It's essays like this one that I most appreciate Orwell, because he gives us a concise observation of how people in the mid 1940's actually defined Fascism. We know how they reacted, but how did they intellectually orient themselves? The easiest way at the time to define it was of course was by noting the Germans and the Italians, who practiced Naziism and Fascism, respectively. Naziism is a subdivision of Fascism, with one major delineating detail; a master race. Fascism itself doesn't have an ideal of a master race because the State is the master. The majority's reaction toward Fascism was impressive because it was generally emotionally based, which meant almost any ideology one opposed was thereby dubbed Fascist.
Orwell identifies how these groups were consequently perceived:
Conservatives: Patriotic, hence "Fascist-minded."
Socialists: Labour parties and trade unions are principal collaborators in Nazi-occupied countries.
Communists: They aim at approximately the same thing as Fascists; State regulation and control.
Trotskyists: Seen as being crypto-Fascist, or secretly supporting or admiring them, I'm guessing because it's based on rejuvenating a body of people, despite orienting itself toward the proletariat's power instead of the State.
Catholics: Were universally regarded as pro-Fascist, both subjectively and objectively. Subjectively, if you don't share their faith, you're vermin. Objectively, the Church is the spiritual representation of the State.
War-resisters: If you resist battling Fascism, you make their job easier, hence you support them.
Supporters of War: If you battle Fascism, you're like them, hence you support them.
Nationalists: Their belief in unified national identity was universally regarded as inherently Fascist.
Fascism certainly deserves its licks, but the almost universal smear campaign was ineffective at allowing people to understand Fascism because the smear campaign was so wildly emotionally reactive. The reaction was anti-Fascist propaganda, which is ironic because propaganda was the primary device in both Hitler and Mussolini's regimes. I get it, the aggression and proselytizing within Fascism are easy to treat with anger and frustration, but the repercussions to exercising this emotional response developed and spread ignorance to a clear understanding of "their enemy." It's possible this emotional reaction occurred because Fascism (and it's more aggressive offspring, Naziism) was universally understood as wrong by those who didn't participate in it. Since no clear cut definition of Fascism existed though, these groups pointed the finger at each other as being Fascist, mirroring each other's idiotic and thus, ineffective behavior.
I understand that it's simple to critique other people, cultures, and historical trends because we are distant from them, but that's only half of the possible limitation of critique. It can be as equally simple to critique our own current cultures because they emotionally effect us. So if we're lazy and irresponsible with our critiques--whether as a Nationalist onto a Fascist or a 21st century person onto a 20th century person--we wind up merely labeling things artificially, or smearing them. Hannah Arendt has much to say about our responsibility to think and judge for ourselves, and it looks like the moral milieu of mid-20th century European government was quite reactionary and relativistic.
The smear campaign levied upon Fascism didn't hurt it, it actually helped it. It turned ideologies against one another, reducing their individual validity and potency. This legitimized Fascism to a point of sensationalizing it, due to the severity of the emotional reaction it caused in so many people. Also, since Mussolini and Hitler's campaign were so close in time, that impotent emotional reaction was compounded.
Orwell's response on page 579 to this hysteria was practical: "All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as if usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword." This is actually a life lesson, because despite how good it feels to smear something so definitively bad, losing perspective of what bad is and why it's bad puts us in a perilous intellectual position. When we vilify something, we're not far off from justifying doing some bad things on our own, in the name of our own cause. Once again, we need be prudent with our words and ideals.
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