The problem with the Left is that they don’t understand the Nazis didn’t set the Reichstag fire.
There’s little I enjoy more than taking an argument to a conclusion just past absurdity. It’s a style better suited for comedy, but it’s also a way of being just a bit demure and disarming. When done well, this technique allows any subject, no matter how taboo, to be talked about in an abstract way. If nothing else, every murder needs an autopsy, and the millions of murders performed by the Nazis require constant analysis so that we don’t allow it to happen again. Ready?
There are two decent reasons to analyze power and how to get it. The first is so that people who want to do good things can have the means to make the world better, and the second is to prevent anyone from getting too much power. Since I do believe that power (and its cousin centralization) is not a great instrument for good, I tend to take the latter view; we each have our ways. No matter what, not understanding power because it seems inherently evil or icky is cowardly and naïve. Bad people tend to understand these things, yes, but understanding power does not make you bad.
On 27 February, 1933, the Reichstag, or German Parliament, was burned to the ground by an arsonist. This was a highly contentious time for them, having named Nazi Party Hitler the Chancellor (Prime Minister) just a month before. Allies on the Right were careful, knowing that the Nazis were trouble – even though they were the largest party, 230 out of 647 seats. The other parties in the coalition, and the German President, made it clear to Hitler that they would abandon him if things got out of hand.
When the Reichstag was burned, the Nazis swung into action. They alleged that this was part of a Communist conspiracy to bring down the government, an easy charge since the man caught in the act was a Communist. Sweeping powers were granted to suppress dissent, and the Nazis had their first firm grasp on the power they wanted.
Conventional wisdom tells us that the Nazis must have set the Reichstag fire they were ready to act before the bricks were cool, making them the main beneficiaries. I’ve met many people who understand something about power who see events like this as part of someone’s grand scheme – you just have to see who, once it’s all over. Some of them tell me that Cheney was behind 9/11 because the Bush Administration benefited so much from the attacks, even though coincidence does not imply causality.
Yet an alternative view is more likely. The Nazis were so focused on gaining power that they were ready for any event that allowed them to do it. They weren’t watching their enemies to decide how to scheme around them – they were watching events to figure out how to use them. Whatever happened, they were ready for it. They were organized enough to get their word out quickly and get their people on the streets. The message, no matter what happened, was bound to be a Nazi message already boiled down and easy. One guy set the whole fire, not a conspiracy, but that didn’t matter.
Those who opposed the Nazis were of no consequence. They had already lost.
If this sounds as though I am romanticizing the Nazi party, please forgive me. There are many other good examples of this singular focus on the goal that can inspire. The Civil Rights movement, for example, constantly reminded its people to “Keep your eyes on the Prize” of liberation. No matter how they were humiliated, with dogs or firehoses, with clubs or jail cells, those willing to march and make a difference had to have one thing clear: Freedom. That took a power that had to be created, a power among the disempowered and invisible people kept isolated and afraid. Giving the bastards who already had power a retaliation or other response only acknowledged the existing power. Instead, a greater power was created from people thought to have none.
The recent marches and “Tea Parties” were not as well organized or focused as those behind them would like to believe. People showed up because they were mad about bailouts, taxes, socializing banks, and a lot of other causes that weren’t really marching as one. It wasn’t a great power building exercise, but it might be a start. None of that was a surprise, frankly, but the response from my friends on the Left was. So many people goaded the protesters, urging fellow Democrats to “shout them down!’ and generally disrupt their party. To what end? No one told me. I was supposed to be upset that the other tribal affiliation, that of Rightists, was having a good time.
Many “Leftists” were more interested in the fight than any particular goals. In the process, they were acknowledging a power that really wasn’t even there – at least not yet.
The simple truth is that anyone can start a fire. Real power comes from putting out the fire, something even the Nazis understood. Being organized and focused on your goals is how you do that in politics. If your side is ready to put out the fire and take all the credit for doing so, you’ve probably already won.
Neither side is even remotely capable of doing that in the USofA right now, but I’m particularly saddened by my friends on the Left. We recently won a huge majority that nearly eliminated the Republican Party from any kind of real power – yet we clearly have no idea what to do with it.
Keep your eyes on the prize, folks. What is it you want to do?