By James Moules
WHAT is fascism? What does it look like, what does it do, and how can we stop it?
Debates around the resurgence of fascism and the far-right often lead to semantic pedantry that only serves to distract from a very real threat – and one that gets ever more alarming with each passing year.
One year has passed since Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol Building in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election result.
While the rioters failed in their goal, January 6 sets an ominous precent – and one that many a far-right demagogue may look to for inspiration.
In his 2020 book ‘How to Stop Fascism’, left wing journalist Paul Mason examines the phenomenon of resurgent fascism, what it looks like, where it comes from, what the historical parallels are and what we can do to counter it.
Mason splits his book into three sections – ideology, history and resistance.
The first part chronicles the background of the contemporary far-right. From Modi’s India to Trump’s America and from Bolsonaro’s Brazil to Brexit Britain, right wing populism has been on the rise in the 2010s and has given fertile round for the seeds of a new fascism to germinate.
Looking at images and footage of January 6, one of the most striking aspects is the the symbols Trump’s supporters rallied around – such as the Confederate battle flag and the three percenter banner.
The far-right is often defined by symbols, but Mason takes a look at how fascism is built around myths, breaking down several conspiracies of the modern far-right including the Great Replacement, Cultural Marxism and QAnon.
But ‘How to Stop Fascism’ isn’t just about what is happening today. The author understands that to understand the present, we need to look to the past.
Mason himself notes that the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany is one of the most studied and scrutinised periods of history. He uses the second section of his book, history, to detail the early years of both the Nazi movement in Germany and fascism in Italy.
One of the key questions for consideration is this: why didn’t more people spot the threat, and could 20th century fascism have been stopped?
When reading about the rise of Mussolini and Hitler, it is not difficult to see parallels emerging with today. The backdrop of an economic crisis. The emergence of strongman leaders. A divided opposition of leftists and liberals too swamped down by infighting to appreciate the extent of the threat.
Mason’s book isn’t just a warning. It also strives to offer solutions of how anti-fascists can resist the insurgent far-right.
But to stand against fascism, we need to understand precisely what the threat is.
Looking through the work of various theorists of fascism, Mason begins the third section of his book, resistance, by attempting to summarise the threat itself.
Many definitions of fascism are either too nebulous, to jargon-ridden or too brief to fully capture the phenomenon. But considering the analyses of these studies that Mason provides, the book offers extensive insight into scholarship on the topic.
Anyone who is overcome by gloom in the face of the new far-right must read through the final chapters of ‘How to Stop Fascism.’ True to the promise of the title, Mason offers an optimistic glimpse at what anti-fascist organisation can do – and how we can learn from the failures of history.
Unlike many books discussing political theory, Mason’s book his eminently readable and comprehensive. The book’s accessibility is what makes it such a vital tome for anyone who recognises the threat of the resurgent fascism and wants a historically literate guide on how to resist it.
The future is never certain. We are not destined to make the same mistakes witnessed in the 20th century. But to do so, there needs to be an active anti-fascist movement.
‘How to Stop Fascism’ is a fine primer on the threat we face and what to do about it.
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