Not Chicago 1968, but Berlin 1932; 2016 is Unique
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Tucson, Arizona. , AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin // The American Prospect
- Not Chicago 1968, but Berlin 1932 - Robert J. S. Ross (The American Prospect)
- 2016 is Unique - Ethan Young (Portside)
By Robert J. S. Ross
March 28, 2016
The American Prospect
The cautionary tale now engaging progressive, Democratic forces in the face of a probable Donald Trump presidential nomination has been the widely noted George Wallace presidential campaign, the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the law and order reaction that followed. Among others, Todd Gitlin in The Washington Post and Michael Cohen in The Boston Globe go to 1968 to ruminate about their fears concerning the bully Trump. The more frightening, but perhaps more instructive case is the German federal election of November 1932-the last free and democratic election held there until 1949.
Listen up Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, and pay close attention, those who think of themselves as being to Sanders's left: History will judge us sternly if we fail this moment.
Earlier in 1932 Adolf Hitler's Nazis had become the largest party in parliament, with about 37 percent of the popular vote. The Social Democrats (SPD) and Communists (KPD) together had about 36 percent of the vote, but were in fierce, mortal competition. The traditional German nationalists could not form a stable government without so they called new elections. Now, in November, Hitler lost seats and the combined vote of the SPD and the KPD was larger than his, as were their combined parliamentary seats. While the KPD was hostile to the Weimar arrangements, it nevertheless proposed to the SPD a common front against the early 1933 power grab by the Nazis. The hostility between the two working class parties with egalitarian visions was too deep.
The split that had created the Bolshevik-Menshevik divide in Russia and had divided the German working class parties over the Great War now prevented a united front against Hitler.
The Communists characterized the SPD as "social fascists"-no better than the Nazis. In a similar vein, leftist commentator Chris Hedges and others have recently written that Hillary Clinton is no better than Donald Trump: "Voting for Clinton and supporting the Democratic Party will not halt our descent into despotism."
The SPD had, of course, invited such "praise" by suppressing the KPD in the `20s (and was complicit in the murder of its inspirational founders Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht).
Looking backwards, fatalistically, many historians view the notion that the two parties could have cooperated against the rise of Nazism as unrealistic: One committed to parliamentary and constitutional means, the other "revolutionary" in inspiration. Yet it was the communist dissident Leon Trotsky who sniffed the rotten end of rationality in all this when he called upon worker militants to unite with the SPD against fascists. And after January 1933, the Communists did unsuccessfully propose united action with the SPD against the Nazi seizure of power.
If left leaning activists are serious about their characterization of Trump as a fascist, a comparison recently made by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, then they better get serious about the problem of unity. It is all very well for Hedges to tell us to vote with our feet in the streets, but as the last century teaches us, the ability of authoritarians to resist popular movements is robust. After the election of November 1932, Hitler came into office as Germany's largest party (though a minority). And while working class parties together neared a majority, they were two divided to oppose him. The center parties-ostensibly committed to constitutionalism-succumbed to a fear of Hitler's retaliation and a fear of the left. They cooperated in the formation of a government that would ultimately eliminate them.
The German elections in March 1933 were held under repressive and violent conditions and the concentration camps were next.
If one really thinks Trump is a danger (or for that matter Cruz!) then the problem of unity, voter turnout, and solidarity is the great historical task before us. Tom Hayden was been particularly articulate about this. It is not fun. The Clintons will not grasp warmly the hands of Sanders; and the young (and not so young) Sanders militants will not be so eager to vote for a Clinton. But as Karl Marx long ago noted, we don't get to make history as we please "under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."
The principals themselves have a lot of responsibility here. Sanders may come to the Democratic convention with a very large contingent of enthusiastic supporters-whose enthusiasm will be required for a Clinton general election victory. Keep in mind that a Trump nomination could very well turn out previously absent white voters. Both Democratic leaders need to ensure near historic turnouts of constituencies that compose their greatest strengths: young lefties for Sanders, African Americans for Clinton. The two contenders for the Democratic nomination should be easier to unite than were the warring German parties in 1932. An explicit, transparent statement of common goals would go a long way toward a win in November.
There is some value in thinking about 1968. Unable to countenance support for the administration which had made war in Vietnam, I advocated a boycott of the Humphrey-Nixon contest, while friends in California and elsewhere chose Eldridge Cleaver over Humphrey. In the meantime, the law and order backlash against our demonstration tactics in Chicago also helped Nixon win a razor thin victory over Humphrey. What we got was more bombing in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and a shameful episode of presidential abuse of power.
Fidel Castro once said in a courtroom that, "history will absolve me." And what will it do to those who now hold themselves aloof from allies at the precipice?
[Robert J. S. Ross is a Member of the Board of Directors and Vice President of the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium.]
by Ethan Young
An estimated 18,500 people attended the South Bronx rally on Thursday, according to The New York Times, with an additional couple thousand unable to get in.
Photo: Getty // Common Dreams
To Hillary or not to Hillary? The great #BernieOrBust debate was raging among Sanders supporters on social media for months before it surfaced in print and news/talk shows. The 60s student movement "original gangsta" Bob Ross (I'm a fan) has weighed in with a strong warning against taking lightly the threat of a fascist-leaning Republican victory.
Ross is concerned that Bernie supporters are too quick to rule out supporting Hillary if she is the Democratic candidate in the general election. He points to 1932, when the Nazi party trumped the warring Social Democrats (SPD) and Communists (KPD), who had a combined vote that could have kept the republic alive.
For better or worse, this is not Germany 1932, nor is it Nixon vs Humphrey in 1968. 2016 is unique. There is a political crisis, but nothing like the end of the Weimar Republic. To begin with, it's a stretch to compare the 2016 race to Germany 1932. The SPD and KPD were highly organized, clearly defined political protagonists, each with its own mass base. The left in the US is a shambles, and has been for decades. It simply does not have the coherence, politically or organizationally, to sustain a united front with anybody.
That's the bad news. The good news is that there is no strong evidence that fascism is around the corner. Fascism is not just capitalism on steroids - it's an alternative to bourgeois democracy, that comes with its own agenda and political base. It's very risky for everyone who isn't part of it.
The ruling class is having a bumpy ride, but they still have the unthreatened power of property, and they operate a political system that has served them well for two centuries. The 99% are having a much rougher time, but the corrosion of democratic rights have taken away any real threat to capitalist rule. The drastic move of surrendering to fascism is something the money guys don't need to take.
Since 2010, the Republicans' strategic alliance of religious right, libertarians and nativists has been unraveling, even as the violent fringes - including organized, open fascists - are coming out of the woodwork. This has put the Republican Party into free fall, to the extent that the only real contenders for the presidential nomination are openly campaigning against the party leadership.
Who benefits from this turn of events? The Democrats, obviously. And Clinton will make the most of it, unless she falls back to the old game of tacking to the right to appease the imagined, dreaded hordes of "Reagan Democrats." (This Democratic Party nightmare is mostly a manifestation of the party's own alienation from its base, or what populists would call their `elitism'. Obama popped that bubble, while hanging on to support in high places, where making money is more important than wonkish makeshift sociology.)
As outdated strategies collapse in both parties, we can now speak of a `Sanders wing' of the Democrats. It didn't actually emerge from the left wing of the party, which is largely made up of union and nonprofit leaders who have old ties to the Clintons.
The Berniacs are mostly newly politicized, and thanks to their coming from a post-Cold War generation, they hurdled past the `radical' phase to embrace democratic socialism. And they are not committed to any party, though they are repelled by the far right lunge of the GOP as a whole.
There is hardly a way to overstate the importance of this breakthrough for the left. The last time an out socialist got anywhere close to a million votes was Debs in 1912. In primary and caucus votes alone, Bernie has surpassed this many times over - without corporate money or any proper political machine.
Compared to the Clinton-dominated DNC, Sanders has a skeleton crew held together by email, volunteer klatches and tweets. Yet Sanders has whipped up a wave of enthusiasm by offering simple, left-populist truths. His success is based entirely on mass rejection of neoliberalism, and sophisticated use of social media. He breaks the fourth wall of political spectacle, pushing cogent, clear demands and staying constantly on message. That message is: upward mobility is over; democracy is under attack; the planet is being destroyed; the answer is mass action for wealth redistribution.
The DNC and the Clinton camp, for all their muscle, connections and money, can't and won't play that role. They mean to stop this. It's a classic case of `the return of the repressed' - though many of the boomer movement leaders don't recognize it as such, for complicated reasons.
Which direction offers the left a future? Ross is concerned principally with defeating the GOP, who most likely will run either Trump or Cruz, both flying the flag of the rabid right. He's not wrong to sound the alarm. Clinton is, in fact, a lesser evil compared to the possibility that either Trump's or Cruz's respective base get any kind of upper hand. Trump's base includes the armed, racist right, working hard to recruit. Cruz comes from the dominionist tendency of the religious right - the most fanatical theocrats, bent on bringing legally enforced patriarchal terror into the mainstream. Clinton represents a wing of capital, and is backed by a leadership layer of social movements, who are increasingly pushed to the left by the impact of neoliberalism on their followers.
Ross is not engaging in campaign hysteria. Others are. Judging from the discussions on the internet, fear of a GOP win may be the biggest motivator behind Hillary's supporters. That fear has shifted to how the Sanders campaign is perceived, such as the myth of "Bernie bros" (motivated by misogyny), and the casting of Hillary as the victim of disrupters unleashed by the cash-rich caudillo from Vermont. At the heart of the panic is a fear that Sanders voters will spoil the election for Hillary and blindly usher in a 1932 scenario.
This view overlooks two important details. As stated, the Republican Party is wounded. Neither candidate has the organization or capital support to outgun the Democrats. Both Trump and Cruz are more unpopular with Big Business and the public, because they are widely feared, while Clinton is merely widely disliked.
A Clinton victory - the likeliest outcome - will not be the result of support from the Sanders camp. And even then, it would be a major change for Hillary to respond by giving ground on policy, let alone start handing out Cabinet posts to democratic socialists. The reality is that the left is still desperately unprepared to vie for power, and both Bernie and Hillary know it. This is the logic behind Hillary's charges that Bernie can't win GOP support for his demands (as if she is in a different position) and therefore they can't be realized.
Sanders expresses his recognition of the left's continued crisis in different terms. He told the Los Angeles Times editorial board: "[The] powers of what I would call the ruling class - that is Wall Street, that is corporate America, that is the wealthy campaign contributors, that is corporate media, which has a lot of power - are so great that there is no way we are going to address the crises we face in this country unless millions of people become involved in the political process in a way that they don't right now. That is, to [my] mind, the only way that we are going to transform this country."
This is a call for democratic action, and a strong, coordinated left - which in some ways are the same thing. The goal is far greater than winning a horse race, and more realistic in terms of how power is really exercised. Whether or not Bernie's supporters choose to fight alongside Hillary's against the right (and knowing quite a few, I don't doubt that they will) - the goal of materializing Sanders's political revolution has a real chance. It is unlikely to move the power brokers at the top of the party, but after the election, the way will be open for the kind of unity Ross is looking for - between the Sanders newbies and the restless social movements, from tops to grassroots.
A strong, renewed left is the missing ingredient that allows the far right to flourish. This won't be achieved if we fold up our banners before the great and powerful Oz, or the little tin Hitler in the pulpit.
[Ethan Young is an activist with People4Bernie, is the author of A Political Revolution, and recently toured Germany speaking on the U.S. elections for the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung. He is also one of the moderators of Portside, however the views expressed are his own.]