Sunday, July 28, 2019


A few days ago, I took part in a panel at the Center for Political Education in San Francisco. It was one session of a class on "Countering the Right", and it looked back at the fascist conquests of Ethiopia and Spain in the 1930s. The participants were mostly young, a majority women and men of color, lively and very engaged. I had some difficulty reading my short talk on Spain, even in 20pt type, and questions had to be repeated for me. But I enjoyed the whole thing thoroughly.....

legacy of  "premature anti-fascism"

An advantage of being old is that you lived through historic events that happened before most people were born, and you remember some of them vividly if you shared them with people who were close to you.  I was 14 years old and in high school when the Spanish Civil War broke out. I had close friends, some only a few years older than I, who joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and fought in Spain.  I remember the wife of Dewitt Parker sitting in our kitchen, being comforted by my mother day after day as she waited for news.  Dewitt never came back, he died in Spain.  I met Wilfred Mendelson when I went to a summer camp school on politics of the day, much like the one you’re attending tonight.  He was only a few years older than I, a student at City College of New York (CCNY).  He didn’t come back either.  An older friend, George Watt, did come back.  He was one who was able to swim the Ebro River in the last days of the war to escape Franco’s conquering army.  George later volunteered to fight in World War Two; he was shot down over France, where he was rescued by the French Resistance.

Why was the Spanish Civil War so important and why do its lessons register so strongly today?  Spain is considered the beginning of World War II, not so acknowledged by most people at the time, and the people who volunteered to defend the Spanish Republic are often called "premature anti-fascists".  Mussolini had already carried out his bloody conquest of Ethiopia.  That didn’t wake up the world, and much of the world was still in denial about fascism when Mussolini and Hitler sent their bombers and tanks to help Franco set up a brutal dictatorship that lasted for years after the end of World War II.

The world paid dearly for not waking up on time to the nature of fascism, for allowing Ethiopia and Spain to fall under the fascist boot.  For many years, actually through the first phase of the second world war, the major governments of the West -- Britain, France and our own USA -- were more focused on the “red scare,” the election of a leftist popular front democracy in Spain than they were on Hitler, Mussolini and Franco.  These governments and the League of Nations chose so-called “neutrality” which was actually a policy to blockade and strangle Spain while the fascists poured in their military might and turned Spain into their war games rehearsal for world war.  A man named Litvinof, the USSR's representative to the League of Nations, had a different message.  It was called “collective security.”  The thrust was that countries and governments, whether they be capitalist or socialist, liberal or  progressive, should unite to stop fascism.  It took quite a few years and a holocaust of many millions of lives from many nations before Litvinof’s formula took hold.

The world learned about the nature of fascism in the last century.  But current events urgently call for reeducation.  The danger of fascism grows out of the deepest problems of our society, out of a system in which greed and super-wealth dominate at the expense of human needs and rights.  It brings to power the most reactionary multi-billionaires.  While it is hardest on the poorest and most oppressed, its racist, nativist, misogynist divisiveness makes it an extreme threat to the broadest segments of society as a whole.That means that defeating fascism requires not only the courageous persistence of those communities under attack and their supporters, but it requires the broadest possible united efforts among people whose opinions and even interests are bound to differ.  That’s one of the lessons, the most important one, that’s left to us by the "premature anti-fascists" of the 1930s. If that proved essential when fascism threatened from abroad, it's as crucial today when the menace is emerging on home terrain.

Some historians of the Spanish Civil War focus on ideological conflict  between various factions of communists, socialists and anarchists. That conflict on the Left surely cast a shadow over those times. But 80-plus years later, what inspires is the  heroism of the Spanish people and the many volunteers who came from many lands to fight and die alongside them. The big story is the legacy left to us by the "premature anti-fascists" of the 1930s.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


In response to yesterday's blog,Trump's 2020 Launch, a reader sees it differently: 


Much as I wish it were otherwise I have to disagree with your main point.

Trumpism, along with its international versions, is a pernicious threat to democracy in the United States and in the world. It has already destroyed much of our national civic understanding, and Trump's re-election would be a true disaster from which we would not likely ever recover.

Yes, Trump is using McCarthyite tactics to frighten and divide the Democratic Party. And he has succeeded. I'm scared out of my wits that he may be re-elected.  And the way to assure his re-election is for the Democrats to continue to gratuitously feed him ammunition for his scare tactics. I believe that Tom Friedman is right that we need to put off any discussion of a progressive (let alone socialist) agenda until after we have gotten him out of there.

I believe that much of the progressive agenda is highly worthy, but it will require more time than remains before the election to convince the majority of voters. We can't afford to turn off the large number of voters who don't like Trump but who are scared (or can easily be scared off by Trump's tactics) of anything that sounds like socialism.  

It is absolutely critical that Trump be repudiated (and by a large majority), and we need to do everything we can to make that happen. 

My reply:

Thanks, Andy.
I don't think your note and my blog are necessarily incompatible. The intensity of our conviction that Trump must go, and our fears about the danger of his re-election, are certainly equal. Our differences have more to do with perceptions of political reality and of the challenges leading up to the election. Even if I agreed with Friedman that democrats should postpone discussing big ideas thatTrump will exploit to paint the Democratic Party "red" -- is that a realistic prospect? You can't wave a wand and have everyone from Sanders and Warren to AOC and Omar conform to Friedman's restrictions.

 There is an option for the undoubtedly sizable number of democrats who share Friedman's view, namely, pick a "centrist" presidential candidate like Joe Biden. That presents its own risks and problems worth examining at another point. But the Democratic Party is evolving as society's problems deepen. It is more and more diverse. It can never be monolithic in thinking or action. That's reality, and it does make things difficult and complicated, but far from hopeless.

We can have a realistic hope that all democrats will make it their priority to expose and oust Trump, and to get out the largest possible majority vote. That’s the only way to win. True, we can lose if “centrists” and “progressives” are each in their own ways tone deaf to the needs and possibilities that connect with voters -- or if they choose to fall into fighting each other over who lost the election well before it takes place. 

If overreach is the danger as Friedman fears, another losing formula is timidity and intimidation. We can’t let Trump’s McCarthyism bully us into a sort of conformity, where ideas, public discourse, vision and inspiration are put on hold. We can’t surrender to our fears our confidence in a strong democratic majority. A self-censored, enfeebled Democratic Party is just the ticket for Trump. 

No one can be sure, but I think the outlook will improve as the nominating process unfolds. Trump may whip up his crowds, but his racism and bizarre behavior are daily more exposed. It’s surely a time for alarm, but not for losing confidence.

Thursday, July 18, 2019


  • It wasn’t a surprise, but this week Trump took off the wraps on his 2020 election strategy. Racist incitement against immigrants now extends to mob chants of “send her back” against four members of Congress, women of color and citizens of the USA. And that is parlayed into Trump’s relaunching of McCarthyism, the “red scare”, to condemn the Democratic Party as “unAmerican”.
  • All the boasts and distortions about Trump’s economic performance will be called on, but that won't suffice. His weapons of choice are racial tropes to inflame his fans and a  McCarthyite assault on the Democratic Party. He hopes to frighten and split the Democratic Party while he keeps the GOP together in subservience to him.
  • Tom Friedman has set off a chorus of alarm, understandably horrified by what Trump’s reelection would mean for America and the world. He’s right that how the Democrats campaign in the months ahead is crucial. But all-out war between “centrist and progressive” democrats would just give Trump his best chance. History has lessons, too often forgotten. Divide and conquer is the formula; keep the opposition divided and at each other’s throats.

Democrats and a majority of voters who want Trump out are never going to speak with one voice, except on that imperative. Nor should they. We need debate, we need dissent, we need ideas and fresh thinking more than humankind ever has. We can’t let Trump frighten us into surrendering our exercise of public discourse.

Is there a way to keep a relentless focus on ousting Trump while preventing  differences of opinion and outlook from fracturing a winning democratic coalition?

It's difficult and complicated, but we can hope that some of the following attitudes take hold. There has to be mutual and genuine respect for everyone's commitment to defeating Trump whether calling themselves "liberal" or "progressive" or without a label. As far as I'm concerned, that goes for Friedman even though I disagree with his suggested course. It also should go for most of the potential nominees who advocate significant social change rather than settling for an illusary return to pre-Trump "normalcy". Some have already begun to have an impact on public consciousness and  concern about income inequality, climate change and job creation, the many dimensions of racism, and more. Some have brought to center stage the obligation of the superwealthy to give back a share to lower the income gap and fund public advances in critical areas of human need.

 Friedman advises tabling big ideas until after the election is won. Obama proved that a vision is critical to winning. His experience also proved that the vision won't guide the ship out of the harbor as long as it is anchored to the military-industrial-finance complex and is the target of GOP sabotage.

So let's not let Trump scare us into self-censorship of thought , speech and hope. We can survive differences of opinion. Democracy can't survive without them.

Meanwhile, solidarity calls out to every decent human being. Whatever bent or persuasion, we can't be silent while immigrant families are brutalized in prison camps. We can't allow the four Congress women to stand alone while incitement to racist violence flows from the White House into into Trump's raging election spectacles.

Given the circumstances and the time of day, it should be expected that common ground can be found across the wide democratic political spectrum whoever wins the nomination. So may it be with a clear public majority. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018


Some weeks back, an unexplained technical problem kept me from posting two op-eds on this blog site. Here they are with the original dates:

Thursday, June 28, 2018


These last couple of weeks in June may be marked as the time our government crossed the red line from a flawed democracy to a dangerous autocracy. The time to ask “Can It Happen Here?” is past. It Is Happening Here.

Despite the fact that most Americans view him unfavorably and that many fear and despise him, Trump is making headway. The Supreme Court, which was further rigged by the GOP’s sabotage of Obama’s nominee and Trump’s addition of Gorsuch, gives Trump a reliable 5-4 majority. That majority has now given a green light to Trump’s most abominably racist immigration policies and practices. In the bargain, that majority simultaneously sanctioned extreme rightist policies against abortion rights, for voter restriction via gerrymander, and for the financial crippling of labor unions. Thus the high court, which some viewed as the ultimate  defense against an American dictatorship, gives a bow to Trump’s claims of unlimited power. With Justice Kennedy’s resignation, Trump can further cement his hold on a Supreme Court majority.

A tyrant cannot rule without without violating human rights and cracking down on dissent. Be warned.  The “zero tolerance” assault on immigrant families, the saga of brutal and inhuman separations, the scattering and incarceration of young children, the complete denial of democratic norms— all this viciousness reveals how Trump, Giuliani, and Sessions might plan to deal with a democratic opposition, especially those dissenters who are black or brown. Trump’s anti-immigrant hysteria parallels the targeting of Jews from the earliest days of the rise of fascism in Europe.

Against this backdrop, blaming Rep. Maxine Waters and other angry dissenters for a “climate of incivility” is shamefully misplaced. The bully relishes playing the “victim”. No doubt protest, however reasoned or emotional, can be twisted to evoke backlash. But what kind of people would we be if no angry voices were raised when families and helpless children are abused by our own government, or when unarmed black men are so often shot dead by police?

The fact is that only an aroused majority can secure democracy and save America. No majority can speak and act as one. But a lot is going on around the country, There is diverse and ever growing resistance, both in forms of protest and bold electoral activity. New energy rising from women and youth, from people of color, may yet move mountains. Persistence and unity of purpose have pulled us through dark times before. It can happen again. 

Friday, July 27, 2018


The President of the United States should communicate directly and often with the heads of state of Russia and China. The problem is that the President of the United States is Donald Trump. A majority of Americans, with good reason, don't trust him or Putin.

The inevitable frenzy over Trump’s strange interaction with Putin is itself muddying the waters. It could provide seeming support for extended cold war and the ultimate risk of nuclear war. That peril is almost totally ignored in the flood of warranted criticism of Trump’s disastrous European trip and joint news conference with Putin.

Salvaging our eroding democracy and creating conditions for peace surely requires ending Trump’s reign before it’s too late. Required also is the need to see complex issues in a context bigger than Donald Trump. Prospects for preventing a nuclear third world war have been on shaky footing since the end of World War II. The behavior of the leading world powers did not become benign, less driven by imperialist ambitions that led to World War I and fueled the rise of fascism that brought on World War II. Rather, the fear of “mutually assured destruction” kept the ultimate war of nuclear annihilation at bay, although it wasn’t enough to prevent an ongoing plague of regional wars, most of them involving our military. And Trump now threatens to start a new war against Iran.

We are not yet close to a peaceful “world order” in which governments cooperate on priorities of human and planetary survival, especially ending the threat of nuclear annihilation and coping effectively with climate change. It’s hardly possible to conceive such a turn of events without striving to achieve fundamental economic and social changes in society, but let’s stay with the subject at hand: how to view and respond to the outrage over the Trump-Putin performance.

In brief, here’s my take:

1. Putin hacked our 2016 election in favor of Trump. We have a right to be angry and alarmed and to try to prevent any repeat in 2018 and 2020. The Mueller investigation may thoroughly expose Trump’s corruption and contribute to bringing him down. We don’t have reason to be “shocked” when it’s noted that undercover and overt interference to undermine other governments (including coups, assassinations and direct military intervention) has been SOP in US foreign policy and intelligence operations. Whatever the differences in the nature of governments, neither Russia nor the US has a valid claim on respect for the sovereignty of other nations. 

2. What we can’t afford is to have hawks call the tune, be they conservatives or liberals. The risks are too great to permit self-righteous nationalist fevers to dominate foreign policy. Never has it been more important to maintain communications and seek mutual efforts to reduce tensions between the world’s  great nuclear powers.

Sunday, October 28, 2018


(Below is a talk I gave on Monday, Oct. 29th on the UC Berkeley campus. Old veterans of Berkeley's 1964 Free Speech Movement  sponsored a get-out-the vote rally. By agreement, speakers were not to single out particular candidates or parties.):

I’m Leon Wofsy, Emeritus Professor of Immunology in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. I joined the Berkeley faculty in 1964 just a few months before the Free Speech Movement erupted. I agreed with and supported the student protesters and soon came to know and admire Mario Savio and many others for their courage and integrity. I also formed close friendships with other faculty defenders of free speech, especially with two bright and principled young History professors who were closest to the students in age and spirit, Reggie Zelnik and Larry Levine, both of whom, like Mario Savio, died much too young. Howard Schachman, Professor of Biochemistry, and I came together at these steps on the morning the students who occupied Sproul Hall were hauled off under arrest. We arranged a faculty meeting for that evening which formed the Committee of 200 that supported the students and eventually helped fashion the terms of the historic victory for Free Speech on this campus. I’ll leave it to Professor Charlie Sellers, who was a major co-author of that Free Speech testament, to say more about those days of protest and activism that are so relevant to today’s urgent effort to get out a massive vote.

In my very long life, 97 years so far, I’ve seen many assaults on democracy and free speech. A childhood experience was the arrest and brutal beating inside the Stamford Connecticut police station of my father and twelve others who rallied for unemployment insurance during the Great Depression. There were the lynchings of returning African-American vets and their brides in Augusta, Georgia after World War II; later on the murder of Emmet Till, and, to this day, wanton police killings of unarmed youths. There was the shameful period of McCarthyism and a recurring history of bigoted attacks on immigrants, gays and ethnic minorities. But whenever democracy was challenged and in danger, people rose to the challenge, especially as new generations of young people led the way.

The American Civil Liberties Union has a get out the vote slogan: “Vote as if your rights depend on it!” They might well say “as if lives depend on it!”  After the events of this last week, the mail bombings and the mass murder of Jews in a synagogue, sanity requires a serious take on where we are, what’s at stake and why a massive voter turnout is a historic necessity. Democracy is clearly in crisis, here and elsewhere around the world. For us, the danger to democracy may be greater than at anytime since the Civil War. For your generation it is certainly a matter of rights and lives, your lives and the life of the planet, The challenge is nothing less than to reverse the descent into authoritarianism and violence. It is to help bring about a time when the first priorities of government, ours and many others, are to cope decisively with climate change, poverty, and the threat of nuclear catastrophe. It may take more than one generation, but it starts with the millions of young people, women and men, Black, Latino, and all others who are going extra miles to get out the vote across the country. Rights and lives do depend on it!

Friday, May 11, 2018


When Trump proclaimed US withdrawal from the Iran agreement, he was signaling the birth of a new Axis. 

Netanyahu was quick to hail the partnership, which he had lobbied for vigorously, with a flurry of bombs on Syria. So it's the United States of Trump and Bolton, and the extremist right-wing hawks now in charge in Israel, together with royalist Saudi Arabia. They are heading for war on Iran, going beyond the existing wars in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, They are choosing the path of  bullying, aggression, greed and recklessness that brought about two world wars.

For the time being, Trump’s bombastic threats against North Korea of nuclear devastation “like the world has never seen” have subsided as joint initiatives by South and North Korea have created a more hopeful climate for resolving chronic antagonisms. 

Of course the USA wields enormous global power although winning or even ending wars has long ceased to be a hallmark of that power. Trump can’t change declining US dominance by loudly heralding “America First”, but he can create great and lasting havoc. He will exploit jingoism and war to further authoritarian rule even though a majority of Americans hold him in contempt. 

It’s awful to see America as the spearhead of a new Axis. But wars are an inevitable byproduct of the fascistic path to which the Administration is committed. The question has become: Will the Trump-GOP cabal be ousted before it’s too late?

Friday, January 19, 2018


In recent weeks my blog has been silent more often than not. I'm not quite ready to close down officially because the urge to say my piece might still take over from time to time. The problem is essentially technical, the intrusion of old age on my ability to read and type comfortably. I'm essentially pretty able and well for 96+. But macular degeneration has progressed to the point where I can no longer read a newspaper or book effectively. I still do a lot of reading by magnifying text on the iPad (books) and Mac (news and email), Anyway, as most people my age discover, seriously diminished eyesight and hearing is a life changing experience. 

Right now, with this note, I'm experimenting using the dictation program on my computer. It's amazingly good, but far from ideal. Some of the mistakes are good for a laugh: for example, my first try at the phrase “good for a laugh” came out “our grapefruit left”.