The ‘F’ word. It seems to be thrown around constantly these days in total defiance of all decency and quality political discourse. It shames all those it touches, whether being applied to them or darting from their lips. Decent, thinking people recoil immediately at the flagrant disregard with which it is used, without thought, reason or concern for truth or accuracy.
Few words can more quickly shut down reasonable and thoughtful political discourse and few words seem so much in vogue all over the political system today.
I was reminded of this as I watched disgraced former Justice Minister Alan Shatter express his concern a couple of days ago about Sinn Fein’s nature as a “fascist” party with no regard for democratic institutions or methods.
Time for a history lesson everyone.
Ireland has been spared in recent years of the growth of extremist far-right, anti-immigrant, fascist movements like Greece’s Golden Dawn or Hungary’s Jobbik. But that has not always been the case. In the 30s former Free State Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy formed the Army Comrades Association, a paramilitary and security organisation designed to protect Cumann na nGaedheal from attack and aggression by hardcore Republican and Communist groups. O’Duffy was a radical anti-communist and committed Catholic who sympathised greatly with the continental fascist movements of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.
The Blueshirts, modelled on Mussolini’s Blackshirts, would later be absorbed into Cumann na nGaedheal along with other, smaller parties to form the modern Fine Gael. Although Fine Gael has undergone so many modulations and changes to reach its modern form, it is the party which could most credibly be historically associated with actual Fascism in the country. Thus the irony of Shatter’s comments.
But more than the irony, what concerns me is the ignorance. Fascist is a word hurled about with all the weight and gravitas of a beach ball, casually volleyed to ones enemies in times of desperation. Where it the case that most of our politicians had even the faintest knowledge of political history and philosophy, it is unlikely they would be so callous with their use of the ‘F’ word.
Fascism, alongside communism, had been a term misunderstood and abused more than any other in modern political discourse. The petty, ignorant and pathetic attempts to summon up the ghosts of horrific regimes such as Mussolini’s, Franco’s and Hitler’s, belies the foolishness of our political masters and supposed betters.
From Shatter’s comment comparing a centre-left, populist party with the horrors of Fascism to Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan comparing water protestors to a violent Islamist death cult it has become repeatedly obvious that our political class is more ignorant of history and political discourse than the average Junior Cert student.
Fascism is a system typified by rabid nationalism, talk of national regeneration, glorification of war and military activity and government dominance of almost every aspect of social life. Economically Fascism tends toward corporatism, which hopes to solve tensions between the wealthy capitalist class and working class labourers by creating dialogue between the two and creating a collusion between conservative unions, employer’s bodies, large corporations and the dominant state. In the latter case, Shatter would really want to watch his mouth.
Corporatism has been Ireland’s great economic “experiment” of the past 30 years,, championed by the establishment parties of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Labour party. It has defanged radical unions, created a conservative trade union class rife with the same bonus culture disease that infects so many Irish public bodies and led us to a time of wage stagnation and total lack of job security.
This piece should not be read as letting Sinn Fein off the hook. While their representatives are more intelligent and articulate than the establishment parties, and many seem to have a genuine regard for people and Irish society, they are not without their sicknesses. The quashing of internal dissent, evident in the recent Maria Cahill scandal among others, gives a grim portent of the party’s regard for open, democratic debate and the leadership cult that surrounds Gerry Adams.
People also seem to have a view of Sinn Fein as being drastically more left and liberal than the party’s policies actually are. It takes regressive stances on both the issues of abortion law reform and drug harm reduction, both issues where the majority of the Irish populace is more liberal than the party. It has also shown evidence of not being particularly wedded to its “leftist” identity including a recent wishy washy position on water charges that hugely misread the public attitude.
So critique Sinn Fein. Critique all parties and political ideologies and economic assumptions. Carefully analyse and argue these points that are so important to the future of our country.
But don’t be an ignorant idiot and throw out the word ‘Fascist’ when it has no resemblance to the reality of the situation. That just deadens debate. And not only does that mean a poorer political conversation, it also means, like the boy who cried wolf, we are unlikely to recognise real Fascism when it rears its ugly head.