Georg Lukács. Fascism as the theoretical and practical system of Barbarism, 1942
Written: 1942 in Tashkent;
First published: as Der Faschismus als theoretisches und praktisches System der Barbarei, in: Wie ist Deutschland zum Zentrum der reaktionären Ideologie geworden? (Veröffentlichungen des Lukács-Archivs), 1982, pp. 324-383;
Translated by: Anton P.
The question might arise: Why deal in such detail with ideologies that only address the bourgeois elite, that is, ideologies that seem to lie off the main political paths of the German people? What do they have to do with that mass movement through which the German nation became partly a willing and partly an involuntary slave of the Hitlerites?
We believe the two are connected. First, one must not underestimate the indirect, mass impact of the newfangled reactionary ideologies analyzed so far. This effect is not limited to the direct influence of the books written by the philosophers themselves, although it should not be forgotten that the editions of the works of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche certainly reach many tens of thousands. But these ideologies also spread to the broadest masses via universities, lectures, the press, etc., of course in a coarser form; however, this reinforces rather than weakens its reactionary content, as the core ideas dominate the reservations more strongly. The masses can be intensely poisoned by such ideologies without ever seeing the immediate source of the poisoning. The Nietzschean barbarization of the instincts is a necessary product of the imperialist period, and the Nietzsche-induced acceleration of this process can also affect thousands upon thousands who do not even know Nietzsche’s name.
Secondly, these ideologies train the functionaries of the mass reactionary movement, from chief-of-staff to corporal (Goebbels, for example, is a direct student of Gundolf), prepare them ideologically for the coming activity in the mass reactionary movement, make them receptive to the propaganda of fascism. (Heinrich Mann describes in the novel Der Untertan such reactionary-ideological effects of Wagner’s Lohengrin on a citizen of the Wilhelmine period who had gone wild in an extremely vivid way.)
Thirdly, such ideologies confuse layers not only in the intelligentsia, but mainly in it, who otherwise might have resisted the reactionary propaganda at all or at least to a greater extent. Through their ideological development, through their upbringing from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Co., they become mentally defenseless against fascist propaganda. (Arnold Zweig describes in his war novels, using the most diverse types of German intelligentsia, this ideological defenselessness against the war propaganda of the First World War, which was very primitive in comparison with fascism.) Finally, the fascist ideology itself is nothing more than the eclectic summary and the demagogic exploitation of the reactionary ideologies that have developed over the course of decades, a demagogic “synthesis” of their most varied, coarse and refined variations.
In spite of the extraordinarily low intellectual level of fascist ideology, the “higher” forms of reactionary thinking, which we have dealt with in detail, are particularly important here. Because there was ordinary, coarse, broad and direct reactionary mass propaganda in Germany as well as in other countries long before this, without having achieved decisive mass effects, without creating such a mass basis for the reaction as Hitler had formed before he came to power. Anti-Semitism, for example, has existed in Germany for decades, but except for the brief Stöcker episode in the 1880s, it never resulted in a mass movement. The ideological representatives of anti-Semitism (such as the literary historian Bartels) remained isolated in the intellectual life of Germany, were outsiders, curiosities. Likewise, the direct and aggressive chauvinist propaganda was limited, if one considers that it aimed at certain masses of the petty bourgeoisie in the first years of the imperialist war and was never able to influence the working class. Race theory also had its consistent representatives in Germany (above all Chamberlain). But it had a real influence only in the “finer form” we have described, as represented by Nietzsche.
On the question of anti-scientificity, even the various streams of reactionary ideology are hostile to one another. For the official reactionary doctrine is an orthodox Protestantism which only tolerates science within the limits it has drawn. On the other hand, the “finer” forms of anti-scientism, while spreading a general atmosphere of disbelief in reason, in the value of science, do not attach themselves to any form of existing religion, even preaching in most forms a sort of mystical “religious atheism.” And again, fascism picks up right here, it does not bind itself to any religion. At first Hitler maneuvered cautiously on the religious question and left the drawing of radical conclusions to the “ideologues” of the movement. But the general suppression of religion under Nazi rule shows what the original goal was: from racial theory and the cult of the leader with the help of socialist and nationalist demagogy, to create a hysterical mass superstition, a murky flood that not only tears down the dams of reason and science, but at the same time inundates all religious moods.
The anti-democratic Hohenzollern regime had no ideologically united mass base. The consequences were evident not only in the sudden collapse of Hohenzollern rule, but also in the weakness of the Restoration parties.
Fascism, on the other hand, means a new way of reaction: on the basis of national and social demagogy, it creates a mass basis for the most reactionary part of imperialist capitalism in a crisis-ridden time pregnant with revolution. The term demagogy needs to be specified here in order to clearly grasp the specific nature of fascism in contrast to previous reactionary tendencies. For the Pan-Germans of the Wilhelmine period and the German Nationals of the Weimar Republic also repeatedly used demagogic means. But these always included a direct appeal to the backward intuitions and instincts of the petty bourgeoisie; They could therefore – normally, apart from the first years of the imperialist war – have an effect only on backward strata. Their demagogic propaganda had no effect on the working class and, again apart from the first years of the war, failed to impress the more developed intelligentsia. Fascism, on the other hand, penetrated all these strata, carried certain sections of them with it, and made others at least neutral spectators of its struggle against the progressive forces of Germany, especially against those of the working class. Fascism owes this to its “world view” fashioned with new methods, its new ways of propaganda, and in these new methods the adoption, the politicization, the demagogic coarsening of the ideology of the “finer” varieties of reaction, the method of indirect apologetics plays an important, even decisive role.
This turn of events in reactionary propaganda cannot be attributed to any kind of “brilliance” on the part of Hitler or his associates. Rather, it was in the air, and when the reactionary forces understood that the economic crisis of 1929 which shook the foundations of the Weimar Republic could even threaten the existence of bourgeois society itself, they were compelled to resort to these means on pain of perishing. Had Hitler not done so, another “genius” of extreme reaction would have taken his place. Hitler’s “brilliance” lay merely in the fact that, with a wave of the hand of the shrewd mass demagogue, he took from these ideologies everything that was merely a quirk of decadent ideologues whose momentary effectiveness was limited to narrow circles of the higher, decadent intelligentsia, and he carried it over to the streets; he instinctively recognized how these ideas expressed the aspirations of broad mass sentiments.
A major factor here is that with great demagogic dexterity he unites the streams of finer and coarser reaction that have hitherto mostly gone separate ways, that he manages to convert the indirect apologetics of the previous reactionary thinkers into demagogic language that can be understood even by backward petty-bourgeois strata. This “synthesis” is, of course, not a mere propaganda-stylistic question. It is a matter of the political problem, mobilizing all the tendencies of reaction, all sections of the population, which the crisis has roused from their calm and made rebellious, into a common mass base for the extreme unified reaction.
The situation in which Hitler’s propaganda was spreading among the German masses was extraordinarily favorable for the founding of such a reactionary mass party. For this time the disappointment of the masses in the political parties was general. In the eyes of the embittered masses, all parties were complicit both in the national humiliation after the defeat in the first imperialist world war, in the burdens of the Peace of Versailles, in which these masses, fueled by reactionary demagogy, saw the main cause of their material and moral misery, as well as the economic misery that the crisis of 1929 brought about on an unprecedented scale. This favorable situation for mass reactionary propaganda was particularly heightened by the fact that from the beginning social democracy was a mainstay of the Versailles system, and for this reason it could be very easily made a scapegoat by cunning and unscrupulous demagogues for national degradation as well as for all the ills of capitalism.
Anti-capitalist sentiments in the broad masses were extraordinarily strong, far beyond the proletariat, but very confused and backward. The policy of the reformists did not make it too difficult for the reactionary demagogy to persuade the broad masses to falsely identify liberalism and social democracy, capitalism and the previous “Marxist” socialism.
Out of the spontaneous exasperation of the masses, out of their deep disappointment at the fruitlessness of the first years of the revolution, out of the hopelessness of their situation in the great economic crisis, there grew a receptiveness for the social demagogy of German fascism, for the sharp separation of “creative” and “grasping” capital. Broad masses of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry turned spontaneously anti-capitalist, with confused consciousness against their immediate bloodsuckers. Now they learned that their immediate feeling was the real truth.
It is easy to see how in this context anti-Semitism, the socialism of the stupid, as Engels called it in his time, takes on a central place. Everything that the hatred of the disappointed and embittered masses should be directed towards is concentrated in the figure of the Jew: The Jew is the representative of “grasping capital”; as a social-democratic functionary, he is responsible for the consolidation of capitalism in Germany and the humiliation caused by the Peace of Versailles; he is at the same time the representative of that liberalism, that democracy, which was imported to Germany from the West in order to confuse the German spirit, the German people, in order to paralyze the real strength of the German nation through institutions and ideologies that are not “specific to the Germanic race”.
The social propaganda of German fascism is demagogic in another respect, on a new line: it appears as a revolution. As we have seen, this new and extraordinarily effective form of demagogy in Germany has a long history. Beginning with Nietzsche himself, whose philosophy in every respect pretends to overthrow all ideologies in a revolutionary way, with the program of a “transvaluation of all values”, up to the half or completely fascist ideologues of the pre-Hitler era, there was a series of thinkers with such ideas or programs of a “revolution from the right”. And indeed there was an effect on the really broad masses in this severe period of crisis, with its immense masses of unemployed, with its uninterrupted reduction in unemployment benefits, with its mass bankruptsy of medium and small industrialists, tradesmen and shopkeepers, with its immense multitude of unemployed people condemned to beggars, etc., a feeling that, other than with a slogan of immediate overthrow, immediate revolution is not achievable.
Broad masses succumbed to the fascist demagogy of the unscrupulous promise of an immediate revolution, an immediate change of situation for all strata. Fascist propaganda proceeded in the most cynical way. But the masses felt the hopelessness and lack of prospects in their situation so deeply that they grasped at every straw that offered them the slightest hope of immediate rescue. In their desperation they wanted to believe at all costs that a miracle of salvation was possible.
Only in this way is it possible to understand the paradoxical situation that fascism penetrated certain sections of the working class, especially the working class youth, and that it swept away part of the qualified intelligentsia. The paradox of the situation is increased by the fact that in their ranks there were not a few who – albeit with a very confused ideology, but in good faith and with honest conviction – believing with fanaticism that they were really serving a salutary revolution, became helpers in the fascist conquest of power.
Fascist mass propaganda also differs from the earlier reactionary forms in that it uses the disenchantment of the masses with bourgeois democracy to gain sole power for its party and to liquidate all political parties. This disappointment of the masses in bourgeois democracy, in parliamentarism, in the parliamentary parties, is not a new phenomenon. In Germany, however, it took on a specifically distinctive form. On the one hand, the parties, with the exception of the workers’ parties and the Catholic Center, had less deep roots in the popular masses than the old democratic parties of the West. On the other hand, the masses, having long been accustomed to monarchist rule, to bowing to the central will of the monarch and his bureaucratic and military apparatus, were accustomed to being led by a “strong man” and subordinating themselves to his leadership without will. The Weimar period was not suitable for re-educating the masses in a democratic sense.
This susceptibility of broad masses to anti-socialist and anti-democratic demagogy was further increased by the imperialist Peace of Versailles and its consequences. Quite apart from the fact that it was very easy for fascist demagogy to blame democracy for the reparation payments, the Dawes Plan etc., that brought misery to the masses, the Versailles Peace brought such humiliation to the German nation that an understandable patriotic anger was also alive in such masses of the people who initially had nothing to do with fascism.
This allowed Hitler’s demagogy to bring democracy and national degradation into close contact and convince the masses about this. On the one hand, by portraying the democratic countries (England, France and America) as the cause of German humiliation; on the other hand, German democracy itself was denounced as a “Western-imported product” that did not grow organically out of German history, but was forced upon the Germans with foreign arms and which therefore became the slavishly willing tool for the implementation of the anti-German plans of Western imperialism.
The masses did not notice that behind the fomenting of the justified and understandable patriotic anger against Germany’s imperialist degraders was the rearming German imperialism. They believed in the identity of democracy with national degradation and became susceptible to reactionary propaganda which constantly pointed out that Germany’s national heydays were never periods of democracy; that the absolutism of Frederick the Great and the establishment of national unity by Bismarck and Moltke were the results of the anti-democratic structure of the country corresponding to the German nature of the time.
The ideologues of democracy were powerless against this propaganda. Partly because, as we have shown in detail earlier, they had no intimate connection with the history of democratic aspirations in Germany and therefore could neither present the problems of the alleged heydays historically correctly (e.g. the disgrace of the Jena defeat of the Prussians against Napoleon as a necessary historical consequence of the Frederician system etc.) nor could make their own traditions of democracy (Peasants’ War, real ideology of classical humanism, real democratic tendencies in and before 1848 etc.) popular and attractive to the German people. Partly because their legitimate and often correct exposure of the reactionary war propaganda, the reactionary character of the first imperialist war, often turned into a blindness to real patriotic feelings and separated them even more from the nationally outraged masses.
However, all these circumstances determine not only the content, but also the form of fascist demagogy. We have already shown in detail how in German ideology, since Schopenhauer, there has been a growing movement to degrade reason, to glorify immediacy, intuition, force, etc., and how this movement has become stronger in the imperialist age – in terms of form of pseudo-historical myths – in order to appear as a political myth in the Weimar period, in order to denounce reason as the base presumption of anti-social forces.
As we have seen, this philosophical development has much deeper than purely philosophical foundations. The position of the elite of the German intelligentsia in the midst of the reactionary development of Germany determined the special character, the leading role of German ideology in this general trend of capitalist and imperialist decline, the destruction of the values of the classical period. Now this anti-rational tendency is gripping broad masses, including the working class, and arguments which hitherto have bounced ineffectively away from the workers now acquire a ready receptivity among them. Because for the masses the question of reason or irrationality is posed even more sharply as a vital question and not as a mere theoretical problem than it is for the intelligentsia. The great advances made by the workers’ movement, the clear prospect of successful struggles to improve their situation, and the foreseeable overthrow of capitalism have led the working class to see something reasonable and lawful in its own life, in its own historical development; every successful day-to-day struggle, every defense against the reaction (e.g. at the time of the Anti-Socialist Law) strengthened this worldview in them, educated them to superior contempt for the clumsy religious-irrationalist propaganda of the reactionary camp at the time.
With the victory of reformism, with the participation of the reformists in the Weimar system, this situation changed fundamentally. The very notion of reasonableness received a fundamentally different emphasis. Bernstein had already attempted to disparage the revolutionary struggle for socialist society, the “ultimate goal” as utopian, and contrasted these efforts with the trite and philistine “real political reasonableness” of compromise with the liberal bourgeoisie and adaptation to capitalist society. Ever since Social Democracy became the governing party, this “real political reasonableness” has prevailed in it, in its propaganda and above all in its actions. in its ways, in contrast to the “unreasonable adventurism” and the “unreal catastrophic policy” of the communists. The “relative stabilization” made the rule of Bernstein’s reason in the theory and practice of reformism absolute. And the line of this “real political reasonableness” was upheld with iron energy by the ruling reformism in the epoch of the great crisis. For the masses, “reason” therefore meant in practical terms: not to go on strike when wages were reduced, but to submit to them; when unemployment benefits were reduced, when ever-increasing masses were eliminated from being supported, to refrain from any demonstration, any energetic step; to retreat in the face of the bloodiest fascist provocations, not to defend the strength of the working class in its dominance of the streets but, as Dimitrov correctly characterized this policy, to evade danger in a way that does not provoke the beast.
Thus, reformist “reason” has not only rendered the working class practically incapable of resistance in the struggles against imperialist capitalism, against fascism preparing to seize power, but has also retained the old conviction of the reasonableness of historical development, which can be achieved through properly conducted struggles for improvement of the daily situation of the working class and ultimately to its complete liberation, and through this conviction the working class was compromised and disintegrated. Reformist propaganda against the Soviet Union reinforced this development to the point that the heroism of the Russian working class was presented as needless, useless and ineffective.
This development had very different consequences in the working class itself. A comparatively large vanguard turned away from reformism in order to develop the old traditions of Marxism in a new form, more appropriate to the imperialist age, that of Leninism. A broad stratum froze on the level of this “real political reasonableness” and became practically incapable of fighting effectively against fascism. But there was a relatively considerable mass, especially among the young workers, who were impatient as a result of the desperate crisis situation, among whom this developed a shaking of their belief in reason in general, in the revolutionary reasonableness of historical development, in the intimate connection and togetherness of reason and revolution. In this stratum, precisely as a result of their theoretical and practical education through reformism, there was a willingness in their world view to embrace the modern tendency to be anti-rational, to take up the contempt for reason and science, to indulge in the belief in miracles of myth.
This does not mean, of course, that such embittered young workers became readers and admirers of Nietzsche or Spengler. But since the contrast between reason and feeling seemed to grow out of life itself for the masses, an ideological receptivity to this doctrine had to develop in them. So the “brilliance” of Hitler and fascist propaganda consisted precisely in taking these modern, reactionary thought tendencies out of the philosophical books, out of the university lecture halls onto the street, and in expressing their reactionary content in a language that met the ideological needs of the more desperate masses that had been lost and were waiting for a miracle to be saved.
Even more pronounced was the willingness to accept such irrationalistic miraculous doctrines among the petty bourgeoisie and peasantry. The irrationalist influence of the church and the official Prussian world view had always been widespread in them. The left-wing bourgeois parties naturally did not differ from reformism in terms of “real political reasonableness,” which in its origins is nothing other than an adaptation of the revolutionary workers’ movement to those limits that the class interests of the liberal bourgeoisie prescribe. In the ideology and accordingly in the press of the left-wing bourgeois parties, modern-reactionary ideology has increasingly dominated for decades. We have repeatedly pointed out that the first champions of Nietzscheanism were left-wing intellectuals; The same was true of Spengler and other leading ideologues of the irrationalist-reactionary tendencies of the Weimar Republic. The contradiction between “realpolitik reasonableness” in practice and irrationalist mysticism in thought, which seemed insurmountable on the surface, was bridged by the increasingly developing relativism, which, as we have also seen, received a decidedly sociological-political accent especially in the Weimar period (sociology of knowledge, etc.). So if the masses influenced by these parties were disappointed with “real political reasonableness” – and it was bound to happen during the great crisis – these masses were from the outset ideologically defenseless against any anti-rational, anti-scientific propaganda of irrational myth.
This defenselessness is reinforced by the fact that in life all problems of national existence were also linked to this ideological problem. The implementation of the Peace of Versailles with all its national humiliations was also justified with the arguments of “real political reasonableness”. This resulted in the following fundamentally wrong dilemma for the masses, but one that had grown out of life and political practice: either be “reasonable” to submit to every national humiliation or throw yourself into battle irrationally-heroically, believing in a miracle. In this way, too, disbelief in reason, the disparagement of reason as sterile, treacherous, nefarious, is reinforced in these masses. All the more so since during the crisis – differently according to the different class positions – similar conflicts develop as the ruling parties of the Weimar Republic always appealed to “reason” with every unpopular measure that deeply hurt the interests of the masses. The tendency against reason is naturally linked here much more strongly to the unity of the national and social question than in the case of the proletariat. And it goes without saying that in this way the philosophical irrationalism which, as we have shown above, is in the theory of the bourgeois-republican parties of that time, gave these mass moods a pseudo-philosophical basis.
The ideology of resistance to national degradation, in the most diverse strata of the petty bourgeoisie, as something positively anti-rational, as heroic folly to be affirmed, has a fairly long history in the various reactionary military secret societies, conspiracies, etc., which exerted a great influence on the youth of the petty bourgeoisie, then gave practical training to large parts of the fascist officialdom. Such an ideology of the heroic folly of national resistance receives special support from the theory of the “experience at the front” that we have already highlighted. On the one hand, this theory appeals to strong national feelings by contrasting the victorious first years of the war as a national upswing with the later humiliation. On the other hand, it gives a tangible, concrete form to the strong but confused romantic-anti-capitalist feelings of the petit-bourgeois youth, by contrasting this heroic folly, the dangerous and adventurous experiences of the secret societies and military conspiracies with the flat and dull prose of petit-bourgeois everyday life, with the petty “reasonable security” of bourgeois existence in general. (Think of the equally romantic-anti-capitalist juxtaposition of military and capital-labor relations in Nietzsche.)
Based on our previous considerations, it seems self-evident that all these theories were able to receive a broad pseudo-historical foundation in the German youth. Since German history knows no such unity of national and revolutionary upsurge as does French history, since the continuing falsification of history makes the progressive moments, the beginnings of such a unification of national and social ascent partly disappear from history, and partly are falsified in a reactionary way, it is only natural that the intuitionism, the anti-reasonability of these desperate national tendencies – even in the case of intellectuals, petty bourgeoisie or peasants who are subjectively honestly convinced and personally prepared to make any sacrifice – necessarily acquires a more or less strong, mostly rather reactionary note.
All of this shows how right Dimitrov was at the Seventh World Congress when he said about Hitler’s propaganda: “Fascism not only kindles the prejudices deeply rooted in the masses, but it also speculates on the best feelings of the masses” This speculation is the basis of the content as well as the form of fascist propaganda. It determines the structure of its national and social demagogy, whereby in this structure the connection with the indirect apologetics discovered by Schopenhauer and further developed by Nietzsche becomes visible Fascism appeals to the deep anti-capitalist sentiments of the masses to exploit their indignation against the capitalist system for the most reactionary consolidation of capitalism that has ever existed, just as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, through a pessimistic critique of human existence, compelled their readers to tolerate (Schopenhauer), even educate them to actively support (Nietzsche) capitalist society, so fascism wants to educate the anti-capitalist masses with the ideology of fighting “grasping capital”, with the promise of “liberation from interest slavery” in order to annihilate the real opponents of capitalism and then make them the willless slaves of a reactionary imperialism, which in propaganda receives the inscription “German socialism”, which is proclaimed by social demagogy as a no longer capitalist state of society.
The national demagogy ties in with the understandable indignation of the German masses about the Versailles Peace and its humiliating consequences. All the patriotic tendencies we have described, all the confused heroic follies in desire and action, are summed up by this demagogy in that, in contrast to the other parties that betrayed and sold the German people to their enemies, they, the fascists, were the only ones who restore the old national greatness and avenge the disgrace of Versailles.
Here the demagogic transition from the just defense of the fatherland to the most reactionary and aggressive imperialism is more akin in its gradual transitions to the older reactionary propaganda than to social demagogy. The fascists feel this too and try by all means to distance themselves from the old-style reactionaries. Before and after the seizure of power, the fascists waged a “two-front struggle” in the name of the real “German revolution” against both revolutionary exaggerations (against those working people who took the social demagogy of fascism seriously) and reaction (against the adherents of the German National Party). In this anxious struggle against reaction, fascist propaganda is a learned pupil of Nietzsche. It gives an extraordinarily sharp criticism of the Hohenzollern period of the “second Reich” (1871-1918). In doing so, it distinguishes itself from the restoration efforts of the Hohenzollerns, whose rule it, however, criticizes in the style in which Nietzsche had once criticized the Bismarck period: because they (Bismarck and the Hohenzollerns) got involved far too much with democracy, because they did not suppress social democracy sufficiently, in a word, because they were not sufficiently reactionary at home. In addition, there is a foreign policy critique of the old German imperialism, again on the Nietzschean model, from the point of view that the old German imperialism was not consistent enough in its aggression.
As we see, the essential content of fascist demagogy is always and everywhere: to fool the revolutionarily excited masses, longing for the overthrow of all things and expecting miracles from the overthrow, to take the most reactionary measures as necessary forms of a German revolution. Here fascism differs from the other reactionary parties only in the consistency of its reactionary nature, in the determination with which it hands over state power to the most reactionary Junkers and big capitalists, albeit under the flag of a revolutionary overthrow. Qualitatively, the difference only becomes apparent in the method, in the social and national demagogy, which we have briefly analyzed in its structure, in its form.
In fascism, this form takes on the appearance of a specific National Socialist Weltanschauung, a special epistemology and philosophy of history: a myth. It is by no means accidental that the basic book of fascism, alongside Hitler’s Mein Kampf, was Rosenberg’s Myth of the Twentieth Century. Here it is particularly clear how fascism is growing organically out of the previous reactionary tendencies in German development, how it is nothing other than a skilful demagogic application of the results of this development to the needs of the masses in the time of crisis. It can be seen how ideologies in Germany, to an increasing degree, are attempting to use a myth to solve the contradictions and insolubles that have arisen from their wrong questions, how they are increasingly dismantling the systematic derivation of thoughts, the scientific investigation of reality and replacing it with the ingenious intuition that provided prophetic proclamation.
For it is clear that a myth as a solution to otherwise unsolved and even apparently unsolvable questions is only possible at all in the form of a proclamation by the religious genius who alone is authorized to do so. We have also seen that this speculation on the uncritical faith of the readers, on the expectation of miracles from philosophy, originally arose in the highest intellectual circles and became effective precisely in them. Hitler and his people give this “ideological” development a rough and tangible political form. The belief in miracles, in proclamation, in myth now loses that skeptical non-binding nature that it used to have in the lecture halls, in the intellectual salons. But because Hitler carried this “world view” to the masses and gave it a firm political and organizational form, its contents could be coarsened and made more comprehensible, transferred from the relativistic chiaroscuro that they possessed in intellectual circles into the daylight of everyday life; but they have not thereby changed their essential, arch-reactionary structure.
So if one often hears the astonished question of how large masses of the German people were able to accept the childish myth of Hitler and Rosenberg with faith, one can ask back historically: How could the most educated and intellectually superior men in Germany believe in the mythical will of Schopenhauer, believe in the proclamations of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, in the historical myths of the fall of the West? And one does not come here with the fact that the intellectual and artistic level of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche is incomparably higher than the crude and contradictory demagogy of Hitler and Rosenberg. This does not make the answer any easier; on the contrary, it complicates it. For if a philosophically and literarily educated person who can epistemologically follow the nuances of the Nietzschean reworking of Schopenhauer, who knows how to appreciate the nuances of his critique of decadence with aesthetic and psychological connoisseurship, nevertheless turns to the Zarathustra myth, to the myth of the superman, to the myth of the “eternal recurrence of the same”, it is basically more difficult to understand than that a poorly educated young worker who was never or only temporarily in a party organization, who was thrown out on the street after completing his apprenticeship, could believe in his desperation that Hitler would bring about “German socialism”.
Here, too, what Marx said about the “cynical” teachings of classical economists also applies: that the teachings did not come from the books into reality, but from reality into the books. The fact whether at a certain time, in certain classes of society the atmosphere would be of healthy and sober criticism or that of superstition, of expecting miracles, of irrational gullibility, is not a question of intellectual level but of social condition, which strengthens or weakens the tendencies towards criticism or gullibility. But one should not forget – and our considerations in the previous chapter had this as the factual point – that the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a mental tendency also comes from reality into the books and not from the books into reality.
History teaches us that epochs of particularly heightened gullibility, superstition, and the expectation of miracles do not always have to be those of a particularly low-level civilization. On the contrary. We see such a tendency towards the end of antiquity, at the height of Greco-Roman civilization, at the time of the greatest spread of Alexandrian learning. And we see that in this period it was by no means merely the illiterate slaves or petty artisans, the agents of the spread of Christianity, who were most susceptible to the belief in miracles. We see that in the highly gifted and highly educated scholars and artists of this age, in Plutarch or Apuleius, in Plotinus or Porphyry, credulity and superstition abounded as well; Admittedly with a completely different content, higher in literary terms, more refined intellectually, more educated. And – to cite just one more significant example – the climax of the witchhunt madness is by no means the darkest period of the Middle Ages, but rather the great critical transition from the Middle Ages to modern times, the age of Kepler and Galileo. Here too it can be seen that many of the greatest minds of the age were not free from various forms of superstition; just think of Lord Bacon, Jakob Böhme, Paracelsus, etc.
What is common in such ages of social madness, of superstition and belief in miracles taken to the extreme, are always the symptoms of the demise of an old social order, of a culture that has been rooted for centuries, the epochs of the birth pangs of the new. Marx and Lenin have repeatedly shown that modern religions have their social roots in the insecurity of capitalist life. This general insecurity of life increased in the German crisis years, which means a turn into something qualitatively new and special, which gave this susceptibility a mass spread that had never existed before. Fascism exploited this susceptibility in the most ruthless manner. And part of this demagogic skill in misusing the mood of the masses is that Hitler, as we have seen, takes up the content of the existing reactionary doctrines and formally restructures the methodology of its most sophisticated and highest-ranking representatives into the political, into the propaganda of mass effectiveness.
Therefore, like indirect apologetics, the importance of which for fascism we have already pointed out, myth is one of the core elements of fascist ideology. Fascism could only realize its claim to unrestricted dictatorial autocracy on an “ideological” basis, the claim that it was not just one party next to the others, not even the ruling party, but rather the unifier and ruler of the entire people. Fascism therefore had to appear with the claim to be a kind of universally dominant religion.
Here, however, a new moment sets in, which is connected with the special situation of the emergence of fascism, which again underlines its connection with the most highly developed reactionary ideology and at the same time proves its distinction from earlier forms of reaction. The old reactionary parties, of course, could not do without the support of religion either. However, they always leaned on a long-established positive religion, whose teachings they represented orthodoxly. (Thus Lueger leaned on Catholicism, the German reaction on Protestantism.) But the general crisis of the capitalist system has, in very wide circles and for very different reasons, undermined the effectiveness of the old religions. In accordance with their nature, these could only preach to the desperately excited masses the humble Christian toleration in the hopeless situation, i.e. exactly the opposite of what they expected, the opposite of what would result from the qualitative increase in the insecurity of life in capitalism. So there arose among the masses a new religious need.
In this way, the necessities of life of the desperate masses impose on fascism a new point of contact with the higher forms of reactionary ideology in Germany. Again, the connection does not arise from the books, but from social reality. We have seen how the historical fate of the German people received a peculiar reactionary reflection in the philosophical development from Schopenhauer through Nietzsche to Spengler. We have also seen that what is specific about this reactionary development is that on the one hand it leaves the ground of Christian religiosity and behaves downright atheistically. On the other hand, however, this atheism is not an overcoming of religion, but its reproduction on a higher scale, a religion that meets the intellectual and spiritual needs of an intellectual class uprooted by social and historical development.
The anti-progressiveness and social danger of this new religiosity consists precisely in the fact that it diverts the socially spontaneous turning away from religion, the turning to atheism, back into religious channels. Namely into those in which anti-scientificity, irrationalism, mysticism, superstition and belief in miracles celebrate even greater orgies under more modern inscriptions than in the old religions themselves, has often become mere routine, while the irrationalist myth appears here as new, original, interesting and poetically attractive, but above all because of the human-moral transformation of the content.
All of the old religions contain in their teachings certain tendencies towards the humanization of instincts. These tendencies may have lost their social topicality, may have been devalued by the daily social practice of the churches, even turned into hypocrisy, but somehow they are there and are by no means always ineffective. The modern irreligious substitutes for religion, the myths of “religious atheism”, on the other hand, are increasingly unfolding along the line of barbarizing human instincts. Their struggle is not directed against the anti-social morality of the old religions, which has been distorted by church morality, rather quite the opposite: against the humanism contained in them. Nietzsche’s “atheistic” struggle against Christianity – like his political criticism of Bismarck – is part of his attempt to destroy the democratic ideology, the democratization of humanism. Alfred Baeumler, one of the official philosophers of Hitlerism, sums up the Nietzschean teaching as follows: “The demand for political equality in modern democratic states necessarily arises from the Christian teaching that all people are equal before God. For Nietzsche, this teaching contains a disorganizing principle: it not only abolishes natural differences, but also destroys all traditions. The democratic ideal rests on the recognition of the equality of persons, on the belief in the ultimate triumph of truth, love and justice. But such a belief is life-destroying, it prevents a ranking of forces from being established in which those who command are recognized as commanding and those who obey as obeying.”
The ideological progression from the old religiosity to the “atheism” of Schopenhauer-Nietzsche is therefore not progress, but a step backwards. Lenin aptly remarked in a letter to Gorky before the war that the enlightened modern clergyman was much more dangerous than the old semi-literate one. The “atheism” of this more recent reactionary development, in accordance with modern relativism, levels the scientific world view, real atheism itself, to the level of myths. (This can be seen most clearly in the case of a lesser-known competitor of Spengler’s, Leopold Ziegler, who treats in great detail the world view of modern physics as the “godless myth of science”.)
It follows naturally from the social and psychological situation we have analyzed that the fascist myth inherits this development. We have already pointed out that the fascists had to appear with the pretense of founding a kind of new religion which demands unconditional belief. And we have also seen that the old religions gave no suitable material for this. The needs of fascist agitation, the anchoring of social and national demagogy, had to be carried out in a form of myth which adopted its methodology from the reactionary philosophies described above.
The wily demagogues of fascism could observe throughout the Weimar period how such new religions had a great receptivity among the backward masses and partly among the most educated intelligentsia. The religious turn of the Stefan George circle, which began before the war and turned the highly gifted poet George into a kind of prophet, a kind of new savior, remained an aristocratic sect within intellectual circles. But already after the World War Rudolf Steiner succeeded in making a kind of new religion, a kind of new social doctrine of salvation out of crudely demagogically cobbled together elements of theosophy, which at times gripped relatively broad masses. So when Rosenberg came forward with the justification of the fascist myth, he actually created the necessary ideological basis for fascist propaganda: the summarization of all demagogic means of agitation of fascism in one myth, in which social and national demagogy became articles of faith, in which they were seen as necessary consequences of a mythical philosophy of history where Hitler and fascism could be presented as the long-awaited “redeemer” of the German people.
The demagogic dexterity of the fascists is shown in the fact that they adapted this creation of myths to the needs of the broadest, most desperate masses, that they eliminated from the myth everything that would only have been suitable for an intellectual sectarian movement. This is particularly evident in the theoretical attitude towards Christianity. From the modern-reactionary theories, the fascists took over the general tendency directed against the old religions and apparently overcoming the old religiosity. Rosenberg also rejected the Catholic religion as not corresponding to the “racial peculiarity” of the German people; Hitler himself, however, behaved much more diplomatically on this question before seizing power than his “philosophical” collaborator. The official fascist theory also did not go along with the more consistent turn of individual followers (above all Ludendorff and his circle) who wanted to conclude from the racial theory the renewal of a Wotan cult, a renaissance of the ancient Germanic religion. The fascist myth – in this respect too it is a successor of Nietzsche and Spengler – presents itself as “earthly”. This means that it rejects the obvious transcendence of the old religions and is content with mystifying human history and present-day society in irrational forms, to make the content of a new religious belief.
The fascists are also students of Nietzsche and Spengler in that they serve up the most nonsensical, most irrationalistic fantasies to their audience as if they were the results of the most modern scientific research. Here, too, two birds are hit with one blow. On the one hand there is a constant polemic against the spirit of science and scientific criticism, on the other hand the myths appear as something in full agreement with the real positive results of the most advanced science. Nietzsche fought Darwin and, at the same time, in his Will to Power placed the Malthusian distortion of Darwinism at the center of a social and historical myth. The fascists proceeded in the same way with their racial theory, especially with its supposedly biological justification.
This intimate connection between pseudo-modernity and the blackest reaction also characterizes the external forms in which fascist propaganda becomes effective. As a propagandist, Hitler was a keen and docile student of American advertising. He has learned from the technique of American advertising that its nature is the enchantment of the masses, whereby a kind of Wagnerian “total work of art” must arise, namely that not only the content elements of the propaganda must achieve enchantment, hypnosis, but all atmospheric externalities, everything. The visual and auditory must be set up in such a way that the listeners fall under a willless spell, in which they believe everything they are told. Hitler gives some explanations about this technique of his propaganda in Mein Kampf, in which the cynicism of presenting any content to a hysterically intoxicated crowd is clearly expressed with unintentional sincerity.
The fascist myth is now a “historical philosophy” of the fate and final victory of the Germanic race, the Germans. It is the crudest falsification of history that has been made up to this day. It takes over from Nietzsche and Spengler the unconcernedly falsifying construction of world history, beyond facts and real connections, its reduction to the struggle of good and evil, the content of which is of course designed differently, even more coarsened, even more distorted, even more simplified than its predecessors. In the fascist myth, the absolute superiority of the Aryan-Germanic race is the starting point, the object of the religious myth, faith, the a priori that is beyond any evidence. (The fact that, as we have seen, the fascists subsequently want to support this with pseudoscience is only a secondary factor, albeit effective on certain masses.) Accordingly, history appears as a battle of the races This struggle is an absolute necessity, because one race can – according to the doctrine of fascism – only destroy the others or at most make them into caste-separated slaves stripped of all human dignity. Any agreement, any mixing among the races means ruin. From the mixture arises a bastardization, which inevitably leads to the decomposition of positive racial characteristics, to decadence and thus to downfall. Rosenberg “proves” this truth with the example of France, whose people degenerated into “negroness” as a result of racial mixing.
The main consequence of the myth of race is that in a people ruled “racially”, allegedly, all inner division ceases. There are, as the myth teaches, no classes, all racial comrades, if they belong to the same pure race, are related to each other through this only decisive relationship. Where one stands in social life, whether one is an enterpreneur or worker, is a completely irrelevant externality. Because both are equally “creative” in a “racial” Germanic society.
The German history of the last century, the German society of the present, of course, shows diverse features even according to Rosenberg. According to the fascist myth, however, this is due to the fact that institutions came into being that were not racially appropriate, that were created by other races, whose introduction into the life of the German people in this way brought about an element of dissolution, of decadence. Above all, the capitalism identified with “grasping capital” and its necessary supplement, socialism, both of which are the product of one race, the Jews, which are absolutely hostile to Germanism. So when the German people regain their old greatness based on racial purity, then their first task is to liquidate this poison alien to the race in all areas.
Thus the fascist myth identifies the overcoming of capitalism with the liquidation of the class struggle, with the eradication of the revolutionary labor movement. The fascist myth exploits here the anti-capitalist aspirations of the masses, their burning desire to get out of the misery of capitalism, their vague aspiration for a classless society, in order to destroy all revolutionary organisations, all revolutionary institutions that could in fact help the masses to achieve this goal. And at the same time it links the demagogically promised fulfillment of this longing, which lives deep in the masses, with the desire for national greatness, for national liberation from national humiliation. In the fascist myth, the strength or weakness of a nation is very closely related to racial purity, to the “raciality” of the national institutions and ideologies. Only a people that is able to behave in a racially pure manner in this sense or has the strength, by whatever means, to forcibly restore racial purity, can attain national greatness, can escape national humiliation.
Thus the racial basis of the fascist myth unites national and social demagogy, giving them a common religious consecration of historical-philosophical necessity. In order to bring about the mythical-religious transition from the demagogic whipping up of patriotic feelings to the hypnosis of imperialist conquests, Rosenberg and Hitler gave the state of the feigned national German greatness the designation “the third Reich”.
This word also unites national and social demagogy. On the one hand, this term cleverly alludes to the old mystical-religious historical philosophies of the medieval peasant wars and religious uprisings; the expression comes from Joachim of Fiore. The Third Kingdom, the kingdom of the Holy Spirit, is for him the age of the abolition of private property, of complete social equality of the people. But this allusion is drowned out by the falsification of history which in the “Third Reich” saw the restoration of the of the rule of the German emperors over half of Europe. Incidentally, an old form of the connection between national and social liberation also resonates here. In the undeveloped period of preparation for the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Germany, the legend of the medieval Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa, who is sleeping in the Kyffhaeuser and will wake up with his warriors to liberate Germany, to take terrible revenge on its internal and external humiliators, played quite a big role. (We find the truly democratic, ironic resolution of this legend in Heine’s Deutschland.)
All these historical undertones serve to make the restoration of the Reich, the Third Reich, palatable to the masses as a revolutionary act, as the goal of a genuinely German social and national revolution. The essential content of the Third Reich is, however, as can already be seen from this brief outline, the imperialist rule of fascist Germany, that “new order” which fascist Germany established during the war in all conquered parts of Europe from Norway to Greece.
Before fascism, the longing for the Reich was widespread among the credulous, confused, semi-fascist founders of sects. Some of these ideologues, however, took the national-revolutionary character seriously. They proceeded from the distorted notion that there were bourgeois and proletarian nations, the German people belong to the latter and the aim of the revolutionaries would be to liberate all these historically disadvantaged peoples. That is why all oppressed colonial peoples belong to this conception of the proletarian nations, and these ideologues strived for an alliance of German national liberation with their freedom struggles (for example, Friedrich Hielscher, author of Das Reich). Hitler, as consistent representative of German imperialism, takes a sharp stance against such “sentimental” theories in Mein Kampf. He explains cynically that for him it is only a matter of restoring German national greatness; in alliance with peoples who oppress others, with full recognition of the right of oppression by a “racially” superior nation. (It should only be mentioned in passing to explain the fascist historical myth that the second Reich means Bismarck-Hohenzollern Germany as a great but essentially unsuccessful attempt to found the rule of the Germans. The sharp criticism of this period ties in turn to the Nietzschean critique of Bismarck: The second Reich perished because of its excessive concessions to Western democracy.)
With all this, racial theory and, as a consequence, anti-Semitism, come to the center of the fascist system, of theoretical and practical barbarism. Race theory polarizes the whole historical process so that at one pole the racially pure German appears as a representative of the good, at the other pole the Jew as the representative of evil, disintegration, decadence. Since this strict separation, as we have seen, is combined with the demagogic promise of the social and national salvation of the people, it has the necessary consequence that everything is permitted for fascist “ethics” in relation to the hostile principle of Judaism, indeed precisely the cruellest and most barbaric means are presented as the only expedient, as the only revolutionary ones. In the persecution of the Jews, fascist practice has accordingly achieved things that put the barbarism of the Middle Ages, the pogroms of Tsarism far in the shade.
But one must not forget that this barbaric tendency of the fascist racial theory, the anti-Semitic practice of the Hitlerites, is not only directed against Judaism in the narrower sense. We have already seen that the theory of “specifically Germanic and specifically Jewish” institutions and ideologies follows from racial theory. We have also seen that, according to this view, the non-“specific” character of the development of Germany in the 19th century is precisely due to the penetration of democratic ideas into the – very modest and very half-hearted – establishment of democratic institutions, which gave rise to the revolutionary labor movement. All of these are now subsumed under the catchphrase “Judaization”; the German people are “cleansed” of all of them in fascist practice. The pseudo-revolutionary demagogy in which this racial cleansing process is clothed has the result that the fascists are allowed to do everything in relation to the democrats and socialists, again the most cruel and barbaric measures of oppression are presented as not only the most suitable, but as the “most natural”, as the most revolutionary. How this was carried out in practice in Hitlerian Germany is well known. It was only necessary to point out here that the burning of all progressive literature, the suppression of even the slightest progressive expression of opinion, the tormenting to death of tens of thousands of revolutionary workers and bourgeois democrats in Gestapo prisons and concentration camps were necessary logical consequences of the fascist racial myth. They are by no means isolated “excesses” nor are they phenomena of a transitional period: they are necessarily linked to the essence of fascism, they are the theory of race put into practice.
Of course, despite the horror of fascist rage against the exploited who had risen in revolt, one should not forget that the whole history of class struggles, from the Spartacus uprising in ancient Rome through the Paris Commune to our days, is filled with atrocities committed by the entrenched ruling class against the oppressed. But despite this, fascism does not just mean an unprecedented quantitative increase in the number of victims, in the refined animality of the tortures. It is also a qualitative increase. The bestial cruelty here is not a passing phase, the bloodlust of victory after trembling at the loss of rule and wealth, that is, not a transitional phase after which the ruling class tries to return to “normal” methods of exploitation and oppression. Fascist terror is not just the “class revenge” of the big bourgeoisie on the defeated proletariat (as the Horthyite white terror in Hungary was). For fascism, bestial cruelty to opponents is the normal state of racial struggle, it is the necessary and granted weapon in the permanent struggle of races with each other, in the preservation of racial purity. So it is, to repeat it again, the crux of the fascist “ethics”.
This special attitude of fascism to barbarism in the struggle with the class opponents is also expressed in such a quantitative increase in those involved in the excesses that this increase turns into a qualitative one. The white terror after earlier suppressed revolutions was mainly the work of the military, the police, etc., although of course certain layers of the lumpen proletariat and the lumpen bourgeoisie also took part in it. The Hitlerian pseudo-revolutionary mass hypnosis aims to make millions of German people complicit in this barbarism, and it must be said, to the shame of the German people, that the national and social demagogy of fascism largely succeeded in this. Above all, it succeeded in founding a large mass party, the members of which were swept away by this hypnosis and, unrestrained, committed the most dreadful deeds, and even took the initiative in them.
The fascist mass party has ingeniously involved and made complicit in this practical barbarization of the most diverse strata in various ways. Beginning with the SS and SA, through the Hitler Youth, down to the factory organization and caretaker positions, the whole of public and private life was encompassed by these organizations, whose main purpose was to uncover and morally and physically destroy class opponents who were slandered as corrupting races. Only a detailed history of this decade of horrors in Germany will be able to provide a real class analysis of the participation of broad sections of the population in fascist barbarism.
But even in such a brief sketch as ours, which is oriented towards ideological problems, one can see that this involvement has the most diverse nuances: it awakens the worst instincts of petty, base envy, the oppressed, sadistic instincts cultivated in the “German misery”, the most repugnant careerism, etc. On the other hand, it appeals to the honest but deeply confused parts of the broad masses longing for national and social revolution, whose duped representatives commit the most terrible thing under Hitlerian hypnosis, in the belief that they are now realizing the dreamed revolution. The best and most talented, sooner or later woke up terribly from this intoxication; just think of the tendencies towards a “second revolution” in the SA, which were bloodily suppressed as early as 1934. (In Bodo Uhse’s book Mercenaries and Soldiers there is a good description of such a disillusionment process, albeit before Hitler seized power. However, we also have documents of similar disillusionment from a later period.) Certainly not inconsiderable parts of those who were honestly convinced at the beginning, however, fascism managed to drag into its bloodthirsty moral corruption.
Thus the reactionary mass party of fascism creates an iron ring around the entire German people in order to suffocate in them all decent feelings of human solidarity. Those who are not actively involved are forced by pressure and terror to take at least some steps in this regard, or live in an atmosphere of constant dread and fear of being reported, of inhuman torment. Fascist terror now carries this general distrust, this general human fear of every other human being, not only into professional life but also into the family. Who can live here without being denounced, even by their own family members, even if they do not take part in any anti-fascist movement? (This side of fascist everyday life is portrayed with great sharpness in Bertolt Brecht’s dramas.) This moral corruption, which fills the largest part of the people – actively or passively, being participants or simply being dragged along – is the specific character of German fascism, which sets it apart from all earlier forms of white terror not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively, which makes it the pinnacle of reaction and barbarism in human history to date.
The politics of fascism forms a unified system of barbarism: foreign policy is the continuation of domestic policy and war, in Clausewitz’s words, its continuation by other means. Here, too, the racial myth is the basis from which the German masses are persuaded that the most cruel and reactionary imperialism brings with it their liberation from national degradation and is the only way to national greatness. The situation of Germany after the Treaty of Versailles made it easier for the fascists to deceive here, since the first imperialist conquests were only a recovery of territories which the imperialist Treaty of Versailles had separated from Germany. The conquest of Austria could still be presented with the necessary demagogy in the name of racial theory as the unification of all Germans, although the Austrian people did not want to hear anything about this unity with fascist Germany. The incorporation of Czechoslovakia had to be accomplished along the lines of the mystical Reich, since this country once belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, the first Reich of fascist myth.
With the development of German imperialism in the world war, the cynical imperialist side of fascist politics came more and more openly to the fore. They are not new features, for the program of conquest was already outlined in Mein Kampf. But the practical, cynical liquidation of racial theory is evident in the fact that German imperialism oppresses and exploits all conquered peoples in the same barbaric manner, no matter what whether they belong to the “higher” race of the Germans or merely to a “lower” Slavic race. The Bormann-Rosenberg secret circular of 1942 liquidated the racial theory from the “myth of the 20th century”. It decrees that the Nordic peoples (who stayed neutral in the war) are also Finnic-Mongolian, ie. bastardized, that the true Aryan-Germanic race is embodied solely in the Germans, which is why they and only they are entitled to unrestricted rule over all peoples. Anyone who remembers the pathos with which Nordic blood was proclaimed as the center of racial theory in the “Basic Book” of German fascism, how Rosenberg saw the criterion of Germanness in preserving Nordic blood, has – if he still needs it – further evidence of the cynical nonchalance with which the fascist leaders treat their own “theory”. The political core of the fascist myth that the reactionary German imperialism is allowed to do everything in relation to all peoples, that the whole world only exists to enrich a group of the most reactionary German imperialists, to be masters of the treasures of the world, over millions of foreigners, to live in the expense of peoples, becomes clear here on a large scale to the whole world.
The whole world, with the exception for the time being of significant parts of the German people. For fascism, which has succeeded in making the broadest masses of the people complicit in its domestic barbarism, has also succeeded in foreign policy and militarily. National demagogy, the myth of the emerging German Third Reich held large sections of the German people under its spell during the war. By going into the imperialist war of fascism for Germany’s greatness, they accepted Hitler’s barbaric teaching that towards foreign peoples – as well as towards fellow human beings of other races – everything is allowed, obediently following orders, the sadism of morally corrupted strata raged in bestial ways, and those who were ideologically defenseless were beaten by the stream of propaganda, by the pressure of terror, by an example carried away without will by the resolute fascist “models”.
The cynicism in the practical application of racial theory, the acrobatic skill with which fascism is makes this theory the criterion of all actions, even of the whole existence of man one day, only to push it aside the next day, is also connected with the nature of the fascist Weltanschauung, of the fascist myth. We have already seen that the racial theory has a double meaning: on the one hand it is the main organ of anti-scientificity, of irrationalism, of the fascist myth, on the other hand and at the same time “scientific-biological” justifications and signs are given by it. This contradiction makes it possible for the fascists domestically to exercise the most arbitrary tyranny. Since racial authenticity, the uniqueness of the species is the highest criterion of truth for them, every counter-argument must fall silent before it is proclaimed and, if necessary, be silenced with terror. At the same time, however, the “scientific” handling of racial theory permits uninterrupted material and moral pressure on the masses. By examining the racial purity of the individual people, a social and police mass harassment arises, in which every person has to live in constant fear that he will be exposed if he says an unpopular word, for example that his great-grandmother is not of pure Aryan descent and that he would therefore not be authorized to say his opinion or continue to practice his profession, etc. The same double-sidedness and arbitrariness prevails in the justifications of fascist foreign policy. As long as Hitler speculated on help or neutrality from England, it was Germanic England; as soon as these hopes evaporated, it has become a Jewized, capitalist, oppressive country that has never done anything for culture, whose essence consists in a low and vile shopkeeper spirit.
Such contradictions are part of the everyday life of fascist propaganda, and they are handled in the most cynical way both in domestic and foreign policy. But the fascist myth ensures that this cynical and tyrannical arbitrariness also receives the religious consecration of the highest racial tolerance. This consecration arises from the mysticism of the leader. We have already seen how extreme relativism coexists peacefully with wild mysticism in modern reactionary ideologies. The fascist myth skilfully exploited this mental structure of modern decadence by denying any objective truth and linking truth directly to the pseudobiology of the racial, thus allowing relativism to turn directly into mysticism. This mysticism is now embodied in the Fuhrer, in whose person, through a historical miracle, all the positive characteristics of the true race are concentrated, who is therefore authorized in a prophetic way to answer all questions apodictically from his guide intuition, in a way that is binding for everyone. Anyone who rebels against this in the name of reason, who dares to notice and uncover the obvious contradictions in the pronouncements of the Fuhrer, thus sins directly against the highest laws of racial purity, revealing himself as a bastard, alien element.
Thus the mysticism of the leader becomes the supreme irrational hub of the fascist “world view”. The deep, objectively necessary contradictions of fascism, which arose from the unbridgeable contradiction between the demagogically proclaimed national and social renewal and the de facto bestial and reactionary imperialist policy, can only temporarily be hidden from the masses by constantly intoxicating them and hypnotizing them, so that they are deprived of every opportunity to critically defend themselves against the nonsense that has been forced upon them but would not suffice on their own. It was only the leader myth, culminating in the redeeming leader personality, that created such a general atmosphere in which such a credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd) could only become possible.
The readers, who have followed what we have said so far with some attention, will easily see that there is nothing new in all these absurd final consequences of the fascist dumbing down of the people, the fascist destruction of popular morality, but simply those reactionary elements of the ruling German ideology that had hitherto the preferred possession of the intellectual elite, now flooded the streets of everyday German life. We have already pointed out that such a mysticism about leaders prevailed in various intellectual circles long before Hitler; that, for example, in Rudolf Steiner’s theosophical movement it was already beginning to take hold of larger masses.
It would be a mistake to see in these phenomena merely the decadent eccentricities of individual eccentric intellectuals. They are deeply connected with the relativism of modern reactionary views, which destroys every truth, every conception of reality. This would, theoretically and consistently thought through, make any action, indeed any statement, impossible in principle; therefore it is true of it, as of solipsism, that it can occur in a completely logical form only in insane asylums. The substantial people who were seized by this relativism, in different ways, inconsistently, with a mental somersault, set themselves into action. And the irrationalist mysticism provided various ideological bases for the various leaps of death into the world of action. Among these, the mysticism of the leader that arose in the imperialist era played a major role.
Since modern relativism, combined with the aristocratic contempt of the masses, did not allow the people involved in history and society to be seen as executors of historically social necessities, as Hegel did, the historical effect of a leading personality had to be irrationally mystified. This mystification goes so far that the sober and scientifically well-educated sociologist of the Wilhelmine period, Max Weber, in his analyses of social development, only mentions the effect of great leading personalities, especially when they have become leaders through their own efforts and have achieved mass effects thanks to a special kind of grace (leader charisma).
The intellectuals of the imperialist period, who were generally far less critical, developed as an inner complement to the disintegrating relativism, a longing to overcome it, a longing for something solid, for a real basis, for being guided by a leader who was sure of himself. A hundred years earlier, the inwardly dissolved romantics converted to Catholicism. In the imperialist period no church had such an effect on the elite of the intelligentsia. As we have seen, the petty public life of Germany could not exert the slightest attraction on them; on the contrary, it had a repulsive effect, driving this layer back into private life. On this basis of life the effects of such “God-gifted” redeemers and leaders as Stefan George or Rudolf Steiner, to name only the most famous, arose. This salon mysticism, which is at the same time an embodiment of aristocratic epistemology, became a mass movement with Hitler personally transforming aristocratic epistemology into a tool of arbitrary despotism. And if this connection is sharply underlined here, it is not only to uncover the intellectual genesis of fascism, but also because through this demagogic politicization the reactionary core, the barbaric essence – which has been obscured by the intellectually or poetically fascinating facts – is revealed, whose intellectually or poetically high reactionary tendencies come to light with frightening clarity.
This unmasking of the reactionary core of the intellectual tendencies that have long dominated the intelligentsia in Germany is of the utmost importance for the effective ideological struggle against fascism. For as long as the German intelligentsia defended themselves against the Hitlerian myth only by saying that it was intellectually or aesthetically much lower than the myths they had created themselves, or that Hitler as a Führer did not have the moral and intellectual significance of Spengler, that the Führer charisma of Stefan George is more genuine than that of Hitler, that Nietzschean or Spenglerian theories of the “higher race” are more well thought-out and more ingenious than that of Rosenberg, etc., the intelligentsia remains completely defenseless against Hitlerian propaganda. Because such arguments represent the undeveloped, budding horror of many German intellectuals when the essence of their own worldview came to the fore in the devilishly outdated form of Hitler’s massive barbarism, and no matter how genuine this horror may be, it cannot be objectively overcome by keeping all the reactionary intellectual core intact and just erasing Hiter’s name from it.
Hitler’s barbarism can only be combated ideologically effectively by a conscious and militant humanism. Only where the reactionary roots of the world view are rooted out to the last fiber of thought and feeling can an ideological struggle against fascism be effective. Anyone who once accepts the intellectual and emotional premises of the fascist myth, the contempt for reason, anti-scientificity, irrationalism, etc., as a basis – and large parts of the elite of the German intelligentsia not only accepted these foundations, but helped to lay them – becomes impossible to fight against the fascist ideology with any prospect of success, and will only stand mentally defenseless against it. “Only look down on reason and science, / The highest faculties of humankind ... / And then I have you trapped,” says Goethe’s Mephistopheles about the desperate Faust.
It may sound exaggerated to some, even as historical injustice, when we treat a Schopenhauer or Nietzsche, a Max Weher or Stefan George as the pioneers of Germany’s sinking into barbarism. As persons, most of them were anything but barbarians. On the contrary. Highly educated, cultured intellectuals who devoted a long and rich life to their work with ascetic self-restraint, who unselfishly subordinated their personal interests to the proclamation of their convictions. But in historical life it is not the intention that decides, but the objective result of the deed done. And this deed was the gradual destruction of the humanistic worldview in Germany. A destruction that took place in all areas of thought and feeling, science and art, and undermined all rational and emotional dams against the onset of barbarism, indeed, gathered together all the elements of the world view, from which Hitler and Rosenberg then roughly demagogically put together their world-destroying, world-contaminating myth. This connection has certainly already become clear to the attentive reader in the course of our discussions. However, in order to make it perfectly clear that fascism did not simply abuse the preceding reactionary ideological development, but on the contrary, merely with demagogic theory and terrifying practice, worked out that barbaric core which was hidden in it under aesthetically attractive, interesting and ingenious formulations, but in constant growing, we only want to present this connection at one important point.
We mean the problem of equality between people and nations. For classical German humanism, this equality was a matter of course. After all, it grew up under the influence of the preparations for the French Revolution and during the revolution itself, and it grasped the great thoughts and feelings of this epoch in thoughtful and poetic forms and reproduced them in their true dialectic. We only remind the reader that Hegel already opposed the aristocratism of Romanticism in epistemology, which set fundamentally insurmountable barriers of qualitative inequality between human beings (which should not be confused with the factual inequality of talent or education). This belief permeates all of classical German humanism. The expansion of freedom, the emergence of a social condition of freedom for all is the meaning of Hegel’s philosophy of history.
We have known for a long time that this freedom and equality are problematic concepts of a certain historical phase of human development. It is also not a new discovery that this freedom and equality bear the stamp of a socio-historical limitation. However, if the Marxist worldview, intellectually, if socialism goes beyond these ideas, beyond the state of society that produced these ideas, then it establishes freedom and equality for people and nations on a higher level on which the contradictions of the period of classical humanism have been overcome.
But even if these ideals of classical German humanism by no means possess the finality or eternity that they possessed in the imagination of their proponents, they still indicate a necessary progressive stage in the development of mankind in its distancing from barbarism, in its social overcoming of the remnants of barbarism. For all their contradiction, for all their need to be overcome, they still mean something in the civilizing process of mankind.
The common basic idea of those reactionary ideologies in Germany, the development of which we have briefly outlined here, consists precisely in the destruction of the idea of equality and equal rights of people and nations. In Schopenhauer it is only a matter of the romantic cult of the genius being lifted above all the barriers of the other misera plebs. In Nietzsche, this aristocratism already condenses into a philosophy of history in which two races of people confront each other who no longer have anything to do with each other, for whom it is actually incorrect to apply the common concept of humanity to each other. The higher race is destined from eternity to rule, the lower to serve. Any attempt to break through this natural hierarchy, this natural qualitative dichotomy, is a sin against the higher development of the human race. The superman as the meaning of human development, ruling over a patient herd of willless slaves: here in the poetically exalted prose of Zarathustra, in the sparkling aphorisms of the Will to Power that reactionary thought is already clearly expressed, which later became the slogan of the brutal rage of the Hitler gangs from the murder of class fighters before the seizure of power to the Reichstag fire, the Gestapo’s torture chambers and the extermination camps. This qualitative increase in the Nietzschean idea of the basic inequality of the two races – whether this inequality is embodied in people or in nations – was deepened and stiffened in post-Nietzschean philosophy, whereby racial aristocratism, the racial separation of humanity into two ideologically and psychologically entirely different groups constituted a dogma. Of course, as long as it was only about books and lectures, salon talks, etc., the devastating consequences of this ideology could only come to light in the private life of relatively small circles, only in the social intercourse of people, and its barbaric core remained cloaked through the intellectual and aesthetic refinement of the concerned circle.
But if fascism appeared in practice with this doctrine of the fundamental inequality of people, human races and peoples; when the superman not only sat in the coffee house with a long mane and held confused conversations there without practical consequences, but as a whip-wielding SS man in the concentration camp demonstrated the qualitative difference between the pure and impure, the higher and lower races on the best sons of the German people; when Spengler’s monad-like, solipsistic structure of the “cultural circles”, their complete lack of relation to each other, received the formulation in Reichenau’s army order that the so-called cultural values of the Russian people deserve no consideration on the part of the German army and must be ruthlessly destroyed in order to achieve the goal of “extermination of the Asian influence on the European cultural area”, etc. etc. ad infinitum, then such barbarism as has never previously been unleashed in human history has become evident. But it has become evident as the core of that destruction of humanism that has come out into practical life, the signs of which Germany has been decisive for the reaction of imperialist Europe since the philosophical reign of Schopenhauer.
The fact that fascist barbarism not only represents a quantitative increase in any white terror that has existed up to now, but is also something qualitatively new and unheard of in this respect, is, precisely in this context, easily evident from its position in relation to religion. Throughout human history there have repeatedly been reactionary regimes that ruthlessly persecuted other religions in the name of one religion. Fascism, as we have seen, is the heir of the religionless, “religious-atheistic” tendencies of the higher reactionary ideology, and therefore does not bind itself to any of the existing positive religions. That this apparent progress is in fact a step into the deepest barbarism can be seen From this it can be seen that under the fascist regime not only the Jews but also the Catholics and later even the Protestants were subjected to despotic religious persecution.
It is now very interesting to follow how these conflicts relate to the question we are dealing with of human equality or their racial qualitative division into superhumans and subhumans. The Catholic Church in Germany suffered many times from fascist persecution because it refused to recognize among its members the racial difference demanded by fascism. It took the position that all Catholics were equal before God, that there were no higher and lower races before God, a position to which Hitlerism could only respond with terror. It is therefore perfectly clear that in the struggle against fascism the Catholics of Germany defended a certain stage of the humanistic development of mankind against the onset of barbarism, that the “religious” point of view of the Hitlerites, in the event of their victory, would throw mankind back centuries behind that stage achieved with the Christian religion.
Human development has struggled with this humanistic idea for thousands of years. Even at the time when slavery existed economically, the noblest and most far-sighted humanists had an inkling of the equality of all human beings. The Christian equality of human beings before God was a further step in humanization as a widely spread doctrine, just as little as it was able and willing to draw practical consequences for earthly, for economic and political life and even to touch the question of the inequality of estates existing at that time.
With the bourgeois-democratic revolutions, the idea of human equality became earthly: equality of political rights, equality before the law, etc. That economic and social privileges remained untouched, that the factual economic and social non-equality of people was laid bare and has unfolded its contradictions in a pure form in bourgeois societies, at the highest level, forms the great problem of mankind’s progress beyond political democracy (and thus also beyond the horizon of classical humanism).
These contradictions form the real social basis for that crisis of democratic ideology that begins after the great French Revolution and culminates precisely in the imperialist era. We have seen that all of the leading reactionary ideologues in Germany that we have discussed, from Schopenhauer to the immediate precursors of fascism, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, link up with this crisis of democratic development, with democratic ideology, and its effects on those arising from this crisis owe to disappointment.
Here, too, the lines of connection between fascism and the reactionary ideologies of earlier German development are readily apparent. Such a combination of pseudo-modernity and regression, such a reactionary exploitation of the crisis of democracy, can be seen above all in Nietzsche. He is an atheist; he dedicates one of his books to the memory of Voltaire; he passionately opposed Christianity and even referred to himself as the Antichrist. However, if one looks at his criticism of Christianity in terms of its arguments, one sees that he is an implacable enemy of Christianity because he sees in it the historical forerunner of the democratic world view. In both he hates the rule of the mob, mob resentment, the force which socially and ideologically decomposes aristocratic culture, the natural hierarchical predominance of the higher race, etc. We see, then, that when fascism fights Christianity as the bearer of the idea of equality, when he initiates the persecution of Christians in the context of a general pogrom against democratic ideas and institutions, it also converts Nietzschean reactionary thoughts into barbaric practice. But we have also seen to what extent this crisis forms the starting point for fascist demagogy, both national and social.
If we look at the whole historical development for a moment exclusively from the point of view of this problem of the equality or inequality of people or nations, then it is clearly evident that there are two ways out of the crisis of democracy, of the democratic idea for mankind, one forward, and one backward into the deepest barbarism. In order to avoid misunderstandings, it should be said at once that this way forward does not have to be exclusively and by no means directly the way to the realization of socialism. Of course, under the conditions of imperialism, the great French Revolution, whose heroic grandeur is deeply connected with the underdeveloped capitalism and, accordingly, with class antagonisms, cannot simply be repeated. But it would be blind and stupid not to see that the democracy of the Spanish or Chinese revolutions was an important step forward, that that “democracy of a special kind” which the left wing of the Spanish Popular Front was striving for, also offered extraordinary development prospects for democracy. From this world situation it follows that classical humanism is of enormous ideological and political relevance today, as the highest pre-socialist formulation of equality and equal rights for people and nations.
The dissatisfaction of the best minds in Europe with the limitations and contradictions of the purely political equality of people, the spontaneous dissatisfaction of the broadest sections of the population with the consequences of these contradictions, which have become overwhelmingly tangible in everyday life, forms the basis for those anti-capitalist, anti-bourgeois moods of the masses, which the fascist propaganda has worked to distort. And it is here that we can see how the national and social demagogy of fascism has turned the best into its barbaric opposite. It turned the noblest, albeit confused, sentiments of honest-minded masses, from dissatisfaction with a historically relative, but historically high, level of human equality to barbaric dogmas of bestial inequality. But fascist demagogy could not have accomplished this work, or at least it could not have been so easy, if in the ideological development of Germany the criticism of the bourgeois equality of people had not led to a broad and varied undermining of the humanistic idea of equality of German Classicism.
Of course, in its theory of the biological inequality of the human races and in its proclamation of the political and social consequences of this destruction of equal rights, fascism also adopted those brutally chauvinistic slogans that the old-style reaction propagated. In this complete amalgamation of the finer and coarser, of the intellectually higher and lower reactionary ideology, the practical exposure we are now emphasizing of the reactionary character of the German ideological development from Schopenhauer to Nietzsche comes out quite clearly. Nietzsche could personally deeply despise the narrow-minded nationalism of, say, Treitschke; the Stefan George circle haughtily took no notice of the racial propaganda of Chamberlain or Bartels, etc. If, however, fascist theory and practice “synthesizes” Treitschke and Nietzsche, George and Chamberlain, it is true, from a purely theoretical point of view, that everything fascism does-an eclectic mingling, but it is the eclectic mingling on the basis of aligning – albeit often unconscious – social tendencies, aligning elements of ideology, and in fascist practice these elements merge in the uniformly devastating lava flow of the most terrible and culture-destroying barbarism that mankind has ever experienced.
For this mingling of the various reactionary currents, in which their unified reactionary character is revealed as their naked, purely practical essence related to social practice, is more than a simple union, it rather produces increased moral disruption on both sides. The old reactionary ideology preached on the one hand a brutal class inequality of people and a chauvinistic disregard for foreign peoples, but on the other hand it tried to change the old, narrow-minded moral customs of pre-capitalist society, the morality of the village, the honor of class of civil servants, officers, etc., and to defend against the necessary capitalist decomposition. The so-called higher reactionary ideologies, as we have repeatedly shown, are intimately connected in all questions of morality with the decadent, relativistic decomposition of every morality, accelerate this process of decomposition intellectually, deepen it spiritually through their nihilistic relativism applied to morality. The certainly numerous personally decent people within these tendencies, who have sunk neither to cynicism nor to hypocrisy, have theoretically only attempted and been able to save their moral countenance, their personal, moral attitude to life through a mystical salto mortale. (The “leader cult” of certain intellectual circles is, as we have shown, a particularly pronounced form of this somersault.)
Synthesizing these two tendencies, fascism unites pre-capitalist narrow-mindedness with decadent decomposition, creating a sickeningly pungent odor of stable fumes and refined perfume. The practice of the fascists necessarily breeds the greatest corruption imaginable everywhere. In defending this corruption, on the one hand, the restoration of the old “native Germanic” mores is preached, and on the other hand every step of practice tramples on these mores in the most cynical way, a practical sophistry necessarily arises that accepts every egoistic crime, every barbaric cruelty, every vile hypocrisy, every worthless deceit based on the fascist “world view”, based on myth, as morally justified.
We have already seen this cynical flexibility in the propaganda technique of the fascist leaders. Let us add that the fascist myth with its glorification of “Nordic cunning” offers from the outset an apotheosis for all public and private egoistic “Machiavellianism”. The racial theory, the proclamation of the fundamental, qualitative inequality of people and of nations, has the necessary consequence, as we have also seen, that all moral inhibitions, all moral commandments, cease to apply to subhumans, that everything is permitted in relation to them. And since fascism forms a large mass organization in which every caretaker in his area can become a little Hitler, every sergeant in his gang a little Göring or Reichenau, this moral brutalization, this decomposition of every morality must penetrate deeply into the people. It is precisely the essence of fascist practice to make the largest possible masses complicit in their misdeeds, to draw them into collaboration in barbarization through propaganda, pressure, terror, fear of denunciation, etc., and thereby turn them into weak-willed tools. The war showed most clearly how large masses were affected by this barbaric tendency of fascism. And the special thing about these atrocities is that they are carried out by people whose moral feeling has been confused by the years of influence of fascist ideology and practice, who no longer know their way around this chaos and give themselves up to the bloodlust of war propaganda without will.
How far has this corruption of morals permeated the whole nation? How strong and how broad are the counter-tendencies that are fighting against this poisoning of the German people? Today this question cannot be answered with apodictic certainty. At the same time it is clear that this very question will decide the future fate of Germany, and this decision will certainly be an important moment in the development path which Europe will take after the war. Because it will depend on whether the military defeats of Germany will trigger a social movement that will lead to the fall of the Hitler regime through internal forces or at least partially through internal forces of the German people, or whether the removal of the Nazi system and the democratization of Germany will be purely the work of the allied powers. Up to now it has been one of the tragic traits of German history that the great steps towards the liberation of the people were the direct consequences of military collapses. Franz Mehring wittily and historically profoundly called Napoleon’s crushing of the Prussian army at the Battle of Jena the German storming of the Bastille. But the half-heartedness, the weakness in the liquidation of feudalism that followed, which hesitantly began mainly from a military-political point of view and which did not change the internal foundations and therefore the national policy of Prussia, show the internal danger, the internal tragedy that lay in the fact that the German people was not able to shake off the small-state absolutism on its own at the time. The internal and external social circumstances forced it to take a step forward, but the “German misery” was not overcome, on the contrary, it blossomed again in a different way in the time of the Holy Alliance, in the reaction periods before and after 1848.
A second time the German people were given political progress, liberation from a reactionary regime through a military defeat: the Weimar Republic is much more the product of the victories of the Entente on the western front than of the inner class forces in Germany. And its weakness, political and social, cultural and ideological, is, as we have seen, closely related to this history of its origin.
For the third time the German people are faced with such a decision. Events show that military defeat is inevitable. Now everything depends on whether such dissatisfaction with the Hitler regime, such indignation against fascist barbarism, arises that is capable of leading to a real, internal storming of the Bastille; whether the German people will have the strength to settle accounts with this newest and most terrible form of “German misery” on their own.
This third storming of the Bastille, the collapse of the Hitler regime, is, sooner or later, inevitable. But the question arises: what then? This question is, especially from an ideological point of view, not an idle one. The state of the world after the war, above all the fate, the path of Germany, is a problem that is already occupying the whole world public intensively. Of course, primarily in a political sense. The direction of decisions will determine the balance of power after the war.
We have concentrated here on the question of German ideological development. What is the perspective for the ideological renewal of a Germany freed from fascism?
It is clear: once Hitler and his clique have been rendered harmless, the fascist myth, the fascist racial theory, the fascist cult of the leader will probably be deservedly (finally!) thrown on the dung heap. “Well, when the purple falls, the duke must follow too,” says Schiller’s Verrina.
However, Germany’s ideological work of liberation has hardly begun, let alone completed or at least put on the right track. Of course there are, unfortunately also among the anti-fascists, some who think: If Germany woke up from the feverish dream of Hitlerism, it would be able to continue its old life without further ado, because the continuity of its culture, which the Hitler period wickedly and criminally interrupted, would contain all the germs of a future, healthy, liberal and progressive development. This is, we believe, a highly dangerous illusion. Rather, Hitlerian rule will one day appear as a short, serious illness of the German people, but it is just as certain that it was not “fateful”, it did not attack Germany from outside: the acute poisoning had as a prerequisite a long-term, chronic socio-political suffering, deep-down roots in its economic, political and ideological history. And to invoke that fascism is an international phenomenon is a mere evasion of the consequences of asking the right question. In itself this is undoubtedly true. But what follows from this? Just so much that other peoples, corresponding to their historical past, will also be faced with similar tasks. This fact cannot, however, change anything in the ideological situation, in the perspective, because every other people will and must solve these problems with its own strength and in its own way, based on its own history, as has always been the case in the previous development; if not – like now in Germany – it has always led to a catastrophe. But just when one poses the liberation from fascist ideology as an international problem, the necessity and correctness of our point of view becomes particularly clear: because then we see a special weakness in the Germans, a special defenselessness in the face of reactionary poisoning. We have attempted to uncover the historical reasons for this specific situation, whereby it is readily apparent that Italian history, with its very belated national unification of the people, shows – mutatis mutandis – some parallels with that of Germany.
One must therefore proceed from the fact that Hitler’s fall will mean a democratic regime for Germany. One must be clear that the nature and degree of this democracy will depend on the circumstances and forces (internal and external) that bring about this transformation. However, whatever this democracy may be like (and it would be extremely fruitless to make any predictions about it) the question always arises: How far have the German people and their leading intellectuals come ideologically to the solution of the problems of development that is beginning to be prepared? How are they equipped to defend the newly gained or newly obtained freedom with intellectual weapons against attempts at attack by the reaction that will surely gather sooner or later? To what extent are they capable of making democracy a German institution that is popular and rooted in the German people? For precisely when we assume that fascism is an international trend that springs from the soil of the economy of imperialism, the inevitability of the future German democracy being constantly threatened by internal and external reactionary inhibitions, setbacks and attempts at restoration becomes apparent. The coming German democracy must, if it is not to suffer the fate of the Weimar Republic again, also from an ideological point of view, be one that is well-fortified, one that is not limited to timid defensiveness, one that is rooted in German soil, that grows out of German history, one that takes a combative position towards the German reactionary thought tendencies.
The great task of the future in the ideological field is the development of the basis of world views for such a democratic transformation of the German spirit based on its own inner strength. For this, however, a clear insight into the danger and falsehood of the prevailing currents of ideological development is necessary, supplemented by a relentless self-criticism of the past and present, by a loving cultivation of those intellectual tendencies that have hitherto been effective in this direction in Germany. The most outstanding and clairvoyant representatives of German culture have known for a long time that in this respect a reversal is necessary for German history, for German ideology. Almost a hundred years ago, in 1843, the truly moderate, world-famous Alexander von Humboldt, who was also highly regarded at the Prussian court, said to the radical publisher Fröbel: “You will see that this whole economy here comes to an ignominious end. The great mistake in German history is that the movement of the German peasant wars did not prevail.”
Such a self-criticism of German history can be found, if one looks with eyes that have been sharpened by the experience of the last decade, among the most diverse important Germans, even among those who, as a result of the political, social and ideological development of their nation, were not able to to draw clear conclusions, as Humboldt did. Friedrich Hebbel writes about the medieval history of Germany, about the first Reich of the German Middle Ages, which is a model for so many ideologues, about the ideal of German romanticism: “It is very true that we Germans are not connected to the history of our people ... But what is the reason? Because this history was inconclusive, because we cannot regard ourselves as products of its organic course, like the English and French, for example, but because what we must of course call our history is not ours. It is the history of our lives, but the history of our illness, which has not led to a crisis to this day. I am shocked when I see the dramatic poets struggling with the Hohenstaufen, who, as great as Friedrich Barbarossa and Frederick the Second were as individuals, still turned on Germany which they tore and splintered, instead of holding it together and rounding it off, they had no other relation to it than that of the tapeworm to the stomach.” And Theodor Fontane, the lover and historian of the Mark Brandenburg, the poet of so many ballads glorifying Prussianism, writes about the historical novels of Willibald Alexis, which also extol Prussian history and seek to re-stylize it as the basis of the later development for which he wrote in great admiration: “How great or how small was the historical-political significance of the events described in this novel? Perhaps not very little, but certainly not too great either, and no effort will ever lead to making the Mark that promised land which, if you can only look at it carefully, had the promise of Germany from the beginning. But this thought runs through all these novels, while in truth Kurbrandenburg was a mere imperial appendage and the mud cottage splendor of our cities, in everything that concerned wealth, power and culture, disappeared together with Germany proper, together with the imperial and Hanseatic cities. At that time we meant no more than Mecklenburg, Pomerania, Holstein; at times considerably less.” And on this question he shares the opinion of Gutzkow, who he otherwise sharply rejects: “but wanting to begin the new era with the performance of Faule Grete is folly”. Wilhelm Raabe’s criticism of the wars of liberation of 1812/15, whose anonymous heroes he recognized as the best types of true Germanness, is even sharper and clearer. His political statements did not otherwise go beyond national liberalism. In his novel for young adults Chronik der Sperlingsgasse a master carpenter is portrayed, who takes a sympathetic view of the French occupation and interacts with the French soldiers in a friendly manner. His true attitude toward them comes to light when, to his question of how long they intend to stay in Germany, they answer “forever”. He replies: “No, not forever. You are there, and we can only be grateful to our Lord God that he sent you, but forever, no.” It is therefore only logical that he sends his two sons to the war of liberation.
Both perish in the Battle of Leipzig. And in the church of the hometown a large plaque is erected with the names of all those who died. At first the carpenter looks at them with pride and enthusiasm, later he cannot look at them anymore, and when the church burns down he is just glad that he does not have to look at them anymore. And when his wife tells this story much later, a journeyman exclaims: “I know why Master Karsten could no longer look at the board!”, and Raabe adds: “The future lies in knowledge.”
Such statements could be multiplied at will. They show simultaneously the strength and weakness of the self-critical tendencies of the best and truest exponents of German culture. Their strength is in that their factual statements demonstrate extraordinary clairvoyance and an unrelenting, critical intellectual integrity. Their weakness is in that they are not only unable to draw the necessary conclusions from their own insights, but also lack historical and political clarity about the direction of their own criticism.
In short, this weakness can be formulated as follows: many of even the most outstanding and honest German ideologues are capable of criticizing German developments and conditions, but they are unable to distinguish between criticism from the right and criticism from the left. That is, they present all the facts from which the democratization of Germany, the need for a radical break with the prevailing German ideological currents in the 19th century inevitably follows, but then everything stays the same with them, or even takes a “right-wing” direction.
Will this ideological situation change radically after Hitler’s fall? A definite answer to this is impossible today. A lot depends on how large the share of inner-German forces in the third storming of the Bastille will be; the greater, the more favorable the prospects for an ideological turn, for the development of a German democratic world view. But even in the most favorable case, such a turn is impossible to happen entirely spontaneously by itself.
Of course there are tendencies in the leading German intelligentsia that work in this direction. Their surest barometer is the development of anti-fascist literature. The ever-growing decisiveness in the critical insights that can be observed in the artistic production of Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Arnold Zweig, J. R. Becher etc. points in this direction. Anti-fascist literature has come a long way towards clarity, above all by deepening this self-criticism of German development, of the types of the most genuine and best Germanness, by tackling the problem of the defenselessness of the best German types, of their poisoning by reactionary ideology laid bare and uncovered creatively. I only refer to Arnold Zweig’s novels about the first imperialist world war, above all to Erbildung vor Verdun, where this ideological defenselessness of the entire younger generation of intellectuals against the war propaganda of imperialist Germany is richly articulated and with great power of representation in a whole series of the best. In J. R. Becher’s novel Farewell, the influences of the bourgeois family, the German school, etc., which artificially produce and breed such a defenselessness, are portrayed. And in both cases (and in some other works that we cannot go into here) these problems arise, together with an attempt to show the means by which it is possible for people to overcome ideologically this weakness that is inherent in their environment, their upbringing, etc.. The commitment to the need for a German democratic development thus acquires a diversity, richness and pathos that the struggle for the democratization of Germany before fascism never possessed.
In the journalism of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, in Thomas Mann’s Lotte in Weimar, in Heinrich Mann’s Henry IV, in the poems of J. R. Becher, there is this longing for civil liberty, awakened or at least deepened by fascism, the insight into the fact that lack of active participation in public life cripples man and the people inwardly, in a word: the poetry of a democratic state of society, a democratic attitude and a free way of life in democracy as something new in German literature, a new epoch to be expressed.
Since the counter-movement against fascist barbarism starts from the old, imperishable cultural values of the German people, it also contains sharp self-criticism by the leading German intelligentsia about their own behavior and their own defenselessness in the face of the oncoming barbarism. From this point of view, Thomas Mann’s work, even before fascism, is cast in a new light that shows how much he raised the central problems of German ideological development even then, without being understood by wide circles. His great novel The Magic Mountain deals with the ideological struggle of modern bourgeois-democratic views with the anti-capitalist demagogy of reaction for the soul of an average German citizen. And Thomas Mann shows with great poetic power how deep the moral uneasiness about capitalism affects even the citizens’ sense of human decency in the imperialist period, how easily social demagogy can find points of contact here. On the other hand, he shows that the weakness of modern bourgeois democracy consists in the fact that ideologically it wants to defend the existing economic situation wholeheartedly instead of looking for ways that lead beyond it. Thomas Mann’s hero personally and morally sympathizes with the representative of democracy, who is characteristically not a German but a southerner, an Italian, but finds that in every debate his antipathetic, despotic-demagogic opponent in the argument is right. This superiority consists precisely in the critique, albeit reactionary, albeit dishonest, albeit demagogic, of capitalism. In this novel, the ideological duel ends in a draw. But it is clearly visible that Thomas Mann raised one of the most important ideological questions of the German intelligentsia here, and particularly in his hero he describes very drastically how completely ideologically defenseless he is in the face of reactionary demagogy.
A few years later, Thomas Mann made this defenselessness the subject of a special, significant narrative. In Mario and the Magician it is indicated briefly, with a few sharp strokes, that we are dealing with Fascist Italy. On this basis the actual narrative arises, the subject of which is the production of a magician who performs hypnotic enchantments. Among other things, he suggests to certain people in the audience that they must dance at his command, whether they like it or not. A gentleman from Rome declares firmly that he does not want to do it, and a brief and violent struggle of wills ensues between the hypnotist and this spectator, which ends after a short time with the defeat of the gentleman from Rome. And in the narrative and analysis, Thomas Mann adds the interesting remark that this defeat was a foreseeable and inevitable one, because the gentleman from Rome only opposed the magician’s concrete suggestion with a negative “I don’t want to” and such a pure negativity carries with it the seeds of defeat in the first place. The central problem of ideological defenselessness is revealed here in a small example. Before Hitler and during his seizure of power, very many German people clearly felt this “I don’t want to”. But no matter how morally decent and respectable this non-willingness is, it does not represent a real, resilient counter-tendency intended for victory.
The anti-fascist literature of the German emigrants not only led a direct fight to unmask fascist barbarism, but at the same time acted as a self-critical educator of the counter-tendencies against Hitlerian barbarism that were slowly awakening and slowly gaining ground. But this process is one of slow and difficult self-criticism. Because large parts of the German anti-fascist emigration left their fatherland with an ideological baggage, in which the pioneers of fascism, the classics of modern irrationalism, carried a significant weight. Only very slowly and until now only partially does a clarification begin to emerge here.
But it would be a dangerous illusion to believe that this process of self-understanding has already been completed. The struggle against fascism has undoubtedly democratized and politicized a section of the most advanced German intelligentsia in that broad, fruitful sense that democratic politicization now permeates deeply their cultural and creative tendencies. But while the rule of fascism in Germany depoliticized and politically atomized large sections of the population through the annihilation of all public life, the process of cultural and political clarification described above took place mainly in an emigration cut off specifically from home. That is to say, in a milieu where it was extraordinarily difficult to turn thoughts into deeds, to quickly become aware of the consequences of one’s own thoughts in life, the best school for politics (also for cultural politics). It is therefore to be feared that the concrete links between often correct cultural-political statements about the actual tasks of democratization are still missing, that the harmful heritage of the best thinking intelligentsia, the inability to distinguish between “right” and “left” has still not been overcome today.
I am giving just one example. We consider the reckoning with Nietzsche to be central to the uprooting of reactionary ideology in Germany. Convinced, highly educated, thinking anti-fascists answer us indignantly: What, you want to give Nietzsche to the fascists? Nietzsche, who in his time already criticized Bismarck so sharply? Right: he actually criticized him. But: from where? And why? Because, in his opinion, Bismarck promoted the democratization of Germany too much. According to Nietzsche, there are decisive factors against which everything else is only a foreground question, e.g. the growing rise of the democratic man and the resulting stultification of Europe and the reduction of the European people. What is that but a critique from the “right”, a reactionary critique? (One can also find such a critique in Hitler or Rosenberg.)
Do not say that this is merely a question of literary or philosophical history that has little or no political significance. The bitter experiences of the Weimar period should be a lasting lesson in how important ideological issues are for politics as well, how impossible it is to root and popularize democratic institutions when the leading ideology is reactionary. Hitlerite fascism in the narrower, in the actual sense will certainly not survive its political collapse ideologically. But reactionary attempts to exploit mass sentiments in order to overthrow or at least shake democracy will definitely continue. And sensitivity to when and where criticism of the present comes from the “right” and when and where from the “left” is one of the decisive ideological prerequisites for the expansion and protection of democracy in a liberated Germany.
That is why the critical revision of the cultural heritage is a central question for the ideology of the coming German democracy. The fascists knew very well what they were doing when they falsified the entire German past. In doing so, they spread unparalleled historical lies by trying to claim real revolutionaries from Thomas Münzer to Hölderlin and Georg Büchner as their own predecessors. But at the same time, with the right class instinct, they mobilized and utilized for their own purposes all really reactionary tendencies in German history, in German cultural development. Only the real history of the struggle between progress and reaction in Germany can be effectively contrasted with this falsification. The world view of democracy must work out the real tendencies, the real connections, quite independently of whether the Hitlerites said yes or no to them. Otherwise, it remains ideologically dependent on the reactionary currents in German intellectual life of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that were dominant or, let us be honest, are still dominant, still influential, as it was to a large extent before Hitler.
What is the task of the Marxist-Leninists in this ideological struggle? Dimitrov has already expressed it clearly in his speech at the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern: “Communists ... who do nothing to present their own people’s past in a historically faithful way to the working masses, in a genuinely Marxist, Leninist spirit in order to link their present struggle with the revolutionary traditions of their people in the past: such communists voluntarily surrender everything that is valuable in the nation’s historical past to the fascist forgers for the dumbing down of the popular masses.” This task has been up to now unfortunately only been fulfilled to a minimal extent.
And today it is more relevant than ever. Today it is important and tomorrow it will be even more important to make the German people understand that democracy is not a Western-imported product, as the reactionary sycophants from Adam Müller and Gentz through Treitschke, Lagarde and Nietzsche to Spengler, Baeumler and Rosenberg propagate. Yes, the communists, if they want to play a leading role in this movement, must go even further. They must make clear to the masses (and the intelligentsia) how deep the teaching of Marx and Engels, their theory and activity were linked to the struggle for the democratic liberation of Germany, how much Marx and Engels, without prejudice to the internationality of socialism, are great figures of German history, of the development of German democracy.
This extremely important aspect of their activity has so far not been in the foreground of the interest of Marxists, let alone the non-Marxist intelligentsia. It is, if one has only learned to see politically, obvious. In 1842, the young Marx wrote as editor of the Rheinische Zeitung at the beginning of his career as a writer that the task of his paper would be “to direct the eyes that so many still had on France to Germany and to evoke a German liberalism instead of a French one”. And a few years before his death, in 1891, Engels criticized German social democracy because it neglected its most important tasks in relation to the German democratic movement, because it avoided the question of the democratic reconstruction of Germany: “We do not have to undo the revolution made from above in 1866 and 1870, but to give it the necessary complement and improvement through a movement from below”. Between these two statements lies the rich life-work of the founders of scientific socialism, a life-work that the German Marxists only based on their collected experiences need to study with regard to the tasks ahead of them in order to have the guidelines for the expansion and strengthening of a down-to-earth democratic movement in Germany.
Nobody can know when, under what concrete conditions, the collapse of the Hitler regime will occur. The direction, content, tactics, etc. of the concrete ideological struggle depend on the concrete economic and political conditions that come about in this way. Little can be said in advance about any of these questions. But just as strong as this uncertainty is the certainty that no one can know when and under what concrete conditions the collapse of the Hitler regime will occur. The direction, content, tactics, etc. of the concrete ideological struggle depend on the concrete economic and political conditions that come about in this way. Little can be said in advance about any of these questions. But just as strong as this uncertainty is the certainty that a successful ideological struggle to eradicate the intellectual and moral roots of fascism can only develop successfully on the ideological and historical foundations outlined here.