This week has seen a plethora of actions by the UK government, which if adopted by any other country, any compassionate person would consider fascist. Government sponsored vehicles are roaming the streets telling people to dob in suspected illegal immigrants, the UK Border Agency are stopping mostly non-white commuters on the transport networks and requesting they display credentials to prove their right to be here, and disabled people are being carted off to modern day workhouses. Yet in spite of all this, many are still reluctant to face the gut wrenching reality that all is not well in blighty.
Godwin’s Law? Oh Give it Up
No doubt someone is already preparing a comment accusing me of Godwin’s Law for making this comparison. So I’ll take a moment to set out why I am making it, and why it does not conform to the term.
Godwin’s Law was intended to highlight the sort of ‘Little Hitler’ comparisons to the Third Reich.
“Train conductor just gave me a fine for not having a ticket… Nazi!”
“Health and Safety laws mean I can’t smoke in my office anymore…it’s like Nazi Germany in here!”
“The government is telling me I can’t smack my kids anymore…Fascists!”
This is the sort of thing that Godwin’s Law pertains to. This is not what I am doing today. I am laying out some clear similarities between policies in the UK today, and widely agreed upon Fascist nations in history. These similarities should raise real concerns about the direction in which successive governments are driving our nation and should lead us to take a pause and ask ourselves if this is the direction we want to head in.
Despite this, I accept that nevertheless many people are determinedly unwilling to consider the awful prospect that our government might not be acting on our best interests and will use Godwin’s Law as a tool of cognitive dissonance. In essence, Godwin’s Law itself can become a tool of censorship, used to close down important debate about the authoritarian impulse of the state and corporate power.
“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt, April 29, 1938. Message to congress
To be clear, Fascism is not about soldiers in jackboots goose-stepping along Whitehall. This is a post WWII idea of Fascism which, it could be argued, provides a smokescreen for identifying original Fascism. Umberto Eco coined the term ‘Eternal Fascism’ for this brand I write of, the antecedent of the nationalist, racist Nazi-style Fascism considered as default today.
If one say’s of Britain ‘We live in a fascist regime’, the immediate response is most often an irritated, dismissive shake of the head followed by ‘Well why don’t you go live in Iran/North Korea/Russia?’ depending on the chosen pariah state of the moment. To be clear, I wouldn’t want to live in those states either. Equally, we have a responsibility as, purportedly, the sovereign power of this country (our sovereignty delegated to parliament through democratic universal suffrage) to ‘put our own house in order first’.
People presented with this premise will find themselves unable to take the ideological side step required to acknowledge our corporatist system as fascist, rather than free market run amok. It is the truth we dare not admit. I argue this is mainly because no one wants to think they live in a fascist state, no one wants the burden of being called into action to defend against a fascist state and most people sincerely want to (and in many cases do) believe that matters of ideology and politics are irrelevant in the context of their daily lives. All of this is human and understandable. But that is different from it being correct or responsible.
In his 1995 essay, Eternal Fascism, Italian thinker and essayist Umberto Eco, provided one of the most compelling and ‘eternal’ definitions of fascism available to date. He set out the key characteristics, observable in a fascist state. He did not specify that ALL these conditions needed to exist for the state to be defined as Fascist, but that any, some or all of them are indicators of a fascist disposition. Of his 14 categories, there are at least 8 which apply to the UK today.
What’s Fascist about Blighty?
Umberto Eco’s characteristics of ‘Eternal Fascism’ can be seen in the policies of the UK government over a number of years, arguably we have been careering towards this point throughout the unbroken rise of neoliberalism, from 1979 to today. For now, let’s focus on just three of these.
Fear of Difference
The neoliberal dominated institutions of politics, media and even economics have made strident efforts to rebrand the Financial Crisis – a clear crisis of the private sector and neoliberalism itself – into a public sector crisis. This scapegoating has affected a number of groups, but in recent months, the narrative on immigration has been ratcheted up out of all proportion to the size of the issue. I have written in detail on the reality of immigration, so will not rehearse here. In summary, the UK has a lower immigrant population than almost any ‘developed’ nation, these immigrants are mostly assessed via a Points Based System, only 7% are asylum seekers, and only 33% of asylum claims are accepted. There is no open door. Finally, the immigrant population does not have access to a vast majority of the benefits available to UK citizens, the benefits they do receive are nowhere near the same value as those received by UK citizens and they are a third less likely to claim benefits than UK citizens.
Nevertheless, constant media and political attention is expended on the immigration issue – with almost no time asking the question – why are people coming here? Many migrants are economic migrants, and those who are not are political migrants – both are systemic, not personal issues. To argue in favour of ‘closing the door’ on people fleeing the system our country is so pivotal in exporting around the globe, often by force – what kind of morality if this? This is the national equivalent of first class guiding their lifeboats away from the steerage passengers after the sinking of the Titanic. The problem is the sinking ship, not the poor bastards swimming for their lives.
This week, the government launched the ‘Go Home’ campaign, driving an ad van around predominantly poor, mixed ethnicity areas of London warning that illegal immigrants would be arrested, with a number to text with information. The van is planned to go nationwide in coming months. Some might ask – well how is this racist? It’s racist because it contributes to the total lie that immigration is out of control, a big problem and a culture of fear and suspicion of people who look different to the majority – ‘any of them could be an illegal!’
In the same week, in the same areas, UK Border Agency officers wearing stab vests patrolled commuter hubs such as Kensal Rise, Stratford and Walthamstow stations stopping predominantly non-white travellers and asking them to produce credentials proving their right to be in the country. Reports suggest these officers became aggressive when questioned as to what right they had to request this information, by those being stopped and by concerned passers-by. This might well be because under UK law the police do not have the right to perform random ID checks such as this without direct cause for suspicion – they are not permitted to perform this kind of random stop and search using racial profiling techniques. This is because a person in the UK should not be suspected of being an illegal immigrant because they look or sound ‘foreign’ to a police officer or anybody else. If not, we open the door to the yellow stars and the pink and black triangles which singled out Jewish, gay and disabled people during the Third Reich.
Finally this week, the UK Home Office twitter account took to producing stats each day of how many ‘suspected’ illegal immigrants they had arrested under the hash tag #immigrationoffenders – even displaying pictures of people they had arrested (while still only ‘suspects’) for us all to gawk and point at. The fact that people are still even asking ‘how is this racist’ tells you just how damaging this conversation about immigration has become. The UK populace is being taught to fear the ‘illegal’ and the ‘immigrant’ as a drain on our resources, while the country is being feasted upon by privateers and profiteers.
Contempt for the Weak
To be clear, this is the neoliberal interpretation of weak – which means, cannot perform the primary role of a citizen under this system, go to a workplace, make money (mostly for someone else) and pay taxes. One of the most absurd aspects of this current system is that there is so much work to be done, so many people who could contribute to that, and yet we are only permitted to earn a living through ‘jobs’. These jobs may not match our skills, or deliver the most critical work that needs doing, and the physical layout of the workplace, inflexible hours and penalisation of sickness absence actively freezes out both the maximum contribution possible by our human resources, and the most efficient use of those people to deliver maximum utility for their effort. In short, we do the wrong things, in the wrong way, with half our team on the bench – then we blame the people left behind rather than the system. This isn’t just an ideological problem, but a problem that destroys and ends lives.
The government has mandated that every single person claiming social security payments for sickness or disability undergo a work capability test with Atos, to determine whether they could really be working. The clear implication being – these people could really be working. In fact, ministers have not merely implied it, but propagandised about it until many people believe it was benefit fraud, and not the Bank Bailout which caused our sky high debt.
Earlier this year, the UK Statistics Authority publicly condemned the DWP’s misleading use of figures, accusing them of making claims about the efficacy of their policies that were ‘unsupported. In short, they are just making this stuff up. The Guardian has also exposed repeated cases of the Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith, and Tory party Chairman Grant Shapps, misrepresenting data on benefit claims and the results of their policies.
The made up figures made it into press releases, which resulted in bogus articles in the Telegraph, The Mail, The Sun, the Express and the ITV and BBC News (along with myriad local news outlets)– all of which parroted disinformation without bothering to verify it.
As a result, the lies repeated often enough became the truth and a climate of suspicion formed around those who find themselves reliant on the welfare system.
Despite all this posturing and bemoaning, the DWP’s own estimates put the cost of benefit fraud at just £1.2bn (or only 0.7% of claimants). To put this in context, the DWP loses almost double that (£2.3bn) each year through administrative error.
The government’s own statistics show that between 2010 and 2011 10,600 sick and disabled people died within six weeks of their Atos assessment. This is 204 people a week, or 29 people a day. 2,200 of these people died before finding out if they were still entitled to their social security, and an astonishing 1,300 had been declared ‘Fit to Work’ by being placed in the Work Related Activity Group. These people spent their final weeks alive being harassed by the Job Centre, answering pointless questions, and fretting over late payment notices and threats of eviction as their social safety net was ripped away.
It was revealed this week that disabled people are now to face the 21st century version of the Workhouse, with the UK government requiring them to attend live in residential ‘training’ scheme, anywhere in the country they are required and to perform mandatory workfare placements while they are there. If they refuse, they lose their social security.
If this state harassment of those who are failed by the system was not punishment enough, hate crime against disabled people rose 25% in 2012 – as the toxic narrative of the burdensome disabled poisoned the public well.
The Cult of Tradition and Rejection of Modernism
The cult of tradition is the premise that all that is knowable is already told and it is for us to accept this, than seek to define some new idea. Whilst we might be embracers of the modern in terms of technological and scientific progress, when it comes to the matter of ideas for new means of organising ourselves socially, politically and economically – the cult of tradition and the rejection of modernism is enforced to shut down and stifle debate. In a recent article, I charted the emergence of the idea that There Is No Alternative to neoliberal capitalism. This idea was launched and embedded under Thatcher, but entirely embraced by New Labour (hence the ‘New’), the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.
The sneaky trick with this Cult of Tradition though is that it presents itself as Modernism. It hijacks the language of progress – reform, modernise, develop – only apply if referring to neoliberalising an organisation, institution or economy.
Anyone suggesting that this might not be the most effective, efficient or ethical way or running things is treated not as a critical thinker, but a heretic. This ideology is so entrenched that even people who consider themselves ‘apolitical’ seek to close down the debate with such rhetorical tricks as ‘well what do you want, Communism?! That worked well in Russia!’ or simply that talking politics is somehow dry, boring or oppressive.
Economist Professor Steve Keen writes on the ideological cleansing of Universities in the field of economics, such that students are only taught neoliberal theories, only academics endorsing the neoliberal view receive research grants or publication in major journals.
In Nazi Germany, you needed to be a member of the Nazi party to gain employment. In the UK today, you need to be a card carrying neoliberal. In most office based jobs, the narrative of neoliberal, privatisation, outsourcing, so called free market and profit is ‘the way we do things around here’. There is not even a space in which to present an alternative view or narrative, within the system, hence one is placed outside of it to present challenge.
We are Sleepwalking into Fascism
Wherever we look, with regressive changes to the legal system which make being annoying an arrestable offence, the scapegoating of immigrants, the sick, the elderly and the disabled, or the refusal to encourage and enable critical thinking and the development of a more equitable and sustainable alternative – neoliberalism has turned Fascist, and our neoliberal state has turned fascist with it.
We are just a few years behind Greece on the ‘austerity’ programme, and that nation is now rounding up ‘undesirables’ such as LGBT people, drug addicts, prostitutes and immigrants and the poor and transferring them to internment and labour camps. If it can happen in the state that created western democracy, it can happen anywhere.
The time to wake up is right now, the time to reject the narratives of scapegoating, suspicion and envy is now. The most revolutionary acts we can partake in today are to grow things, make things, mend things and care for each other.
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