Modern Fascism and Socailism

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the idea of any major Western society choosing to adopt large-scale socialist policies, or any policies that fall left of the particular county’s ideas of neoliberalist capitalism, has felt unlikely. Although it is certainly debatable whether the Soviet Union even constituted a socialist or communist society, it was seen largely in the West as the epitome of Marxism, socialism, and left-wing politics as a whole. And so the idea of seeing these political ideologies rise in the West, particularly in the United States, the largest cultural influencer in the West, has seemed unlikely. In saying this, following the Second World War, it would have seemed crazy to imagine a similar ideology to what they just fought against would arise in the United States and the rest of the West, but it is completely legitimate to accept the ‘alt-right’ as a form of neo-fascism. If a form of fascism can rise following the Second World War, the Cold War shouldn’t stand in the way of a rise of socialism, especially considering far-winged emerging ideologies are often met with a rise of a contrasting ideology.

The Cold War was very much seen as a battle between both political and cultural ideologies. While the Soviet Union and the United State always portrayed the USSR as a socialist society and a self-proclaimed dictatorship of the proletariat, it truly was more of an authoritarian government that operated in state capitalism, particularly following the rise of Joseph Stalin in the 1920s. The dichotomy between American and Soviet societies created a significant resentment, particularly in the United States, towards socialism and other left-winged political ideologies. This resentment largely remains with those who grew up with it, but with the active population becoming ever-more populated with people who did not live during the Cold War, sympathy for these ideologies has risen.

While there certainly was some sympathy for Nazi Germany and their practices before, and presumably some after the Second World War, it is safe to say that fascism and Nazism were not well regarded in the West following the War. Despite this, seven decades later, there arses likeminded ideologies, both in Europe and North America, that can be considered modern versions of these WWII ideologies. While these people would still have likely grown up with an overall resentment towards fascists and Nazis around them, they did not experience or feel any direct affects from the War and the harm in which these ideologies directly affected. While there certainly are differences between the ways socialism and fascism were seen following the Cold War and Second World War respectively, there are similarities in the ways they can reappear in the public mindset, with younger people that didn’t perceive any negative experience from these ideologies.

In the past, a rise in a far-winged ideology has often been met with a rise in a contrasting far-winged ideology to oppose it. During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, the Spanish Military, backed by a series of right-winged and far-right political parties, preformed a coup d’état on the Spanish government, which at the time was made up mostly of socialist and communists. The population was divided politically, with the backers of the military largely being fascists, and their opposers being backed largely by socialists, communists, and anarchists. Today’s West and 1930s Spain are most definitely very different places, but it is clear that these ideologies rose in opposition of the other. While fascism and socialism certainly aren’t polar opposite ideologies, and so a rise in a form of neo-fascism wouldn’t necessarily result in the rise of a neo-socialism, an overall rise in far-right ideologies could certainly result in an overall rise in farther-left ideologies, including socialism.

While in the many year during and since the Cold War many nations have instituted socialist or socialist-esque policies, its large-scale institution in the West has largely fallen out of favour. But, with the rise in youth who didn’t live during the Cold War and the rise of a somewhat contrasting ideology in the alt-right, socialism could rise to prominence in the West again.

Feminism is flourishing amid Trump presidency

In the context of populist regimes and movements, the role of women and their ability to engage with their surroundings has incredible historic repercussion in the growth and perpetuation of feminist ideals.

Women’s movements are nothing new. Women have been fighting for equal rights in many capacities since the suffrage movement. The interesting element is the ability for women to do that under populist regimes. This has benefits, and consequences. In the wake of the #MeToo movement addressing sexual assault and violence, the general public is starting to understand the power of mass female movements, and their influence in the larger political context.  

In the 1930s, the rise of Nazism gave way to a political climate of fear and violence. This was not only issues through the war, but also through the Holocaust.  Women under the Nazi party used the institutions in place to move their way through the ranks. At the time of Nazi power, women still did not have the right to vote, a symbol of their poor political and social status. Their ability to participate in the war greatly affected their ability to organize. This came in the form of working as secretaries, marrying high ranking officers, and serving as nurses or militia women.

Serving in the war came at a great cost to women in Germany. As explained in Wendy Lowler’s  Hitler’s Furies, women were expected to take on more responsibility in lieu of men going off to battle. By the end of the war, women made up 40% of the roles in high ranking Gestapo offices. Under the anti-Semitic regime of Nazi Germany, there were three main categories for women: witnesses, accomplices, and murderers. One of the testaments in Lowler’s novel, made by Erna Petri, stated that she justified the violent actions against the Jewish people as a desire to prove herself to the men, and to further advance her social status.

Parallels exist between female militancy in Nazi Germany and segregation movements in the United States. A women’s group in the United States known as Daughters of the American Revolution are a group of ladies responsible for the maintenance of American culture. Over the years there has been swirling controversy over their practices. Until recently, there was heavy segregation for black American women in the group, as well as the funding to preserve Confederate generals’ statues. In light of the neo-Nazi demonstrations in places like Charlottesville, these symbols and statues continue to promote pro-slavery rhetoric and fuel the overall segregated, populist sentiment.

The difference between movements of the past, and today, is the ability to resort to violence and exclusionary politics in the face of populism. While the women in the previous examples were able to use the political institutions for their own personal advancement, it was at a detriment to other individuals and social groups.

On the other hand, women during the Trump administration era today are supporting each other and using their stories to inspire. While the President is a known molester, women have come out in large crowds, of every race, creed, religion, and sexual orientation to march and protest for their basic rights. In 2017, just a few months after Trump was elected to office and cut programs like Planned Parenthood, over 500,000 women and supporters marched in Washington to advocate for legislation reform in support of women’s rights and social programs. The movement has grown to multiple cosmopolitan cities across the United States and worldwide, reaching numbers of marchers again in the hundreds of thousands.

This gives me hope because in the face of racist and hateful world leaders that are using populist rhetoric, women today are coming together and fighting for what is right and important, in a way that supports each other.

Featured Image from: CNN

Masculinity and Authoritarianism: First Response

In the first reading, by Claudia Bruns, she outlines some of the interesting discussions that were happening in Weimar Germany surrounding the ‘acceptability’ of male homosexuality in some, largely academic, circles. Homosexuality at the time was heavily tied to deviance from societal norms in a way that also played into conceptions of race and the nation. Because homosexuality involved sexual deviance, white gay men were viewed as undermining the genetic makeup of the nation since they would not procreate. At a time when eugenics were a common belief, this was a big deal. Some gay men, including Bluher, advocated for ‘acceptable’ homosexuality by separating themselves from effeminate gay men and women. If they were masculine, they were still exhibiting proper behaviour for their gender and should therefore be embraced, as the argument went. Do you think this sort of thinking about ‘acceptable’ queer people can be found today in queer spaces? Bruns provides examples in modern Germany media where gay men are viewed as undermining the state when they are in leadership roles and how male political leaders are still mocked using femininity. Can you think of examples of this thinking today? How do these viewpoints impact women in politics?

The second reading, by Rio Otomo, is a very interesting look at how the Japanese state and corporations tied militaristic and nationalist narratives to their athletes. “By encouraging citizens’ self-governance of their own bodies, state power can operate more efficiently and thoroughly without manifesting itself as an oppressive authority” is a key quote from this reading and efficiently explains the thesis of the reading. Narratives of self-control, overcoming your own body and nationalist pride in victory were heavily present in how Japanese athletes spoke and were spoken about. These narratives are theorized to have replaced earlier militaristic narratives about the state in Japan and used as tales of ‘folk heroes’ to deal with the vast amount of change happening in Japanese society at the time. Women athletes in particular are described as training through their period and working through the cramps, in a way that feels like they are ‘overcoming’ their limitations that are viewed to come from a female body.

Finally, there is Valentin Sandulesco article. This one fully outlines how fascist societies in Romania had an ideological vision of a ‘new man’, fully masculinized and able to reform their ‘corrupted’ society. These groups put mechanisms in place, such as training schools, that would create this ‘new man’ at the end. These had the effect of diverting revolutionary feelings among the youth after WW1 towards their vision of a new society. How does this mirror masculinist movements nowadays? In feminist theory, this could play into the idea of a constant “crisis of masculinity. Is this accurate?

Dear Mr. Trudeau, Trump will nix NAFTA…

Justin Trudeau believes that Trump will not nix NAFTA on the basis that it is “bad politics” and the United States economy will suffer. Both statements from Trudeau are true, but please do not put too much faith in Trump. The world has witnessed what Mr. President is like, do not bet your cards on him not nixing it.

Trudeau has claimed that the Canadian government is ready in-case NAFTA has been cancelled by the United States. In an interview, Trudeau stated “Not only do we have a Plan B, we have a Plan C and D and E and F”, he also continued by stating that but Plan A is to stick to pushing for NAFTA and to attempt in getting the best deal for Canadians, because getting a bad deal is worse than no deal.

I wonder if Trudeau is attempting to stay calm just so the Canadian public does not freak out about the possible collapse of the relationship with the countries biggest trading partner, or is he just that naïve and he has no solid back-up plan. Trudeau can not rely on the possibility that NAFTA collapsing will guarantee a deal will take place without Mexico.

A Year has passed since Trumps presidency began, it has taught us (the public) that all Mr. President motives are personal and revolves around his empire. The tax cuts that he made affected middle-class and lower-class income families in the United States, but gave him and all his business partners a couple of extra billion dollars that went straight to their pockets. The “tax cuts” that took place included some healthcare benefits for families in need, but instead he opted out for extra cash for the wealthiest 1% Americans (“real Americans”, mind you). If Trump decides to nix NAFTA, he will not care about the United States making a deal with Canada right away, he will most likely just sit and wait until Canada gives him what he seeks.

Trudeau’s naïvety does not let him see that anyone is crazy enough to cancel such a deal. He needs to realize that Trump does not share the same values as he does. Let’s go down memory lane, shall we? Mr. President does not care (or pay attention) about his allies views and opinions, i.e. the UK. The president (and his sons) has literally blamed London’s mayor for the terror attacks that have taken place in London a few months ago. He condemned Theresa May and her government on various occasions, to a point where MPs were so uncomfortable with him and his bigoted remarks that they demanded the invitation for the state visit to be withdrawn to avoid an increase in hate crimes.

Trudeau needs to realize that President Donald Trump does not have the same mentality that lead him to be the successful businessman that he was at one point. The man that understood basic economics and politics. Mental health specialists have reported to have suspicions on Trumps mental stability due to the various remarks he made about various nations and citizens, such as referring to South American and African countries as “shith*le” countries and wishing the US’ immigrants were from Norway and Europe. No political leader in the right state of mind would make such a statement, even if it was in a private meeting behind closed doors.

Trudeau needs to start official talks with Mexico for temporary deals without the US as a just-in-case NAFTA gets nixed, and make these deals on the same level of priority as keeping NAFTA in-check. Better trade deals need to take place with the EU, Oceania, and Asia, so the Canadian economy will not take as strong of a hit as it will in our current situation

 

Sources:

Huffington Post

CBC 1

CBC 2

CBC 3

CBC 4

Vox

The Atlantic

Global News

The Star

The Globe and Mail

Statistics Canada

 

 

Op-Ed: Even Trump’s Infrastructure Plan is Authoritarian

Trump has finally released his plan for infrastructure spending. He released it along with his budget proposal. In both documents, Trump suggests privatization of some public assets, which increases his similarity to other authoritarian figures.

While I am personally against privatization, I understand why some might believe it is beneficial in specific scenarios. However, I think Trump is using privatization in a more sinister way. He is attempting to use privatization to enhance his political power, and he is not the first leader to do so. After all, Hitler privatized when he got into power. Now usually comparing someone to Hitler is a cheap method to undermine them but in this scenario it has a purpose. Trump is nor merely attempting to privatize the International Space Station (ISS), or Dulles airport, or even air traffic control centres, he is acting more and more like an authoritarian leader.

Now do not misunderstand my point, wanting to privatize industry does not make one an authoritarian, a fascist, or a Nazi. It is the reasoning for the privatization that is important. The Nazi’s did not privatize enterprises for a single motive. According to Germà Bel, in his article Against the mainstream: Nazi privatization in 1930s Germany, the Nazi government privatized because they believed that it would give them more political power with industrialists and because they thought that it would aid Germany in its economic recovery. Bel states that “the Nazi government used privatization as a tool to improve its relationship with big industrialists and to increase support among this group for its policies.” Bel specifies that the economic context in the 1930s is very different from the one seen today and therefore it cannot provide us with understanding about the current privatizations. However, that is not what is important here. The critical issue is that the Nazis used privatization as a political tool. This tool allowed them to gain more support from the industrialists. And it would have been harder for the Nazis to govern without this support.

Thus, if we were confident that Trump’s reasoning was innocent, this topic would merely be about our economic difference. However, if we observe Trump’s record as president, there is a reason to be worried. Trump has attempted to befriend businesses since before he was inaugurated. It is true that most Presidents attempt to have good relations with business. Yet, most do not go to the extremes that Trump has. He keeps bragging that he has cut the most regulations of any administration at this point in their administration. He also passed a tax bill that gave huge tax cuts to businesses.

Furthermore, Trump has punished those companies that he believes have wronged him. For example, there are reports that the reason that the Trump administration is suing to block the merger between AT&T and Time Warner is because Time Warner owns CNN, a media company that Trump has derided as fake news many times. So, Trump is both aiding corporation and hurting those who he believes are against him. Thus, he has shown a history of using other political tools to win the support of corporations and we can assume that he is doing the same with privatization.

However, these actions in a vacuum would not be terribly worrisome. Trump is not the first president to privatize public assets. However, he is the first president with authoritarian tendencies to use privatization to gain political power from the most influential companies in the US.

Thus, in a time when Trump’s administration created scandal after scandal, it is important to remember that there is nothing new under the sun. Privatization was one of the tools that allowed Nazis to consolidate and grow their political power, and we must be vigilant that we do not let that happen again.

Donald Trump the Populist ?

In the face of seemingly endless blunders and national embarrassments it can be easy to lose sight of just how Donald Trump was able to win the White House. More importantly how the Democratic party and Hilary Clinton with their collective 1.4 billion dollars’ worth of fund raising were unable to address Trump’s populist rhetoric because of  their addiction to corporate funding and lost to a bombastic reality TV star.

Donald Trump’s State of the Union address put into focus the fear of American workers which handed Trump the same rust belt that had voted for the president Obama only 4 years earlier. Throughout the first year of his presidency Donald Trump abandoned his persona of the populist saviour of the common man in favour of the more comfortable role of the establishment Republican.

The man who had once railed against the influence Goldman Sachs, now fills his cabinet with their alumni.

The same man who had once preached against the wasteful neoconservative escapades in the Middle East has now escalated American military involvement in Syria and seven other nations to heights not even the Obama administration could reach.

With hypocrisy like this many could almost be fooled into thinking Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush had actually won the presidency if it weren’t for the consistent early morning twitter tirades. Despite this, the populist Trump was briefly resurrected for his State of Union address in order to remind both his supports and his detractors why so many Americans had fallen for him.

Throughout the hour-long speech three elements of the “Trump movement” came to light:
– The fear of the working class
– America’s desperation for solidarity

– The role of the saviour

Trump boasted his supposed efforts to save American manufacturing as well as to alleviate inner city poverty. At the same time, Trump condemned the sad state of America’s social safety net promising to invest in infrastructure and somewhat shockingly, fight for lower prescription drug costs and paid family leave. Trump’s populist rhetoric whether it is sincere or not, reflects the precarious state of American workers.

Wages haven’t risen in decades as unions were destroyed and replaced with precariously low paying part-time employment that lacks benefits which the American government uniquely fails to provide. This insecurity creates unimaginable terror amount working people and this fear creates the need for solidarity that Trump exploits. As Linda Gordan described in her examination of the Ku Klux Klan as a case study of right wing populism, populist movements are characterized by this designation of “the people” as victims, and the exploitation of the resulting anger and fear to demagogue against supposed threats.

The State of the Union reminded the America an “other” exists to fear which they must stand united against. In a particularly disgusting form of political theatre, Trump paraded the families of victims of gang violence during his speech showing his supporters that their fears are close to home and that they must stand in solidarity with their nation and their president. 

American society across political lines glorfies economic success and achievement of the “American Dream” as a sign of moral virtue. Trump exploits this fact by presenting himself as a virtuous saviour of the common man due to his position as a wealthy businessman.

In the face of the Trump movement, the establishment Democratic party is powerless to provide a meaningful resistance. Like its Republican counterpart the Democratic party is dominated by corporate and elite interests/money preventing it from serving working people. A Democratic supermajority under president Obama failed to provide Americans with paid maternity leave or universal healthcare. Instead the Obama administration bailed out the banks, expanded American military involvement to 7 countries, and made the Bush tax cuts permanent.

This leaves the Democratic party in a position where it has no answer to the fear of the American working class and can only figh Trump on his racism and incompetence. To the blue-collar worker who is crippled by fear the desire for solidarity trumps the natural sense of disgust towards Trump’s racism and to his most fervent supporters Trump’s flirtation with the alt-right is his greatest appeal.

 

Photos credited to Vox and Huffington Post respectively 

Bigger Than Watergate?

The memo that was released recently by the house intelligence committee headed by the member of congress Devin Nunes shows that the intelligence agencies of the United States used fake information to spy on a presidential campaign. These types of aggressive maneuvers have not been seen since the famous Watergate incident where president Richard Nixon was actively spaying on the Democratic National Convention (DNC). The only difference is that the memo realized on February 2, 2016, is much larger than Watergate and might include more than just high-ranking officials in the FBI.
The memo shows an active FBI, investigating a presidential campaign on no other basis than on lies that were paid for by the opposition (DNC). Furthermore, it was used to gather further research after the election by members of the FBI who were loyal to the opposition.
The memo provides an indictment of senior Republicans, Department of Justice (DOJ), and FBI officials of inappropriately and unlawfully using the biased and unreliable information to conduct surveillance and obtain warrants to violate the privacy of then-private citizen and presidential candidate Donald Trump. According to the memo, the data from the “Steele Dossier,” was essential to the acquisition of surveillance warrants on the Trump campaign.
It also claims that the FBI director, Andrew McCabe, told the committee that without the information from the “dossier,” no surveillance warrants for Carter Paige (member of Trump campaign and ex-FBI agent) would have been sought. Thus, indicating that the “dossier” was the sole basis of the investigation. The memo finishes by stating that the political origins of the “dossier” paid for by the DNC weren’t disclosed to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC or FISA) who signed off on the warrants.
Ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele compiled the “dossier,” that was used to obtain the warrants. The memo claims that the FBI had clear knowledge that Steele was profoundly biased and prejudiced against Trump. It even quotes Steele as saying that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not gets elected and was passionate about him not being president.”
The so-called “dossier,” should have never been considered legitimate or valid for purposes of granting the warrant. Even more shocking of all is that FBI without a mention of the origins of the document went to the federal judge when applying for the permit.
Even Vladimir Putin is left asking “where am I? Why am I not involved in the investigations? I bought some Facebook ads!”. The Democrats responded by saying that the memo was cherry-picked and that accusations were baseless and inaccurate with the intention to harm Robert Muller’s investigation. It is easy to see how concerned the democratic party was about the release of the memo. Instead of encouraging the unveiling of the document they went of full damage control. They desperately trotted out Rep. Adam Schiff out on CNN to explain how the record contained sensible material that the DOJ and FBI should have a chance to vet the report before release. They even began to suggest the Donald Trump hated the FBI. All to try to discourage and cover up the version.
In closing, the memo shows that high ranking members in the FBI let their political bias get in the way of their judgments. It will ultimately prove to be the nail in the coffin for those who were hoping to impeach president Donald Trump. Also, it puts doubts in the public’s mind about the reliability and the integrity of their institutions. What makes this memo even more damaging is that it gives credence to Donald Trump’s idea that he will drain the swamp of Washington D.C. The memo has wholly confirmed the re-election of Donald Trump for the upcoming 2020 race.

 

The Far Right’s Behavior Toward Women and Sex: Old Anxieties, Modern Settings

In the context of the worldview espoused through right-wing politics, women are definitely not valued to the degree that they ought to be. In the context of the worldview of the far right, the societal value of women amounts to little more than living property–house-bound baby-making objects of desire which need protection, especially from rape by men of other races. These attitudes are perfectly observable in the far right movements of the past as well as the present.

Let’s examine the word “cuck”, a popular insult among the alt-right. To be a cuckold involves deriving a masochistic pleasure from watching another man having sex with your wife. This concept is hardly a product of modernity, as we can find instances of cuckoldry in Shakespeare and Chaucer, but the meaning has been tweaked somewhat. In the context of modern pornography, cuckoldry involves a white woman having sex with a black man while her husband, who is almost always white, watches helplessly. Language being one of the many windows into the mind, this speaks volumes about the far right and alt-right’s mentality, especially about race–blacks being a threatening invasive species–perceived weakness–liberals being too weak to defend what is theirs, perhaps even enjoying the humiliation of it all–and women in general–helpless living sex dolls. This, of course, is hardly a new concept. Overblown (and propagandized) fears about black men raping white women can be traced back to the Ku Klux Klan.

The Klan, finding great inspiration in romanticized visions of medieval knights, believed in protecting the virtue of white women under their care, which meant protecting them from those depraved black animals that were roaming the streets. Heartfelt consent between two people did not mean anything to the Klan, especially with regards to interracial relationships, something which was only made legal in the United States in 1967. One example of the Klan taking it upon themselves to involve themselves in someone’s personal life took place in Canada, a country which had never taken a legal stand against interracial marriage, though it was frowned upon. In 1930, seventy-five hooded men marched through Oakville, Ontario and invaded the home of Ira Johnson and Isabel Jones–the former was a black man and the latter a white woman. The klansmen forced Ms. Jones into a car and delivered her to the doorstep of a Captain of the Salvation Army. Consider this section of the Canadian Klan’s creed:

“We believe that our white race has a ministry of supreme service to mankind, and that the introduction of elements which cannot readily be assimilated or fused into our racial stock will lead to the corruption of racial health and seriously impair the service we might render to our fellow men. We therefore avow ourselves to be ever true to the maintenance of our racial integrity.”

Such orders could have been found in the manifesto of an old knight order, perhaps even something more clerical or governmental. The unfortunate part is that despite the fact that Canada never had codified laws against interracial marriage, it was clearly considered taboo. The officer that was called to the scene of Ms. Jones’ kidnapping ultimately spoke highly of the Klansmen that kidnapped her and even shook hands with them. Making matters worse, the Mayor of Oakville, one A.B. Moat, complimented the Klansmen on how orderly their conduct was and that the town stood in objection to marriage between two people of different races.

Similar sentiments, though not always so bluntly stated, are still very much alive in racist and far-right groups and individuals as well. Take, for instance, Dylann Roof, the convicted ethno-nationalist terrorist who gunned down several African American parishioners during a Bible study.  Roof, who wore flag patches of the defunct Apartheid state Rhodesia on his shirt, who believed that current expressions of racial nationalist views and the Klan itself were inadequate, believed that blacks were taking over the world and “were raping our women”.

This obscene fixation on white women being raped by black men is a deeply rooted, arguably genetic (intellectually speaking) infection found only on the far right, whether they would like to admit as much or not. Proponents of the far right might look at this opinion piece and pull out one of their many buzz words–snowflake, libtard, perhaps even cuck, though that one does appear to have gone out of style. Such would be expected. Introspection is hard, I suppose.

 

Op/Ed: The German Populist’s Balancing Act

Populism has become a contending political ideology, not only in the United States, but all around the world.  In Europe especially, distrust of experts and anti-immigrant sentiments have risen since the refugee crisis in 2015, driving many native Europeans to far right populist parties.  The key feature in many populist parties has always been the personality that leads it.  The classic example being Donald Trump’s bombastic personality representing the populist ideas, rather than the Republican Party.  This feature remains consistent across Europe with politicians like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.  In contrast to this, German populism has seen a rise, but the leaders of this movement have been more divided on their stances, often preferring more moderate approaches to populism.  What does German Populism look like and how does the history of the country help us understand the 2017 election? To understand this we must look into the German electoral system, as well as to the history of German populism.

The 1919 German Constitution established universal suffrage, making the vast majority of Germans, including women and m

 

inorities able to vote.  Despite the surprisingly liberal policy for the early 20th century, it actually made democracy weaker because everyone was able to participate in politics, and anyone was able to make a party.  The result of this move was 40 parties being represented in the modern day Bundestag, Germany’s Parliament, after 1924 including the Nazi Party.  This gave rise to extremist parties being able to gain parliamentary seats, and power within the German government.  Despite the eventual rise of the Nazis and establishment of a dictatorship, the erosion to German democracy began with an over-representation of parties in politics, making it difficult to reach consensus.

 

After the Second World War, an attempt to prevent this issue was implemented into the new German constitution via the 5% rule which stated that each party must receive at least 5% of the national vote in order to be eligible for a seat in the Bundestag.  The intention of this rule was to prevent too

Bundestag
https://sputniknews.com/europe/201710241058494990-germany-bundestag-analysis-meeting/

many parties from being in the Bundestag and preventing extremist parties from gaining too much power.  Despite this, in 2017 Alternative for Germany (AFD) received 12.6% of the vote and 94 seats (out of 709) in the Bundestag, marking the first time they have been represented in the Bundestag and the first time since the Second World War that a populist party would break the 5% threshold.

AFD’s far right ideals of anti-immigration and distrust of experts are creating a party that appeals to many of the populist sentiments seen commonly across Europe and the United States.  Despite this, their party leaders have remained disunited and without a clear direction to follow.  Donald Trump runs the most powerful nation on Earth through a twitter feed while the leaders of AFD struggle to maintain a united leadership as ideas of whether the party should remain as a more moderate party, rather than an extremist one, caused the former chairwoman Frauke Petry to switch to an independent seat after the 2017 election.

The reason for the divide of AFD’s leadership can be understood through analyzing Germany’s history. Since the events of the Second World War, the German people have largely expressed remorse for their actions and see the Third Reich and its actions as a dark period in their own history.  Richard Von Weizsacker, the president of  what was then West Germany in 1985 referred to the Allied victory over the Nazi’s as a liberation of Germany. Politicians in the AFD like Björn Höcke are now calling for Germans to be proud of their past.  Because of the German people’s apprehension of their past, this has drawn significant controversy from not only the leaders of more moderate German parties, but also within AFD itself from powerful members like Petry.  Contrast this with the United States where many hold pride of some golden era of American past, exemplified by the slogan “Make America Great Again”.  The leaders of AFD do not have the popular support to be able to make such bold statements due to the skeletons in their closet.  Many Germans do not see the early 20th century as a golden age of German achievement that they must look to remake, but instead a point of national shame where they must be better moving forward.

 

Representing the Past Should Reflect the Understanding of the Present

Symbols have powerful meanings and associations. As history changes, symbols can come to have new meanings, and the acceptance of the symbol can change.

Lately, the statues of leaders in both Canada and the United States have come into question. The issue is: whether or not keeping these statues up is important in preserving history, or whether it would be better to take them down.

Recently, a statue of Edward Cornwallis was taken down in Halifax. Though this statue depicted the founder of the city, it was taken down because of his having placed a bounty on indigenous people. Jonathan Fowler reflects on this in his opinion piece in The Globe and Mail, “Advances in historical understanding have made the continued public celebration of Cornwallis problematic.” In response to those who defend these statues as history, he says that they need to accept the evolution of history and the fact that taking down a statue does not diminish history.

I agree with Fowler’s point of view. Taking down statues or symbols does not imply that they never existed and that they had no impact. Rather, it is showing respect to those that were victimised in history. This does not mean that they will be erased, but rather re-contextualised into a historical narrative.

To frame this historically, I will do so by examining a well-known symbol: the Nazi’s swastika. James Skidmore, a university of Waterloo professor, discusses the history of this symbol in an article in The Conversation. He discusses the fact that it was a benign symbol before the Nazis appropriated it. However, he also acknowledges the fact that what this symbol has become means that it cannot now be used in any context. The history behind this symbol is important.

The history of a symbol is important, because it informs its meaning. When symbols are associated with genocide, racist movements, or fascism, these symbols become problematic.

We all know that the swastika is associated with the Nazi regime and the genocide of the Holocaust. We now accept that this is not a symbol that should be worn or displayed now. However, we have in the recent past seen the problematic appropriation of these symbols by alt-right groups in the south.

How can this use of offensive symbols by hate groups be considered connected to problematized statues? By looking at the history of these statues, and who erected them. For instance, if we turn to the United States, and specifically the south, we can examine the way that the statues reflect history and a challenging past. These statues have also been in the news lately, regarding a movement to take them down. Those that do not want the statues removed defend them by saying that they represent history.

Historians in an NPR article discuss the true nature of these statues: that they were erected many decades after the civil war, during the time of the Jim Crow laws. These monuments were put up in order to glorify ideals of white supremacy.

I think that by defending problematic statues, people are either purposely or inadvertently supporting the ideals of groups. For example, the KKK is related to the creation of these monuments in the south. Though these monuments seem less questionable than a symbol like the swastika, upon further analysis it is clear that they too are based on a tradition of violence and hate.

The messages portrayed by individual symbols are important, as is their current context. By defending them as part of history, that individual fails to see the history of that symbol and why that symbol is now out-dated and offensive. The context for the creation of these symbols is important as well. Defending these symbols is clearly not a harmless defence of a nation’s history.

In relation to the monument of Edward Cornwallis, though he was not a populist leader or fascist dictator, his racism is still problematic. With the advanced understanding of our current society, it is easy to see why his statue was taken down. To return to Fowler’s comments, these statues clearly have important connotations and them being taken down does not diminish their value for historical education.

In the same way that Nazi symbols are not condoned in our society, we too should not allow the use of symbols of oppression. Symbols have power, so it’s important that we remove and contextualize the negative ones, while being educated about them.