I remember an interesting e-mail listserv excahnge that I came across recently. It was about some guy who had brought the idea of National Anarchism, which is a fascist variant which proclaims itself to be anti-statist, to Eugene, which gave a general run down about what this was and where it came from. The author was misidentified as "Nick Griffin", chairman of the British National Party, an almost neo-Nazi mass fascist party in Britain which has cleaned itself up to make it look presentable. Anyways, this writer, who was responding to the rundown, went off because she thought that this listserv, which was anarchist, was reprinting the writings of a confirmed fascist. People tried to explain to her that if she had actually read the article she'd have seen that it was against fascism and not written by the chairman of the BNP, but, at least initially, to no avail. It took several exchanges to get it straightened out. I present this as an example containing in microcosm most of the inadequacies of the left's dealings with fascist and far right ideologies. This writer saw the name "Nick Griffin" and she went off. No one who had read the article could have possibly have thought that it was by the chairman of the BNP but she, going on auto pilot, was convinced that she was right and knew that the way to deal with it was to go insane and complain that this anarchist e-mail list was posting pro-fascist propaganda. The left is totally inadequate in dealing with fascist and far right belief systems because it assumes that it doesn't have to know anything about these things but just has to chant militant slogans against them and, like magic, their followers will suddenly convert to anarchism and become nice progressives who don't eat meat and who sing the punk equivalent of Cumbaya.
One definition of insanity is doing something over and over again, knowing that it's not effective, but compulsively doing it without stopping to understand what you're doing. The anti-racist left seems to be doing this.
And historically it wouldn't be the first time. During the rise of fascism in Germany the Communist Party did much the same thing. Their slogan was that fascism was in service of big businesses, that the Nazis were really in the pay of corporate capitalism and that they represented anti-worker tendencies, and that they'd just betray workers who supported them, on top of arguing that racism and anti-semitism were bad and were antithetical to a worldwide workers' movement against capitalism, that people were equal.
What was Hitler and his crowd saying? That Germany, in the depression, had fallen under the spell of money and finance brought to it by a foreign entity, the Jews, and that a Nazi victory would mean the triumph of idealism against materialism, of real values against money values, of a return to home, church, and community against the seeming dangers of loss of stature in the international arena and the instability of all sectors of life brought about by the depression. They were going to restore Germany to its former glory, to make it a place where the good things of life prevailed, and to declare victory over crass material things and usher in an era where values had a higher place in life than money and materiality.
Looking at the two positions, the Communist and the fascist, it's not difficult to see why the fascist eventually won out. While it may have been true that the Nazis were in the service of corporations and reactionary values, simply saying that, and saying that they're just wrong for promoting anti-semitism, is not an effective way of countering this sort of thing. They tapped in directly to core issues and feelings , experiences which people in Germany held in common in the years after World War I, with the Depression compounding these feelings. And what did the Communists want to fight it with? Academic treatises talking about how the Nazis were really on the side of big business. If they wanted to effectively counter them they would have needed to dip into the same stream that their oppponents tapped into, the popular feelings of suffering due to bad economic times and to feelings of national humiliation, and guide the country towards more humane and positive ends with what they gained from it.
To say that the Nazis were demagogues misses the point: they were effective in winning people over with their slogans and their oratory. To chalk that up to demagoguery is to subsitute an insult for a real analysis of the situation.
In a way the situation paralells that of Democrats who want to reinvent the discourse of their party through analysis of rhetoric and the using of rhetoric to tap into the same belief systems and values of the people of America in order to woo them away from the Republican party and away from conservative politics in general.
I think that that is essentially what is needed to fight not just the right but fascist movements and far right extremist movements; the classic Lakoff quote is that the democrats are unable to succintly explain their position while the Republicans can do it in some really small amount of words, like six or eight.
Lakoff has been accused of trying to teach manipulation and Dean has been accused of trying to pander to reactionaries but people who say that a) do not understand the media and political environment within which we live. Using rhetoric to convince people of a position is well establihsed in American political life; to turn one's back to it and declare that ignoring rhetorical usage is the high road is to turn one's back on reality. And pandering to reactionaries? That's code for reaching out to people that liberals have more and more treated snobbishly and have discounted, with the consequence being that they've gone over to the Republican Party and cost the Democrats the election. If reaching out to reactionaries is what they call trying to bring people who aren't necessarily already true believers into the democratic fold then, yes, the Democrats are reaching out to reactionaries and should proudly assert it.
Because in doing so they tap into the same stream of popular discontent that the Republicans and the supporters of Bush's extremism tap into and with it they can direct the country away from Bush's agenda and towards something better through giving the U.S. another set of policy options which satisfies people's greivances to compete with the Republicans'.
I don't expect people to understand this if they're already comitted to knee jerk reactions against people they don't like, but to ignore it is to condemn the country to whatever fate those who can speak the best have in store for it.
It should be noted that the Communist movement changed its stance towards fascism during the thirties, after the Nazis had taken power, and that the new stance was much more effective in combatting fascism than the old. What was the new stance? It resembled Lakoff in that the Communists tried to woo people away from fascism, in part by forming the largest alliance of progressive organizations they could and saying that this coalition, the popular front, represented a better way forward.
They won in France when the Popular Front government, a government of Communists and Socialists and other forces (I believe), was elected and countered the power of the Croix de Feu, a fascist organization which had been orchestrating anti-semitic demonstrations.
By embracing a big tent model among socialist and socialist allied groups instead of pushing for revolutionary purity the Communist party was able to put together a coalition which stopped the fascists from taking over France'.