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Weak govts, economic disaster and lack of people's vigilance give rise to fascist threat across the globe

By Sadhan Mukherjee*
There is clear indication that fascist forces, you may call them rightist forces, if you like, are growing world over. It is better to be forewarned than regret later.
One may recall that in Europe, which has given both liberal and fascist ideas, the ascendancy to power of fascist forces became possible due to three main reasons.
First, weak governments being in office; second, the economic disaster that followed the first world war; and third, lack of people’s vigilance who became unconcerned about who their rulers are or who comes to rule next; they wanted only respite from their daily agonies of survival.
In Italy, Benito Mussolini captured premiership by marching on Rome with his 30,000 black shirts in 1922. BY 1925, he had announced he would be leader for life, and no one challenged him or could challenge him.
Hitler followed suit in Germany. He had the additional advantage of having a well organised party – the NSDAP or the Nazi party, which using its muscles grew by leaps and bounds, from being a fringe party to winning a dominant share of parliamentary seats, and thus getting a “democratically” elected majority in German Parliament in 1932.
The second key event of 1932 was of course the US presidential elections. Two days after the German elections Franklin D. Roosevelt won the US presidential elections defeating incumbent president Herbert Hoover. Next year FDR took the US off the gold standard and introduced the catastrophic National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). USA was on a gold standard since 1879 but during the great depression of 1930s, people began hoarding gold. Roosevelt ordered a nationwide bank moratorium to prevent a run on banks.
This was supported by all Central bankers of Europe. The break-up of Austro-Hungarian currency union and the failure of gold standard soon created an economically untenable situation. No one bothered very much about fascist powers coming in.
Germany was in great need of debt relief but was ignored. The European central banks did not abandon the gold standard suo moto but were forced to do it. Yet the French central bank went on to hoard gold. The great depression severely affected central Europe besides USA. Unemployment rate in Germany, Austria and Poland rose to 20% while output fell by 40% and every European country increased tariffs or introduced import quotas.
USA had been helping Germany under Dawes Plan with loans but discontinued that in 1929. This affected Europe also. The Kreditanstalt Bank in Vienna collapsed leading to a financial panic in Europe. No part of Europe was left untouched by it.
By 1931 US economy was itself crippled by the great depression which started in 1929 and ended only in 1939. It started off with the stock market crash in October 1929 and affected the entire western world wiping out millions of investors. It was an unprecedented global economic crisis. By 1933, European trade had lost two-thirds of its value. The way out was another war as only a war industry could possibly generate demand and investment creating employment and providing a financial breather.
Something like the developments of the thirties seems to be happening in many parts of the world now. Though history really does not repeat itself, some similarities are discernible. A curious mix of so-called nationalism, patriotism and demagogy assuring better days from the current horrible days and to make the country “great” and free from crises is again becoming the motivation for the growth of fascistic forces.
Based on demagogy, these forces are making headway in several countries. In USA they have already won the Presidency though they did not get the popular mandate. For strange reason, probably self-interest above all, Russia that has migrated from socialism to “Putinism” is backing these forces.
In nine European countries, fascistic forces are growing positively making big headways in elections. These are Front National in France, Party of Freedom in Netherlands, True Finns in Finland, Northern League in Italy, Swiss People’s Party in Switzerland, Danish People’s Party in Denmark, Austrian Freedom Party and Austrian Alliance for Future in Austria, Progress Party in Norway and Swedish Democrats in Sweden. Some of these parties are already in ruling coalitions.
In Turkey, an attempted coup was recently put down brutally with massive reprisals that were popularly supported. In the Philippines, voters chose a president who was wellknown for his death squads and takes pride on personally pulling the trigger. These types of developments are continuing the world over. The Middle East is literally on fire. Syria is under bombardment. In Turkey, a few days ago, the Russian Ambassador has been killed by a police officer in a public function.
One of the diversionary tactics of the ruling circles in several countries are adopting recently is demonetisation in the name of fighting black money and making peoples’ life smoother and free from a parallel economy. The results were quite interesting depending on the vigilance of respective levels of popular feeling.
Venezuela went in for demonetisation recently but had to withdraw it faced with public anger. Before that Nigeria took this step and its economy collapsed. In 1982, Ghana ditched their 50 cedis note to tackle tax evasion and empty excess liquidity. This made the people of the country support the black market who started investing in physical assets that obviously made the economy weak.
From December 2016, Pakistan was to phase out its high denomination notes and bring in new designs. However, Pakistan issued the tender a year and a half back, and therefore, the citizens had time to exchange the old notes and get newly designed notes. But there is a problem now. Pakistani Senate wants the change but the government does not.
Zimbabwe used to have a one hundred trillion dollar notes! The Zimbabwean economy went for a toss when President Robert Mugabe issued edicts to ban inflation through issuing laughable value notes. After demonetisation, the value of a trillion dollar dropped to 0.5 dollar and these were also put up for sale on eBay.
The demonetisation in North Korea in 2010 where North Korean boss Kim-Jong ll introduced a reform by knocking off two zeros from the face value of the old currency to get rid of the black market left people with no food and shelter. Mikhail Gorbachev in USSR ordered withdrawal of large-rouble bills from circulation to take over the black market. That move didn’t go down well with the citizens and resulted in a coup attempt which overthrew him and ultimately led to the break-up of the Soviet Union and end of socialism in Europe.
In 1987, Myanmar’s military invalidated around 80% value of money to curb black market. The decision led to economic disruption which in turn gave rise to mass protests against the military rule resulting in the killing of many.
The dictators of all fascistic forces always project a democratic veneer. An American journalist, Dorothy Thompson, who thought Hitler was a man of “startling insignificance” in 1928 realised the mistake soon and corrected her views. In 1935 she declared: “No people ever recognized their dictator in advance”.
She went on to add: “He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will.” Applying the lesson to the U.S., she wrote, “When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.” Has not Donald Trump come out exactly like that as also like Modi in our country?"
A very original way in which the Nazi party came to power in Germany, apart from using physical force by its Brown Shirt gang, was to locate the main grievances of people and utilise these to attribute all the ills and misery due to the existing regime.
This is what is also happening now. People, better watch out and be forewarned. The Economist has put it so succinctly: FOR a certain kind of liberal, 2016 stands as a rebuke. If you believe, as The Economist does, in open economies and open societies, where the free exchange of goods, capital, people and ideas is encouraged and where universal freedoms are protected from state abuse by the rule of law, then 2016 was the year of setbacks.
---
*Veteran journalist

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