Friday, April 23, 2010

Chomsky opinion article TRUTHOUT

Noam Chomsky: Remembering Fascism

Wednesday, 21 April 2010, 12:04 pm

Opinion: Noam Chomsky

Remembering Fascism: Learning From the Past

by Noam Chomsky,

t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Madison: Radical, Intellectual Retrospective, April 8,

I don't have to say how pleased and grateful I am for
this honor, which also offers an occasion to look back
over the years. What comes to mind with particular
salience is the earliest years, perhaps because I've been
thinking a lot about them lately, for other reasons. They
were, of course, formative years for me personally, but I
think the significance unfortunately goes beyond.

I'm just old enough to have memories of Hitler's speeches
on the radio 75 years ago. I didn't understand the words,
but couldn't fail to grasp the menace of the tone and the
cheering mobs. The first political article I wrote was in
February 1939, right after the fall of Barcelona. I'm
sure it was nothing memorable. I can recall a little of
it, but much more clearly the mood of fear and
foreboding. The article opened with the words: "Austria
falls, Czechoslovakia falls, and now Barcelona falls" -
and Spain with it, a few months later. The words have
always stayed in my mind, along with the dread, the sense
of the dark clouds of fascism gathering over Germany and
then Europe and perhaps beyond, a growing force of
unimaginable horror. Though no one could foresee the
Holocaust, Kristallnacht had taken place just a few weeks
before and the desperate flight of refugees had been
building up for years, many of them unable to believe
what was happening.

In those years I also had my first experience with
radical intellectuals - though they wouldn't be called
"intellectuals" as the term is standardly used, applying
to people with status and privilege who are in a position
to reach the public with thoughts about human affairs and
concerns. And since privilege confers responsibility, the
question always arises as to how they are using that
responsibility, topics very much alive in those years in
work by Erich Fromm, Russell and Dewey, Orwell, Dwight
MacDonald, and others, which I soon came to know. But the
radical intellectuals of my childhood were different.
They were my working-class relatives in New York, mostly
unemployed during the Depression, though one uncle, with
a disability, had a newsstand thanks to New Deal measures
and so was able to help support much of the family. My
parents could, too, in a small way. As Hebrew teachers in
Philadelphia, they had that rare gift of employment, so
we had a stream of aunts and cousins staying with us

My New York relatives mostly had limited formal
education. My uncle, who ran the newsstand and was an
enormous influence on my early life, had never gone
beyond fourth grade. But it was one of the most lively
intellectual circles I have ever been part of, at least
on the periphery as a child. There were constant
discussions about the latest performance of the Budapest
String Quartet, the controversies between Stekel and
Freud, radical politics and activism, which was then
reaching impressive peaks. Particularly significant were
the sit-down strikes, just a step short of workers taking
over factories and radically changing the society - ideas
that should be very much alive today.

Along with being a major factor in New Deal measures, the
rising labor activism aroused great concern in the
business world. Its leading figures warned about "the
hazard facing industrialists [with] the rising political
power of the masses," and the need to intensify "the
everlasting battle for the minds of men," and instituted
programs to overcome this threat to order and discipline,
put aside during the war, but taken up afterward with
extreme dedication and scale. The US is unusual among
industrial societies in its highly class-conscious
business community, relentlessly fighting a bitter class
war, in earlier years with unusual levels of violence,
more recently through massive propaganda offensives.

Some of my relatives were close to the Communist Party,
others were bitterly anti-Communist from the left; and
some, like my uncle, were anti-Bolshevik, from farther
left. Among those close to the party, while there was
ritual obeisance to Russia, I had the feeling that for
most the focus was right here: the civil rights and labor
movements, welfare reform and badly needed social change.
The party was a force that did not anticipate quick
victories, but was always present, ready, persistent,
dedicated to moving from temporary defeat to the next
struggle, something that we really lack today. It was
also connected with a broader movement of workers'
education and associations and, not least, an opportunity
for my unemployed seamstress aunts to spend a week in the
country at an ILGWU resort and other escapes from what
should have been a very grim world, though I remember it
from my own personal experiences - limited of course - as
a time that was full of hope, quite unlike today under
circumstances that are objectively much less severe.

By 1941, I was spending as much time as I could in
downtown Manhattan, gravitating to another group of
radical intellectuals in the small bookstores on 4th
Avenue run by anarchist refugees from the Spanish
revolution of 1936, or the office of the Anarchist Freie
Arbeiter Stimme in Union Square nearby. They, too, didn't
fit the standard formula for intellectuals. But if by the
term we mean people who think seriously about life and
society, their problems and possible solutions, against a
background of knowledge and understanding, then they were
indeed intellectuals, impressive ones. They were quite
happy to spend time with a young kid who was fascinated
with the 1936 anarchist revolution, which I thought then,
and still think, was one of the high points of Western
civilization and in some ways a beacon for a better
future. I picked up a lot of material that I used 30
years later when writing about the topic, most of it not
then in print.

Among the most memorable of these materials is a
collection of primary documents about collectivization,
published in 1937 by the CNT, the anarcho-syndicalist
union that is celebrating its centenary this year. One
contribution has resonated in my mind ever since, by
peasants of the village of Membrilla. I would like to
quote parts of it:

In [the] miserable huts [of Membrilla] live the poor
inhabitants of a poor province; eight thousand people,
but the streets are not paved, the town has no newspaper,
no cinema, neither a café nor a library.... Food,
clothing and tools were distributed equitably to the
whole population. Money was abolished, work
collectivized, all goods passed to the community,
consumption was socialized. It was, however, not a
socialization of wealth but of poverty.... The whole
population lived as in a large family; functionaries,
delegates, the secretary of the syndicates, the members
of the municipal council, all elected, acted as heads of
a family. But they were controlled, because special
privilege or corruption would not be tolerated. Membrilla
is perhaps the poorest village of Spain, but it is the
most just.

These words, by some of the most impoverished peasants in
the country, capture with rare eloquence the achievements
and promise of the anarchist revolution. The achievements
did not, of course, spring up from nothing. They were the
outcome of many decades of struggle, experiment, brutal
repression - and learning. The concept of how a just
society should be organized was in the minds of the
population when the opportunity arose. The experiment in
creating a world of freedom and justice was crushed all
too soon by the combined forces of fascism, Stalinism and
liberal democracy. Global power centers understood very
well that they must unite to destroy this dangerous
threat to subordination and discipline before turning to
the secondary task of dividing up the spoils.

In later years, I have sometimes been able to see
first-hand at least a little of the lives of poor people
suffering brutal repression and violence - in the
miserable slums of Haiti at the peak of the terror in the
early '90s, supported by Washington though the facts are
still suppressed and highly relevant to today's
tragedies. Or in refugee camps in Laos, where tens of
thousands of people were huddled, driven from their homes
by a CIA mercenary army after years of trying to survive
in caves under relentless bombing that had nothing to do
with the war in Vietnam, one of the gravest atrocities of
modern history, still largely unknown and still killing
many people because the land is saturated with unexploded
ordnance. Or in Palestine and southeastern Turkey and
many other places. Among them, particularly important to
me for personal reasons, is southern Colombia, where
campesinos, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians are
being driven from their devastated lands by terror and
chemical warfare, called here "fumigation," as if we
somehow have the right to destroy other countries on
pretexts that we manufacture - people capable of the most
miraculous sympathy and humanity, despite the awful
suffering in which we play a major role, while looking
the other way - though not in Madison, thanks to the work
of the Colombia support group here.

One of the things I learned in the anarchist bookstores
and offices 70 years ago was that I had been wrong in
taking the fall of Barcelona in 1939 to be the death
knell for freedom in Spain. It rang two years earlier, in
May 1937, when the industrial working class was crushed
by the Communist-led repression and Communist armies
swept through the countryside destroying the collectives,
with the assistance of the liberal democracies and with
Hitler and Mussolini waiting in the wings - an immense
tragedy for Spain, even though not quite the victory that
the predators had anticipated.

A few years later, I left home for graduate studies at
Harvard, where I had my first extensive experience with
the elite intellectual world. On arrival, I went to the
standard faculty-run party for incoming students and was
regaled by a very distinguished philosopher with an
account of the Depression - which, he assured me, had not
taken place. It was a liberal fabrication. There were no
rag-pickers coming to our door in desperation in the
early '30s, no women workers being beaten by security
forces while on strike at a textile factory that I passed
on a trolley with my mother when I was about five, none
of my unemployed working class relatives. A few
businessmen might have suffered, but there was nothing
beyond that.

I was soon to learn that this was far from an exception,
but I don't want to suggest that this was typical of
Harvard intellectuals. Most were Stevenson liberals,
people who applauded when Stevenson said at the UN that
we have to defend Vietnam from "internal aggression,"
from the "assault from within," as President Kennedy put
it. Words that we hear again today, for example, last
Sunday, in The New York Times, where we read that after
the conquest of Marja in Helmand Province, the Marines
have collided with a Taliban identity so dominant that
the movement appears more akin to the only political
organization in a one-party town, with an influence that
touches everyone. "We've got to re-evaluate our
definition of the word 'enemy,'" said Brig. Gen. Larry
Nicholson, commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade
in Helmand Province. "Most people here identify
themselves as Taliban ... We have to readjust our
thinking so we're not trying to chase the Taliban out of
Marja, we're trying to chase the enemy out," he said.

A problem that has always bedeviled conquerors, very
familiar to the US from Vietnam, where the leading US
government scholar in a widely praised book lamented that
the enemy within was the only "truly mass-based political
party in South Vietnam" and any effort of ours to compete
with it politically would be like a conflict between a
minnow and a whale, so we had to overcome their political
force by using our comparative advantage, violence - as
we did. Others have faced similar problems: for example,
the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s, an invasion
that also elicited the outrage that we muster up for the
crimes of enemies. Middle East specialist William Polk
reminds us that the Russians "won many military victories
and through their civic action programs they actually won
over many of the villages" - and in fact, as we know from
reliable sources, created substantial freedom in Kabul,
particularly for women. But, to go on with Polk, "over
the decade of their involvement, the Russians won almost
every battle and occupied at one time or another
virtually every inch of the country, but they lost ...
the war. When they gave up and left, the Afghans resumed
their traditional way of life."

The dilemmas faced by Obama and McChrystal are not quite
the same. The enemy whom the Marines are trying to chase
out of their villages have virtually no outside support.
The Russian invaders, in sharp contrast, were facing a
resistance that received vital support from the US, Saudi
Arabia and Pakistan, who were rounding up the most
extreme radical Islamic fundamentalists they could find -
including those terrorizing women in Kabul - and were
arming them with advanced weapons, while also carrying
forward the program of radical Islamization of Pakistan,
yet another one of Reagan's gifts to the world, along
with Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The goal of these US
operations was not to defend Afghanistan. It was
explained frankly by the CIA station chief in Islamabad,
who was running the operations. The goal was to "kill
Soviet Soldiers." He boasted that he "loved" this "noble
goal," making it very clear, in his words, that "the
mission was not to liberate Afghanistan," which he didn't
care about. You're familiar I'm sure with Zbigniew
Brzezinski's somewhat similar boasts.

By the early 1960s, I was deeply engaged in antiwar
activities. I won't go into the details, though they tell
us a lot about the intellectual climate, particularly in
liberal Boston. By 1966, my own involvement was deep
enough so that my wife went back to college to get a
degree after 17 years because of the likelihood of a long
prison sentence - which came very close. The trial was
already announced, but canceled after the Tet offensive,
which convinced the business community that the war was
becoming too costly and, in any event, the major war aims
had been achieved - another long story I won't go into.
After the Tet offensive and the shift in official policy,
it suddenly turned out that everyone had been a long-term
opponent of the war - in deep silence. Kennedy memoirists
rewrote their accounts to present their hero as a dove -
untroubled by the radical revisions or by the extensive
documentary evidence showing that JFK would consider
withdrawal from a war he knew to be domestically
unpopular only after victory was assured.

Even before the Tet offensive there were growing doubts
in these circles, not about the sentimental notions of
right and wrong that we reserve for the crimes of
enemies, but about the likelihood of success in beating
back the "assault from within." Perhaps, a paradigm was
Arthur Schlesinger's reflections when he was beginning to
be concerned that victory might not be so easily at hand.
As he put it, "we all pray" that the hawks will be right
and that the surge of the day will bring victory. And if
it does, we will be praising the "wisdom and
statesmanship" of the US government in gaining military
victory while leaving "the tragic country gutted and
devastated by bombs, burned by napalm, turned into a
wasteland by chemical defoliation, a land of ruin and
wreck," with its "political and institutional fabric"
pulverized. But escalation probably won't succeed and
will prove to be too costly for ourselves, so perhaps
strategy should be rethought.

Little has changed today when Obama is hailed as a
leading opponent of the Iraq invasion because it was a
"strategic blunder," words that one could also have read
in Pravda by the mid-1980s. The imperial mentality is
very deeply rooted.

It is sad to say, but not false, that within the dominant
spectrum the liberal imperialists are "the good guys." A
likely alternative is revealed by the most recent polls.
Almost half of voters say that the average Tea Party
member is closer to their views than President Obama,
whom fewer prefer. There's an interesting breakdown.
Eighty-seven percent of those in the so-called "Political
Class" say their views are closer to Obama's. Sixty-three
percent of what are called "Mainstream Americans" say
their views are closer to the Tea Party. On virtually all
issues, Republicans are trusted by the electorate more
than Democrats, in many cases by double digits. Other
evidence suggests that these polls are recording distrust
rather than trust. The level of anger and fear in the
country is like nothing I can recall in my lifetime. And
since the Democrats are in power, the revulsion over the
current social-economic-political world attaches to them.

Unfortunately, these attitudes are understandable. For
over 30 years, real incomes for the majority of the
population have stagnated or declined, social indicators
have steadily deteriorated since the mid-1970s after
closely tracking growth in earlier years, work hours and
insecurity have increased along with debt. Wealth has
accumulated, but into very few pockets, leading to
probably record inequality. These are, in large part,
consequences of the financialization of the economy since
the 1970s and the corresponding hollowing out of domestic
production. What people see before their eyes is that the
bankers who are primarily responsible for the current
crisis and who were saved from bankruptcy by the public
are now reveling in record profits and huge bonuses,
while official unemployment stays at about 10 percent and
in manufacturing is at depression levels, one in six,
with good jobs unlikely to return. People rightly want
answers and they are not getting them, except from voices
that tell tales that have some internal coherence, but
only if you suspend disbelief and enter into their world
of irrationality and deceit. Ridiculing Tea Party
shenanigans is a serious error, I think. It would be far
more appropriate to understand what lies behind them and
to ask ourselves why justly angry people are being
mobilized by the extreme right and not by forces like
those that did so in my childhood, in the days of
formation of the CIO and other constructive activism.

To take just one illustration of the operation of really
existing market democracy, Obama's primary constituency
was financial institutions, which have gained such
dominance in the economy that their share of corporate
profits rose from a few percent in the '70s to almost
on-third today. They preferred Obama to McCain and
largely bought the election for him. They expected to be
rewarded and were. But a few months ago, responding to
rising public anger, Obama began to criticize the "greedy
bankers" who had been rescued by the public and even
proposed some measures to constrain them. Punishment for
his deviation was swift. The major banks announced
prominently that they would shift funding to Republicans
if Obama persisted with his offensive rhetoric.

Obama heard the message. Within days, he informed the
business press that bankers are fine "guys." He singled
out for special praise the chairs of two leading
beneficiaries of public largess, JP Morgan Chase and
Goldman Sachs and assured the business world that, "I,
like most of the American people, don't begrudge people
success or wealth" - such as the bonuses and profits that
are infuriating the public. "That's part of the free
market system," Obama continued, not inaccurately, as the
concept "free market" is interpreted in state capitalist

This should not be a great surprise. That incorrigible
radical Adam Smith, speaking of England, observed that
the principal architects of power were the owners of the
society, in his day the merchants and manufacturers, and
they made sure that policy would attend scrupulously to
their interests, however "grievous" the impact on the
people of England, and, worse, the victims of "the savage
injustice of the Europeans" abroad. British crimes in
India were a primary concern of an old-fashioned
conservative with moral values, a category that a
Diogenes might search for today.

A modern and more sophisticated version of Smith's maxim
is political economist Thomas Ferguson's "investment
theory of politics," which takes elections to be
occasions when groups of investors coalesce to invest to
control the state by selecting the architects of policies
who will serve their interests. It turns out to be a very
good predictor of policy over long periods. That should
hardly be surprising. Concentrations of economic power
will naturally seek to extend their sway over any
political process. It happens to be extreme in the US, as
I mentioned.

There is much fevered discussion these days about
whether, or when, the US is going to lose its dominant
position in global affairs to China and India, the rising
world powers. There is an element of truth to these
laments. But apart from misconceptions about debt,
deficits and the actual state of China and India, the
discussions are based on a serious misconception of the
nature of power and its exercise. In scholarship and
public discourse, it is common to take the actors in
international affairs to be states that pursue some
mysterious goal called "the national interest," divorced
from the internal distribution of power. Adam Smith had a
sharper eye and his radical truism provides a useful
corrective. Bearing it in mind, we can see that there is
indeed a global shift of power, though not the one that
occupies center stage: a further shift from the global
work force to transnational capital, sharply escalating
during the neoliberal years. The cost is substantial,
including working people in the US, starving peasants in
India and millions of protesting workers in China, where
labor share in national income is declining even more
rapidly than in most of the world.

Political economist Martin Hart-Landsberg observes that
China does play a leading role in the real global shift
of power, having become largely an assembly plant for a
regional production system. Japan, Taiwan, and other
advanced Asian economies export parts and components to
China and provide most of the sophisticated technology.
Chinese labor assembles it and exports it. To illustrate,
a Sloan Foundation study estimated that for a $150 iPod
exported from China, about 3 percent of value added is by
China, but it is counted as a Chinese export. Much
concern has been aroused by the growing US trade deficit
with China, but less noticed is the fact that the trade
deficit with Japan and rest of Asia has sharply declined
as the new regional production system takes shape. A Wall
Street Journal report concluded that if value added were
properly calculated, the real US-China trade deficit
would decline by as much as 30 percent, while the US
trade deficit with Japan would rise by 25 percent. US
manufacturers are following the same course, providing
parts and components for China to assemble and export,
mostly back to the US. For the financial institutions,
retail giants, ownership and management of manufacturing
industries and sectors closely related to this nexus of
power, all of this is heavenly. Not for American workers,
but as Smith pointed out, their fate is not the concern
of the "principal architects of policy."

It's true that there is nothing fundamentally new in the
process of deindustrialization. Owners and managers
naturally seek the lowest labor costs; efforts to do
otherwise, famously by Henry Ford, were struck down by
the courts, so now it is a legal obligation. One means is
shifting production. In earlier days, the shift was
mostly internal, especially to the southern states, where
labor could be more harshly repressed. Major
corporations, like the US steel corporation of the
sainted philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, could also profit
from the new slave-labor force created by the
criminalization of black life after the end of
Reconstruction in 1877, a core component of the American
industrial revolution, continuing until World War II. It
is being reproduced in part during the recent neoliberal
period, with the drug war used as a pretext to drive the
superfluous population, mostly black, back to the
prisons, also providing a new supply of prison labor in
state or private prisons, much of it in violation of
international labor conventions. For many
African-Americans, since they were exported to the
colonies, life has scarcely escaped the bonds of slavery,
or sometimes worse. More recently the shift is mostly

Returning to the charges against "greedy bankers," in
fairness, we should concede that they have a valid
defense. Their task is to maximize profit and market
share; in fact, that's their legal obligation. If they
don't do it, they'll be replaced by someone who will.
These are institutional facts, as are the inherent market
inefficiencies that require them to ignore systemic risk:
the likelihood that transactions they enter into will
harm the economy generally. They know full well that
these policies are likely to tank the economy, but these
externalities, as they are called, are not their
business, and cannot be, not because they are bad people,
but for institutional reasons. It is also unfair to
accuse them of "irrational exuberance," to borrow Alan
Greenspan's brief recognition of reality during the
artificial tech boom of the late '90s. Their exuberance
and risk taking was quite rational, in the knowledge that
when it all collapses, they can flee to the shelter of
the nanny state, clutching their copies of Hayek,
Friedman and Rand. The government insurance policy is one
of many perverse incentives that magnify the inherent
market inefficiencies.

In brief, ignoring systemic risk is an inherent
institutional property and perverse incentives are an
application of Smith's maxim. Again, no great insight.

After the latest disaster occurred, it has been agreed by
leading economists that an "emerging consensus" has
developed "on the need for macroprudential supervision"
of financial markets, that is, "paying attention to the
stability of the financial system as a whole and not just
its individual parts" (Barry Eichengreen, one of the most
respected analysts and historians of the financial
system). Two prominent international economists add that,
"There is growing recognition that our financial system
is running a doomsday cycle. Whenever it fails, we rely
on lax money and fiscal policies to bail it out. This
response teaches the financial sector: take large gambles
to get paid handsomely and don't worry about the costs -
they will be paid by taxpayers through bailouts and other
devices and the financial system "is thus resurrected to
gamble again - and to fail again." The system is a "doom
loop," in the words of the official of the Bank of
England responsible for financial stability.

Basically the same logic applies elsewhere. A year ago,
the business world recognized that the insurance
companies and big Pharma, in sharp defiance of the public
will, had succeeded in destroying the possibility of
serious health reform - a very serious matter, not only
for the people who suffer from the dysfunctional health
system, but even on narrow economic grounds. About half
of the deficit that we are instructed to deplore is
attributable to unprecedented military expenditures,
rising under Obama, and most of the rest to the
increasing costs of the virtually unregulated privatized
health care system, unique in the industrial world, also
unique in its gifts to drug companies - opposed by a mere
85 percent of the population. Last August, Business Week
had a cover story celebrating the victory of the health
insurance industries. Of course, no victory is enough, so
they persisted in the struggle, gaining more, also
against the will of the large majority of the public,
another interesting story I'll have to put aside.

Observing this victory, the American Petroleum Institute,
backed by the Chamber of Commerce and the other great
business lobbies, announced that they are going to use
the model of the health industry campaigns to intensify
their massive propaganda efforts to convince the public
to dismiss concerns about anthropogenic global warming.
That has been done with great success; those who believe
in this liberal hoax have reduced to barely a third of
the population. The executives dedicated to this task
know as well as the rest of us that the liberal hoax is
real and the prospects grim. But they are fulfilling
their institutional role. The fate of the species is an
externality that they must ignore, to the extent that
market systems prevail.

One of the clearest and most moving articulations of the
public mood that I have seen was written by Joseph Andrew
Stack, who crashed his small plane into an office
building in Austin, Texas, a few weeks ago, committing
suicide. He left a manifesto explaining his actions. It
was mostly ridiculed, but it deserves much better, I

Stack's manifesto traces the life history that led him to
this final desperate act. The story begins when he was a
teenage student living on a pittance in Harrisburg, PA,
near the heart of what was once a great industrial
center. His neighbor was a woman in her '80s, surviving
on cat food, the "widowed wife of a retired steel worker.
Her husband had worked all his life in the steel mills of
central Pennsylvania with promises from big business and
the union that, for his 30 years of service, he would
have a pension and medical care to look forward to in his
retirement. Instead he was one of the thousands who got
nothing because the incompetent mill management and
corrupt union (not to mention the government) raided
their pension funds and stole their retirement. All she
had was social security to live on" (quoting); and Stack
could have added that there have been concerted and
continuing efforts by the super rich and their political
allies to take even that away on spurious grounds. Stack
decided then that he couldn't trust big business and
would strike out on his own, only to discover that he
couldn't trust a government that cared nothing about
people like him, but only about the rich and privileged,
or a legal system in which, in his words, "there are two
'interpretations' for every law, one for the very rich
and one for the rest of us." Or a government that leaves
us with "the joke we call the American medical system,
including the drug and insurance companies [that] are
murdering tens of thousands of people a year," with care
rationed largely by wealth, not need. All in a social
order in which "a handful of thugs and plunderers can
commit unthinkable atrocities ... and when it's time for
their gravy train to crash under the weight of their
gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the
full federal government has no difficulty coming to their
aid within days if not hours." And much more.

Stack tells us that his desperate final act was an effort
to show that there are people willing to die for their
freedom, in the hope of awakening others from their
torpor. It wouldn't surprise me if he had in mind the
premature death of the steel worker that taught him about
the real world as a teenager. That steel worker didn't
literally commit suicide after having been discarded to
the trash heap, but it's far from an isolated case; we
can add his and many similar cases to the colossal toll
of the institutional crimes of state capitalism.

There are poignant studies of the indignation and rage of
those who have been cast aside as the state-corporate
programs of financialization and deindustrialization have
closed plants and destroyed families and communities.
They reveal the sense of acute betrayal on the part of
working people who believed they had a fulfilled their
duty to society in a moral compact with business and
government, only to discover that they had been only
instruments for profit and power, truisms from which they
had been carefully protected by doctrinal institutions.

Reading Joe Stack's manifesto and a great deal more like
it, I find myself recovering childhood memories and much
more that I did not then understand. The Weimar Republic
was the peak of western civilization in the sciences and
the arts, also regarded as a model of democracy. Through
the 1920s, the traditional liberal and conservative
parties entered into inexorable decline, well before the
process was intensified by the Great Depression. The
coalition that elected General Hindenburg in 1925 was not
very different from the mass base that swept Hitler into
office eight years later, compelling the aristocratic
Hindenburg to select as chancellor the "little corporal"
he despised. As late as 1928, the Nazis had less than 3
percent of the vote. Two years later, the most
respectable Berlin press was lamenting the sight of the
many millions in this "highly civilized country" who had
"given their vote to the commonest, hollowest and crudest
charlatanism." The public was becoming disgusted with the
incessant wrangling of Weimar politics, the service of
the traditional parties to powerful interests and their
failure to deal with popular grievances. They were drawn
to forces dedicated to upholding the greatness of the
nation and defending it against invented threats in a
revitalized, armed and unified state, marching to a
glorious future, led by the charismatic figure who was
carrying out "the will of eternal Providence, the Creator
of the universe," as he orated to the mesmerized masses.
By May 1933, the Nazis had largely destroyed not only the
traditional ruling parties, but even the huge
working-class parties, the Social Democrats and
Communists, along with their very powerful associations.
The Nazis declared May Day 1933 to be a workers holiday,
something the left parties had never been able to
achieve. Many working people took part in the enormous
patriotic demonstrations, with more than a million people
at the heart of Red Berlin, joining farmers, artisans,
shopkeepers, paramilitary forces, Christian
organizations, athletic and riflery clubs, and the rest
of the coalition that was taking shape as the center
collapsed. By the onset of the war, perhaps 90 percent of
Germans were marching with the brown shirts.

As I mentioned, I am just old enough to remember those
chilling and ominous days of Germany's descent from
decency to Nazi barbarism, to borrow the words of the
distinguished scholar of German history Fritz Stern. He
tells us that he has the future of the United States in
mind when he reviews "a historic process in which
resentment against a disenchanted secular world found
deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason."

The world is too complex for history to repeat, but there
are nevertheless lessons to keep in mind. There is no
shortage of tasks for those who choose the vocation of
critical intellectuals, whatever their station in life.
They can seek to sweep away the mists of carefully
contrived illusion and reveal the stark reality. They can
become directly engaged in popular struggles, helping to
organize the countless Joe Stacks who are destroying
themselves and maybe the world and to join them in
leading the way the way to a better future.

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posted by u2r2h at 1:38 AM


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