04/19/2017

The ‘Battle Of Berkeley’ Is A Bad Sign For Liberty

Dan Sanchez, Foundation for Economic Education

Just how close are we to repeating the political violence of interwar Germany? How bad is it, and how bad can it get?

Populist-right demonstrators and radical-left protesters clashed in Berkeley, California yesterday. The belligerents used such weapons as fists, feet, rocks, pepper spray, smoke bombs, barricades, and a trash dumpster/battering ram. There was one reported non-lethal stabbing.

Arrayed on the right were members of the Alt-Right, Oathkeepers, Proud Boys, and non-affiliated Trump supporters, and the left was led by Antifa (Anti-Fascist Action) and BAMN (“By Any Means Necessary”).

At one point, the left-radicals ill-advisedly threw a smoke bomb while they themselves were standing downwind. The smoke wafted back in their faces causing them to flee. Today, right-populists are crowing online about having “won the Battle of Berkeley,” because, after a concerted charge, they managed to seize and hold a major downtown street.

Berkeley has become a favorite battleground for these budding political street warriors. Two months ago, a scheduled speech at UC Berkeley by Alt-Right darling Milo Yiannopolis speech was canceled due to riots, arson, and assaults on Milo-supporters. Weeks later, a “March 4 Trump” was held off-campus in Berkeley, and this too was attacked by militant leftists, using metal pipes, baseball bats, two-by-fours, and bricks.

Yesterday, the occasion was another pro-Trump rally in Berkeley celebrating “Patriot’s Day.” As usual, it was the leftists who were the main instigators. That doesn’t alter the fact that these gradually-escalating street conflicts signal a two-pronged threat to liberty.

Nationalists Versus Communists

The brawls seem like a half-hearted, semi-play-acting reenactment of the street fights of Germany’s Spartacist uprising of 1919. The “Spartacists” were Marxist insurgents who sought to overthrow the new Weimar government, take power themselves, and expropriate the bourgeoisie. The government, which itself was made up of milder Marxists, relied on nationalist militias called Freikorps to crush the uprising. Then, as yesterday, nationalists trounced communists in the streets. Yet this did not yield a happy ending.

As Ludwig von Mises points out in Omnipotent Government, when the Freikorps first arose, they were modeled after the armed bands of communist revolutionaries that they would later suppress.

“The November Revolution brought a resurgence of a phenomenon that had long before disappeared from German history. Military adventurers formed armed bands or Freikorps and acted on their own behalf. The communist revolutionaries had inaugurated this method, but soon the nationalists adopted and perfected it. Dismissed officers of the old army called together demobilized soldiers and maladjusted boys and offered their protection to the peasants menaced by raids of starving townsfolk and to the population of the eastern frontiers suffering from Polish and Lithuanian guerrilla invasions. The landlords and the farmers provided them in return for their services with food and shelter.”

The Freikorps, like today’s budding right-wing street militias, arose in response to leftist aggression. That didn’t make them any less dangerous.

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