Contemporary neofascism

Image: Ferran Perez
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By FERNANDO NOGUEIRA DA COSTA*

Neofascism is more veiled in its expressions of racism and authoritarianism, using social media to spread its messages and connect followers globally

1.

Italian fascism and German Nazism emerged and consolidated themselves in democratic republics, taking advantage of contexts of serious economic, social and political crises. These crises created an environment ripe for authoritarian movements to gain electoral support and seize power. Then they destroyed democracy.

It is worth remembering, briefly, the specific factors for the electoral success and subsequent consolidation of power by fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. Neofascism threatens in several contemporary states, where the extreme right has organized itself through social, religious and police-military networks, including in Brazil: we must learn from the regrettable history.

Italy, despite being on the victorious side in the First World War, suffered great human and material losses. The country felt betrayed by the Treaty of Versailles, because it did not fully meet its territorial aspirations.

The Italian economy was in ruins, with high inflation, mass unemployment and social unrest, including strikes and occupations of factories by workers. The Italian political system was fragile, with a series of coalition governments rising and collapsing quickly. The inability of democratic governments to deal with economic and social problems has increased popular discontent.

Benito Mussolini and his National Fascist Party used intimidation tactics and paramilitary violence (through the “black shirts”) to create a climate of fear and disorder. In October 1922, Benito Mussolini organized the March on Rome, a show of force to pressure King Victor Emmanuel III into appointing him prime minister.

Once in power, Benito Mussolini quickly took steps to consolidate his control. He obtained emergency powers, suppressing opposition and transforming Italy into a one-party state. Fascist propaganda and violent repression of political opponents ensured Mussolini remained in power until the Second World War.

Germany, defeated in World War I, was severely punished by the Treaty of Versailles, resulting in territorial losses, demilitarization and heavy war reparations. This generated deep resentment among the German population.

National humiliation and the perception of betrayal (“the legend of the stab in the back”) were exploited by nationalist groups in an economic environment ripe for uprising. Hyperinflation in the early 1920s and the Great Depression from 1929 devastated the German economy, causing mass unemployment, poverty and widespread despair.

The Weimar Republic's inability to effectively deal with the economic crisis and political instability led to a loss of confidence in democratic institutions. A mass rebellion was feared, given the popular revolt.

The National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), led by Adolf Hitler, capitalized on popular discontent with promises of restoration of German greatness, abrogation of the Treaty of Versailles, and economic recovery.

In an election held in 1932, the NSDAP became the largest party in the Reichstag, but did not obtain an absolute majority. In January 1933, after a series of political maneuvers and pressure from conservative elites, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg.

After the fire of Reichstag, in February 1933, Hitler used the event as a pretext to suspend civil liberties and arrest political opponents. The Full Powers Act, passed in March 1933, allowed Hitler to rule by decree, effectively establishing a dictatorship.

The violent repression of opponents, the creation of a police state and intense propaganda consolidated Nazi control over Germany.

Both Italian fascism and German Nazism emerged in contexts of extreme crisis, where democratic institutions were seen as incapable of solving society's problems. In both cases, charismatic leaders used tactics of intimidation, violence, and propaganda to gain popular support.

However, once in power, they quickly dismantled democratic structures to establish authoritarian regimes. The combination of economic desperation, political instability, and national resentment created the conditions for the rise of these authoritarian movements.

2.

Nazi-fascism and contemporary neo-fascism share some ideological and tactical similarities, but they also present significant differences, due to changes in historical, social and political contexts. Below I present a schematic analysis of the similarities and differences between these movements.

(i) Extreme nationalism: both movements emphasize strong nationalism, often accompanied by a feeling of national superiority and xenophobia. (ii) Authoritarianism: both Nazi-fascism and neo-fascism advocate an authoritarian government, rejecting liberalism, representative democracy and civil liberties. (iii) Cult of personality: both movements promote charismatic leaders seen as “saviors of the country”, needing almost absolute power to achieve their visions.

(iv) Use of violence and intimidation: violence and intimidation against political opponents, minorities and other marginalized communities are common in both movements with the use of paramilitary groups and militias for these purposes. (v) Propaganda and media control: in the use of propaganda to manipulate public opinion and control the political narrative, the media is attacked and discredited.

But there are differences between Nazi-fascism and Contemporary Neo-Fascism: (a) Historical context: Nazi-fascism emerged in Europe in the period between the two world wars, in a context of economic crisis, political instability and post-World War I resentment; Neofascism emerged after World War II and, especially in recent years, in response to economic crises, globalization, mass immigration, and rapid social change.

(b) Ideological focus: Nazism, in particular, was centered on biological racism and extreme anti-Semitism, promoting the idea of ​​a “superior Aryan race”, but Italian fascism was also nationalist and imperialist, although with less racial emphasis in the face of Nazism; contemporary neofascism, still xenophobic, expresses its Islamophobia and racism, in opposition to immigration and cultural nationalism, in addition to using the rhetoric of “defense of Western civilization” against multiculturalism.

(c) Strategies and tactics: Nazi fascism took power through coups d'état or manipulation of democratic systems and quickly established totalitarian regimes with total control over the State; neofascism uses more infiltration tactics within existing democratic systems, attempting to influence policies through political party(s), social movements and media outlets, being more adaptable to democratic laws by operating within the boundaries of legality to avoid repression until he rises to power – then he changes his behavior.

(d) Technology and communication: Nazi fascism used the mass media available at the time, such as radio, cinema and the press; neofascism exploits the internet and social networks to disseminate its ideology, recruit members and organize actions, becoming much more effective in terms of reach and rapid mobilization.

Therefore, Nazi-fascism, including both the Italian fascism of Benito Mussolini and the German Nazism of Adolf Hitler, and contemporary neo-fascism share some ideological and stylistic similarities. But they also present significant differences due to historical, social and political changes.

3.

Neofascism maintains a strong nationalism with a focus on national identity and opposition to immigration and globalization. His xenophobia and racism appears in a more veiled way.

It promotes authoritarian ideas such as the centralization of power, restriction of civil liberties, and an emphasis on law and order. In an anachronistic way, it expresses its far-right ideology by opposing the left as if it were still a supporter of communism (or real socialism), using the rhetoric of the outdated Cold War to mobilize support.

Neofascism continues to adopt populist strategies, presenting itself as “the voice of the common people” against corrupt elites. It defends armaments and demagogic policies, for the supposed benefit of its support base, which are unsustainable in the long term.

The biggest differences between Nazi-fascism and neo-fascism concern the different historical and social contexts. Neofascism emerges in a context of globalization, contemporary economic crises, mass immigration, and the rise of social media. The perceived threats and central issues are different from those of the interwar period.

Although it includes elements of racism and xenophobia, it tries to avoid the explicitly racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric of Nazism because it is considered a crime in countries aware of its evil. Instead, it focuses on anti-immigration and Islamophobic rhetoric, disguised as cultural and security concerns.

As communication strategies, Nazi fascism used centralized state propaganda, radio, newspapers and public events to mobilize support. Neofascism extensively uses social media and the internet to spread its ideas, mobilize followers and organize events. The decentralization and viral nature of social media allows for faster and wider dissemination of neo-fascist ideas.

It is organized in a less hierarchical and more decentralized way, compared to paramilitary militias such as the SA and SS in Nazi Germany. It springs from informal groups, online movements and political parties that deny being fascist, although they adopt far-right ideology.

Although he presents himself as a nationalist, he connects internationally with this extreme right through online networks. It shares its tactics and rhetoric, but without the same explicit imperialist ambitions as Nazi fascism.

Although contemporary neo-fascism shares several ideological and tactical characteristics with historical Nazi-fascism, it operates in a significantly different context. Therefore, it adapted its communication, organizational and rhetorical strategies to adjust to the political and social realities of the 21st century.

Neofascism tends to be more veiled in its expressions of racism and authoritarianism, using social media to spread its messages and connect followers globally. The evolution of media and changing socioeconomic conditions have shaped the way these ideologies are promoted and perceived today.

*Fernando Nogueira da Costa He is a full professor at the Institute of Economics at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Brazil of banks (EDUSP). [https://amzn.to/3r9xVNh]


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