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Dwight Macdonald

One Lesson of the World War

Only REAL Socialism Can Beat Hitler’s “Black Socialism”

(August 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 17, 5 August 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked upby Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

For some time now I have felt that those of us who write in Labor Action have tended to dwell too much on the negative aspects of the war that is now ending. We have proved quite conclusively, I think, that both sides are fighting for ends which have nothing to do with the interests of the masses on either side, for ends, in fact, which directly conflict with those interests. We have exposed the hypocrisy of the democracies’ war aims and have shown how the New Deal has been trying to get this country into war to protect the imperialist interests of Wall Street and the Sixty Families.

This is all true, and important. But more and more, as Hitler’s victory becomes more complete, people brush such arguments aside with: “Isn’t Roosevelt’s regime at least better for the masses than Hitler’s? And so why not support Roosevelt as the lesser evil?” There are many things that can be said in reply to this – and I think we must say them more than we have been. They all boil down to the fact that capitalist democracy will not be able to put up any more effective fight against Hitlerism over here than it did in the continent of Europe. Hence, the choice for the American bourgeoisie is: fascism or defeat; and the choice for the American working class is, by the same token, socialism or defeat.

This week I want to sketch out merely one aspect of the matter: the superior economic efficiency of fascism over democratic capitalism when it comes to organizing a national economy for a war effort. This efficiency I believe is based on a temporary and forced suppression of the class struggle, partly by ruthless and brutal smashing of all working class organizations but also partly by an over-riding of private capitalist property interests in the interests of national production. It is this second aspect of fascism – its exploitation, in however horribly perverted a way, of certain features of the planned, collectivized economy of socialism – that I want to discuss here.

Why Hitler Won

The German army crossed the border of Holland on May 10. Five weeks later, Holland and Belgium were completely occupied, the Maginot Line was shattered, the French Army was in full retreat, and France was suing for peace. Today France is a fascist state and practically an ally of Germany, and England faces the most serious threat of invasion since the Norman Conquest nine hundred years ago.

What lesson can we draw from this amazing military victory, without a parallel in world history for scope and speed? The most obvious fact is that all the defeated nations had the same kind of governmental and economic systems, and that this system, which we may call “democratic capitalism”, is the same kind of system we have in the United States today.

For the reason that Nazi Germany is winning the war is that it is a more efficient way of organizing national production than democratic capitalism. And it is more efficient because it has adopted, economically at least, something which resembles – in a perverted, incomplete way – that planned, collectivized economy which is a feature of socialism.

There is one point that must be made absolutely clear, and that is that, whereas socialism is a method of organizing national production for normal peacetime ends – and hence means a great rise in mass living standards – fascism, on the contrary, is nothing more and nothing less than a war economy, whose only aim is the organization of the economy for waging war. It should also be emphasized that Hitler’s fascism represents not a revolutionary break with capitalism, but on the contrary is simply the ultimate extension of the very same tendencies towards state control which we have seen since the war in the capitalist democracies. These tendencies, of course, have been carried to an unprecedented extreme under fascism.

Some writers, in fact, have called fascism by the term: “black socialism”. What do they mean? Simply that fascism is socialism turned inside out, a “socialism” whose aim is war and destruction, a “socialism” which has been perverted by big business to the enslavement of the masses – in a word, a “socialism” which bears about the same resemblance to the real thing as the “democracy” Roosevelt and Willkie talk about so much these days bears to the democracy of Jefferson and Tom Paine.

Hitlerism has only one thing in common with socialism, but that is what has made his system so powerful in war: a collective control, by the state, over the whole national economic machine – including private property interests – which is unprecedented in past history. And it is precisely this distant echo of real socialist economics, it is just this which has made Hitler’s war machine so powerful. Socialism is production for use, fascism is production for war only. But Hitler’s victory is a convincing proof of the superior efficiency of socialism to the democratic capitalist system we now have in America.

Big Business Efficiency

United Slates the most advanced capitalist country on earth. Every one knows that a corporation like U.S. Steel or General Electric is economically more efficient than the dozens of smaller companies they replace. Why? Because instead of many conflicting policies, you have one centrally directed policy, because instead of much duplication of plants and facilities, you have a few huge plants big enough to afford the most advanced technology and to plan work on a mass production basis, because, in short, within the corporate limits of General Electric, at least, you have a planned economy. This is what has happened in Nazi Germany, with the Nazi bureaucracy playing the part of the directors of General Electric. A huge state-controlled super-corporation has been set up, which includes all the banks and factories and farms of the nation, organized so that each of them is related to the others for the maximum national production for war purposes. (There is evidence that fascism increases productivity, in man-and controls production in the interest of waging war.) Take the matter of oil for the tanks and planes that have won the war for the Nazis. Germany has no oil fields. It is possible to make synthetic gasoline from coal, but the process is too costly to be profitable. In this country, under these conditions, we would either have no oil – or import it. But in Germany, the Nazi bureaucracy has seen to it that the expensive plants for making gasoline, out of coal have been built in the last few years, partly by State subsidies, partly by forcing business men to invest their surplus earnings in such plants. So too with the iron ore shortage. Germany has large deposits of low-grade iron ore. When private business men refused to build plants to process this ore, on the grounds it would not be “profitable”, the Nazis set up the Herman Goering Iron Works and are now working these deposits on a big scale. So too with artificial “buna” rubber, and a dozen other commodities.

Not Socialism, Not Free Capitalism

Now this is not socialism, by any possible test of that much-abused term. But it is not the kind of capitalism we know in America, either. As the bourgeois writer, Gustav Stolper, puts it in his new book, German Economy, 1870–1940, in a totalitarian system, it is not the market but

“it is the Government that decides for what purpose, to what extent and by what methods the human and material resources of the nation are to be employed, and the Government is not motivated by considerations of profit, but usually by considerations of a non-economic nature.”

In Germany’s case, these considerations were to win the war. But whatever the end, the fact is that such barriers of capitalism as we know it over here (it is highly significant that for years bourgeois economists have been predicting the imminent economic collapse of Nazi Germany) to make a fuller use of national resources for war than is possible under capitalist democracy. To quote Stolper again:

“When a government has complete control over the man power and the material resources of a country, the only limit to the expansion of production is precisely this man power and these natural resources.”

Let’s Have the Real Thing!

No, it’s not socialism, not even economically. But it makes use of the sort of planned centralized, collective economy which a workers’ socialist government would put into effect. And if Hitler can do what he has done with this mere shadow of a real collective economy, then why wouldn’t the real thing be overwhelmingly superior to our present form of chaotic “democratic” capitalism – and, what is more, to Hitlerism as well?

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