Defend Truth


Fascism is spreading fast and wide, and must be taken seriously – globally and in South Africa


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

Julius Malema’s rise is part of a general drift to the far right in the world. He is only the latest in the evolution of fascism since the end of World War 2, and which has found expression in democracies like the US and India.

There’s a silly colloquialism (are colloquialisms not all silly?) which goes something like: you snooze, you lose… I have been toiling away at a project which, given my own deadline, looks like it will run away from me. That’s the problem with lengthy research and writing.

Anyway, several commentators and observers have over the past few weeks likened Donald Trump to a fascist. Even the conservative former Republican legislator, now MSNBC presenter, Joe Scarborough has likened Trump to Hitler. Much earlier, Trump and his MAGAlomaniacs were described as sloppy fascists, which I have written about previously in this space. The MAGAlomaniacs have made other fairly conservative and establishment figures sit up and pay attention… I agree, in general, that Trump is a fascist, but it needs qualification. More below…

I have been looking at the parallels and homologies, the echoes and continuities between fascists, fascism and Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The parallels and homologies are startling. South Africa faces an especially dark and repressive future when Malema and his fighters get into office. I believe it will happen. Let me take a few steps back.

Throwing the label “fascist” or “fascism” around whenever there is disagreement is dangerous. When real fascists show up, the term will have lost its strength and meaning, and the real fascists will get a pass. So we need to proceed with caution.

Nevertheless one of the first things that needs to be done is define what we mean by “fascist” or “fascism”. A good departure point, as I have done, is to separate, as an initial step, the organic fascists of the interwar period, notably Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.

There are some powerful homologies between the ground motives of Malema, Hitler and Mussolini. There are also homologies among them in terms of conduct, oration, whipping up or manipulating emotions, repetitive talk of “killing” and “blood”, providing a licence to hate, scapegoating and an ethno-nationalism of a particular kind.

Briefly on providing a licence to kill. Remember that Malema said that his revolutionaries should be prepared to kill. This sounds a lot like fascist rhetoric in Anders Breivik’s Manifesto 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, which showed how his “fascist rhetoric” was part of the way that far-rightist voices incubated the rationale for violence and terror, and instilled fear into communities and society.

Brievik killed 77 people in Oslo and on Utøya Island in 2012. He remained unrepentant throughout his trial, and during sentencing, in August 2012, he raised a fascist salute to the Norwegian court.

Bear in mind that very many of the world’s worst despots and dictators did not campaign with messages that they will kill thousands, sometimes millions of people.

The ethno-nationalism of a particular kind that is spread by Malema and the EFF revolves around the expressed ideals of “pure” Africans and presumably “impure non-Africans” (coloured, Asian and white people). This ethno-nationalism is at the centre of the ANC’s African nationalism, and is explicit in the EFF’s nativist populism.

With regards to the fascism: a useful way of approaching the issue is to consider the way that, say, liberalism has changed over centuries. And so, starting with organic fascism, if only for the remarkable direct parallels and homologies between Malema, Mussolini and Hitler, it is necessary to consider the way fascism has evolved over the past 100 years.

Fascist tendencies of various strengths have been apparent in Spain (Generalissimo Franco), Portugal (António de Oliveira Salazar), Argentina (Juan Peron) and more recently with Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil), Narendra Modi (India – see here and here), Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Giorgia Meloni in Italy and Marine le Pen in France.

The latter would all deny that they are fascists, the way that EFF MP Veronica Mente cried: “We are not fascists.”

We should take them at their word, but bear in mind that very many of the world’s worst despots and dictators did not campaign with messages that they will kill thousands, sometimes millions of people.

Killing is always an option

Here we are, then… In the land of the free and home of the brave, there is talk of rising fascism and authoritarianism, and an appetite for civil war. Trump has said that if he is returned to the presidency next year he would prosecute MSNBC. He has also made veiled threats of deadly violence against outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley, who he said deserved to be executed. Killing is always an option for fascists.  

There have been no boundary limits to Malema’s calls for violence and killing. In 2021, when he disagreed with Mali’s Ali Kone during an African Parliament sitting, Malema told his fellow legislator: “I’ll kill you outside. Outside this room, I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you.” Again, Malema channelled Mussolini about disagreeing with someone. “We do not argue with those who disagree with us,” Mussolini said, “we destroy them.” 

The parallels and homologies, the echoes and continuities are cause for concern. Malema’s rise is part of a general drift to the far right in the world. He is only the latest in the evolution of fascism since the end of World War 2, and which has found expression in democracies like the US and India.

Trump’s followers are ready for civil war and in India, Arundhati Roy explained that “if the BJP [Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party] loses the elections in Uttar Pradesh [an Indian state], it will go back to the business of trying to engineer violence along communal lines.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Populism and fascism: Lessons from the 1920s Ku Klux Klan

Malema has already said his party would seize power by any means possible, lacing his rhetoric with deadly words like “kill”, “blood” and, with the warning “we are not calling for the slaughter of white people, at least for now”, taking a leaf out of Mussolini’s playbook, when the Italian said: “With 300,000 armed men, determined to carry out my orders, I could have punished those who have vilified and tarnished Fascism. I could make this deaf and grey hall filled exclusively with Fascists. I could. But I have not… at least not for now.” (Emphasis added)

This fascist groove thing is moving so fast, I really should find a blesser who will put food on the table while I focus all my energies… DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Martin Smith says:

    Mmmmm… authoritarianism on the rise everywhere. Governments threatening tech companies via new censorship laws while official media like newspapers and TV whip up hysteria to cancel people and heterodox opinion. In ‘the west’ it’s the liberals not the ‘fascists’ doing this. I look from liberal to ‘fascist’ and ‘fascist’ to liberal and I cannot tell the difference.

    • Hermann Funk says:

      “Governments threatening……” you still haven’t understood the danger you are in by techies having ALL your details.

    • District Six says:

      If anyone thinks “fascism” is only about media freedom/control, then read Nick Licata in counterpunch dot org on September 27, 2023, “Is the Media Really Liberal?”

  • Martin Smith says:

    How’s it looking in Canada?

    • Louise Louise says:

      After celebrating a Nazi in the Canadian Parliament, I think Trudeau might be in a leeeetle bit of bother?! But then it speaks to who he admires, hey?! Trudeau is a brutal dictator – it became the fashion with ‘covid’, didn’t it? It really brought out the latent bullies and dictators.

  • Peter Lilienfeld says:

    I urge anyone interested in the phenomenon of modern fascism to read the article by Richard Moser in the Sept 22 edition of Counterpunch magazine, entitled “What is 21st century Fascism”.

    • Ismail Lagardien says:

      Good recommendation, Peter.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        I think it would have been useful to mention how some ‘academics’ and ‘intellectuals’ … have via court procedures, assisted Juju with his misguided but calculated utterances … believing they are being ‘true’ to their profession/calling … with historical ‘contexts’ etc.

  • Aragorn Eloff says:

    Insightful piece, but why have you left out the two most obvious fascists, Xi and Putin? By any definition (e.g., Griffin’s) they easily meet the criteria.

    • Andrew 'Mugsy' Spiegel says:

      Why no mention of Kim Jong Un and Javier Milei — and many others too?
      That said, is the label fascist not too socio-historically specific? How about totalitarian, authoritarian etc.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        Maybe you failed to notice … the author only referred to the evolution of ‘fascists’ in so-called ‘democracies’ … not the obvious ones … methinks ?

  • Cal Farmer says:

    After three years of criminal COVID authoritarianism you’d think there’s at least be a nod the far left governments of NZ, Canada and the State Labor leases of Australia. Curfews, vaccine passports and mandates, house arrest, “pandemic legislation” (legalising detention without trial for an indefinite period for crimes including “disagreeing with the government”) , shutting down businesses, internal border closures including prohibited transit for sick or dying children or visiting sick of relatives, state-sanctioned bullying, coercion intimidation, police violence, frozen bank accounts, etc., etc. But yeah, #orangemanbad

  • Denise Smit says:

    May heaven help us! Hope you are wrong. Denise Smit

  • Louise Louise says:

    Please forgive me if I missed it, but did you define what a Fascist is? “Fascism” is a dictatorial, militarised, totalitarian regime that goes way beyond patriotism and support for the individual.

    It seems that you have done precisely what you said was dangerous : you labelled people as Fascists because you disagree with their policies. Calling PM Orban a “Fascist” is ludicrous. PM Orban is an excellent PM because he is loyal to family, nation and God. Pls explain why Giorgia Meloni is a “Fascist”? She also supports family, nation and God. Both these leaders are neither dictators nor pushing for militarised, totalitarian regimes.

    Re: Trump, he did not call for death – in his view the General is a traitor that in days gone by, he would have been hung. That is NOT Fascism. If you think calling for the death penalty is Fascism, then there are 27 states in the US who are Fascist.

    Excluding Malema, whom I would agree is a dictator-in-waiting, I don’t think you’ve made a case for anyone on your modern list.

    Being loyal to one’s family, nation and God is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Fascist. Charity begins at home, which means ensuring your own family is nurtured and cared for. That is NOT Fascism.

    The family unit is vital for a strong society and this is precisely why the globalists are attacking the family, and causing writers to have apoplexy when someone suggests stopping illegal immigrants and economic migrants from coming into their country!

    • Hermann Funk says:

      I don’t believe what I am reading. Are you living in a cocoon? Orban & Trump not being fascists? Is it because Trump has the bible in his hand while his followers storm the Capitol?

      • Louise Louise says:

        What makes Orban and Trump “Fascists”?

        • Andrew 'Mugsy' Spiegel says:

          Why fixate on the label rather than on the individuals’ destructive policies and their implementation of those policies to so many human beings’ detriment?
          Why should “loyalty to nation family and God” be venerated rather than commitment to rationality and to fundamental humanitarian principles?

          • Louise Louise says:

            I agree with you about fixating on labels – my response was in response to Hermann’s assertion that both Orban and Trump are fascists.

            I was not elevating loyalty to nation, family and God above rationality and fundamental humanitarian principles, only that these were good things to support as a PM.

            Having said that, I do personally believe that traditional families are the bedrock of a solid and rational society. Without strong families our society becomes broken and stressed. Children need to be nurtured and therefore the mother needs to be at home, taking care of them until they are sufficiently independent.

            With regards to loyalty to the nation, this encompasses exactly what you stated – rationality and fundamental humanitarian principles. The nation should take care of its citizens and adhere to the principles of individual sovereignty and freedom of thought/expression/association etc. There are too many governments now which oppress their citizens and which want to control, track and trace everything they do. With freedom comes responsibility and “freedom” doesn’t meant “do what the heck you like”!! There have to be moral standards and behavioural standards, with adherence to common law – do not cause loss, harm or injury to anyone. Sadly these days too many people believe that “harm” is someone giving an opposing view………

    • Niek Joubert says:

      The author is correct that fascism is losing its impact due to stereotyping, similarly to the term “far right”. Journalists and commentators use these terms to suit their personal political views. Afriforum, for instance has been labelled “far right” more often than not, although the outcomes of court cases instituted by Afriforum have proven otherwise.

  • Karel Vlok says:

    Is it possible that the Honourable Mr Malemi, MP, can take us down a similar path as Idi Amin Dada Oumee (Uganda)?

    Covid claims are not supported by anuual morbidity rates. The needle did not move, except, at a push, Germany, if the average age, Covid-related claimed morbidity >85 years, is not factored in.

    • Louise Louise says:

      If you want to dig deeper into the All Cause Mortality rates, and especially in South Africa, look up Denis Rancourt on Jerm Warfare. He did a very recent study and discussed this with Jerm within the past week. You can download Rancourt’s study. It is EXTREMELY interesting!

      And yes, if anyone is looking for examples of dictatorships and totalitarianism, look no further than the WEF, UN, WHO and the sycophantic governments which have caused millions of deaths due to bad medical practices, lockdowns and suffocation (aka mask-wearing).

  • M D Fraser says:

    George Orwell saw this all coming long ago – “1984” was written soon after the end of WW II.
    Anyone who has not read it, really should do so. We are living it.

    • Louise Louise says:

      Yes, I read that many, many years ago and then re-read it a few years ago. We are for sure in the midst of most of that type of tyranny. And then when we say this, we get called “conspiracy theorists”!!!

  • Vas K says:

    The words lose or change their meaning with time. Mr Lagardien’s otherwise interesting article is just another proof. The mainstream media and governments pushing their own agendas nowadays refer to anyone somewhat right of the centre as “fascist” and anyone with his/her own opinion and values as “extremist” or worse. I think we could do well to refresh our knowledge of history and remind ourselves what unspeakable acts the REAL fascists and extremists both on right and left commited. The casual use of these terms diminishes the gravity of those acts.

  • Piotr Vaens says:

    This is one of the most unintelligent pieces I’ve ever came across on the subject of “Fascism”. The author conflated populism in its various expressions prevalent everywhere on the political spectrum as “Fascism”.
    Where there’s genuine grievance in societies, with an apathetic ruling class, populist politics would arise, whether it Bernie Saunders, Barack Obama, Trump, Boris Johnson or Jacob Zuma. Some of them would employ strongman tactics if their manipulation of the masses starts to wane, other would much more device more dubious string pulling depending what their political system would allow.
    Fascism on the other hand seeks a particular nationhood where every effort and everything should be directed to the greater good of the fatherland/motherland. The state would capture industry by championing a crony capitalism economy, creating monopolies, enriching the loyal, crushing descent through violence, public shaming or sham trails or misuse of state apparatus against the supposed enemies of the people.
    Media houses would sign on as gatekeepers & propagandists, the arts and every institution’s value would rest of its contribution to the good of the nation state. It would also help if such a society are homogeneous in ethnicity or at least as dominant culture. Fascism was philosophised by ex-Marxist who were disillusioned by the failure of the Bolshevic revolution to get traction in Europe because couldn’t satisfy societal yearnings for and loyalty to nationhood.

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