Noam Chomsky, the leading leftwing intellectual, warned last week that fascism may be coming to the United States.
â€œIâ€™m just old enough to have heard a number of Hitlerâ€™s speeches on the radio,â€ he said, â€œand I have a memory of the texture and the tone of the cheering mobs, and I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gatheringâ€ here at home.
Chomsky was speaking to more than 1,000 people at the Orpheum Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, where he received the University of Wisconsinâ€™s A.E. Havens Centerâ€™s award for lifetime contribution to critical scholarship.
â€œThe level of anger and fear is like nothing I can compare in my lifetime,â€ he said.
He cited a statistic from a recent poll showing that half the unaffiliated voters say the average tea party member is closer to them than anyone else.
â€œRidiculing the tea party shenanigans is a serious error,â€ Chomsky said.
Their attitudes â€œare understandable,â€ he said. â€œFor over 30 years, real incomes have stagnated or declined. This is in large part the consequence of the decision in the 1970s to financialize the economy.â€
There is class resentment, he noted. â€œThe bankers, who are primarily responsible for the crisis, are now reveling in record bonuses while official unemployment is around 10 percent and unemployment in the manufacturing sector is at Depression-era levels,â€ he said.
And Obama is linked to the bankers, Chomsky explained.
â€œThe financial industry preferred Obama to McCain,â€ he said. â€œThey expected to be rewarded and they were. Then Obama began to criticize greedy bankers and proposed measures to regulate them. And the punishment for this was very swift: They were going to shift their money to the Republicans. So Obama said bankers are â€œfine guysâ€ and assured the business world: â€˜I, like most of the American people, donâ€™t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.â€™
People see that and are not happy about it.â€
He said â€œthe colossal toll of the institutional crimes of state capitalismâ€ is what is fueling â€œthe indignation and rage of those cast aside.â€
â€œPeople want some answers,â€ Chomsky said. â€œThey are hearing answers from only one place: Fox, talk radio, and Sarah Palin.â€
Chomsky invoked Germany during the Weimar Republic, and drew a parallel between it and the United States. â€œThe Weimar Republic was the peak of Western civilization and was regarded as a model of democracy,â€ he said.
And he stressed how quickly things deteriorated there.
â€œIn 1928 the Nazis had less than 2 percent of the vote,â€ he said. â€œTwo years later, millions supported them. The public got tired of the incessant wrangling, and the service to the powerful, and the failure of those in power to deal with their grievances.â€
He said the German people were susceptible to appeals about â€œthe greatness of the nation, and defending it against threats, and carrying out the will of eternal providence.â€
When farmers, the petit bourgeoisie, and Christian organizations joined forces with the Nazis, â€œthe center very quickly collapsed,â€ Chomsky said.
No analogy is perfect, he said, but the echoes of fascism are â€œreverberatingâ€ today, he said.
â€œThese are lessons to keep in mind.â€
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.