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The Origin and Growth of Nazism pt.1

The phenomenal growth of the Nazi movement posed new problems. Hitherto the autocratic state had been associated with backward countries, and the establishment of dictatorships in Russia and Italy had not weakened this theory to any serious extent. But Germany, a highly industrialised country, also leading the world in many fields of scientific endeavour and cultural achievement, could not be included in this rather simplified category. Here was a precedent in the world of politics demanding a new approach.

Two main viewpoints emerged as deserving of some consideration. The first, produced by the Communists and since abandoned by its sponsors, held that German Fascism – and Fascism in any other country – represented the last stage of capitalism. The workers, it was claimed, were on the point of storming the citadel of capitalist society and the ruling class had erected this barrier as a means of holding the revolution at bay. (This view, incidentally, suited these leaders of totalitarianism, and supported their claims to be “world saviours from Bolshevism”.)

This idea has led the Communists into strange political twists. Their enmity was concentrated on the Labour Parties, whom they dubbed “Social-Fascists” rather than the Fascists, whom they hoped to succeed in power. Their slogan: “After the Fascists come we!” was based on the mistaken assumption that a Nazi regime would give rise to civil war, from which the Communists would emerge as victors.

The second theory is still extant in some quarters and has been argued at length, though with little basis, by Mr. James Burnham in his book The Managerial Revolution. This claims that the Totalitarian State is not capitalism at all, but a new kind of social arrangement in which the power of the capitalist class has been broken and the control of society passed into the hands of “the managerial class,” managers, supervisors, highly paid technicians, etc. This view owes its origin to an American doctrine known as “Technocracy.” It is a superficial generalisation which has avoided specific inquiry into the economic anatomy of the totalitarian states. Franz Neumann, in what is probably the most penetrating analysis of the Nazi State, has conclusively answered the “managerial school.” (Behemoth. Left Book Club edition.)

The fundamental error common to both these schools of thought was to assume that capitalism in every country must have identical features, political and economic, forgetting that in each case exists a different historical background which is bound to give varying trends and twists to each country’s evolution. The development of capitalism in Germany was held back at first owing to her geographical position (e.g. inadequate coastline). When capitalism did appear in the middle of the last century, it limited itself to districts around the Rhine, the river facilitating the transport of coal and iron from the nearby Ruhr. This late beginning put German capitalism at a disadvantage with the already well established manufacturing centre of Britain, which by then had a firm grip on the only market open to Germany, the European continent. This commercial rivalry was to play an important part in shaping the history of the world and has already helped to scourge mankind with two world wars.

The lack of raw materials such as oil, rubber, nitrate, etc., further increased the difficulties of German capitalists and made them more dependant than any of their other competitors on the world market. (It also encouraged the research for substitutes, “Ersatz,” and gave a spur to German chemical industries.) Under the economic laws of world capitalism the import of goods from abroad must be met and balanced by payment in cash (gold) or the export of home – manufactured wares. This is merely an extension of home grown capitalist economy and demonstrates the validity of Marx’s analysis of capitalist economics, yet the capitalist economic rivalry which is the root – cause of modern wars is obscured to many by propaganda about “ideals” of “justice,” “freedom,” etc.

The late national unity of German capitalism (achieved in 1871) also was a factor restricting the growth of the economic and political power of the German capitalist class. This class, therefore, did not feel strong enough to govern Germany and leaned upon another, more ancient, ruling class, the group of Junkers, the Prussian landowners. This social element, strictly belonging to Feudalism, was consequently extending its reign into capitalism. Its main hold upon modern Germany was in the role of organising and officering the German Army, a vital necessity for a capitalist land – power which by its very nature was predestined to play a military aggressive role in world politics.

The defeat of Germany in 1918 drove the figurehead, the Kaiser, into exile, but left the ruling class groups of capitalists and generals still in a dominating position. German Social Democracy (the equivalent, more or less, of the British Labour Party) took on the powers of government, not with the idea of interfering with the property – rights of the German capitalists, but merely to give Germany the political constitution of a capitalist democratic republic after the style of France or the United States.  But for this moderate project they encountered immense difficulties. The economic distress of the workers could not be remedied by capitalist reforms and large masses of workers, guided by the Bolshevik Revolution on the one hand and encouraged by temporary capitalist impotence on the other, threatened the Government’s overthrow. Here German Social Democracy was faced with a dilemma, a dilemma of its own choosing. Their self – appointed task of saving German capitalism brought them into inevitable conflict with the working class interests which they had promised to safeguard. They solved the dilemma by calling the reactionary junker class of generals and officers to their rescue and so paved the way for the eventual downfall of the German republic.    

The South of Germany, especially Bavaria, being still in the main an agricultural area, soon led the swing back to reaction. Already in 1920, barely two years after the armistice, an openly pro-monarchist, anti-democratic regime was established, carrying on anti-republican propaganda. Numerous groups of officers, not legally employed by the German central government but permitted to exist in order to evade the restriction on military forces imposed by the Allied victors, participated in political intrigues. In addition, numberless political parties, open enemies of the democratic republic, existed under various guises. Among these was a small group calling itself “The German Workers’ Party,” which had been founded in Munich, capital of Bavaria. This party based its policy on ideas derived from the mediaeval guilds with their handicraft labour, a form of labour that still existed in Bavaria.  Adolf Hitler, who at that time was living in Munich, a soldier not yet demobilised, joined the “Inner Council” of this organisation.

The most authoritative work on the growth of the Nazi Party is  the History of the National Socialism,  by Konrad Heyden. In it the author alleged that Hitler joined the group as an agent of a number of German officers. It is certain that Hitler owed his rapid domination over this party to his control of funds which he was handed by his officer friends, who included Captain Roehm. (The latter he had murdered in the “Blood Purge” of June, 1934.)

Besides his control of funds, Hitler also quickly showed his ability as a mob-orator as well as certain talents for political intrigue. At his suggestion the party changed its name to the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party,” a title worthy of a group whose policy was not National but Racist and Imperialist, not Socialist but Capitalist; which did not represent the workers and whose leader was not even German. The new title was matched by a programme of “Twenty-Five points,” most of which consisted of the usual reformist eyewash which the Nazi leaders have long since forgotten.

Two distinct features have of the new Nazi programme deserve to be mentioned. One was opposition to “unearned income.” This point was designed to appeal to workers, but its real meaning was quite different. At that time German industry was being financed by capitalists in France, Britain and the United States, who were thus drawing the rake-off from the proceeds from the proceeds of German industry. The German industrialists, like their brothers everywhere, objected to having to part with some of the surplus value they wrung from the workers: they wanted to keep the lot. So the cry “unearned incomes” was a cry from the heart of the German capitalist exploiters.

The other point was the hostility to the Jews. To be understood, anti-semitism must be placed in its proper historical setting. Under Feudalism the Jew was a social outcast. The land as a means of livelihood was closed to him. Trading and the money-transactions it involved formed an infinitesimal part of an economy that largely restricted itself to production for local consumption. Money-lending itself was forbidden by the Church. Thus the Jew found himself willy-nilly burdened with an economic role that stamped him as an outsider to feudal society. And though under capitalism trading and finance have long ceased to be the prerogative of any religious sect, anti-semitism persists as a tradition. It is in fact a hangover from Feudalism, particularly vicious in countries where feudal customs and ideas still exert a strong influence. This tradition is of course continuously nourished by the prejudices, national  and religious, which only a classless society can fully eliminate.

The Nazis found a fruitful field for their Jew baiting propaganda in backward Bavaria. But the real significance of their “Racist philosophy” appeared later, when the intention to avenge the defeat of 1918 became obvious. The buffer states of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland contained strong German-born and German-speaking elements. These countries formed the first stepping stones to the mastery of Europe. The Nazi doctrine proclaiming the “Unity and Purity of the German Race,” was nonsense indeed from the scientist’s point of view, but as propaganda it prepared the way for conquest.

(Part 2 follows in September's issue)