Sunday, July 4, 2010

Getting the Socialist Thingie Straight Once and for all

Below: Elena Kagan, portrayed on some Tea Party blogs as a "National Socialist", because of actual SOCIALIST writings she did in college. Next: Image of Frank P. Zeidler, Milwaukee's Socialist Mayor from 1948-1960, who also is the farthest thing from being a "National Socialist".

There are Socialists, then there are the odious National Socialists. The two are as far apart metaphorically as Earth's poles geographically. Why then are they so often conflated and mixed up, as in the case of some portraying Elena Kagan (see inset) as a would-be "National Socialist" (aka Nazi) Judge? One can only wonder, but when we see Obama called a "Socialist" when he's the furthest thing from it, one has to conclude American education simply isn't what it should be!

Anyway, it seems some have imputed to Elena Kagan a veneer or intent of “National Socialism”, based on some writings she scrawled in college. The example most often selected is:

"Why, in particular, did the socialist movement never become an alternative to the nation’s established parties ? In answering this question, historians have often called attention to various characteristics of American society that have militated against widespread acceptance of radical movements. These societal traits -- an ethnically divided worked class, a relatively fluid class structure, an economy which allowed at least some workers to enjoy what Sombart termed ‘reefs of roast beef and apple pie,' -- prevented the early twentieth century socialists from attracting an immediate mass following. Such conditions did not, however, completely checkmate American socialism."

But, of course, this merely referenced the early American socialism as manifested in the Wobblies, NOT the National Socialists of Nazi Germany! Part of the reason that ordinary socialism continues to be conflated and confused with National Socialism, is the deliberate use of the term in the Nazi appellation – which has continued to confuse many who should know better. The other reason is that history simply isn’t taught properly anymore so it’s more likely people will confuse ordinary socialism with National Socialism and fascism with socialism or with communism.

As a member of the Democratic Socialists Of America this sort of persistent historical blind spot galls me no end. I simply see no excuse for it. But short of countering the false information with actual facts, there’s little one can do. No one has yet passed an amendment (nor will one ever be able, I suspect) making free speech contingent on actual facts and information.

In these terms the points that Kagan made in her college paper echo very much the words of Milwaukee’s last Socialist Mayor, Frank Zeidler (member of the Socialist Party of America - note that before Zeidler, Emil Seidl became Milwaukee's first Socialist Mayor in 1910, followed by Daniel Hogan who lasted from 1916-1940 keeping the city out of debt during the Great Depression). Zeidler (see photo) in his mayoral election campaign noted the problem of ethnic division in other parts of the country and how this was exploited – especially by wealthy Republicans- to keep working class people divided. Zeidler vowed, if elected, he’d ameliorate these divisions and ensure all Milwaukeean Working class folks benefited – whether Croatian, German, Polish or whatever. Zeidler ended up winning three terms, enduring from 1948 until 1960 and turning Milwaukee into a prosperous post-war city.

Jobs proliferated, especially in major manufacturing (Allis –Chalmers etc.) while the Breweries hired thousands with excellent pay and benefits, including health care. Housing abounded as well, affordable housing off of Greenfield Ave. and Teutonia and in other suburbs to the north and west. Parks, meanwhile, were the envy of many other cities for their beautiful layouts, amenities and services. I can still recall going to Washington Park (across the street from where my family lived on 48th and Cherry Streets) on the 4th of July for band performances and later fireworks.

Crime was almost non-existent, despite Milwaukee reaching a population of 747, 000 by 1960. Zeidler also provided health care through the city, so no one needed to go broke to get any treatment. Like all REAL Socialists, Zeidler believed health care was a right, not merely having health insurance!. Education also benefited, and Milwaukee’s schools became some of the finest – not just Catholic but public schools as well, thanks to a higher local taxation rate, and not merely property taxes, which Zeidler knew would hit the elderly hardest.

Was Zeidler a "National Socialist"? Not in any way, shape or form! Or, to put it another way, IF he was, then I'm the Pope. He was an ordinary democratic socialist like me, and I sincerely believe I came by my socialism seeing how Zeidler’s time in office benefited Milwaukee. (Along with living in a democratic socialist nation, Barbados, for nealry 20 years).

Zeidler’s success echoed exactly what Kagan aspired to or hoped for in her college treatise, and it’s a wonder she didn’t cite Zeidler’s experience in Milwaukee, but then few people are aware of it outside those of us who actually lived in the city in those halcyon years. The memory of clean streets, beautiful parks and being able (my two brothers and I) to ride our bikes late into the evening all the way down Vliet St. without fear.

In the Economic Bill of Rights, published by the Democratic Socialists, it is interesting to see:

1.. The right to a useful and remunerative job

2. The right to sufficient and nutritious food

3. Safe, healthy, secure and affordable housing

4. Free, accessible health care to all

5. Free, high quality public education

6. The right to organize to form unions, as well as community organizing

All of these were evident in Frank P. Zeidler’s Milwaukee, none in Hitler’s National Socialist Germany. For example, organizers – usually communists and socialists – were shot on sight or beaten up by the SA, later by the SS. Education had descended to mere propagandizing captive audiences of youths, health care was dicey at best- usually reserved for party members and families, as was the best food. Housing was mainly 'whatever one could get' - usually rat infested dives while the party members seized the best, according to Krimhilde (my sister-in law) who lived outside Freiburg then.

Historian Ian Kershaw (‘Hitler Nemesis’, 2000, W.W. Norton & Co.) minces no words with how Hitler's National Socialists treated REAL socialists, as well as communists (p. xxxvi):

“The oppositional forces on the Left, such as the Communists and Socialists were crushed, cowed and powerless”

Kershaw later notes (ibid.) how the German industrialists cheered as Hitler demolished all the trade unions, and locked many of their members up or dispatched them to concentration camps with socialists. Now, what the indiscriminate Kagan-Socialist= National Socialist portrayers need to answer is: if Hitler was a TRUE Socialist why did he send 94% of all the Socialists in Germany to concentration camps? (The others were killed, of course!) Inquiring minds want to know!

Make no mistake here that the socialism of Elena Kagan and Frank P. Zeidler has nothing whatever in common with the National “Socialism” of Hitler and the Nazis. Those who misrepresent socialism in this way, either have their own axes to grind or no interest in actual history, far less facts. Because to call Elena Kagan a “National Socialist” would be like calling Milwaukee’s Mayor Frank P. Zeidler one – it does not compute.

Perhaps the greatest post-mortem “victory” Hitler and the Nazis achieved was getting people – well, many people- to continue to associate his verminous form of "socialism" (which was actually fascism) with the real McCoy. Thereby making it an even more difficult task to bring this nation closer to economic equity for all, as well as introducing humane standards for housing, health care and jobs.


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