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Henry Judd

International Socialist Notes

[The Brown Pestilence]

(16 December 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 50, 16 December 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

La peste brune a passe par la
by Daniel Guérin
Les Editions universelles, 104 pgs.

This newly re-issued brochure of La peste brune a passe par la ... (The Brown Pestilence Passed There) is an eye-witness account of the beginnings (1933) of the Nazi regime by the French comrade Daniel Guérin, well-known to American readers as the author of Fascism and Big Business.

It is his account of a bicycle trip, in May 1933, taken across Germany, with stopovers in its principal cities, at the very moment when Nazidom had taken power and was fulfilling the first brutal steps in its preliminary consolidation of this power. Guerin describes vividly his impressions of the fascist fever, with all its illusions and fantastic sides, that raged in Germany at the moment, as well as the early effects of the tragic defeat upon the ranks of the German Communist and Social-Democratic party members.

Originally published in 1933, this re-issued edition contains the freshness not only of the impressions made upon its author by the German upheaval, but also the somewhat naive and hopeful illusions held by Guérin as to the lack of durability and strength of German fascism. But we must respect this honesty on the author’s part, and his refusal to yield to the temptation of retrospective revision and evaluation. As such, the pamphlet has both its value and interest. Perhaps the most interesting part is the section where Guérin meets rank-and-file members of the German Communist Party who bitterly reject and criticize their party leadership and reveal a far greater understanding of what Hitler’s triumph meant to the German movement than did the Moscow-bound bureaucrats of the party.

Guérin’s work is at its best in explaining the mass character of the Hitler movement and the sweep with which it conquered the nation in 1933.

Fascism, explains Guérin, “... surged from the depths of the German people. It is because it was ‘popular’ that it proved irresistible, that it swept everything aside, that the workers’ parties – divided – could not block its path, that old reactionary and feudal Germany had to, against its will, give way to it.”

Moreover, the dregs of the population found refuge in the Brown Army. There it can bludgeon and play with revolvers to its heart’s joy. But behind it stands the peasant mass, suffering from the low sales price’s obtained for its products or its low wage scales; the entire middle class, decomposing, ruined by inflation, by the economic crisis, struggling desperately against the competition of big business, against the proletarianization that awaits it. And there are also large working class layers whose nerves have been shot due to hunger and idleness, and above all, the youth – that fine and poor German youth, without bread, without work, without future, gnawing its nails in impatience and fever.”

For insight into the early period of Hitlerism in power, we do not hesitate to recommend Guerin’s brochure. Unfortunately, it is accessible at present only to those with a reading knowledge of French. The Labor Action Service will be glad to procure copies ($.75) for those who desire this work. The Book Service intends shortly to offer current French political works to its readers. Watch Labor Action for details.

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