Theoretical Discussion-- Huey P. Long


#1

So just an off-topic theoretical history discussion here as I’m going to see the play “All the King’s Men” tonight, one of my favorite books. It got me thinking, what would happen if Huey P. Long wasn’t assassinated and actually managed to escalate in American politics? Do you think he could get the presidency? Better yet, what if he became president?

The book “It Can’t Happen Here” is often seen as a radical example but what do you guys think?


#2

@RockBou Before I begin, I’d like ot say that personally, I view “It Can’t Happen Here” as some of the worst sort of Drek imaginable. I’ve always viewed Sinclair Lewis as something of a royal Idiot and a closet totalitarian so it’s definitely somewhat personal, but when you really get down to it It Can’t Happen Here should be properly seen as something like an ideological masturbation session like “The Iron Dream” so lovingly skewered. As someone whose family has suffered very directly at the hands of Actual American Capital-F Fascists (namely Mussolini’s fanclub over here in the States and back in Italy, amongst others) as well as Lewis’s comrades in arms, I can only spit at it and at the sack of flesh that was the man and hold pure hatred in my heart for both extremes.

But really, it’s not really that useful as a guideline for a possible Huey Long regime or rise to power because it frankly sucks at geopolitics and reality.

Let me explain. When you really get down to it, it’s Lewis doing for Socialism what the “Left Behind” series did for fundamentalist Protestantism, the first chapters of the Turner Diaries did for White Supremacism, and *insert survivalist fantasy here* did for the Militia movement. It’s the great victimization fantasy, whereupon the last bastion of sanity and morality (which conveniently fits *perfectly* with the author’s politics and ideology; no messy moral grays or working together with people you despise personally against forces that wish to destroy all of you existentially) is threatened by a conveniently all-consuming force that *Oh so Conveniently* fits everything and anything the author holds to be wrong *exactly* (again, no evil force using at least part of which they themselves might hold dear, or making lucid points to justify the unjustifiable). The reason these sorts of fictions aren’t very helpful when gaming out or theorizing actual circumstances is that they suck out most if not all of the realism on the issue. It tends to rely on overly contrived or two dimensional characters in order to make a point, it tends to be more focused on seeing what it wants to see in the ideologies and individuals at play rather than what’s actually there, and it above all makes royal hash of everything from politics to the military to strategy and tactics.

What Lewis really never could even consider owning up to is the environment that bred Fascism and its’ affiliated movements, and what went into them. To put it bluntly, they were Far Right-Far Left B@stard children that got their start in fallout of WWI courtesy of the Bolshevik revolution on one hand and things like German militarism and the tinges of Cadorna’s military dictatorship in Italy on the other. Without the interplay of both extremes- and more often than not the pre-emptive attempts to bowl the entire situation over by radical Internationalist Socialists (like Lewis but with a gun and the will to use it) in the vein of the Soviet Union causing Socialists of a Nationalist persuasion and the hard right to find common ground- we really wouldn’t get the movement we saw. We’d probably get something somewhat similar as the constituencies that were attracted by Fascism went elsewhere with their biases, but we wouldn’t get Fascism as we’d ID it.

Long would have never have come to totalitarian power like Windrip did, primarily because absolutely nobody *could* come to totalitarian power like Windrip did barring a sort of mercurially long-arse chances that one’d almost have to be a perfect, flawless villain to pull off. This isn’t because Democratic Republicanism or the United States are uniquely immune to the charms of a strongman, but merely because of simple reality. Even if one personally assumes that the United States of the Great Depression was just brewing with people slavishly seeking out a totalitarian strongman (a premise I personally doubt), that alone isn’t enough to make what we see in the movie *remotely* feasible. The most likely result is that by the time Windrip started his proper reign of tyranny with the outlawing of opposition and the formation of the minutemen, he’d have had a massive alliance of forces- Massive, ranging from those Communists and Fascists that would be opposed to him to the traditional classical Liberal middle- join forces to destroy him with overwhelming force.

We know this because we saw the pattern repeat itself *numerous* times throughout history, and in particularly throughout the early 20th century. The initial Bolshevik coup attempts were thwarted by a hodge podge alliance of “Everybody but the Bolsheviks and Central Powers” until the combination of Lenin and Trotsky’s reorganization, the screwup Kerensky Offensive, and the Kornilov Crisis let them get lucky in November. The attempt by various Italian Communist, Internationalist Socialist, and left-wing Anarchist radicals to seize power by force after WWI alienated most Italian socialists before they were crushed by the lawful government and some militias that also opposed said move. Including the nascent Fascists (who gained their first real legup from these events). The Spartakist Putsch in Germany utterly fell apart because the various Nationalists of different stripes had most of the resources and power from the old Empire and hated the idea of a Bolshevik-style revolution more than they hated Weimar and each other, while the moderates in Weimar found it better to force the elites to accept its’ legitimacy and right to rule (at last nominally). Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch collapsed because he was betrayed by his equally authoritarian but epically self-interested co-conspirators. Roehm’s SA followed the Spartakists in making themselves so obnoxious and such a large threat that everybody but them hated them more than they hated each other. I could go on,and on, and on. But the Windrip model requires one to believe US democracy at the time not only had the vitality of a brown paper bag, but also that every single other major player was too enthralled to break Wind (hurr) like the twig he was at the time. Huey Long’s not getting into power that way; he’d made too many entrenched enemies to have a gamble like that succeed.

Instead, I figure that Long’s best chance is to play like the Spanish Communists did in the Popular Front, the Italian Fascist Party, and the post-Beer Hall Nazis did as part of their electoral campaign. Make a relatively broad alliance of forces that agree more with Long than they do with Roosevelt- regardless of their personal political orientation- and use them as a wedge to slowly pry at electoral power through the ballot box. Once he’s got enough power, slowly sideline the old allies while trying not to outright alienate them and especially not their voter base. And of course, never let a crisis go to waste. Once he’s got that, he can start thinking about actually consolidating his grip on power.

But make no mistake, it’d be majorly difficult to do even if he got that far, and he’d still have a long political and legal fight to wage to cement his rule,and it’s all too possible the entrenched Liberal Conservatives and Conservative Liberals would use their greater resources and traditions to fund a rollback if he goes too far. But it would at least make a totalitarian regime under him possible. That’s the most likely way it Can Happen here; not whatever Lewis spewed out.


#3

As much as this conversation actually interests me, it’s a little far afield, and I’m closing the thread.


#4

@jasonstevanhill Pardon me for asking, but how so exactly? The subject matter itself, or my prior handling of it?

Also, since it looks like I sort of shortcharged the purpose of the discussion, I’d say the ultimate effect of Long assuming power would be the US more or less facing the weakening of the Constitution and the rule of law. Once you have that precedent in place, you’re going to have a heck of a time rubbing it off. In particular, look to the Supreme Court as a likely bastion of resistance; if they had issues with Roosevelt they would *hate* Long and his incredibly obvious abuses of power and as a result their rulings would help unite opposition to baby Huey and provide symbolic legitimacy to it.

That being said, I personally doubt Huey Long had the ability to go all the way. He was basically a Louisiana political animal with some national constituency, and he made such a career going after the established system that I don’t think he’d find enough support to maintain a Presidential bid.