Violence Comes to the Liberal Elite

Will the Democratic Party finally embrace real antifascism to save themselves?

Emma Caterine
5 min readOct 31, 2022


I introduced my husband recently to the great musical Cabaret, which couples an iconic performance by Liza Minnelli with the rise of Nazism. Bourgeois bisexual Maximilian von Heune tells his friends “The Nazis are just a gang of stupid hooligans, but they do serve a purpose. Let them get rid of the Communists. Later we’ll be able to control them.” Protagonist Brian Roberts asks “But who exactly is we?” “Germany of course” responds Max.

Polycules have always been this messy.

The liberals of the United States have had a similar view of our own far right. For all the bluster over how the riot on January 6 was an unprecedented attack on democracy (it was not), Democrats have nevertheless continued to try to weaponize the MAGA movement for their own gain. That is why it is hard to take the outrage of Democratic pundits seriously now that the chickens have come home to roost and violence has appeared on their doorstop.

Max Boot of the Washington Post writes “Don’t blame both sides.” And yet here is the same Max Boot on February 29, 2020, writing that the “resemblances between the Trump far-right and the Bernie far-left are uncanny and scary.” Michael Tomasky over at The New Republic writes that “if democracy dies in this country, and if violence overwhelms discourse and the bullet replaces the ballot, the beating of Paul Pelosi and the right-wing reaction to it will be noted as a signal event in that decline in the history books.” Really? I understand Tomasky and his ilk need to sell papers (or rather, clicks), and Tomasky in particular cries the death knell of the republic in practically every column, but it seems particularly odd to say that this is the turning point rather than say the cold-blooded murder of Heather Heyer by a white supremacist and the disturbing response by President Donald Trump.

But of course the difference is Heather was a working class paralegal marching with socialists and other antifascists, while Paul Pelosi is a landlord, a venture capitalist, and married to one of the most powerful liberal politicians in the country. Political violence has been seen by liberal elites as unfortunate, even troubling, but it has never been pressing enough to their personal interests when the targets were, for example, working class Black people in a grocery store. To the contrary, those incidents are always de-politicized, since in the imaginations of the liberal elites politics is a game for the wealthy and connected rather than the overall movements of classes of people that shape the economy and society. But now one of these future great men of history has been attacked. So a question for socialists — will liberals become more receptive to the need for a united front boldly confronting fascism and its fellow travelers on the far right?

This socialist doubts it. Let’s return to the world depicted by Cabaret and see how things turned out there. Did the liberals of the Weimar Republic eventually realize that the Nazis would not stop with the Communists and would be coming for them as well? The man who officially brought Hitler to power was President Paul von Hindenburg, in some ways the ideal politician of your modern American centrist: independent of all political parties, coming out of military service, and valuing above all the preservation of law and order. Hindenburg had not been a Nazi collaborator. He opposed the Nazis’ various advocacy efforts prior to taking power, including as the Nazis began to collaborate more and more with conservative capitalists (such as the fight over the Young Plan). His grip on power, tenuous throughout his presidency, was only made possible through the Social Democrats, who did so to avoid elections that would have brought both Communists and Nazis to power.

As the Nazis power increased more and more, did President Hindenburg seek to create a united Left, even if that meant making entreaties to the dreaded Communists? Of course not. To the contrary, after failing to gain a required majority in 1932, Hindenburg bemoaned the loss of some center-right voters, stating “Despite all the blows in the neck I have taken, I will not abandon my efforts for a healthy move to the Right.” The Social Democratic government in Prussia (and again, the Social Democrats had often been the only thing keeping Hindenburg in power) was removed for allegedly failing to keep law and order.

The Democrats lost 2016 because of their unfathomable arrogance, the idea that they could simply anoint the next president regardless of how deeply unlikeable she was. This same arrogance will compel them, even as the violence has arrived on their doorstep, to stay the course. Centrist darling Jonathan Chait, who once wrote that antifa was impossible to distinguish from white supremacist militias, says that the attack on Paul Pelosi has a straightforward solution for elites — more security — but the threat to the rest of us “does not lend itself to any easy solution, not least because one of the two major parties has neither the incentive nor the desire to do anything about it.” While the disdain for normal people here is grotesque, there is something morbidly amusing in elites thinking that more security easily solves the problem for them, similar to those recent reports about billionaires planning for the apocalypse and how they will maintain authority over their security forces.

Jonathan Chait, seen here in need of better security.

President Hindenburg had similar faith that the Germany army would heed his call to stop the Nazis — instead we got the Night of the Long Knives, which while indeed was an internal purge should not be forgotten to have also been a purge of many of the liberal centrists standing in Hitler’s way like Kurt von Schleicher (who had bluffed to Hitler that he would organize a united front against him), Edgar Jung, Erich Kausener, and members of the Centre Party. But liberals have little regard for history as anything other than the tales of great and heroic individuals, so this lesson will almost certainly be ignored, and others will continue to be like Jonathan Chait and have faith that they can buy security as they shed crocodile tears for the working class people increasingly massacred by far right thugs.

So are the liberals a lost cause? I would argue the liberal elites are. But the every day person who identifies as a “liberal,” the loyal Democrat voter, the average New Yorker or for that matter the average Birminghamian, those are the people we need to build a united front with. The idea of a united front may seem unpalatable to those on the far left given its association with vapid slogans like “Vote blue no matter who,” and that is all the more reason why socialists need to lead the charge on a popular united front outside of the voting booth and into the streets to fight back against the rise of right wing violence. There are examples for us to draw from, both historical and just a hemisphere away.



Emma Caterine

Feminist socialist writer fighting for econ justice. Views do not represent my firm, DSA, or my cats, who are sadly both ultra leftists.