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PORTSIDE  September 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE September 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Divided We Fall by Clancy Sigal

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Date:

Mon, 19 Sep 2011 22:02:19 -0400

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Divided We Fall

by Clancy Sigal

Guardian (UK) September 18, 2011 

(submitted by the author to Portside_

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/sep/18/us-politics-common-cause

The work of making common cause can be endlessly
frustrating, but I've seen enough of the alternative to
know it's unthinkable

Digging into the rubble of bombed-out Frankfurt-am-Main
after the second world war, I stumbled on two human
skeletons who were among the last living survivors of
the Hitler regime's anti-Nazi political parties. They
were old, semi-starving men, working deliberately apart
from each other in the corpse-smelling basement of a
ruined apartment house, each of them kept alive by a
fierce will to revive what had been, respectively, the
Weimar Republic's mass socialist (SPD) and communist
(KPD) movements. Catastrophically, their parties had
refused to unite against Hitler, and both men had spent
the Nazi years in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

I had to speak separately to each man, in my broken
"Blitz German", because despite all they had suffered,
they still would not speak to each other, blaming the
other's organisation for pre-war errors and betrayals.
It was amazing to me, as a fresh-faced young GI, how
old quarrels could be kept venomous for so long, at
such a human cost.

Afterwards, as a spectator at the Nuremberg war crimes
trial, locking eyes with Hitler's henchman Herman
Goering in a staring contest (he won), I wondered: if
you don't want the worst, maybe you had better learn to
work with the least worst.

That's "coalition politics", the vehicle I was raised
in during the era of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
What remains today of the New Deal's welfare state - a
total good, for me and my family - was rammed through
by a Democratic party (with plenty of Republican
sympathisers) composed of crooked big-city bosses,
southern racists, small-town bigots, rightwing
Catholics, blacks, Jews, progressives of all types,
enlightened (or scared) capitalists and so on.

Saul Alinsky, America's most effective and successful
neighbourhood organiser, called it "harmony of
dissonance". In my Chicago, he organised the squalid
slum known as Back of the (Stock)Yards, which was, in
his words, "a cesspool of hate; the Poles, Slovaks,
Germans, Negroes, Mexicans and Lithuanians all hated
each other and all of them hated the Irish, who
returned the sentiment in spades". The same for the
black ghetto of Woodlawn. Short of outright fascists,
there was nobody he wouldn't try to rope into his
schemes to repair a neighborhood.

Alinsky's first principle was: you appeal to people's
self- interest not their altruism. His second and final
principle: holier-than-thou rigid dogma is a loser.

In winning some of our past struggles - civil rights,
gay rights, women's rights, disabled people's rights -
along the way, somehow we've forgotten this more
hard-nosed, yet generous way of thinking about people
who disagree with us. Professional blowhards like Rick
Perry, Palin and Bachmann are beyond redemption, since
it's in their self-interest to be cruel and delusional.
And, yes, of course, there are plenty of ordinary
people with a permanent Ku Klux Klan tattooed on their
hearts.

But not everybody who opposes abortion, or is
prejudiced against gays, or is suspicious of immigrants
and wary of "big government", is obnoxious and
untalkable to. After all, many of us have such
Disagreeables in our own families. So what? You stop
talking to them?

When did we lose patience and decide everyone in the
Tea Party movement was evil, racist and stupid?

Nobody is unorganisable. For example, recently, I've
been in touch with a lot of Ron Paul supporters around
the country, from Maine to Oregon, and found them not
all of a sameness. Most seem to be as fed up as we are
with the Obama/Bush wars, and disgusted by federal
wiretaps, surveillance and entrapments. Like Joe
Stiglitz, the Nobel economics laureate, they also
understand the close link between the $5tn wars and a
job-bleeding America. Such areas of agreement can be
explored, negotiated, argued about.

A coalition of vastly different opinions is not a love-
marriage. But it's an alliance of sorts to work
together, if possible, on a national repair job. It's
the exact opposite of Obama pleading "Can't we all get
along?" to the Republican and Blue Dog Democrat
barbarians scaling the walls and itching to cut our
throats.

The Wisconsin recall experience has taught us lessons.
One of which is that no matter how hard you work - and
my gosh, the Midwest unions and progressives went all
out! - there are still lots of voters out there who
simply don't like what we stand for. Yet.

Unlike pre-war Weimar Germany, there is no massive
fracturing of the American left - mainly because
there's hardly anything there to fracture. We're inert.
The organising "space" may be not so much in rallying
our own troops once again "unto the breach, dear
friends", but among the ranks of the anti-imperialist
right, which has been around, in one form or another,
for 150 years.

The German Widerstand, the anti-Hitler resistance,
never got its act together, despite individual acts of
heroism. Maybe things were so bad, and Hitler so
popular and so ruthless, that nothing would have
helped. But they could have tried to work together.

[Clancy Sigal, is a screenwriter and novelist in Los
Angeles. Chicago-born, he has worked precincts for
Democratic candidates since his teens. He emigrated to
the UK during what David Caute calls the 'Great Fear'
and returned to America after the 1984 miners' strike.
He is a reformed Fleet Street journalist.]
===============

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