Sweeper: Zimbabwe

This weeks class was made especially interesting thanks to the guest lecture by Dr. Blair Rutherford. I agreed with my classmates assessment that his lecture was particularly useful in understanding the topic of authoritarianism in Zimbabwe. My classmates generally reflected that this was a new area of focus for many of us, as many history classes tend to focus on predominately Western narratives.

The additional context provided by Dr. Rutherford really aided with the class discussion because it gave us some important historical context and explanation of our readings. I found that my group focused on the post-colonial aspects of the political situation in Zimbabwe because we saw this as affecting the current government setup. This was reflected in the larger discussion with a debate about whether or not Zimbabwe could be called fascist. Both my group, and the class at large, seemed to think that as fascism is generally described as being against democracy and communism, it would be hard to call a state without a pre-existing democratic base fascist. I think the general consensus was that it seemed to be an authoritarian state with elements of fascism in it.

Some of the concluding remarks were also interesting, especially the observation that corrupt, or authoritarian, or fascist governments use the state to make their actions legal. This is interesting given the context of the lecture, that must of the violence in Zimbabwe was essentially state sanctioned in order to eliminate or quiet people who disagreed. The intertwining of race and politics was also interesting, as this reflects the history of colonialism that is present in Zimbabwe. Overall, this class focused on a wide variety of issues that led to a productive discussion and helped further an understanding of the current issues in Zimbabwe.

China’s new dictator?

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The recent repealing of China’s two-term presidential policy has concerning implications. U.S. President Donald Trump commented how he thinks America should also allow this option. These actions and statements are disquieting because they echo past totalitarian regimes. The rise of these kinds of governments has worrying historical precedents.

Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has moved to become a dictator for life. The current government has essentially allowed him to do just that.

In an attempt to increase the party’spower, Chinese censors have banned many words and phrases. The title of George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, the word “disagree”, and the phrase “ I oppose” are example of newly censored items. This highlights the level of control the government is seeking to have over its people.

An inability to criticise or question the country’s leader seems more like fascism than true communism. Much of the opposition to this new move has been met with interrogation or punishment. The claim that this shows “Chinese Democracy” is unequivocally false. There is clearly no room for a democratic process in this setting.

The banning of a book like Animal Farm speaks volumes to the intentions of the country. The plot of this book shows the rise of a group of pigs to what is essentially a fascist or authoritarian position of power. A book like this allows for critical thinking about these types of government. Banning the book signals that there is resistance to this kind of criticism.

It is not clear whether the current Chinese government can truly be called fascist. However, there exists a historical precedent of this kind of movement in the country. In an article titled “Blue Shirts, Nationalists and Nationalism: Fascism in 1930s China,” Jan Hong explores the rise of a fascist movement in China that mimic similar movements in Germany and Italy in the period. He notes how this brand of fascism was unique to China because it added elements of Confucianism in order to appeal to the Chinese people. This was also a period when those considered to be too liberal or radical were punished.

Hong notes that the movement of the Blue Shirts exemplified many fascist ideals. Similar to in Italy and Germany, there was a cult of personality surrounding the leader, Chiang Kai-Shek. He focused on the militarization of society and promoted movements that mirrored the Hitler Youth in Germany. Even when fascism fell out of favour, he was able to stay in power by cultivating a different image of himself as a Christian leader.

Another, more recent, example of problematic Chinese leadership is the period under the leadership of Mao Zedong. He was one of China’s many “bad emperors.” This term refers to the issue of dictatorial power in China. Mao too developed a cult of personality, allowing him to remain in power for a significant stretch of time. China is still recovering from the problems created by his time in power.

Jinping is currently trying to promote a similar cult of personality. He has changed the existing system in order to make himself more powerful. He is also seeking to have his political ideology ratified in the constitution. Doing so would mean that it would be mandatory for schoolchildren to study his way of thinking. Along with the new forms of censorship and state control, this is another way to try and control the thoughts and actions of Chinese citizens.

Based on these historical precedents, the current situation in China is one that warrants close observation. I see worrying echoes of the past in the movements of the current government. I do not think that China quite deserves the description of fascist in its current state of being. However, I do see the potential for the country to head further in this direction. There are people who live in China that have stated in the past few years that they too see the potential for their country to head in this direction.

This situation will continue to develop. The continued censorship will be an issue for those that live in China, as they will not be as able to express dissent. China claims to be communist, but their current trajectory makes me think that they are more like the power structure described in the banned Animal Farm. I think that now it is very appropriate to reflect on Orwell’s quotation, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

First Response: Zimbabwe’s politics are a symptom of its history

A notable saying comes to mind for this week. Perhaps you can’t see the entire forest from the trees.

This weeks readings looked directly into the authoritarian ZANU-PF party that has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980. To provide context, Timothy Scarnecchia’s piece, The ‘Fascist Cycle’ in Zimbabwe, 2000-2005 shows how the regime can resemble Italian fascism through the usage of paramilitaries, abuses of power and party membership as a necessity for success.

Lets unpack the nature of Zimbabwe’s extreme ideology and proclivity to political violence.

In Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s article, Rethinking Chimurenga and Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe: A Critique of Partisan National History, the idea of extreme ideology as an engine for violence against dissenting opinions is explored. Any black person who does not align with the anti-colonial cause is a target for violence. Anyone who is white is inherently dubious to the state (just look to the farm invasions when Mugabe first seized power).

Rudo Mudiwa’s article, Feeling Precarious explains the characteristics of the Zimbabwean youth, who can go from docile civilians to fearsome weapons of the state if the need arises.

Obviously a strong case could be made that Zimbabwe’s government has resembled and employed various fundamental tactics of fascist authority over the last 30 years. Today, we might use the term “populist” in following Finchelstein’s notion of populism as a modern variant of fascism in his book From Fascism to Populism in History.

So why has this occurred? Why has Zimbabwe’s extreme and radical political history unfolded in the way it has? Why is political violence the norm?  Look to its colonial history, look back to Rhodesia.  

The ZANU-PF should not be excused. However, we need context if we want to truly understand why fellows like Mugabe and ideologies like chimurenga could flourish.

 

Olympics and Nationalism: Is North Korea another example? Op-ed

Recent headlines for the Olympic games have North Korea as their subject. What will happen to the Athletes that have failed to win medals is in question. It seems that in the past, North Korea has sent athletes who represented their country and failed to win medals to what has been termed “gulag” like places. There the athletes are to be to be punished for their poor performance and thus a poor representation of North Korea at the Games. Along with a large number of cheerleaders that accompanied the athletes to the Games, there is something to be said for how important it is for authoritarian regimes to project a certain appearance of unity and nationalism which is what will be seen here.

 

It appears that participating in the Olympic Games is certainly a way to create nationalism as many countries experience the excitement behind cheering for one’s own country while their representatives compete. Social media battles ensue and everyone is talking about their country and how well they are doing or how well they should have done. However, The Olympics have had a historical connection to being propaganda for countries with authoritarian regimes as was seen in 1930’s Germany as well as in the 2008 games held in China (although technically a communist regime has many similarities to a fascist regime) and now with North Korea as examples.

 

For many countries, this is a fun and exciting time but when a fascist regime looks at something like the Olympics there is a much more serious tone put over the event. Nationalism can be seen through fascist history has an important component to keeping the support of the people and creating a feeling of unity. Many efforts can be seen in Nazi Germany, for example, to keep the people unified and promote nationalism.The 1936 Olympics is just one of the many ways this was done. Nationalism was promoted in Nazi Germany sports as they were seen to create unity among the youth. Another way the Olympics were used at that time was, as these games were the first ever to be televised, to show German ideals to the world and certainly how great Germany was including a stadium that was built with 100 000 seats to top the last Olympic games that were held in another country. North Korea, on the other hand, may not have been successful at winning metals but it did certainly show signs of its attempt to display unity and nationalism with its large number of cheerleaders.

 

The Olympics in China, (although not exactly a fascist regime it shares many similaterites to one) had some very negative headlines as well when it hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. There have been many controversies over whether it had open media as it had pledged and not to mention the many human rights violations that have been reported as a result of the games. The cost of the games is high, along with controversies that usually ensue but for a resume like China, it can be understood there is an importance of the nation wanting to portray itself as powerful and unified for its own citizens and the world to maintain control of the country. As a result, bringing home no metals to North Korea in this years Olympics can be devastating to the image of power North Korea has been trying to build certainly in the last few months with the missile controversy between it and the US.

 

In short, the Olympics have proven throughout history up until today to be a platform for countries to not only strengthen nationalism within their borders but to display strength to other countries. This does not manifest itself more strongly than in those countries that have authoritarian regimes such as in 1930’s Germany, China or currently in the competing North Korea. For most people, the Olympics are a fun way to have national pride and competition with neighboring countries, albeit at times with some issues over things like doping and corruption, but the thought of the use of the Olympics as propaganda is usually far from the minds of people just having fun.

Op-Ed: “Greek and Polish nationalism is playing with fire”

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Places like Greece and Poland are on a slippery slope. By ignoring or not feeling concerned with these issues going on in the world, we turn a blind eye to history and what this has led to before.

Earlier this month in Athens, far-right demonstrators marched and shouted with torches, holding flags of the Golden Dawn – Greece’s right wing nationalist party. They were protesting the Greek government and its negotiations with the Republic of Macedonia, as they and many Greeks believe the name “Macedonia” should only belong in Greece.

By the end of it thousands of anti-fascists and police were present, an anarchist squat was burned down and a Holocaust monument vandalized.

You might ask yourself, why should I care? Perhaps you feel the nationalist rhetoric being thrown around more and more frequently and confidently in places like Greece or Poland is far away and unimportant.

You should be worried, and here’s why. History shows us that fascism (and far-right populism) takes hold by normalizing its behavior using national and political myths to replace history. This comes from Federico Finchelstein’s book, “From Fascism to Populism in History.”

I was told once by an old mentor that it is not history that repeats itself, but the patterns of history. It’s not Germany or Italy this time, and that should not reassure us.

The “Polish death camps” law

The new law that was declared just last month in Poland punishes anyone who argues that there was Polish collaboration with the Nazi’s in WWII. At first, this does not appear problematic. Poland’s suffering during the years of Nazi occupation was enormous and remains impossible to reconcile.

The reason this law is alarming has to do with what it means for Polish nationalism and its thriving far-right movement.

Poland is currently dealing with a surge of ethnocentric nationalism that is on the rise. This is most easily recognized with the anti-immigration protest that occurred in Warsaw last November. 60,000 people attended, many espousing racist views. The mayor, a member of the ruling nationalistic Law and Justice Party (PiS) even paid for some of the activists travel.

The law represents an attempt to cleanse a nationalistic heritage and take the moral high ground moving forward. In spite of this, historians warn of the dangers of simplifying history. Events such as the murdering of Jews by the villagers of Jedwabne in 1941 or the expulsion of thousands more during the 1968 “anti-Zionist campaign” are at risk of being ignored.

Finchelstein’s book makes this danger clear, that fascism and modern populism will bend history and normalize nationalistic ideas in order to eventually overthrow the democratic system. Timothy Snyder’s book (On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century) similarly shows that fascism constructs creative myths over history in order to further agendas.

For far-right nationalists in Poland, this law may very well serve as a lightning rod to endorse and promote Polish nationalism to a higher degree.

Greece’s “Macedonia” issue

A similar situation is unfolding here. The Golden Dawn party currently holds 16 seats in the Hellenic parliament. The far-right protestors at the demonstration rallied against the leftist government and used a nationalistic agenda to advocate the historical Greek claim to the name “Macedonia.”

Greek nationalism runs deep on this issue and has been a problem for decades. The far-right nature of this demonstration reveals how Greek nationalists are utilising historic grievances and normalizing aggression to get their views across with success.

Maybe that’s why so many of us don’t seem to bat an eye at issues like these.

The patterns of history repeat themselves

What all of this means is that we are not safe from fascism in the 21st century.

Finchelstein’s book clearly states that modern populism is in many ways a direct reincarnation of traditional fascism, only this time working more closely with democratic institutions.

What’s going on in Greece or Poland may be far away, but that doesn’t mean the possible repercussions will be distant either. Populist movements at home are taking notes.

If southern and eastern European nationalism is playing with fire, who’s to say we won’t be susceptible either?

Works Cited

Davies, Christian. “Poland’s Jews Fear for future Under New Holocaust Law.” The Guardian, February 10, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/10/polands-jews-fear-future-under-new-holocaust-law-nazi-atrocities.

Eglash, Ruth and Avi Selk. “Israel and Poland Try to Tamp Down Tensions after Poland’s ‘Death Camp’ Law Sparks Israeli Outrage.” The Washington Post, January 28, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/01/27/it-could-soon-be-a-crime-to-blame-poland-for-nazi-atrocities-and-israel-is-appalled/?utm_term=.18fe02d470e5.

Finchelstein, Federico. From Fascism to Populism in History. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2017.

Kelly, Lidia and Justyna Pawlak. “Poland’s Far Right: Opportunity and Threat for Ruling PiS.” Reuters, January 3, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-politics-farright/polands-far-right-opportunity-and-threat-for-ruling-pis-idUSKBN1ES0BK.

Noack, Rick. “How Poland Became a Breeding Ground for Europe’s Far Right.” The Washington Post, November 14, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/11/13/how-poland-became-a-breeding-ground-for-europes-far-right/?utm_term=.a57f74c3bb12.

Snyder, Timothy. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017.

Strickland, Patrick. “Tens of Thousands of Greeks Protest Macedonia’s Name.” Al Jazeera, February 5, 2018. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/tens-thousands-greeks-protest-macedonia-180204141039260.html.

Strickland, Patrick. “Tensions High in Athens Ahead of Nationalist Rally.” Al Jazeera, February 3, 2018. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/tensions-high-athens-nationalist-rally-180203221505840.html.

 

Resist Tactics to Turn Us Against Each Other

“Identity politics” are now being misused by the alt-right.

Let’s begin with a somewhat controversial statement: identity politics are not the problem here. Several terms have been taken by alt-right internet trolls and used to attack the very people they were invented to serve. See: ‘triggered’ and ‘safe-space’.

In fascism, individual identities and wishes are absorbed into the wishes of the whole. Allegiance and obedience to the state overrule any other desires. Societal problems, such as economic issues, are blamed on specific groups who do not fit into their idea of ‘proper citizens’. These people then become ‘un-pure’ and will corrupt the rest of society. The most obvious example of this was how the Nazis blamed the status of Germany (a struggling economy, lack of military) after the First World War on Jewish corruption. They then used this made-up narrative as an excuse to systematically murder six million Jewish people. Another example of antisemitism in European fascist states (not that there aren’t multiple books worth of examples) is anti-Jewish laws in fascist Italy. These laws were either supported or ignored by the larger population because Jewish people already were labouring under being viewed as inherently unable (read: unwilling) to conform. When identity becomes a detriment to loyalty to the state, identities that are already viewed as the ‘Other’ in society have been painted as inherently disloyal and open to being targeted.

Some people that would be also targeted for bigotry have tried to distance themselves from more marginalized groups. They may think that they can avoid oppression by allying themselves with the alt-right early. This is absolutely wrong. The alt-right, primarily online, have been trying to invoke this deliberately. Specific arguments are used as an attempt to divide up people who would otherwise be allied. One of the more widespread tactics is used specifically against Muslim people, something that Jasib Puar described as ‘homonationalism’ in the essay Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Neo-nazis with ulterior motives now are using homophobia in what they classify as ‘Muslim countries’ as an excuse to feel morally superior and in turn deny rights to Muslim people. Personally, this was used in full force at a rally I protested this summer. The rally was ostensibly against unfettered immigration but was full of Islamophobic slogans and speeches. In some of these speeches, men would talk about how Muslim people were homophobic and women-hating, complaining about the hypocrisy of the Canadian government for welcoming in refugees yet claiming to be for gay and women’s rights. Many, many more examples of neo-nazis suddenly finding a deep passion for queer liberation when the plight of the LGBTQ+ population in Saudi Arabia is discussed can be found online.

This strategy isn’t anything new. And unlike some voices, this is not at all a call to ignore intersectional analysis in activism. Quite the opposite: listening and elevating other experiences is crucial to presenting a united front in any sort of anti-fascist resistance. Authoritarianism often works by manipulating already-existing social prejudices as a strategy for gaining power. Struggling against each other to be accepted as an ‘in-group’ with the people in power hurts all of us in the long run. Despite the ability of some to find a place in the group oppression of others, this should not be seen as an actual option by any. Unlike in other historical contexts, supporters of fascism and white supremacy are still outnumbered. Letting them divide activists and set us against each other can happen when larger movements ignore the specific needs and realities of more marginalized members.

Identity politics is a dismissive term for acknowledging the specific experiences of different people and working to guarantee a decent life for all of them. Don’t let them turn us against each other: criticisms need to be there, but we need to keep in mind what can happen if we ignore the real danger. If we let them hurt one group of people because they aren’t us we open the door for whatever oppression they see fit to be turned on us.

Sweeper: Mirror Mirror

Our discussion this week was not very fruitful as our group went off the rails due to a lack of reading. Our discussion became a heated debate regarding race and white privilege, a topic that has modern relevance but was not the focus of Lewis’ novel. From my own reading of It Can’t Happen Here, what I found interesting was the relevance the novel has to tactics used by politicians today. President Windrip in his novel seems fictional upon first glance. As you read, however, and ‘hear’ him speak you can almost believe the promises he makes. Like Trump, Hitler, and other politicians (not necessarily just the ‘evil’ ones too) there always seems to be an appeal to ‘traditional’ values. American, German, even Canadian nationalism is a tactic often exploited. Lewis’ understanding of the use of national pride was his key point to make on how dictatorships can arise.

It was discussed how this novel appealed to academics and uses language that is borderline satirical. While I agree that it was designed for a more high-brow audience, I believe that Lewis wrote it with the intention of anybody being able to pick it up and put yourself in Jessup’s position. Like the novel/TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that these sort of things could emerge. While academics dissect novels, the everyday reader digests them and will ultimately make comparisons between the book and their own lives. I believe that Lewis knew the different ways his book could be read and designed it to have multiple purposes.

First Responder – Who is Really Guilty in a Fascist Regime?

Hitler’s Furies as a book poses an interesting case. Many ways of how one could be caught up in a regime such as the one at the time of Nazi Germany are brought up, especially regarding women. One of the first questions that came to mind was how people could be complicit in such atrocities as the ones that occurred in WWII Germany. The book offers some good insight to this in what was offered to people who were. New opportunities were presented to people that they did not have before in achieving status, women could travel to new places and could reach a high status in the work they were doing. Wages were better than were possible for women in most instances so that joining a military role would be something appealing.

As there was no doubt a lot of people who didn’t necessarily vote for the government or were for it the, to begin with. Once the regime had taken power, however, it seems as though those who were acceptable to the vision of the regime, had a pretty easy time because the programs were put in place to benefit the people that it saw as meeting its standard. The government, having so much control is not something that one would think fighting against (as that probably would evacuate too much change) but rather joining it would help them become better off- those who did try and fight never had big results in their favor until the end of the war.

The last thing that I thought of was: how do you tell the difference from those just being part of the system and those that really believed in what they were doing. Who was taking advantage of opportunities and who were really happy about killing other people? This is certainly something the post-WWII Germany faced and something to consider about any fascist regime. Who has the guilt, everyone who didn’t protest or only the people who were looking to create their vision of the word?

First Response: The German women

Hitler’s Furies presented many accounts of women during the Nazi regime. The author, Wendy Lower, tells us that this book is not a full account of women during World War 2, and she only focuses on a select few women who she was able to gather more full profiles on.

Lower’s main focus in her book was on how women affected the progress of the Holocaust. I question what other forms of killing these women may have influenced beyond the extermination campaign. Women caught up in fascism may have had other deadly effects. Are there any accounts of the women who were genuinely ignorant of the Jewish extermination? Many women may have ratted out their neighbours, who could have been Aryan Germans, for other crimes not affiliated with racism.

Lower gives a brief account of the era in which these women were raised in. What she doesn’t do, however, is delve into more detail on the childhood of each individual woman. Each woman is given a brief introduction, but the book is mainly focused on their rise to Nazism and the after effects. Were there specific childhood experiences for each woman that would have contributed to her conversion? Is it fair to claim that the era in which these women grew up in is a justifiable account for why they followed Hitler? Lower’s reasoning for female Nazi’s can be summed up as: a desire for adventure, youth, idealism, marriage, and money.

Finally, what about the older women? This book focuses on the youthful women, but fails to discuss any older women and if they contributed to Hitler’s cause.

Sweeper: Italian Fascism

This week’s examination of Italian Fascism brought to light several ideas that are essential to keep in mind when examining the rise of fascism generally. Some of the important points that were brought up, both in class and in the primary responses, were ideas about the way in which fascism began in contrast to other ideologies.

One of the main points that stood out in class was taken from Federico Finchelstein’s reading. It is the idea that fascist movements in different countries are not just imitations of what happened in Italy. In each different country there were circumstances that lead to the rise of a fascist group. For example, it could come from general social anxiety and a loss of faith in institutions.

Another idea that stood out in particular to me, and in my classmates responses, is the premise of fascism being distinct from other political theories, like communism. The main principles of fascism seek to distinguish it from other ideologies. In particular, this theory was developed to counter enlightenment ideals. This is clear in some of the twelve attributes of fascism that we discussed, such as the glorification of violence, and a leader cult.

Clearly, this is an ideology based on sentiments that reflect a desire to react to the social and political situation of a given moment, such as the post WWI landscape of Mussolini’s Italy. As my classmates have noted, this movement that sought to bring back an ideal, by any means possible. Many of my classmates noted in their blog posts one of the driving forces behind this, and one of the twelve attributes, a way of defining oneself in opposition to the other.