Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Fascism in 10 easy steps

Posted by CM on July 6, 2007

I found the following a fascinating read :

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms, argues Naomi Wolf.

Last year there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down : the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took certain activists into custody.

They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy – but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy : Creating a terrifying threat – hydra-like, secretive, evil – is an old trick. It can, like Hitler’s invocation of a communist threat to the nation’s security, be based on actual events. Or the terrifying threat can be based on myth.

2. Create a gulag : The next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law where torture takes place. At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders : troublemakers, spies, “enemies of the people” or “criminals.” Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders – opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists – are arrested and sent there as well.

3. Develop a thug caste : When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens.

4. Set up an internal surveillance system : In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China – in every closed society – secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. This surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

5. Harass citizens’ groups :The fifth thing you do is related to step four – you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial or serious. The definition of “terrorist” slowly expands to include the opposition.

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release : This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list. It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the
list, you can’t get off.

7. Target key individuals : Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate,” in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on.

8. Control the press : All dictatorships and would-be dictators target newspapers and journalists. They threaten and harass them in more open societies that they are seeking to close, and they arrest them and worse in societies that have been closed already.

9. Dissent equals treason : Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage.’ Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor.” In Stalin’s Soviet Union, dissidents were “enemies of the people.” National Socialists (Nazis) called those who supported democracy “November traitors.”

10. Suspend the rule of law

I have listed the points as they appeared but have drastically edited the examples and explanations in the excellent but rather long original article.

For the many citizens of the world in general who can see a lot of their societies described by these ten points, actually Naomi Wolf is worried that the United States is rapidly moving in this direction, frightened and spurred on by “the war on terror.”

But I also know a certain southern African country that much more evidently has a lot, if not all of these characteristics! Dear clever reader, can you figure out which country it is?!

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