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