Famed linguistics professor and left-wing icon Noam Chomsky made remarks recently that gave me pause.
Chomsky, 81, said he recalls the rise of Hitler in Germany, and recent political developments like the tea party movement bring him back to that frightening time.
“I have a memory of the texture and the tone of the cheering mobs, and I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering,” Chomsky said.
He warned left and progressive people that “[r]idiculing the tea party shenanigans is a serious error.” I couldn’t agree more.
But, on other things, I couldn’t agree less.
Chomsky was off-base in implying the tea party is a working-class phenomenon. It’s true that, as he said, there is a “class” resentment among the tea party movement, and the context is the devastating economic crisis and wealth gap that exists in the United States. Undoubtedly there are working-class people among the tea partiers. But the working class does not make up the majority of this movement. Nor does this movement represent working-class interests.
In a recent poll, it was wealthier and more educated Americans, more than others, who identify with the tea party anti-government, anti-Obama rhetoric.
The U.S. working class is a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-sex class. In my opinion, the broadly-defined view of working class is anyone who has to work for a living. The mono-racial (virtually all white) tea party movement represents corporate and wealthy America’s “anti-government” interests, like no taxes on capital gains, or no regulations on pollution, etc. To suggest that this movement is an expression of working class resentment distorts who makes up the social base of fascism.
Fascism springs from the ruling elite, which through their extensive media apparatus, etc., attempts to influence the great majority of working people. And it’s the use of racism, in the first place, along with anti-Semitism, immigrant-bashing, homophobia and anti-woman and anti-union attacks, along with anti-government, quasi-religious demagogy, that is the ideological backbone of a fascist movement in America. At a time of mass unemployment, they use racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric to let corporate America off the hook.
Chomsky argued that in the “popular” mind President Obama, the nation’s first Black president, is associated with the banking industry and Wall Street. He claimed the administration is ineffective and could be on the verge of collapse, like the Weimar Republic that preceded the Nazi takeover of Germany.
But, first of all, it was not the Weimar Republic that put Hitler in power. Hitler came to power with a nod and wink from the highest levels of German capital.
Fascism – as a system – comes out of the most reactionary sectors of capital. In our country, energy and oil, finance and military capital lead the way and the Republicans are their political party of choice. The most reactionary sector, when most threatened, will consider a suspension of democratic rights, and implementation of a terror-based system of government – with no rights for unions, women, racial/national/religious/sexual minorities, etc.
Chomsky ignores the substantial measures the Obama administration is trying to take to rein in the banks and curb their power, and the bitter opposition campaign being waged by the Republicans and Wall Street.
Republicans have shut down the government, invited in corporate lobbyists to actually write bills and now have turned into the “Party of No” in blocking any reforms.
By ignoring this reality, Chomsky weakens the fighting ability of the democratic movement. After all, if Obama is like the Republicans, and only represents Wall Street, why bother fighting side by side with the administration?
While many of Obama’s reform efforts, like the health care law, are not nearly as radical as many of us on the left would advocate, they do represent a step forward, crucial for mobilizing and unifying the class and social forces necessary to prevent any fascist takeover.
There was another speech given recently on anger in America. This one was by Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and former mineworker, at Harvard University. I thought his speech sought to unify the class, to clarify who is to blame for the economic crisis, and to mobilize, alongside, not against, Obama in order to win reforms that can improve the lives of all people, as well as lay the basis for a more progressive political atmosphere.
Trumka said reactionary forces use divisive “racist and homophobic hate” to channel “justifiable anger” about the wealth gap towards President Obama and “heroes like Congressman John Lewis” and “to divide working people.”
He called on the “progressive tradition” of working people in action “organizing unions and organizing to elect public officials committed to bold action to address economic suffering.”
It is that kind of rousing vision of unity and action that can block any move towards fascism.