Chomsky: What are the Lessons from Weimar?

Though there is disagreement on what these are, pretty much everyone agrees that lessons can be learned from comparing the conditions which brought about so-called “classical” fascism in Germany and Italy and what we are confronting now.

Among those is Noam Chomsky who has recently argued that there is a indeed a Weimar analogy to be made.

But, according to Chomsky, before making it, it is first necessary to understand certain basic facts. Among these is that

“Allowing free speech to Nazis had nothing to do with their rise to power, legally.”

Indeed, preventing them from exercising free speech is seen by some historians as having played into the Nazi sense of victimization at the hands of lawless radicals which was crucial to their growth. As such, violent suppression of free speech was then (and is now), as Chomsky put it, “a gift to the right.”

For Chomsky, the main analogy to be drawn is based on the fact that the Nazis

“received less than 3% of the vote in the 1928 election, and Weimar democracy remained in force.”

Given these tiny numbers, what led to the Nazis success was not their own strength but rather the failure of opposition parties to unite against the far-right.


“What led to the rise of Hitler was the decision of the huge Communist Party to condemn the labor-based Socialists as ‘social fascists,’ not different from the Nazis, and to refuse to join with them in barring the Nazis from political power.”

It is at this point we can draw the real lesson from Weimar. This has to do with

“the behavior of some of the left in the ’16 election, including many of those now advocating breaking up meetings and punching Nazis.”

Having failed to take action to oppose Trump and attacking those, including Chomsky himself, who pleaded with them to do so, they now seek to obscure their own complicity by appointing themselves the vanguard of the opposition to Trumpism’s most malignant, albeit predictable (and predicted) fascistic manifestations.

What they missed then was the obvious fact that the institutions necessary to oppose Trump were in place, most notably the ballot box.

The tragedy of a far right victory, here now and in Germany then, resulted from those who simply failed to make use of it.

Furthermore, the same institutional mechanisms exist to oppose the far right now that they are emboldened. Indeed, while it is rarely mentioned, the protests in Charlottesville were provoked not by radicals but by the majority of a relatively conservative city council having voted to remove a symbol of its white supremacist past. Other cities such as New Orleans had already done so and others were proceeding along similar lines.

Efforts to thwart them are being met with the entire institutional weight of government on all relevant levels. The perpetrators of the Charlottesville violence are actively being sought for prosecution by the Charlottesville police department under an African American chief. State officials including the Democratic governor who sees as an opportunity to inflict wounds on a Republican administration are enthusiastically aiding in tracking down those responsible for initiating violence.

It is only in the fantasy world of the left that white supremacists and neo Nazis have any significant influence on the institutional mechanisms of government.

And it is only in the fantasy world inhabited by self-described “antifas” that the growth of the far fight will be prevented by the initiation of violence against them.

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