CLR James 1945
Source: New International, May 1945, pp. 102-106, CLR James under the name J.R. Johnson;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
The ruin of bourgeois society in Germany is so colossal in its scope, so logical in its development, and so embracing in all its ramifications that it forms a characteristic microcosm of bourgeois as a whole at this stage of its decay. We shall attempt here to point out a few of the outstanding features in so far as they enable us to understand our enemies more clearly.
Nazism was not in essence German. It was in essence capitalistic, bourgeois. In as much as it reached its most finished expression in Germany the appearance it presented to the world was German. But it was the representative of capitalism in our day, and not only of German capitalism but of all capitalism. There must not be the slightest hesitation or confusion about this.
After ten years of the Weimar Republic the German bourgeoisie wanted above all things capitalist order in Germany. No advanced nation could continue to live as Germany had lived between 1914 and 1921, in continuous crisis, and as it had begun to live again after the crash of 1929. Naturally the German bourgeois and the Junkers did not want Fascism. I hey preferred to rule themselves without these upstarts. They couldn’t do it. The old bourgeois ideology was exhausted. It could hold the nation together no longer. The bureaucracy, police and arms of the democratic state could no longer be depended upon to maintain order. The Fascists supplied a new ideology and a new coercive force. Behind all the Swastikas, the worship of Odin and of Thor, the outstretched hands and the Heil Hitlers, the persecution of the Jews, and all with which the world is familiar, there must be kept in mind the one central principle of Fascism — the destruction of the organised working-class movement. That was German Fascism. The German bourgeoisie had no choice. To understand this, and to give it its full value, is not to make excuses for the capitalists of Germany. It is in reality to become more fully aware of how necessary it is that bourgeois society be wiped off the face of the earth.
From 1918 to 1933 the German nation was going to pieces. Between the irreconcilable interests of the capitalist class and those of the working class, the economy, the social system and the political life of Germany were not only in decay: gangrene had set in.
The only cure was the knife and the German bourgeoisie applied it. The fascists sought power, power to rule and to bring order into disintegrating Germany. They got it. They did not have to fight a civil war for it. The bourgeoisie and the Junkers gave it to them. The petty bourgeoisie gave them mass support. The Social-Democracy and the Communists capitulated shamefully. Unlike Franco, who inherited a country ruined by civil war, the Nazis got hold of a Germany that was economically more highly developed than it was in 1918. They had every opportunity to show what they could do.
We have now seen. In twelve short years they have reduced what was the greatest nation in Europe to a pitch of misery, poverty, degradation, physical and moral humiliation such as has no parallel in all the centuries of Europe’s troubled history. It is not only that Germany has been defeated in the war, Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany was defeated. What is so striking is that even the basic elements of the power of the German bourgeoisie have been destroyed. The magnificent economy of Germany has been battered to pieces.
Many of the great cities of Germany, with Berlin at their head, are now mountains of rubble, with the culture of centuries buried beneath the ruins. The German army, with the German general staff, one of the proudest achievements of bourgeois Germany and for generations one of the greatest forces of reaction in capitalist Europe, has been beaten, disgraced, humiliated, its traditions dragged in the mud, all its power at the mercy of foreign conquerors.
Anglo-American-Russian propaganda is now trying to create the impression that the German general staff and the traditions of the German army have remained intact. There is no limit to the effrontery of imperialist politicians and their hired hacks. The Junkers and their militarists have reached the lowest depths of degradation. Field Marshals and generals, scions of Junker families famous not only in Germany but the world over, formed organizations in Moscow, broadcast on the radio and published propaganda calling upon the German army and their fellow officers to revolt. These brother officers and brother Junkers denounced the Muscovite Junkers as traitors before the whole German people. Junkers and officers tried to blow up or otherwise destroy their leader and the German general stall. They failed, the leaders were tried and hanged, and these too were denounced before the German people by Hitler and their own Junker brothers. Those who remained surrendered unconditionally and many of them are now in jail. Some are still seeking salvation from Moscow. Others are seeking to play Britain and America against Russia. Defeat, treason, assassination, hanging, contradictory policies, all carried out before the German people, blared at them day and night on the radio, and hurled at them in speeches and in the press — and now we are asked to believe that the traditions of the German general staff remain intact. The German people have other things to think about for the moment than the German general staff and the military traditions of the Junkers. But when they begin to think about these things they will have plenty to think about.
The German bureaucracy was one of the best administrative bodies that bourgeois Europe could show, and ranked with the British Civil Service. In republics like France and the United States the spoils of government are fought for in accordance with the crudest immoralities of the capitalist market. In Britain and Germany, however, where the feudal tradition was blended with the bourgeois, the ruling classes maintained a sense of orderly government, particularly because, in the last analysis, the profits and the power remained all the more certainly in the hands of or at the disposal of the ruling classes. The fraud and the corruption of bourgeois government were kept within decent bounds, all of which redounded to the credit of the ruling classes and enabled them all the more surely to mulct the population as a whole. Even before 1933, the fascists and the bourgeoisie had begun the corruption of the German bureaucracy. By 1945 its venality had become a byword of the German nation and the whole of Europe. Bribery was rampant from top to bottom of the German administration. This too was the work of fascism.
And so, Messrs. Bourgeois, you had your power and your order and above all your destruction of the German working class movement. You had every possible opportunity to show that you could do. Look at the result. You have reduced Germany in the eyes of the world to the lowest level of humanity. The suffering you have imposed upon Europe and the German people, the bestiality and ferocity which your gangsters had to practice and seek to instill into the German youth — all that will fester in the nation until the labor movement opens up for it a new perspective. But your greatest failure is that the very foundations of your own power, those you have destroyed also. All that remains now, in the words of Jodl after he surrendered, is to throw yourself on the generosity of the conquerors. Or, like Bismarck and Von Paulus, to try to sneak back sitting in the baggage-carts of the Russian army. Or, like Admiral Doenitz, to beg to be allowed to govern because otherwise the German people might swing to the right or to the left. The German people cannot swing to the right, Admiral. There is no further to the right to go. The Right did all it wished to do. The result is before us and before the German people too.
But the final, the complete, the never-to-be-forgotten disgrace of ruling class Germany, the most dramatic expression of its inner bankruptcy is that it went down without a word to the German people or to the world. Five years ago the present writer had occasion to write about these people. It was September, 1940. They were at the height of their power. I wrote then:
“... For the first time for over five centuries, a political system with a great fanfare of newness and solution to crisis, makes a political virtue out of tyranny, inequality; class, racial and national prejudice; and decries everything that European civilization has striven for, in theory at least, since the Renaissance. During Europe’s worst periods of reaction, the period of the counter-reformation and the holy Alliance, the most reactionary writers could find something plausible to say in defense of their cause. German imperialism plunders in order to live. Fascism is the decline of the West and its protagonists know it in their souls. Their writings on all subjects, except the seizure of power, are nothing else but lies and nonsense, cold-blooded, deliberate falsification. Not a flower blossoms on their arid heaths. There is no soil in which anything in grow. They are just a thin cover for exhausted bourgeois society. They can have nothing to say. Mommsen and Carlyle said all when the bourgeoisie still could preserve some illusions. If Trotsky’s History does not guarantee the inevitability of socialism, Mein Kampf guarantees the fraud of fascism as a solution to the ill of capitalist society. (New International, September, 1940, page 163.)
They were vigorous, able and determined but they were a gang in possession — nothing more. They knew it and the German bourgeoisie knew it too. When the crash came, not one of them had anything to offer as a perspective for the future. All through history, in periods of crisis, political leaders of great parties, revolutionary or reactionary, have been nourished and fortified by some vision. They could try to justify heir work, if even only to themselves and their followers. They could hurl at word of defiance at their captors even when facing the rifle squad. The defeated Old Bolsheviks, as they stood confessing at Stalin’s trials, were everything you like but not contemptible. If we deny all reason, all sense, all (ie, all the historical circumstances, and assume for a moment that they were speaking the truth, even then they were trying to atone, to do what they could to bolster up the remnants of the system to establish which they had given their lives. If, as has been abundantly proved, they were lying, then the lie is covered by the fact that at the very least the lies would help the regime to maintain its credit. But Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, Ley, von Ribbentrop, Himmler, they live or die like rats in holes. They kill themselves or are killed, they run into the mountains with their women and their loot. Himmler, to save his own hide, carries out negotiations with the enemy and as good as offers to murder his dearly beloved Feuhrer. Goering gives interviews to the press and complains about how badly his Feuhrer and his enemies in the party treated him.
The Von Papens, and the Von Keitels, who had heiled Hitler with the best, merely shook off fascism as a man shakes off a dirty shirt. It had made a shrewd and at times a diabolically clever appeal to millions of the population but the rulers of Germany never believed in it. Fascism as a political system, its ideals, what it now offered to the German people, some hope to its millions of followers that out of the defeat would one day rise something — not a word, nothing. It said nothing because there was nothing to say. Nothing but shameful, mean, vulgar self-seeking. Isn’t it clear now exactly what fascism was? Never have so cruel, so vicious, so degenerate a set of scoundrels ever ruled any modern country. In all of them added together there was not an ounce of dignity or of genuine faith, not even in themselves. Hitler, who had so many elements of the genuine fanatic, proved in the end to be essentially of the same breed as the rest. There is here a profound lesson in social and political psychology.
It was to these empty men that Von Keitel and Von Kesselring and Von Rundstedt, and Von Jodl, it was to these gangsters that so many of the German aristocracy remained faithful. A substantial section of the German bourgeoisie and the German Junkers went along with fascism to the end. For them that was German civilization, German culture, German society and, of course, German bourgeois society. This was what they had built and supported in order to save Europe from bolshevism, to prevent the working class from ruling.
They were not alone. From one end of Europe to the other, the ruling classes of Europe were in thorough sympathy with Nazism and only fought it when they felt that their own hides were in danger. Petain, Laval and the French bourgeoisie, Franco and the Spanish bourgeoisie, Mussolini and the Italian bourgeoisie, the ruling classes of Hungary, Romania and Austria, from one end of the continent to another, in Britain and in the United States, this monstrous apparition in European society excited amid the great of the earth almost universal admiration, respect, fear and a desire to emulate wherever possible. Had it not been for the economic contradictions which compelled expansion and a threat to other economic interests, Hitler and his band of Dillingers would have been hailed as the restorers of order and the saviors of European society. The danger is that in the jubilation over the defeat and disgrace of these criminals the welcome bourgeois society gave them may be subordinated or lost sight of. The close harmony between fascism and the ruling classes everywhere was not any kind of mistake on either side. In these men bourgeois society recognized its indispensable medium of self-preservation. Their murderous cruelty, their greed, their ruthlessness, their vaunted fanaticism which turned out to be such a hollow mockery, everything about them was needed by bourgeois society, created by bourgeois society, built up by bourgeois society. Capitalism needed this barbarism in the past, needs it today and will need it in the future. It is its only means of salvation. The form will change. The essential savagery of the content will remain.
We are accustomed to saying loosely that the European bourgeoisie not only welcomed Hitler but helped him to achieve power. That is a half truth. They were the chief architects of his success. They made him from the ground up. His rise appears to be the most spectacular in modern history. Yet a truly historical and realistic view will see him, far from being an Odyssey of individual will and achievement, no important career has been so essentially a social phenomenon. Comparisons with Napoleon are the fruit either of ignorance, stupidity or criminal intention. The young Bonaparte was sent to Italy as any number of voting generals were sent to fight the campaigns of the hard-pressed Republic. The “lightning in the hills” of the Italian campaign revealed to Europe that a military genius of the first magnitude had arisen. This military star displayed diplomatic genius as well. He was a European figure when he began his bid for power. Hitler’s career was the exact opposite. In 1923 he was nobody. Yet one year later he was attempting to capture Bavaria, being aided by the German hero of World War I, Ludendorf. The plotters believed that they had the support of the Bavarian military and governmental authorities and it is reasonable to believe that they had good cause for thinking that they did. His treatment in jail proved that. His hundreds of thousands of storm troopers represented an enormous expense. They were thugs hired by the German bourgeoisie to fight its battles against the working class. In the years 1930-33 the German bureaucracy engineered election after election. Through the system of proportional representation no government could find a sufficient majority to rule and by this means the bureaucracy and its masters hoped to discredit parliamentary government and open the way for authoritarian rule. Despite his immense influence over the petty bourgeoisie, Hitler, by 1932, was on the wane. The German bourgeoisie deliberately maintained Nazism to have some power in reserve against Bolshevism. True, he dominated them afterward. We do not mean for one moment to deny the energy, the inventiveness, the will, the tenacity of Hitler and the other Nazi leaders. We do not deny their skilful use of social contradictions. He himself was obviously a born leader of men and an orator the like of whom Europe has not often seen. But from the time he began, the German bourgeoisie, the military caste, the bureaucracy, all built him up and without their active conscious support he would have been nothing.
Napoleon built himself up by sheer achievement and compelled recognition by the French bourgeoisie. The German bourgeoisie recognised this Vienna ex-house painter, ex-artist, ex-bum, ex-soldier from early, picked him out of the gutter and made him what he was. When he finally was pushed into the power in Germany the international bourgeoisie took its turn. The process of Hitler-building was repeated on the international scene.
At no time after the Eighteenth Brumaire could the French bourgeoisie have gotten rid of Bonaparte. And the European bourgeoisie was alike impotent before him. Coalitions innumerable of Europe were tried to drive him from power. He broke them one after the other by his own military, diplomatic and administrative skill. He owed nothing to any of Europe’s ruling classes. He spread the tenets and practices of bourgeois society throughout Europe by his skilful use of the revolutionary power developed in France. He was “Robespierre on horseback,” the bourgeois Emperor, carrying war to European feudalism. Hitler was bone of Europe’s bone and flesh of Europe’s flesh. Hitler was bourgeois reaction, doing the work of the bourgeoisie. At any time between 1933 and 1936 and even later he could have been overthrown from the outside. In 1936, when he matched into the Rhineland, his power stood on the edge of a hair. If any army had marched against his troops, they would have had to retreat. Against the advice of his generals. Hitler took the chance He was supremely confident that the British and French bourgeoisie would save him from disaster and his confidence was not misplaced. They helped him out because they wanted his rule in Europe to continue. They helped him to rearm. They gave him diplomatic support. The degradation and humiliation of Germany, the brutalization of German life, all this for them was not only to be endured but to be condoned. It kept the workers in their place. Lloyd George and Lord Lothian, pillars of British liberalism, were political defenders of Hitler. Sir Neville Henderson. British minister to Germany compared his dictatorship to Cromwell’s. As late as 1938 Winston Churchill, supposed arch-enemy of Hitlerism, paid the Fuehrer a distinguished compliment. If Britain lost a war, said Churchill, he hoped that the British would find a Hitler to restore the nation as Hitler had restored Germany.
The examples can be multiplied. These are not accidental or chance utterances. They fit into the whole pattern of the bourgeois attitude toward Hitler. For them. Hitler was the savior of Central Europe. He was not a German phenomenon. He was the representative man of bourgeois society. He was the enemy of their enemy — the working class — and for a time he seemed to be a bulwark against revolutionary Russia. They turned against him only when they could not come to terms with him and when they were assured that Russia was no longer revolutionary. What is called appeasement was no tactic, it was no mistake. It was the bourgeoisie doing all it could so that Hitler should remain in power. Hence Roosevelt’s telegram to him congratulating him on Munich. Imagine then the boundless hypocrisy of Churchill when he told the world a few weeks ago that it would be a pity if the Germans had been driven out of Europe only to he replaced by totalitarian and police rule. Totalitarian and police role were the joint creation of the German bourgeoisie and the European bourgeoisie as a whole. Already all this is being forgotten. Churchill and the Tories are actually going before the British people to claim their suffrage as the successful leaders of the struggle against tyranny. It is not only that they should be indicted for the present ruin. They are at the same game today.
Regimes of all kinds have to seek alliances where they can get them. That is nothing new in history. It is characteristic of our age, however, and the social role of the working class that governments find it necessary either to suppress the working class altogether or to justify their acts with some show of plausibility. Thus when Czarism was drawn into the alliance with France and Britain in the early twentieth century, there began a change in the attitude of the press toward Czarism. From being Nicholas the Hangman, the Czar became the Little Father of all his peoples and remained such until the revolution in 1917. No longer able to lean on the most reactionary regime in Europe, the British and French bourgeoisie assisted the German bourgeoisie in establishing Hitler. As we have seen, this was no mere military entente. It was for more a social alliance, shot through of course with the economic contradictions which finally tore the alliance to pieces. Compelled destroy him, they turned to Stalinist Russia and Stalin. They have turned to Stalinism, first for military reasons, but also because they have been given assurances open and secret that Stalinism is purged of all revolutionary aims. Let us look the historical and concrete content of this. Nazism has collapsed not only without a bang but even without a whimper. Its leaders have simply ducked for cover. The generals have made a few arrogant but futile gestures. The German monarchists have not uttered a word. Of the great bourgeois state that was Germany, there is not one claimant for power. Of course some voices will be raised in time. But the collapse has been complete.
But Germany formed a central bloc in Europe, continuously contending for power in Eastern Europe, first against France and then against Russia. Italy, which added to the confusion in the Balkans, can do so no longer. The bankruptcy of France, the collapse of Germany, the disintegration of Italy, leave Eastern Europe as a congeries of states with bankrupt regimes. Russia is an imperialist power. We shall come to that in time. But the Russian domination of Eastern Europe, though a cause of bitter rivalry, is part of the whole Anglo-American-Russian plan for defending property and privilege and restoring their reactionary concept of order.
Churchill’s lamentations about police government and totalitarian rule in Europe is the most colossal lying and hypocrisy imaginable The British and United Stales governments terribly needed Hitler’s totalitarian and police rule in Europe so long as he kept his expansionism within bounds. Naturally they would have preferred to be able to do that whole job themselves But they could not carve up Europe as they carved up Africa sixty years ago. In the historical circumstances, Hitler, a reasonable Hitler, was a God-send for them. But in much the same way Stalin’s totalitarian police rule is a God-send for them, if Stalin is reasonable. The historical origins are different. Nazi Germany was the counter-revolution disguised as a new order and aiming at the destruction of the organized proletariat. Stalinism is the counter-revolution which for familiar reasons functions from within the proletariat. But while in fundamental conflict with Stalinist Russia, as it was in fundamental conflict with Nazi Germany, Anglo-American imperialism can only maintain its position in Europe against the masses of the people and the march of history by fraternization and the closest cooperation, first with the Nazi regime and now with Stalinism. Despite the differences between Nazism and Stalinism both these totalitarian, police-dominated regimes are now necessities for the maintenance of the shifting and unstable equilibrium which are the conditions for the continued existence of bourgeois society. Note that the quarrel is only over Poland. For the time being Stalinism could be allowed to dominate Eastern Europe as Hitler was allowed to swallow Austria and Czechoslovakia Tomorrow would be another story, but sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
And what is this regime which leas been substituted for Nazism? Nazism was an enemy to be fought as an enemy of civilization? Before the war the Stalinist political regime committed internal crimes to which the bestialities of Hitlerism against the German people were pale in comparison. Where and when has any modern regime carried out murders, massacres, repression and all kinds of violence against its own population as the Stalinist regime has carried out against the masses of the Russian people? Nothing that Hitler did to the Germans in tune of peace can compare to the murder and transportation of millions upon millions of peasants, done under the guise of “liquidating the kulak.” If Hitler liquidated Roehm, and his companions in arms in 1931, Stalin has liquidated not only some eighty per cent of the old Bolshevik Party, but in 1936-38 carried out an official massacre of hundreds of thousands plus his own highest appointees and officials, an official holocaust for which you will search history in vain to find a faint parallel.
Millions of workers are condemned to forced labor and concentration camps. The totalitarian excesses of the regime had for years exceeded Hitler’s most extreme excesses. All this the bourgeois world knew and commented upon in scathing terms. The bourgeoisie of Britain, France and America could not find words enough to condemn this barbarism and considered Hitler’s New Order'’ a highly satisfactory means of ridding the world of the “Bolshevik menace” to civilization. It condoned Hitler’s “expansion” into Austria and into Czechoslovakia. It assisted his adventure in Spain. Only when his seizure of Poland threatened to upset the whole balance of European power did the Nazi crimes overnight assume the aspect of a menace to civilization. While Hitler was in alliance with Stalin, the bourgeois statesmen, with President Roosevelt at their head and the liberals trailing behind, took the propagandist offensive on behalf of civilization in condemnation of these twin barbarisms. With the change in alliances, however, the tune changed. Roosevelt’s voice rang with praise for “our Russian ally” and Churchill called Russia one of the democracies. Hitler continued his depredations over Europe accompanied by the execration of all progressive and right-thinking people. This, we were told, was imperialism naked and unadorned, and was condemned as such. Hitler murdered his enemies in the conquered countries, established puppet regimes, seized their capital and transported it to Germany or when ever it was convenient, and rounded up the population to work in his factories. The bourgeoisie and the liberals excelled themselves in virtuous indignation.
Now, however, Hitler has been defeated. And as his armies retreated Stalin’s conquering armies followed in their wake. They have shot down their political opponents, just as Hitler did. They have established puppet regimes, just as Hitler did. They have seized capital and transported it to Russia — just as Hitler did. They have rounded up thousands upon thousands of workers and sent them to Russia to labor — just as Hitler did. If they have not done it on the same scale it is because the war is now over and the immediate need is not as great. All this is done under the slogans of anti-fascism, defense of democracy, world peace and defense of Russia. The Baltic states were taken in order to defend Moscow better. East Poland was taken to defend the Baltic states. West Poland was taken to defend East Poland. Eastern Germany is invaded by the Lublin government no doubt, among other reasons, in order to defend Western Poland The totalitarian regimes are, as far as possible, installed. The world press is told to get out and to keep out.
When Hitler began the same process the protests of the bourgeoisie were mild and the protests of the liberals were loud. Today we see progress. The protests of the bourgeoisie were for a long time non-existent at Stalin’s imitation of Hitler. They hated it but they couldn’t prevent it. And as for the liberals, many were enthusiastic. But there is a limit. For the bourgeoisie Poland was the limit to Hitler’s peaceful expansion with bourgeois benevolence. It was also the limit to Stalin’s peaceful expansion and bourgeois benevolence. The struggle is on between the rivals for the domination of Europe. Poland is a key-point. Benevolent neutrality ceases. Russia is no longer a democracy. Churchill therefore begins to talk about totalitarian and police rule. The words should turn to dust and ashes in his mouth. Police rule in India, social entente with Hitler until rivalry puts an end to it; and now the same with Stalin. Field Marshal Alexander had to tell Tito, the democratic titan, that he would blow him out of Trieste it he did not go peaceably. First we heard the praises of Mikhailovitch, then we were deafened by the combined excoriation of Mikhailovitch and the praises of Tito. It may not be very long before we are treated to as long, as detailed and as ferocious an attack upon the crimes of Stalinism and its menace to civilization as formerly filled the air about Hitler. Nazism is beaten to the ground, but Stalinism rules in its stead. There are great differences but it is the similarity of these modern tyrannies which have followed one another with such swiftness that is revealed the essence of our society.
That is the world in which we live. These are the men who rule its. This is how they rule and fool the people. A spate of articles, books, pamphlets, lectures, radio comments, films will now descend upon us in increasing magnitude and velocity all directed toward underscoring, illuminating, probing, analyzing the origin, essence and manifestations of the Hitlerite regime in Germany. The bourgeoisie of the democracies will seek to capitalize on its own heroic efforts and sacrifices to rid the world of this monster.
The working class will do well to ponder over these questions, to lay the responsibility where it lies, to see Hitlerism for what it was, a defense of bourgeois society in which all the bourgeoisie participated to the best of its ability. The way it has fawned upon Stalinism and covered up its crimes, the way it is now getting ready to turn upon Stalin if necessary, proves, if further proof were necessary, how self-motivated, how hypocritical are its cries about barbarism and the defense of civilization.
Everywhere it is the same. It sponsors the blood-stained regimes of Franco, of Chiang Kai-shek, of Peron in Argentina and Vargas in Brazil. Terror, murder, blood, persecution, wholesale robbery and innumerable lies — these are the weapons with which bourgeois society maintains itself. So deep-rooted is the decay, so all-pervading, that the democracies are compelled to build up these iniquitous regimes on one day and then set out to destroy them on the other. The workers of the United States in particular must see and learn. The time is coming when the American bourgeoisie will be driven into the same hole that the German bourgeoisie found itself. To escape the power of the workers there is no criminality which it will not embark upon to save its hide. The barbarism which descended upon Germany in 1933 will have its American counterpart because it was not German but capitalistic, capitalism fighting its war of survival. In saving itself from capitalism the American working class will save not only itself but the whole nation.