not to lead popular struggles.
The authoritarian and sometimes demagogic tendencies within the Left need to be challenged to either learn to work democratically or to give way to democratic forms of organising.
If we are unable to build a credible Left, democratic and in day-today solidarity with popular struggles, the day may come when we look back on the neo-liberal era with nostalgia.