Donald Trump and America’s “Night of the Long Knives”

Words matter. Sometimes they do because they express truth, yet often because they only convince. Propagandists understand this well and congenitally favor persuasion over accuracy. The rhetoric of the current presidential election season is seasoned with spicy epithets: Bernie Sanders the “socialist,” Donald Trump the “fascist.” Propagandists in speech writer’s clothing are delighted to flavor their fear mongering with terms largely understood in the guts of their audiences, but not in their heads.

Corporate media CEOs, such as CBS’ Leeslie Moonves, celebrate profits caused by Trump’s frightening humbug about Sanders the “radical socialist.” Conversely, the viewer-funded progressive newscast Democracy Now correctly acknowledges that Sander’s socialism is European social democracy. Nevertheless, the program panders to its largely male and well-educated contributors by becoming a tacit Sander’s campaign outlet. Amy Goodman’s snubbing, during this and the 2012 presidential campaign, of socialist and communist candidates, including the current Socialist Party USA’s candidate Mimi Soltysik, speaks volumes about the program’s commitment to journalistic fairness and openness.

Americans are asked to decide their political future while feasting on a zesty dish of nonsense and deception. ‘Socialism’ becomes a muddle of capitalistic social democracy and revolutionary Marxism. Marx’s fundamental program of worker ownership of what is today private capitalist property is largely ignored. Fascism is thus plucked from its Italian Futurist and Roman-Imperial roots, and cut from the landscape of German occultism, genetic racism and legends of Aryan supermen in Tibet.

This socialism is unacceptable in exceptional America because it offends native cultural sensibilities. Americans are at least publicly averse to the Futurist’s love of technological violence as a political ax. They remain puffy, proclaiming their commitment to a Constitution penned by their “enlightened” Founding Fathers. They praise the secular benefits of a positive science and human equality; all ruthlessly condemned by the German National Socialists. Capitalists commonly manage such uncertainty with political coups. The problem with the Trump discomfort is that coups in America, in contrast to those America continually orchestrates elsewhere, are disfavored as a means for regime control. They are unpredictable, costly, destructive and unseemly, and are consonant with the required continuation of capitalist accumulation or America’s branding of its oligarchy as a “democracy.” Capitalists would better have the messy business finished before the election.

Sometimes misinformed and confusing language embodies politically convenient national history, as when contemporary revolutionary socialism is identified with Stalinism or National Socialism. This historical recalculation robs socialism of its compelling ethical force, its inherent egalitarianism and compassion. It also subverts democracy, which depends upon an enlightened electorate appreciates current events and issues that resonate with past triumphs and tragedies. The German philosopher Georg Hegel, whose “dialectic” deeply influenced Marx, suggested that, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” One reason is that history as propaganda is continually being reinvented to serve power, and in America, evolving capitalist power. One cannot learn beneficially from a continually adapted history that is a befuddling kaleidoscope of deceptive fabrications. Voters who care to correctly understand history face a conceptual landscape mined with ethnocentricity, faulty generalizations and the sloppy use of language. Shortly, we will have an example of how dialectical thinking can help clear confusion.

Today, Trump’s spin-doctors are serving a toxic stew of self-serving nonsense that bothers the global capitalist core of the Republican Party, and its military cohort. They are troubled by how Trump might offer profitable international trade relations under the regime of free trade, as that necessarily depends upon America’s military. Global capitalist and the national military interests of America and its “partners” are central to such geopolitical misadventures as the American wars of empire in the Middle East and Africa, its mischief in the Ukraine, and the “Asia Pivot.” The intentions of the leader of global capital’s central economy and the commander of its international enforcement arm loom large given the uncertainties of national elections.

Sometimes capitalists, even within liberal democracies, may not favor restraint. On June 30, 1934, The Night of the Long Knives, Adolf Hitler ordered the decapitation of the leadership of the dreaded SA, the Sturmabteilungen, and specifically the murder of its leader, Ernst Rohm. The SA, or “Brown Shirts,” was created during the infancy of the Nazi Party as its security force and revolutionary vanguard. By 1934, it had grown into an ideologically stubborn force of two-and-a-half-million. Much like America’s Tea Party, the SA largely attracted workers whose lives were devastated by joblessness and economic turmoil. In addition to the miseries of the Great Depression, SA recruits felt that their nation had lost its greatness through conniving and greedy capitalist governance. They felt betrayed by the military nobility and “Jewish bankers” who delivered the disgrace of Versailles (ending World War I) to their homeland. While praising Hitler for accomplishing a nationalistic “First Revolution,” Rohm advocated a social “Second Revolution” that would implement the “socialistic” part of the National Socialist vision. This would involve a redistribution of the nation’s wealth to the workings, along with the promise of a classless society. Rohm further advocated that the SA become a national “people’s” army that would assume both the domestic security and the military functions of the state.

The SA disturbed Germany’s landed aristocracy (the Prussian “Junkers’) and industrialists whose international business partners including Henry Ford, the Chase Manhattan Bank and Prescott Bush. The Prussian military was also concerned that its central cultural and political authority might end. As General von Brauchitsch complained, “…rearmament was too serious and difficult a business to permit the participation of peculators [bankers], drunkards and homosexuals [the SA].” Most German citizens disliked the SA’s arbitrary street violence, and were ashamed by their attacks on defenseless Jews, which did not pander to their national branding as the enlightened center of Europe. Rohm’s socialism had become an existential threat. So, Rohm was murdered. When the aged President Paul von Hindenburg conveniently died, Hitler “enabled” himself to become Germany’s Fuhrer.

During the late 1960s, the Republican Party devised its “Southern Strategy.” It was intended to woo the largely Democratic Southern political establishment to the GOP by inviting the corrosive Confederate worldview of racism, violence, patriarchy and provincialism into the Republican Party. With this, the seeds of today’s Tea-Party Republicans were planted. Gerrymandering and Black-voter suppression, combined with the suffering created by the 2008 economic crisis, today nourishes a revitalized and poisonous ideology. The particular dislike of Wall Street “thieves” reflects a class-based economic anxiety. Republican Tea Partiers now seek a leader who would “Make America Great Again.”

The maverick Trump’s pitch, thus, includes attacks on Wall Street and CEOs. His platform also invites a chaos in international trade relations that endangers the profitable NAFTA and hopefully profitable TPP and TIPP agreements. His promise to “deal” with the Chinese threatens free trade agreements and the American military’s Asian pivot. American technology firms fear his racism and immigration policies will dampen the recruitment of skilled workers. Predictably, the Trump’s unpredictability worries America’s military, including his endorsement of torture and the indiscriminate killing of civilians in its so-called “War on Terrorism.” They warn of increased Jihadist recruitment and chaos in military operations if soldiers refuse to follow President Trump’s illegal orders. The global implications of a Trump presidency are not lost on the UK Economists Unit, which declares Trump a major risk to the global peace and capitalist order. (“UK Economists Intelligence Unit: Trump is a major global risk,” Deutsche Welle, 3 March 2016.

Republican capitalists increasingly object and seek their own “Night of the Long Knives.” Republican governors meet to derail Trump’s candidacy. Mitt Romney returns from the dead to proclaim the Antichrist. Republican campaign strategists reach out to tycoons like Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer to organize an anti-Trump PAC. Trump’s virtual assassination, and thereby the Tea Party’s ambition of gaining political dominance, is not carried out in the darkness, but under the bright lights of CBS and Democracy Now. Therewith, Republican oligarchs plan remove or at least reduce the threat, and allow their party to celebrate its moral compass, while the business of global capital continues as usual.

This account of the current Republican turmoil remains fuzzy, and a Trump downfall is not assured. It might be argued that the Republican “establishment” is “reported” to be progressively “accommodating” itself to Trump. However, there is not one, but two Republican establishments: one dominated by Capital and another ruled by God. (This was one accommodation of the Southern Strategy.) What is reported profits Moonves, and all of corporate media, who lavish Trump’s because that pays. Predictably, rating wars wage. Yet, network greed confronts confusion created by ubiquitous Trump “phone-ins” to CBS and FOX programs that threaten to transform them into Trump campaign reality programs. The need for profit creates an accommodation that leads to a dysfunction.

For capital, accommodations can be adaptations. In 1934, capitalists accommodated Hitler. With the Republicans, capital engages the Tea Party. Nevertheless, capital’s goal remains the same, and it will adapt, and eventually thrive, in some new form. That goal is to dominate American political and international power in order to enable programs that Trump threatens. The emerging global hegemony of capital over national interests, the poster children of which are free trade deals, debt terrorism and regional surrogate wars, is becoming the new capitalist order. Some accommodation is pressing.

The recollection of the Night of the Long Knives is cursory and some comparisons do not distinguish important differences between the current global economic-military order, and the situation in Germany in 1934. It nevertheless is sensitive to dangers lurking in historical analogy. It avoids that unhelpful use of political words that some socialists and progressives enjoy when characterizing every Republican as a “Fascist!!!” It purges pervasive straw men: “fascism,” “proto-fascism,” “crypto-fascism” or “fascist-like elements,” while highlighting the historical adaptability of capitalist power.

It encourages a dialectical attitude that guides the discovery of adaptations and dysfunctions in capitalistic practice; offering a method by which we can learn from historical events. It suggests a history not fabricated out of political expediency, but emerging from reasoning that understands correctly that human events have several causes and conditions, the altering of any potentially producing unanticipated dysfunction. When facing contradictions it itself creates, capitalism adapts.

Routinely, the resulting human suffering is passed to workers, the poor and the disliked. Capitalism doesn’t solve economic and social problems, it just genetically engineers them so they operate more beneficially within changing political environments, while deceitfully rebranding them for public consumption. Words matter more than one might think.


J. Richard Marra

lives in Connecticut. He received his Doctoral degree from Cornell University in 1977, majoring in Musical Composition and the History of Music Theory. While on the Faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, he completed graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, majoring in the Philosophy of Science. He is a member of the Socialist Party USA, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Philosophy of Science Association. His articles have also appeared on the websites of the Secular Buddhist Association and The Hampton Institute. He is a 2014 recipient of the SPUSA's Eugene V. Debs Award. To read other essays by J. Richard Marra, please visit

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