Okay, look. I’m going to try very hard and keep this relatively non-partisan, because the fault lies on both sides. But if there’s one thing I hate, it’s historically inaccurate name-calling. As the political season heats up, I’m seeing more and more mistakes of that kind, and it is, quite frankly, driving me bonkers. I don’t mind political discussions, but I do mind when those political discussions get derailed by poorly thought out buzzwords that do not mean what you think they mean.
Also, for those of you not up with current internet lingo: Godwin’s Law states that the first person to invoke Nazis in a fight automatically loses.
The biggest offender? This weird verbal tic of calling Obama a socialist *and* a fascist. YOU CANNOT BE BOTH A SOCIALIST AND A FASCIST. THEY ARE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. That would be like describing me as tall *and* short. I could be tall (I am not) or I could be short (I am), but I cannot be both tall and short. Also, socialism and communism should not be used interchangeably: yes, they have some similar ideologies and come from similar movements in the mid-nineteenth century, but they are NOT THE SAME THING. Lastly, fascism is not *exactly* the same thing as Nazism— Nazism is a form of fascism, but it does not encompass all of the fascist movement. This last mixup doesn’t bother me as much as the others, since fascism has largely disappeared as a dominant political force and most people learn about fascism through the lens of studying the Nazis, but still: Nazism=/= fascism. So before you call someone a Communist Nazi this fall and make me lose my goddamn mind, please consult this guide to these terms.
First, please note the difference between “political ideology” and “economic philosophy.” THESE ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. Socialism and capitalism are economic philosophies that have little to do with how a government is structured. Fascism and communism are political ideologies that are more focused on government than economics. (To my friends in academia: yes, this is sort of an oversimplification. But before you lecture me on the nuances of socialism vs. communism, please remember this is a blog primarily devoted to my love of sci-fi and ABC Family shows).
Socialism: An economic philosophy based on the government providing a strong safety net for its citizens. This may include government control of certain industries (such as energy) but does not necessarily require a centrally planned economy or total government control of all industries. The right to private property is still acknowledged, and private enterprise is encouraged. Characteristics of a socialist nation include universal health care, high levels of worker protection and guarantees (such as extended parental leave and a minimum wage set based on the cost-of-living, not market forces) and high taxes to provide these services. Socialist countries have representative governments that answer to their people.
People, places, and things that are currently socialist: Sweden, Norway, most of Scandinavia. Most European nations have some socialist-leaning programs, such as the National Health Service in Britain, but the existence of these programs are not enough to declare all of Europe “socialist.” In general, a socialist country will acknowledge it is a socialist country, because contrary to American political dialogue, “socialism” is not a dirty word.
People, places, and things that are NOT socialist: The United States of America, President Obama, the Democrats. And no, saying BUT THEY WANT SOME SLIGHTLY SOCIALIST THINGS is not the same as them actively advocating for a complete change in our economic system. And if you ignore my advice and say it anyway, at least remember that the socialist countries you’re talking about STILL HAVE REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENTS, OKAY?
Communism: A political ideology predicated on the eventually disappearance of private property and the state. Go ahead and read Marx’s Communist Manifesto if you like (it’s not that long and I have two copies, if you’d like one) but the biggest and most important difference between socialism and communism is socialism accepts private property and enterprise as part of a functioning economy, and communism does not. Marx believed that over time, once everything was shared, a central government would cease to be necessary and everyone would live in peaceful harmony. Obviously, none of the communist states have ever progressed to that point. Existing Communist countries tend to have a central political body, but are one party states so voting doesn’t really mean anything. Communist countries don’t tend to be big on “free speech” or allow for a non-government controlled press.
Places, people, and things that are currently communist:China, mostly. Americans have a bad tendency to conflate communism with totalitarianism (Stalin and the USSR, Mao, Pol Pot) which is not strictly true. The reason there are similarities between Stalin and Hitler is because extremists tend to resemble extremists no matter their political allegiances, and also both men were complete psychopaths. Marx’s vision for communism is a fairy tale, and there has never been a “true” communist state— because that state would no longer have a government, and that’s just not feasible. However, both China and the USSR self-identified as Communist countries, so let’s just take their word for it.
Places, people, and things that are NOT communist: Russia, President Obama, the DNC, all of Europe.
Fascism: Fascism is a political ideology that sprang out of World War I. It appeared first (in the “taking actual political power” sense) in Italy, built around fears of a working class uprising. Fascism appealed to a middle class that was worried about the Communist Revolution in Russia and the possibilities of the working classes embracing communism. Fascism has several characteristics: a strident, often xenophobic nationalism, an emphasis on everyone having a “place” in society, and a fetish for the military and violence. Fascism relies heavily on the patriarchal family structure writ large: a benevolent father in charge, while everyone else in the family does every thing he says without question. In politics and economics, this translates to one decisive man making unilateral decisions (although not always at the government level. Factory owners had quite a bit of leeway under fascism since it was created to counter the strength of the working class). Fascist movements have a militaristic component as well. The British Union of Fascists liked to wear pseudo-military uniforms, marched around like they were a militia, and gave each other military-esque awards. The emphasis on military life and unquestioning obedience to your “commanding officer” is a key part of fascist philosophy, along with a fetishization of violence as “cleansing.” So, before you call someone a fascist, take a good look at that person first. Are they demanding a government dominated by a single party with a charismatic leader at the front, whose followers like to beat up everyone that disagrees with them and constantly talk about how wars are awesome and only good things come out of wars (because the weak are murdered) and also everyone who isn’t from [country of origin] isn’t worthy of life? No? They only want one or two of those things? Guess what? NOT FASCIST.
People, places, and things that are currently fascist: Right-wing extremist groups like the KKK and Neo-Nazis. World War II really did a number on the whole “fascism as a viable political ideology” bit. And yes, fascism is right wing because fascism grew out of a reactionary response to communism, which is arguably about as “left wing” as you can get. Hence, fascism= right wing, but that does not mean that right wing= fascist, okay?
People, places, and things that are NOT currently fascist: The United States of America, the GOP, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, President Obama, the DNC. In short: there are no *actual* fascists in American politics these days. And no, you can’t say BUT I DISAGREED WITH PRESIDENT BUSH AND HE LIKES THE MILITARY SO HE’S GOTTA BE A FASCIST, RIGHT? Wrong. Because unless I missed something, President Bush did not have militias roaming the countryside, publicly beating up people for voting against him.
Nazism: Nazism is, as I said before, a *form* of fascism that is unique to Germany in the 1930s and 1940s (I’m not counting Neo-Nazis, because they’re straight up crazy and also hold no legitimate political power). It has all the characteristics of fascism, with one major addition: systematic destruction of the Jewish people. While all fascists in the interwar years were pretty damn xenophobic and antisemitic, *only* Nazism had antisemitism and the destruction of European Jewry as a central part of their ideology. So, again, before you call someone a Nazi take a good look at that person first. Are they demanding a single party government with a charismatic leader at the front, whose followers like to beat up everyone that disagrees with them and constantly talk about how wars are awesome and only good things come out of wars (because the weak are murdered) and also everyone who isn’t from the Aryan race isn’t worthy of life and wants to kill all Jewish people everywhere? No? They only want one or two of those things? Guess what: NOT A NAZI. The exception, of course, is if this person is only advocating for the death of all people of Jewish descent. Go ahead and call that asshole a Nazi, and then call the police, because yikes.
Important difference between Nazism and socialism alert! But doesn’t Nazi stand for “National Socialist Workers Party?” Yes! It does! BUT IT’S NOT SOCIALIST. The name is a misnomer, like if Greenpeace was taken over by people bent on polluting every single bit of undeveloped wilderness on Earth. Would you still consider it an environmental protection organization? Or would you acknowledge that while the original name stood for “environmental protection” it now means “environmental destruction?” How do I know that Nazis were not socialists despite their name? Because when not passing horrible laws about Jewish people, the Nazis were rounding up, beating, imprisoning, and executing socialists. Socialists were actually the first victims of Nazi concentration camps, several years before WWII even started.
People, places, and things that are currently Nazi: NONE.
Part of politics is disagreeing with people, and that’s totally fine. Go ahead and disagree with President Obama’s policies, but please remember a few things: He is not a Nazi, a fascist, or a communist, and “socialism” does not mean “complete destruction of private property and also the end of the world” or even “communist” but rather “strong government safety net for its citizens.” Similarly, neither Paul Ryan nor Mitt Romney are fascists or Nazis. Arguments over policy are important— but so is knowing your history. So please, (pretty please) during the last few months of the campaign, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, don’t use these terms unless you’re *sure* you’re using them correctly.
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