When Orwell used the phrase “objectively fascist” during WWII to criticize pacifists, he at least had the advantage of talking about a situation in which there were actual fascists involved. Roger Simon, on the other hand, is complaining about Obama’s differing responses to the Iranian election and the Honduran coup/deposition and uses the differing responses to conclude that Obama is somehow “objectively fascist.” The abuse of the term fascist in a lot of the commentary on Iran has been extensive and annoying, but now it’s really getting out of hand. Let’s be clear about one thing: no matter what your view of events in Iran and Honduras and Obama’s responses to them may be, fascism has nothing to do with any of these things. Authoritarian regimes and ideologies today are not fascist. Authoritarian states using their coercive apparatus to repress dissidents do not thereby become fascist–they remain merely authoritarian. One would think that this is bad enough, but we in the West apparently need to misuse the word fascist to convey how upset we are. Chavismo and its derivatives are unattractive left-populist and socialist movements centered around authoritarian demagogues, but they are not therefore fascist movements. Even if it were true that Obama’s response to the Honduras coup is “objectively Chavista,” it would have nothing to do with fascism. As badly as I think he has handled the Honduras matter, I don’t think that he is “objectively Chavista,” either, but then I have little time for arguments that immediately resort to this sort of vilification and use of demon-words to smear a target.

This phrase “objectively fascist” was deployed by communists against pretty much everyone to their right, including gradualist social democrats, but this hideous origin does not seem to have lessened its appeal over the decades. Despite the fact that the phrase “objectively fascist” is straight out of interwar communist propaganda, and even though this propaganda was responsible for presenting a misleading understanding of fascism to the world, it continues to be repeated, and the logic behind it (“if you’re not in full agreement with us, you’re with them”) continues to poison how many Westerners think about political disagreement and policy disputes. Applied moderately, this sort of thinking leads merely to political tribalism that punishes criticism of one’s own side and insists on unthinking loyalty, but in its original form labeling someone as “objectively fascist” was intended to erase all distinctions and gradations of non-communist political activism and lump them together with the most appalling kind of anticommunism. Of course, one important reason to lump together significantly different groups of left, right and center under the label fascist was to demonize all of them and make all of them appear as politically toxic and unacceptable to communists as real fascists originally were in the ’20s. Another major reason to do this was to discredit any and all non-fascist, non-communist political forces, especially those that could compete for the loyalties of workers, and to identify anything less than the full repudiation of the prevailing economic regime as betrayal and collaboration.

In the new world of the American right, where precious displays of overzealous, unconvincing anti-racism (see the Wright and Sotomayor controversies) are outdone only by even more earnest declarations of anti-fascist sentiments, it is actually not so strange that warmed-over Soviet propaganda would find a new home. Orwell knew the history well enough when he deployed this disgusting phrase in support of the war effort. Simon probably knows only that Orwell used it, and that he used it in a WWII context against pacifists, so it must therefore be a Good Thing. Once again, Obama is blessed in having enemies who manage to make even his mistakes look brilliant by comparison.