There are two historical lenses that can be applied to the recent horrific events in Charlottesville and their aftermath.
The first would be what I’ll call the Cable Street analysis, which considers the violent clashes between outright Nazis and their supporters and violent counter-demonstrators as an extension or repetition of what happened in 1936 when Oswald Mosley – leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) – opted for a show of strength by marching thousands of his supporters through the East End of London.
To counter that protest, an opposition of tens of thousands (largely made up of Jewish and Leftist opponents of the Fascists) showed up and met Mosley’s marchers with sticks, rocks, eggs and dung. Even with police trying to protect the marchers and keep the peace, the inevitable violence led to riots and an ultimate disbursal of the Nazis.
This show of force demonstrated that, unlike in Germany and Italy, the Fascists could not count on finding a critical mass of support among the British public. Whether because of this failure, or because Britain was at war with Europe’s Fascists three years later, Mosley and his Black Shirts ended up a humiliated rump vs. the nucleus of leadership for a Fascist Britain.
The Battle of Cable Street, while large and fierce, was just one of many violent battles between proponents of rival Right and Left-wing ideologies fighting for supremacy on the Continent between the two World Wars, fights that provide a different lens to think about our present situation.
For while “Reds” and “Black Shirts” in Europe claimed to be in violent opposition to one another, one can also view their fight as competition for the same souls: those ready to abandon Liberalism and the Enlightenment for ideologies promising a new messianic future: whether that of a worker’s paradise or blood-and-soil nationalist empire.
Unlike Britain, where the Liberal order protected and asserted itself, taking advantage of Fascism’s proven weakness, but not falling for the illusion that opposition to Nazism translated into political virtue, the continent became divided between rival ideological empires responsible for history’s most costly World War (which took the likes of 50 million) and most costly social experiment (Marxism – which cost the lives of an additional 100+ million).
So are today’s clashes an attempt to halt a genuine Nazi advance a la Cable Street, or a new front on the age-old battle between civilization and ruthlessness?
One way to tell is by analyzing the relationship between the actual threat and the level and nature of the response to that threat. While I’ll admit to getting a certain thrill in seeing torch-wielding Nazis flee in panic when faced with an outraged mob (much like the visceral pleasure of seeing Nazis gunned down in the movies), I can’t quite convince myself that the nation or the world faces a resurgent Fascist movement ready to try again to take over the planet.
Certainly our nation is broken into ideological camps that, for a variety of reasons, neither talk to nor understand each other. But we have a choice between following this trend further into extremes (where every political battle is cast as one between Commies and Nazis), or stopping to catch our breath to determine if this is the direction we want to travel in as a nation.
As we consider our options, the Jewish condition (which again is being thrust upon us) can serve as a valuable means to measure political health. Regarding the latest Nazi slogan “You Will Not Replace Us,” the “You,” after all refers, to the Jews. So might those tearing signs bearing those words out of the hands of their opponents stop for a moment to consider similar phrases (such as “The Jews are our Dogs”) as part of the same problem? If so, that’s a step in the right direction.
But if current opponents of today’s self-styled Nazis instead try to lump the villains of Charlottesville, Donald Trump and Israel into a single package that will be the target of their attacks over the coming months and years, we may learn the truth behind a saying frequently attributed (inaccurately) to Winston Churchill and Huey Long: that if fascism comes to America, it will be called “Anti-Fascism.”