- Mao Zedong
I recently read a very good history of the Spanish Civil War, entitled -- appropriately enough -- "The Spanish Civil War," by Paul Preston.
You should get it and read it, especially if you live in the U.S. Everyone talks about 1930s Germany as a parallel for what the U.S. is going through right now, but I'm pretty sure 1930s Spain is by far the better analogy.
Although you should read the book, let me try to give a brief summary.
By the 1930s, Spain had been in decline for about three centuries. Its last imperial possessions had been lost in the Spanish-American War. It was economically backward and highly unequal. Big landowners controlled the economy, and the Catholic Church controlled the culture. Lots of people wanted this to change, and joined various leftist movements - communists, socialists, and anarchists. In response, lots of other people joined right-wing movements - fascists, religious fundamentalists, and monarchists. A shaky democracy was established in 1931. At first the leftists won, and implemented some reforms, but two years later, the rightists won and reversed all the reforms. Then the leftists won again, and the rightist-dominated military decided that it was time to stop messing around with all this democracy crap, and launched a coup.
The coup succeeded in about half the country, and the two halves then proceeded to go to war with each other. The rightists got help from Hitler and Mussolini, the leftists got more halfhearted help from Stalin. Atrocities were committed on both sides, but the rightists were somewhat worse. The leftists fought among themselves, while the rightists were generally unified. The rightists, with greater population, more military veterans, more unification, and more effective outside help, steadily defeated the leftists. They shot hundreds of thousands of people, raped untold numbers of women, and in general terrorized the parts of the country that had supported the leftists. They then maintained a fascist regime for a few decades until people got tired of it, and democracy returned.
OK, so now you know about the Spanish Civil War. How is this a parallel for America?
Like Spain in the 1930s, we have a country geographically divided into "red' and "blue" regions. Like Spain, we are suffering from a relative decline in international power and prestige, as well as deep-rooted economic and institutional dysfunction on many levels. Like Spain, we have an increasingly bitter, intransigent conflict between the right and the left.
And like Spain, the military leans to the right (though perhaps not quite as much). In America, the right also controls most of the roughly 300 million privately owned guns.
This means that if the U.S. had a civil war along currently existing left-right lines - i.e., Republican voters vs. Democratic voters - the right would win. It would probably win more quickly and decisively than the Spanish right won. This is not just because of military sympathies and gun ownership, of course. The American right has a population advantage among men, who are more likely to fight in war than women. It also has greater organization, being mostly unified by religion (Christianity), race (white), and a shared vision of history. As for foreign intervention, Russia would probably be on the side of the American right, while there is no foreign great power that would obviously intervene to help the American left.
What would be the consequences of a rightist victory in that kind of civil war? Lots and lots of people would die, many more of them on the left than on the right. Nonwhites, religious minorities, and suspected leftist sympathizers would be the victims of many massacres. Right-wing paramilitaries would rape many leftist and minority women, as in Spain. The U.S. economy would crater, hurting red and blue America alike. A dysfunctional, repressive regime would set in, with atrocities probably continuing for decades. The country might break up, or might eventually have a Spain-like democratic restoration, but the U.S. would be a much poorer country and certainly a second-rate global power. (As for me, if I'm still alive, I'll be in Canada or Australia or Japan writing angry, drunken blog posts denouncing the right and lamenting the fall of America - like Pablo Picasso, but without the artistic talent.)
I think many on the intellectual, elite left in America fail to realize this danger, or the probability of this scenario. From most left-leaning intellectuals I see only increasing stridency and demands for ideological purity. I see increasing demands that anyone affiliated with the left denounce the founders of the U.S. as white supremacists, paint American history as one of genocide and atrocity, and see politics mostly through the lens of identity. Even on the center-left, there is an increasing tendency to paint all Republican voters as irredeemable racists, who can only be overcome by the weight of demographic numbers.
I worry about this stridency. I worry that this attitude, and these tactics, depend crucially on the assumption that we live in a constitutional, democratic regime that is so unshakably stable that raised fists, angry op-eds, and the ballot box will always be able to prevail. I worry that they have forgotten Mao's adage that "power grows out of the barrel of a gun," and that the other side - as the sides are currently drawn - has all the guns.
Does this mean I think the left should buy guns, join the U.S. military en masse, and prepare to win a civil war? Well, I think greater military participation by those on the left wouldn't be a bad thing, for any number of reasons, but overall, no. I think that realistically, there's no way for the American left to reach military parity with the American right in the next few decades. And since a civil war would be so devastatingly bad for everyone in America (as it was for Spain), it should be avoided for the sake of all Americans, not just the prospective losers.
Instead, I think the left should focus on reaching out and broadening its tent. Instead of relentlessly enforcing purity, I think the left should try to win over many of the folks who switched their votes from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.
If Paul Preston's book has one big weakness, it's that it ignores the normal people who fought for the right in the Spanish Civil War. There is endless discussion of the social conditions that led leftists to take up arms, but when it comes to the right, all of the focus is on Franco and the other military leaders. Yet Spain's right had more of the nation's populace on its side than did the left, and ordinary people joined Franco's army in large numbers. What drove these people to fight for Franco? Was it religion and tradition? Economic fear of the power of organized labor? I'll have to read more books to find out. But the point is, something drove all those people to support Franco.
Surely there are levers of persuasion, coalition, and rhetoric that could have been employed to bring some of those Spaniards over to the side of the left. And surely there are levers of persuasion, coalition, and rhetoric that could prevent large chunks of conservative America from supporting a rightist putsch, should it come to that. If the part of the American right willing to fight a civil war could be limited to the racist "alt-right", then those who stood for democracy, constitutionalism, and the continued existence of a free and lawful republic would surely prevail.