Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Kapp Putsch and Modern Memory

On March 13, 1920, right-wing elements of German society along with some military units, particularly the Freikorps, or volunteer corps, smarting from the humiliating conditions imposed by the victorious allies at Versailles, and alarmed by the mildly democratic policies of the year-old Weimar government, staged a Putsch (coup) in Berlin, led by Wolfgang Kapp and Walther von Lüttwitz. The Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch was a resounding failure ¾ in one respect.  Kapp quickly declared himself Reichskanzler (sound familiar), but the Weimar leadership, already partly in exile, called on all Germans to strike.  The resulting general strike was so effective that the putschists simply could not rule the country.  In three days they themselves were in exile, or prison.  The successful resistance has long held an important place in the canon of successful nonviolent actions catalogued by Gene Sharp in his pioneering works on nonviolence.  Though it was marred by some fighting (and had a violent aftermath, as communists and labor unions tried to take over) it was in fact a classic example of the power of civil resistance to protect a democratic order from takeovers or invasions.

But that was not the end of the story.  One putschist who had been flown in to Berlin to participate keenly watched the chaotic events unfold.  His name was Adolph Hitler.  He admired the energy and ruthlessness of the Freikorps, with their swastika-marked helmets, and noted the putsch leaders’ mistakes (including timing).  Before long he set about appealing to the same anger Kapp and the others had manipulated, only more effectively, and played heavily on the ruthlessness.  By 1935 he could triumphantly declare, Ich habe in fünfzehn Jahre die Deutsche Nation geretted, durch meinen fanatischen Wille: ‘I have rescued the German nation in fifteen years through my fanatical will.’

There are two lessons from these chaotic events that we, too, can learn; in fact, we ignore them at our peril.

One.  It definitely can happen here.  While our democratic institutions are far more robust than those of the fledgling Weimar republic, which itself had been installed by a recent revolution, they are weakening under attacks now from all sides.  If Donald Trump fails to win the presidency next week, by the grace of God, he has nonetheless gained shocking support, and done so by appealing to precisely the same unspecific  indignation, xenophobia, scapegoat logic and inflated egos as Kapp and his “conservative” backers ¾ not excluding the same dark hints of violence.  If our democratic institutions are stronger than those of the fledgling German republic, our general culture is if anything more violent, thanks to the development (and abuse) of modern mass media ¾ and the flood of weapons.  Trump is failing at least in part, maybe entirely, because he is not the fanatical, ruthless, inhumane personality Hitler was ¾ but who’s to say such a maniac could not appear next?  We have had the shot across the bow of our democracy.

Two.  Nonviolence is the way out.  But nonviolence cannot simply mean you wait for the putsch to happen, then rush out into the street and non-cooperate.  That is a stopgap ¾ if it works.  It has to mean a complete overhaul of the cultural factors that have led to our putting more fellow citizens in prison per unit population than any comparable democracy, having more guns than people and a higher rate of murder or suicide by orders of magnitude, a larger military budget than most of the world’s countries put together, and a foreign policy apparently incapable of any response but endless war.  Throw in an addiction to media violence that indoctrinates the minds of children from the earliest ages, and the picture is not reassuring.

What is reassuring is that nonviolent alternatives to all these factors are already present, across the board.   Economically and socially alternative communities are springing up all over, along with a sprinkling of “public benefit” corporations that work to a far more humane and inclusive bottom line and often are democratically owned, or at least managed, like Berrett-Koehler publishers, like Kickstarter, to mention two examples.  Nonviolence is slowly being recognized as a subject for research and education (189 U.S. schools at various levels have peace studies programs, at last count, and thousands have at least one peace/nonviolence course).  Civil resistance is being more often and sometimes more accurately practiced, as we’ve seen here from Occupy to Standing Rock, with many episodes in between that are not cited by the media.  As nonviolence scholar Erica Chenoweth told me recently, “nonviolence is the technique du jour for uprisings now.”  And not just uprisings.  A worldwide institution called Unarmed Civilian Peacemaking (or Civilian Protection, in any case UCP), descended from Gandhi’s concept of a Shanti Sena or ‘peace army,’ is operating in some of the most dangerous pockets of global violence ¾ yes, including Syria ¾ and to very good effect.  UCP has been seriously discussed at the UN and received substantial support from some European governments (not American).  And for the long term, perhaps this may be the most important of all: freethinking media, like what you’re reading right now.  We should be learning about and supporting all these inspiring developments.  What they’re up to, and why it’s working, has to be far better known and far more systematically developed; otherwise we might be heading for a particularly nasty case of history repeating itself.

More articles by:
May 22, 2018
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
Brian Saady
How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption
David Swanson
Tim Kaine’s War Scam Hits a Speed Bump
Norah Vawter
Pipeline Outrage is a Human Issue, Not a Political Issue
Mel Gurtov
Who’s to Blame If the US-North Korea Summit Isn’t Held?
Patrick Bobilin
When Outrage is Capital
Jessicah Pierre
The Moral Revolution America Needs
Binoy Kampmark
Big Dead Place: Remembering Antarctica
John Carroll Md
What Does It Mean to be a Physician Advocate in Haiti?
George Ochenski
Saving Sage Grouse: Another Collaborative Failure
Sam Husseini
To the US Government, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook
Brian Wakamo
Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office!
Colin Todhunter
Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail