Real Fascists Don’t Use Swastikas

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ONE OF THE MOST puzzling features of contemporary New Zealand fascism is its self-imposed failure. When fascist groups are discussed, the image conjured-up in the minds of most New Zealanders is one of pathetic misfits. This negative impression is reinforced by the latter’s idiotic embrace of the swastika. Even in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the baleful legacy of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich is more than powerful enough to consign those who embrace its iconography to the category of crank and/or criminal. When combined with the contemporary Kiwi fascists’ shaven heads and multiple tattoos, these wilful references to the defeated fascists of the past fundamentally compromise their entire political project.

Such self-destructive behaviour suggests that New Zealand fascists simply do not understand the nature of the ideology to which they have attached themselves. Above all else, fascists validate the national community. In the local context, this means embracing all the myths and symbols of the New Zealand nation state. No genuine New Zealand fascist would consider for a single moment marching down the street beneath the flag of their country’s World War II enemy!

Genuine fascists present themselves to their fellow citizens not as outsiders, but as the ultimate insiders: the ones whose attachment to the core values of the nation is stronger than any of their political rivals.

That Hitler’s stormtroopers wore uniforms did not strike the Germans of the 1920s as either odd or sinister. (As the wearing of uniforms outside the armed forces and the police most certainly strikes today’s New Zealanders as both odd and sinister.) Many groups in pre-World War I German society wore uniforms – student societies in particular. In most Germans’ eyes they simply betokened unity and collective purpose: positives – not negatives. The swastika, similarly, when adopted as the symbol of the Nazi Party, struck most Germans as intriguing rather than threatening. When it was explained to them that it was an ancient symbol, representing the power and purity of their “Aryan” origins, they were impressed – not repelled.

The equivalent in contemporary New Zealand society would be an ancient Maori symbol. A Kiwi fascist would present this as proof of his movement’s mystical connection with land and people.

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The misfits who call themselves fascists, while carrying around the swastika flag, understand nothing about the political iconography of radical nationalist movements. Indeed, it is hard to imagine anything more calculated to make the rest of the country regard them as an outside force that must be destroyed – rather than as a deeply patriotic group with privileged access to the inner wellsprings of their nation’s identity.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what a New Zealand fascist movement might look like is to describe the rise and fall of the New Zealand Legion – the closest this country has ever come to a mass fascist organisation.

In essence, the Legion represented the outrage and distress of upper- and middle-class New Zealanders at the seemingly intractable problems thrown up by the Great Depression. While the incumbent United-Reform coalition government seemed incapable of effective action, the Labour Opposition struck members of the business and professional classes as a clear and present threat to their wealth and status.

Shaken by the riots of the unemployed in 1932, a group of “patriotic” businessmen, professionals, sheep-farmers, teachers and journalists came together, in February 1933, with the purpose of galvanising the respectable classes into action. Within a few months 20,000 people (mostly males over 40 who had served as officers in the First World War) had joined the NZ Legion – numbers rivalled only by the mass membership of the 1930s Labour Party.

On the card they were required to sign, intending members read:

“[R]ealising the present serious National emergency, and the necessity for all good citizens to subordinate private and political interests and to make any necessary personal sacrifice for the sake of the country, [I] agree to become a member of the New Zealand Legion and to further loyally, by every means in my power, by vote, example and personal influence, the objects of the Legion.

They further pledged to be “loyal to his majesty the King, the British Empire, and the New Zealand Constitution.”

In essence, the Legion sought to take politics out of politics by outlawing political parties. (Which was just a typically pusillanimous middle-class way of calling for the outlawing of the Labour Party!)

Politics, however, was what ultimately killed the Legion. Its leaders and members simply couldn’t agree on what it was, exactly, that patriotic New Zealanders needed to do. Unlike a genuine fascist movement, it lacked a charismatic leader capable of preventing such crippling internal debates by reserving all policy-making powers to himself.

By 1934, the legion was on the wane. A year later, the Labour Party, whose 50,000 members had some very clear ideas about what needed to be done, was elected to govern the country. The Legion was over.

Or was it?

According to the historians at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture:

“With the conservative parties being well and truly trounced by Labour at the 1935 election, the Legion was soon forgotten. Some of its members, though, became active in the new National Party formed in 1936. Eight former Legionnaires were selected as National candidates in the 1938 election, and the movement’s greatest success story, Sid Holland, went on to serve as National Prime Minister from 1949 to 1957.”

Contemporary Kiwi fascists would be wise to take heed of the lesson provided by Sid Holland and his fellow Legionnaires. The cause of radical nationalism is best served by aligning oneself and one’s followers with those individuals and groups possessing the power and resources necessary to advance it.

From the very beginning, Hitler’s Nazi Party (like Mussolini’s fascists) was able to call upon the resources of extremely wealthy and well-connected supporters. And you may be sure that when he called upon these supporters for financial and political assistance, Hitler arrived wearing a well-tailored suit and a silk tie – not a brown shirt. He certainly didn’t arrive carrying the Tricolour or wearing the steel helmet of a French infantryman!

Indeed, when he ran for the German presidency in 1932, Hitler presented himself as a decorated war hero who did not drink or smoke and who followed a strict vegetarian diet. Those newspapers sympathetic to his party’s cause told their readers that this former artist and front-line soldier, who had been awarded the Iron Cross (First Class) for his bravery under fire, loved cakes, dogs, children – and, above all else in the world, Germany.

All of these details were correct.

Of course, if the 37 percent of Germans who voted for Hitler in 1932 had known what he would do to their country, and the world, between 1933 and 1945, it is unlikely that quite so many of them would have given him their support!

But, that’s the terrifying thing about real fascists, they don’t come wearing warning signs, and they aren’t obliged to present us with x-rays of their souls.

That New Zealand’s tiny collection of self-proclaimed fascists choose to come before us bearing both of these identifying items, tells us two very important things. 1) They’re not really fascists. 2) If we want to identify those radical nationalists who are truly dangerous, then we need to look elsewhere than pathetic collections of wannabe führers.

35 COMMENTS

  1. I agree 100% Chris. Well argued. In fact, this is one of the (many) things that makes the new Star Wars movies so frustrating. The last thing a new Evil Empire would do is use all the symbolism and even the uniforms of the defeated Evil Empire. Instead, like Palpatine in the prequels, it would present itself as the most loyal defenders of the New Republic, perhaps even claiming the mantle of the New Jedi in Luke Skywalker’s absence.

  2. Chris Trotter on the use of the swastika by the Nazis:

    “The equivalent in contemporary New Zealand society would be an ancient Maori symbol. A Kiwi fascist would present this as proof of his movement’s mystical connection with land and people”.

    Chris, I think the equivalent would be a Nisbett cartoon, a NIMBY pitchfork or a mailbox pamphlet delivered by your local Hobson’s Pledge foot soldier.

    • No, no, Jody! You’ve missed the point of the essay entirely. What I was trying to warn The Daily Blog’s readers about is the danger of the truly effective fascist. The latter will not call himself a fascist; will not look like a refugee from Charlottesville; and will come across as both plausible and inspiring to the ordinary voter. The successful assassin of our liberties is always the one we don’t see coming – until it’s too late.

    • I’ve been among the many well meaning opponents of corporate domination who have quoted this to people over the years. It seemed like an concise description of the results of neoliberal policy. But apparently Mussolini never actually said it, or at least nothing close to it can be found in his surviving writings. Also Mussolini’s idea of merging state and corporate power, as recorded in his writings on fascism, have more to do with control of industry by a socially conservative state, than the control of the state by socially liberal corporations, which is a more apt description of neoliberal capitalism in practice. Which explains the otherwise confusing mashup of anti-corporate and anti-liberal sentiments we see in the new ethno-nationalisms.

  3. Great Post @ CT. Superbly written, in my opinion.
    I remember my father saying very dark things about sid holland and those things must have been said loudly because I’d a not been much more than a foetus at the time.
    It’s my opinion, that the face of modern fascism is the face of modern banking and their storm troopers is the insurance ‘industry’.
    Bankers and insurers et al, in my opinion, do more damage to our society, our freedoms and our mental and physical health than all the cigarettes, booze, P and car crashes combined.
    Banksters.
    https://www.rnz.co.nz/programmes/the-detail/story/2018708634/banks-behaving-badly

  4. Franco had a pretty good innings mainly, I suppose, because he kept Spain out of WWII. Prospects for fascism in Germany may have been better had Neville Chamberlain not declared war and forced Germany to fight on two fronts. Chamberlain is often thought of as naive on account of his “peace for our times” declaration. But perhaps it was Hitler who was naive.

    • Ahem, Mikesh, Hitler was not forced to fight on two fronts. Before he invaded Poland, triggering war with the UK and France, Hitler had secured his eastern flank by signing a non-aggression pact with Stalin. It was entirely his choice to launch Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. And although it looks like a dumb move from where we are sitting, the truth is he very nearly pulled it off. Indeed, some still insist that had the Fuhrer allowed his generals to run the invasion of the Soviet Union, it would have fallen and Germany would have won the war. Good thing he didn’t, eh?

      • I’m no historian, but I suspect that the non-aggression pact was a prophylactic measure in case Britain declared war. I think he relied on his agreement with Chamberlain, and that the invasion of Russia was his ultimate goal.

        Perhaps he thought, after Dunkirk, that Britain was no longer a threat.

      • Chris Trotter: “….Hitler had secured his eastern flank by signing a non-aggression pact with Stalin. It was entirely his choice to launch Operation Barbarossa in June 1941.”

        Hitler’s one and only interest was attacking the USSR. And, to a lesser extent, France; but inept German diplomacy had created a situation where Britain and France could not avoid declaring war on Germany.

        Not too long ago, I read an analysis of the events leading up to the signing of the non-aggression pact. The USSR saw very clearly the threat of Nazi Germany; it had earlier attempted to enlist Poland as an ally against Germany, but was rebuffed, because Poland was collaborating with Hitler. The pact was justified from the USSR point of view, as it led to the acquisition of territory that would otherwise have been taken over by Germany.

        Poland apparently couldn’t grasp the fact that the accommodation with Germany was strictly temporary, and certain to be disposed of, once German rearmament and territorial expansion in central Europe was complete.

        Eminent Polish historians argue to this day that a full alliance with Nazi Germany was desirable, as though Germany would have had any interest in such a thing; as if Hitler was going to invade the USSR, just to do Poland a favour.

        Note that – in an astonishing piece of historical amnesia – the Polish government has begun to demand war reparations from Germany. The main consequence of the German occupation of Poland was the elimination of Polish Jews, and many Poles didn’t care about that. In fact, many of them were pleased about it: taunted the Jews as the trains carrying them to the death camps passed by. I’m old enough to have heard personal testimony as to this fact, from people who were there at the time. It was also reported on by the contemporary press.

        “Indeed, some still insist that had the Fuhrer allowed his generals to run the invasion of the Soviet Union, it would have fallen and Germany would have won the war.”

        In recent years, WW2 historiography has moved on from uncritical acceptance of the self-congratulatory memoirs of defeated Nazi generals.

        The Nazis were never close to success, and if Hitler had followed the generals’ logistics-blind advice, he would have lost the war harder and sooner. Pity that didn’t happen: many Russian lives – along with those of other countries – would have been saved.

        Mikesh: “Perhaps he thought, after Dunkirk, that Britain was no longer a threat.”

        Hitler had a marked Anglophilic streak, and could never understand why his pathetic adoration wasn’t reciprocated. Had he wished to invade Britain, he’d have done so. And – given Britain’s weakness – his troops would have succeeded. Britain isn’t Russia.

        • “because Poland was collaborating with Hitler”

          Interesting, that. I read in a history book (“1938” by Giles MacDonogh) that Poland’s government at the time was also right-wing/fascist. Weird, but it appears that one fascist country (Germany) attacked, invaded, and partitioned another right wing country (Poland), and allowed the remaining partitioned zone to be “Sovietised”…

          • “….it appears that one fascist country (Germany) attacked, invaded, and partitioned another right wing country (Poland)….”

            There’s a deepish history of nationalist and right-wing political thought in Europe – as I discovered when I studied Political Philosophy at uni many years ago. Such views become part of the political culture.

            As far as I can recall, it didn’t drive conflicts, in the sense that countries didn’t go to war to topple fascist/right-wing governments. To be sure, fascists are usually anti-communist (although communism was live politically in Italy after WW2), as was Hitler. And communism was his stalking horse in invading the USSR; but in reality, he was after Russian resources.

            Various commentators point to the rise of nationalism and the right-wing over the past few years. See this for one source, though there are many:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_active_nationalist_parties_in_Europe

            And this (though I don’t usually link to BBC sources):

            https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36130006

            We have family and extended family in central Europe. Right-wing governments notwithstanding, that part of the world is orderly and safe for tourists and visitors such as us. In our experience, crime isn’t much of an issue anywhere there. Unlike other parts of the world; such as the UK. Or NZ, come to that.

            We all need to remember that the countries of Europe have land boundaries: in the past, there was a constant threat of invasion. In central Europe, the citizens of Austria certainly haven’t forgotten the Turkish invasions: there are many reminders throughout the country. There’s the Turk statue – known as the Turk under the roof – on Palais Saurau in Graz. And – also in Graz – the Landzeughaus: the world’s largest historic armoury. Graz was on the front line of Turkish invasions of Europe: the armoury’s purpose was to arm the citizens at short notice. It held enough weapons for 28,000 men.

            Nobody should be surprised at widespread nationalism and wariness about immigration in that part of the world. I’d add that the political arrangements of the countries of Europe are their business: nobody else’s.

  5. Awesome blog proves that we never really grow up in that we all need a boogeyman to keep us in a state of paranoia and fear
    The right ( the white Y front brigade) can beat the left up with socialism/communism and the left ( champagne socialists) can beat the right up with neoliberalism/fascism

  6. “Real Fascists Don’t Use Swastikas”
    You’re right! – they use the Antifa symbol today.
    If you’re looking for black clad thugs wearing masks smashing shop windows and beating up innocent bystanders in the street (all with the unofficial complicity of the local mayor) look no further than those losers in Portland and Seattle. Just like these thugs claimed to be ‘anti-communist’ so these people claim to be anti-fascist.

    Mark Twain: History doesn’t repeat but it often rhymes

    • Andrew: “….they use the Antifa symbol today.
      If you’re looking for black clad thugs wearing masks smashing shop windows and beating up innocent bystanders in the street (all with the unofficial complicity of the local mayor) look no further than those losers in Portland and Seattle. Just like these thugs claimed to be ‘anti-communist’ so these people claim to be anti-fascist.”

      Yup. Anyone paying attention to news reports that don’t come from the msm will have noticed this. Antifa scares the shit out of me; in truth, I’m much less bothered by the right-wing groups against which Antifa professes to stand.

      • And yet, it is common knowledge that right-wingers have killed several hundred people in attacks over the last few decades, whereas Antifa has killed precisely – no one.

        The alleged Christchurch terrorist who gunned down and killed fifty one people (plus dozens more injured) was not from Antifa.

        • “The alleged Christchurch terrorist who gunned down and killed fifty one people (plus dozens more injured) was not from Antifa.”

          There are plenty of left-wing mass murderers (as I’m sure that you know), and Antifa is a tactic, not an organisation.

          Nonetheless, Antifa scares the shit out of me; Andrew’s characterisation is bang-on.

            • Heh, Frank! You better believe it….. my limit is Antifa. Its tactics are exactly those it claims to deplore in the far right.

          • “There are plenty of left-wing mass murderers (as I’m sure that you know)”

            Sure. Stalin. Pol Pot. Mao. Assorted Eastern European satrap dictators. Take your pick.

            But not Antifa. The death toll from them is precisely: zero.

            • “But not Antifa. The death toll from them is precisely: zero.”

              So far. Don’t hold your breath over that…… Antifa’s tactics are seriously frightening. Not least its enthusiasm for crimping others’ freedoms, by whatever means it considers to be justified.

            • Adding to my wariness of Antifa, Frank, this is worth a read: I recommend it to you. You’ll see Antifa’s roots, and where it’s headed: unless common sense prevails

              http://archive.is/WPrYb

              I am old enough to remember most of the events described in this piece, though not the very earliest of them (eg, the attempted assassination of Truman).

              “…how forgotten so much of this stuff is. Puerto Rican separatists bombed NYC like 300 times, killed people, shot up Congress, tried to kill POTUS (Truman). Nobody remembers it.
              Also, people don’t want to remember how much leftist violence was actively supported by mainstream leftist infrastructure. I’ll say this much for righty terrorist Eric Rudolph: the sonofabitch was caught dumpster-diving in a rare break from hiding in the woods. During his fugitive days, Weatherman’s Bill Ayers was on a nice houseboat paid for by radical lawyers.
              Most ’70s of the bombings were done as protest actions. Unlike today’s jihadists, ’70s underground didn’t try to max body count. And ’70s papers didn’t really give a shit. A Puerto Rican group bombed 2 theaters in the Bronx, injuring eleven, in 1970. NYT gave it 6 paragraphs.”

              Looking back, I’m shocked at the extent to which the reportage of these events at the time was almost approbatory; certainly there wasn’t the condemnation that would have pertained, were it the right wing carrying out such attacks. Moreover, I’m shocked to recall that I wasn’t as shocked by much of it as I ought to have been. I guess that it was the zeitgeist of the time, though that doesn’t make it right.

              • BTW that incredibly slanted, ahistorical piece by David Z Hines is not worth the electricity required to load the web page. Telling the story of left-wing militance in the 70s without talking about the viscious repression and psyops tactics (COINTELPRO) that the nonviolent movements of the 60s faced is blatantly misleading. Militant rhetoric and urban guerilla tactics emerged in the context of events like the assasinations of leaders like MLK and Malcolm X and influencers like John Lennon, and the imprisonment of many more (including Leary), mostly on trumped up drugs charges. The militance only ever involved a fringe of the left, most of whom have carried on with nonviolent activism to this day. Although I haven’t checked, I’m pretty sure white supremacist terrorists have killed more people in the US in the last 3 years than were killed by leftist militants there from 1960-1990.

                • Danyl Strype: “Telling the story of left-wing militance in the 70s without talking about the viscious repression and psyops tactics (COINTELPRO) that the nonviolent movements of the 60s faced is blatantly misleading.”

                  The point he’s making is that the radical left was violent, and that’s been largely forgotten by modern-day US.

                  And – as I can attest, having been a young adult and interested in contemporary politics – the violence of the radical left was under-reported and minimised. As I said above, that was no doubt due to the zeitgeist of the time; but that doesn’t make it right.

                  Of course he has an agenda – who doesn’t? Nevertheless, this stuff needs to be remembered.

                  And my point stands: the tactics of Antifa have their roots in that radicalism. I’m seriously spooked by that: so, I think, should everyone.

                  • There’s having an angle, and then there’s using small sprinklings of facts to tell big lies. For example, Andrew claiming the mosque shooter is a greenie and a communist, not a white supremacist.

                    @D’Esterre:
                    > the radical left was violent

                    This is the lie Hines tells with his sprinklings of facts. Actually, a tiny fringe of the radical left was violent, for a relatively short period, in response to years of violent repression by the state.

                    This has nothing whatsoever to do with antifa militants. They see themselves as the modern continuation of the anti-fascist militance in the first half of the 20th century. For example, the International Brigades fighting Franco’s forces before WW2, and the French, Yugoslav, and Greek resistance movements against German and Italian occupations during WW2.

            • A couple of comments Frank:

              Firstly how do you know the alleged Christchurch killer was a fascist? Having read his manifesto, I note he’s a fan of Communist China and has a radical green agenda. So…?

              Secondly the Dayton Ohio shooter was an Antifa member and supporter. Also the shooter who opened fire on Republican congressmen a while back was an Antifa supporter. Luckily he was a poor shot.

              Lastly the Sturmabteilung (SA) didn’t start out by killing people. They marched, beat people up in the street and damaged property. The parallels are there alright!

              • With all due respect Andrew, I read his manifesto as well and he is a clear cut white supremacist Fascist. If your conclusion after reading the same manifesto is that he is not, then you might need some deep self reflection.

              • I haven’t read the mosque shooter’s manifesto, but I did read the UNAbomber’s back in the late 90s. Now that guy had a “radical green agenda”, but he was also a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. Given that the vast majority of green activists are nonviolent to a fault, including monkeywrenching movements like the ELF, it seems likely Kaczynski’s paranoia had more to do with his letter bomb activities than did his green politics.

                Coming back to the mosque shooter and other white supremacist murderers, it’s not unusual for them to sprinkle a few vague references to green issues into their propaganda. This has two aims. One is an attempt to win environmentalist sympathy for their toxic brew of ethno-nationalism, social conservatism, and anti-government populism. The second, as with vague expressions of support for antifa, is to give their centre-right apologists a vaguely plausible way to pretend their violence is an expression of radical left politics, rather than the extreme right politics they clearly align with in reality. Guess that second one is working exactly as designed, given that I’ve seen Andrew do the terorists’ agitprop work for them at least a couple of times in TDB comments.

                All that said, I share D’Esterre’s antipathy towards antifa discourse. I worry that it’s precisely this kind of self-righteous, overly militant leftism that made it possible for enough ordinary Germans to see fascists as a solution to marxist violence, to get the Nazis into government. A determinedly nonviolent anti-fascist movement is arguably more effective than “punching fascists” (when they’re not in power yet), as it doesn’t have the unintended consequences of making the fascists seem like the victims and the left seem like the aggressor in the minds of the rest of the public. If this has been the left’s strategy in Germany, WW2 and the Nazi holocaust may have been prevented (although probably not Stalin’s pogroms against jewish “capitalists”)

                • Danyl Strype: “…although probably not Stalin’s pogroms against jewish “capitalists””

                  It would be wise to insert links to back up that claim. I suspect that you don’t know the extent of Jewish involvement in Bolshevism and in the hated and feared secret police.

                  We have connections to that part of the world. I assure you that hatred of the Jews was justified: I’ve heard first-hand accounts of what they were like. See this:

                  http://desip.igc.org/HolocaustAndHolodomor.html

                  Probably no surprise that modern-day Israel is as it is.

  7. Danyl Stripe: “Actually, a tiny fringe of the radical left was violent, for a relatively short period, in response to years of violent repression by the state.”

    Whether the violence was committed by a tiny fringe of the radical left was doubtless of little comfort to those affected by it. The events Hines records started around the time I was born, just after WW2, though of course I was too young to remember the earliest of them. They occurred sporadically until the late 1980s at least. That isn’t an insignificant period of time. Again: the point he’s making is that this stuff – awful as it was – has been largely forgotten. And it’s important not to forget.

    I’m an old lefty. When I was a young adult, it is my view that many of us justified radical left-wing violence because it was, in the eyes of the left, in pursuit of a noble cause, so to speak. From this vantage point in my life, I see it for what it was. Nowadays, I remain shocked that I wasn’t more shocked by it.

    “This has nothing whatsoever to do with antifa militants.”

    I disagree; so, it seems, does Hines. Here’s what he says about it:

    “The hard Left selectively uses violence, normalizes it with weasel words: “Direct action.” “Diversity of tactics.” “Nonviolent property damage.” “Antifa.” If you want to know why Righties will get down with streetfighting, if it comes to that: take a look at Antifa. A good long one.”

    I’d be surprised if in the US, Antifa, in its approach, hadn’t taken at least a glance back to the erstwhile violence of the radical left, and incorporated some of those tactics. That’s certainly what it looks like from here. And – disturbingly – the msm is downplaying Antifa violence; just as it did with regard to radical left-wing violence when I was young.

    “Although I haven’t checked, I’m pretty sure white supremacist terrorists have killed more people in the US in the last 3 years than were killed by leftist militants there from 1960-1990.”

    Regarding the death toll, here’s what Hines observes:

    “Most ’70s bombers had no moral objection to killing people, but they also didn’t go to any great lengths to maximize body count. That’s pretty different from 21st-century mass shooters (who tend suicidal) & jihadists (for whom a high body count is part of the message).”

    So it’s noted; Hines points out that they wanted to get away with their crimes. Suicidal mass murderers and jihadists they weren’t.

    In my view, the take-home message of Hines’ piece is that the left can be – and has been – as violent as the right. Moreover, in the US, the left was a great deal better-organised, with more resources on which to rely. We need to be clear-eyed about this.

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