GENEVA — In such times of confusion, it is no surprise that some big words get frequently misused, even by highly educated people. Some people, including at least one former university lecturer, have begun calling Donald Trump a fascist. It is false. Let me be clear: I am certainly no fan of this grotesque candidate, but calling him a fascist makes no sense.
The word "populist" is already widely misused in Europe, but it arguably applies to the American billionaire. "Far-right extremist" may be debatable, but "fascist" is not appropriate in any way. Excessive caricature is noxious.
Just as the far left is made up of many elements (anarchists, Leninists, Trotskyites, Maoists), the far right also brings together a range of supporters: royalists, neo-fascists, ultra religious, ultra conservatives, regional separatists, and so on.
Fascism, we must remember, is first and foremost an ideology, a party, and a nationalist regime of an utterly authoritarian nature, driven by social mobilization and with a strong affinity for uniforms. There was only one country that fully adopted fascism on a long-term basis — and actually invented it: Italy, from 1922 to 1943. Unless one lumps together fascism and National Socialism, that is. Still, Mussolini's supporters were very different from the fundamentally racist, imperialistic Nazi criminals.
Salazar and Franco?
Was Portugal's Salazarism (1926-1974) fascist? Not so much. It was an ultra-conservative dictatorship with an economic regime based on corporatism that implied the negation of the class struggle and the denial of labor rights. But it had no fanatic mass party seeking a broader power conquest.
General Francisco Franco was both a putschist and a bloodthirsty dictator, but he was never a fascist. The fascist party, the Falange, whose leader Antonio Primo de Rivera was executed in 1936, was very present in the Spanish political arena, but never held power. Franco's supporters could be found among the conservative and reactionary forces, the Catholic clergy and the army, but he and he alone was in power.
Gen. Franco giving a speech in Eibar in 1949 — Photo: Indalecio Ojanguren/CC-BY-SA
There were fascist parties in Eastern Europe: the Iron Guard in Romania (1927-1941), Szálasi's Arrow Cross Party in Hungary (1939-1945) and the Ustaše in Croatia (1941-1945). But they were not meant to last. Then, George Oltramare, a collaborator in Nazi-occupied France, achieved some popularity here in his home city of Geneva. In England, Oswald Mosley funded the British Union of Fascists in the early 1930s, but he never made it to the government. In France, in the time of the Popular Front, an alliance of left-wing movements, many organizations flirted with fascism but never really mobilized masses of followers.
During the Algerian war (1954-1962), there were cliques like Young Europe with hundreds of members and possibly thousands of supporters. The short-lived French far-right paramilitary Organization of the Secret Army (OAS) gathered people from all walks in life, including former members of the Resistance Movement. One of the OAS's leaders, Raoul Salan, was certainly factious but not fascist.
Don't cry for them
What can we say about South America's countless military coups? The only fascists were the supporters of Argentina's Peronism, a political movement named after President Juan Peron and his wife Evita Peron (1945-1955). Their successors, like the Kirchners, were rotten to the core, but were not in the least fascist.
And though he's not a credible leader, Donald Trump is certainly a cause for great concern. But calling him a fascist is both false and counterproductive. The U.S. presidential election is democratic. No one is forced to vote for anyone. Blacks, Latinos and educated whites will almost certainly not support Trump. Major players of the Republican Party establishment do not support him. Unlike the Ku Klux Klan, for example, Trump and his cohorts are neither extremists nor fascists.
Trump can be considered an enemy, but there will be no equivalent to Mussolini's "March on Rome", no 1938 Kristallnacht, no invasion of Ethiopia. There will be no war, no press censorship, no concentration camps. The U.S. already has 2.2 million prisoners — that's quite enough.