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The Surprising History of What Europe's Dictators Thought of the New Deal

When the New Deal was created, few of its supporters in the United States were as effusive in their praise as German and Italian fascists.

Is the New Deal era of politics coming to an end? After decades of Republican assaults on the New Deal, and Democratic "compromises" to sustain it, we appear to be witnessing its demise. Barack Obama, leader of a political party that since World War II has been defined by its efforts to establish and defend the New Deal, has chipped away at it in his much-maligned debt compromise. The political fallout of cutting into Medicare is secondary to the utterly destructive effect it will on the Democratic Party's legitimacy as a vehicle for protecting working people.

It doesn't stop there; Medicare Social Security and the other existing New Deal programs as a whole are not merely a collection of social obligations. A moral framework has attended their creation at every step, establishing a specific notion of justice in the ordering of economic life in the United States for 75 years, with the executive branch of the federal government acting as its supreme arbiter. Industry, banking and finance as we know them owe their fundamental structure and behavior to the New Deal as much as the fact that most American retirees depend on Medicare to support their health costs.

Lamenting the demise of New Deal liberalism in the Obama era, The Nation's National Affairs Correspondent William Greider wrote this January that "this new reality brings us back to the future, posing fundamental questions about the relationship between capitalism and democracy that citizens and reformers asked 100 years ago." In this light, it is well worth revisiting the history of how The New Deal was perceived internationally in the period it was created. The excerpt below from Historian Thaddeus Russell's book,  A Renegade History of the United States (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2010), now released in paperback,  is well worth the read. - - AlterNet Senior Editor, Jan Frel 


It is absurd to claim, as a few have done, that the New Deal, the basis of what we now know as "liberalism," was identical to either German Nazism or Italian Fascism. But it is equally absurd to ignore, as all our textbooks do, the fact that the New Deal and European fascism grew from the same ideological roots, produced strikingly similar policies, and fostered national cultures that, if not identical, bore the resemblance of siblings. Though we think of Hitler's and Mussolini's regimes as pathological, even psychotic, and entirely alien to our political tradition, in fact they were organically connected to the most influential American political movement of the twentieth century.

The policies initiated during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency redefined the relationship between the federal government and American society. The ideas behind those policies overthrew the laissez-faire ideology that had dominated the nation's political culture since its founding. Most fundamentally, the New Deal changed American conceptions of the rights and responsibilities of American citizens. It brought about an age of communal morality and made social order the primary value in American culture. The margin of freedom between the individual and society was at its narrowest in the Roosevelt era.

Though many see the New Deal era as a rebellious moment, when American culture embraced the interests of the lowest classes, in fact it was one of the great anti-renegade moments in the history of the United States.

In the spring of 1934, one year into his first term as president, Franklin D. Roosevelt was assailed by the left, the right, and even members of his own party. Leading Republicans took turns denouncing the "new dictatorship" in Washington. Typical was the claim made by G.O.P. congressman James M. Beck of Pennsylvania that Roosevelt's "New Deal" had transformed the government into a "socialistic state of virtually unrestricted power." Voices on the left were no less caustic. The Communist Party officially labeled the president a "fascist." Also critical of Roosevelt's "heavy-handed" approach and "radical" New Deal policies were several Democrats, including former presidential candidate Al Smith and former Democratic National Committee chairman John J. Raskob, who helped form the anti-Roosevelt American Liberty League.

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