Holocaust/Fascism

Review: The Unfathomable Ascent-How Hitler Came to Power-by Peter Ross Range- Little, Brown and Company (August 11, 2020) 464 pages.

"Hitler pounded out Mein Kampf " with two fingers on his little typewriter."[1]

"If twelve or fifteen thousand Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas . . . the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain."

—Adolf Hitler,  Mein Kampf

"Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him to remain unknown to him. Otherwise, it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence, he imagines false or apparent motives." [2]

"When a state turns fascist, it does not only mean that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance with the patterns set by Mussolini – the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role – but it means, primarily and above all, that the workers' organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism".

Leon Trotsky, What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat[3]

When researching for this review, my first thought was did we need another biography of Hitler?. At the last count, it was estimated that there were nearly twenty thousand biographies, but this book changed my mind. Ross Range's political biography is an extremely well researched and thought-provoking political analysis of how Hitler came to power.

I want to say that I have been following Ross Range's work for decades and that this was my area of expertise, but I would be lying. I was drawn to this book by the extremely interesting and important interview with Ross Range by David North on behalf of the World Socialist Website[4]. Significantly, Mr Range agreed to the interview, although he does not share the political views of the World Socialist Website, it is a sign that broad layers of the middle class and, for that matter, the working class are starting to seek answers to today's problems through learning the lessons of the past.


It has not always been the case that the I.C.F.I. (International Committee of the Fourth International) has promoted, let alone sell, books of this sort on their media platforms. In the past, if a book was important for the development of the movement, it was discussed internally. In my own experience, I can remember one important book being discussed, and that was by Eric Hobsbawm's Nations and Nationalism.[5] I think this is an important change. The Marxist critique of the 1619 project is a hugely important event, and the collaboration with leading historians of the American revolution and the promotion of their books on Mehring Books[6] is extremely important and groundbreaking.

It is eighty-eight years since Hitler came to power. It would seem the purpose of  Ross Range's book is to learn the lessons of that period to prevent it from happening again.

President Paul von Hindenburg gave Hitler power. During his twelve years as German chancellor, as Peter Swartz eloquently points out, "the Hitler regime committed crimes never previously witnessed by mankind. It smashed the organized labour movement, subjected the country to a totalitarian dictatorship, destroyed Europe in an unprovoked war of aggression, and murdered millions of Jews, Roma and other minorities. January 30, 1933, was a historic turning point. Before then, barbarism and antisemitism had been considered traits of economic and cultural backwardness. In 1933, however, the elite of a country that was highly developed both economically and culturally handed over power to a barbaric anti-Semite whose party relied on the dregs of society.[7]

While predominantly a political biography of Hitler and the rise of German fascism, Ross Range does not shy away from showing the terrible economic crisis that paved the way for Hitler to come to power. As Peter Schwarz again points out, "The source of this crisis lay in the irresolvable contradictions of German and international capitalism. The consequences of World War I and the onset of the global economic crisis in 1929 had ruined broad layers of the working class and middle class. German society was deeply divided; democracy existed only in name. The Weimar Republic survived based on emergency decrees and presidential cabinets as it headed towards a social explosion".[8]

This book is a very rare breed in that it contains a masterful political analysis of the rise of Hitlerite Fascism. It has an almost novel-like pace which is the hallmark of good narrative-driven historiography. His book is meticulously researched. Ross Range has deep mined and ransacked many German archives, and many of his sources have been translated into English from the German originals, probably for the first time.

Many things separate Ross Range's work from other historiographies. He does not believe that Hitler's antisemitism was fully developed during his pre-war Vienna period. In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler said he was stimulated in his hatred of Jews because they were walking around Vienna, saying they were "an apparition in a black caftan and black hair locks".It is true that Hitler early on had a murderous hatred of Jews.

But as Konrad Heiden points out, Hitler "hated the whole great sphere of human existence which is devoted to the regular transference of energy into product; and he hated the men who had let themselves be caught and crushed in this process of production. All his life, the workers were for him a picture of horror, a dismal gruesome mass, everything which he later said from the speaker's platform to flatter the manual worker was pure lies".[9]

As David North points out in one of his earlier works, "Herein lies the key to an understanding of Hitler's demonic obsession with the Jews. In Mein Kampf, Hitler explained how his conversion to antisemitism flowed from his encounters with the labour movement. It was among the workers that Hitler first came into contact with Jews. He then discovered, to his amazement, that many Jews played prominent roles in the labour movement. "The great light dawned on him," wrote Heiden. "Suddenly, the 'Jewish question' became clear. … The labour movement did not repel him because it was led by Jews; the Jews repelled him because they led the labour movement. One thing is certain, Heiden concluded, "It was not Rothschild, the capitalist, but Karl Marx, the Socialist, who kindled Adolf Hitler's antisemitism."[10]

In his book 1924, Range quotes historian Othmar Plochinger stating that Hitler only started using antisemitism as a political weapon in Munich. Plochinger believes Hitler's antisemitism was "the winning horse in the existing political environment."8

Ross Range does not appear to subscribe to the "great man of history" genre and does not inflate Hitler's intelligence. However, he does make the point that Hitler learnt from his mistakes. According to Ronald Bleier", Hitler's flexibility "was due to a realistic self-appraisal of his extraordinary political, administrative, and rhetorical abilities and his clear understanding of the turbulent politics in which he operated".

Ross Range shows in the book that everything was not plain sailing for the Nazi leader, and on many occasions, he could have been defeated, and his political career ended.

In a Time Magazine article, he elaborates, "Adolf Hitler did not have to come to power. Indeed, during his 13-year quest for leadership of Germany, he almost failed many times. In the end, however, his astonishing success showed how demagoguery could overcome potentially career-ending challenges—and profoundly change history. A determined strongman, not taken seriously by the elites but enabled by a core of passionate supporters, could bend events his way just as his country went into free-fall. Hitler's seemingly improbable ascent is an object lesson in the volatility of history.[11]

This is an extremely valuable book, and I highly recommend it. Ross Range proves that Hitler ascent to power was entirely fathomable. It is, however, not without faults. Ross Range says next to nothing on the betrayals of the worker's movement by Social Democracy and Stalinism. Hindenburg gave political power to a homicidal maniac to save German capitalism from revolution. The monstrous betrayals carried out by Stalinism, and Social democracy paved the way for Hitler to come to power without a single shot being fired.

As David north pointed out in the interview, Ross Range cannot write such a book, but it is down to the Fourth International to write such a book. This new work has to draw heavily on the political writings of the great Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky, whose writings are still prescient for today's political situation. One such book that does that is Why are they Back.

Speaking of the danger of a fascist movement today in Germany, Christoph Vandreier said, "The fascists are not a mass movement but are a hated minority. However, the ruling elite is once again promoting fascism and right-wing ideology in order to suppress opposition to its militarism and worsening social inequality. That is why an independent movement of the working class is the only way to fight this danger."

The working class must learn the lessons of this history. As the writer, Bertolt Brecht warned, "Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again."[12]

 

Notes

1. Peter Ross Range, 1924: The Year That Made Hitler (New York: Little, Brown, 2016), p. 224-225.2 Range, 224-225.

2. Why Are They Back? Historical Falsification, Political Conspiracy and the Return of Fascism in Germany, Christoph Vandreier-Mehring Books.

3. The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (Merit S.) Hardcover – December 1 1970

 

 

 

About the Author

Peter Ross Range is a world-renowned journalist and author of numerous books. In addition to The Unfathomable Ascent: How Hitler Came to Power (Little, Brown and Company, 2020), he is the author of 1924: The Year That Made Hitler (Little, Brown and Company, 2016).



[1] Despair and Triumph in Hitler's First Miracle Year: A Review-Essay on Peter Ross Range's 1924-by Ronald Bleier-http://desip.igc.org/Bleier-Range-Review.html

[2] Frederick Engels in the The Jewish Question, Abram Leon, The Jewish Question, Pathfinder Press, pp. 234-35

[3] https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1932-ger/next01.htm

[4] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/12/08/unfa-d08.html

[5] Nations and Nationalism Since 1780, Second Edition: Programme, Myth, Reality (Canto Classics) Paperback – 29 Mar. 2012

[7] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/02/pers-f02.html

[9] Konrad Heiden, Der Fuehrer, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1944), p. 58.

[10] The Myth of “Ordinary Germans”: A Review of Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners-https://www.wsws.org/en/special/library/russian-revolution-unfinished-twentieth-century/15.html#fn15

[11] https://time.com/5884522/hitler-ascent-lesson/

[12] Referring to Arturo Ui (representing Adolf Hitler), in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941)




Review: The Hitler Conspiracies: The Third Reich and the Paranoid Imagination, by Richard J Evans, Allen Lane, RRP£20, 288 pages.

Hitler Conspiracies is a solid, albeit conservative new book by historian Richard Evans. The book is a product of his work with the Conspiracy and Democracy project[1]. For the past five years, Evans has been the principal investigator on the research project. The Leverhulme Trust funds the project. He has two co-investigators, John Naughton and David Runciman. Evans also employed ten postdoctoral researchers. 

As Evans points out “conspiracy theory” can be used in a highly selective way. His new book concentrates on five conspiracy theories connected to the Nazi’s Third Reich. Evans attempts to demolish once and for all time a series of the myths like Hitler’s postwar life in South America, Rudolf Hess’s trip to Britain and three other Nazi theories. 

In his introduction, Evans states that the purpose of his book is to demolishes not only past false history but to oppose the growth of current conspiracies which predominantly surround the outbreak of COVID 19. There is indeed a serious problem as the growth of paranoia and pseudoscience as dangerous as the virus itself. Also dangerous is the “fake news” surrounding the US presidential campaign. As Evans writes “The puzzling complexities of politics and society are reduced to a simple formula that everyone can understand. In the internet age, “anyone can put out their views into the public sphere, no matter how bizarre they might be”. 

The fact that the myths and conspiracy theories associated with the Nazi’s are still going strong and need a historian of Evans calibre to demolish them after more than 70 years is still a shock to the system. As one writer put it “at times, it is possible to sense the exasperation felt by this eminent historian that he is having to bother devoting energy to dismantling the claims of those whose methods are so much less rigorous than his own”. 

Did Hitler Escape the Bunker 

One myth or lie associated with the Third Reich is the baseless theory that Adolf Hitler did not commit suicide in Berlin in 1945 but somehow made his escape to South America. “Despite all the evidence to the contrary, more book-length arguments for the survival of Hitler in Argentina have appeared in the 21st century than in the whole of the 55 previous years,” writes Evans. 

Perhaps even more strange is the fact that the Stalinists in the former USSR were the first to promulgate this lie after the Second World War. As a Wikipedia article points out “The myth that Hitler did not commit suicide, but instead escaped with his wife, was first presented to the public by Marshal Georgy Zhukov at a press conference on 9 June 1945, on orders from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. When asked at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 how Hitler had died, Stalin said he was either living “in Spain or Argentina.” In July 1945, British newspapers repeated comments from a Soviet officer that a charred body discovered by the Soviets was “a very poor double.” American newspapers also repeated dubious quotes, such as that of the Russian garrison commandant of Berlin, who claimed that Hitler had “gone into hiding somewhere in Europe.”This disinformation, propagated by Stalin’s government, has been a springboard for various conspiracy theories, despite the official conclusion by Western powers and the consensus of historians that Hitler killed himself on 30 April 1945. It even caused a minor resurgence in Nazism during the Allied occupation of Germany”.[2] 

It is not just books that lied about Hitler’s death. As Evans points out between   2015 to 2018, the History Channel showed a three-season television series, Hunting Hitler.[3] 

From a historical standpoint, the programme was a tissue of lies from start to finish. No attempt was made to address the irrefutable evidence of Hitler’s death put together by investigators. Their evidence was backed up in a West German court in the 1950s and made available to historians. The series was full of “innuendo, suggestion and invention”. Even more staggering is that this piece of television trash had on average 3m viewers. 

As Evans states in the book “The tissue of coincidences and connections they spin is no substitute for facts and a was a “conspiracy without conspirators” . 

Why Did Rudolf Hess Fly To Britain 

The fact that there is still uncertainty surrounding Rudolf Hess’s flight to Britain in 1941 is still hard to believe. Hess had a few psychological problems but then what Nazi did not. As David Shariatmadari points out “it quickly became clear that here was no great supply of military intelligence but a man beset by delusions and hypochondria, one whose political significance had, in any case, been on the wane for some time. His falling into Allied hands did offer, at a time when to talk of the “madness” of Nazism had become a cliché, the chance to explore the psychological underpinnings of the movement. Perhaps Hess, rather final, self-destructive step and were next seen in the dock at Nuremburg”.[4] 

From a political or more precisely geopolitical standpoint, Hess was seeking an alliance with Britain against the threat of Bolshevism. Whether or not he went on his own volition or was sent by Hitler is not important. Hess would have been aware that sections of the British ruling elite had very deep political sympathies with the Hitler regime and shared its deep-seated anti-Semitism and anti-communism. 

Protocols of the Elders of Zion 

The first conspiracy Evans deals with is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The ‘Protocols’ were an early-20th-century forgery alleging a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. Evans has tremendous knowledge of this particular conspiracy theory. Evans is a former Regius professor of history at the University of Cambridge and author of numerous works on Germany, including a three-volume history of the Third Reich. 

Evans believes that the Protocols played only a small part in Nazi anti-semitism and states that forgery was “rambling, chaotic and unstructured”. Evans is also correct to point out that anti-semitism was not just confined to Germany, other capitalist governments took advantage of the Protocols to espouse antisemitic prejudices. 

What Evans fails to mention in the book is that there was massive opposition to the rise of anti-Semitism and Fascism in general. It has been down to the Marxist movement to oppose the rise of anti-semitism where ever it has manifested itself. It is not for nothing that the 19th-century German socialist leader August Bebel called anti-semitism “the socialism of fools”. Babel believed like all Marxist’s that economic and social inequality was the product not of a Jewish conspiracy but the capitalist system. 

The principled struggle of the Marxist movement against anti Semitism largely passes Evans by. He is not interested in it. Perhaps, more importantly, is his steadfast refusal to take the field against the modern-day Nazi’s in Germany. Seventy-five years after the collapse of the Third Reich, a party led by apologists for Hitler and out-and-out Nazis is accepted by the ruling elite as a legitimate political development. Evans has written next to nothing on the phenomena. 

To ignore this development in his latest book is a mistake at best and a crime at worst. As David North and Johannes Stern point out “the use of the word “conspiracy” in explaining the rise of the AfD is entirely appropriate. The major difference between the AfD and the Nazis of the 1920s and 1930s is that this modern-day fascistic organization is not based on a mass movement. Arising out of a split with the CDU and FDP at the beginning of 2013, a large proportion of AfD members have been recruited directly from the state apparatus—above all from the military, judiciary and police. Most of their personnel were previously members of another establishment party”.[5] 

Who Burned Down the Reichstag 

Evans position on the fire is pretty clear. He believes the Nazi’s were taken by surprised by the fire and to blame them is a commie plot. He states “For Münzenberg and later Calic and the Luxembourg Committee, conspiracy theories came naturally in a Communist movement that had seen Stalin launch trials of plotters and saboteurs, just as he would soon stage the show trials that portrayed many leading Old Bolsheviks as part of a vast conspiracy to overthrow the Soviet Union. This tradition has long since come to an end, but it has been replaced with a new form of conspiracy theory in the internet age. Hett’s book is permeated by it: the Nazis conspired to burn down the Reichstag, Tobias conspired with ex-SS men to deny it, Krausnick and Mommsen conspired to deny the Nazis’ involvement”.[6] 

Evans dismisses the work of Alexander Bahar and Wilfried Kugel who sought to expose the Nazi’s complicity in the fire. The Nazi’s had been in power for less than a month when the fire conveniently broke out. The Reichstag fire was the excuse for persecution of Communist and Social Democratic workers, intellectuals and party leaders that had no parallel. 

Krugel and Bahar’s book The Reichstag Fire – How History is Created was the product of meticulous research. Their research had them make the first comprehensive evaluation of the 50,000 pages of the original court, state attorney office and secret police (Gestapo) files that had been locked away in Moscow and East Berlin until 1990. The result is an extraordinary piece of research containing an 800-page document. The authors argue that even the most circumstantial evidence points to the Nazi’s guilt in starting the fire. 

According to the review of the book carried out by the World Socialist Website, “The authors have thus succeeded in disproving a hypothesis that even today is still fairly widespread: that the Dutchman Marinus van der Lubbe was the sole perpetrator. They “base their evidence largely on original documents that are stored in public archives, but have not been evaluated up to now… The book contradicts in many ways all of the research reports that have been published so far on the Reichstag fire, based on what the authors say is the first thorough evaluation of all presently available relevant sources. In summary, the authors have succeeded after years of work in presenting a comprehensive chain of circumstantial evidence—albeit one that will only have a conclusive character for those readers who are prepared to take on the intellectual challenge presented by the often highly complex and convoluted aspects of this case of political crime.”[7] 

Bahar and Kugel do not believe that the fire was the result of a deranged loner they write: “As incontestable as it is that the Nazis benefited from the Reichstag fire and made skilful use of it in establishing their dictatorship, opinion remains divided as to who committed the deed. The communists accused by the Nazi authorities at the Reichstag Fire Trial in Leipzig were already ruled out in 1933 for obvious reasons: quite apart from the lack of evidence, the suicidal and thus nonsensical nature of such a deed was self-evident, despite Nazi propaganda to the contrary. So did Marinus van der Lubbe, the 75% vision-impaired Dutch radical left-wing communist arrested in the burning Reichstag set the fire on his own? Or were the culprits to be found among the Nazis?”. 

As Evans points out, responsibility for the Reichstag Fire is was a constant source of argument between German historians after the Second World War. Evans, in his new book sides with several prominent German historians who deny the guilt of the Nazis. 

To conclude, as was said at the beginning of this review, Evans new book is a solid piece of historiography. The lies surrounding the Nazis is a legitimate field of study, and so is for that matter the promulgation of fake news and modern-day pseudo myths on social media. It is nonetheless disturbing that Evans has said next to nothing on the rise of modern-day Fascism and its supporters. Maybe the kind people at the World Socialist Website could send him a review copy of Why Are They Back, Historical Falsification, Political Conspiracy, and the Return of Fascism in Germany by Christoph Vandreier. I doubt somehow he will take up the challenge.

 

[1] See http://www.conspiracyanddemocracy.org/

 

[2] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conspiracy_theories_about_Adolf_Hitler%27s_death

 

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunting_Hitler

 

[4] https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/culture/2012/08/rudolf-hess-and-comic-absurdity-fascism

 

[5] Sound the alarm! Political conspiracy and the resurgence of fascism in Germany -David North, Johannes Stern-14 February 2020

 

[6] The Conspiracists-Richard J. Evans- https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v36/n09/richard-j.-evans/the-conspiracists

 

[7] Alexander Bahar, Wilfried Kugel: Der Reichstagbrand – Wie Geschichte gemacht wird (The Reichstag Fire – How History is Created), edition q, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-86124-523-2, 864 pages, price: 68.00 DM

 

Review: Anti-Nazi Germans. (Marilyn Moos, Enemies of the Nazi State from within the Working Class Movement. Steve Cushion, German Volunteers in the French Resistance) 2020). 

 

“We examine at the actual activities of the rank and file anti-Nazi militants, and in the process, we shall be rescuing the memory of some heroic fighters who otherwise risk being lost from history”. 

Marilyn Moos & Steve Cushion 

“Worker-Communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions, you cannot leave for anywhere; there are not enough passports for you. Should Fascism achieve power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a frightful tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only unity in a struggle with the social-democratic workers can bring victory. Make haste, worker-Communists, you have very little time left”. 

Leon Trotsky 

There is a common theme in most of the historiography of the Nazi era, in that there was little or no resistance in Germany to the Nazis. A politically led amnesia made it comfortable for the British historian A. J. P. Taylor to agree with this lie safe in the knowledge that his extraordinarily inaccurate statement made in the 1960s would go unchallenged. 

There are some exceptions to this rule. The bourgeois media now and again find politically acceptable examples of bravery and resistance. Hans Fallada’s novel Every Man Dies Alone, which was published posthumously in 1947 is one such example. The novel was republished again as recently as 2009 and reviews were generally favourable. 

The novel is about a working-class Berlin couple who in a series of handwritten postcards call for resistance to the Nazis during the Second World War. The book has been adapted several times for film and television (in both East and West Germany during the 1960s and 1970s). 

Another example is that of Sophie Scholl. Scholl and her friends opposed the Nazis, and when they thought that Hitler could not survive much longer in office, they acted in the only manner open to them, they carried out secret but directed action. Their goal was the mass movement of workers against the regime. 

Despite the limitations of their first protest, only 100 leaflets were distributed they reached thousands with their views. The state reacted with a show trial, death sentences, and abrupt and immediate executions as a public deterrent. Both Scholl and Fallada are not mentioned in the above book. 

Both these examples reflect a strong interest in the era of Fascism and a craving for the truth about history. However, any general reader interested in this subject will have to search very hard for material that counters the lie that there was no working-class opposition to Hitler after 1933. 

Moos and Cushion’s book should be placed high on the reader’s list of publications on the subject of opposition to the Nazis. The book systematically records the extraordinary skill, bravery and selflessness of millions of men and women who opposed Fascism in Germany and elsewhere. Close to one million Communists and Social Democrats were jailed in Germany between 1933 and 1945, of whom 200,000 were killed. 

This book examines that resistance in two parts, one of the clearly stated aims of the book is to counter the current historiography that holds that not only was there no opposition to the fascists but according to the right-wing historian Daniel Goldhagen the working class were “Hitlers Willing Executioners”.[1] 

As David North explains in his critique of Goldhagen’s book:” The principal theme of Goldhagen’s book is easily summarised. The cause of the Holocaust is to be found in the mindset and beliefs of the Germans. A vast national collective, the German people, motivated by a uniquely German anti-Semitic ideology, carried out a Germanic enterprise, the Holocaust. The systematic killing of Jews became a national pastime, in which all Germans who were given the opportunity gladly and enthusiastically participated”.[2] 

Given that Goldhagen in a clear and calculated way went out of his way not to mention to socialist opposition to the Fascists, you would have thought Moos and Cushion would have said something about this in the book, or other examples of right-wing historiography such as Hitler’s Beneficiaries by Gotz Aly. 

It would be not very difficult to expose the lies and the right-wing nature of this historiography as As North does in his critique of Goldhagen he writes:” In Goldhagen’s book, the socialist movement is all but invisible. Not a single reference is to be found, in the course of this 622-page book, to Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle, August Bebel or Wilhelm Liebknecht. Not a word is to be found about the anti-socialist laws of 1878-90 implemented by the regime of Bismarck. 

The Social Democratic Party, the first mass party in history, which by 1912 held the largest number of seats in the German Reichstag, is mentioned only in passing. There is no reference to the 1918 revolution or the uprising of the Spartacus League. These omissions cannot be explained as an oversight. Goldhagen simply cannot deal with the German socialist movement because its historical existence represents a refutation of his entire theory. Yet without an examination of the emergence of the German socialist workers movement, it is impossible to understand the nature and significance of modern antisemitism”. 

Another strange absentee from the book is the leader of the Red Orchestra Leopold Trepper. Despite mentioning the RedOrchestra very briefly next to nothing is said of Trepper. Trepper despite the attacks of the Nazi’s and the Stalinist’s remained sympathetic to the Trotskyists. Trepper expressed his viewpoint very eloquently in his book he writes:” The glow of October was being extinguished in the shadows of underground chambers. The revolution had degenerated into a system of terror and horror; the ideals of socialism were ridiculed in the name of a fossilised dogma which the executioners still had the effrontery to call Marxism. 

And yet we went along, sick at heart, but passive, caught up in machinery we had set in motion with our own hands. Mere cogs in the apparatus terrorised to the point of madness, we became the instruments of our subjugation. All those who did not rise against the Stalinist machine are responsible, collectively responsible. I am no exception to this verdict. But who did protest at that time? Who rose to voice his outrage?. The Trotskyites can lay claim to this honour. Following the example of their leader, who was rewarded for his obstinacy with the end of an ice-axe, they fought Stalinism to the death, and they were the only ones who did. 

By the time of the great purges, they could only shout their rebellion in the freezing wastelands where they had been dragged in order to be exterminated. In the camps, their conduct was admirable. But their voices were lost in the tundra. Today, the Trotskyites have a right to accuse those who once howled along with the wolves. Let them not forget, however, that they had the enormous advantage over us of having a coherent political system capable of replacing Stalinism. They had something to cling to in the midst of their profound distress at seeing the revolution betrayed. They did not “confess,” for they knew that their confession would serve neither the party nor socialism.[3] 

During the period covered in Treppers book Germany was closer to revolution than it was to Fascism. It was only through the betrayal of both the KPD and SPD that enabled Hitler to come to power without a shot being fired. The criminal slogan put out by the Comintern was “After Hitler, Our Turn!”. The logic of this perspective was to lead the Stalinist to secure the Nazi-soviet pact leading one the main architects of this pact Walter Ulbricht to defend it saying “the main enemy in Germany is not Hitler but the anti-Fascist opponents of this Pact”.[4] 

The Hitler-Stalin pact was the high point of Stalinist’s treachery. During the early part of the 1930s, the Stalinists defended their treachery and criticised Trotsky’s call for a United Front. In May 1932, the British Daily Worker “condemn” the Trotskyists for their policy in Germany thus: “Significantly, Trotsky has come out in defence of a united front between the Communist and Social Democratic Parties against Fascism. No more disruptive and counter-revolutionary class lead could have been given at a time like the present.” 

Trotsky countered this treachery and cowardice warning the working class “Worker-Communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions, you cannot leave for anywhere; there are not enough passports for you. Should Fascism achieve power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a frightful tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only unity in the struggle with the social-democratic workers can bring victory. Make haste, worker-Communists, you have very little time left.[5] 

Leon Trotsky was one of only a handful of writers who sought to mobilise a still significant section of the German population who remained deeply opposed to Hitler and all his policies. Another notable writer is Daniel Guérin. Guerin published detailed work based on his visit to Nazi Germany.[6] 

The book does not spend an inordinate amount of space discussing the political issues arising from the rise of Fascism. However, it is very good at what happened to the communists and Socialist who were in opposition to the Nazi’s. 

The book catalogues numerous examples of the result of the betrayal of The German Communist Party and the SPD. Thousands of German Communist and Social democratic workers who opposed Hitlerite Fascism ended up in the concentration camps or were murdered upon capture. 

According to Gestapo records close to 800,000 Germans out of a population of more than 66 million were imprisoned for active resistance during the Nazi’s 12-year rule. In 1936, on one day alone 11,687 Germans were arrested for illegal socialist activity.[7] 

While the state murder of six million Jews was a crime against humanity, the Jews were not the first to be put in the concentration camps. In order to carry out the destruction of European Jewry, the Fascists had to destroy the worker’s movement. While antisemitism was there from the start, it only became the Nazi’s central priority after the invasion of the USSR. 

As Moos shows, the resistance would take on a different form from jokes, a satire to outright sabotage.  The most important and politically guided opposition came from the Trotskyists. One example is the Dresden Trotskyists who passed themselves off as an organisation of mountaineers in order to smuggle political literature into Germany. 

The Trotskyists played an important role in the distribution of the paper Arbeiter und Soldat which agitated for the fraternisation between French citizens and German soldiers. Martin Monath was a founding member of the paper. In the 1930s he was an important member of the socialist Zionist youth organisation Hashomer Hatzair in Germany. When things became too dangerous for him to stay in Berlin, he moved to Brussels in 1939. It was in Brussels that he joined the underground Trotskyist party led by Abraham Leon. He went on to be a leading member of the Fourth International in Europe. He was murdered by the Nazi’s in 1944.[8] 

One more important Trotskyist mentioned in the book is that of Oscar Hippe. Hippe participated in the German revolution of 1919 and the mass struggles in the years which followed. The events of the 1920s made Hippe grow up very quickly from a political standpoint.He quickly understood the treacherous role of the Social Democracy and the increasingly Stalinist Communist Party of Germany. Hippe was always on the lookout for continuity of political thought and found his way to Trotsky and the Left Opposition.[9] 

While the Trotskyists had a clear and correct perspective with which to fight the Nazi’s, the same cannot be said of the rank and file workers of the KPD and SPD who were in many instances, going against the leadership of their party.Moos correctly condemns the KPD’s and SPD’s disastrous policies during the rise of Hitler. Examining the actions of the Social Democrat Party (SPD) and the  German Communist Party (KPD) In What Next Leon Trotsky said of the SPD: The present crisis that is convulsing capitalism obliged the Social Democracy to sacrifice the fruits achieved after protracted economic and political struggles and thus to reduce the German workers to the level of existence of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. There is no historical spectacle more tragic and at the same time more repulsive than the fetid disintegration of reformism amid the wreckage of all its conquests and hopes. The theatre is rabid in its straining for modernism. Let it stage more often Hauptmann’s The Weavers: this most modern of modern dramas. And let the director of the theatre also remember to reserve the front rows for the leaders of the Social Democracy.[10] 

From the same book, he had this to say on the KPD: “The errors of the leadership of the Comintern and consequently the errors of the German Communist Party pertain, in the familiar terminology of Lenin, to the category of “ultraleft stupidities.” Even wise men are capable of stupidities, especially when young. But, as Heine counselled, this privilege should not be abused. When, however, political stupidities of a given type are repeated systematically in the course of a lengthy period, and in the sphere of the most important questions, then they cease being simply stupidities and become tendencies. What sort of a tendency is this? What historical necessities does it meet? What are its social roots? Ultraleftism has a different social foundation in different countries and at different periods. The most thoroughgoing expressions of ultra-leftism were to be found in anarchism and Blanquism, and in their different combinations, among them the latest one, anarcho-syndicalism”. 

There is no denying the importance of this book. It will however not win any major literary prizes, not because it is not well written or extremely well researched but because it does not fit in with the current right-wing historiography that dominates current historiography on the subject of the Nazi era.Praise for the book should not blind us to some significant weaknesses. You would have thought that given Cushion’s political history, he would have presented his account of events from a Trotskyist perspective he does not. 

While not openly glorifying acts of individual of assignation and other acts of individual terrorism Cushion is not critical of them either. He does not take on board the position of the French Trotskyists during the war which concluded that “the terrorist act creates a barrier between French workers and German soldiers, but no victory is possible without unity between them.[11] 

Another area that could have been better is the Some Concluding Thoughts on page 305, instead of concentrating on Britain which at the moment while not downplaying the threat of fascistic elements does not have the same level of Germany. The threat of Fascism rising again in Germany is real and should not be underestimated. 

In the recent publication by Mehring-Verlag entitled Why Are They Back? Historical Falsification, Political Conspiracy And The Return Of Fascism In Germany Christoph Vandreier explained “Among the masses, the neo-Nazis are hated,” Vandreier stated, pointing to the mass anti-fascist demonstration taking place in Berlin that same day. “The fact the extreme right can act so provocatively can only be explained by the support it receives from the political establishment.” 

To conclude, this book deserves to be widely read. The research is excellent, and the scholarship is groundbreaking. The book rescues from obscurity the thousands of workers who opposed Fascism. The book should be read by anyone interested in opposing Fascism today. 

 

Published by (London: Community Languages in association with the Socialist History Society. Copies of the book can be purchased post-free from the authors. £10 – more details from s.cushion23@gmail.com

 

[1] Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust – 3 Mar. 1997-by Daniel Goldhagen

[2] A critical review of Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners

By David North-17 April 1997-wsws.org

[3] Leopold Trepper, The Great Game (1977)

[4] Weimar in Exile: The Antifascist Emigration in Europe and America

By Jean-Michel Palmier

[5] The Impending Danger-of Fascism in Germany-A Letter to a German Communist Worker-on the United Front Against Hitler-(December 1931)

[6] The Brown Plague: Travels in Late Weimar and Early Nazi Germany-Daniel Guerin

[7] See-Peter Hoffmann’s standard 1977 study, ”The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945.”

[8] See- Martin Monath: A Jewish Resistance Fighter Among Nazi Soldiers (Revolutionary Lives) – 20 Oct. 2019

[9] See – Oskar Hippe – …And Red is the Colour of Our Flag-Mehring Books

[10] What Next?-www.Marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1932-ger/index.htm

[11] La Verité, 15 March 1942, cited in: Yvan Craipeau, Contre vents et maré

es: 1938–1945  (Paris: Savelli, 1977), p. 120.

 

Interview with Merilyn Moos & Steve Cushion On Anti Nazi Germans

 

Authors Merilyn Moos and Steve Cushion kindly agreed to be interviewed for A Trumpet of Sedition blog about their new book Anti Nazi Germans which came out in 2020. 

Q.Tell me a bit about how you and Merilyn came to write the book. Why did you decide to write it? 

Merilyn: 

Both of us were involved in writing articles for a Socialist History publication: Treason: Rebel Warriors and Internationalist Traitors, but I kept complaining to Steve I needed more words. So he suggested we write a book! This is a topic that also grew out of my family history: my father was an active and socialist German anti-Nazi who fled and lived. But many of his comrades did not, and I wanted to draw attention to the reality of grass-roots German resistance to Nazism. 

Steve: 

On a cycling holiday in France, 20 years ago, I visited the Resistance Museum in Tulle in the Coreze. There I saw a picture of a young German communist who had fought in the local maquis. The more I looked into it, the more German antifascists in the French resistance I came across. They do not fit the standard nationalist received wisdom and I felt their story needed to be told, particularly today when we are seeing an upsurge of very nasty nationalism. I think we need to big up those courageous militants who put socialist politics before the nation of their birth. 

Q.The book completely cuts across current historiography regarding Fascism and the Holocaust could you elaborate your opinion on current historiography. I am thinking about books like Hilter’s willing executioners- by Daniel Goldhagen.

Merilyn: 

The historiography of the Nazi period has shifted many times since 1945. But the Eichmann trial and the increasing domination by Israel overt the Middle East legitimated a new take on Nazism: that it was the Jews who were the Nazis’ main target and moreover, that most Germans, if not perpetrators, were ‘bystanders’. But even superficial research into the early years of the Nazi Party reveals that from the very beginning their main target was the organised working class. 

Moreover, Steve and I unearthed a myriad of stories of what can loosely be called the ‘resistance’, almost all of whom were killed, Their stories were rarely told because the West German historians got sucked into a Cold War narrative and the East German historians needed to follow a line which did not always support the level of local autonomy of the anti-Nazi KPD members. 

There has been a further shift towards seeing Jews as ‘victims’ which justified any crimes that Israel committed. In fact, with minute exceptions, the many ‘historical Jews’ who were involved in the struggle against Nazism did so as part of, generally, a Communist movement, and sometimes, as anarchists etc, not primarily as Jews. The old adage that Jews went like sheep to the slaughter is as false as that most Germans were bystanders. 

Steve: 

Nationalism and an assumption of patriotism have always dominated historical writing, but it seems to have got worse lately. This has led to an irritating, sloppy style of writing that conflates the country, the state and the population as one entity. Thus “Germany invaded Poland”, rather than “The German army invaded Poland on the instructions of the Nazi government”. I would argue for the need to reassert the division of any country into classes with separate economic and political interests. 

Modern mainstream historical writing, when it is not just old wine in new, post-modernist bottles, is still very much concerned with the doings of great men; the only recent change has been to include a few great women. I am much influenced by Howard Zinn’s concept of People’s History. Most historians use the study of history to reinforce the status quo, Zinn’s approach is aimed at undermining the system by promoting the activities of ordinary people who have chosen to resist the rich and powerful as well as fighting for their rights. 

Zinn warned of “attempts, through politics and culture, to ensnare ordinary people in a giant web of nationhood pretending to a common interest”. Looking at those who opposed their own nation-state in times of war seemed a good way to undermine the pernicious effects of nationalism and patriotism. Such is the ideological power of nationalism that most people feel uncomfortable with such treason, even when the country they betrayed was Nazi Germany. My section of the book chronicles how German refugees contributed to fighting the Nazis in France.  

From spreading anti-Nazi propaganda in the  German  Army and attempting to organise mutiny and desertion, through to extensive involvement in urban terrorism and the rural guerrilla struggle. This is history from below that primarily looks at active resistance originating within the workers’ movement, looking at the actual activities of the rank and file anti-Nazi militants and in the process rescuing the memory of some heroic fighters who otherwise risk being lost from history. An important part of people’s history is the history of ordinary people. 

For example, Mendel Langer, a Roumanian immigrant worker, was the leader of the 35th Brigade of a communist resistance organisation, the FTP-MOI, which operated in the area around Toulouse in the South of France. He was captured in February 1943. At his trial, the prosecutor, Pierre Lespinasse said: “You are a Jew, a foreigner and a communist, three reasons for you to be executed”. Langer was guillotined in July 1943 but, on 10 October, as avocat-général Pierre Lespinasse was on his way to Mass, he was gunned down in the street by Enzo Lorenzi, one of Langer’s comrades. The Vichy government had set up special anti-terrorism courts in 1941, but Norbert Kugler, a German communist exile of Jewish heritage, who commanded all the foreign fighters in Southern France, developed the tactic of shooting the magistrates who condemned their comrades to death, which had the effect of making it much more difficult to find lawyers willing to serve on these sections spéciales. Such people are an inspiration to me. 

Q.The collaboration between the KPD and SA I knew a little about it but could you expand a bit more on this? 

Merilyn: 

One has to be very careful here. Some rightish historians use this ‘collaboration’ to suggest that there was little difference between the Nazi Party and the KPD, a position we reject.. This is not an area I specialise in but there are two levels at which there was some sort of collaboration: at the level of the Party leadership and at a membership level. Remember that both organisations were in general drawing from the same pool of people, especially the unemployed (though the SA drew from the petty-bourgeoisie more than did the KPD). The KPD leadership became frightened of their members or those close to them being attracted by the Nazis and adopted policies to try to collaborate with them eg over the Berlin transport strike. But it went right down to the level of the membership and community organisations where, occasionally, pre-1933, Nazi and KPD members would be working together. members of the KPD would join the Nazi party just to be on the safe side (not against Party rules) and would pull out the relevant party card depending on circumstance. In practice, this allowed a slow slide towards the victorious, SA/Nazi side. As my father would remind me: ‘Always remember Nazism stands for National Socialism’, a perspective which is proving rather too relevant presently. Even after the Nazi take-over in 1933, the KPD line was to enter the Nazi trade unions. Needless to say, this line of cooperation was bitterly opposed by many KPD members. 

Steve: 

If we write off workers who are currently attracted to nationalist ideas as lost to us, we are ourselves lost. We have to find a way of winning these workers to adopt a class-first position. To me, collaborating with right-wing nationalist, racist and fascist organisations is a road to disaster. The attitude of the German Communist Party to the SA was a very serious error, but the problem still remains – How do we win patriotic workers to a socialist, internationalist position? By writing about the errors of the past, we can hopefully not make the same mistake again. We shall obviously make new mistakes, but let us not repeat the old ones. 

As you write at the end of the book, we are once again confronted with the rise of fascism in Germany today. Please tell me about your analysis. 

Merilyn: 

Two years ago, I was invited to speak at a commemoration at Brandenburg for the victims of euthanasia (T4) who were gassed there in 1940 (including my aunt). It was held on a patch of ground next to where the gassing had taken place before an invited and very respectable gathering and I could not make out why it was quite so subdued. Then I gathered that there were two members of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) present, who had been invited because they were on the local council. 

The organisers were however upset with three uninvited people who were standing on the edge of the gathering with their banner which read something like ‘Down with the AfD’ and called over the local police to move them away. So the two people I was staying with and I walked up to the demonstrators. I had been the main speaker, so carried some ‘weight’ and the police, observing me walking up and standing right next to them, swerved away. I then confronted the organiser as to why the AfD had been invited. The organiser shrugged and said something like: ‘All councillors were invited. What was I supposed to do?’ 

I tell this story because of what it reveals: it is not just that the AfD was elected councillors, able to pose as ‘mourners (and yes, they did lay a wreath though it was their political predecessors who had murdered the people we were commemorating) but that the organisers saw them as legitimate, unlike the antifascists. Now, what period of twentieth-century German history does this remind me of? 

Steve: 

The rise of PEGIDA and the Alternative für Deutschland is very worrying. It is part of a worldwide pattern whereby authoritarian politicians use racism, nationalism and islamophobia to secure their position. These are often mass movements, although, at present, they differ from the classic fascism of the 30s and 40s by, generally speaking, not relying on organised gangs of thugs, at least not to the extent of the Nazis or the Italian Fascists. But this is only because the working-class movement is relatively weaker and the bourgeoisie has not been thoroughly scared by something like the Russian revolution. 

Of course, when they feel threatened they do not hesitate, witness Narendra Modi’s use of the fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to smash up Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi in January of this year. In Germany, a combination of anti-refugee, anti-immigrant and Islamophobic politics has given a considerable boost to the extreme right, while the hand wringing of the social democrats has done little to turn the tide. 

Q.I know the book was published this year have you had much feedback or reviews. Has there been any response in academia? 

Merilyn: 

This was a book written by socialists for socialists. We need to remind comrades that even struggling against Nazism was possible and that we must stop anything like Nazism from ever happening again. We’ve had lots of reviews in a variety of leftish publications, almost all glowing. 

Steve: 

Yes, the left press has been very kind. Given that the bookshops are shut, this has been very useful to us. We had a series of meetings planned, some of them organised by radical history groups, others in higher or further education institutions. The virus has put a stop to these, but we shall go for a relaunch when the current public health emergency is over. Meanwhile, we are most grateful for the publicity provided by comrades writing blogs and recommending it on social media. 

Moreover, when the public health situation allows, it is my intention to write to as many German and French university departments as I can find to see if they are interested in the book and offering to speak at their institutions. We are interested in taking the debate into the academic community, let us see if there is a response. 

Q.What are you working on next? Also, could you tell me a bit about your political background? 

Merilyn: 

I am doing a short book on the anti-Nazis who got out of Germany and came to the UK. My focus is on rank and file activists not left bureaucrats. And not on the people who became famous. They have enough publicity. But the rank and file anti-Nazis who lived here have almost all been ignored. I have started to put a series of short biographies on the website of our book “Anti-Nazi Germans”. http://community-languages.org.uk/?cat=3. 

My parents never talked of their pasts, and I had to piece it together for myself but I knew my father had been an anti-Nazi activist and I was very proud of that. I joined IS soon after university and stayed in for about 20 years.I also was very active in the further and higher education union: Branch Secretary for ages, plus on varying committees up to the national level. I was almost thrown out for running an anti-racist campaign for a victimised black lecturer. Since retirement, I’ve been free-floating, though, insofar as health allows, active in the UCU Retired Members Branch and around anti-racism. 

Steve: 

I am currently writing a pamphlet on the miners’ strikes in Northern France and Belgium in 1941. French historiography spills a lot of ink asking if these strikes count as “resistance”. This is not my perspective. I am looking at the class struggle in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais from the perspective of the miners, engineers and textile workers of the region, the history of their militancy in the face of German army occupation, French fascist collaborators and skinflint, greedy employers. This is working-class resistance. 

I joined the International Socialists in 1971 but managed to get myself expelled by 1975. Since then, I have been a trade union militant, for 20 years on the London buses and for 10 in NATFHE. I am currently Branch Secretary of UCU London Retired Members and delegate to Waltham Forest Trades Union Council. I am on the executive of Caribbean Labour Solidarity and on the committee of the Socialist History Society. I am a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Unite against Fascism. 

Copies of the book can be purchased post-free from the authors. £10 – more details from s.cushion23@gmail.com

 Why Are They Back? Historical Falsification, Political Conspiracy and The Return of Fascism In Germany by Christoph Vandreier – Mehring Books-2019

 

“Today historians are again labouring to rewrite and falsify history in order to justify new wars and discredit opposition to them. Their falsifications aim to “whitewash and legitimise the worst crimes of twentieth-century capitalist imperialism and, conversely, to criminalise and render morally illegitimate the entire struggle of the international socialist movement,” 

David North The Russian Revolution and the Unfinished Twentieth Century. 

When a state turns fascist, it doesn’t only mean that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance with the patterns set by Mussolini – the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role – but it means, primarily and above all, that the workers’ organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism. 

Leon Trotsky-What Next for the German Revolution? (1932) 

Both Hitler and Mussolini have plagiarised and imitated practically everything from everyone. Mussolini stole from the Bolsheviks and Gabriele D’Annunzio and found inspiration in the camp of big business. Hitler imitated the Bolsheviks and Mussolini. 

Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and his Influence (1941), translated by Charles Malamuth, p. 412 

“In order to carry out an aggressive foreign policy, history has to be rewritten, and the crimes of the Nazis have to be trivialised.” 

Christoph Vandreier 

Why Are They Back? is an essential read for anyone who wishes to understand the reasons behind the rise of Fascism in modern-day Germany. It is also unique in that it is the only recent book that understands and opposes Fascism from a classical Marxist perspective.While maintaining a high academic standard, the book takes the form of a polemic and calls for action against the fascists as Vandreier says. “It is not written from the standpoint of a neutral observer, but as a contribution to the struggle against the return of militarism and fascism.” Not since Leon Trotsky’s writings on Fascism[1] has such a book been needed.

 It is hard to believe that after the shocking barbarity which included the mass extermination of 6 million Jews and others, the war of annihilation against the Soviet Union which claimed 27 million lives, that the fascists have once more not only taken to the streets but have won considerable seats in the German parliament. 

The writer Christoph Vandreier belongs to the Sozialistische Gleichheitspartei (Socialist Equality Party) in Germany. He explains the origins of the book. “We had long been thinking about writing a book about the experiences of the last five years, in which the rise of the right wing, the return of fascism and war were ideologically and politically prepared,” After the neo-Nazi riots in Chemnitz, “we decided that this project was urgent and that the book had to be completed by the time of the Frankfurt Book Fair,”. 

The neo-Nazi riots were a turning point and revealed that the fascists were back and that history had returned with a vengeance. Vandreier believes that the fascists can only raise their heads because of the political support and protection they receive from the political establishment and media.The book is divided into eight chapters and they deal with the role of academics, the media, political parties, and the state apparatus which all have played a part in boosting the main fascist party in Germany the AfD. 

There are many themes to the book; the two most pronounced are the return of German militarism and the falsification of German history. Vandreier believes the two are inextricably linked. At a recent meeting in London Vandreier gave an example of the attempt by a group of revisionist historians to overturn previous historical studies. One such attempt is to discredit the work of the historian Fritz Fischer. Fischer held the belief alongside many other historians that German capitalism prepared for the First World War long in advance. While not being blind to the fact that Germany was not alone in defending its imperialist interests, Fischer sought to examine German capitalism’s global expansion plans which brought about the 1st World War. 

According to John C. G . Rohl “, this interpretation has recently been challenged by a wave of revisionism, exemplified by the astronomical success—especially in Germany, where it has sold many hundreds of thousands of copies—of the book The Sleepwalkers by our colleague Christopher Clark He and the other revisionists largely exonerate the Kaiser’s Germany from responsibility for the First World War. While claiming to argue that war broke out by accident, with no one government more at fault than any other, in practice Clark places the blame to a large extent on little Serbia, followed by Russia, France and Britain in that order, presenting Austria-Hungary as doing its genuine best to avoid war and simply omitting altogether the evidence of any German intention to bring the war about”[2] 

The case of Jörg Baberowski 

Vandreier believes that in order to justify new wars of conquest a campaign was launched by right-wing historians to falsify the historical record. One such historian is Jorg Baberowski. Vandreier’s exposure to Jörg Baberowski’s falsification of history is one of the most important facets of the book. Quoted in the prominent German magazine Der Spiegel Baberowski has in the past said that “Hitler was no psychopath, and he was not vicious. He did not want people to talk about the extermination of the Jews at his table.” Vandreier said this is a lie and can be easily proved. 

More importantly, though Vandreier points out in the book that there has not been a single professor or journalist who disagreed publicly with these offensive and lying remarks. Vandreier believes “This deafening silence was a prerequisite for today’s extreme right to act so aggressively,” There is, of course, a connection between the falsification of history and the attack on the struggle for objective truth and there is no more wretched figure putting forward these falsifications than Baberowski. 

The German Professor (1961) who was a student of Michel Foucault has been given ample space to expand on his falsifications by the book publishing world in his The Meaning of History he rants “In reality, the historian has nothing to do with the past, but only with its interpretation. He cannot separate what he calls reality from the utterances of people who lived in the past. For there exists no reality apart from the consciousness that produces it. We must liberate ourselves from the conception that we can understand, through the reconstruction of events transmitted to us through documents, what the Russian Revolution really was. There is no reality without its representation. To be a historian means, to use the words of Roger Chartier, to examine the realm of representations”[3]. 

Unfortunately, this methodology is becoming the norm increasingly in academic writing. It denotes an anything-goes approach that does not require the historian to tell the truth. For that matter, it also means that reality does not exist outside the historian’s head. Therefore, the historical truth has no objective basis. Baberowski sees history only regarding his own subjectivity. Why bother with a history that tries to show the economic, political or social conditions at the time. 

It is evident from this statement that he believes that it is all right for a historian to falsify his or her work to serve the reader of history. This lying about history can bring about a fundamental and dangerous change in the way history is served to the public. The most extreme example of this false narrative is lying about the crimes of Nazi Germany.  It is therefore not an accident that Baberowski is a leading figure in the attempt to rehabilitate Hitler. 

 “Historian’s dispute.” 

The book is particularly keen on an essential chapter in not only the study of German history but the study of history around the world. The “historians’ debate” or Historikerstreit took place between 1986–89 and was an attempt by German historians to come to terms with the Nazi era. 

According to the excellent Wikipedia article[4]  “the position taken by the right-wing intellectuals, led by Ernst Nolte, was that the Holocaust was not unique and therefore the Germans should not bear any special burden of guilt for the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. Nolte argued that because there was no moral difference between the crimes of the Soviet Union and those of Nazi Germany—and, even more controversially, that because the Holocaust was something that the Germans were allegedly forced to do out of fear of what the Soviet Union might do to them—that Germans should not feel any guilt over the Holocaust and should essentially forget about it. Likewise, the conservative historian Andreas Hillgruber asserted that there was no moral difference between Allied policies towards Germany in 1944–45 and the genocide waged against the Jews”. 

It does not take a genius to see that what Nolte has written in the past and what Baberowski writes now are similar if not the same. Nolte’s argument and I use the term advisably is best summed up in this despicable quote “It is a notable shortcoming of the literature about National Socialism that it does not know or does not want to admit to what degree all the deeds—with the sole exception of the technical process of gassing—that the National Socialists later committed had already been described in a voluminous literature of the early 1920s: mass deportations and shootings, torture, death camps, the extermination of entire groups using strictly objective selection criteria, and public demands for the annihilation of millions of guiltless people who were thought to be “enemies”. 

It is probable that many of these reports were exaggerated. It is certain that the “White Terror” also committed terrible deeds, even though its program contained no analogy to the “extermination of the bourgeoisie”. Nonetheless, the following question must seem permissible, even unavoidable: Did the National Socialists or Hitler perhaps commit an “Asiatic” deed merely because they and their ilk considered themselves to be the potential victims of an “Asiatic” deed? Was not the ‘Gulag Archipelago’ more original than Auschwitz? Was the Bolshevik murder of an entire class not the logical and factual Prius of the “racial murder” of National Socialism? Cannot Hitler’s most secret deeds be explained by the fact that he had not forgotten the rat cage? Did Auschwitz in its root causes not originate in a past that would not pass?”[5] 

It is not in the bounds of possibility to review the entire debate in this article, anyone interested in this should at least study the Wikipedia pages on it. I will say that Nolte and the other right-wing historians were strongly opposed by historians around the world most notably by British historians such as Richard J. Evans, Writing in 1989, he said: “Nolte’s attempts to establish the comparability of Auschwitz rest in part upon an extension of the concept of “genocide” to actions which cannot plausibly justify being described in this way. However much one might wish to criticize the Allied strategic-bombing offensive against German cities; it cannot be termed genocidal because there was no intention to exterminate the entire German people. Dresden was bombed after Coventry, not the other way around, and it is implausible to suggest that the latter was a response to the former; on the contrary, there was indeed an element of retaliation and revenge in the strategic bombing offensive, which is precisely one of the grounds on which it has often been criticized. 

There is no evidence to support Nolte’s speculation that the ethnic Germans in Poland would have been entirely exterminated had the Nazis not completed their invasion quickly. Neither the Poles nor the Russians had any intention of exterminating the German people as a whole. At this point, it is useful to recall the conclusion of the German historian and Hitler specialist Eberhard Jäckel that “the Nazi murder of the Jews was unique because never before had a state decided and announced, on the authority of its responsible leader, that it intended to kill in its entirety, as far as possible, a particular group of human beings, including its old people, women, children and infants, and then put this decision into action with every possible instrument of power available to the state”. 

The attempts undertaken by Nolte, Hillgruber, Fest and other neoconservative historians to get around this fact are all ultimately unconvincing. It requires a considerable degree of myopia to regard the policies of the USA in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s or the occupation of Afghanistan by the USSR in the 1980s as “genocide”. However much one may deplore the conduct of the occupying armies, there is no evidence of any deliberate policy of exterminating the inhabitants of the countries in question. The terrible massacres of the Armenians by the Turks in 1915 were more deliberate, on a wider scale and concentrated into a far shorter time, than the destruction of human life in Vietnam and Afghanistan, and they were not carried out as part of a military campaign, although they did occur in wartime. However, these atrocities were committed as part of a brutal policy of expulsion and resettlement; they did not constitute an attempt to exterminate a whole people. Similar things may be said of the forcible removal of Greeks from Asia Minor during the 1920s, although this has not, in contrast to the events of 1915, generally been regarded as genocide[6]However, as Vandreier points out in the book unlike in the 1980s, during the “Historian’s dispute,” there were no protests from these historians against the relativization of the Nazis’ crimes”. 

Ideological Foundations 

A significant reason for this silence is explained by Vandreier who cites the influence of postmodernist tendencies inside the universities. He quotes the Marxist writer David North who says “In this period of extreme social contradictions, the determination of historical truth has been vastly complicated by the emergence of retrograde and extremely dangerous tendencies in bourgeois intellectual life. Lying about history and politics did not begin in the twentieth century. But it is only in recent decades, with the emergence of post-modernism as the dominant tendency in the intellectual life of universities throughout the world, that there has been such a determined effort to justify intellectually, on the basis of philosophy, the obliteration of the distinction between truth and lies, and thereby legitimize the falsification of history. It is for this reason that The Russian Revolution and the Unfinished Twentieth Century deals at considerable length with post-modernist theory, whose origins and evolution are theoretically based on subjective idealist irrationalism, politically motivated by hostility to socialism, and socially rooted in the material interests of the ruling class and affluent sections of the middle class”[7]It would not be an overstatement to say that the impact of this school of history has been as one writer put “nothing short of catastrophic.” 

Conclusion 

Alongside Leon Trotsky’s writings on Germany, Why Are They Back? by Christoph, Vandreier will be used by all anti-fascists wanting to struggle against Fascism all over the world. While in the last three decades we have seen the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the rise of fascists in Germany, massive growth of social inequality, Trump in the White House it can safely be assumed that this is not the end of history. On the contrary, history is back with a vengeance. 

A word of caution, however, this is not like the 1930s when the fascists were a large force with state power and an army to back them up. The fascists today are not a mass movement. They are hated throughout the world.As David North says “They will not conquer again, We can be certain of that. There is no way that the experiences of the 1930s will suddenly be erased from memory. Germany was traumatized by the events that happened in this country between 1933 and 1945. Baberowski and his clique at the university and the lackeys in the administration who support him may think that he can erase the crimes of the Nazis and everyone will forget what happened, but that is not possible. Almost overnight, to the extent people become aware, in this country, of the threat they face, we anticipate an enormous growth of social and political opposition. That will not be lacking. But what will be required is a very high level of political and historical awareness. German capitalism and the German ruling elites carry the ineradicable virus of fascism; not as individuals, but as representatives of a social system. This has been proven by history.”[8] 

The Book can be ordered @https://mehringbooks.co.uk/ 

 

[1] The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (Merit S.) Paperback – 1 Jun 1971

[2]Goodbye to all that (again)? The Fischer thesis, the new revisionism and the meaning of the First World War.  http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/field/field_publication_docs/INTA91_1_09_Roehl.pdf

[3] The Meaning of History-Jörg Baberowski

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historikerstreit

[5] Forever In The Shadow of Hitler? edited by Ernst Piper, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, 1993

[6] 1989. In Hitler’s Shadow: West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape the Nazi Past, New York, NY: Pantheon.

[7] Socialism and historical truth-A lecture delivered at the Leipzig Book Fair-By David North

17 March 2015- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/03/17/lect-m17.html

[8] Two hundred attend meeting on the struggle against fascism at Leipzig Book Fair-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/03/26/leip-m26.html

The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg-by Klaus Gietinger-(Verso £14.99)

 

“Here is a world in disorder, Who is then ready to put it in order?” Bertolt Brecht -1926

 “Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hütten, ‘I have dared!” Rosa Luxemburg 

Although the Eagles do swoop down and beneath the Chickens fly, chickens with outspread wings never will soar amid clouds in the sky. 

 Lenin on Rosa Luxemburg 

The Marxist Revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was executed 100 years ago this month. She was born in Poland in 1871; she was a world-renowned Marxist, economist and anti-war activist. In the introduction to his excellent book, Klaus Gietinger makes the following point “The cold-blooded murder of revolutionary icons Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in the pitched political battles of post-WWI Germany marks one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century”. Assassination is also one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century. In Berlin on 15 January 1919, Freikorps soldiers of the Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen Division put Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht under arrest. The two were leaders of the newly formed German Communist Party (KPD). They were arrested by Freikorp soldiers and taken to the Hotel Eden, where they were tortured and later murdered. 

As the Marxist writer, Peter Schwarz describes “The 48-year-old Rosa Luxemburg was among the most outstanding Marxist revolutionaries of her epoch. She gained notoriety for her sharp polemics against Eduard Bernstein’s revisionism and the Social Democrats’ pro-war policies in the First World War, and was the undisputed theoretical leader of the SPD’s revolutionary wing and later of the Spartacus League”.[1]Gittinger’s investigation was written primarily in order to commemorate the 100th anniversary of their untimely deaths. Gietinger who is not a professional historian has done an excellent job reconstructing the events on that fateful night. 

His deep mining of the archives in Germany is an essential first step in identifying who exactly was responsible for the murder, and what forces in the SPD covered for the murderers and allowed them to not only escape but also to ease back into a comfortable life back into Germany society and in some cases back into politics. Many involved in the murder went on to have careers as Nazis. 

One of the strengths of Gietinger’s book is his ability to understand the tragedy of Luxemburg’s death along with the farcical nature of the investigation and subsequent trials.On the negative side, Gietinger has a limited political understanding of the events that brought about the deaths of Luxemburg and Karl Liebknect. He has a confused understanding of the political situation when asked in an interview why he said that the murders were  “one of the greatest political tragedies” of the 20th century. 

His answer was “Luxemburg and Liebknecht were mythical leader figures of the authentic left. The SPD top brass had long moved to the right through their pact with the old powers and armed forces, but many SPD supporters venerated the two Spartacus leaders. They would never have permitted the Stalinization of the KPD. Luxemburg was against joining the Comintern; she criticised Lenin and Radek’s terror. Even Liebknecht would have been reluctant to accept a mere vanguard of the working class. 

Both tried to help the masses come into their own and did not seek to patronise them. The left in Germany and Europe would have pursued a more independent path. There would have been a chance to expose the right-wing leaders of the SPD. The division on the left would not have been cemented. Whether that would have prevented fascism and Stalinism is another question, but the chances of doing so would have been higher”.[2] 

A more precise appreciation was given by Leon Trotsky who summed up the situation in this concise manner “As to the German Revolution of 1918, it was no democratic completion of the bourgeois revolution, it was a proletarian revolution decapitated by the Social Democrats; more correctly, it was a bourgeois counter-revolution, which was compelled to preserve pseudo-democratic forms after its victory over the proletariat.”[3] 

To his credit, Gietinger understood that the SPD murdered them in order to head off the impending social revolution. Gietinger deserves much credit for bothering to uncover the murder of Rosa Luxemburg. It is still hard to believe that the full truth has not fully come out until now.As Gietinger graphically portrays in the book the vulnerable Rosa Luxemburg was smashed in the head with the butt of a rifle in the Hotel Eden foyer. A car was then brought to the hotel she was murdered in the car and her body thrown in the nearby Landwehr Canal. Her body was only discovered by accident a month later. To cover the murder up the perpetrators lied by saying that Luxemburg was lynched by an outraged mob. 

As Peter Swartz explains “The brutal murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht marked a new stage of counter-revolutionary violence. Before this, the bourgeois state had ruthlessly cracked down on socialist opponents, and, as in the aftermath of the suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871 in France, took bloody revenge against revolutionary workers with mass executions. However, the murder of the leaders of a revolutionary party by state organs without a trial or court judgment was a new phenomenon and set a precedent followed by others. Even the autocratic Tsarist regime generally banished socialist opponents to Siberia”. 

In the latter part of the book, Gietinger explains how the leadership of the SPD systematically protected the killers. The trials of the killers even by bourgeois standards were farces. As the review in the Guardian by Lara Feigel points out “There was a series of trials in which the SPD leaders colluded with the killers, appointing their collaborators as judges. In May 1919, the court decided that Runge had attempted to kill Luxemburg and Vogel had shot her, but only gave them two-year sentences as they could not know who had caused the death. When Vogel escaped to the Netherlands, the authorities failed to extradite him, frightened he would expose the identity of his accomplices. Shockingly, even in 1960s West Germany when Pabst revealed that he had ordered the killing, the government issued a communique labelling the double homicide a “legitimate execution”. At this point, Pabst outed Souchon as the killer, but Souchon took the audacious step of suing for libel. The court assigned to judge the case relied on the wholly inaccurate records from the 1919 trial, so he won. This book, therefore, provides an important coda to these years in proving, with the aid of diagrams and documents, that Souchon was the culprit”.[4] 

While Gietinger is clear on the role of the SPD in covering for the SPD, he says little about why the SPD played such a prominent role in the murder of two ex-members. The leaders of the SPD especially Gustav Noske, the minister responsible for the Reichswehr and a leading SPD member, gave the green light to the Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen Division. This was an organisation that was renowned for its ruthless violence against the German working class. When the first court case against the murders took place, their acquittal was personally signed by Noske. 

Conclusion 

It is not surprising given the political nature of the SPD today that it still denies its responsibility for the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknect.As Gietinger explains in his book one of the killers, Pabst spoke with Noske by telephone immediately before the killings. In a 1969 letter found after his death, he wrote “It is obvious that there was no way I could have carried out the action without Noske’s support—with Ebert in the background—and that I had to protect my officers. However, very few people have understood why I was never called to testify or charged with an offence. As a cavalier, I acknowledged the SPD’s behaviour at the time by keeping my mouth shut for fifty years about our cooperation”. 

Given that they were heavily involved in the unprecedented state-sanctioned murder of Luxemburg you would have thought that the present-day leadership would show a little contrition. This is not the case In a chilling statement of intent Wolfgang Thierse, former president of the federal parliament, declared: “We would do it again”. 

According to Schwarz  “Had Luxemburg and Liebknecht survived in 1919, not only German history but also world history would have turned out differently. A victorious socialist revolution in Germany would have freed the Soviet Union from its isolation and thereby removed the most critical factor for the growth of the bureaucracy and the rise of Stalin”. Perhaps Gittinger’s next book will examine this prediction. 

 

[1]  One hundred years since the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht   https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/01/15/pers-j15.html

[2] https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4195-the-real-enemy-of-the-masses-is-in-our-own-basement

[3] https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/tpr/prre.htm

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/09/the-murder-of-rosa-luxemburg-by-klaus-gietinger-review

Auschwitz by Sybille Steinbacher (Penguin £6.99, pp168) 

“Today historians are again labouring to rewrite and falsify history in order to justify new wars and discredit opposition to them. Their falsifications aim to “whitewash and legitimise the worst crimes of twentieth-century capitalist imperialism and, conversely, to criminalise and render morally illegitimate the entire struggle of the international socialist movement,”- 

David North The Russian Revolution and the Unfinished Twentieth Century.

 

In the opinion, not of bad men, but of the best men, no belief which is contrary to truth can be really useful. 

John Stuart Mill 

 

Sybille Steinbacher’s book is a welcome addition to an already crowded Holocaust industry. Her book is a polar opposite to the majority of recent books that add nothing to our understanding other than to say this complex of subjects is unexplainable.Despite the brevity of the book, Steinbacher adds to our knowledge of how the Nazis built and managed death camps like Auschwitz and more importantly she places their construction firmly within the Nazi’s geopolitical interests. These interests were heavily in play when anti-Jewish policies reached genocidal proportions with the Nazi assault on the Soviet Union. 

One of the strongest aspects of Steinbacher’s book is her telling of what took place at Auschwitz. She is careful not to overload the reader with the horrors that were perpetrated by the fascists. As the reviewer from Publishers Weekly writes Steinbacher “avoids extensive analysis or morality tales; the meaning of Auschwitz is in the details, which she provides with clinical precision”.[1] However, even with a book this short, the reader will still feel numb and angry at the end of it. 

Auschwitz began operations in 1940. Steinbacher goes against recent historiography when she states that the murdering of jews was the first not the priority. The camp was first used for political prisoners. When the state organised, industrial murder had ended over a million people killed 90 per cent of which were Jews. Her book is also different from other more weighty studies in the respect that she reports that not all Jews went quietly to their grave some fought back and were politically led. 

To expand on this point, it was not only in the camps that workers fought back. Even when the Nazi’s had consolidated power according to, the historian F.L. Carsten “A sizeable minority of Social Democrats and Communists, “were not willing to knuckle under and to accept passively whatever the new regime might order them to do. The widespread terror accompanying the ‘seizure of power’ and the mass arrests of the early months told them enough. Large numbers responded by forming underground groups, producing and distributing underground leaflets and papers and disturbing Nazi propaganda as best they could. In 1933 and 1934 hundreds of clandestine groups sprang up all over Germany—and quite often they were equally quickly liquidated by the Gestapo. It has been reliably estimated that the KPD between 1933 and 1935 lost 75,000 members through imprisonment and that several thousands of them were killed.

That means that about a quarter of the members registered in 1932 were lost.” An excellent account of how some Jews fought back can be found in the excellent The Ghetto Fights by Marek Edelman. 

Steinbacher also defies current historiography as she believes if the Allies had bombed the railway lines when they received the news as early as 1942 that the Nazis were murdering Jews on an industrial scale they could have saved lives by bombing the tracks. 

IG Farben 

Auschwitz expanded dramatically when German industries such as IG Farben established factories behind the barbed wire. Again IG Farben saw the move to Poland as a business opportunity at first. It was only when the Nazi’s could not exterminate the Jews fast enough they became complicit in the mass murder.Steinbacher’s exposure of I G Farben’s role in mass murder is another substantial part of the book. It is true that when the company went into Poland, it was to strengthen their business empire. Steinbacher believes that their motives for involvement in the killing were not entirely economic. Farben’s top executives were leading Nazi’s and were heavily involved in the day to day running of the camps. 

As Sybille Fuchs writes “Heinrich Bütefisch, in his capacity as IG-Farben director, was one of those jointly responsible for the exploitation of Auschwitz prisoners. Moreover, he had belonged to the exclusive Freundeskreis des Reichsführers SS (Gestapo and SS chief Heinrich Himmler’s circle of friends) and had obtained the rank of an SS-Obersturmführer. When these facts became known, German President Heinrich Lübke ordered the return of Bütefisch’s medal”.[2] 

Revisionism 

From a political standpoint, the most critical part of the book is her attack on the numerous “revisionist “ historians who have sought to rehabilitate figures like Adolf Hitler and rewrite history according to their right-wing beliefs. While Steinbacher is correct to oppose these revisionist historians, it is critical to understand that their historical revisionism is not merely down to their particular brand of historiography but is heavily tied to their right-wing ideas.In the past, there were figures like David Irving and the deceased Ernst Nolte who originated in 1986 The Historikerstreit (Historians’ Dispute), The dispute centred on the downplaying of National Socialism. But now a new generation of right-wing historians have taken their place. 

One of the leading proponents of this new historical revisionism is  Daniel Goldhagen and his book  Hitler’s Willing Executioners. Goldhagen viewpoint blames the German people for their inherent antisemitism.David North summarises Goldhagen’s argument  “Germans killed Jews because they were consumed, as Germans, by an uncontrollable Germanic anti-Semitism. Hatred of Jews constituted the foundation of the universally accepted weltanschauung, worldview, of the German people”.[3] 

It is not only the Marxist movement that has attacked Goldhagen’s conceptions. Daniel Finkelstein has opposed Goldhagen’s conceptions, with a vigour he writes “no serious historian doubts that anti-Semitism persisted in modern Germany. The question is, what was its scope and nature? Goldhagen argues that anti-Semitism was ubiquitous in Germany. Yet German Social-Democracy forcefully denounced anti-Semitism and, as the single largest political party (the SPD), commanded the allegiance of fully a third of the electorate by the early twentieth century. Not the working-class base, Goldhagen suggests, but only ‘the core of the socialist movement, its intellectuals and leaders’ repudiated anti-Semitism. It was merely a ‘small group’. (HWE, p. 74; see also p. 72) The only source he cites is Peter Pulzer’s Jews and the German State, which enters no such qualification.  Indeed, turning to Pulzer’s authoritative companion study, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria, we learn that ‘anti-Semitism drew little strength from. .the working-class.The [German worker] knew that national and religious arguments were at best irrelevant to a solution of his problems and at worst a deliberate attempt to cloud his view of the “real issues”.’  A compelling example of popular German anti-Semitism cited by Goldhagen is the recurrence of ritual murder accusations. ‘In Germany and the Austrian Empire’, he reports, ‘twelve such trials took place between 1867 and 1914.’ (HWE, pp. 63–4) Goldhagen cites Pulzer’s The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria. Turning to the cited page, we find that Goldhagen has reversed the import of Pulzer’s finding. The remainder of the sentence reads: ‘eleven of which collapsed although the trials were by jury’.[4] 

Another misconception of Goldhagen is that Hitler’ anti-Semitiscism was a product not only of diseased minds but was inherent from birth. However, an alternative viewpoint is made by the perceptive antifascist German writer Konrad Heiden, that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was a by-product of his hatred of the proletariat. 

According to Heiden, Hitler “hated the whole great sphere of human existence which is devoted to the regular transference of energy into the product; and he hated the men who had let themselves be caught and crushed in the process of production. All his life the workers were for him a picture of horror, a dark, gruesome mass, everything which he later said from the speaker’s platform to flatter the manual worker was pure lies.”[5] 

Heiden believes that Hitler’s mad obsession with the Jews in his book Mein Kampf stemmed from his encounters with the worker’s movement. While his encounter with Jewish workers inflamed him, his real hatred and virulent antisemitism were reserved for the leaders of the worker’s movement who were predominantly Jewish.” The great light dawned upon him,” wrote Heiden. “Suddenly the ‘Jewish question’ became clear… The labour movement did not repel him because Jews led it; the Jews repelled him because they led the labour movement.” 

Götz Aly 

The writer and historian Gotz Aly’s shares similar historiography to Goldhagen. Aly is a former Maoist according to Stefan Steinberg  “ was a member of the Rotan Zellen and founder of the magazine Hochschulkampf. Between 1971 and 1973 Aly was a member of the Maoist Roten Hilfe and according to his own recollections sympathised at the time with the Red Army Faction.”[6]Aly is different from Goldhagen only in the fact that he is a representative of the petty bourgeoisie that has shed his radicalism and become a very right-wing political commentator and historian. 

Aly spends his time attempting to justifying his defence of Nazi policies, and his books are noteworthy only for the fact that they attempt to rewrite and whitewash the German Nazi dictatorship. His most famous and bizarre falsehood was that National Socialism was striving for social equality! 

Aly opposes the common view that the Nazis defended and furthered the interest of German big business and the banks, Aly’s different viewpoint was expressed in the newspaper, Die Welt, “I knew better, I was disturbed from the start by the one-sided delegation of the blame on German industry, on the banks.”Aly’s most famous book Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State published in 2005 continue this theme. 

Conclusion 

It is just over 73 years since the collapse of Hitler’s Third Reich, and Humanity still has to come to grips with “its legacy of horror and bestiality”. Perhaps because something like the Holocaust is so immense and so evil, there has been a tendency not to try to understand it. As Spinoza said “ Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand.”?. As David North writes “the scenes of mass murder that were exposed in the spring of 1945 with the opening of the Nazi extermination camps are images that will never be erased from human consciousness. But it is not enough that the crimes against humanity that were committed at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau should never be forgotten. It is no less vital that the significance and meaning of those crimes be understood”.

 

Notes

Leon Trotsky, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), p. 400. (London: Bloomsbury, 1993), p. 173.

 F.L. Carsten, The German Workers and the Nazis (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1995), p. 180. (London: Bloomsbury, 1993), p. 173.

A critical review of Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners-By David North -17 April 1997-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/1997/04/holo-a17.html

 

[1] https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-082581-2

[2] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2004/04/aus3-a29.html

[3] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/1997/04/holo-a17.html

[4]Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s ‘Crazy’ Thesis: A Critique of Hitler’s Willing Executioners- https://newleftreview-org.ezproxy2.londonlibrary.co.uk/I/224

[5]The Fuhrer Paperback-by Konrad Heiden

[6] The Wages of Destruction by Adam Tooze-Review by By Stefan Steinberg

8 February 2008

Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism-Donald Sassoon- HarperCollins UK 2008 

“He raised the Italian people from the Bolshevism into which they might have sunk in 1919 to a position in Europe such as Italy had never held before”, Winston Churchill. 

Whether the author consciously set out to write a book that challenges a very dangerous trend in a number of poorly written books is open to debate. These books have sought to impose a revisionist historiography that attempts to rehabilitates Benito Mussolini and mystify the rise of Italian fascism. For Sassoon, the study of Italian fascism is not merely an exercise in historical research but has lessons for today’s political situation. To combat the growth of right-wing and fascistic forces in Italy today the past must be studied objectively and truthfully. 

Modern Italian Politics 

Perhaps the most marked development in politics during the Berlusconi years was the attempt to rehabilitate Mussolini and his fascist party. Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, on numerous occasions, praised the fascist “Duce” Benito Mussolini. According to him, Mussolini had “done a great deal of good”.Berlusconi went on to downplay Italy’s collaboration with the holocaust saying it was “not comparable to that of Germany”. He also repeated the tired lie that Mussolini was pressured by Hitler.One of the more grotesque by-products of the whitewashing of the Italian fascist leader by Berlusconi came about when iPhone issued an app of Mussolini’s speeches. Apple was roundly condemned by a large number of Jewish groups who correctly stated that Mussolini was directly responsible for sending thousands of Jews to the death during the Holocaust. The app was subsequently pulled by Apple. 

Revisionism 

This political whitewashing of Mussolini and the fascists are mirrored in publishing circles by a growing number of poorly written books. At the moment, it is hard to gauge whether this revisionist whitewash is a minority, or has started to gain a foothold in academic circles. So many of these books have appeared that one writer sees it as “a noir publishing niche”.It would take a historian a rather long time to sift through over 100 current biographies of Mussolini to tell whether this very nasty revisionist trend has done any damage in academia. 

According to the historian R J B Bosworth, “It is true that much revisionism of the Berlusconi years is hard to take seriously. The slew of biographies and memoirs devoted to praising ‘good Fascists’ mostly fall well below acceptable academic standard. in devoting himself without reserve to the idea in which he believed’. But the quality of the research base of such works, and the decisions about which facts to include and which to exclude are too blatantly slanted to make much impact on scholarship.[1] 

While that may be the case for academic books there is a definite trend in non-academic publications for rebranding fascism in order to fit into today’s politics. As one reviewer put it these books are not so much an attempt “at revisionism, but at restoration.”One such book is by Nicholas Farrell[2] who has sought to overturn decades of historiography to claim that Mussolini was not really all that bad and that he took a wrong direction because of his alliance with Hitler. According to Farrell, Mussolini had “charisma” and was a “phenomenal” personality. Farrell tends to mirror Berlusconi thoughts. 

It is not that difficult to challenge these falsehoods. A more objective and truthful examination of the facts would also lead us to a different picture. Mussolini’s prime goal was to create a new. “Roman Empire” around the Mediterranean Sea.In order to achieve this goal, the Italian fascists invaded and occupied North Africa and areas of Yugoslavia. In order to justify the slaughter of Jews, Africans and Slavs the fascists classified them as “subhuman”. This discrimination was done in the defense of a “pure Italian race”. According to historian Carlo Moos, Italian racial laws were very similar to the Nazi’s and belonged to “a long-existing, general-fascist racial concept” [3] 

Another book Liberal Fascism [4] is “less a work of neutral scholarship or unbiased journalism than thinly-veiled historical revisionism”. Jonah Goldberg’s argument is simplistic, to say the least, it is the idea that fascism came from liberalism. A position not dissimilar to some of the “pseudo-left” writers from the Frankfurt school who put forward the perspective that fascism can be traced back to the enlightenment. However, it must be said that it is hard to take this writer seriously when he describes former presidents of the United States as fascists. 

The rise of fascism 

Given a limited space, Sassoon does a very competent job in explaining the rise of Italian fascism. While not a Marxist he does favour a left-wing slant to his history. The rise of fascism in Italy was a spur-of-the-moment development with significant sections of the population taking part. Its leaders predominantly came from the rank and file fascist organization.Despite taking a plebian character it was controlled and financed by big business. Its social composition was made up largely of the petty bourgeoisie, lumpen elements of the working class and in its latter stages, it began to draw in larger sections of the working class.Sassoon has done some good research into the social makeup of the fascists in 1921 24-per cent rural workers; 15.5-per cent industrial workers; 14-per cent white-collar workers; 13-per cent students; 11.9-per cent small farmers; and 9- per cent shopkeepers. “The proportion of students was, “a much higher proportion than any other group in the population”. 

Mussolini’s Rise to Power 

The notion fostered by far too many right-wing history books is that Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy at the end of 1922 by carrying out a heroic march on Rome. The truth revealed by Sassoon is a little less glamorous.The majority arrived in special trains. The few that did march were hardly a fascist vanguard they were as one writer put it a “raggle-taggle bunch with hardly a modern weapon among them, and who could have been easily stopped by the army.”Benito Mussolini and his fascists did not crush all before him rather he was invited by the aristocracy and sections of big business to form a coalition government. Once fully in power, the fascists carried out a murderous crackdown against its opponents in the working class. 

The Italian bourgeoisie had always fancied itself as a great power but economically this was not the case. The crisis of capitalist rule that brought the Italian fascists into government was the product was Italy’s entry, in 1915, into the First World War on the side of Britain and France.The pressure of the war merely escalated Italy’s economic and political crisis. This led to the famous post-war “Red Years” of 1919 to 1920. During these years, a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism was clearly on the cards. Sassoon’s account is very puzzlingly light on these years. Why? 

To solve this crisis, the Italian bourgeoisie turned to the fascists, as the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky explains “At the moment that the “normal” police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium — the turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat — all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy”.[5]

 There are two major weaknesses of the book the first being Sassoon’s complacent attitude towards the Italian Communist party’s role in the rise of fascism. Despite its being only two years old when Mussolini was given the power it played a crucial role in allowing the fascists to consolidate its rule again as Trotsky said “One must admit, however, that the German Communist Party has also learned little from the Italian experience. The Italian Communist Party came into being almost simultaneously with fascism. But the same conditions of the revolutionary ebb tide, which carried the fascists to power, served to deter the development of the Communist Party. It did not give itself an accounting as to the full sweep of the fascist danger; it lulled itself with revolutionary illusions; it was irreconcilably antagonistic to the policy of the united front; in short, it was stricken with all the infantile diseases. .[6] 

The second major political weakness of the book is its glaring underestimation of the revolutionary nature of the working class. The Italian bourgeoisie saw very clearly the dangers of socialist revolution and turned to fascism to solve its predicament. In doing it had the collaboration of both social democracy and Stalinism. Despite these weaknesses, I would recommend this book to anyone who is beginning a study of this important international event. I would also urge students and anyone interested in history to fascism to consult Leon Trotsky’s writing on the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. 

 

[1] R. J. B. Bosworth – Benito Mussolini: Bad Guy on the International Block- Contemporary European History, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Feb., 2009), pp. 123-134

[2] Farrell Nicholas Mussolini: A New Life Weidenfeld, 2015

[3] Moos, Carlo: Late Italian Fascism and the Jews, 2008).

[4] Jonah Goldberg- Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning- Penguin- 2009

[5] Leon Trotsky – What Next? vital Question for the German Proletariat, 1932

[6]Leon Trotsky – Fascism- What It Is and How to Fight It

Review: Sophie Scholl and the White Rose by Annette Dumbach & Judd Newborn-One World publisher-ISBN-10: 1786072505.£9.99 

 

“we will not be silent. We are your bad conscience” White Rose Leaflet 

“Even the most dull-witted German has had his eyes opened by the terrible bloodbath, which, in the name of the freedom and honour of the German nation, they have unleashed upon Europe and unleash a new each day. The German name will remain forever tarnished unless finally the German youth stands up, pursues both revenge and atonement, smites our tormentors, and founds a new intellectual Europe. Students! The German people look to us! The responsibility is ours: just as the power of the spirit broke the Napoleonic terror in 1813, so too will it break the terror of the National Socialists in 1943.” 

White Rose Pamphlet 

“To say to the Social Democratic workers: “Cast your leaders aside and join our ‘non-party united front” means to add just one more hollow phrase to a thousand others. We must understand how to tear the workers away from their leaders in reality. But the reality today is the struggle against fascism. … The overwhelming majority of the Social Democratic workers will fight against the fascists, but – for the present at least – only together with their organizations. This stage cannot be skipped”. 

Leon Trotsky-For a Workers’ United Front Against Fascism (December 1931) 

This book provides the reader with a very thorough and accessible introduction to the life of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose movement. The struggle of the Scholl family belies the common myth that there was no opposition to the Nazi’s during the Second World War. 

The book fails to address the reason why this opposition was so small and disparate. The fact that Hitler was able to rise to power and smash the worker’s movement and the most progressive sections of the middle class was due to the betrayals of Stalinism and Social Democracy who allowed him to come to power without a shot being fired. 

This history was to shape the character of the opposition to Hitler. After all, the White Rose movement was a non-violent resistance group comprised of five middle-class students at Munich University. At its heart, brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl, their fellow students Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, and their professor Kurt Huber. 

Despite knowing full well that if caught, they faced instant death, they began distributing leaflets and graffiti. They were caught in 1943 by the Gestapo and, after a brief trial, executed. Sophie Magdalena Scholl was just 21 at the time of her state murder. 

It is clear from the history of Scholl and the White Rose movement that it did not have a fully worked-out political agenda that drove its activities, and some of its activities against the fascist regime were dominated by their religious leanings. Scholl was heavily influenced by the theologian Augustine of Hippo. She described that her “soul was hungry”. 

Not everything was guided by their religious beliefs. As this statement from a White rose Pamphlet states, “Our current ‘state’ is the dictatorship of evil. We know that already, I hear you object, and we do not need you to reproach us for it yet again. But, I ask you, if you know that, then why don’t you act? Why do you tolerate these rulers gradually robbing you, in public and in private, of one right after another, until one day nothing, absolutely nothing, remains but the machinery of the state, under the command of criminals and drunkards?”[1]They had substantial political opposition to the Nazi dictatorship. 

As Tanja B. Spitzer writes, “The White Rose was a small endeavour with large consequences. Together they published and distributed six pamphlets, first typed on a typewriter, then multiplied via mimeograph. At first, they only distributed them via mail, sending them to professors, booksellers, authors, friends and others—going through phone books for addresses and hand-writing each envelope. In the end, they distributed thousands, reaching households all over Germany. Acquiring such large amounts of paper, envelopes, and stamps at a time of strict rationing without raising suspicion was problematic, but the students managed by engaging a wide-ranging network of supporters in cities and towns as far north as Hamburg and as far south as Vienna. These networks were also activated to distribute the pamphlets, attempting to trick the Gestapo into believing the White Rose had locations all across the country”.[2] 

They did provide a clear tactic to anyone who wanted to oppose the fascists saying “in their fifth pamphlet. “And now every convinced opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can fight against the present ‘state’ in the most effective way….We cannot provide each man with the blueprint for his acts, we can only suggest them in general terms, and he alone will find the way of achieving this end: Sabotage in armament plants and war industries, sabotage at all gatherings, rallies, public ceremonies, and organizations of the National Socialist Party. Obstruction of the smooth functioning of the war machine….Try to convince all your acquaintances. Of the senselessness of continuing, of the hopelessness of this war; of our spiritual and economic enslavement at the hands of the National Socialists; of the destruction of all moral and religious values; and urge them to passive resistance!” 

While it was very difficult for the group to act amid war and being hounded by the Nazi’s secret police, a major weakness of the group is that it did not appeal to the one class that could bring down the hated Nazi dictatorship, and that was the German and international working class. The defeat of the German revolution because of the betrayal of Stalinism and Social Democracy had meant the class consciousness working class in Germany had been thrown back for decades. 

It is doubtful that any of the White Rose movement had read any of the great Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky works, which is a shame because even a cursory read of his work would have given the group an entirely different political outlook. As Trotsky writes “When a state turns fascist, it doesn’t only mean that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance with the patterns set by Mussolini – the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role – but it means, primarily and above all, that the workers’ organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism. This was precisely the situation facing the White Rose group. 

To conclude, this 75th-anniversary edition deserves a wide readership. The story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose movement contains an important lesson for the international working class and will inspire anyone who has a burning hatred of fascism and all forms of racism. As Sophie Scholl said, “I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best I could do for my nation. I, therefore, do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct.” 

[1] See the http://whiteroseproject.seh.ox.ac.uk/ 

[2] https://www.nationalww2museum.org/contributors/tanja-b-spitzer 

Review: Alone in Berlin-Hans Fallada. Translated by Michael Hoffman. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2009. RRP £9.99 paperback. 

 

“As it was, we all acted alone, we were caught alone, and every one of us will have to die alone. But that does not mean that we are alone. It doesn’t matter if one man fights or ten thousand; if the one man sees he has no option but to fight, then he will fight, whether he has others on his side or not,” ” 

Otto Quangel 

“He who thinks of renouncing “physical” struggle must renounce all struggle, for the spirit does not live without the flesh.” 

― Leon Trotsky, Fascism: What It Is and How to Fight It 

Hans Fallada’s excellent novel is set in Berlin of the 1940s. Despite being a fictional account of a German family, the book is based on the life of Otto and Elise Hampel.  Fallada, whose real name was Rudolf Ditzen, was born in 1893 in Greifswald, Germany. 

To say he had a strange life would be an understatement. At the tender age of  18,he killed a friend in a duel and, according to James Buchan, spent “much of his career in psychiatric hospitals and drying-out clinics or in prison for thieving and embezzlement to support his morphine habit. In between, he worked on the land, wrote a couple of novels and held down jobs for a period on newspapers. Then, in 1944, he shot at his wife in a quarrel and was confined again to a psychiatric hospital.”[1] 

After this shocking episode in 1947, Aufbau-Verlag Jeder stirbt fuer sich allein (“Each dies only for himself”) was published in Berlin. In many ways, this was a groundbreaking working work in that it was one of the first accounts of resistance to Nazi rule. Unfortunately, tragically Fallada died of a heart attack that same year. 

The new English translation of Fallada’s novel joins a growing number of recent books that have shown that there was a small but significant opposition to the Nazi regime. Fallada’s book counters the lie that there was no opposition to Hitler and that all Germans supported the regime. As Bernd Reinhardt correctly points out, “Fallada’s nuanced picture of daily life in the Third Reich shows the falsity of the thesis of Daniel Goldhagen and his supporters, holding that all Germans uniformly supported Hitler and the extermination of the Jews. The latest remake of Alone in Berlin (directed by Swiss actor Vincent Pérez) also rejects a collective guilt thesis. “I wanted to present this omnipresent fear. It was so thick you could cut it with a knife”, the director said”.[2] 

Fallada’s book has sold extremely well for a book written over half a century ago. The book’s basic premise is that it follows the life of the Quangel family, who placed tiny handwritten postcards on stairs and hallways. Mr and Mrs Quangel distributed more than 200 such protest postcards in Berlin in 1940 following the death of their son at the front. This was done at a huge risk to them and their family. Anyone caught with the postcards would be executed. It is doubtful whether the English writer George Orwell knew of this book, but there are similarities between it and 1984. 

According to Wikipedia, “Three months after its 2009 English release, it became a “surprise bestseller” in both the US and UK. It was listed on the official UK Top 50 for all UK publishers, a rare occurrence for such an old book. Hans Fallada’s 80-year-old son, Ulrich Ditzen, a retired lawyer, told The Observer he was overwhelmed by the latest sales, “It is a phenomenon.” Primo Levi said it is “the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis.”[3] 

It has now been translated into 30 languages. One reason for the book’s success is the fact that the issues it addresses are contemporary ones. The struggle for social equality is very much a modern-day concern. With social inequality at its highest since the 1920s, many people are looking for answers to combat capitalism. 

This English translation of the book appeared at the height of the new movement of far-right groups such as the National Front in France and Pegida and Alternative for Germany. State violence increasingly dominates everyday life. People need to know the history of the Quangels and other struggles against the Nazi’s. 

To conclude, while this an important book Fallada had no real perspective to counter fascism in Germany. He was no Marxist, and it is unclear whether he ever read Leon Trotsky on Germany because if he had, he would have probably produced a different book. As Trotsky said, “Fascism is nothing but capitalist reaction; from the point of view of the proletariat, the difference between the types of reaction is meaningless”.[4] 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/mar/07/alone-in-berlin-hans-fallada

 

[2] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/03/07/ber3-m07.html

 

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Fallada

 

[4] What Next? (1932)