Salami Tactics Then and Now
As the Ukraine descends into armed combat between the police of a legitimate government and Neo-Nazi thugs with European backers, it’s none to soon to be talking about fascism.
After defeating German, Italian and Japanese fascism that threatened American power in the mid twentieth century, Washington turned against its former ally, the Soviet Union, and then China, when the Communists won their struggle for power there in 1949 – for Communism was the real enemy of corporate power! Sixty-five years later, fascism is resurgent, overtly in Europe, covertly in the United States. And yet, when left-leaning American intellectuals utter the F word, it is with lowered voice, perhaps fearing accusations of irresponsibility, or a lack of academic rigor, should they compare what is happening in the United States with the process that took place in Germany in the nineteen twenties and thirties, culminating in the Second World War, and ultimately, the banalization of ethnic cleansing. The events in Ukraine require Americans and Europeans to review that history, unless we want to relive Nazi Germany.
After the Nazis were defeated, the Soviet Union took over Eastern Europe. One local leader boasted of destroying his country’s non-Communist parties by ‘cutting them off like slices of salami’, re-baptizing what Hitler had called his ‘piecemeal strategy’. Today we talk about frogs allowing the water they are in to be gradually brought to a boil until it is too late to jump out. Efforts by right-wing parties to lure Ukraine, whose Western half fought with the Germans, into the EU, suggest that it may be too late for Europe to avoid another fascist takeover: thanks to genuine political freedom that affords all parties the same protections, fascist parties are on the ballot in every country, with between ten and twenty percent of the vote.
American fascist parties are not on the ballot, and yet Americans are seeing their freedoms being cut away, slice by slice, by the government, and with each slice, we dispose of fewer means to prevent the next cut. The corporate media condemns Hitler-worshipping hate groups, but appears not to notice that the NSA, PRISM, FISA, facial recognition, police drones, etc. are technologically embellished equivalents of the means Hitler used to consolidate power with the backing of Germany’s industrialists.
The German excuse for territorial aggression was ‘Lebensraum’, literally, ‘room to live’. Today, the world military/industrial/financial complex headquartered in Washington is determined to secure the raw materials that will enable the 1 percent to maintain itself on a dying Earth until it can colonize another planet. If you think I’m imagining things, I’m not alone. See Neil Bloomkamp’s Elysium, in which two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made planet called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, dying Earth. Bloomkamp probably isn’t far off: government research on space colonization has been going on for years and is now also being carried out by private companies. Implementation of the project will require the acquiescence of the 99%, who in fact are just now emerging from McCarthy’s closet to demand the rights, benefits and personal freedoms that have been enjoyed for decades by workers in the European Union. This awakening makes it doubly necessary to take down the welfare state, which not only ensures a decent living for all, but is a major economic competitor. If the economic crisis of 2008 created by Wall St. turns out to have dealt it a fatal blow, it will not, I believe, be an unintended consequence.
On the surface, what is happening in 21st century America looks nothing like when took place in 1930‘s Germany. However, it is still about the fundamental question of equity whether it be between the few and the many, or between governments. American determination to topple the Syrian president is the latest example of the latter: Since its independence in 1946, Syria has been the only secular Arab state, and under the Arab Baath Socialist Party it has maintained that distinction. It has been the contention of this writer for many months that the current world crisis is at bottom about equity, as illustrated by the array of religious, secular and progressive forces vying for power in the Arab world. And we cannot understand this if we are ignorant of the historical conflict between fascism and communism.
The fact that fascism developed precisely as a nationalist competitor for workers’ allegiance in the years following the victory of the many in Russia is largely ignored today. The fact is that the Russian Revolution led to brief takeovers in both Germany and its former ally Hungary by Communist and Socialist governments, creating a veritable Red Scare across Europe. After a turbulent two years, Germany’s first ever parliamentary system, the Weimar Republic, was created. As a sign of the times, it was led by democratic socialists, and opposed by conservatives, monarchists, communists, as well as Hitler’s so-called ‘national-socialist’ party.
The 1918 armistice had formalized the loss of Germany’s African colonies, excised part of its homeland to create new nations and condemned it, as the aggressor, to huge reparations. Hitler’s career took off in the early twenties with charismatic speeches that stoked resentment over this punishment among farmers, war veterans and the middle class. Hitler and his friends tried unsuccessfully to take over the country in 1923, in what was called the Beer Hall Putsch.
What follows is a rough comparison between the rise of fascism in Germany (where it was known as Nazism, the German contraction of ‘national socialism’), and contemporary America, where a globalized economy is rewarding the 1% while imposing hardships on the majority, as happened in post World War I Germany:
? While in prison, Hitler dictated Mein Kampf, an autobiography that promoted the ideology (inspired by the American eugenist, Madison Grant), that would lead to a massive extermination of European Jews, gays, Gypsies and Communists.
• In post 9/11 America, Fox News, the novels of Glenn Beck, and the position papers concocted by the Koch brothers’ minions wage an unrelenting assault on blacks, Hispanics, women and the LGBT community.
? Hitler was released from prison in 1924 in a becalmed political and economic situation. With no grounds for agitation, he promised that his National Socialist German Workers’ party (NAZIS) would only seek power through legal means. But when the Great Depression hit six years later, the social democrats were too divided to block the replacement of a grand coalition by a minority cabinet. Hitler then defeated the socialist faction of his own party and imposed the ‘leader principle’: unquestioning obedience to those above. During the series of unworkable parliaments that followed, the Catholic chancellor, Heinrich Brüning was forced to rule by decree.
• The lack of unity among post-war Germany’s social democrats could be compared to twenty-first century America’s progressive Democrats allowing the Clintonites to fill President Obama’s cabinet with the people whose policies had led to the 2008 financial debacle and who would continue Bush’s war policies. The ‘leader principle’ was a forerunner of the Imperial Presidency and the notion that “When the President does it, it’s legal.”
(The current situation is also remindful of the inability of Russia’s Mensheviks to insist on social reforms that eventually allowed the better disciplined Bolsheviks to resort to revolution. However it is not certain that there will be an American Revolution due to government initiatives to make one impossible – the boiling water.)
? In September, 1930, Chancellor Brüning was forced to call premature elections. The Nazis moved from the ninth-smallest party to the second largest, winning 18.3% of the vote.
• Two years after Barack Obama’s stunning first Presidential victory, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party was able to reduce his health care initiative to a bare minimum of what has long existed in other countries, and the Republicans re-bounded in the mid-term elections.
? In 1932, Chancellor Brüning’s austerity pro-gram having brought little economic improvement from the harsh conditions of the Depression, Hitler was able to run for the presidency against the aging Paul von Hindenburg, with the support of Germany’s most powerful industrialists.
• Whoever runs in the 2016 American election will, like Obama, take orders from the military/industrial/ financial complex that grew out of the Second World War.
? President Hindenburg won the election but Hitler came in second, and as parliament continued to be hamstrung, the German business class urged that he be appointed to head a government ‘independent from political parties.’ President Hindenburg finally agreed, hoping to contain the Nazis within a conservative cabinet, and Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor on 30 January 1933.
• American fascists do not run for the highest office, however, in France in 2004, after fifty years of symbolic runs for the presidency, far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen came in second to the conservative Jacques Chirac, booting the socialist that had been tipped to win out of the race. Then in 2012, Le Pen’s daughter Marine obtained 23 percent in the presidential poll, sending shock waves through the French political scene, and bringing to power a weak socialist who has turned out to be one of France’s worst presidents. And following the Greece’s economic debacle, the Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party garnered seven percent of the vote, entering the Parliament.
? When the fractured German opposition again failed to cobble together a majority against his party, Hitler was able to persuade Hindenburg to dissolve parliament for a second time. Next, he barred its left wing delegates and pushed through the Enabling Act that gave his cabinet legislative powers for four years, transforming his government into a legal dictatorship.
• Wikileaks files from the early 1970s reveal Henry Kissinger saying: ‘The illegal we do right away. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.” The Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision of 2010 allows individual states to find ingenious ways to prevent Democratic victories: eliminating last-minute registration, requiring photo IDs, redrawing voting districts, and even eliminating some, forcing residents to travel elsewhere to vote.
Although more subtle machinations have been going on for decades, American workers still do not quite believe the country’s rich are flouting the constitution in order to keep them in their place. In Germany, Hitler benefitted from an exceptionally dire situation, but the foundation for America’s takeover was laid out in our founding documents. As I noted in my March 4 blog, the constitution, in contrast to constitutions inspired by the French revolution that enshrine equality, the American Declaration of Independence promises the ‘pursuit of happiness.’ After a two-hundred year run, this motto has led to a no holds barred pursuit of ‘stuff,’ a stunning loss of community, the rape of the planet and growing worldwide resentment.
We’ll probably never know the truth about that resentment’s first major manifestation on 9/11, however it probably has a Nazi precedent:
? After the second dissolution of the Weimar parliament, German elections were scheduled for early March, 1933. On February 27th, the Reichstag was set on fire, a Dutch communist was found in the building, and the fire was attributed to a communist plot. Hitler’s government responded by issuing the Reichstag Fire Decree that suspended basic rights, including habeas corpus.
• Bush would do the same after 9/11 with the Patriot Act. Although the Military Commissions Act fails to specify who designates persons as ‘enemy combatants,’ depriving them of habeus corpus, Congress rubber stamped it, and President Obama continues its heinous policies. In creating enemies to disguise our rape of the planet, we have become an under-developed but increasingly organized salami republic that whittles its democracy away slice by slice.
? During Hitler’s methodical pursuit of absolute power, leaders of the German Communist Party and others were arrested, forced to flee, or murdered.
• President Obama uses drones to assassinate suspected enemies, including American citizens abroad. As almost two hundred prisoners in their 11th year of captivity at Guantanamo without charges went on hunger strike, Julian Assange marked a year in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London and Chelsea Manning was convicted of revealing America’s war crimes to the world. In an ironic twist, Edward Snowden was granted political asylum in Russia, while computer hackers working to disseminate his leaks have left the United States for safer lives in Germany — a former enemy upon whom the US still spies.
? In July, 1934, Hitler used allegations of a Stormtroopers’ plot to purge that military organi-zation’s leadership and other ‘enemies’ during the ‘Night of the Long Knives’. When Hindenburg died the following month, the cabinet made Hitler both Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor), violating both the Constitution and the Enabling Act. According to the Constitution. the president of the High Court of Justice should have become acting president until new elections could be held. As for the Enabling Act, it barred Hitler from taking any action that tampered with the presidency. But no one dared object.
In August, almost eighty-five percent of Germans approved the merger of the presidency with the chancellorship, eliminating nearly all institutional restraints on Hitler’s power — and the last legal means by which he could be removed. In little more than a decade Germany went from a parliamentary democracy in which citizens were represented by elected representatives, to a dictatorship whose propaganda machine engineered the answers to simplistic referenda questions.
As head of state, Hitler now became Supreme Commander of the armed forces. Normally, soldiers and sailors swear loyalty to the holder of the office of supreme commander, not to a specific person, but the oath became one of personal loyalty to Hitler.
• It’s probably unlikely that something like this could happen in the United States, yet in 1940, planning to one day seek a higher office, French Colonel Charles de Gaulle required those who joined him in London to coordinate resistance to the German occupation to sign an oath of loyalty to his person.
? Though no well-meaning German wanted what happened to their country, in a dire economic situation, they embraced a leader who held up imaginary enemies and promised to restore their former glory.
• Today, in the United States, the Koch brother’s position papers affirm that collective bargaining is not a right, since it does not appear in the Constitution; that children of immigrants born in this country have no claim to citizenship, violating the ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition of jus sol; that the soul of an eight-week old fetus has rights, but health care is a privilege; and finally, that China is a bona fide trading partner, while Cuba is an existential threat.
Glib talk of democracy and rule of law are echoed by promises to ‘take the country back’ to the time of the founders via ‘second amendment remedies’ administered by a population that doesn’t know in what state the battle of Concord was fought. Birthers, Tea Partiers and right-wing libertarians take advantage of an educational system that produces ideological illiterates to accuse workers of being at once fascists, communists and socialists, while supporting salami tactics to impose really existing fascism.
The refusal of Wisconsin’s workers to be stripped of their legal bargaining rights in 2011 could have marked the beginning of a second American Revolution, adding economic equality to political equality. But the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to allow unlimited corporate spending for elections enabled the governor to overcome their resistance with not even a pretense of legality: as the lone Democratic representative in the Wisconsin legislature demanded that the rules of procedure be followed, the Republicans drowned out his voice.
What, exactly, would prevent a similar episode from taking place in the United States House of Representatives? As legislative attempts to muzzle American workers continue, what will be the role of hundreds of militias playing war games in America’s woods? Their stated enemy is an encroaching government, but will they fight it in the name of equity, or merely to defend their right to carry weapons, ultimately joining with the police and the army against those ‘too lazy to work?’
If we do not bear in mind Hitler’s rise to power eighty years ago, the dramas of the twentieth century will pale in comparison to what awaits us. Unless national priorities can be reordered to meet the two major threats provoked by runaway capitalism’s pursuit of inequality, wars and climate change, actions taken under the guise of saving us from sharia law, coupled with inaction to prevent a climate meltdown will lead to a point of no return.
As Middle East populations increasingly prefer to experiment with hybrid regimes that include Muslim parties but have more in common with the Radical Enlightenment than with runaway capitalism, notwithstanding the biggest military the world has ever seen and the most sophisticated spying apparatus, the United States will continue unable to impose its will. And yet, if Americans continue to see these rebellions as merely part of the news cycle, the right-wing will gain total control of our lives.
When today’s tumultuous events had their first beginnings with the attack on the Twin Towers, few Muslims heeded fundamentalist calls for jihad. But the new generation watching our films and hearing our invitations to ‘freedom’ are becoming increasingly aware that their unelected leaders are our clients and poodles who resist calls for democratization to further our goals.
While in their secret forums such as the Bilderberg Conference, the world’s 1% fine tune strategies to eventually escape a devastated planet, resistance grows among an increasingly redundant 99%, provoking the turn from runaway capitalism to fascism in order to prevent open revolt.
A growing phalanx of intellectuals tries to awaken Americans to what is happening. Foremost among them is Chris Hedges, who led an inconclusive class action suit against the Obama Administration over the FISA Act that allows it to detain Americans indefinitely on charges of aiding the enemy, including journalists reporting on the enemy. A former seminarian, Hedges continues to hope that America can change. But the international grass roots are beginning to suspect that leaders are neither stupid nor incompetent, and hence that the possibility of electing better ones is an illusion. That realization is buttressed by the fact that the arrow of time is irreversible. Only an increased flow of energy into a system can provoke a change of direction.
An increased flow of energy into a political system can take the form of revolution or war. The Middle East and Africa are experiencing what I call the Reformation of Islam, bound to play out over decades, as did the Reformation of Christianity. However, it should not be permitted to obscure the continuation of a historical fight for equity.
It is that fight — and not a Holy Crusade — that has provoked a resurgent fascism.
In Europe we are witnessing a grass roots fascism that is linked to the increasing presence of Muslims in a Christian continent proud of its traditions. European intellectuals are not about to point out that the Old World is confronting an unstop-pable trend that the EU should deal with intelligently instead of pretending that the continent is not being transformed.
In the United States we are seeing a top-down fascism incarnated in the ever more intimate alliance between big business and government. And unlike what happened in Germany, where a lone megalomaniac was almost assassinated, to defeat the 1%’s aggressions will require a global revolution.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.