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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, September 23, 2003

 
Priorities

I still believe in the dream of a progressive, liberal nation in which everyone has opportunity and security, freedom and equality. And, I would love to see our politics move beyond the canned soundbite and the market tested message so people can debate civilly and sincerely about policies and philosophy, vote their conscience and elevate the discourse, secure in the knowledge that no matter what, America as we know it will continue to thrive.

But, right now I am scared to death that things are changing so fundamentally that not only will I not see any more progress in my lifetime, but that this country is undergoing a radical and perhaps irreversible, right wing revolution that will reverse most of the progress of the last 100 years.

I wish it were 1972 again or even 1992 again and I could feel sanguine that the United States was going to toddle along, for better or worse, under a basic bipartisan consensus that recognized certain constitutional boundaries and limits that could not be breached. I wish that we had an independent media that was less focused on entertainment values and instead recognized that it had an intrinsically important role in democracy. I wish that we were not in the grip of a revolution in technology and communications at the same time as a radical group of idealists have seized power. I wish we had the luxury of choosing candidates purely on the basis of their commitment to a bottom-up revolution of the people and progressive ideas.

Unfortunately, it is not that time. The modern Republican party presents a clear and present danger to everything we hold dear --- the social safety net, the rule of law, civil liberties, consumer protection, a clean environment, international legitimacy --- everything. They envision a one-party state. They mean to completely and thoroughly change the way this country works.

It’s important to recognize that major revolutionary change can happen slowly at first and then all at once in a civilized democratic society through sophisticated propaganda and by undermining the principles of democracy. History provides an instructive example and one that I’m no longer going to shy away from.

One of the least appreciated aspects of the Nazi rise to power is that it is the only fascist government that came to power through legal means. After the Beer Hall putsch, Hitler realized that he would best be served by a combination of some street action for intimidation purposes, but mostly by growing the Nazi party and building legitimate support. He had some success through the 20’s but it wasn’t until the great depression that his support grew significantly and the Nazis won large numbers in the elections of 1930 and 1932.

However, the communists and the social democrats also saw significant gains. The traditional centrist liberal democratic parties had by now been marginalized to such an extent that politics in Germany were now totally polarized. (In the 1928 elections in Germany the social democrats (SPD) had formed a government with broad parliamentary support. It was a broad coalition that included most of the middle parties, and moderate right party the DVP.) By 1930, the country (for many complicated reasons) had become significantly radicalized.

Despite their gains in 1930 and 1932, the Nazis never gained a majority and ended up seizing power through a quasi-legal parliamentary maneuver rather than forming a legitimate coalition. And one of the main strategic reasons they were in a position to effect such a maneuver was that the newly empowered communist KDP had decided that their main enemy was the more moderate social democrat SPD rather than the Nazis. The Communists claimed that the SPD was a more dangerous enemy because it “looked” like a leftist party and therefore undermined the true Marxist vision and enabled capitalism.

They called the social democrats "Social Fascists.” During the period leading up to the fateful deal that made Hitler Chancellor, when the KDP weren’t arguing amongst themselves as to whether they should concentrate on staging a mass revolution or using the democratic system to gain power, they were consumed with subjugating the social democrats who offended their radical sensibilities.

There are many reasons for Hitler's rise, but it is clear that he would never have been in a position to do so if the opposing parties had coalesced to fight him from 1930 on. And again, there are many contributing factors – including, but not limited to, economic crisis, Nazi collusion with big business, a willingness on the part of various Weimar leaders to whittle away at democratic principles and Hitler’s masterful grasp of propaganda that appealed to the German sense of exceptionalism.

However, the radical left could have stopped him by seeing the danger clearly and aiming its fire at their real enemy rather than moderates in their midst in a self-defeating endless debate about strategy and ideological purity. Sadly, they paid a huge price when Hitler did assume dictatorial powers and manufactured a crisis that enabled him to clamp down on communists in his first act of brutal repression.

History never repeats itself exactly the same way and I don't suggest that it is now, but sometimes you have to shake your head and wonder if human motivations are biologically programmed to be dumb in exactly the same ways, over and over again.