The following reflection somehow seems appropriate for the 4th of July when everyone is celebrating our Founding Fathers and our great democratic tradition.
The piece comes out of a family discussion that took place about three weeks ago. In the exchange, I ended up characterizing the detainment facilities for refugees and migrants attempting to cross our borders as “concentration camps.” I was told in no uncertain terms that my comparison was inflammatory since it evoked inappropriate connections with Hitler’s extermination camps – an implied comparison that, for my conversation partners, was way “over the top.” We have no extermination camps, they said.
From there the conversation spun to more detailed comparisons of the United States to Hitler’s Third Reich and to what I and so many others perceive as a return of fascism, which I connected with capitalism. Once again, my observations were dismissed as wildly exaggerated, too general and jumping all over the place, bringing up issues not germane to the topic at hand. My references were to Iraq, Yemen, police brutality, xenophobia,
All of that drove me to compose the following essay more for myself than for anyone else — to clarify my own thought. To repeat, it seems appropriate for publication here on this 4th of July.
How He Has Returned Triumphant in the Person of Donald Trump
Let me begin this piece on the contemporary return of fascism with an “easy essay” I wrote back in 1993. Today, the essay’s description of the triumph of “Hitlerism with Hitler” is proving far more prescient than I realized in the moment of its composition. Its form follows the spirit of Catholic Workers’ co-founder, Peter Maurin, who invented the poetic “easy essay” genre when he wrote for the Catholic Worker newspaper which he founded with Dorothy Day.
This particular imitation of Maurin’s style references Marge Schott, an infamous admirer of Adolph Hitler. Schott is the deceased owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. She was a racist and collector of Nazi memorabilia. Besides disdaining some of her players as “nigger millionaires,” she once famously said that Hitler was originally “a good guy,” until he “went too far.”
As you’ll see, the essay is about Ms. Schott’s hero and how he and the system he embodied actually did win World War II and has reincarnated today in thinly disguised form. That is, Hitlerism with its fascism, concentration camps, and genocide have in this era of Donald Trump more evidently returned to our world than seemed possible to most 25 years ago when I first published my own easy essay.
For starters though, here’s the Maurin-inspired piece as I originally wrote it:
Hitler, Bonhoeffer, Jesus and Us
(An “Easy Essay” with apologies to the memory of Peter Maurin and thanks
to Marge Schott)
Following Germany’s defeat
in “the First Inter-Capitalist War,”
the system was in trouble in das Vaterland.
It also foundered world-wide
after the Crash of ‘29.
So, Joseph Stalin
convoked a Congress of Victory
to celebrate the death of capitalism
and the End of History —
Both Hitler and F.D.R.
tried to revive the corpse.
They enacted similar measures:
government funds to stimulate private sector production,
astronomically increased defense spending,
nationalization of some enterprises,
while carefully keeping most in the hands of private individuals.
To prevent workers from embracing communism,
both enacted social programs otherwise distasteful to the Ruling Class,
but necessary to preserve their system:
legalized unions, minimum wage, shortened work days, safety regulation, social security . . .
Roosevelt called it a “New Deal;”
Hitler’s term was “National Socialism.”
Roosevelt used worker discontent
with their jobs and bosses
to get elected four times.
Meanwhile, Hitler successfully directed worker rage
away from the Krupps and Bayers
and towards the usual scapegoats:
Jews, communists, gays, blacks, foreigners and Gypsies.
He admired the American extermination of “Indians”
and used that model of starvation and internment
to guide his own program for eliminating undesirables
by hunger and concentrated slaughter.
Hitler strictly controlled national unions,
thus relieving the worries of the German elite.
In all of this,
he received the support of mainline churches.
Pius XII even praised der Führer as
“an indispensable bulwark against communism.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the German “Confessing Church”
resisted Hitler’s program
of social Darwinism, patriotism and persecution of the undeserving.
Confessing faithful were critical of “religion”
which combined anti-Semitism, white supremacy, patriotism and xenophobia
with selected elements of Christianity.
They insisted on allegiance
to Jesus alone
who stood in judgment over soil, fatherland, flag and blood.
They even urged Christian patriots
to pray for their country’s defeat in war.
Bonhoeffer participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler
and explored the promise of
Christianity without “religion.”
Hitler initially enjoyed great popularity
with the powerful
outside of Germany,
in Europe and America.
Then as baseball magnate and used car saleswoman, Marge Schott, put it,
“He went too far.”
His crime, however, was not gassing Jews,
but trying to subordinate his betters in the club
of white, European, capitalist patriarchs.
He thus evoked their ire
and the “Second Inter-Capitalist War.”
Following the carnage,
the industrialists in other countries
embraced Hitlerism without Hitler.
They made sure that communists, socialists and other “partisans”
who bravely resisted German occupation
did not come to political power,
but that those who had cooperated with Nazis did.
Today, the entrepreneurial classes
still support Nazis, whenever necessary.
The “Hitlers” they love have aliases
like D’Aubisson (El Salvador), Diem (Vietnam), Duvalier (Haiti), Franco (Spain),
Fujimori (Peru), Mobutu (Zaire), Montt (Guatemala), Noriega (Panama), Peron (Argentina), Pinochet (Chile), Pol Pot (Cambodia), Resa Palavi (Iran), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Somoza (Nicaragua), Strossner (Paraguay), Suharto (Indonesia). . . .
The list is endless.
The global elite deflect worker hostility
away from themselves
towards communists, blacks, gays, immigrants and Muslims,
towards poor women who stay at home
and middle class women who leave home to work.
Today, Christians embrace social Darwinism
while vehemently rejecting evolution.
Standing on a ground of being
underpinning the world’s most prominent culture
of religious fundamentalism,
they long for Hoover,
with the right.
In all of this
is forgotten the Jesus of the New Testament
who was born a homeless person
to an unwed,
was an immigrant in Egypt for a while,
came from the working poor,
was accused of being a drunkard,
a friend of sex workers,
possessed by demons
and condemned by the state
a victim of torture
and of capital punishment.
Does this make anyone wonder about Marge Schott,
the difference between Hitler’s system
and our own,
and also about “religion”
and how to be free of it,
about false Christs . . .
And who won that war anyway?
Having summarized my general argument in that easy essay, the first point to be clarified is the nature of fascism. As I argue in my new book, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking: seeing through alternative fact and fake news, fascism is really a species of capitalism. In my book, I call it “capitalism in crisis.”
What I mean is, fascism is the form capitalism often assumes when the free market’s endemic dysfunctions (periodic downturns, creation of obscene wealth disparities, inability to address environmental pollution, labor unrest, etc.) endanger its very survival. In its fascistic form, the system morphs into a police state.
With such enforcement, fascism’s essence may be summarized in three points. It is (1) Police State capitalism, (2) that favors the culture’s elite, and (3) blames the system’s disfunctions on scapegoats – in Hitler’s case on communists, socialists, Jews, Gypsies, blacks, and the disabled.
That’s the 1930s form capitalism took not only in Germany, but in Italy, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere during the Great Depression following the systems worst crisis ever precipitated by the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
However, since pure capitalism does not really exist in unregulated, free-market form, it is not exactly accurate to describe fascism as a kind of capitalism. That is, especially since the Crash of ’29, to insure its survival, capitalism has had to adopt elements of socialism such as: social security, minimum wages, severe limits on income, rent control, unions, guaranteed health care, public schooling, food subsidies, creation of national parks, etc. Economists call such provisions combined with free markets, “mixed economies.”
To cope with the problems of the Great Depression, such accommodations with socialism became so common that it is now true to say that neither capitalism nor socialism in their pure forms exist today – if indeed they ever did. Instead, mixed economies are all we have in the world. All economies are mixtures of capitalism and socialism.
This, however, does not mean that all economies are the same. The crucial question distinguishing, for example, Hitler’s mixed economy from that of Franklin Roosevelt is: “Mixed in favor of whom?” Hitler’s economy was mixed in favor of blond, blue-eyed Arians. Roosevelt’s with its social security and high taxes on the wealthy was modestly mixed in favor of working classes.
Or to put it in more contemporary terms, “Mixed in favor of whom?” is the crucial question differentiating Cuba’s mixed economy from that of the United States. The United States economy is unabashedly mixed in favor of the wealthy on the theory that the abundance enjoyed by the rich will trickle down to the general population. Cuba’s on the contrary is mixed in favor of the working classes based on the observation that the system’s “trickle” is never enough to provide a decent standard of living for entire populations.
Its Concentration Camps
The argument in my earlier quoted easy essay was that Hitler’s system, whatever we might call it, persisted following his presumed defeat in 1945. More specifically, in our own day, our country has been taken over by fascist criminals like Hitler. But, let’s be clear: this is not a new phenomenon begun with the presidency of Donald Trump. No, the take-over has been in process at least since the end of the Second Inter-Capitalist War in 1945.
In fact, the argument can be credibly made that our country was founded by such criminals. Using rationale supplied by John Locke, our Founding Fathers committed genocide against North America’s indigenous peoples, eventually confining them in concentration camps (called “reservations”). They employed the same logic to enslave workers kidnapped from Africa imprisoning them in labor camps (called “plantations”).
For Locke, who inspired Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the crucial and ironic pronouncement behind such operations was that “All men are created equal.” But note well that in his formulation, the statement had no liberating relevance for Native Americans, African slaves, women or propertyless whites. Instead, its expressed intention was to establish the right of imperialists like him and his cohorts to steal land and resources from the continent’s indigenous inhabitants.
Locke’s point (as explained in The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking) was that just because the “Indians” were here first, they had no special claim on the lands they called home. That is, since (in Locke’s estimation) huge tracts were not being farmed as they would be in England, they were there for the taking by the Indians’ equals from Great Britain.
Locke said that a refusal by the Indians to recognize such equality amounted to a declaration of war against the British. So, the natives could be exterminated with abandon – a task our country’s great Indian Fighters took on with enthusiasm and relish creating a holocaust that killed millions.
Adolph Hitler himself took inspiration from the examples just cited. He liked the concept of concentration and work camps. He was expressly impressed by the efficiency of U.S. extermination of our continent’s First Peoples. It inspired him and evidently the minds behind contemporary concentration camps.
With all this in mind, it is no exaggeration to say that the camps are reincarnating today before our very eyes. Our government has set them up world-wide. They are so ubiquitous and normalized that they remain practically invisible. But consider their contemporary equivalents in:
• The U.S. prison-industrial complex itself for blacks, browns and poor whites transforming “Americans” into the most imprisoned population on the planet
• Guantanamo Bay for holding “terrorists” who after years of internment and torture have yet to be charged with crime and which Fuhrer Trump promises to fill to the brim
• Black Sites concealed throughout the world where kidnapped Muslims and others disappear without a trace and are tortured without mercy
• Fort Bliss (sic), a concentration camp for immigrant children
• Baby Prisons for infants as young as four months
• Detention centers for refugees from U.S. wars of aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere
• Family prisons immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America as they await trials which can be postponed indefinitely
• The Gaza Strip, the world’s largest open-air prison for Muslim Palestinians, “the Jews’ Jews” – unconditionally endorsed by U.S. politicians of all stripes
In such hell-holes the criminals (often the guards) commit murders, rapes and inflict torture with impunity. Nonetheless, since Hitler, it is no longer permissible for such polite company to crudely incinerate victims in ovens or to poison them in gas chambers. (That would be too “inhumane” and reminiscent of the unspeakable.) So, today’s executioners murder and incinerate Muslims (today’s “Jews”), and others on site. (It saves the trouble and expense of packing them into box cars.)
In other words, the executioners travel to the victims’ countries of origin in the Middle East and Africa and do the dirty work there – often from 10,000 feet in the air, where the screams of incinerated Muslim children cannot be heard. They cremate their victims more humanely in the targets’ own homes with napalm and white phosphorous. Alternatively, “pilots” seated comfortably in their air-conditioned “theaters” send automated death squads (killer drones) to decapitate those suspected of evil thoughts. In the process, the system’s butchers have massacred millions far exceeding anything imagined by that little man with the toothbrush mustache:
• Already by 1978, John Stockwell, the highly decorated ex-CIA Station Chief in Angola, estimated that his agency’s “Secret Wars” had killed more than six million in its dirty wars against the world’s poor. In Stockwell’s own words, every one of those wars was illegal and “bloody and gory and beyond comprehension almost.”
• Add to that
o The hundreds of thousands slaughtered during the 1980s in El Salvador,
Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras
o More than a million victims in the completely illegal war in Iraq
o Untold fatalities in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia,
o The 10,000 already killed in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle
East – with the numbers increasing each day from cholera and
Again, the numbers are staggering – far beyond anything accomplished in Hitler’s death camps.
Meanwhile, at home, “Americans” are dissuaded from protest by a militarized skin-head police force of body-builders and thugs. “Dressed to kill” in their black or camouflaged flack suits, and anonymous under their helmets and behind polarized face-shields, they stand ready with batons, tasers, and AK47s – as well as employing surplus military tanks, and Humvees – to punish anyone who dares opposition.
Connect such apparently disparate issues – Hitler, concentration camps, extermination, the prison-industrial complex, U.S. wars of aggression, Stockwell’s calculation of 6 million victims, Guantanamo, torture, militarized police, Palestine, unpunished police killings of unarmed blacks, Black Lives Matter, black sites, Muslim bans, baby jails . . . – and one might well get accused of “changing the subject” or “jumping all over the place” or of being a negative alarmist.
But the truth is, the dots, though scattered, are there just waiting to be linked, just as they were in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. As then, the basic connection is the crisis of capitalism as described in my earlier-shared easy essay. With that crisis becoming more evident each day, fascism’s arrival has been clearly signaled, though its concentration camps and holocausts have been effectively renamed and camouflaged. As a result of such stealth and rebranding, the system’s reappearance has passed almost without notice.
However, patriots like John Stockwell have seen it coming since 1978. More recently, so has Michael Moore. It’s high time for the rest of us to take note!