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Is Bush's America becoming fascist?

By Eric Ruder | July 4, 2003 | Page 7

THE BUSH administration's trampling of civil liberties, demonization of immigrants as "terrorist threats" and warmongering abroad are truly frightening. Many activists have naturally made comparisons with the rise of another right-wing regime--Adolph Hitler's Nazis in Germany. This is certainly understandable, and there are parallels.

But it's important for activists to recognize the significant differences between what Bush represents and what the Nazis did. This is not only for the sake of historical accuracy. Accepting the comparison leads to wrong conclusions about the struggle today--most commonly, that the Bush administration represents such a grave threat that activists have to drop their criticisms of the Democratic Party and vote for the "lesser evil" in the next election.

Of course, there's a reason why this is a question at all--the Bush administration's stepped-up use of repression and violence.

When the German parliament building was set on fire in 1933, Hitler and the Nazi Party seized the opportunity to restrict civil liberties, detain "suspects" and launch a scapegoating campaign against socialists, Jews, trade unionists and gays and lesbians. Likewise, the Bush administration has used the tragedy of the September 11 attacks to seize new police powers--with the support of the overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

The USA PATRIOT Act, for example, gave the federal government vast new authority, including secret searches of non-citizens and citizens without probable cause; expanded abilities to detain immigrants without hearing or time limit based merely on accusations; and expansion of government spying on political protesters and organizations. And when it came to the war on Iraq, the administration's lies about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" and its supposed ties to Osama bin Laden showed a sneering contempt for ordinary people little different from Hitler's.

"The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the great masses of the nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and purposely evil," Hitler famously wrote in Mein Kampf. "The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big."

The Bush gang seems to have learned this lesson very well. But there are decisive differences between the Bush administration and the Third Reich.

Hitler depended on armed, right-wing thugs to control the streets and break the power of working-class organization. Fascism was a mass movement mobilized in response to a catastrophic economic crisis. Its aim was to smash all left-wing resistance in order to end the immediate threat of working-class revolt and re-impose the rule of capitalism.

To compare this nightmare to the agenda carried out by the Bush administration is to belittle what fascism is. In fact, while the Bush administration has increased the use of repression, it is not out of step with measures that governments in capitalist societies always resort to in times of war. Prisons, restrictions on rights and liberties, stepped-up threats of violence--these are not characteristic only of fascist governments, but of any bourgeois state.

Why is this argument important? Over the past decades, whenever a right-wing Republican like Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan captured the White House, liberals and radicals proclaimed the new threat of fascism.

And as election time rolled around, this became the justification for collapsing support behind the Democratic Party. But relying on Democrats to stop the Bush agenda is no solution. After all, 193 of the 260 Democrats in Congress voted for the USA PATRIOT Act.

And past Democrats in the White House have been perfectly willing to use the tools of state repression. When FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was using the infamous COINTELPRO program against civil rights and antiwar activists during the 1960s, his White House collaborators were Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

The key to stopping attacks on our rights is struggle. All of the civil liberties we enjoy had to be won in protests and mobilizations from below.

So long as the Bush administration declares pre-emptive wars abroad, it will also try to pre-empt the Bill of Rights at home. We have to continue fighting back--and appealing to large numbers of people who oppose Bush's attacks on our rights.

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