Fascism, ‘Fascism,’ and Alan Wolfe

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by Paul Gottfried by Paul Gottfried

At last The Chronicle of Higher Education has published my response to Alan Wolfe’s charges against me (in its May 5 issue), together with what seems a repetition of this eminent sociologist’s earlier complaints. I am soft on fascism because I place quotation marks around that term. I also have the habit of "defending" Holocaust-deniers, whom I mistake for "victims of political correctness run amok." Allow me to sound equally repetitious by bringing up what was already said on this website last month: Quotation marks are being placed around "fascist" because the references are not to Mussolini’s squadristi or to corporate nationalists in interwar Europe but, yes, to "victims of political correctness." Opposing the massive immigration of Muslims into Western Europe and criticizing gay marriage are issues Wolfe and I might disagree about, but it is impossible for me to see how taking the politically incorrect side on the aforementioned issues betokens fascist credentials. The assigning of fascist labels to those who fail to pass PC litmus tests, as I argue in a book on the European postmarxist Left that is nearing completion, is a dangerous, totalitarian practice, particularly when pursued by the state.

As to the second charge raised by Wolfe, that I defend "those who deny the Holocaust" against "political correctness run amok," I shall happily plead guilty. Until Holocaust-deniers become as powerful and politically intrusive as the custodians of PC, I’ve no qualms about upholding their verbal freedom. I also put quotation marks around "Holocaust-denial," but not because there is any question in my mind that Hitler massacred lots of people (including members of my family). What needs to be stressed is that négationnisme has become a political football more than a charge of denying one particularly grim aspect of modern history. It is not invoked, for example, to cover the act of denying Stalin’s crimes. When French Socialist Premier Lionel Jospin, speaking to the French national assembly on November 13, 1997, refused to condemn or even acknowledge the mass murders of Stalin, Le Monde praised him the next day as a man of moderation. Jospin had admirably refused to threaten French political stability by giving offense to his Communist coalition allies.

Finally I would observe that "denying the Holocaust" in Europe has expanded in the same way that being classified as a racist or sexist in this country depends on the whim of the ruling class. In France under the Loi Gayssot, which passed with communist support in 1990, someone may be subject to criminal prosecution for, among other indiscretions, questioning the list of crimes against humanity rendered by the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1947. A politically driven document, which itself was the product of a particular time, has frozen an entire area of historical investigation. Needless to say, that document exempted from crimes against humanity the murders of Stalin, which exceeded those of Hitler, Allied saturation bombing of Central European cities, and any other embarrassing misbehavior that might have displeased the Anglo-American-Soviet victors. Any revision of that document’s findings by a trained historian could lead to criminal prosecution, and until this issue was recently clarified, it was made to appear that revising the received (Soviet) account about who killed the hapless Polish officers in the Katyn Woods might expose a historian, seen as a Nuremberg revisionist, to a law suit in a French court.

Even more disturbing, Le Monde, Die Tageszeitung, and other European leftist papers have introduced the epithets "Holocaust-trivializer" and "Holocaust-underemphasizer" to describe those who have had the temerity to draw unseemly comparisons between communist mass murders and Hitler’s crimes. At the Leipzig Book Fair this spring, the Central Committee for Jews in Germany and much of the national press, led by the once mentally stable Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, went bonkers, when the former Latvian foreign minister dared to apply the word "genocide" to Stalin’s killing and deportation of the Baltic peoples. The minister was widely charged with anti-Semitism, and Thomas Schmid of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung caterwauled that the offender Sandra Kalniete had "strained the civil consensus of Western Europe" by underscoring the "the glaring sense of innocence coming out of Eastern Europe." According to Spiegel (April 28, 2004), the Vice-Chairman of the Jewish Central Committee, Salomon Korn, who walked out angrily during the speech, charged the peoples of Eastern Europe with engaging in diversionary tactics because of their refusal to accept responsibility for their Anti-Semitic past. The same theme, including the supposed outrage of Holocaust-neglect, came out at a conference on Anti-Semitism sponsored by the present German government that ended last week. Here the complaint was made repeatedly by the likes of Abe Foxman that Balts and other Eastern Europeans had misappropriated the terms "genocide" and "Holocaust." Somehow the disappearance of 30% of the Baltic population into Soviet cattle cars and prisons in the forties should not be counted as a "Holocaust," unlike the expulsion of the Muslim Bosnians, the killing of about 5,000 homosexuals by the Nazis, and the enslavement of American blacks, all things to which the Western press is allowed to apply this term, without audible protests from Jewish organizations here or in Europe.

"Holocaust-trivialization," by the way, originally showed up in the French press in the 1970s, to designate what Solzhenitsyn had done, by focusing attention on Soviet concentration camps. Although it is hard to foretell whether this category of denying the Holocaust by indirection, by mentioning less politically correct examples of mass murder, will remain in vogue, at least for the time being it is doing swimmingly well.

Wolfe is right to accuse me of being more concerned with state-supported PC than I am with all real or imagined deniers of Nazi genocide. Let me repeat: When these people have the authority to put their enemies in jail or kick them out of academic positions, I may start to reconsider my position.

May 14, 2004

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author of, most recently, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt.

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