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The New International, December 1944

Edward Warner

Contribution to “Mass Psychology”

German Exiles Find New Alibi


From The New International, Vol. X No. 12, December 1944, pp. 402–406.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Psychoanalysis and its extension to “mass psychology” are the sensational style-trends, or better yet, style-maladies of our day. Everyone who feels miserable, weak, helpless, uneasy, disoriented, disappointed, discouraged, desperate and (not last of all) conscious of guilt, reaches for the psychological opium and plunges into the arms of a doctrine which promises to satisfy the need for an explanation of certain phenomena that have hitherto remained “unexplained.” Obviously in times of crisis, the number of “truth-seekers” grows in the same ratio as the fundament of society wobbles. The search for the unveiling of a putative “ultimate” mystery, for an all-explaining explanation, is increasingly fostered the more the view arises and grows, after the experiences of recent decades, that all other explanations have “obviously” failed or else were not “complete.” It is said and written and argued emphatically: reformism, democracy, fascism and Marxism are all equally great disappointments. Somewhere or other there must still be a mystery whose disclosure has been lacking up to now (namely, in order to ease our bedraggled conscience and to justify our trust in Anglo-American-Russian imperialism). All those who staked their hopes upon the “reform” of society and want to place them there again in the future are especially in need of a reiterated justification of their behavior.

Thus, for example, the failure of the whole “left-wing” policy is not explained by this policy itself, but by all sorts of possible, that is, impossible circumstances. The Social-Democracy propagated these circumstances under the collective name of the “power of circumstances” as far back as before the first World War. Therewith it only proclaimed its determination, come what may, to allow the circumstances to remain stronger than it was itself. It was therefore impossible, in the years 1918–1923, to get it to grasp the fact that the terrible power lay in the first instance in its own imagination and that it was nothing but its own narrowminded, cowardly, malevolent, deceitful and treacherous policy.

As a consequence of this policy, which certainly did smell of the power of certain conditions, reformism of all shadings really found itself – brilliantly confirmed. The conditions which it loaded on to its own back actually became stronger every day. Under these conditions, to suggest that it break the power of circumstances, would have signified to cut away its hind end. It resolutely preferred to have itself kicked in the hind end and to be dispatched with elegant sweep into the concentration camp or the emigration. And therewith commences the objective function of “mass psychology” in all its scope.

The Mass Basis of Mass Psychology

Arrived abroad, the German leadership had but one means of covering up its betrayal: it had to supplement the old deception with a new one. The new deception consisted in introducing the “power of circumstances” also in the form of the “masses.” In the most variegated forms and gradations, the fault for the failure of the German leadership’s policy, which was after all as right as rain in the “long run,” was attributed to the masses. Reference was therefore made to the “immaturity,” the “vacillation,” and “un-militant” will and character of the German masses in general, and of the workers and petty bourgeoisie in particular. In themselves, these were already “explanations” which also benefited those who had always stood on the sidelines. They too felt themselves “brilliantly” confirmed, for they had been downright “principled” in never placing any trust in the capacity of the masses to take shape politically. Wherewith came the flight of all of them under the protecting skirts of the non-German imperialisms. There was now one more reason for plunging into the psychology of the masses. The petty bourgeois believed that the explanations and recipes of psychoanalysis which he prescribes for himself are also applicable to the mass.

In this connection, it is no accident that the most muddle-headed of all German writers, Herr Thomas Mann, following the final loss of his anxiously guarded “relationships” to Hitler-Germany, made one of his usual “confessions.” The reactionary side of Freudism always stood out in bolder relief and thereby made itself acceptable to Thomas Mann. So this man, who will never touch an iron until he is absolutely convinced of its conservative coldness finally acknowledged Master Freud. The jubilation of the assembled psychoanalysts knew no bounds – Thomas Mann had become a “socialist.” And indeed: Thomas outdid everything that a whole century had produced of philistine socialist tub-thumping. He traveled to America and instructed us on the “coming victory of democracy.” What else could you expect: next to ornamented hollow phrases (many of them afflated with a shamefaced “socialism”) stood the insight, “painfully” gained, no doubt, that it was true the “democracies” bethought themselves of their own violence against the impudent Fascist “aggressor.” In other words: for the “most representative” German scribe, too, the road to the “emancipation” of the Germans lay over Anglo-American arms.

On the other side, social-democrats, Stalinists, democrats and pacifists were able to maintain their illusions and the policy based upon them, up to the victory of Hitler, only because they were supported by economically superior America or the favor of the great mass butcher, Stalin. They took excellent care of the affairs of American imperialism and of Stalin and at the end they had no need of changing a single one of their shabby customs. But this is not the point, it is rather the general result.

The Unity on the Backs of the Masses

A common negative platform was found in the form of the “problem of the masses.” The German emigration, united and true-blue petty bourgeois in all its breeds (with the strict exception of the unpsychological Trotskyists) recognized the “masses” as the latter-day decisive problem that had to be solved. God’s petty-bourgeois zoo being rich in gradations, transitions and varieties of interest, the words were exceedingly different, but the heart of the matter was “fortunately” always the same. As ever, the word meant nothing, the practice everything. In other words, it is a matter of complete indifference for the subject whether the masses are saddled with an “active” guilt, or merely have a certain “social character” imputed to them which makes them “innocent” in the active sense. In both cases, the “psychological” view is an “attempt at explanation” which lies outside the subject. It cannot, therefore, make the slightest contribution to the solution of the problem; at most, it can bring about confusion through vast speculative nonsense. The speculation may be recognized immediately by examining the claim of “mass psychology.” For example, this is what one of the representatives of the “new science,” Erich Fromm has to say: “The concept of social character is a key concept for the understanding of the social process.’ The “results” of this “key” concept have “a bearing on our course of action. For, the understanding of the reasons for the totalitarian flight from freedom is a premise for any [!] action which aims at the victory over the totalitarian forces.”

We see: the evil of society is not to be cured in the good old way with means which have developed out of the real social movement. “Any action” rather has as its premise the “psychological” understanding as – Fromm understands it. Whereas the real economic-social movement admits of no other way out than the socialization of the means of production, Fromm remains entirely within the framework of “democracy.” Consequently, he does not want to eliminate the evil radically, he wishes only to “improve” it. If he plans to carry the improvement “very” far, and even ventures so far as to call his “new order” democratic socialism” (he declares right afterward: “But the name does not matter”), this does not change a thing. We already know enough when we learn: “The question of whether an economic and political system furthers the cause of human freedom cannot be answered in political and economic terms alone.” Or: “But purely economic concepts like socialization of the means of production are not sufficient either.”

The Old Song

How all sorts of rubbish about “human freedom” can be scribbled together nevertheless, without “socialization of the means of production” (and that purely and simply), is precisely what the “mass psychologist” shows us. For a long, long time it has been a special trade of the petty-bourgeois intellectuals to combat the evil with “radical” phrases, without wishing to destroy its foundations. Old Dietzgen called such people “diplomaed lackeys of clericalism.” And Lenin said in connection with this term of Dietzgen:

Our Russian intellectuals – like their colleagues in all other countries, for that matter – who like to consider themselves progressive people, look very much askance when the question is shifted to the plane of the judgment contained in Dietzgen’s words. They look at it askance because the truth is a thorn in their side. It suffices to reflect only a little bit upon the political dependence, then upon the general economic dependence, then upon the dependence of their mode of life and in every other respect, of the present-day men of education upon the ruling bourgeoisie, to recognize the absolute correctness of Dietzgen’s sharp characterization. It suffices to recall the overwhelming majority of the stylish philosophical tendencies that rise up so often in the European countries, beginning perhaps with those that were linked with the discovery of radium down to those that seek today to cling to Einstein – to get an idea of the connection that exists between the class interests, the class standpoint of the bourgeoisie, the support it bestows upon every form of religion, and the ideological content of the stylish philosophical trends.

It suffices indeed to look at the political dependence, etc., of the whole circle with which Fromm is linked (for example, also the “Institute for Social Research” under Max Horkheimer), to be well-informed on the ideological content of the latest style trend tendency of “mass psychology.”

For those who are unable to go deeply into the full range of the social relations in class society, it is always hard to conceive of the practical significance of such style trends. Above all, they do not discern the significance of the division of labor on the ideological field, and cannot grasp how a direct connection runs from the most flagrant deceit and the filthiest demagogy right up to the finest “scientific” revelations, and how the bourgeois class line is strictly preserved regardless of all the fine distinctions. Let us try to present the case by means of a few simple examples.

Number One

Roosevelt receives from Mr. Stimson certain information about the German youth. This German youth is infested with terrible ideas and will set the world on fire again at the first opportunity, unless ...

Thus we find ourselves in the field of “psychology” and Stimson-Roosevelt, for easily understandable reasons, need psychological arguments too. Conclusion: Germany must be placed under strict guard for perhaps fifty years if only because of the ideological infection of the “dangerous” German youth. That the youth is only an additional pretext, and serves only to veil Anglo-American interests, naturally remains unstated. We therewith get back three facts:

  1. Roosevelt-Stimson are conducting the war from the standpoint of “democracy.”
  2. They make use of “psychological” propaganda tricks.
  3. They come forward, as is known, in the name of “culture” and “human freedom.”

Number Two

The second case is made up by literary slobs like Emil Ludwig, Rex Stout, Lord Vansittart, Ilya Ehrenburg, etc. These people have made the study of the German character their labor of love. Their scientific diligence has led them easily to the conviction that in Germany there are no human beings at all, but only uncommonly wicked beasts of prey, dangerous to the common weal and dangerously common. If Ilya Ehrenburg especially makes “discoveries,” you can immediately recognize the “genial, terse and pregnant style of Stalin,” also in the field of – zoology. Like master, like scribe. So Ilya builds up a new humanism on the enrichment of zoology. The formula of the new humanism is genial, pregnant, terse. Two sentences: To exterminate beasts of prey and vermin is a service to humanity. Ergo, the extermination of the Germans is “humanism.”

Since Ilya and company are absolutely worthless for anything else, they can bring to our attention again only three facts: they are enthusiastic democrats, shrewd psychologists (symbolically, our Ilya wrote a “Heroes and Sharpers” novel in his early days), and humanists. Naturally, they are substantial imperialist warriors.

Number Three

The third case is already tragic. It does not seem to belong to our series, because it deals with a tendency which obviously suffers under Ilya’s psychological experiments. Let us give this interesting phenomenon the space it deserves. We quote from an editorial in Solidarität (official organ of the Workmen’s Sick and Death Benefit Society of the United States), Sept. 1944:

But what is to become of Germany? An idle question, which is being ardently discussed in American newspapers, magazines and books. The answer is confusing. That applies also to those professional prophets who present their views at the microphone to the radio listeners in the interests of beer, cigarettes, clothing, ice cream, furniture, soap, pills and other cultural merchandise. Much is said and written about a “soft” and a “hard” peace. Many chatter in favor of cutting Germany to pieces and partitioning it, and of placing the German people under guardianship for at least fifty years. Others go even further in their enthusiasm and out of the goodness of their hearts: They want to exterminate the German people as the best thing for the world. These people have learned all sorts of things from the Nazis, and so they now want to apply their methods to the Germans. But in the name of democracy and humanity, please note, and that, my lad, is something quite different.

And then we have those fine fellow-citizens whose plans for Germany are unclouded by the slightest knowledge of history, but who explain to us with mild irritation that the Germans are bad and bellicose by nature. Simply all of them, and that for many generations back. In case, however, a small part has lost this inherited German good-naturedness, that is nothing but an accident, and besides this minority is so tiny that it cannot be counted in the council of good peoples. To this minority belong also those Germans in America who tell us that there is no distinction between the Nazi barbarism and the German people as a whole. Whoever draws a distinction is simply a Nazi in disguise. It is consoling to know that these noble champions are paid very well for their speeches and writings, that they want nothing more to do with Germans and that they will take another turn with the next change of wind.

“Logically,” we Americans of German descent also partake of this German nature, whose unfortunate virtues have been inherited by us as well. This nature is analyzed over and over again, in articles, books and speeches. And it is called simply the German man ... always the undifferentiated German man burdened with the megalomania and the sadistic lust for power of the Nazis. Can we still look in a mirror without being gripped by horror at ourselves? We can do it without the slightest shudder. It is a proof of oar wickedness.

Thousands of German-Americans, however, are fighting in Uncle Sam’s armed forces against the Nazis and Japanese on all fronts. The names of many of them are to be found in the casualty lists. On this score, the “analysts,” with or without psychology, keep quiet. They are well aware that the German-Americans as a whole are not behind any other nationality when it comes to helping the United Nations to victory. All this is obvious; it would seem to be for our patrons, too. And since twenty-seven per cent of the American people has German blood in it, many demagogues, in the last analysis, are also more or less heavily burdened with our “heritage” – something we naturally do not wish, for we would rather deal with honest people.

Too bad that the writer of the article remains anonymous: he has talent and he does not do a bad job of depicting the psychological tub-thumping. But if he were to look a little closer at his Solidarität he could find a number of articles

which are also not so bad when it comes to the question of the “psychology” of the German people. We would be faced first of all with a certain whimpering lady who recently poured her heart out there, and piled up lamentations on the terrifying guilt of “the” German women amidst many Woes! and Ohs! and Ifs and Buts, guilt for which said women must make corresponding “atonement.” But what is more important: Solidarität is only the American representative of the reformist tendency which, if it did not hold to some sort of “breakdown” of the masses, would be forced to make the simple admission that it bears itself the guilt for “breaking-down.” This tendency is simply incapable of renouncing psychological considerations. On the contrary, it was compelled to justify itself with psychological arguments even as long ago as the days before Mr. Churchill had discovered the “wicked” German people.

Many believe that a man like our author constitutes an exception to the rule because he apparently takes an “opposition” stand. But this is a big mistake. It is simply something that lies in the nature of the ideological division of labor when some people spoil their stomachs with the food they have themselves prepared. This is especially the fate of reformism. Read through the above quotation attentively again and you will find that the author is in fundamental agreement and “merely” holds that things have gone too far. He and his similars are far from the idea of shifting the question to where it belongs fundamentally. They will take good care not to say that the “question of guilt” can never be shifted to the people and not even to the Nazis” but only to imperialism. They will therefore take good care not to say that the present-day presentation of the “question of guilt” is particularly the foundation of the whole psychological swindle, and that it is precisely this decisive swindle that they are supporting with all their heart. The second imperialist war – it must be said unmistakably to these people – is just like the first one, and including all the atrocities of the Nazis, your work. On the basis of your betrayals (count in the Great Stalin and his hired crew), it was inevitable, with the Nazis or without them, and it would have broken out between other groups of powers (for example, between England and America as the main adversaries) if not between those now at war. In the best of cases, what you are contesting is the percentage of the “guilt” of the German people, and your exertions are aimed to show that you yourselves belong to the “better” Germany which understands how to sacrifice its sons on the battlefield of American imperialist interests. You conceal the fact that the Nazis are hated by the Allies not as “Nazis,” but only as imperialist competitors. You therefore also conceal the fact that the settlement of accounts with the Fascist criminals can only be the work of the very peoples they subjugate, and that everything else (see Italy) is imperialist deceit. It is on this deceit that the calculations of reformism are based; and yet it sometimes wonders how it happened that it got the short end of the stick.

Further down, we will have a few supplementary remarks to add to this theme. Here we need only take note that our author, in the further course of his arguments, also speaks of the “working class.” Here we find the psychological mass basis of mass psychology in its pristine original. Next to nourishing illusions about the “working class of the victorious powers,” whom it will not be possible “this time, in its organized [!] and representative [!] section [that is, with the plainly indicated elimination of the elementary, revolutionary movement!], to exclude from the peace negotiations,” he says: “The working class of the world will always come together again. It will learn from its past mistakes and weaknesses. This applies especially to the German workers, who held a leading position in the international movement for many years.”

Enough – the failure of the masses in one form or another is called, this time, the mistakes and weaknesses of “the” working class, and “the” German workers as such. This is no accident either, for in reality the German workers could easily have been brought to the point of a life-and-death struggle against Fascism if they had had a different leadership. Our author psychologizes, and simply translates the wretchedness, capitulations, cowardice and treachery of the German leadership into mistakes and weaknesses of the working class. Reason for him not to be “behind any other nationality when it comes to helping the United Nations to victory.” Reason enough for dragging the illusory working class of the “victorious powers” along to the peace negotiations and to have it “co-determine” the percentage of the guilt.

So, even this man with his bellyache is a solid imperialist warrior in the name of democracy. He too operates with psychological instead of real arguments, and naturally he is unable to take his eyes off a “part” of the guilt of the German people. He too is a “humanist” – only, one of the whimpering kind who has “hopes” for a better future in the “classless society.”

Number Four

The fourth case is that of the mass psychologist himself. He is Erich Fromm, the specialist, the “scientist,” whose task it is to objectify the business of self-justifications, to make them into a system, and to give them the specific sense of a “key concept.” This is what the miraculous key looks like:

The onslaught of Nazism did not meet with political opponents, the majority of whom were ready to fight for their ideas. Many of the adherents of the leftist parties, although they believed in their party programs as long as the parties had authority, were ready to resign when the hour of crisis arrived. A close analysis of the character [!] structure of German workers can show one reason – certainly not the only one – for this phenomenon. A great number of them were of a personality type that has many of the traits of what we have described as the authoritarian character. They had a deep-seated respect and longing for established authority. The emphasis of socialism on individual independence versus authority, on solidarity versus individualistic seclusion, was not what many of these workers really [!] wanted on the basis of their personality structure. One mistake of the radical [!?] leaders was to estimate the strength of their parties only on the basis of the range which these ideas had, and to overlook their lack of weight.

We do not yet deal here with the almost unbelievable confusion, the problems, the untrammelled fantasy, etc., which our learned psychologist presents us with in this paragraph alone. We will have occasion to deal separately with these sides of the matter and a few others, and we content ourselves here with recording once more: the specialist in psychology, like all the others, is conducting the imperialist war on the side of “democracy,” and is a humanist with a special “human problem.” For all his genteel and “objective” construction, he cannot dispense with the basest of all arguments, the most revolting calumny of the German workers. He calls his own unmilitant will what any other social-democratic betrayer calls his: the unmilitant will of the masses. “The majority” of the “political opponents” were not “ready to fight for their ideas”; many “were ready to resign”; a great number of German workers had many of the traits of the “authoritarian character.” For this reason, Fromm’s own submission to American imperialism, that is, to the established authority, is called: “They” had a deep-seated respect and longing for “established authority.”

Therewith Fromm merely establishes the united front of imperialist deceit: the link between the flagrant methods of deceit and the “refined,” between crude demagoguery and the “canonizations” of alleged science.

Supplementary Remarks

Up to now we have laid special emphasis on the share of the German emigration in the “mass psychology” because this emigration has actually done pioneer work in this regard. In addition its “new” ideology is taking shape in intimate connection with the completely similar ideology of Anglo-American-Russian imperialism. The emigration argues: How correct was “our” policy of “progressive” evolution by means of democracy and reform, has been “most brilliantly” confirmed in the Western democracies. If the Western democracies now have special difficulties and their development is threatened by further danger, it is due precisely to the German events. What is to be done, once the German people has as much as “failed,” and, proved itself immature, longing for authority and even “wicked”? The answer is familiar; it corresponded with the requirements of the imperialists: all that remained was to liberate the German people from Hitler’s barbarism with the aid of the Western democracies, and thereby to give it once more the opportunity for a human-democratic evolution.

With this line of activity, the emigration believed in the best of cases, that it had ideas of “its own,” and would be able to enlighten the future “allies.” In reality it merely confirmed the old axiom that it is social being around which slides the petty-bourgeois consciousness. The being, in turn, which served its consciousness as sliding surface, was Anglo-American or Russian imperialism. If ever there was a hope of regaining the lost positions, then only with their aid. The “spirit” set down the postulate of quasi-absolute democracy. It proclaimed its absolute truth and its still more absolute power of salvation, in so far as it would finally be understood what “true” democracy actually is. Yet this did not prevent true democracy from remaining as weak in the flesh as the spirit has been willing from time immemorial. Current business practice followed on the heels of the most humane phrases – the higher the willing spirit had soared, the more it had to wish for the most profane means.

In practice, nothing more was involved than the submission to imperialism of the “free choice,” or than the most revolting begging for its favor. It is pure begging – these numerous laments and “criticisms” which accompany sycophancy. The lamentations over the short-sightedness of the Allies at the Munich accord were great: the Allies had not gone “far” enough and had made rotten compromises, according to the standards of their counsellors, instead of entering immediately into the holy war. Now there are “sharp” criticisms of the fatal tendency of the Allies not to halt at the mere “liberation” of Germany, at the “armed” maintenance of “peace,” and similar ideals, but to dismember Germany, to destroy it industrially, etc. This time the Allies are going too “far” and again show little inclination to concern themselves with their counsellors. But all this changes nothing in their readiness in principle to go along through thick and thin. The end is like the beginning:

Everywhere there are special interests and corresponding illusions. Of those the whole content of whose life is the most vulgar submission and the embellishment of this submission, only this may be said in conclusion: when the master chastises them for growling, they will accept this “means” as well. The “power of circumstances” is great; the cynicism of Professor Tillich of the “Free German Committee” is still greater; a kick received as a good ending is universally regarded as a “sure thing.” And do not forget that civilized people could never have been deceived and misused if the bourgeoisie did not have an army of servants to tell the people in every possible key: You don’t even want to fight! We, however, know how to be “rebellious” down to the most terrible revolutionary phrases! Let us recognize the power of circumstances and conduct Realpolitik!

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