Sometimes You Should Bite the Hand that Feeds You: “Soft” Fascism in Europe

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Laurie and Debbie say:

Debbie has just come back from Greece, where she attended an international conflict resolution conference, including a session on the rise of neofascism in the 21st century.

The United States is an insular country. We have the tendency to think we know how things work everywhere. U.S. neofascism, at least right now, is hard-edged, mean, and uncompromising. In Europe, along with plenty of hard-edged, mean, uncompromising fascism, what we will call “soft” fascism is having a resurgence. Soft fascism has the roughest edges masked, has a goal of making people grateful and/or comfortable, not just xenophobically angry. Then, the soft fascists use the gratitude and comfort to intensify the xenophobic anger.

Winterhilfswerk, the concept of fascists feeding (just their own) people goes back to the early days of pre-Nazi Germany:

Winterhilfswerk or WHW, was an annual drive by the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (National Socialist People’s Welfare Organization) to help finance charitable work. Its slogan was “None shall starve nor freeze”.

After Hitler took power, the WHW grew in scope, and contributing to it was enforced by public shaming and occasionally by putting a noncontributor on trial.

Margarita Papantoniou, writing at the Greek Reporter, relates how in 2013, the Golden Dawn (the Greek Fascist party) attempted an Easter food giveaway in Athens (food for Greeks only).

[Athens Mayor George] Kaminis asked Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, who has verbally sparred with Golden Dawn, to send in the riot squad. About 40 members of Golden Dawn tried to push away the police forces. There was tension and limited use of tear gas.

Kaminis has to be commended for taking a hard line against the Golden Dawn, and at the same time there must have been hungry Greek people in the main square of Athens that morning, who wanted food and not tear gas. This contradiction is the key danger of soft fascism.

In 2016, according to Alex Swerdloff at Vice, National Action Scotland (“an extreme-right youth group in Britain that lionizes Hitler, Mengele, and their ilk; their target audience is said to be disenfranchised white college students”) opened a whites-only food bank.

They are promoting the soup kitchen as an example of “whites helping whites,” and have also stated that the soup kitchen provides “a small glimmer of hope on the streets of Glasgow… to feed and clothe the white homeless population.” The group has partnered with National Rebirth of Poland—Holocaust deniers known for vandalizing the homes of Jewish people, and who are now playing an increasingly active role in the post-Brexit UK Nazi scene.

Swerdloff’s article goes on to discuss historical and current implications of food banks and fascism.

In case you’re thinking about the Black Panther Party and their free breakfast program, the Panthers fed hungry white children too. One example can be found in the third comment to Darryl Robertson’s 2016 post on the free breakfast program at Black Perspectives.

Soft fascism isn’t just giving away food: Marine Le Pen may have been resoundingly defeated in France this past week, but she still made the strongest showing her party has ever seen. Michel Rose writes at Reuters about how Le Pen’s father, who was much more in the hard-edged confrontational fascist style, thinks she has watered down the message too much:

“I think her campaign was too laid-back. If I’d been in her place I would have had a Trump-like campaign, a more open one, very aggressive against those responsible for the decadence of our country, whether left or right,” 88-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen told RTL radio.

The two have been at odds since Marine Le Pen launched moves to clean the National Front’s image of xenophobic associations in the run-up to the campaign for the 2017 presidency.

Note that she’s trying to clean the image of “xenophobic associations.” She is in no way trying to minimize the actual xenophobia.

When people are hungry and frightened, looking for saviors and solutions, a bag of food and a calming word can look awfully good. That’s what makes soft fascism differently dangerous than the undisguised kind. Anti-fascist groups and individuals need to make sure that we also attempt to meet people’s physical and psychological needs. Fighting free food with intellectual arguments is even less effective than bringing a knife to a gunfight.