Word of the Day: Parasynonyms

Word of the Day

Today’s word of the day, courtesy of Word Genius, is parasynonym, a linguistic term “to describe words with close similarities, but not exactly matching definitions.” According to Wiktionary, it is “A word or phrase that shares similar meanings with another term in some contexts, but not all; a close synonym.” According to Word Genius, it appears in English in the 1960s. It is obviously a compound word derived from the bound morpheme para- and the free morpheme synonym.

Para- is a bound morpheme, meaning that it does not appear as a word on its own; it comes from ancient Greek, and it means “’beside, near; issuing from; against, contrary to,’ from PIE *prea, from root *per- (1) ‘forward,’ hence ‘toward, near; against.’” In ancient Greek para is a preposition. Synonym, according to www.etymonline.com, means a “’word having the same sense as another,’ early 15c. (but usually in plural form before 18c., or, if singular, as synonyma), from Old French synonyme (12c.) and directly from Late Latin synonymum, from Greek synonymon ‘word having the same sense as another,’ noun use of neuter of synonymos ‘having the same name as, synonymous,’ from syn- ‘together, same’ (see syn-) + onyma, Aeolic dialectal form of onoma ‘name’ (from PIE root *no-men- ‘name).”

Two significant things happened on this date in 1924. The first is that Benito Mussolini banned all non-fascist labor unions, according to the OnThisDay website. The second is that the Russian city of St. Petersburg, named for Tsar Peter the Great (r. 1682 to 1725) who founded the city in 1703 and made it his capital, was renamed Leningrad, after the leader of the Boshevik Revolution, Vladimir Lenin.

Benito Mussolini was a young Marxist in the 1910s and a leader of the Italian Socialist Party, until he was kicked out of the party for advocating interventionism in WWI, in opposition to the party’s official policy of neutrality. He even referred to himself as the Lenin of Italy. In 1919, he adopted the ancient Roman symbol of the fasces: “a bound bundle of wooden rods, sometimes including an axe with its blade emerging. The fasces had its origin in the Etruscan civilization and was passed on to ancient Rome, where it symbolized a magistrate’s power and jurisdiction” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasces). In 1921, he formed the Italian Fascist Party, and he was elected to the Italian Parliament. By 1923, he was the prime minister, though his party had had to form an alliance with other parties. So in that year he arranged to be passed the Acerbo Law, which changed the way elections were carried out in Italy, such that the party with the most popular votes, over 25%, was automatically given 67% of the seats of the Parliament. The purpose of the Acerbo law was, simply, to give the Fascist Party a majority of the MPs (if this sounds like efforts among some American politicians to change the way American elections are decided, you’re probably not far off). By 1925, he made himself Il Duce (“The Leader”), and the Italian fascist state was in full bloom.

Most people associate fascism with Hitler’s Nazi Germany, but it was Mussolini who started it. While fascism differed from one manifestation to another, some common characteristics are these:

  • Absolute Power of the State: Fascist regimes have a strong centralized state, or national government. The fascist state seeks total control over all major parts of society. Individuals must give up their private needs and rights to serve the needs of the whole society as represented by the state.
  • Corporatism: Fascists believe in taming capitalism by controlling labor and factory owners. Unions, strikes, and other labor actions are illegal. Although private property remains, the state controls the economy.
  • Extreme Nationalism: The fascist state uses national glory and the fear of outside threats to build a new society based on the “common will” of the people. Fascists believe in action and looking at national myths for guidance rather than relying on the “barren intellectualism” of science and reason.
  • Militarism and Imperialism: Fascists believe that great nations show their greatness by conquering and ruling weak nations. Fascists believe the state can survive only if it successfully proves its military superiority in war.

The unifying symbol of the fasces was supported by campaign slogans like “Believe, obey, fight” and “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Fascist_Party#Slogans).

The Communist Party, led by Vladimir Lenin, purported to be a party of the people, but it was very soon after the takeover by the Bolsheviks that St. Petersburg was changed to the name of the Communists’ leader. Lenin never called himself Il Duce, but then Lenin was not Italian.

To emphasize this similarity between Fascism and Communism, let me point to a speech made by American Communist Eugene V. Debs “Before State Convention of American Federation of Labor, Pittsburg, Kansas, August 12, 1908” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1908/1908-unity.htm). The speech was entitled “Unity and Victory.” In the speech, Debs declared, “As individuals you are helpless, but united you represent an irresistible power.”

I might also point out that a recent candidate for the presidency of the United States had as her slogan “Stronger Together.” Maria Cardona wrote, in Campaigning for President 2016: Strategy and Tactics (Eds. Dennis W. Johnson and Lara M. Brown [New York: Routledge, 2018), said that this candidate’s message was “a message of inclusion and strength through unity.” I wonder if Cardona, a Democratic strategist, is aware of how this description of the candidate’s message echoes fascism.

People who have only studied history in high school or who accept the narrative of the main stream media often think that communism and fascism are polar opposites, but the truth is that there are very few differences between communism and fascism—in one, the loyalty is to one’s class, and in the other, the loyalty is to one’s nation; in one, the state owns the means of production, and in the other, the means of production are owned privately, but the state tells the owners what to do with their businesses (this is also called corporatism or crony capitalism). Otherwise, the terms are at least parasynonyms.The image is the cover of a 2019 book entitled Mussolini contra Lenin, by Emilio Gentile. Amazon’s blurb on the book says, “Lenin and Mussolini lived in Geneva between 1902 and 1904, and perhaps they met at the Brasserie Handwerk, celebrating the anniversary of the Paris Commune. A period in which both militated in revolutionary socialism, were hostile to reformist revisionism and manifested similar conceptions about the revolution and the role of the party in it. Between 1904 and 1914 they walked in parallel paths, but as of October of this last year, their political careers took opposite directions, starting with their different positions with respect to what will be the First World War.” In reality, we don’t know whether the two ever met in person.