[This episode was recorded live at Five and Dime at noon on August 14, 2020]
That’s it for the first season of A Democratic Socialist’s Almanac. Some odds and ends may float up afterwards, some updates or conversations, but further episodes will not add anything essential to what has been said here. The goal was to articulate a particular vision. If success were measured by a change in the attitudes of the bulk of the US left, then I failed, but by that measure failure may have been inevitable. Insofar as existence itself is a kind of victory, then the podcast is a success. Each episode is downloaded by around 150 people. That’s not much, but given that the material, a discussion of the liberal Marx, is dense and niche, and that my promotion skills are limited, it shouldn’t be taken to mean that these ideas are unpopular as such. It’s just that people who think this way don’t find representation in the left press, for reasons I’ve discussed at length in the episodes on Syria and the Ukraine. And for what it’s worth, I’ve always felt that despite the smallness of our reach, we still have a moral obligation to show whoever we can that there is another and a better way.
We are currently living a very dangerous moment. I do not mean the banal observation that we are now under great physical and political threat, although we are threatened in these ways. I mean that we are under a great moral risk. Our very humanity is at stake in these moments. I’ll come back to the present, but first I’m going to talk a little about people in the past in another part of the world whose experiences are not really so remote now. The problems of everyday people living under fascist domination could become our problems very soon, and I want to discuss them here.
As WW2 progressed the Nazis relied more and more on Jewish labor because German men were dying in disastrous colonial wars in Eastern Europe. This naturally extended to the mass extermination sites. Often Jews were forced to herd their confreres and coreligionists into gas chambers. This was the case at Belcek. These people followed Nazi orders under threat of death, and if they died in revolt for sure someone else would have done those tasks. I don’t think their situation is a moral one: they don’t really have a choice. When they got a good chance to attempt escape or revolt they did so. They had a range of options that was incredibly narrow, and these options were determined by actions far removed in time and space from them. People who lived under Nazi occupation had a little more agency. They could choose to risk their lives and the lives of their family to rescue Jewish people. In different situations different people found ways to be heroic or not (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXrqGlgufCA). There are few moral heroes in reality, and they are praiseworthy, but we can’t expect them to present a solution to our problems as they seem to in all the movies. There were people in this story who could easily have made a different choice.
In the Spring of 1933 Germany had its last free elections. There are many reasons why they were led to this impasse, and I’ve treated them somewhat in an episode of this podcast. Ultimately it boils down to a near universal loss of faith in democracy and in the context of the socialist tradition the crisis took the form of a split in the left about democracy. It’s in those final elections in Weimar Germany that the actions of a decade later were determined, narrowed and captured. Had the left rallied to the democratic Weimar republic, or simply been able to form a government with conservatives, those conservatives may not have felt they needed to lift Hitler into power. As I discuss in the episode on Germany, a dozen conservative governments around Europe blocked fascists from taki