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Profile, Quizzical

More radical reflections

[small clarifications added]

ritaxis, an old n-th generation leftie, writes:

When I was young and the light shone more clearly, I participated in ongoing "what would I have done" conversations, mostly about Germany in the 30s. We were all so sure that we would have done something substantive, we would not have gone about or daily business as the Social Democrats handed their government over to the Nazis, as the camps were built, all those things we knew they witnessed and did nothing about. Somebody should have organized hit squads,we thought, to go in and liberate people from the camps, at least a few of them. Nobody should have cooperated with the regime. And the Social Democrats should never have handed over their country. The Nazis never won an election: they got the government handed to them so they would stop disrupting the smooth running of daily affairs.

Okay. Here I am, an American, living in a time when the Constitution is daily mutilated -- not in bursts of criminal politics, but in a systemic and principled fashion: and what am I doing? I'm disapproving.

My personal "why didn't I?" is "why didn't I start working to change this when I first foresaw it as a possibility?" back in the late 1980s. But I didn't believe my own intuitions.

In many respects, the economic situation is the worst problem; with the increasing gap between the middle and upper classes, and the increasing impoverishment of the middle class the drop in the welfare of those classes, we have many desperate people, who are willing to undertake radical authoritarian solutions. In addition, immigration policy, combined with international trade policy, has led to a situation where, in much of the USA, undocumented aliens are the working class, defended by no law, and seen as an enemy by the increasingly impoverished middle class. At the other end of the economic spectrum, banking and business policy has led to the emergence of a well-defined wealthy class and the impoverishment of the middle class; the Great Compression, which made the USA a society with relatively moderate class distinctions, has been entirely undone.

I think the situation is different from 1932 Germany; less brutal [domestically] but also bleaker in long-term risks. Unlike the Nazis, who were nationalist imperialists, the current US leadership is part of a loose international corporatist coalition. Thus, we have the US alliance with the UK, the House of Saud, China, and with many other countries and groups I do not know. Instead of a split between democratic left and totalitarian left in the legislature, with the combined left in the majority, we have a small majority coalition of far right (Republican) and right (conservative Democratic) groups in the legislature, with the sizable minority of liberal Democrats forming a center to slight-left opposition. The public is, in majority, aligned with the center opposition, but they are poorly represented, especially in the Senate. I am left with the unhappy conclusion that the governmental forms of the Weimar Republic were more democratic than ours. And, nightmarishly, the sense that corporate internationalism might, ultimately, be worse than fascism. Fascists wanted to rule the world; given the chance, the corporatists will eat the flesh off the world and throw away the core.

What might we do in the short term beyond writing and electoral activism? These seem to be the most hopeful and accessible choices. It's fun to think about the impeachment of Cheney and W. Bush but, given the current Senate, it seems unlikely we would get a conviction; and Cheney and Bush would probably exact a terrible revenge for the attempt. Violence, despite its seductions, seems hopeless; an uprising would be all the excuse the radical right would need to create a police state with broad public support. That leaves non-violent activism, civil disobedience, and the like. Leadership which I do not currently see would be needed, personal courage as well, and it's very hard to hold a non-violent movement together. Still, if all else fails, that might be the best remaining choice.

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An uprising is not sensible without a bunch of other struggle before it: if you think about the Weather Underground, that's exactly what they were trying to do. Carry out an uprising without a history behind it. Also John Brown, and you can see what happened there. Not nothing: he really did up the ante on the slavery question, but he didn't shorten the struggle by much.

I am willing, I think, to allow violent strategies as eventual possibilities, but people who uphold the democratic elements of society are as a whole much less well-trained in violence and terrorism than the right wing, so I think that our main strategies have to pull on our strengths. Also, of course, violence is a bad thing: you only want to resort to it when it is the least worst thing available. Though I wish we did have more people trained and ready: I can think of lots of situations in history that would have gone better if there were more people on the side of democracy and justice who were capable of physical defense. Unfortunately, part of the package of democracy and justice is peace, and most people who believe in these things train to uphold and administer these things, not to fight for them.

I don't see the current situation as actually less brutal than the early Nazi era. We don't get Krystallnacht, but that's because the US has had a lot of practice at exporting the brutality, and there are Krystallnacht-level occurences all around us that we only barely register because they are on "foreign" soil. Yes, I use scare quotes around "foreign" because I don't believe in foreignness. And more appositely, there is an attenuated, ongoing Krystallnacht right here in the US, only it's one window broken at a time, one person rounded up at a time (except when it's hundreds), etc . . .

I disagree about impeachment, though. I think it's a serious test of the system, and if an impeachment hearing is held it will mean a lot, whether or not the same Democrats who broke ranks on FISA do it again and make the impeachment fail. A failed impeachment is dangerous, but a successful one is too. But the most dangerous thing of all is no impeachment hearing at all.

There are many veterans of the nonviolent movements around, so we do have people who ar ecapable of organizing actions and training other people in how to do them. So that kind of leadership -- on the ground -- is available. That's why we can get hundreds of thousands of people in the street several times a year, and why we can get letter-writing campaigns going. There is another kind of leadership we are lacking, though. Both Gore and Edwards could grow into this. Maybe the thing is we have to choose somebody and make them do it.

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