What do we need to build, to save democracy? – David Hirsh

Maybe this is a mad, frightened question. I hope so. But I am frightened. I don’t share the complacency of those who ridicule ‘operation fear’.

There is an array of populist movements which trade on a cynical contempt for the democratic state: Corbyn, Trump, Brexit, Jihadi Islamism, Le Pen and the Gilets Jaunes, AfD, parties in government in Italy, Austria, Hungary and Poland; Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Putin.

Populist leaders set up ‘the people’ as strong and good but oppressed and duped; they set up ‘enemies of the people’ who are the real power, secretly pulling the strings of fake democracy; and then they set themselves up as the voice of the people.

Populist movements, that is proto-totalitarian movements, are conspiracy fantasies. Brexit imagines that Britain’s real problems are caused by foreigners and EU bureaucrats and their unseen controllers, the cosmopolitan elite. Corbyn speaks for the 99% which he thinks is controlled by a 1% conspiracy of bankers cosmopolitans and capitalists; and he speaks for the people worldwide who he imagines are oppressed by Zionism and imperialism.

As conspiracy fantasy, populism is similar in structure to antisemitism and antisemitism is a constant temptation to it. Democratic people will not have the luxury of being able to ignore or to sidestep the dirty and disgusting battle against antisemitism.

Antisemitism is the form of appearance of anti-democratic politics.

So we need to build a movement for democratic life; a movement which knows how to take on populism; a movement which can persuade people that utopia is snake oil and that democratic life is worth fighting for.

Labour MPs are being targeted for deselection by the bullies and there isn’t a movement which can save them. Antisemites are getting legitmized by the Corbynites and there isn’t a movement which can de-legitimize them.

In the Tory Party too, the rational democratic people are being defeated, humiliated and driven out by the populists.

Streams of the politically homeless have nowhere to go.

What we need is a hard centre: which can win against Corbynites in the student union bar; against Brexiters in Colchester and Stoke; against Jihadis in Finsbury Park and Bradford; against antizionist Jews in North London.

We need to attract, educate and to then to harden hundreds and thousands of young women and men to ensure that democratic life will be possible for them and their families.

In Germany in the 30s the Communists and the Nazis were hard and organised; they agreed that the democratic state was a sham and they agreed that Weimar was responsible for its own collapse; and they had armed people on the streets. And the liberals and the social democrats were wiped out by them.

We need to build a social and a political movement that knows what it’s about, that’s exciting to be around, that has some answers, that wins some victories, that wants to build and to defend, not to sneer and to tear everything down.

David Hirsh

One Response to “What do we need to build, to save democracy? – David Hirsh”

  1. Ben Says:

    While I thoroughly agree with the notion that contemporary populist movements dabble in proto-antisemetic thought patterning, i am as a German more hesitant to imagine a hard centre. I know you speak of it as a democratic, liberal centre but in Germany the notion of a good, neutral centre (not your words!) has been used to criminalise parts of the left and trying to show them as equal to the right. It is an attempt to show that the threat of democracy is coming from both “extremist” edges and only a neutral centre can oppose that. This can be easily used by conservatives who call themselves the middle to attack any kind of outer parliamentarian left-wing opposition. And historically speaking, the German state has always been blind on the right side, while fiercly reacting to the left… Right wing terrorists could murder German cizitens for years before anything happened but a German sociologist is incarcerated because his writings resemble that of a socalled militant left wing group that so far has caused only material damage.

    Furthermore while the fascists and communist have indeed opposed the Weimar Republic, I believe posing the social democrats to have been the protectors of it is not historically factual either. Before the Republic there was a chance for a proper left wing revolution in Germany. One that was not totalitarian nor controlled by the Soviet Union, but one driven by comrades in the army and factories, one that if successful would have put an end to the militaristic, fascist state and powers that started WW1 and that would then eventually overthrow and establish the fascist regime of the Nazis. It was the social democrats who violently suppressed this democratic revolution and it was the conservatives that then appointed Hitler. Again, as a German looking at our history and at now, I see no benefit in establishing a middle. I see only strength in forming a left that finally draws a line at totalitarianism, anitsemitism and that fully embraces democracy, which might entail working with those on the side of the conservatives that want the same but that will fiercly oppose either its own anti-democratic tendencies (and perhaps those first and foremost) before wasting its energy of the much easier identifiable political opponent.


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