Why People Call Right-Wingers “Fascists”
Fascists vs. NAZIs: People call right-wingers both NAZIs and fascists interchangeably (and at times on this page I use the terms interchangeably as well). To some extent this is just semantics, after-all this page is about insults and not about accurately labeling political ideologies. Yet, academically, Nazism is a very specific form of fascism. Specifically, fascism in general is a lot less socialist and more purely nationalist than Nazism. Meanwhile, National Socialism (a nationalist and socialist form of fascism) implemented socialist programs far beyond what other fascist governments did and was not only extremely nativist… but also flat out racist (to the point of being genocidal). Point here being, like socialist and communist are actually two very different related things, fascist and NAZI are two very different related things. With the that in mind, when people accuse right-wingers of being NAZIs they don’t mean “in that they want to expand healthcare to all citizens” they generally mean it in the same way when they accuse them of being fascist, “in that they are pushing policies that are nativist, nationalist, and militant.” In other words, NAZI insult is very rarely talking about the socialist part of Nazism.
How to Understand this Page
Before we cover “why left-wingers call right-wingers fascists as an insult,” let’s cover a few notes and better frame the topic we are addressing:
- This page isn’t anti-right or pro-left (nor is it anti-left or pro-right). I’m very sure the page will trigger people, but that isn’t the point. Comments are welcome.
- This page isn’t about “why the right is fascist” it is about “why the left calls the right fascist as an insult.” These are two very different topics. I won’t try to prove that the right is or isn’t here.
- There are different types of right-wingers (and left-wingers). There is, from a broad perspective the classical right (the classical conservative essentially) and the social right (the social conservative). In general, the insult “fascist” is speaking to the populist right-wing socially conservative sentiment of the social right (and more broadly to some of the pro-military, nationalist, and traditionalist planks of the classical right). It is not implying that the common fiscal conservative who believes in a day’s hard work is fascist. The implication is that the nativist nationalist “other banning” “wall building” sentiment is fascist. The American right often views themselves as being for small government and liberty (favoring austerity policies and individual freedom). This is not what the left is referring to when they call the right fascist…. or at least, giving people the benefit of the doubt, I would argue the aforementioned is the case (we all know sometimes these insults are thrown around with far less thought).
- This page isn’t about what people think about themselves or what they claim their rhetoric means. This page is about how the left perceives the right (not how the right perceives themselves).
- This page was going to address why the right calls the left “communists” too (that being the equal and opposite insult in many ways). However, in the U.S. in the modern day with Trump as president, the term “fascism” is the term of the day. The left and right have both been accusing the other of being “fascist” these days, and the term “communist” hasn’t been thrown around as much. Thus, for those reasons, and to keep things focused, I’d like to address the usage of the term fascist in isolation here. See Why People Call Left-Wingers “Commies” for the equal opposite argument.
- Fascism grew out of socialism in many ways, but it is a unique evolution of socialism that many consider right-wing. The claim would be that it has a lot in common with the populist right (which is itself a sort of left-right mix that grew out of different liberal and conservative positions). If you don’t know, you should know, both Hitler and Mussolini were very vocal about their opposition to Marxism and left-wing socialism…. in simple terms, there are different types of socialism. The left-wing version of socialism shares some very specific planks with socialist versions of fascism like National Socialism (like national healthcare and national education), but this is not the subject of the page.
For those who don’t want to read, the videos below should give you the gist of why the left calls the right fascist as an insult. The first is a film warning of fascism in America from 1947, the second is literally a NAZI rally in NYC from 1939.
Simply, the charge is that what is happening today (what we call populist right) is the same America First Know-Nothing Nativist Nationalism we’ve seen before… and the term used to describe that is “fascism.” That is, the Unite the Right rally and Trump’s more heated rhetoric aren’t so different in message from the fascist rally in NYC in 1939… but that doesn’t mean the full extent of what is being done in practice is really comparable, because let’s be honest, it is not. Hitler’s NAZI party of 1939 was way worse than anything we see from leaders in the west in-action today (with very few, if no exceptions).
TIP: Nationalism can be great (everyone loves a good patriot), and socialism can be too (show me a person who would give up their social security check or Medicare plan), but if you mash them up the wrong way and try to enforce your values with an iron fist, you can get something like NAZIism. When people see Trump’s nationalism and wall building, or when they see AOC’s calls for very high taxes on the wealthy, the red flags come out, and the insults fly. There is some justice in that… however, sometimes the insults come out no matter how mundane an action is. For example, at times it seems that anything the right or left does is fascist or communist according to the other.1947 anti-fascist film goes viral in wake of racist protest in Virginia. Nazi Speech at Madison Square Garden Rally.
“Fascism is therefore opposed to all individualistic abstractions based on eighteenth century materialism [Marxist Socialism]; and it is opposed to all Jacobinistic utopias and innovations [liberal ideals from the French Revolution].” – Mussolini (a fascist dictator of WW2 who inspired Hitler’s brand of fascism) from his Doctrine of Fascism.
A List of Reasons The Socially Conservative Right-Wing Gets Called Fascist
To understand why the social right gets called fascist, one must understand the planks of fascism in all its forms. So let’s cover each plank and note why the right gets accused of sharing planks with fascism.
The Planks of Fascism
Although fascism comes in different forms, and although each form has its own specific attributes (for example Hitler’s National Socialist party was more nativist and socialist than Mussolini’s National Fascist and Republican Fascist Parties), the following qualities can be said to define fascism in general:
Anti-Specific Religions: The right-wing tends to be religious, however they also tend to be anti-specific religions (where the left tends to have a message of being for all religions). The fascists were atheists in general, but when this isn’t the case, they tended to embrace only one broad religion and violently reject others (for example, Christianity was embraced in NAZI Germany and Judaism was rejected violently).
Pro-racial Separation and Anti-civil Rights for Minorities: Not all fascists groups were as violently nativist as the other, but generally they did not believe in an equality of the races. If we consider the KKK and NAZIs (who we will consider as fascist for the purposes of explaining what the left thinks about the right), we can see examples of this.
Anti-homosexual: If you are trying to breed a master race, homosexuality is not useful. The right and fascists are both accused of being anti-homosexual.
Anti-abortion: For the same reasons as above, fascist groups tended to be anti-abortion.
Anti-immigration: Not only were fascists anti-immigrant (in terms of existing immigrants) they were anti-immigration. The right is often accused of taking this position, and clearly do limit immigration in their policies.
Anti-Union: Although the fascists were pro-worker, they were generally anti-Trade Union. So it is with the right.
Pro-social Programs for their “Nationals” AKA their in-group: The right is accused of favoring their in-group. It isn’t every man for himself, it is “a good deal for our guys… at the expense of those we don’t consider to be part of our circle.”
Opposition to Marxism: Clearly, the right-wing despises Marxists. This was a major plank of fascism.
Opposition to Parliamentary Democracy: Democracy is about compromise. Fascism is about absolutism. The accusation is that the right tends to take an absolutist stance, refusing to work with the left and favoring obstruction.
Opposition to Political and Cultural Liberalism: Again, like with Marxism, the right often vocally opposes political and cultural liberalism. This is a confusing topic, as they also claim liberty as a value… but in terms of social liberalism and cultural liberalism, the traditionalist wing of the social right often speaks out vocally against this. This was also true for the fascists.
Opposition to the Traditional Ruling Class (both the Elite Left and Right): This sentiment is common with the populist left and right. However, to our point, it is common with the right. Those like Bannon and Trump who some accuse of being fascist especially exhibit this quality.
Totalitarian Statism: The right often views themselves as have a small government message. But the social right tends to be for limiting women’s reproduction rights, tightening immigration laws or banning immigrants, and other forms of statism. It is in these ways the connection is made.
Anti-intellectualism: The accusation is that right-wing propaganda tends to focus on this idea that the left is overly intellectual and that they are out-of-touch the common farmer and coal miner. That the big city intellectuals don’t understand “real America.” College professors, liberal elite, etc are the enemy.
Favoring of Merit-based Hierarchy over Class Equality (Despite a pro-“Common Man” and pro-Worker Message): The left tends to favor class equality, the right tends to favor a merit-based system. Fascism was for class equality on-paper (the NAZIs were even properly called the National Socialist German Workers’ Party). However, this class equality was only offered within a very authoritative merit-based system (that ended up looking a lot like a mix between cronyism and a standing army). Fascism organizes the state like a military and often creates a sub-class of “others,” it isn’t that Communism in practice didn’t, it is only that social hierarchy is an on-paper goal of fascism.
Collectivism: Both the communists and fascists were populist collectivist movements that rejected the ruling elite liberal and conservative order of their day. Fascism is right-wing collectivism, communism is left-wing collectivism. The left sees the right all stand in lock step, and they even see uniforms like the KKK might wear, and this is seen as collectivist. The right claims individualism and liberty, but so often they act lock step as a single force.
Conformity: The black shirts all wore black shirts, the brown shirts all wore brown ones. Fascism is big into conformity and uniforms. The charge is that the right often demands sameness in terms of things like religion for example.
Imperialism and Military Values: Fascism is well defined by its imperialist and military values. Both the right and left tend to favor these things, but the right often makes a point at promoting the military. This can be confused by sects of the right who are actually against the military industrial complex, but generally the right is perceived as equating patriotism with military.
Idealization of the “People’s Community” / “Folk State”: Fascists wanted to create an ethno-state of sorts. They wanted a traditional community with traditional values that would protect its own against the global elite.
Glorification of Masculinity (Anti-Feminist): The fascists were a generally male dominated movements. They glorified masculinity. One could easily see the right as exhibiting more masculine qualities and the left and communism as being more feminine (in basic message). For example, being ready for war is more archetypically masculine than being for class equality. Lots to argue about here, but we are talking about perceptions.
State planning: Again, the modern right may not see themselves as favoring state planning. However, when the state starts banning others, creating strict voting ID laws, gerrymandering, and telling women what to do with their bodies, and when it spends on military and creates a deficit, it is seen as state planning.
Violence and Militance: The fascists didn’t just commit violence, it was part of their party platforms. The fascists were like an army, violence was called for. Both the right and left see each other as violent. But to our point, the left sees the right as violent.
Ultra-nationalism: The right is often accused of being ultra-nationalist. If you don’t support the war in the middle-east, you aren’t a patriot or real American (that was the line from the Bush years, it changed in the Obama years). To the left, one could argue that the right identifies with iconography related to the American flag and the military to a point of absurdity (while not really adhering to the values behind those things any more than the left).
Nativism and Scapegoating (Extreme in the Case of the NAZIs, not as Much in other Cases): The fascists generally were nativist, each favoring their nation to an extreme degree. However, groups like the America First Know-Nothings, KKK, and NAZIs specifically (if we want to define those as fascist; which for this purpose we do) all had nativism as a central plank. It wasn’t just about being against others, it was about banning and killing them. The left sees the wall ban, Muslim ban, and unite the right rally at Charlottesville, and sees rampant nativism and scapegoating.
Populism and Anti-elitism in-Message (but Corporatism and Hierarchy in-Action): The tea party and what we now call the populist right has a central message of pro-worker and anti-elite. Sure, so does the populist left… but that isn’t the point here. Like fascism, the right also in-practice tends to offer corporatism and hierarchy (even openly favoring it with their policies of deregulation). Or at least, this is the perception.
The use of Propaganda: If one seems Trump Tweets, Alex Jones, and Fox News as right-wing propaganda, and if one sees climate change denial and accusations of the lying press as propaganda, then one sees the right as using propaganda. From this perspective, this is like what the fascists did (the communists were also big into propaganda).
For more reading: See “Fascism” from the Encyclopedia Britannica for detailed articles on each point. Check out the video below (a longer version of the first video) for another visual example of why people equate the Know-Nothing America First and Neoconfederate social conservatism of the modern populist right with the socially conservative populist right fascist movements of the WWII era.Post-WW2 Anti-Fascist Educational Film | Don’t Be a Sucker | 1947.