A recent article in the Guardian complained about the use of the “Nazi” metaphor when criticising the Coalition asylum seeker policy. The author, Hila Shachar, complained that “images of those killed by the Nazis to make a point about our own government’s refugee policies is demeaning to victims”.
There is much truth to the fact that the use of the term “Nazi” as a meaningless four letter term of abuse by both sides of politics is to be greatly deplored. The Independent recently had an article about the deplorable use of crude Nazi insults in politics. On the other hand this overlooks the fact that there are genuine structural parallels between the resurgence and mainstreaming of the far right both in Australia (as well as internationally) today, and that of the rise of fascism in the 1920-30s. This subject is admirably dealt with by Aurélien Mondon (University of Bath) in his excellent book The Mainstreaming of the Extreme Right in France and Australia:
However much Shachar may complain, nothing can change the fact that the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to which Australia is signatory was set up in the wake of the refugee crisis created by the Holocaust. If we had been living in the 1930s, the Coalition government would be talking about “turning back the boats” to force Jewish refugees to “go back where you came from”. Then, as of now, it would have been easy to rationalise it by labelling the boatloads of Jews as “economic migrants” exaggerating the imminent danger to them (coupled by repetition of reassurances by the German government that the Jews would be humanely treated):
“Turn back the boats”: when boat loads of Jewish Holocaust survivors started to arrive in Australia after the war, they were negatively caricatured in the Australian media as undesirable racial “imports”
Though there are numerous aspects of the resurgence of mainstream right-wing extremism that parallel the rise of fascism in the 1920-30s, the “Nazi” label has become so absurdly emotionalised by popular culture that people either expect a Charlie Chaplin “Great Dictator” figure, or some demon with horns doing the fascist salute:
So when the extreme right go mainstream in slick modern PR packaging, while aggressively distancing themselves from their past failures—or even wilfully accusing their opponents of being “Nazis”—then nobody sees that it is just old wine in new bottles.
Tony Abbott would doubtless argue that his party has no official plans for extermination or genocide—but the National Socialist Party almost certainly never had such plans either. Never during Weimar Republic elections did the National Socialist Party campaign on an election platform promising world wars and mass murder of millions. The one time there was open violence against Jews in the streets on Kristallnacht, the result was an unmitigated PR disaster for the government, as even usual party supporters were horrified by the excesses. From then on, all persecution of Jews and other minorities would be conducted behind a veil of the utmost secrecy.
Most modern historians think that, rather than there being a clearly defined premeditated “intentionalist” plan to commit genocide, a series of “structural” events were the decisive factor in precipitating the Holocaust, as a series of catastrophic coinciding events colluded to engender what is termed “progressive radicalisation” of National Socialist Jewish policy. The most important of these structural elements were the presence of a large number of political detainees in camps whose human rights had been stripped from them: a perfect setup for mass abuse by any regime that cares little for their welfare, however much it may make hypocritical claims otherwise:
A National Socialist propaganda film showing the “idyllic life” in a concentration camps
Tony Abbott: It’s humane, it’s cost-effective and it’s proven
New York Times (21 Feb 2014): Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers sent to offshore processing centers is cruel, inhuman and degrading and it violates international law, the United Nations’ human rights office said Friday.
However, the same erosion of human rights is occurring without doubt in those detainees in Australian detention centres. While it would certainly take a coincidence of truly catastrophic structural circumstances to engender a similar “progressive radicalisation” that would transform these detention centres into mass extermination centres, the concentration of political detainees stripped of human rights is the first step down the slippery path that renders people vulnerable to such systematic mass abuse. Doubly so when this detention occurs behind a great veil of secrecy, where blanket reassurances of humane treatment replace independent scrutiny.
Another parallel with fascism is with the appearance of charismatic Christian elements in the modern neoliberal iteration of the New Guard. Even their claims to being too “Christian” to be Nazis are extremely dubious. The whole narrative about National Socialism being a secular movement of “Godless monsters” like Communism is completely false. For example, Goebbels wrote in Michael—a German fate in diary notes (1926):
The war we are fighting until victory or the bitter end is in its deepest sense a war between Christ and Marx.
Christ: the principle of love.
Marx: the principle of hate.
Der Kampf, den wir heute ausfechten bis zum Sieg oder bis zum bitteren Ende, ist im tiefsten Sinne ein Kampf zwischen Christus und Marx.
Christus: das Prinzip der Liebe.
Marx: das Prinzip des Hasses.
Adolf Hitler writes in My Struggle (Mein Kampf) that:
If the Jew gains victory over the people of this world with the help of his Marxist Confession of Faith, then his crown will become mankind’s Dance of Death . . . That is why I believe that I am acting as the agent of the Almighty Creator: in that I am warding off the Jews, I am fighting to do the Lord’s work.
Siegt der Jude mit Hilfe seines marxistischen Glaubens-bekenntnisses über die Völker dieser Welt, dann wird seine Krone der Totentanz der Menschheit sein . . . So glaube ich heute im Sinne des allmächtigen Schöpfers zu handeln: Indem ich mich des Juden erwehre, kämpfe ich für das Werk des Herrn.
Mein Kampf. My own translation from the chapter: Marxismus als Zerstörer der Kultur (Marxism as the Destroyer of Culture).
The rhetoric here is that Marxism is a “Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy” to take over the world: in those days both sides of German politics used the four letter accusation of “Jude” (Jew) in the same way that “Nazi” is used today. The National Socialists saw themselves as fighters against Godless Communism and the “Spawn of Judah” in the name of Christ:
Heartfield (Arbeiter-Illustrierten Zeitung, no. 23, Berlin, June 1933) from the cover of:
Heartfield’s commentary on Nazi Christianity:
‘On the Founding of the German State Church: the Catholic Adolf Hitler organises the Protestant German state church and names a Reich bishop.’
In her book Twisted Cross, Doris Bergen summarises National Socialist masculine Christianity:
We want a kind of Christianity—with which one can do something in life, a Christianity of which our youth will say: that is alive, there is heroism there. That is not ‘only’ for old women, but for the lifeaffirming men of the Third Reich”. German Christian flyer.
“The German Christians aimed to include all Aryan Germans in the people’s church. Within that institution, however, they foresaw a hierarchy based on gender. The people’s church, German Christians insisted, would be a “manly” church that enshrined and promoted masculine qualities. … [C]ritics accused Christianity of preaching weakness, humility, and defeatism, feminine traits antithetical to National Socialist values. In their efforts to defend against those charges, German Christians showed how they shared the principles of their attackers. True Christianity, they argued, was not feminine and weak but manly and hard.
The complicity between the fascist states and the Catholic Church to which Tony Abbott belongs—just like Francis de Groot—has been beautifully written about by Karlheinz Deschner in his book God and the Fascists:
Astonishingly, this book—written in 1965—is appearing only now in English translation for the first time. This is even the first English edition of any of Deschner’s books, a much respected thinker, who is also the author of a ten volume edition entitled The Criminal History of Christianity. Just as the church managed to suppress stories about paedophile priests, they appear to have succeeded in suppressing the dissemination of Deschner’s writings—until now. The writing is spellbindingly elegant, making God and the Fascists a must-read. In the foreword by the editor to this superb new English translation, Peter Gorenflos writes:
In his resume at the end of the book, Karlheinz Deschner says, in 1965, “If one considers the attitude of Eugenio Pacelli to the politics of Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, and Pavelic, it hardly seems an exaggeration to say: Pius XII is probably more incriminated than any other pope has been for centuries. He is so obviously involved in the most hideous atrocities of the Fascist era, and therefore of history itself, both directly and indirectly, that it would not be surprising, given the tactics of the Roman Church, if he were to be canonized.” And now the beatification is already under way, less than fifty years later!
If Hitler had won the war, one may wish to add, then he would presumably have long since attained the same Catholic honors.
Hitler shaking hands with a Catholic cardinal
Even Tony Abbott’s personal brand of masculine Christianity and the frank misogyny of its disregard for women’s rights recalls the disdain that fascists had for women’s rights in general. The strutting displays of masculinity recall Mussolini’s cult of athletic male virility:
While sporting activity in itself is innocuous enough, as with the 1936 Berlin Olympics, as a public display by a politician it takes on wider symbolic meaning—as with the Stadio di Marmi in Rome, built by the fascists:
It was all part and parcel of the politics of the body and of race that became intrinsic to fascism. Statues in the street during the 1936 Berlin Olympics:
Leni Riefenstahl’s iconic images of the Munich Olympics:
Compare it to equally iconic images of the Australian beach scene from the same era:
Tony Abbott’s barechested displays are a surreptitious allusion to a Golden Age of White Australia populated by blond haired and blue eyed Aryan types. In fact, the last of the two images comes from a website that looks like this:
In his book, Mondon argues that the fascist New Guard never really took hold in Australia because the ideology of a marginalised protest voice from the far right had been taken up by mainstream political parties: the White Australia policy. Today we see the same thing happening over again in contemporary Australia.
While I agree with Sharchan that the use of the term “Nazi” as a meaningless four letter term of abuse is to be deplored, especially when used by the right as part of its rhetoric, the parallels between the events of the early 20th century and the resurgence of the far right today are so alarming that it is inadequate to dismiss any genuine attempt to point these structural parallels out as petty inflammatory rhetoric. For today, gone is the classical centre-right liberalism of a Malcolm Fraser who has tossed in his Liberal Party membership because of its swing to the far right. If there is anything that is offensive to the memory of the victims of fascism, it is that they would have died in vain if the Holocaust is turned into an abstract historical event akin to the Punic Wars, a distant curiosity of little immediate significance to us today. To reduce this dark chapter in history to one from which we can glean nothing of contemporary significance is an immense tragedy. For those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it.