From New International, Vol.4 No.11, November 1938, p.350.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The Coming Victory Of Democracy
by Thomas Mann
67 pp. Alfred A. Knopf, $1.00.
Before the conglomeration of platitudes, outworn social theories and downright falsehoods in this little book one stands amazed. Can this be the thought of the man whose literary works, with their studies of human nature and psychology, have made him one of the few great writers of our age? The appalling ignorance of social thought and history revealed is only thinly covered by the eloquence of its author – much as, we are forced to say, the fiery demagogy of a Hitler cloaks the reaction and deceit underneath.
In these days of feverish re-armament and war preparations, the noble crusader’s tongue serves well in the task of deluding the masses of people who, through instinct and experience fear from the debaucheries of a new imperialist war. The spontaneous reaction of the world’s masses to the signing of the Munich pact should have convinced the war-makers that only the utmost in the way of fraud and coercion will induce humanity to march again. To this end does Thomas Mann now work. “If even Mann, the pacifist, is for the war, it must be a good war!”
In general, the approach of Dr. Mann to all social problems is basically emotional and often borders on mere hysteria. He is apparently quite untainted by contemporary scientific method. It goes without saying that Marxism is equally foreign to him. We should not, however, neglect consideration of the more reactionary and dangerous ideas presented by him. In more vulgar form they have long been the stock-in-trade of all pro-war agitators in the democratic-imperialist nations.
That fascism threatens the democracies; that fascism and democracy “dwell on different planets” and are unalterably opposed; that collective security can work; that people’s frontism yields sufficient reforms ; these are his basic ideas now torn to shreds by the Four-power pact. But their advocacy is not new; we are familiar with their source. It is only his generalizations and asides on political and social theory; his definitions of basic ideologies; his final and tremblingly vague pointing to a path out that leads us to the complete edifice of his thought.
Thus, he opens his remarks with the incredible reference to America as the classic land of democracy where “democracy is an all-prevailing matter of course”. Even hi the narrow sense – let alone the matter of truth or falsity! – this is incorrect, for England has always been known as the land of pioneer democracy. Mann offers us the tune-honored, shallow definitions of democracy which are characteristic of past humanist creeds. “Democracy is tunelessly human”; “the idea (truth, freedom and justice) will triumph over force”; “the inalienable and indestructible dignity of mankind”; democracy respects man’s “original sin, his spirituality or conscience”; etc.
And how does democracy best express itself? Herr Mann is anti-democratic even in the classic sense of the word. For he makes it perfectly clear that to him democracy means the rule of an intellectual minority, an aristocracy of the mind possessing aristocratic attributes and a special, mysterious spiritual sense. The lower classes, says Mann, must accept the leadership of the better elements. Mob movements are base, barbaric. When Mann approaches the concrete problems of modern democracy, it is merely to endorse the program of Social-Democracy and liberal reformism. The Belgian Vandervelde is quoted with approval. Blum, Masayrk and our own F.D.R. form an ideal triumvirate of aristocratic democrats.
Developing his argument, fascism – which to Mann is an emotional (human) tendency – has this advantage over democracy. It is youthful, novel, new, revolutionary (!). It is dynamic, anti-traditional, rule by the masses, aggressive and militant. And to a man who is “no sans-culotte, no Jacobin, no revolutionary,” whose “whole being is that of a conservative”, all this is distasteful. Is it necessary to point out that each and every one of his objections to fascism could likewise be applied to socialism (bolshevism) ? Mann knows this well, for part of his tirade against fascism contains the statement that it is “a bolshevism of the ignoble”!
Of the historic nature and source of fascism, Mann cannot claim the slightest understanding. He can only utter subjective truisms and empty rhetoric. “Oppression is not only the ultimate goal but the first principle of fascism ...” Fascism in power is “disgraceful, contemptible, honorless ...” Its methods consist of “a lust for human degradation”. How close is all this to current cheap-jack theories which make of fascism a lunacy or aberration of the mind! How useful to the Stalinists and other demagogues of the democratic war-camps and how remote from the scientific Marxist understanding of fascism as a form of capitalism, product of the latter’s endless crisis!
And what is fascism economically? Stepping out of the prophet’s role for the moment, Mann informs us that it is practically identical with bolshevism; that its aim is not to save capitalism but to destroy it; that its war-economy is nothing but a “low” form of socialism! Mann chooses to be blind to the concentrated, monopolistic capitalism existing in Italy and Germany and to ignore the continued rule of private property in the fascist nations.
At a recent Stalinist mass meeting for the purpose of “saving Czechoslovakia”, Dr. Mann appeared as a militant crusader for war. There is nothing surprising in this. Every line of this book says as much. The war-mad Stalinists attending the meeting put on a great demonstration at the end of his address. “For several minutes the Garden was a bedlam of sound as the crowd cheered and clapped ...” (New York Times) “Hitler must fall. This and nothing else will preserve the peace.” These were the words that set on fire the patriotic blood of the assembled friends of democratic capitalism. Hitler must fall, yes, but through the revolutionary action of the German masses. Mann’s method would lead but to another and more stringent Versailles treaty which, in turn, would yield an even more aggressive Hitler. But Thomas Mann, conservative democratic, will always remain blind to this as likewise to the fact that the very democracy whose virtues he praises, when and if it ever goes to war against fascism, will not only ravish the few scraps of liberalism that remain but become the image of what it is fighting against.
Last updated: 25.12.2005