Photo by Viktor Richardsson
In the run-up to the US presidential election on Nov 8, we're publishing op-eds by Berliners, American and otherwise. This time around: Dmytri Kleiner, co-founder of Telekommunisten, a German-Canadian workers’ collective.
In the 1932 German presidential election, the Social Democrats (SPD) chose not to run a candidate. Instead, they supported conservative Junker general Paul von Hindenburg as the "lesser evil" candidate in order to defeat Hitler, and condescendingly attacked anybody who disagreed with this strategy.
This, of course, alienated many in the working classes, who were still struggling to keep their heads above water in the failing Weimar economy. The Communists refused to support a reactionary candidate and campaigned against Hindenburg and Hitler with the slogan "Wer wählt Hindenburg wählt Hitler, wer wählt Hitler, wählt den Krieg." Whoever votes Hindenburg votes Hitler; whoever votes Hitler, votes war.
The Communists and their candidate Ernst Thälmann lost the election, gaining only 10 percent of the vote. The "lesser evil" Hindenburg won with 53 percent, well ahead of Hitler's 37 percent. But despite losing the election, the Communists turned out to be correct. Hindenburg soon declared Hitler Chancellor and the Third Reich began, as did the march to war. Hindenburg despised Hitler, so how did the Communists know this would happen?
Fascism is not simply a product of some mad leaders, like Hitler: it is a product of anger and desperation among the population, as was the case in Germany, suffering from not only the Great Depression, but the ongoing burdens of WWI. Socialism offered one explanation for their conditions: the profiteering of capitalists. Fascism gave them another: foreigners and scoundrels! Socialism offered one way forward: building social institutions. Fascism offered another: Deportations! Authority! War!
Hindenburg represented business as usual, so the Communists knew he would not improve the conditions of the people. He would not offer socialism, despite the support of the Social Democrats, and therefore the anger and desperation would remain. If the people were not given the option of socialism, then the support for fascism would grow, and eventually win.
Hindenburg won the presidential election, but Hitler's Nazi party won the next two parliamentary elections, in which the Communists also made huge gains. Fearing the rise of the Communists, the "moderate parties"´, led by former Chancellor Franz Van Papen, made a deal with Hitler's Nazi party, and Hindenburg made his onetime bitter enemy the chancellor of Germany. The Reichstag fire happened one month later.
In the 2016 US presidential election, some Americans, angry and desperate after years of recession, rising debts, collapsing real wages, and war, rallied behind a democratic socialist called Bernie Sanders, who offered an explanation for their conditions – profiteering of capitalists – and a way forward: investing in social institutions that provide education and health care, and end austerity. Some other Americans rallied around TV personality Donald Trump, who offered another explanation: Foreigners and scoundrels!
Trump won the nomination of the Republican Party, but Sanders did not get the Democratic Party nomination. Instead Hillary Clinton did, and Clinton, though a prominent and somewhat popular politician, has no mass support among the angry and desperate population, but rather is supported by a combination of comparatively more privileged classes along with a rainbow "lesser evil" coalition scared witless by Trump. Like Hindenburg, her primary appeal is that she is the one that can keep the fascist out.
However, if the rise of support for both fascism and socialism in the US is fuelled by poverty and war, then just winning the election will not placate the people. Clinton has been part of the Washington elite for a long time, including as Secretary of State, and as such has long been one of the leaders of America's war machine, with a history of aggressive positions against Russia, serious questions about her role in Syria and Libya and support of the US drone campaigns that regularly kill civilians. At the same time, she has also supported welfare reduction, opposed income and debt relief, and consistently sided with Wall Street, big business, and the medical industry. There is very little reason to believe that Hillary Clinton would be anything other than business as usual – like Hindenburg.
It is almost certain that the "lesser evil" coalition will manage to get her elected, even though "anybody but" campaigns tend to not actually get people out to vote. However, the continuing conditions of poverty and war will ensure that candidates like Trump keep rising, be it Trump himself returning for a second round, Ted Cruz, or whoever emerges from the Tea Party hate apparatus.
Meanwhile, the iron grip the American two-party system has means that so long as Hillary von Hindenburg is the candidate, there can be no socialist candidate to offer the angry and desperate voters a genuine alternative. Just like a vote for Hindenburg was a vote for Hitler, a vote for Hillary is a vote for Trump. For the next Bernie Sanders to succeed, Hillary Clinton must fail. Falling in line with the "lesser evil" project is accepting unending neoliberalism and war, with its inevitable conclusion in fascist disaster. Now is the time to break with the programme, to commit to building real movements for peace and prosperity and dig in for the fight against fascism.
No one should ever vote for Trump. This election is a mockery of democracy: vote for this completely unappealing candidate... or else this hideous goblin will be president! Not only does this ensure the level of debate is reduced to that of a professional wresting match, Clinton's "face" vs. Trump's "heel", but this means that the bankers and other power brokers can always count on your vote, so long as they can conjure up a ridiculous toad to play the part of the "greater evil."
Meanwhile, the conditions of poverty and war continue to make the mood of the voters uglier. Der Wutbürger wird wütender. The frightened classes will increasingly look to authoritarian means to protect themselves, and to bigoted views to explain their struggles. Trump losing the election does not mean his supporters will disappear.
Yet, there are alternatives to the two major candidates. One is Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate who describes her platform as "deep system change, moving from the greed and exploitation of corporate capitalism to a human-centred economy that puts people, planet and peace over profit."
Is a vote for Stein a wasted vote, given that there is no serious chance that she can win? No! It is something to build on, and the legacy of third parties is much bigger than their electoral successes. They have often introduced new ideas into US politics that went on to influence the major parties, and had profound effect on US policy.
In the US, support for many now-mainstream issues was originally built by third parties, including women's suffrage, child labour laws, and the 40-hour work week. The supporters of these parties did not waste their vote, they used them to put new issues on the agenda.
Jill Stein may not be your dream candidate, but a vote for her is a vote to change the programme. Focusing on organising congressional campaigns to change the programme at lower levels of government, as BrandNewCongress.org is doing, is a vote for better political prospects down the road. Simply refusing to vote at all is a vote against the cynical politics of no choice. These are all valid choices.
But not Clinton. Voting for Hillary Clinton is a vote to continue the disaster of neoliberalism, which is currently victimising an immense number of people inside and outside of the US. It will not end well.