As the Germans found out Friendly Fascism is not friendly for long

‘It takes public vigilance and clear vision as well as a dedication to democratic action to detect the dry rot that is ever ready to invade the structures of our society.’

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
Op-Ed Contributor

On a morning a few days ago some of the residents of Kanata, a planned suburban city on the western fringes of Ottawa, were shocked to discover swastikas and racist symbols painted in emerald green on power posts and street signs. The residents of this pleasant neighborhood bearing such street names as Stonehaven, Steeplechase and Elk Island Circle (not an island), were annoyed to say the least. Efforts were immediately made to remove this pornography of hate and fascism and find the culprits.

A similar paint war was perpetrated thirty years ago on a church in Toronto, St. James-Bond United Church, on Avenue Road, of which I was minister. The provocation was the policy of my “almost lilly white” church to allow a nonresident black Ethiopian Orthodox congregation to hold regular services in our sanctuary.

Early in the morning a phone call informed me of the vandalism but by the time I got there a band of young people armed with scrub brushes and buckets of soapy water were hard at work removing the red and white skull and cross bones, swastikas and “No nigger meetings” signs from the brick work. They were only partly successful, years later a close scrutiny still bore witness to the inscribed hatred. The young workers were only outnumbered by the visiting press chorus.

Church attendance the following day dramatically increased as a sign of solidarity, I supposed. Nor was there any move that we should gently suggest that our non-white visitors should seek accommodation elsewhere. Indeed, my congregation continued to extend hospitality for the next ten years accepting no rental payments from them. I was proud.

What amazes me, however, is that while we are only too anxious to remove fascist and racist symbols we seem less concerned about the racism and fascism in our midst. Symbols are obvious but what they symbolize is much more invisible and insidious.

Shortly after the incident at the church my spouse, an inveterate bookstore browser, presented me with a book called Friendly Fascism by Bertram Gross (Black Rose Books, 1980). It looks at trends in the United States in the ‘70s that are a grim forecast of a totalitarian future. Some of these forecasts have taken on a reality since 9/11. Security trumps everything, including democracy.

“This Friendly Fascism” Gross writes, “will probably lack the dictatorships, public spectacles and overt brutality of the classic varieties of Germany, Italy and Japan in the ‘30s, but it has at its root the same denial of individual freedom and democratic rights.”

Gross is particularly concerned about “the collusion between Big Business and Big Government in order to ‘manage’ society in the interests of the rich and the powerful.” There is plenty of evidence of that on both sides of our undefended border.

American and Canadian leaders and a corporate controlled press are quick to condemn phony elections such as has recently taken place in Zimbabwe but say little about the recent U.S. presidential elections whose outcomes were questionable. One wonders how readily the incumbent Republicans will allow power to slip out of their reins.

The assault on public ownership, which would be greatly invigorated by a Conservative majority in Canada, and the beatification of Milton Freedman by the Calgary School of Economics, smells strongly of Friendly Fascism. Efforts at closer integration of Canada with our neighbour put not only our resources but also our values in grave danger.

Fascism is never friendly for long as Germans found out. But fascism is more than painted symbols that can be wiped out or overprinted. It takes public vigilance and clear vision as well as a dedication to democratic action to detect the dry rot that is ever ready to invade the structures of our society.

You can begin by reading Bertram Gross’ book, Friendly Fascism. Be assured that the smile of fascism soon enough becomes an ominous frown. But that may be too late.

July 18, 2008