While it seems that Austria has pulled back from the brink of electing a fascist as president. But hat nearly half the population were willing to do so is deeply disturbing. Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.
And for those who argue that the Austrian Freedom party are now mainstream, no fascists here, well what are they doing going around with blue Cornflowers on their lapels? For those not in the know, this was the symbol used by Austrian nazi party when they were banned between 1934 and 1938 (after trying to overthrow the government and murdering the Prime Minster). Hofer could not send out a stronger signal as to his views, short of dressing up in an SS uniform….only that would get him arrested!
It would be a convenient time for many to go and watch Lawrence Ree’s excellent BBC series “the Nazi’s a warning from history” and its follow up “Auschwitz: The Nazis and ‘The Final Solution”. For there are many trends from the rise of the nazi’s that we see playing out again, both sides of the Atlantic.
Firstly the fact that Hitler was helped into power by those on the right (this is in fact the title of Ree’s first episode). Trump, and many European far right leaders, faced significant opposition from those on the centre right establishment initially, only for them to both become allies in the end. Well the same was true of Hitler. While in the history books we remember him for his fiery speeches. But when necessary he could tone things down, put on a suit and play the moderate deal maker. This was how he was able to worm his way into power.
Secondly, there is this myth of history that the nazi’s ceased power in an undemocratic way. Certainly once in power they began to abuse it and ignored or removed the checks and balances designed to limit or stop them destroying democracy. But the sad fact is that he was elected with 33% of the votes on a 80% turn out (this was the election just before the Reichstag fire). This means he had a mandate from 26% of the population, as compared to the recent Tory election “victory” of 2015 where they got 37% of the votes, with a turn out of 66% (i.e. a mandate from just 25% of the electorate). In subsequent elections the nazi’s achieved just short of a majority (although obviously one must doubt how honest such elections were). Even so the disturbing fact is is that Hitler won a larger mandate from the German electorate than David Cameron.
So while yes Hitler did abuse power, this would never have happened if it weren’t for millions of Germans buying into his racist rhetoric and voting for him. Of course the parties of the left in Germany at the time warned that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But no we were assured, he’s only “talking tough” and “telling it like it is”. He has to say these things to appeal to the common voter. When he says he wants to ban all
Muslims Jews he doesn’t actually mean that. The real enemy is bearded lefties like Corbyn who….might tax us a little bit more to help pay for the NHS (shock horror!)…and may have said something bad about Israel’s policy in the West bank.
And as Ree’s series describes, support for the nazi’s remained strong throughout Germany (Chaos and Consent), with many millions actively collaborating with the nazi’s (ratting out neighbours, turning in Jews, etc.), right up until the middle of the war (when it was obvious what madness they’d signed up too, but it was a little late then!). And crucially, as Ree’s 2nd series points out, it would be incorrect for us to lump the entire blame for nazi crimes on the Germans alone – many other nationalist groups in neighbouring countries supported them.
The Austrians, as noted, had their own nazi parties (yes they had more than one!). And they didn’t exactly put up much of a fight when the nazi’s took the country over (they were just as fascist already, it was more a dispute over whether they wanted to be Austrian nazi’s or German ones). Indeed, many became enthusiastic supporters of the reich (Hitler after all was Austrian, not German). I recall someone once pointing out to me that of all the countries that needed laws banning fascism it was Austria. This week’s result suggests those laws need strengthening.
In Hungary during the war the Arrow Cross, of which Jobbik is the natural successor, seized control and then allied with the nazi’s and fought alongside them. Many of the Jews and Gypsies who died in Auschwitz came from Hungary, rounded up and deported there by Hungarian fascists. The Poles too, even thought they had been invaded by Germany and many did resist the invaders, but some Poles did collaborate with the nazi round up of Jews and other minorities. Some played an active role in the Holocaust itself, as also happened in a number of the Baltic states.
Perhaps the worst offenders however were the Slovak’s. Not only did they hand over all of the Jews, but they actually ended up PAYING the nazi’s to take them away (yes really!). And of course there were plenty of people in countries like France (friends of Le Pen one assumes) or Norway who also collaborated with the nazi’s. Many tens of thousands from these countries actually joined the SS and fought on the Eastern front.
Oh, and speaking of collaborators there’s another twist to these neo-fascist movements. Many are allied with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, either being formal allies, admirers of Putin (such as Trump or Farage) or are openly taking money from Moscow. Yes, all these ultra-nationalist marching around, waving flags, proclaiming how they are proud to be French, British, Hungarian and how they reject outside influence, yet they are essentially stooges of the Kremlin!
So clearly what recent events show is that we have a major problem with an undercurrent of fascism throughout Europe and America that needs to be challenged. And I stress America, for as this documentary from the Beeb shows there is growing far right problem in the US too (which with the combination of guns in the US I fear is almost certainly going to lead to trouble).
My guess is that about 33-20% in some countries subscribe to these views. They are then able to con enough of the remainder (generally those from the centre right) into supporting them, often by stoking fears about immigration or other lies about the parties of the left. This is one of the reasons why the lies of the leave camp in the UK are so worrying. Its critical therefore that something must be done.
And what must be done is not repeating the mistakes of the past, when politicians and business leaders got into bed with the fascists, seeing them as a better alternative to those on the left. Well they are not. When a politician comes along advocating mass deportations, turning the country into a police state, defaulting on the nation’s debts, abolishing unions and the minimum wage we have to take him at his word. Even if he flip flops on it the following week. Because history tells us we cannot take the chance that he means what he says.