Georg Lukács. German intellectuals and fascism, 1930

German intellectuals and fascism

Written: 1930 in Berlin;
First published: as Die deutsche Intelligenz und der Faschismus;
Translated: by Anton P.

The class struggle in Germany is escalating day by day. The elections of September 14 clearly showed the rapid transformations which had taken place not only in the situation of the proletariat, but also among the petty-bourgeois followers of the bourgeoisie. The old “historical” parties of the bourgeoisie are in a state of disintegration and even in the Catholic “centre” breaches appear, certainly produced by the passage of a part of the proletariat into the KPD. Open fascism manifests itself in an ever more decisive manner as the last triumph of the bourgeoisie, as the only major armed force which it can oppose to the revolutionary proletariat which is preparing for the decisive struggle under the leadership of the KPD. (The parliamentary situation, the weakening of all centrist parties, the sudden growth of the Communist Party on the one hand and the National Socialists on the other reflect this situation quite clearly).

The German bourgeoisie sees this situation very clearly. Precisely its most aware leaders, those economically and politically decisive, know very well that there are currently only two fronts in Germany: fascism and the proletarian revolution. However, this clarity of the objective situation in the heads of the vanguard of both decisive classes should not lead us to the non-dialectical simplification that we are faced with an indiscriminately reactionary mass (that in the night all cows are black). First of all, the economic crisis, which continues to grow into a general crisis, sharpens the conflicts within the bourgeoisie and its followers. Just as fear in the face of the proletarian revolution unifies the bourgeoisie, so much does the economic crisis force it into internal fractional struggles. Each group, each stratum must strive – on pain of economic ruin – to save itself from the economic collapse produced by the crisis at the expense of the other groups and strata. Of course, there is perfect unity that the burden of the crisis should be placed on the shoulders of the proletariat. However, this absolutely cannot overcome the internal struggles between the various layers of the bourgeoisie. And on the other hand, there is no unity in it as to who and when to “make it fall”. The position taken by “bourgeois left” papers such as the Berliner Tageblatt and the Frakfurter Zeitung on arbitration in the question of the Berlin metal workers is characteristic in this respect. It clearly reflects the contradiction of the situation: on the one hand a feverish haste to get out of the crisis by rapidly lowering the living standards of the working class, on the other the fear that this will accelerate the revolutionary development of the working masses and that they can no longer be held back either by the social demagoguery of the SPD nor by that of the NSDAP. The discordant and contradictory attitude of its ideological spokesmen derives from this and other analogous objective contradictions of the current class situation of the German bourgeoisie. The social demagoguery of the National Socialists is undoubtedly a necessity for the bourgeoisie in order to ensnare the masses, but it also causes fear in the so-called more “serious” representatives of bourgeois ideology. These have a double fear: that the masses will take the demagogic slogans seriously and fight for them and that they will be disappointed by their impracticality (or by their impracticability) and turn to the communists. Driven by this “conscious fear”, some “luminaries” of German political economy, such as professors Herkner (Berlin), Weber (Heidelberg), Eckart (Cologne) and Briefs (Berlin), recently turned to the NSDAP with a “public interpellation” in which they draw attention to the “very dangerous damage to the entire national economy” from the National Socialist slogans “end of interest slavery” and “prohibition of stock exchange trading with bank bills”. With this they do not want to defend the interests of the bourgeoisie at all – when would a German university professor ever do that? No, they are only concerned about the electoral result of small savers and pensioners, social security institutions, etc. With the interpellation they want to “clarify” these problems; that is, they seek to point out paths to the National Socialists, to provide arguments which permit a retreat as harmless as possible and, secondly, a renunciation of their demands acceptable to the broad masses. National Socialism certainly does not need such advisers at the moment. Its financiers and real bosses are well aware that the practical significance of their social demagoguery is zero (the National Socialist leaders clearly demonstrated this by their “statesman” speeches regarding national demagogy and by their attitude during the strike of the metal workers regarding social demagoguery), and yet the masses still believe their slogans 100 percent. Why then give up their anti-capitalist phraseology, the only banner around which, in the current situation, real masses can be gathered?

However, this type of behavior shows how the “non-fascist” German intelligentsia is doing and how ideological the bourgeois intelligentsia’s “opposition” to fascism is. It placed itself – mostly quite late – on the terrain of “pure” democracy, that of the Weimar constitution. And now he hopes to persuade the bourgeoisie that its “rational” class objective can be “rationally” guaranteed precisely by this constitution, following the methods of “true democracy”. (Of course, the fact that these “true democracies” are incorporating more and more fascist elements into their system of government is overlooked.) But this – respectfully speaking – “struggle” is a mere battle of retreat. The objective situation, the objective need for the bourgeoisie to save its shaky rule by fascist means, gives the stamp to all these discussions. Even the “strongest opponents” of fascism are increasingly forced to borrow the arguments against it from its own cultural environment. This ideological capitulation to fascism has been in preparation for a long time. The vast sociological, legal, philosophical literature, etc. on the crisis of the state, of parties, of Parliament, of democracy – precisely among the so-called “leftist” intellectuals – was nothing more than an ideological preparation for fascism. The ideology of this class, intimately completely rotten, expired in a consequent relativism and agnosticism, can offer fascism, even when it intends to fight it, nothing more than a “proposal for improvement”. This situation is evident in the hastily held congress in Lauenstein of the League of German Republican Students, which was attended by “left” university professors and high-ranking state officials as keynote speakers. The congress closed with the slogan fight against the swastika, what it nevertheless brought as positive proposals for this fight shows quite clearly the capitulation. In fact, one of the two trends that emerged wanted unification with the SPD with an internal transformation of this party. Which means union with social fascism, strengthening of its purely bourgeois tendencies (as if a strengthening were necessary here and it was not a matter of pure and simple unification. See the polls before the elections). Another tendency was to preserve the autonomy of the “democratic-republican” elements. But what does it propose? That the petty-bourgeois masses resign themselves “without resentment”, that is, without resistance, to their proletarianization; that they renounce pure class struggle and rally around republican unity, outside the ambit of political parties. But both tendencies are clear on one point, that liberal individualism is over and that the corporative idea wins – with this the fascist theory of the state is openly recognized as the basis of the discussion. They do not accuse fascism of the slightest inconsistency, while underlining the incompatibility of dictatorship and the corporative idea of ​​the state. It is clear that with such arguments there is nothing to organize against the loud demagoguery of Hitler’s followers.

Even before the elections, the “left” intellectuals tried to create a rallying point against fascism (actually: for a particular tendency of fascism) by unifying the democratic party with the openly fascist Mahraun group (the Young German Order of Artur Mahraun) for a State Party. The election resulted in the complete bankruptcy of this foundation and thus to a split and to the open rightward shift of the Mahraun group. This development shows the way of the German intelligentsia. And precisely in its fight against open fascism, this path can be glimpsed in the clearest way: it is the path towards total subsumption under fascism. Intergroup struggles within the bourgeoisie still give it a certain freedom of movement, but this leads to a submission – often conscious, sometimes unconscious – to the strategic division of labor of the bourgeoisie. However, the way is already necessarily traced in advance by the political and economic suppression of the bourgeoisie.