Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 5, 2010

Barack Obama, Neville Chamberlain and the mythology of appeasement

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 10:17 pm

Last Wednesday Huffington Post’s Bob Cesca posed the question Why is Obama acting like George McFly? For those not up to speed on American pop culture, this was the character in “Back to the Future” who when pushed around in high school always gave in to the bullies.

George McFly tormented by a bully

This is a variation on a theme in the print and electronic media that has occurred with increasing frequency ever since Obama was revealed to be the second coming of Herbert Hover rather than FDR. Mostly, explanations have focused on Obama’s ostensible psychological failings rather than any analysis of class relations in the U.S. in a period of escalating class warfare against working people and the poor. The assumption from Huffington Post liberals, The Nation, MSNBC, Michael Moore et al is that Obama is on the side of the poor but lacks the cojones to stand up to the bullies in the Republican Party. Cesca puts it this way:

That character doesn’t look cooperative at all. He looks like a very smart and very serious… wimp.

He looks like he’s unable to handle negotiations. He looks like George McFly. He looks like he’s capitulating to a fraternity of hooples who are wrong about everything; who deny basic economics; who deny basic math; who exist for no other reason than to, as DougJ at Balloon Juice described, win elections “by fighting hard over imaginary issues.”

But something doesn’t quite add up. Matt Bai, the repulsive—even more so than usual—New York Times reporter wrote about Obama’s problems in navigating between the Democratic Party liberal base and the Republican Party “bullies” over tax breaks for the rich. It turns out that “Privately, Mr. Obama has described himself, at times, as essentially a Blue Dog Democrat, referring to the shrinking caucus of fiscally conservative members of the party.” Now, of course, it would have been helpful if Obama had made this public in the 2008 primaries instead of cultivating an image of reform. Our problem is that bourgeois politicians keep the truth to themselves. Lyndon Johnson was making plans to escalate the war in Vietnam at the very moment he was running ads urging a vote against the warmongering Barry Goldwater in 1964. We certainly need a Wikileaks dump of the email and private correspondence that these lying bastards keep hidden while perpetrating a fraud on the voting public in the next go-round.

I should add that at least one leftist never accepted the “wimpy” characterization of Obama. Glen Ford, the intrepid editor of the Black Agenda Report, took up the question of Obama’s spinelessness in a piece titled Psycho-Babbling Obama. Responding to liberals like Paul Krugman who have been waiting for Obama to take off the gloves for the longest time now, Glen Ford comments:

Krugman insists that Obama’s problem is, he tried to transcend partisan divisions, not understanding that sometimes one has to fight. That’s a recurring theme with Obama apologists, that Obama won’t fight. But Obama showed plenty of fight during the health care debate. He fought the left wing of his own party every step of the way, exiling single-payer supporters to the margins while he kissed Republican boodie and empowered Blue Dogs and DLCers. He didn’t just fight progressives, he stomped their butts into the dirt.

When I was in high school, my mostly New Deal-minded teachers held Neville Chamberlain in total contempt. They explained to us that WWII might have been prevented if Chamberlain had had the backbone to stand up to Hitler. Like Obama, he was an appeaser. Of course, the Nazis were far more of a threat to working people than the Republican Party but with an intractable recession and imperial war draining lives and resources in Afghanistan, there is no guarantee that we will not have our own version of Weimar down the road.

Neville Chamberlain

Recent research has revised this psychological interpretation of Chamberlain’s deal with Hitler. Instead, his willingness to accommodate the Nazis is best understood as a reflection of British imperialism’s eagerness to see an invasion of the USSR and the possible extermination of Bolshevism. Despite the secondary clashes with the Nazis over any of a number of foreign policy matters (the Sudetenland, Poland, etc.), there was an implicit understanding that Hitler was getting a green light to smash the Soviet Union.

Monthly Review published Clement Leibovitz and Alvin Finkel’s In Our Time: The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion in 1997, a book described as challenging the Munich pact as the “appeasement” of Nazi appetites. Instead, “it was the culmination of cynical collaboration between the Tory government and the Nazis in the 1930s.” Unfortunately, neither Monthly Review magazine nor MRZine has printed any excerpts from this important book, a useful antidote to the sort of nonsense about the allies fighting against fascism so prevalent in the build-up to the Balkan wars and the war against Saddam. This is ironic since Christopher Hitchens wrote the Introduction!

But you can get a good précis of the argument from Alvin Finkel who wrote a short article in History News Network in 1991 occasioned by Ariel Sharon’s statement that the U.S. was trying to impose a Munich-type pact on Israel that was supposedly facing a new Nazi-type threat from the Palestinians. (This is what Freud called projection.) Finkel wrote:

As Chamberlain left Britain for three meetings with Hitler in September 1938, of which Munich was the third, he wrote King George VI candidly that he sought a broad “Anglo-German understanding” rather than simply a solution to the Czech crisis. Such an understanding was likely, he felt, because imperial England and Nazi Germany were “the two pillars of European peace and buttresses against communism.” At his first meeting with Hitler, he revealed that Britain would not only stay out of any German-Soviet conflict, but would also attempt to restrain its allies from taking action against Germany.

Hitler then assured Chamberlain at their second meeting: “We will not stand in the way of your pursuit of your non-European interests and you may without harm let us have a free hand on the European continent in central and South-East Europe.” Obsessed with communism, Chamberlain was happy to “appease” Hitler, despite his well-known expansionist and racist policies. Like Chamberlain, Cold War leaders made unsavory alliances with dictators to block revolutionary forces. Often claiming they were avoiding another Munich, they helped to overthrow revolutionary and even merely reformist governments. Even in the post-Cold War period, the refusal to compromise with social forces in the Third World has continued, with the danger of “appeasement” invoked to defend the approach. This is evident, for example, in the continued U.S. belligerence towards Cuba long after other western countries have accepted that Castro’s revolution has actually brought some benefits to the Cuban people.

The notion of “avoiding another Munich” means something wholly different when we understand that Chamberlain was not trying to prevent war at all costs but was, in fact, promoting a war against the hated Soviet Union. Ironically, in today’s world, it is those who are most willing to attempt to understand and to compromise with social revolutionaries who are usually labeled “appeasers” when the historical record suggests the real “appeasers” were individuals too blinded by fears of social revolution to take action against Hitler.

Just as Chamberlain was a willing enabler of Adolf Hitler against a workers state, so is Barack Obama the enabler of a war against trade unions, “safety net” provisions such as Medicare and Social Security, and all other obstacles to creating an economy that resembles the late 19th century when robber barons held sway.

Most people don’t understand that Obama has a commonality of interests with the Republicans because they are accustomed to seeing the Democratic Party as the party of FDR. However, it is far more useful to see the New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society as brief interruptions in a close to two-century rule by naked capital. The Democratic Party, after all, was the party of slavery.

There is another source of confusion over the role of the Democrats. Most liberal critics of Obama are not willing to give up on the party because of the presence of elected officials like Dennis Kucinich or Barbara Lee. They reason that the only “practical” course is to expand the number of such politicians in the party through patient and persistent hard work. The notion that such politicians can ever make policy for the party is utopian at best.

What we have been facing for the past 40 years or so is an ever-escalating attack on working people and the poor in the U.S. carried out by alternating Republican and Democratic Party presidencies. The Democrats have been quite clear about their aims in policy papers directed toward the elites. When Obama chose Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles to head up a commission on entitlement reform, there was no clearer statement of his aim to roll back the New Deal.

Over the next couple of years, the U.S. ruling class will be forced to sharpen the blades and become more aggressive in the class war. At a certain point, the appeals to Obama to stop acting so “wimpy” will ring even more hollow than they ring today. He is not spineless. He is not cowardly. He is not an appeaser. And he is no George McFly. He is rather a bold, combative and fearless fighter on behalf of the class that funded his grubby rise to power and nothing will stop him except a bloody nose—metaphorically speaking. It took class power to stop Hitler and it will take class power to stop Obama and the rest of the ruling class politicians in their tracks.


  1. I still don’t get why Hitler chose to attack England and France given the kind of support he had from them. If he had directed all his resources towards the east, i imagine there would have been no opposition from these governments.

    Comment by Stephanie Gratzer — December 5, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alaina Partlow, Khephra Maley. Khephra Maley said: @BarackObama, Neville Chamberlain and the mythology of appeasement – http://j.mp/fjMBJK [ #politics #rebelleft #p2 #tlot #hegemony #dems ] […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Barack Obama, Neville Chamberlain and the mythology of appeasement « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist -- Topsy.com — December 6, 2010 @ 2:53 am

  3. After many years of voting for whatever socialist or third-party candidates were on the ballot, I got tired of swimming against the stream in 2008. I thought it would be nice to come in from the cold and vote for a Democrat who wasn’t a pathetic loser like John Kerry or Al Gore. What a sap I was! You can say you told me so, Lou.

    Comment by John B. — December 6, 2010 @ 2:55 am

  4. Stephanie is on the right track. Despite the “peace in our time” drivel, Chamberlain came back from Munich determined to intensify the armaments buildup [Spitfires (defensive) and Lancasters (offensive)] for the oncoming inevitable war against Hitler. If he had favored a war between Hitler and Stalin, and was in the least willing to give Hitler a “free hand in East-central Europe,” he would never have given a military guarantee to the Poles. The dirty secret of appeasement, and the dirty secret of World War II, is that the alliance between Hitler and the “Democracies” was directed against the German proletariat, their deadly common enemy, and not against the Stalin regime, their common ally. At Munich, Chamberlain knew that the Wehrmacht High Command was ready to overthrow Hitler the moment he ordered mobilization against the Czechs, who were allied to the Entente powers (the “Oster Conspiracy.”) After overthrowing the Nazis, the Prussian generals were plainly unqualified to prevent Germany from “descending into anarchy” and so Hitler had to be kept in power. The mentality of Chamberlain keeping Hitler in power to keep on crushing the German proletariat was identical to Churchill conducting an overtly genocidal bombing of the German proletariat. The central, successful, Allied war aim was to reach a “peace” of conquest that would crush the European working classes and prevent proletarian revolution for a whole epoch.

    Comment by Shane Mage — December 6, 2010 @ 3:06 am

  5. Shane, this makes no sense. By the time of the Munich pact, the German working class had already been smashed physically, psychologically and politically.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 6, 2010 @ 3:19 am

  6. The German proletariat had been smashed *politically*. But to keep it that way the totalitarian repression was needed. It was intact physically–Nazi full employment had expanded it and made it even more strategic. It resisted even Churchill/Roosevelt/Stalin’s saturation bombers, which were more murderous than the Nazis even dreamed of being. In 1938 the spectre of communism was indeed stalking Europe and European reaction lived in dread of it. You remember, don’t you, the last conversation between the French Ambassador and the Reichskanzellor:
    Coulondre–“If war comes, the only winner will be Trotsky.”
    Hitler–“I know, I know.” (for those gentlemen, as Trotsky said, his name was not used personally, it was synonymous with proletarian revolution).

    Comment by Shane Mage — December 6, 2010 @ 3:56 am

  7. Well the early phase of the war has been referred to as the Sitzkrieg, although Hitlers alliance with the Soviet Union undoubtedly undermined a sense of Anglo-German unity.

    Comment by SGuy — December 6, 2010 @ 4:19 am

  8. Really good post.

    I hope Michael Moore reads it.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — December 6, 2010 @ 4:31 am

  9. Forget about Michael Moore. I hope some of my co-workers read it. I shared on Facebook. I’m keeping my fingers crossed I will have something interesting to talk about the next few days. Good piece of work.

    Comment by dave — December 6, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

  10. […] Louis Proyect Over the next couple of years, the U.S. ruling class will be forced to sharpen the blades and become more aggressive in the class war. At a certain point, the appeals to Obama to stop acting so “wimpy” will ring even more hollow than they ring today. He is not spineless. He is not cowardly. He is not an appeaser. And he is no George McFly. He is rather a bold, combative and fearless fighter on behalf of the class that funded his grubby rise to power and nothing will stop him except a bloody nose—metaphorically speaking. […]

    Pingback by Is Obama a wimpy disaster? | Politics in the Zeros — December 6, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

  11. it’s Adolf, not Adolph, btw

    Comment by PfromGermany — December 6, 2010 @ 9:00 pm

  12. While I would I agree with you that there’s a commonality of political interests between Obama & the Republicans, I think he really is Marty McFly also. In terms of bourgeois parliamentary tactics he’s been truly incompetent, losing the momentum he had when he was inaugurated, letting the Republicans seize the initiative, dominate the debate and let people forget what they hated about George Bush. Since he got beat by Bobby Rush in his first election Obama’s never had a competent, credible opponent. The Republicans are just walking all over him. He’s not ready for the big leagues.

    Comment by John B. — December 6, 2010 @ 10:22 pm

  13. Shane, that’s bullshit. most members of the German proletariat went on not too unwillingly to kill millions of people all over Europe. and why? because they considered themselves as Germans first. not workers. just have a look at the propaganda the German Communist Party used before ’33 – that was nationalist too, and that was a great error.

    It resisted even Churchill/Roosevelt/Stalin’s saturation bombers, which were more murderous than the Nazis even dreamed of being

    that idea is disturbingly close to holocaust denial, with almost a million people murdered at a single installation in under 3 years . and how come Germany suffered much less civilian casualities than Poland or Russia, if the Allied bombers “were more murderous than the Nazis even dreamed of being”?

    Comment by PfromGermany — December 6, 2010 @ 10:56 pm

  14. From the beginning I didn’t take Obama as anything but a status quo candidate. He said so from the start. if what you say is true, they’re calling him a “radical leftist” to provide what–political cover? Still seems weird.

    Comment by Saje Williams — December 7, 2010 @ 9:46 am

  15. It’s really pathetic to see someone “reinterpreting” the motive of Neville Chamberlain. Just a “good foreign policy gone bad?” Back to the present. Delta Bravo is the wrong person at the wrong time with the wrong motives. And his minions! I rather have Frau Verbissenah in the cabinet than the Confederacy of Dunces that we have now. Sorrow if I haven’t made myself clear. 🙂 Without Neville giving away Czechoslavakia, there would have been not European World War II. At least, Hitler would have been obliterated sooner.

    Comment by B Fine — November 24, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: