The Farce in Washington
by Gennady Shkliarevsky
Karl Marx once remarked: “History repeats itself. First time as tragedy and second time as farce.”
Many decades ago, in 1933, at the beginning of the Nazi era, the Nazis organized what was later proven to be a ploy. They staged an arson attack on the Reichstag building—home of the German parliament. In order to make their ploy look legitimate, they decided to try this case in a German court. This infamous trial became known in history as “The Reichstag Fire Trial.”
The Nazis alleged that a Dutch communist Marius Van der Lubbe who set the Reichstag building was a member of the Communist International and that he acted on orders of this international communist organization. In addition to Van der Lubbe, Bulgarian communists Georgi Dimitrov (head of the Communist International), Blagoi Petkov, and Vasil Tanev became co-defendants in this case. The Nazis made every effort to widely publicize this trial to serve their political goals. High Nazi officials, including German Goering, testified in this trial.
Dimitrov understood very well the biased political nature of this trial. So he chose to defend himself rather than rely on legal counselors. Dimitrov’s defense was brilliant. He proved that Van der Lubbe had no connection to the Communist International and, therefore, could not act on the orders of this organization and that if Van der Lubbe indeed set the Reichstag on fire, he acted on his own.
The court recognized the validity of Dimitrov’s arguments and facts that he presented in court and, as a result, acquitted the three Bulgarians. The court convicted Van der Lubbe as the sole perpetrator of this crime and sentenced him to execution.
The trial became a huge embarrassment for the Nazis. The world understood very well the intent that the Nazis had on organizing this ploy. In the wake of the trial, Hitler and the Nazis passed the Enabling Act that led to the suspension of civil liberties, the ban on practically all political parties, and the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship.
What we witness in America today looks increasingly as a farce—but a farce not devoid of consequences. The attack on the Capitol building increasingly looks like a ploy organized to suppress millions of Americans who want to have their voice heard and enjoy their freedom. History will show who the true enemies of freedom are in this case.
Gennady Shkliarevsky is Professor Emeritus at Bard College, New York