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Albert Gates

Western Totalitarianism

Judgment of an Era – II

(January 1952)

From The New International, Vol. XVIII No. 1, January–February 1952, pp. 20–31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last issue)

In our first article, we gave a summary of what we believed totalitarianism to be. It was sufficient to indicate the direction of our thoughts on the subject, to show that in the very approach of this modem phenomenon, we proceeded from premises considerably at variance with those used by Hannah Arendt in her Origins of Totalitarianism. We cannot adequately and thoroughly review every conception of her book, contradictory and otherwise (there are literally dozens of them presented dogmatically, in thesis style, as “fundamental” ideas). However, we shall consider the highlights of her theories as we direct our brief inquiry into what we believe are truly the origins of totalitarian scourge.

Arendt does not present a unified definition of what the totalitarian dictatorship is. It is therefore impossible to say on the basis of her theories and terminology: This is totalitarianism.

She erects a certain structure in her book that enables her to present what in her mind is a continuity of historical process which led inevitably to totalitarianism. The book begins with a long discussion of the origins, rise and development of anti-Semitism, and ends with the Dreyfus case at the close of the last century. The second section of the book, Imperialism, deals with the rise of the “nation-state,” a world-wide imperialism, the decline of the nation-state and the “end of the Rights of Man.” It portrays the progressive deterioration of modern civilization and prepares for the discussion in the third section called Totalitarianism. The latter stage of social development is marked by the breakdown of class society; the disappearance of classes into masses; the “denationalization” of people and their expulsion from human communities; and the rise of the totalitarian movements.

The author considers the effects of social causes as primary phenomena, and raises them to the level of principle. We have already quoted to show that for her the “Jewish question” was the catalyst for all that happened in Germany during the past thirty years. And it is from her that we learn that “totalitarian regimes establish a functioning world of no-sense,” and that totalitarianism expands only to prove that its “respective supersense (!) has been right.” (The dangling “respective” is one of many grammatical ambiguities, traceable, we believe, not to faulty editing but rather to her mystical predilections.)

Though Arendt is not guilty of the simplistic view so widely current years ago, and still held today, that fascist totalitariansm is the product of “mass neurosis,” that its leaders were all lunatics requiring clinical assistance, and that it could not be understood except in these terms, she also contends that “commonsense trained in utilitarian thinking is helpless” against the movement. While it might be said that her views are presented with more subtlety and considerable erudition, her method of inquiry is compounded of idealism and mysticism.

Historical methodology is of the highest importance in trying to understand social events. Arendt has no genuine methodology. She considers man and his movements as an absolute, outside of history and nature, abstracted from his social environment, propelled by certain moral values or the lack of them. In the case of totalitarianism, it is a product of the negative influences of the French Enlightenment, of materialism, science and Marxism, for these have produced a “decline of religious faith.” The decline of religious faith is then one of the greatest factors in the rise of totalitarian nihilism. As she reasons from such subjective observations, we can understand why it is possible for her to say:

Today we consider both history and nature to be alien (!) to the essence of man. Neither any longer offer us that comprehensive whole in which we feel spiritually at home.

Contrast this view to scientific-materialist methodology of Marxism. In his introduction to Karl Marx, Living Thoughts Library, Trotsky summarizes it in the following way:

For economic science the decisive significance is what and how people act, not what they themselves think about their actions. At the base of society is not religion or morality, but nature and labor. Marx’s method is materialistic, because it proceeds from existence to consciousness, not the other way around. Marx’s method is dialectic, because it regards both nature and society as they evolve, and evolution itself as the constant struggle of conflicting forces.

Franz Neumann, in Behemoth, still the finest book on Hitler Germany, although written ten years ago, dealt with this same question, for he met with it often in the many philosophical attempts to explain the German people as inherently evil and immoral. He wrote:

If we believe man to be essentially wicked, if egoism is the sole incentive of man, the prospects are black. But man is neither bad nor good, he will be molded by his cultural and political experience.

This cultural and political experience accrues to man against the background of a specific social order and he takes his own history not in accordance with any “eternal laws” but on the basis of conditions which exist in society. History and nature are not alien to man, but part of the essence of man.

There is no doubt that elements of lunacy were present in all fascist movements, more so in Germany than in Italy or Spain. A measure of madness could be found in the movement which Hitler led to power and irrationality appeared to be its hallmark. But it is shortsighted and disorienting to describe the totalitarian movement primarily in such terms. Even such an inconclusive affair as the Nuremberg Trials revealed that beside the “madmen” were men of considerable intelligence, measured by ordinary standards, rational men of firm conviction who knew what they wanted, where they were going and how they would achieve their aims. However useful a clinical analysis of the fascist-totalitarian movements might then be, for they did incorporate aberrations of one kind or another, it could never substitute for a fundamental understanding of the social causes of this phenomenon which emerged from the complex economic, political and social matrix of German capitalism in the same way as the other fascist movements mirrored the traditions, cultural and social conditions of their respective nations.

In School for Dictators, Ignazio Silone says quite aptly:

You know there are many people who maintain that Hitler and Mussolini, for example, are mad, mad in the clinical sense. That is a thoroughly intelligible thing for normal, useful and decent people to believe ... But if democratic politicians and socialists hold the same opinion of the dictators, it only proves that they themselves are amateurs and intruders on the political scene.

Trotsky, in a similar vein, tried years ago to dispel these notions about Hitler. In What Hitler Wants he wrote:

It is most dangerous to underestimate an enemy just because his system goes beyond the limits of routine. Simply to say that Hitler is a demagogue, an hysterical person and an actor is to shut one’s eyes so as not to face the danger! It takes more than hysteria to seize power, and method there must be in the Nazi madness.

To many who live in the dream world of a happy society of the past – the sunshine of a peaceful, ever-progressing capitalism of the 19th Century, the fascist and Stalinist totalitarian movements with their abrupt, direct and violent approach to the economic and political problems of modern times, are so shocking as to elicit reactions of horror, accompanied by a loss of ability to think clearly and logically on what has happened in recent years and why.

Trotsky and the Marxists attributed the rise of reactionary fascism to the crisis of bourgeois society which depresses the conditions of all the lower classes to the point where life becomes unbearable. The crisis of capitalism is world-wide, therefore the movements of reactionary totalitarianism are world-wide and assume similar organizational and ideological form. Where the crisis of capitalism is prolonged without a progressive, i.e., a socialist solution, said Trotsky, “the crisis can bring in its trail only the pauperization of the petty-bourgeoisie and the transformation of ever-increasing groups of workers into the lumpenproletariat.”

In What Next, dealing specifically with German fascism during the period of its imminent rise to power, Trotsky wrote:

In order to try to find a way out, the bourgeoisie must absolutely rid itself of the pressure exerted by the workers’ organizations. These must needs be eliminated, destroyed, utterly crushed.

At this juncture, the historic role of Fascism begins. It sets on its feet those classes that are immediately above the proletariat and who are ever in dread of being forced down into its ranks; it organizes and militarizes them at the expense of finance capital, under the cover of the official government and it directs them to the extirpation of proletarian organizations, from the most revolutionary to the most conservative.

Fascism, is not merely a system of reprisals, of brutal force, and of police terror. Fascism is a particular governmental system based on the uprooting of all elements of proletarian democracy within bourgeois society. The task of Fascism lies not only in destroying the Communist advance guard but in holding the entire class in a state of forced disunity. To this end the physical annihilation of the most revolutionary section of the workers does not suffice. It is necessary to smash all independent and voluntary organizations, to demolish all the defensive bulwarks of the proletariat, and to uproot whatever has been achieved during three-quarters of a century by social democracy and the trade unions ...

Through the Fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie, and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpen-proletariat; all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy ... When a state turns fascist, it doesn’t only mean that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance with the patterns set by Mussolini – the changes, in this sphere ultimately play a minor role – but it means, first of all for the most part, that the workers organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of Fascism ...

It has been objected that this view is entirely too narrow since it “confines” the description of this totalitarian phenomenon to the “sectarian” struggle of the workers and does not take into consideration society as a whole. That would be true only if one understands the above in purely mechanical terms and does not see the dynamics of the analysis made by Trotsky, i.e., the involvement of the whole society, every segment of it.

Neumann stated the problem of German society more specifically to explain the forces which gave strength to reaction in the form of fascism.

The Weimar democracy proceeded in a different direction (from the constitutional monarchy, the Reichstaat). It had to rebuild an impoverished and exhausted country in which class antagonisms had become polarized. It attempted to merge three elements: the heritage of the past (especially the civil service), parliamentary democracy modelled after Western European and American patterns and a pluralistic collectivism, the incorporation of powerful social and economic organizations directly into the political system. What it actually produced, however, were sharpened social antagonisms, the breakdown of voluntary collaboration, the destruction of parliamentary institutions, the suspension of political liberties, the growth of a ruling bureaucracy and the renaissance of the army as a decisive political factor.


In an impoverished, yet highly industrialized, country, pluralism [1] could work only under the following different conditions. In the first place, it could rebuild Germany with foreign assistance, expanding its markets by peaceful means to the level of its high industrial capacity. The Weimar Republic’s foreign policy tended in this direction ... The attempt failed. It was supported neither by German industry and large landowners nor by the Western powers. The year 1932 found Germany in a catastrophic political, economic and social crisis.

The system could also operate if the ruling groups made concessions voluntarily or under compulsion by the state. That would have led to a better life for the mass of the German workers and security for the middle classes at the expense of the profits and power of big business. German industry was decidedly not amenable, however, and the state sided with it more and more.

The third possibility was the transformation into a socialist state, and that had become completely unrealistic in 1932, since the Social Democratic party was socialist only in name.

The crisis of 1932 demonstrated that political democracy alone without a fuller utilization of the potentialities inherent in Germany’s industrial system, that is, without the abolition of unemployment and an improvement in living standards, remained a hollow shell.

The fourth choice was the return to imperialist expansion. Imperialist ventures could not be organized within the traditional democratic form, however, for there would have been too serious an opposition. Nor could it take the form of the restoration of the monarchy. An industrial society that has passed through a democratic phase cannot exclude the masses from consideration. Expansionism therefore took the form of National Socialism, a totalitarian dictatorship that has been able to transform some of its victims into supporters and to organize the entire country into an armed camp under iron discipline.

The bourgeois economist, John C. DeWilde, wrote voluminously over an extended period of time on Germany’s “controlled economy,” showing through an examination of production, property relations, profits, wages, and other economic facts that while the economy was controlled, it was still, in a fundamental sense, a capitalist economy.

Hermann Rauschning, Nazi apostate, who was intimately acquainted with the “theories” of his erstwhile companions, wrote that the anti-capitalism of the National Socialists was “just a bargain counter, like almost everything else.” In The Revolution of Nihilism he added: “The movement has no fixed aim, either economic or political.” What he is really saying is that it did not have a new ideology in the sense of new social and economic doctrine, or that it in any way sought to create a new social system. This fact will be well worth bearing in mind as we will shortly deal with other conceptions of Arendt in this context which contribute so much to her overall appreciation of totalitarianism.

Economic study of the German fascist-totalitarian state revealed the strongest pro-monopoly-capitalist bias on the part of Hitler’s regime. The whole German economy was revived under that regime as a war economy in which the monopolists enriched themselves. All other sections of the capitalists did as well, since the profit and dividend structure of economy improved beyond the fondest hopes of the bourgeoisie. Sectors of the economy which had been nationalized during the Weimar Republic were denationalized and privatized by the new regime. The exploitation of the Jews became a means of enrichment of Nazi Party members – not on the basis of the nationalization of Jewish property, but by a change of ownership- -on a capitalist basis. The new regime strengthened monopoly capitalism since it was this sector of the economy which largely made possible war preparation and the rebuilding of Germany as a military power. All of this was accomplished without a change in the most important characteristic of capitalism: ownership of the means of production which remained private under monopolistic organization.

In Fascism and Big Business, Guerin provides irrefutable material to prove that the Nazi conspiracy, like all other fascist-totalitarian movements, developed in the closest ideological and physical relationship with the decisive sections of big business and finance.

Back in 1938, in his introduction to Daniel Guerin’s Fascism and Big Business, Dwight Macdonald found it necessary to write against the superficial and simplistic thinking which was then so popular on the subject of fascism, and to which we have already made reference in this article. In the opening paragraph of this introduction, he wrote:

Americans have a tendency (not only Americans, it should be added – AG) to look on fascism as a mass neurosis which mysteriously seizes on entire people. According to this view, the German and Italian peoples are possessed of the Devil, and, like the Gadarene swine similarly afflicted, are rushing down a steep place to perish in the sea. This moralistic approach has been reinforced by the recent anti-Jewish atrocities in Germany. All sections of American public opinion, from John L. Lewis and William Green through the Nation, the Communist Party and Franklin D. Roosevelt, to Bishop Manning and the presidents of Yale, Harvard and Princeton, all have united in an uproar of indignation whose dominant note is: how can such things be in a civilized world? There is, of course, as the Nazi press has not failed to point out, a good deal of hypocrisy in such denunciations ... German fascism is not the twin of American capitalism. But it is its older brother ... Looked at from the viewpoint of society as a whole, and especially of the workers, fascism unquestionably appears to be insane. But, and this is what the liberals forget, fascism makes excellent sense from the standpoint of the ruling class.

This showed what a powerful weapon Marxism can be, even in the hands of a Macdonald. Now is it true that in 1941 he changed his views a little. Startled, surprised, and overwhelmed by the Blitzkrieg of the well- organized and prepared German military machine, he discovered that Germany under Hitler had become a bureaucratic collectivist state, which for the sake of distinction from the Russian model, he called Black Socialism. The notion which drove him to an investigation of the new economy was the belief that only a new, collectivistic economy could produce such military victories as the easy conquest of France in 1940.

Even though he was mistaken about the German state and its economy then as he is now in his enchantment with Arendt’s work, he at least had the merit of trying to understand this totalitarian state on fundamental grounds, the social and economic nature of a society which could produce such military power. He believed that Hitler had violated the basic laws of capitalism and arrived at the conclusion that Russian and German societies were identical.

The reader will remember that Arendt dismisses entirely the question of the kind of society which existed in Germany and all the other totalitarian states, that totalitarianism is neither capitalist nor socialist, since these terms apply only to “Western welfare economies.” As you see, capitalism, too, is a welfare economy! However, if neither capitalism nor socialism existed in Nazi Germany, what kind of an economy did exist? Her view is obvious: she is not concerned with economics; that is why she regards all totalitarian states as identical interiorly and in the case of Russia and Germany “growing constantly more alike in exterior forms.” To those who wrote as Arendt does in other years Neumann asked whether it was possible to have “an economy without economics?” He answered this, naturally, in the negative, and went on to prove that this “economy without economics” was capitalist.

But let us proceed on the basis of Arendt’s views. Since she affirms that totalitarian states are neither capitalist nor socialist, what economic order replaced the old? Bureaucratic collectivism? A slave economy? Feudal? One which has never been heard of? She has no answer.

Yet an answer must be made to understand the phenomenon of fascist totalitarianism. How do such countries exist? Germany was a nation of 70 million people, even after the Jews and other opponents were either liquidated or neutralized, defeated, atomized, etc. Did the economy cease to exist? It seems silly to ask such a question, for obviously an organized economy had to exist, otherwise no war economy would have been possible and Germany would have been unable to fight a war. Then who owned the vast German industries and how were they organized? By and through the state? Did the bourgeoisie or some other class own the economy as private property? These are not idle questions, for we shall soon come upon the central feature of Arendt’s theory of totalitarianism, insofar as she has one.

As a matter of fact, all the evidence adduced over the years shows that Hitler Germany was a capitalist society in all its essential forms. For that country to have been transformed into a classless society as Emil Lederer contended in 1940 and as Arendt does now, would have meant that the private ownership of the means of production had ceased. We know today that this never happened in Germany, or in any other fascist totalitarian state in the West.

That this is no idle discussion is indicated by what we believe is Arendt’s central thesis and from which flows so many other of her “central” ideas.

Totalitarian movements we are told “aim at and succeed in organizing masses – not classes, like the old interest parties of the Continental nation-states; not citizens with opinions about, and interests in, the handling of public affairs, like the parties of Anglo-Saxon countries.” And this, because there has been “a breakdown of the class system [which] meant automatically the breakdown of the party system, chiefly because these parties being interest parties, could no longer represent class interests.”

Now, “a breakdown of the class system” may mean the automatic breakdown “of the party system,” but this could stand up, as we have said, only if the creator or creators of this theory could establish what should follow from this breakdown: the end of the existing economic order based on the private ownership of the means of production. It is this which has determined the nature of capitalist production and the class system as we have know it. The breakdown of the class system would presuppose the end of capitalist property relations. Arendt literally ignores this.

That isn’t all that is wrong with the above. Does she really mean that because “these parties [are] interest parties” they really “could no longer represent class interests?” It would seem ridiculous on the face of it, wouldn’t it? Well, it is, and we consider it a waste of time to cite proof that the “parties being interest parties” did and do represent class interests.

Or is it true, that the totalitarian movements succeed in organizing “not citizens with opinions about, and interests in, the handling of public affairs, like the parties of Anglo- Saxon countries?” We think that this is nonsense too. We agree with Arendt that the democratic states often are ruled through the support of only a minority of the population and that the majority of the people in a given country often abstain from participation in the affairs of that nation. But that does not mean, nor does not follow logically, that totalitarianism organizes an amorphous mass of opinionless and interestless people.

On such a foundation, Arendt builds the structure of her broader theory. The premise being unsound, the structure is shaky. It is not supported by the real history of the recent past.

Once the class society has been liquidated and replaced by the mass society, something has to be said about these masses and why they became the basis for modern totalitarianism. Bear in mind, however, that Arendt rejects everything in the Marxist analysis.

Before the “economies without economics” are established, they must have been preceded by the mass movements. The latter are organizable because they have acquired an “appetite for political organization.” An appetite for political organization presupposes a certain consciousness, for it indicates a measure of understanding and choice, and, as a result, an “interest.” But she denies all that when she writes:

Masses are not held together by a consciousness of common interests and they lack specific class articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers; or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest, into political parties or municipal governments, or professional organizations or trade unions. (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

This view, which contradicts the real world in every respect, is possible only because Arendt and those who think like her, ignore what is important in trying to understand totalitarianism and fix upon the dazzling but superficial (not in the sense of unimportant, but rather secondary) factors and features.

First we have had an arbitrary liquidation of class society and classes by the author. Thus, she accomplished with the stroke of a pen what even the socialist movement has never yet achieved. The society of masses replaces class society. But it does not follow, if we accept her theory of a society of masses for the moment, that the living masses of the totalitarian movements fit her description. The masses of the fascist movement did in fact have momentary common interests, a certain middle class articulateness, determined, limited and obtainable goals, and above all, they were not indifferent. Otherwise it would have been impossible to create the totalitarian movements. The real life of these movements, their conflicts, especially against the working class movements, their alternating periods of rise and decline, and finally their victories on the basis of organized political parties tell us that they were authentic expressions of a rapidly changing objective situation of which they were an integral part, and represented, not the total interests of society, but at least a definite and economically important section of it.

If we follow the text of the book closely, we are not always certain whether we are in agreement with Arendt on the composition of the totalitarian movements. We have already written that there seemed to be agreement that the fascist movements were composed largely of the elements described before (bear in mind that we omit Stalinist Russia from this discussion because the Russian development was wholly different from the experience in the West).

However, as we watch Arendt’s classless society, or society of the masses, emerge from the old capitalist system, we see that there are no longer present the class struggles of the old order. Now, what we really have is a new society, and the totalitarians, as the founders of this new society, are therefore anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist. She writes that as movements of “anti-individualism,” “the totalitarian movements can rightly claim that they were the first truly anti-bourgeois parties.” (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

At the same time that this assertion is made, Arendt also writes about the opposition of the working classes to the totalitarians. Does the working class exist as a class in the classless, mass society? On the basis of her theory of society this would be a contradiction. Does she merely resort to an old adjective in absence of new descriptive words? Even this does not follow, for the mass society has only rulers and ruled, not classes, and it would mean that all the old classes were merged into one common ruled-over population. If she has an explanation for the phenomenon of a working class in a classless society it is not made in the book. Given that contradiction, Arendt is driven into another one. For the fact is that the working classes did oppose and remained in opposition to the totalitarians. If the fascist totalitarians were truly anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist, as the working classes of Europe certainly were, what kept these two anti-bourgeois, anti-capitalist forces apart? Why didn’t they unite, since they had as a common aim nothing less than opposition to the ruling class of the old society. Remember, too, that many democrats and liberals appealed to the big bourgeoisie, if unsuccessfully, against the fascists precisely on the basis of the old fable about the latter’s anti-capitalism.

Now it is true that a certain kind of “anti-capitalism” did characterize these movements. But the anti-capitalism of the totalitarian movements reflected the fact that a large plebeian section of society made up its parties. These plebeian masses of the middle classes are “anti-capitalist” only in the sense that they are against the monopolism which has destroyed the base of the middle class in modern capitalist society. The limited struggle of these middle classes against capitalism is not to abolish capitalism and establish a new classless society, but to return to the 19th Century Utopia where they played a progressive, independent and powerful role. This kind of anti-capitalism has nothing in common with the program of the socialist working class.

Recalling German history there is no other way to explain why, despite Hitler’s efforts to win them on the eve of his seizure of power through emphasis on the struggle against the bourgeoisie, almost the entire German working class remained anti-fascist.

To put it another way: if the totalitarian mass movements of the West were genuinely anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist, it would be impossible to explain why monopoly capitalism supported them.

It was not true, as Arendt says, that “Actually the bourgeoisie was as much taken in by the Nazis as was the Roehm-Schleicher faction in the Reichswehr ...” The bourgeoisie knew what it was doing! The economic history of Germany since 1932 proves that it was not mistaken. Furthermore, as a revolutionary, anti-capitalist, anti-bourgeois movement, the fascist totalitarians should have developed an all-embracing, unified, ideological program. They did not. Neumann provided us with a far better understanding of this aspect of the totalitarian movement in Behemoth when he wrote:

Behind a mass of irrelevant jargon, banalities, distortions, and half truths, we can discern the relevant and decisive central theme of the ideology; that all traditional doctrines and values must be rejected, whether they stem from French rationalism or German idealism, from English empiricism or American pragmatism, whether liberal or absolutist, democratic or socialist. They are all hostile to the fundamental goal of National Socialism: the resolution by imperialistic war of the discrepancy between the potentialities of Germany’s industrial apparatus and the actuality that existed and continues to exist ... The National Socialist doctrine may be called an “ideology” only because it competes in the world market of ideas, as it were, with other ideologies, though it is, of course, sovereign and single in the domestic market ... National Socialism has no theory of society as we understand it, no consistent picture of its operation, structure, and development. It has certain aims to carry through and adjusts its ideological pronouncements to a series of ever-changing goals. This absence of a basic theory is one difference between National Socialism and Bolshevism [add Stalinism]. (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

Before we finish with this point, we should like to return to Dwight Macdonald to show to what ludicrous lengths one can go in an uncritical appraisal of such a work as this. The reader has seen what his views were in 1938 and 1941.

Today, however, his rapture over Arendt’s book is so great (he wrote five articles on it) that he has lost his critical faculties. The most amusing result has been that, whereas in 1941 Hitler and Himmler were the German prototypes of the bureaucratic collectivists Stalin and Molotov, today Stalin and Molotov are the Russian editions of the “dull, stolid, bourgeois, family” men, Hitler and Himmler. When Arendt used these quoted words, she used them in a general and symbolic sense. She did not mean that either Hitler or the whole gang of the Nazi hierarchy was dull and stolid.

Dull and stolid apply rather to the members of the Russian ruling class. But the term “bourgeois” is applicable to the whole Nazi movement, as well as the other capitalist totalitarians. Yet, in Arendt’s scheme, this would make the totalitarian movement, composed of “dull, stolid, bourgeois, family” men, the first genuinely anti-bourgeois movement! That could only be made true by demonstrating that the aims of the totalitarians, especially the German (which country Arendt claims was the only genuine totalitarian state in the West) were consciously seeking a complete social overturn. Being such kind of revolutionaries would hardly make them dull or stolid, we think, though they could remain, as a result of tradition, habits, and culture, bourgeois of sorts. But if they were such revolutionaries, as Arendt insists, they would most certainly be in the process of breaking with bourgeois society ideologically and spiritually. But then, too, they would approach the Stalinist totalitarian in type, rather than the reverse, as Macdonald thinks.

We cite here portions of Hitler’s will written days before his end in the Bunker, in the presence of his close associates, Goebbels, Bormann, Burgdorf and Krebs. It is reproduced as one illustration of what we mean when we say that the ideology of the Nazis and their main leader was essentially petty-bourgeois instead of anti-bourgeois. Hitler dictated the following:

Although during the years of struggle I believed that I could not undertake the responsibility of marriage, now, before the end of my life, I have decided to take as my wife, the woman who, after many years of true friendship, came to this town, already almost besieged, of her own free will, in order to share my fate ... My possessions, in so far as they are worth anything, belong to the Party, or if this no longer exists, to the State. If the State too is destroyed, there is no need for any further instructions ... As executor, I appoint my most faithful Party comrade, Martin Bormann. He is given full legal authority to make all decisions. He is permitted to hand over to my relatives everything which is of worth as a personal memento, or is necessary to maintain a petty-bourgeois (sic!) standard of living, especially to my wife’s mother and my faithful fellow workers of both sexes who are well known to him ...

Could Stalin, or Molotov, or any other Russian leader dictate such a will, or conceive of one like it, even under conditions of defeat in a war? We hardly think so.

It is true that Trotsky once called Stalin a bourgeois. But it should be remembered that Trotsky held the view that Stalin was preparing the capitalist restoration in Russia. Trotsky precluded any social alternative to capitalism or socialism almost until his end, when he admitted the possibility of a “third” alternative, such as bureaucratic collectivism, if the working class did not take power during World War II.

Arendt’s lack of historical and social method is responsible, too, for another disingenuous theory of “numbers,” by which she tries to establish that there were really only two totalitarian states, Russia and Germany. The later became totalitarian only during the war, because prior to it, the country just did not have enough superfluous people to establish the true totalitarian state. She wrote:

Totalitarianism strives not toward despotic rule over men, but toward a system in which men are superfluous ... As long as all men have not been made equally superfluous – and this has been accomplished only in concentration camps – the ideal of totalitarian domination has not been achieved ...

Only where great masses are superfluous or can be spared without disastrous results of depopulation is totalitarian rule, as distinguished from a totalitarian movement, at all possible. (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

She categorically asserts that neither Italy nor Spain were or are totalitarian countries, but merely dictatorships under one-party rule and adds that the small states before the war (linked together are Italy, Spain, Hungary, Roumania, etc.):

simply did not control enough human material to allow for total domination and its inherent great losses in population.

Even Mussolini:

did not attempt to establish a full- fledged totalitarian regime and contented himself with dictatorships and one-party rule ... so that it appeared that totalitarianism was too ambitious an aim, that although it had served well enough to organize the masses until the movement seized power, the absolute size of the country then forced the would-be totalitarian ruler of masses into the more familiar patterns of class or party dictatorship. (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

How this “would-be totalitarian ruler of masses” could in the period of the “breakdown of the class system ... the breakdown of the party system,” establish a “class or party dictatorship,” is difficult to understand if you follow Arendt’s thoughts, and especially if you would like to know what class she has in mind.

The superfluousness of population is not an integral characteristic of the totalitarian system. Quite the contrary, to carry out its aggressive program, its population is not superfluous but indispensable for industrial and military purposes. To the totalitarian, it is not his own nationals who are superfluous (except in Stalin’s Russia, where we are dealing with a considerably different kind of totalitarianism), but the nationals of other countries. There was not in Germany, Italy, Spain or any other totalitarian capitalist country “a system in which men are superfluous.” Individuals, yes; man, no. The concentration camp makes a man superfluous, but not man, not humanity. The purpose of the concentration camp is not to depopulate one’s own nation.

Proceeding from her theory, is there a basic minimum number of people necessary before totalitarian rule is possible? The semi-totalitarian regime of Dolfuss in Austria governed over a population of 7,000,000. Fascism came to power in Italy with a population of 40,000,000; in Spain with 27,000,000; in Germany with 65 to 70,000,000. Japanese totalitarianism ruled over 70,000,000 and the Russian rules over 160,000,000. Which country has enough masses to be spared, assuming for the moment that this is the crucial precondition for totalitarian rule? A discussion of this sort could not help but reach a nonsensical level. It would reduce the study of the most complex problem of modern society to an absurd and simple plane but it would not enhance our understanding of the problem.

Along with Italy and Spain, Arendt mentions Roumania, Poland, Hungary, part of Czechoslovakia, etc., as countries which demonstrated that lack of numbers made totalitarian regimes impossible. We have already quoted from her on Italy, so that the reader is familiar with the theory.

The smaller states were not really totalitarian but dictatorial. But then no one seriously contended that they were totalitarian. They were called dictatorships of one type or another. The reason for that, however, has nothing to do with numbers. In these countries, prior to Hitler’s victory and his sweep of Europe, the preconditions which produced the totalitarian phenomenon elsewhere were not precisely present. At best they reflected the external pressure of the Nazi state and tried to mold themselves in the image of that great and threatening power. Although there is a qualitative difference between a totalitarian and dictatorial regime, in the extent of the police regime and the totality of the state power, the dictatorial regime, nevertheless, is a direct forerunner of the totalitarian, and the transition from one to the other is quite easy Such a transition would certainly not be accompanied by the tremendous social upheavals which attended the transformation of a democratic state into a totalitarian (Germany, Italy and Spain).

Mussolini’s regime was not just a mere dictatorship, but a genuine totalitarian state in all essential respects; that of Franco is likewise totalitarian. The differences among the Italian, Spanish, German and the Russian, must be expressed in degree. The basis for the differences lies not in which country had “superfluous” masses but in the nature of the capitalism in the Western European countries. Germany was the most highly developed industrial country in the world outside of the United States, and therefore the country with the most concentrated urban population in Europe. The “looseness” of the Italian and Spanish models is due to the specific character of their capitalisms, i.e., to their primarily agrarian economy and dispersed populations, the secondary role of these countries in the world scene and their specific relations to the world market. They did not have the economic, and therefore, political problems which confronted Germany. Yet even the brutal German totalitarianism, far stronger than its axis allies, was a looser regime than the Russian. (Goebbel’s diary supplies ample proof of this.)

Superfluous population does not determine the way a given national totalitarian state functions. If Stalin liquidated millions and if Hitler destroyed millions of Jews and foreigners (not “masses” of German nationals) the same cannot be said of Italy, Spain and Japan. The latter sought to solve their problems of “overpopulation” (this is the correct word, not “superfluous population.”) as did, in fact, Germany, by imperialist ventures. Mussolini and Franco did not adopt Hitler’s kind of anti-Jewish program because they were either not interested in it or had no “Jewish problems.” This was not because they were only one-party dictatorships, as Arendt insists, but for other social and historical reasons. The fact that Poland and Roumania were not, either in Arendt’s or our view, totalitarian, did not prevent their engaging in the most bestial pogroms against the Jews.

(To be continued)

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1. The concept of the democratic state in which government, church, social and economic organizations, etc. rule together and equally without the state being the sole sovereign ruler.

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