Fascist or socialist? English kicked into touch yet again.

The appointment of Paolo Di Canio as manager of Sunderland AFC has raised quite some controversy, and not because of any doubts about his football credentials.

Many supporters are appalled by his politics, and there isn’t much doubt about that either. For rather than trying to conceal his fascist views, Di Canio proudly wears them on his sleeve.

When still a player at Rome’s Lazio, whose supporters are a bit like our Millwall fans but with a nasty political dimension, Di Canio celebrated his goals by giving fascist salutes to the crowd. Eventually he was banned for one game in spite of his vigorous protests.

The salute, he explained, wasn’t just fascist but also Roman and anyway ‘I am a fascist, not a racist’. That’s all right then. If this is protest, methinks the lout doth protest too little.

Nor has this tattooed thug spared us his take on politics in the written format. In his autobiography he praises Mussolini as ‘a very principled, ethical individual’. Almost as principled and ethical as Hitler, I’d suggest, though with less power of his convictions.

And speaking of principles, the appointment has inspired David Miliband to venture into that territory for probably the first time in his life. He took a firm stand by resigning as Sunderland’s vice chairman, citing his contempt for Di Canio’s views (his imminent move to America would have made it hard for him to discharge his duties anyway).

You see, Miliband is a socialist, so allegedly are most Sunderland supporters and, according to David’s profound analysis of political theory, their ideological bias is incompatible with fascism. However, had his analysis been a tad more profound, and we’ve been told ad nauseum what a deep thinker Miliband is, he would have realised that the distance between the two is so small as to be barely discernible. 

This brings me to the real point of this piece, and it’s not football. It’s my recurrent theme: the Babel-like confusion reigning in our political vocabulary. Actually, come to think of it, most vocabulary these days is political, with even such seemingly neutral words as ‘man’ and ‘woman’ able to invite politically motivated rebukes.

But rather than commenting on terms only recently co-opted into ideological partisanship, I’d like to focus on those that have been political ever since they were coined. For example, ‘leftwing’ and ‘rightwing’ whose very etymology conveys diametrical opposition.

Thus our press the other side of The Mail and The Telegraph tends to describe someone like Lady Thatcher as ‘extreme rightwing’. The same designation is also applied retrospectively to the likes of Hitler.

One infers that the political spectrum, as the Milibandits see it, starts at the extreme right exemplified by Thatcher and Hitler and ends up at the extreme left represented by Trotsky and Stalin. So what does the ‘extreme right’ Thatcher stand for? Why, laissez-faire economics at home, free trade abroad, limited government, individual responsibility, meritocracy. In short, she is an out-and-out Whig, even though she confusingly led the Tories.

If A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C. Applying this proven logic to the task in hand, we have to assume that Hitler, Lady Thatcher’s fellow ‘rightwing extremist’, was a Whig too. But then we realise that his beliefs ran more towards socialist ideals: big government, nationalised or at least subjugated economy, wage and price controls, strict tariffs, cradle-to-grave welfare, vegetarianism and the kind of genocidal peccadilloes that until (or after) him were practised on that scale only by socialists, who are undeniably leftwing.

Then we remember that Hitler’s party was called National Socialist Workers’ and ask another question: so who’s the rightwing extremist then? And what does the term mean?

It’s instructive to lay side by side Roosevelt’s New Deal, Hitler’s Four Year Plan and Stalin’s Five Year Plan. One will instantly see that the three documents are remarkably similar, which isn’t surprising considering that the first two were largely composed, and the third inspired, by the same individuals. Hence if the word ‘socialism’ is to mean anything at all, other than implied praise or abuse, the economics of all three countries were at the time inspired by the same – socialist – ideology.

Obviously there were differences, there always are. But those were slight variations on the same theme: corporatist socialism as advocated by Roosevelt, national socialism as practised by Hitler, international socialism as propagated by Stalin. Add to this democratic socialism by which Miliband presumably swears, and socialism emerges as the common denominator to which they can all be reduced.

The Milibandits of this world don’t mind emphasising this at their party conferences by waving red flags and singing such big hits as Internationale and Bandera Rossa. They also sometimes raise their clenched fists. Di Canio, by contrast, raises a straight arm – a distinction without a difference.

Therefore, if Sunderland supporters are indeed as socialist as they are portrayed in the press, they should welcome Paolo as their own. He’ll fit right in.