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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Send In the Storm Troopers (Part I)

The story begins in a small town in Germany in the 1920’s.  It was not, in many ways, an average German town.  It was mostly middle class and more rural than industrial.  It was overwhelmingly Lutheran, and surprisingly, it turned to Nazism earlier and more strongly than the rest of Germany.  Nonetheless, it had some representative characteristics:  sociological strengths and weaknesses of the Social Democrats; nationalistic attitudes of the local middle class; the growth of partisan activity and violence.  In other ways, it emulated small towns the world over, with its gossip, lack of privacy and the mostly benign social interactions of daily life.

The setting is the town of Northeim, located in the center of prewar Germany, a town in the former Kingdom of Hanover.  In the days of the Weimar Republic, it was still a small town with a population of about 10,000.  About one of every seven Germans lived in such towns.  In 1930, Northeim was the “kind of town that English tourists were fond of discovering: provincial and off the beaten track, semi-medieval.  It was nestled against one of the many low, wooded foothills that frame the valley of the Leine River.  It gave the town a sense of being snug, enclosed, protected from the outer world, symbolized by walls around part of the town, enclosing a medieval core of Northeim.  

Within an oval about six hundred yards long was a neat but imprecise jumble of half-timbered houses with steep red-tiled roofs along winding cobble-stone streets.  Along this main commercial avenue (Broad Street) were shops in about every house.  In the middle of the town was a wide square used for the weekly produce market and for open-air meetings.  Other open spaces included one in front of town hall, another in front of the large sixteenth-century Lutheran Church.  There were over five hundred houses in this old section for almost half of the townspeople lived there.  Emanating from that inner core were three areas where the town had expanded up the hill and toward each of the two rivers, one district for the rich, two others for the lower classes.  The center and essence of the town was that old medieval city surrounded by slowly crumbling walls.

As in much of Germany, World War I brought significant change, including a revolution led by the working class that overthrew the Kaiser and established a democratic Republic.  It created divisions and affiliations that had not previously been as pronounced.  Many Northeimers refused to accept the new state of affairs and became a relatively strong center for a far rightist organization, and nationalistic farmers.  On the other side were Socialists of whom many were students.  An indication of those divisions comes from the results of voting in the 1925 Presidential election: 
Socialist-Catholic candidate – 2.080 votes; 
Rightists – 3,375 votes; 
Communist – 19 votes.  
In addition, there were class lines between workers and bourgeois; occupational lines between the stable and the insecure; areas of segregation between the relative newcomers and the old families, and there were religious and social divisions.  There were also, of course, areas of common interest and cohesion such as local government, schools, clubs and interest groups.  They were somewhat united by religion as 86% of the townspeople were Lutheran.

The whole area where Northeim was situated had a reputation for being stubborn and reserved, as New Englanders were often said to be.  One man who came to Northeim in 1930 found that it “took him two years to get to know anyone well and to be accepted in social circles, even though he was fairly extroverted and held a job of high prestige.”

One final set of numbers reveals the class structure of the town in which there was certainly a petite bourgeoisie: the raw material from which Hitler forged his movement. 
            Lower class – 37% (unskilled and semi-skilled workers)
            Lower middle class – 32% (skilled workers, white-collar workers, farmers, pensioners)
            Upper middle class – 27% (craft-masters, civil servants, businessmen)
            Upper class – 4% (businessmen, self-employed, professionals)

The book is titled “The Nazi Seizure of Power” by William Sheridan Allen.  The author’s intention was to “understand one of the central political and moral problems of the twentieth century:  "how a civilized democracy could be plunged into a nihilistic dictatorship.”  This posting today is a lesser attempt to shine a little light on two groups who, in my estimation, mirror too many of the activities and beliefs of that nihilistic, ultra-nationalistic movement. 

It is impossible in this limited space and time, to present this thesis in great detail.  However, even an outline of the similarities between the beliefs and activities of the Nazi movement of the early twentieth century and those of Radical Right Republicans and the radical Jihadist terrorists of ISIS (or ISIL) is chilling enough to lead us to conclude that vigilance is a necessity. Sometimes Americans are led to pay far too much attention to the authoritarian and extremist views of the far Left (communism; socialism) and far too little to the nihilistic and destructive terrorism and authoritarianism of the extremists of the far Right (is that a 'tactic' in itself?).   

Let us return to the book to begin our research for this outline of similarities.  It is difficult to evoke or maintain a stable democracy in the midst of mass extremism, intolerance, a desperate desire for radical (or regressive) change, and a moral passivity.  All those factors and more were present in Germany then and in our nation now as the fertile “breeding grounds” for right-wing extremists.  Let us briefly explore the strategies the Nazis of Northeim used to reap the harvest of control.

1)  Use Outside Threat(s).  In 1930, “it was the depression or more accurately, the fear of its continued effects that contributed most heavily to the radicalization of Northeim’s people.”  Said one keen observer: “Most of those who joined the Nazis did so because they wanted a radical answer to the economic problem.  Then too, the people wanted a hard, sharp, clear leadership – they were disgusted with the eternal political strife of party politics.”

There can be little doubt that the “Great Recession” of 2008 and beyond has been the breeding ground for radicalization in our time.  Economic uncertainty is the same for Tea Partiers as it is for Jihadists.  It not only is a major contributor to their extremist views, but it is also a major impetus for their takeover of the entire political structure.  However, that is not the only threat upon which the radicals have seized.  Republican radicals have promoted threats of all kinds:

socialism as personified in the Affordable Care Act;
potential terrorist attacks from Al Qaeda and ISIS,
an invasive national government,
potential loss of Social Security and Medicare because of insolvency,
the foreign-born President with Marxist background,
threat of invasion by foreign forces,
threat to Christianity from Jihadists and from sharia law,
threats to our capitalist free enterprise system from regulators,
threats to our Christian heritage and ethical underpinnings from abortionists, homosexuals,             and Islam;
threats to our national security from cyber-hackers
threats to our personal privacy and security from our own government as in monitoring of                   emails and phone calls
Disguised as threats to jobs or property values or law itself is the threat of illegal immigration             which radical Republicans cannot refrain from stressing for it is at its base, an unspoken threat              to white control and power which they cannot abide losing
Jihadist terrorists are not much better, but encapsulate it all in the threat from America, the Great Satan.

It is not just the enumeration of threats that is important here: it is the engendering of fear(s) (at the core of their strategy and tactics) that can only be eliminated, it is declared, by the takeover of the rough and tough Jihadists and Tea Partiers.    

      2)      Use False Hope of a better future by returning to past Glory, Prosperity or Security.
This often involves not only a regression to a “better time” but a re-vitalization of fundamental religious tenets and practices and an urgent appeal to nationalism or national pride.

The radical Republicans want us to return to either the Reagan era, the 1920's and the Gilded Age, or perhaps even the 1890's when a much smaller national government was in existence  and several large American industries like GE and IBM were being founded and others flourishing under capitalist innovators and entrepreneurs with few restrictions on their monopolistic operations.  It was a time of merriment and optimism in spite of a severe recession in 1893.

The radical Jihadists are intent on establishing an Islamic Caliphate that is in some sense equivalent to the Third Reich, but with much greater emphasis on religious tenets.  The Caliphate is a parallel entity to the concept of The Third Reich meant to cover several countries and to unite Germanic peoples from different lands under one regime.  The Caliphate is meant to do the same by uniting a religious community across borders.  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this modern attempt to establish a Caliphate:

“The group Al Qaeda in Iraq formed as an affiliate of the al Qaeda network of Islamist militants during the Iraq War. The group eventually expanded into Syria and rose to prominence as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during the Syrian Civil War. In the summer of 2014, the group launched an offensive in northern Iraq, seizing the city of Mosul and most recently taking control of large swathes of territory in Syria (which for a prolonged period of time comprised over 50% of that country and Iraq). The group declared itself a Caliphate under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who took the name and title of Caliph Ibrahim, and renamed itself as the "Islamic State."  ISIS's claim to be the highest authority of Muslims has not been widely recognized beyond the territory it controls with 10 million people.”

3)     Offer the  Strong Man.  It cannot be under-stated that one of the most attractive pieces of Nazi philosophy to the German locals was that of Social Darwinism: the myth that a strong man in charge will make all things right again, and contribute to the strength of the Aryan race at the same time.  It was epitomized in Hitler, but emulated down the line even by local Nazi operatives and the local officials they put in office.  It is also important to recognize the place of intimidation and violence in the myth of the strong man.  The existence of the SS and more especially the “Sturmmabteilung” or Stormtroopers was a key element in the intimidation of the middle class. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of the concept was the honor, veracity and competence associated with the strong man who could get anything done for the cause and for the People.  In Northeim, this was a key to their strategy of takeover – the Nazis ran things to perfection, whether it was a parade, a meeting, a demonstration or a soup kitchen or employment office.  They made sure that their strength showed in their competence, their timeliness and in the results.

Need I mention the obvious – “the Donald.”  You are listening carefully to him aren’t you?  Be careful of your assessment.  There were many who considered Hitler a clown and a showman.  The words are those of a Social Darwinist; of someone who believes that might makes right or will win the day.  When that strong man theme is echoed by every other Republican candidate, including Carly Fiorina, it is time to pay attention! We are talking about authoritarianism – the principle of subjection to authority as opposed to a principle of individual freedom.  We’re talking about the actions of a potentially peremptory, dictatorial strong man (or woman). 

ISIS followers thrive on this – on being the strong man able to kill children, rape women, behead men – without a thought or pang of conscience whatsoever.  These Jihadists celebrate their cruelty and their horrific acts of shooting down airplanes leaving  no survivors; or killing innocent people all over the streets and by-ways of Paris.  They believe they were sent to do this work in order to establish and maintain the Islamic Caliphate.  They are murderers and abdominal representatives of their religion. Like their religion-less precursors of decades ago (who still exist in too many forms), they must be marked for destruction.  How that should be done is a question for another time.

4)  Gain Total Control.  If you do not understand that phrase, then you do not understand the ultimate objectives of the Nazis, the Jihadists or the radical Republicans.
It involves a purge of leadership, then of the middle management and finally of the rank and file workers.
 Then comes the dismantling of the mechanisms of democracy itself – the vote, the rights, the freedoms, along with much of bureaucracy, liberal judges, ‘socialist’ leaders, and programs (sound familiar?)
Then comes retribution and punishment as opposition leaders and even rank and file are imprisoned or lose their jobs and property. 
 Meanwhile new mechanisms are put in place to allow the flow of top-down decisions from the President (“Fuhrer”) to the local operatives. 
Nationalism becomes the religion and schools, organizations, agencies, even churches become propaganda machinery.
Power, brutality and immediate justice often without trial become the norm.
Oppression, repression and terrorism are used as weapons to keep order and to ensure loyalty to the regime
Rumors, lies, distortions, neighborhood spies and press reports are used to inject more fear into the populace
Social life is cut to a minimum and political parties outlawed to prevent people from meeting and planning together
Resignation and futility take hold of the citizenry as complete control is achieved.
Just in case you haven't noticed, the Republican radicals are adept at twisting all of this around to make it look as though it is the Opposition that engages in these activities.  Often, instead of reference to President Obama as a socialist, some lackey of the Right-wing will accuse him of being a Nazi or a fascist.  It's difficult, to say the least, to have it both ways.  It is simply a diversionary tactic to draw citizen attention away from the horrific activities of  Radical Right-wing Republicans.  

Let us end this piece today with the above list of strategies that took advantage of the breeding grounds for the Nazi takeover of Northeim and of Germany.  Next time we shall explore the kinds of tactics used by the Nazis to win over the people of towns like Northeim, and the conclusions of the author as to what can be learned from that experience.  With some editorial comment from me, I hope my next posting will enable you to detect the parallel actions of radical Right Republicans and of Jihadi terrorists who simply share the goal of total political, economic and social control of their respective societies.