I once told an old friend, a New York liberal, that I would never vote for Pat Buchanan because he was a socialist. He shot back immediately that Buchanan was a fascist. That's when I offered to pay him a nickel if he could explain the difference. It's been more than fifteen years and I'm still waiting for an answer.
We had been traveling extensively during that period and had the misfortune to find ourselves in the middle of two terrorist wars motivated by socialist ideology and instigated by fascist thugs. In Guatemala the war was winding down. There were still random attacks, but travel in the countryside was relatively safe.
In Peru the Sendero Luminoso held the countryside in the grip of fear.
Up to five million campesinos had left the highlands and moved into a series of barrios that ringed the capital city of Lima. The Senderos followed them and by 1990 Lima had been declared a Red Zone. Pundits at the time described the Shining Path and their leader, former college professor Abimael Guzman, as Maoists and went to great lengths to describe the dramatic distinctions between these cut-throats and the wide variety of cut-throats in other parts of the world. "Yes, they're brutal and ruthless," the analysts admitted, "but we have to understand the unique nuances of their world view."
In the highlands, Shining Path guerrillas would enter a town, round up ten or fifteen men at random, cut off their heads and hang them from a tree in the town square.
The Sendero Christmas Tree ceremony was designed to show everyone in the region who was the boss. In Lima, car bombs and indiscriminate grenade attacks were daily occurrences. And Guzman, AKA Presidente Gonzalo, declared in his manifesto that he would transform Peru into an agrarian utopia "only after crossing a river of blood."
How's that for nuance?
Because they controlled much of Peru's vast coca crop, the Sendero Luminoso were financially self reliant. Unlike today's fascists, their income was not subject to the vagaries of worldwide commodity prices, distribution deals with the grandchildren of Joseph P. Kennedy or fund-raising cocktail parties on the Upper West of Manhattan. The cash flowed unabated and unencumbered courtesy of doctors, lawyers and stockbrokers throughout the free world, while the IRA, Tamil Tigers, Brigate Rosso, Baader Meinhof, Fatah and others needed to form fundraising networks and stickup convenience stores.
Shining Path thugs still formed loose alliances with terrorist organizations throughout the world, but they remained fiercely independent because they could afford to. If an American grand jury had been convened to consider conspiracy charges against the Sendero Luminoso and their terrorist colleagues, they could never bring an indictment. No hard evidence.
Before RICO, American law enforcement was virtually powerless in their fight against the MAFIA. Connecting the dots with enough hard evidence to gain a conviction was near impossible.
As Willie Cicci testified to the U.S. Senate Committee:
"Yeah, buf-fas. The Corleone Family got lotsa buf-fas."
Finally, the legal system caught up with the thugs and simply being associated with the MAFIA became a crime. Carmine (The Snake) Persico, in an early post-RICO MAFIA trial asked furtively, "So I'm in the MAFIA. Is that a crime?"
"Yes, it is." answered the judge and sentenced him to a long prison term.
Was Saddam Hussein responsible for 911? Chris Matthews loves this question. The answer of course is no. Was Saddam Hussein part of a worldwide alliance of fascists? Yes. Was Saddam Hussein providing material support for terrorists who were killing thousands of innocent civilians? Yes.
Could anyone go into an American court and prove conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt? By pre-RICO standards probably not. But today, just being a member of Ba'ath, Hamas, FARC, ELN, Sinn Fein, al Qaeda is more than sufficient.
And it doesn't matter whether they're masquerading as downtrodden campesinos, idealistic intellectuals, or freckled-faced bartenders who speak with charming brogues.
A fascist is a fascist is a fascist.
In my humble opinion, whether the economic elites usurp government authority, the government elites usurp economic authority, or intellectual and political elites seize authority over everything, the results are always the same and that authority, eventually and inevitably, is enforced at gunpoint.
Fascist or socialist?
The difference is in the details. Minor details. Insignificant details. Extraneous details.