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Post-fascism or still Fascism?

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

A Review of The New Faces of Fascism: Populism and the Far Right by Enzo Traverso

Peshraw Mohammed

What does the term fascism mean at the beginning of the 21st century? Let us remember the years between the two world wars: violence, dictatorships, racism and genocide. This memory is currently returning. This is how radical right-wing forces are rising. Populism and xenophobia are spreading. Terrorism is reaching alarming proportions.

There are parallels to historical fascism, but also with great differences. This can lead to confusion of terms. For example, the fear of jihadist terror may appear to be one of the reasons for the success of the populist and anti-Islamic extreme right.

Faces of Fascism

In his new book "The new faces of fascism" Enzo Traverso examines these phenomena. The standpoint of the historian Traverso can help us to decipher the mysteries of the present. Traverso suggests the term "post-fascism". It is intended to describe something that is no longer classical fascism, but also something that is not completely new and different. We should not forget, says Traverso, that the term fascism was used in many different ways after the Second World War.

For example, it was used to describe the military dictatorships of Latin America. But in other examples: Theodor W. Adorno wrote in 1959 that "the afterlife of Nazism in democracy" was potentially more dangerous than "the afterlife of fascist tendencies against democracy". Pier Paolo Pasolini, in turn, in 1974 presented neoliberal capitalism as a "new fascism". In contrast, Mussolini's fascist regime seems different.

The new rights

Traversos book is divided into three parts. It illuminates related topics from different perspectives. The section "Post-Fascism" deals with the rise of the new far-right in Europe. For Traverso, the new extreme right is more post-fascist than fascist in the traditional sense of the word. It is true that these new movements, which are still in a state of upheaval, are clearly xenophobic. They belong to the history of fascism. But they do not want to destroy the constitutional state or overthrow democracy, says Traverso.

Traverso rejects the word populism. There would be no common understanding of this term. Traverso himself distinguishes between a European and a Latin American understanding of it. On the one hand, we can call Hugo Chávez a populist, but on the other hand we can also refer to right-wing populist movements in Europe.

Cultural pessimism

In order to avoid such fuzziness, Traverso proposes the term "post-fascism". The logic of post-fascism is more that of a "cultural pessimism": defending traditional values and "threatened" national identities, claiming national sovereignty against globalization, and seeking a scapegoat among immigrants, refugees and Muslims.

Lack of EU criticism of Traverso

Socialists in all European countries are promoting the defence of the current form of the European Union (EU) in order to fight the far right. The "humanisation" of capitalism, however, will no longer be possible with the advent of neoliberalism at the latest. Unfortunately, Traverso believes that the right can only be fought by a transformed EU without fundamentally changing the EU itself.

This review first appeared in marx21 magazine. Reproduced with permission.

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