German Capitalism Revives
“If you don’t go to bed like a good boy” said the nurse, “Boney will come and get you.” The threat was enough and the little boy went dutifully to his slumbers. “Boney”—the contemptuous English abbreviation of the name of Napoleon Bonaparte—was, in the opinion of the nurse, the embodiment of all the world’s evil. But, as she could prove, he had his uses, particularly at bedtime.
A hundred years later the little boy’s great grandson was being persuaded into his bath and his bed by the threatened prospect of a visit from the Kaiser, and 25 years after that his offspring obeyed the orders of parent and nurse backed by the lurking spectre of Adolf Hitler.
And so through the years the shadow of “evil men” has hung over the world, and our troubles and tribulations have during their lifetime been laid at their doors. The honest nurse was a reflection of the attitude of her age, and the palpitations of the little boy in his bed were the tremblings of a generation in turmoil. For people have ever held that the existence of war, with all the attendant unhappiness and bestiality, is the responsibility of—at the most—a few men of base intent who are intractable in their design to conquer and suppress. This is a convenient conception of the world’s affairs which requires a minimum of thought and application and lends itself readily to exploitation by subtle pens and swift tongues. A Lloyd George will thunder his purity against the vice of a Kaiser and his cry will be echoed in a million other throats. Newspapers will devote much space to the iniquities of a Hitler, and songsters will wax fat upon the profits of derisory ditties like “When That Man is Dead and Gone.” The impression to be given is that to remove the man is to remove the problem—to depose or to kill a Hitler is to depose the possibility of war and to secure peace for the world. Thus arises an edifice of propaganda—but it is an edifice built upon falsity; and there is no better example of this than that to be drawn from recent events in Germany.
The Rise of Hitler
In the late nineteen-thirties German Capitalism was labouring under an intense expansionist pressure. Its industry, ever virile, had largely recovered from the reverses of the 1914-18 war, and was casting about itself for colonial sources of raw materials, and markets upon which it could sell the products pouring from the factories. The eyes of the German capitalists were upon the industrial strength of the Saar, upon the oil of the Balkans and the Middle East, and upon the African Colonies of which they had been deprived in 1919. At every turn Germany stood thwarted by Great Britain, France and Russia. And all the time the pressure from the great industries, gathering their strength day by day. The situation was explosive and it threw up an explosive character. Adolf Hitler, with his brainstorms, his Gestapo and his concentration camps, was a peculiarly approximate expression of German capitalism and so was supremely suited to play the role of the Bad Man of Europe: the pens of Fleet Street ran warm in the depicting of this newest bedtime threat. But Hitler was only the expression of the desperate ambitions of the German capitalists; and Chamberlain and Daladier—his opposite numbers in Great Britain and France—were representative of the fears and determinations of the ruling classes in their countries. The 1939 war arose from Germany’s struggle for a place in the European economic sun, opposed by the need of her opponents to keep her in the shade.
It is worthwhile noting the appeal which Hitler made to the German working class in order to arouse them to the acceptance of an inevitable war. He spoke of oppressed minorities of German nationals in the Sudetenland. He demanded the return of Germany’s lost territories in Eastern Europe. He sketched the plight of the inhabitants of East Prussia, cut off by the Polish Corridor from overland communication with the rest of Germany. The phrase “the right of self- determination’’ flew thick in the air. It was effective matter and the German workers accepted it. They went willingly to a war in which Hitler himself lost his life. But did the ambitions which Hitler voiced die with him? We shall see.
The Same Again
Western Germany today is in a position remarkably similar to that which Germany as a whole held between the wars. Once again she is recovering (greatly assisted by her erstwhile conquerors) from the effects of a staggering defeat, and her industry is getting under way for the seas of expansion and enterprise. The Manchester Guardian tells us (22/6/53) that “An economic institute in Munich has recently reported that the industrial structure of the Federal Republic (of Germany) was now similar to that of the whole Reich in 1939.’’ The same view was expressed last month in the report of the Federation of German Industry. The Guardian’s correspondent in Bonn reported (20/5/53) that “German officials in the Federal Ministry of Economics declare that. . . the Federal Republic intends to recapture its former fruitful trade with Eastern Europe.’’ British industry is now finding that “Western Germany is Britain’s chief competitor in Europe” (Observer 3/5/53) and that “capital goods will meet with growing competition . . . from Germany” (Manchester Guardian 7/9/53). In fact, Europe is approaching a situation similar to that of 1939, with its battle of economic pressure and counter-pressure. German industry is gathering as a potential boil on the neck of French and British interests.
And this condition has thrown up another man. Not a rug-chewing maniac with a bodyguard of stormtroopers. Not an architect of a system of concentration camps. A quiet, scholarly man. A shrewd man. But personifying the interests and the mood of German capitalism as surely as, in his day, did Adolf Hitler The recent electoral victory of the German Christian Democratic Union and the installation of its leader— Dr. Konrad Adenauer—firmly into the position of Chancellor of the Federal Republic marks a significant phase in post-war European history. For German capitalism is resurgent and is re-asserting itself in the affairs of Europe. The election of a strong government —the most stable on that part of the Continent of Europe controlled by the Western Powers—is symptomatic of this re-awakening confidence. Says The Economist of 12/9/53 “Dr. Adenauer is established as the most powerful statesman on the Continent . . . All the portents suggest that for some time to come Western Europe will be led by the German nation.”
The Pace Quickens
Revived German capitalism is staring with covetous eyes upon the possessions and markets of its European neighbours .and as of old, its. aspirations are turned towards the lands in Eastern Europe, which it formerly held, and toward the richness of the Saar . . . “German experts have worked out draft proposals for replacing the Saar’s one-sided economic union with France by a more balanced relationship with the French and German economy . . . ” (Observer 13/9/53). The current topic of German politicians is no longer the rights of self-determination. They now speak of “German reunification.” From Bonn again comes the news (Manchester Guardian 14/9/53) that “German pressure on the Western Powers to reunify the whole of Germany may be expected to grow in the immediate future.” And had not the Federal Government Minister for All-German Affairs (Herr Jakob Kaiser) already declared that “The reunification of Germany means not only the return of the Soviet zone but also of the former German territories in the East now under Czech and Polish administration.” (Manchester Guardian 7/5/53). All this has a familiar ring. It transports one’s imagination back to the dusty summer of 1939, with the newspapers and the radio reporting the speeches from the beer-cellars.
It has been said that the future of Germany decides the future of Europe. An expanding Germany in 1953 would prove as much of a nuisance to the British and French capitalist class as in 1939. We may well have not yet seen the end of Germany as the Bad Boy of Europe.
The lesson to be drawn from all this is that wars are not the work of wicked, aggressive men. In 1939 Europe went to war because of the pressure of German economic expansion—Europe could well go to war again for the same reason, with roughly the same line-up as before—although Hitler the evil is dead, and Adenauer the mild and ruminative is in his place.
One day the people of the world must grasp this fact—that wars flow from the competitive nature of capitalist society—that they are but one of a number of unpleasant by-products of the system of the manufacture of wealth for sale. When that fact has been assimilated and the conflicts of the world are no more ascribed to the malefactions of a handful of rulers, then there will be no more bedtime threats of bogey men for our little boys. Such stratagems will be pointless. The little boys of the world will have grown up.