A few months ago the cyber-organised Vienna demonstrations against Jörg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party spotlighted a new species of Fascism which may become important in 21st century politics. The press reports of Haider's share of power in Austria (from which he has now resigned) were full of references to Hitler, cartoons of Haider saluting a swastika, and solemn discussions of what it might mean if this man (who, God forbid, once praised Hitler's employment policies) actually shares power in a Central European government.
Certain things have hovered in the background, not openly said. One was tempted to ask if we were being asked to expect a new Anschluss in reverse, and then perhaps a pro tem deal with Russia to carve up Eastern Europe, followed by an invasion and partition of Poland, followed in turn by a Third World War, with a new rape of Belgium, Holland, Norway and a re-occupation of France. And, as a grand climax, the mass round-up of Jews and their transfer to a reopened Auschwitz for a new model Holocaust. All very dramatic.
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With such a prospect apparently simmering beneath the surface, it was no wonder that the anti-Haider demonstrations 'of thousands' in Vienna were given sympathetic coverage. This sympathy did not diminish when it transpired that the demonstrations were organized and managed, not in Austria but in Germany, and coordinated on the Net. Here, of course, we had a splendid example of protest against the new Fascism, a timely warning that racism, anti-immigrant rhetoric and the like would not be tolerated in the bright new Europe.
It made no difference that anti-immigrant sentiment is openly expressed all over France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom -- countries in which an influx of immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers have undoubtedly roused problematic resentment. Austria is different. They speak GERMAN in Austria, and, horribile dictu, Hitler was born there and his troops were welcomed on the occasion of that first Anschluss half a century ago. Ba-a-a-a-ad news.
But -- on second thought -- was the indignation and the fuss in the streets diverting attention away from something maybe a little more worth our critical inspection, maybe a little more real as a threat than the FPO sitting in a few Austrian ministries?
These demonstrations in Vienna were not the first time that this species of violence had appeared in the streets of Western Democracies. Previously there had been vicious and destructive riots in the City of London and Seattle, 'demonstrating' against -- what? Capitalism, soi-disant. Making trouble for the fat cats, and so THAT was okay, that was even admirable. I mean, spokespeople for minorities, for the 'disadvantaged,' the 'dispossessed,' the 'poor,' the 'downtrodden' who have been 'deprived' by Capitalism -- such righteously indignant souls deserve to be heard, right? Sure, they break up a little property, perhaps they take up some police time, maybe they bruise and bloody a few cops along the way, but, hey, it's all in a good cause, right? And if a few innocent people get hurt, well, there's that old tune about eggs and omelettes, right? It's just as true as it ever was, and spontaneous demonstration, well, that's a good old democratic right, yes, sireee.
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I mean, who wanted to point out that these were and are not spontaneous uprisings of the poor and the deprived? Who wanted to condemn these mobs, made up of thugs and wannabes who meant to cause damage, to destroy what they could, and who knew quite well that this destruction would alter nothing, and most of all, would offer nothing in place of what these middle-class thugs were destroying.
The sterile nature of these violent romps was not, however, the most sinister aspect of it all. The fact is that they were not spontaneous. They were organized, managed, and tactically controlled on the World-Wide net. This happened in Seattle, it happened in London, and again in Vienna, and once more in London this week, when so-called 'gardening guerillas' attempted to grub up pavements and 'plant seeds' while others rampaged in the usual way as a 'May Day Protest' against capitalism and all their other identikit targets. What they were really 'planting' was described on their internet site, which instructed demonstrators to wear balaclavas to avoid identification, and then commit violence, especially to destroy property. And no commentator that I have seen has noted a peculiar ideological trait common to all these riots, nor remarked on the one facet of their organizers: the use of conscious, deliberate and destructive violence which they share with the founding fathers of -- wait for it -- yup, Fascism. Not Fascism as a vague term of political abuse and/or dislike. I am talking about actual, 100% real, genuine Fascism as it took root in the political world of the late 20s and early 30s in European streets; destructive violence was a fundamental tenet of that political strain, as a precursor to the totalitarian fun and games, and other political horrors of that era.
A long feature by Justin Rigby in Britain's Sunday Times dissected some of the background to this new form of fascism, but without labeling it for what it is. It noted that the acolytes of the London 'May Day' jamboree included 'university lecturers, people from the BBC, wealthy psychology students, Oxbridge [i.e. Oxford and Cambridge] graduates, academics and social workers, as well as a frightening [sic] hard core of activists from ... Class War, Black Dog, and the Anarchist Federation.' Rigby adds that the latter is international and well financed. In some detail the spectrum of 'demonstrators' is set out; a high proportion of them from a wealthy and radical chic background. It is clear that the May Day 'protest' in London was carefully put together and aimed quite deliberately at the maximum use of disruption and destructive violence. Information packs were distributed with careful instructions on how to confuse the police and how to appear to 'legal observer' cameramen as victims of 'police brutality'; The malice aforethought of the whole enterprise was clear and unambiguous.
But the reaction has been curiously muted. No one today is in a lather about organized violence as a precursor of real Fascist politics. Is all this down to a failure of memory, a curious addiction to some sort of virtual (as opposed to actual) reality in which (Austrian) threats to democracy loom out of a few phrases, while these violent mobs are no more than a form of part-time fun and games for the radical chic? Or is the complaisance simply a matter of incredible common-or-garden stupidity? Hard to say. But one thing is certain: what most helped Fascism rise in the 1930s was a willingness of most of the press and far too many public commentators and politicians to look the other way or shrug off the violence, while some actually excused it as an attempt to 'deal with the problems of the age' -- exactly as an ex-official of the World Bank, speaking on British television, blandly excused these riots, saying the anarchists 'have a point' and that the 'Third World' nations should have 'greater representation' in the councils of the World Bank and the IMF (perhaps to broaden the scope of the Third World's appalling record of corruption and waste of aid and other resources?).
I doubt that behind these 'demonstrations' there is any clear and present conspiracy to focus and take over power in the style of Fascism. Not, at least, for the time being. What we have is a tool which can and is being used for the organization and efficient manipulation of viciously destructive mobs, with a large ingredient of well-off activists and blockheaded but dangerous ideologists who have yet to coalesce into a cogent organization or movement. They are so far gathered loosely around the single organizing factor of the Net. But, alas, such tools have a way of falling into more talented political hands. If the threat is vague and unformed today, there is no guarantee that it is going to stay that way, and a distinct possibility that it will not, if in no other way than a deliberate campaign to weaken and sabotage the economic foundations of Western democracies.
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Of course the sceptical will say, poo poo, this is nothing but a lot of kids and superannuated hippies having a good time, don't worry, we can afford the damage, and anyway, it will pass. Will it? I know of no precedent for the passing of any tool which can be used to accumulate real power. Activists, especially those who think they have a good 'cause,' can get a taste for that sort of power. Among the rest of us, those who ignore that fact are like those who ignored it in the 20s and 30s. And they will deserve everything that happens to them.