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Book Reviews

The fall of Berlin

Berlin – The Downfall 1945, by Anthony Beevor, Penguin Viking.

For those able to recall the fall of Berlin in April/May 1945, Anthony Beevor's book is a powerful reminder of the horrific events that brought the war in Europe to a close. These final stages of suffering, death and destruction were only relieved by the hope that the war was near its end. At the time our knowledge was limited to what was made available through the press, radio and newsreel, all of which was heavily censored. Since then, the story has been re-told with more information becoming available. Anthony Beevor has had the advantage of access to archive material and, particularly since the fall of the Bolshevik regimes in Russia and East Europe, to the archives of the KGB.

He is able to tell us for example how the Russian campaign to take Berlin was partly shaped by the desperate need of Stalin and his henchmen to get their hands on nuclear materials. From Klaus Fuchs and other spies, Stalin was aware of the Manhattan Project (the American programme to develop the atom bomb). They were also aware of similar though less advanced research in Germany partly at the Kaiser Wilhelm Insitute for Physics which was situated west of Berlin at Dahlem, designated as part of the post war carve up to be in the American Zone of occupation. The huge numbers of Russian casualties were caused partly by the determination to occupy this research facility. As a result, the NKVD (later the KGB) were able to take possession not just of scientists but “250 kgs of metallic uranium; three tons of uranium oxide; twenty litres of heavy water”. This also reminds us that the death and destruction that marked the fall of Berlin was to continue for three more months in the Pacific culminating in the use of even more terrifying weapons, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

What happened at Dahlem with the arrival of Russian troops who, with their bitter knowledge of the atrocities carried out by German forces in Russia and East Europe, were in a frenzy of hate and revenge, was an accepted part of the Russian advance. At its convent, which was also a maternity clinic and orphanage, “Nuns, young girls, old women, pregnant women and mothers who had just given birth were all raped without pity”. Estimates from the two main Berlin hospitals ranged from 95,000 to 130,000 rape victims. One doctor deduced that out of approximately l00,000 women raped in Berlin, some 10,000 died as a result, mostly from suicide. “Altogether at least two million German women are thought to have been raped, and a substantial minority, if not a majority, appear to have suffered multiple rape.”

According to Anthony Beevor, “Stalin and his marshals paid little regard to the lives of their soldiers. The casualties for the three fronts involved in the Berlin operation were extremely high, with 78,291 killed and 274,184 wounded.” The numbers for German forces would have been similar but with many more civilian deaths. For those who lived, conditions became disease ridden and primitive. With the shelling and constant bombing, “Over a million people in the city were without any home at all. They continued to shelter in cellars and air raid shelters. Smoke from cooking fires emerged from what looked like piles of rubble, as women tried to re-create something of a home life amid the ruins.” The casualties amongst women were especially high. With the water system damaged many were killed queuing with buckets at the street pumps. One lingering image is of desperate women, shuffling up to fill the gaps in the queues caused by exploding shells.

On the 30 April Hitler and his bride of the previous day, Eva Braun, killed themselves. Just north of Berlin, Ravensbruck, the women's concentration camp was liberated. On the 1 May Goebbels and his wife Magda killed themselves together with their six children, all aged under twelve.

Anthony Beevor makes no attempt to be seriously analytical. He takes the war as given. His book is then a monumental description of its brutal closing events and the interplay of leading personalities, particularly as they acted out the final drama in the mad, hysterical atmosphere of the Fuhrer's bunker. It was in that closely confined underground space that extreme authoritarianism, blind fear and obedience, and a deranged ideology combined to produce a descent into utter self-destruction. As the main actors lost all contact with reality the author describes this descent as the “Fuhrerdammerung,” but nothing in Wagner's works could match the real life tragedy.

The absence of analysis in Anthony Beevor's book invites us to think about the causes of this death and destruction and to reflect upon the wider social context in which it happened. One response has been to simply say that Hitler was mad. It is very likely that this was true but it still leaves unexplained the reasons why millions gave him the political support from which developed of one of the most hideously cruel regimes of the 20th century.

The reading of page after page of destruction, rape and killing gives the impression that entire populations had gone collectively mad. This was despite the undoubted ability of all to co-operate in ways that could have enhanced the lives of everyone. Instead of a rational understanding of how we could best serve each other's needs through unity there prevailed the divisive and hateful ideologies of nationalism, leadership and racism. And it was the background of national economic rivalries that allowed these attitudes to fester and grow with such disastrous results.

But what have we learned since then? There is not much to be hopeful about. The huge gap between our mutual interests and the ideas we need to realise them seems to be as wide as ever. As a result, the destruction and the killing continues. One lesson of Anthony Beevor's book is that whilst our ideas remain out of harmony with our need for unity and co-operation we will always remain liable to be manipulated into elevating the miseries of death and destruction over peace, security and the pursuit of happiness.

Marketing the Revolution by Michael Mosbacher, Social Affairs Unit, 2002.

Before we can have socialism a majority of the world's population will have to stop supporting capitalism and become pro-socialism. But what if the “anti-capitalist” movement proves to be a precursor, not of a fundamentally different form of society (socialism) but simply of another form of capitalism? If the “revolution” is de-fused, emasculated, diverted, usurped, hi-jacked, betrayed – if it is marketed by people who want, not socialism, but a reformed capitalism, then things will change a little but not much. Capitalism will have eaten “anti-capitalism” for breakfast.
According to Mosbacher, something like that is actually happening. Of course, he doesn't put it quite like that. He writes for the Social Affairs Unit, a body that has good capitalism-supporting credentials. His main theme is that those who support the anti-capitalist movement (and in particular those who attack corporate brands) talk the language of capitalism because “it is the only game in town”. But arguably the most useful function his little book serves is to quote some dreadful statistics from The United Nations Human Development Report 2001 :

“. . . much of the world still lives in horrific poverty: in the developing world 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day . . . 2.8 billion live on less than $2 a day; 325 million children do not go to school; more than 8.5 million are illiterate; 11 million children under five die each year from preventable causes; nearly a billion people do not have access to improved water sources; and 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation” (p.71).

Mosbacher seeks to take the sting out of these awful figures by arguing that “the only countries in which we have seen large-scale poverty reduction in the 1990s are the ones that have become more open to foreign trade and investment”. He quotes some figures of poverty reduction which “may seem trivial to some in comparison with the overall scale of the problem . . .” Yes, they do.
Returning to the theme of marketing the revolution, the author lays into Naomi Klein's No Logo. We, too, were under no illusions when we reviewed this best-selling book in our December 2000 issue: “Klein appears to believe that something worthwhile can be done within the system of capitalism.”
Mosbacher is scathing about the “success” that the anti-branding movement has achieved. He notes that Klein has been a star turn at international anti-corporate gatherings. Anti-capitalism and anti-branding are fashionable and popular but they aren't daring, subversive, edgy. They take on board the culture, ethos, language and techniques of branding, and they use these to attack the brands themselves.
Mosbacher says the anti-capitalists have “no clear end-vision of where they want to be, except away from where we are.” But he likes being where we are, and doesn't like or want revolution. For him, branding is a good thing: it “is an extremely useful invention in that it transmits a vast amount of information to the consumer in an instant.” So that's all right, then.
Stan Parker

Question Everything by Melvin Chapman. Third Millennium Press. (download this book here)

Nowhere in this book, or in his previous Third Millennium Press publications, does Melvin Chapman claim to be a socialist – he is indeed dubious of word “socialist” – but throughout Question Everything , as in his previous publications, we find the author clearly propagating the case for a world without money and articulating many of the arguments we in the Socialist Party have been using against our political opponents for decades

Chapman, for instance, tears into the concept of leadership on a number of occasions, arguing that we have been conditioned to accept that we are “intellectually deficient” and in need of betters who are “capable of organising and directing us”. And they of course cannot control events because it is the system that controls them; they too are “conditioned by the economic and political structures in which they were born”.

He is also critical of the reformist mentality, informing us how, “No reform, nor attempt to improve the system . . . can do more than ameliorate its inconsistencies.”

He is derisive of what passes for democracy in capitalist society, observing that there “can be no democracy in a complex system designed to justify inequality, a system in which the power of money carries the right to govern, in which the governed accept their own inferiority, lack of self-respect and sense of worth, a system in which crime, conflict, nationalism, racism, ethnic cleansing . . . is inevitable.”

“Only in self government can there be freedom with order.” And “freedom”? Chapman insists that “Freedom lies in a society in which we can work together free of the social structures that inhibit consensus and in a social, political and economic environment that does not actively promote differences and confrontations.” The rub is that “Freedom depends upon knowledge . . . knowledge upon information . . . [but] information is not knowledge . . . [because it is] limited and controlled . . . The individual has to have the facilities to understand and interpret, to know what there is to know and what questions to ask”

Chapman is at his best in attacking the logic of the profit system, for instance noting how “the money system has enabled the human species to develop the technology with which it dominates the earth, but it has become an excuse for ignoring the factors that impede its own social advance”. Highlighting the alienation the money system gives rise to, he comments: ”This creature Man . . . has allowed itself to be treated – and to treat itself – as of less consequence than a few copper coins, a few electronic pulses, no more than a dollar a day.”

He challenges the assumption that without money no one would work, pointing out how “the money system has given work a bad name, with connotations of long hours, stress, tiredness, monotony . . . even in this acquisitive society of ours, most of us do some sort of voluntary work . . . working for others is enjoyable provided that we do not feel that it is augmenting other people's interests at our expense”. In a moneyless world, he maintains, “the man/woman power available would be virtually limitless. There would be plenty for them to do . . . our fellow man, our environment, our towns and cities, our talents and potentialities . . . there would be enough to keep us occupied for generations”.

He continues: “We assume that without money there would be anarchy, but it is the chaotic complexity of the money system and the governments required to maintain it that is anarchic.” There then follows a lengthy section in which Chapman envisages the benefits of a moneyless world before concluding that “the greatest benefit of all would be in the reduction or elimination of the anti-social emotions of greed, hatred, selfishness and aggression, which the money system makes inevitable and we would be able to treat ourselves and each other as the sort of human beings that we claim to be”.

A lot of this book is given over to how capitalist society conditions our consciousness; how it determines the way we think and act. Chapman is adamant we can overcome this conditioning and achieve the maturity needed to help forge a better world. And this “maturity” he contests, lies “in the ability to question our inherited assumptions and to replace our primitive responses, our need to compete with and eliminate each other, by recognition of our responsibility to ourselves and to the wider universe. To free ourselves we have to “run the gauntlet of inherited impediments”.

The book's great weakness lies, undoubtedly, in the suggestion of how we can get from capitalism to the moneyless world of free access to the benefits of civilisation. For Chapman, “the actual process of getting rid of money would require no more than the creation of a single International currency, followed by the gradual reduction in interest rates and an expansion of the quantity of money in circulation until it ceased to have any value”. Here, a closer scrutiny of the workings of capitalism and the implications of such a process, might have prompted the author to rethink this statement.

Moreover, emphasis on the democratic road to a moneyless world, how it must be the free and class-conscious decision of the majority, would have enhanced this short book.

Accepting that Chapman does not claim to be a socialist and criticism aside, this work does have its merits in revealing, quite succinctly in places, the insanity of capitalism and in advancing the benefits of establishing moneyless system of society.

This self-published, short print-run book is available from the author at: Third Millennium Press, 51 Newton Road, Bath, BA2 1RW. No price is given.

John Bissett