Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Weimar Germany had hate speech laws and Antifa: Both helped fuel rise of the Nazis

Nonviolence was not even considered as an option in Germany in the 1930s and some would repeat the error again now in dealing with Nazis.

Burning of the German Parliament: Act of property destruction consolidated Nazi rule
On MSNBC on August 26, 2017 Professor Mark Bray, a historian and lecturer at Dartmouth, and author of "Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, made the claim that fascism could only be defeated by violence and that Weimar Germany had practiced free expression against the Nazis and that passive acceptance of Hitler's movement fueled their rise to power, and that violence was the only way to defeat fascism. The historical record says otherwise.

First, Weimar Germany had modern like hate speech laws and vigorously enforced them but it did not have the desired effect. Making the Nazis hate speech illegal and outlawing their publications raised their profile and gathered more support. The New Yorker on February 14, 2015 in the article "Copenhagen, Speech and Violence" interviewed Flemming Rose, the foreign editor of the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten who set the record straight:
"Weimar Germany did have hate-speech laws, and they were applied quite frequently. The assertion that Nazi propaganda played a significant role in mobilizing anti-Jewish sentiment is, of course, irrefutable. But to claim that the Holocaust could have been prevented if only anti-Semitic speech and Nazi propaganda had been banned has little basis in reality. Leading Nazis such as Joseph Goebbels, Theodor Fritsch, and Julius Streicher were all prosecuted for anti-Semitic speech. Streicher served two prison sentences."
The outcome of silencing hate speech is not what those who advocate for it would expect as Rose continued to explain:
"Rather than deterring the Nazis and countering anti-Semitism, the many court cases served as effective public-relations machinery, affording Streicher the kind of attention he would never have found in a climate of a free and open debate. In the years from 1923 to 1933, Der Stürmer [Streicher's newspaper] was either confiscated or editors taken to court on no fewer than thirty-six occasions. The more charges Streicher faced, the greater became the admiration of his supporters. The courts became an important platform for Streicher's campaign against the Jews. In the words of a present-day civil-rights campaigner, pre-Hitler Germany had laws very much like the anti-hate laws of today, and they were enforced with some vigor."
Antifa (Anti Fascist Action) arose for the first time in violent opposition to the Nazis in a united front in 1932. However the Communist Party (KPD) in Germany viewed the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the main center left party, as "fascists painted red" because they supported the existing market system.  The SPD believed that they could use the apparatus of the state to pursue the Nazis in the courts and through hate speech legislation. Meanwhile the Communists actively fought the Nazi brownshirts in the streets, and that they alone, with their violence, could dismantle the Nazi movement.

Anti Fascist Action conference in Germany (1932)
Both approaches raised the profile of the National Socialists (Nazis) and the physical violence, and destruction of property created uncertainty in the populace that played to the Nazis favor. Of course there were other factors two that are often highlighted are the humiliating terms for Germany in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 following their defeat in World War One, and the Great Depression in 1929 were major factors that also contributed to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

When Adolf Hitler enters office as Chancellor in January of 1933, the German parliament (Reichstag) was burned to the ground on February 27, 1933, the Nazis were able to blame the Communists, and use this act of violence to justify the enabling laws that consolidated Hitler's dictatorial powers. Decades later and there is still controversy about who actually set the fire, but the violent record of Antifa in fighting the Nazis made claims by the Nazis that they had set the fire plausible. Add to this that the Soviet Union and international communist movement would ally with Nazi Germany on August 28, 1939 until Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

Meanwhile Gandhi's call for nonviolent resistance to the rising Nazi movement was rejected and ridiculed, and even as late as 1940  the Indian independence leaders was engaged in the conversation of applying nonviolence to resisting the National Socialists. In August 6, 1940 Mohandas Gandhi published a letter from “a Dutch friend” in which his friend argued that:
“Through Nazism, the German youth has lost all individuality of thought and feeling. The great mass of young people has lost its heart and is degraded to the level of a machine. … A friend of mine, whose work it is to cross-examine German prisoners of war in England, was deeply shocked by the spiritual narrowness and heartlessness of these young men, and agreed with me that non-violence could not be applied with any success against such robots...”
Gandhi responded to the letter pointing out that the author had sent his name and address but that he (Gandhi) withheld both out of fear that harm would come to him if they were made public. Gandhi responded:
“Non-violent action, if it is adequate, must influence Hitler and easily the duped Germans. No man can be turned into a permanent machine. Immediately the dead weight of authority is lifted from his head, he begins to function normally. To lay down any such general proposition as my friend has, betrays ignorance of the working of non-violence.”
University Academics Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their 2008 study "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic on Nonviolent Conflict" compared the outcomes of 323 nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006. They found that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with just under half that at 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns. Finally there study also suggests “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.”

Professor Bray is wrong. Non-violence could and was carried out successfully against the Nazis on at least two occasions that are well documented. Between 1940 and 1945 under the Nazi occupation of Denmark many Danes were able to organize an effective and completely nonviolent resistance that undermined German war fighting capability and successfully blocked efforts to deport and exterminate its Jewish population to the Nazi death camps by first hiding Danish Jews then ferrying them out to neutral Sweden. An equally dramatic case took place in Germany in February and March of 1943 when German (non-Jewish) wives married to Jewish men and their relatives organized mass demonstrations in Rosenstrasse Street in Berlin to protest their husband’s arrest and deportation escalating until the men were released and returned home.

The idea that one could only resist the Nazis violently with guns, bombs and explosives because they were so evil led to two outcomes: 1) acts of violent resistance which the Nazis used to escalate their violence against those populations that resisted and 2) that millions who did not have a "weapon" cooperated believing they had no other choice and marched to their deaths.

This happened in part because a the third option was not considered: refusing to cooperate, nonviolent resistance as a realistic alternative to dealing with the fascists. Even more shocking that in 2017 the lie that only violence works against fascists is still being peddled in our news media when the examples of Denmark and Rosenstrasse are so well documented.

The Nazi threat today should not be underestimated and law enforcement agencies should remain vigilant in dealing with whatever violent actions they carry out and hold them accountable before the law. However history has demonstrated that Antifa, hate speech laws and labeling mainstream political parties fascist did not stop the Nazis but as a matter of fact helped fuel their rise to power and the later consolidation of Hitler's rule. Repeating those tactics today is madness.

"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -George Santayana

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