From Fourth International, Vol.2 No.3, March 1941, pp.76-78.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
From the Northcap to the Dardanelles, Hitler’s “new order” now embraces most of continental Europe. His furious sweep of conquest obliterated national boundaries and sent governments into exile. The greater part of the continent, exclusive of the USSR is “united” into one economic bloc under the domination of German capitalism to serve the requirements of German imperialism and, above all, to serve its permanent war needs.
But this is the least stable of all social orders. The changes wrought in Europe produce their own internal dynamics. The much vaunted stability of Hitler’s order will become transformed into its opposite of social crisis and convulsions right in the heart of the vastly expanded Nazi domain. Hitler’s negation of the European state system leads directly to his own negation.
This may seem contradictory in view of the terrifying power now in the hands of the Nazi regime. However, the implications of this “new order” are contradictory in the extreme. In some ways, no doubt, it serves for the moment to bolster and strengthen the decaying capitalist system by giving it a much more rational form of organization. But the very rationalization of both the economic foundation and the political superstructure of the “new order” lays the basis for and forces the tempo of advance toward a Socialist United States of Europe. Soon it will be demonstrated in real life that there is no other way out.
On this point, however, there should be no mistake. Hitler’s aims and the objective consequences of his murderous advance are two entirely different things. Hitler’s aims have, of course, nothing in common with socialism. On the contrary, the actually motivating force in all of his conquests is the dire need of German capitalism, today in mortal combat with its British cousin and tomorrow facing the far more serious struggle with the American empire.
The reorganization of continental Europe serves strategical considerations of importance to the German army general staff, and it also aims to solve the problem that is called “lebensraum” for Germany’s teeming population. But the real purpose, summing up all other considerations, is the one of buttressing and rejuvenating, under German hegemony, the decaying capitalist system of which fascism is the most extreme and the most violent expression. Accordingly, the reorganization first eliminates the weaker sections in the structure: small nations are wiped out. Their possibility of continued independent existence, squeezed in as they were, in the fierce competition between giants, was questionable anyhow. A conquered Britain – if and when – may serve as a buffer against the American empire; but the ruthless reorganization cannot tolerate any buffer states on the continent. In Hitler’s modernized scheme of capitalism the division into small nations is only an obstacle to be eliminated. His stubborn views on the question of race will also be subject to modifications whenever required by further imperial necessities.
German capitalism has learned from the Soviet planned economy and attempts to utilize the lesson for its own purposes. “Der Staat greift zu!” Hitler is gearing European industry to serve the Nazi permanent war needs. With each advance into new territories efforts are made to harness material resources. Unemployed manpower is put to work. Formerly independent countries are turned into spheres of regulated production, operating to an extent in harmony with their means and resources, but mainly in accordance with the requirements of the Nazi domination. Hence agriculture in certain specific regions is to be industrialized. Plans are even advanced for the modernization of French peasant economy. Backward regions such as the Balkans – those parts so far included in the “new order” – are drawn into greater Germany’s production orbit. Everywhere, and particularly in the last named regions, technological advance begins to make new strides. Restrictions are imposed on the capitalist proprietors for the good of greater Germany, while prices and wages are regulated.
It goes without saying that for the German capitalist structure all these factors further accelerate concentration and centralization of industry and finance; but they also call forth a constantly increasing state supervision. Behind it all the permanent war needs exert ever greater pressure. There need be no doubt that this mighty whiplash of rationalization raises the level of labor productivity despite the suppressed, and therefore inarticulate, hostility of labor. More profits accrue to the masters. Moreover, we should never fight the fact that only a vastly increased labor productivity could have made possible the rapid rejuvenation of German capitalism under Hitler.
Here we have certain elements of capitalist expansion presented in a new form but resting on the same old foundation of private property: the system has not devised any other. Viewed against the background of the uneven development of capitalism, such expansion for one particular section of the general system is, of course, possible. The war itself, however, is the proof that it is not possible for the system as a whole. The exact possible limits of this expansion we do not know. But we do know that it takes place in the period of general capitalist decline and decay. The historical spiral of capitalist development is now definitely on its downward course. The “new order” is the most desperate effort yet witnessed of keeping this system alive against its own elements of destruction. And, as will soon be verified in the process of real life, each of the steps taken in this expansion carries its own deadly contradictions, vastly intensified by the imperialist war. 
Throughout the “unified” continent the formerly existing mutual and reciprocal relations have now changed. There is a change of quantity into a vastly expanded German empire for, in reality, this is what Hitler’s “unification” means. With this there appears also a difference in quality. Formerly the mass of the people in each separate nation were held in leash by their ruling national capitalist groups who were engaged in a constant struggle of competition for markets, resources or territory, one nation against another. It is true that the smaller nations could reach out only for the smaller crumbs; but that made the competition no less fierce. Mutual hostilities became the rule rather than mutual friendships. Thus this multiple state system served as a buffer against international working class solidarity. It facilitated the sway and domination of each national capitalist group over its objects of exploitation and made it easier for unscruplous bureaucratic labor leaders to function in each national arena as agents of their bourgeois masters.
Now most of the national boundaries are wiped out, most likely never to be restored – at least not in their old meaning. Intent on not repeating the mistake of the Allies in 1918 of imposing severe outright indemnities upon the vanquished, the Nazis are proceeding instead to exploit the labor forces of the defeated and occupied countries. The capitalist proprietors become Nazi satraps, compelled to relinquish a good deal of their power to the masters of the new empire. These masters rule supreme throughout the “new order.” As a result the mass of the people are thrown together on common ground. They all face the one common oppressor. This is a quantitative change producing an enormous qualitative difference.
Social conflicts, to be sure, are harnessed in a more severe straitjacket. They may not break through this harness immediately; but social contradictions remain, new ones are added, and they intensify within this new framework.
At first these contradictions are manifested in the very much distorted form of an increased, if not an entirely new feeling of national patriotism. In Denmark, for example, where the population has so far been the least rebellious, it has shown a rising affection for the king who was left intact even though his throne was knocked out from under. He became a national symbol and the center of this new feeling. The new and greater affection bestowed upon him is in reality the confused expression of reaction against imperialist oppression. But a king is, of course, the weakest of reeds to lean upon and, besides, Hitler cannot afford for very long to let even such feeble symbols remain. In an effort to squelch all manifestation of opposition he will soon replace them with his own henchmen. Replacements of this kind have taken place in a number of instances already and they were not confined merely to political posts. Hitler’s henchmen are taking over the direction also of productive enterprises. They have to drive all productive efforts ahead ruthlessly and relentlessly to satisfy the ever growing war needs of the expanded empire. They will stand out the more clearly as collectors of capitalist profits, guardians of a frightfully decayed system, the very embodiment of the most intense exploitation, mass misery and mass slaughter: A bonapartist police regime which loses all remaining semblance of a people’s movement. These slave-drivers will become the immediate center of all hatred of exploitation.
Under these conditions the genuine people’s movement develops from below, and in opposition to the Nazi regime and all that it stands for. The distorted form of this opposition expressed in deeper nationalist feeling has little or no possibility of realizing any aspiration of return to old national boundaries in the sense of restoration of the many small independent states. This nationalist feeling can neither obscure nor serve as a substitute for the far more fundamental urge of actual European – and wider – unity against the common oppressor. That urge for unity will follow inevitably in the next stage. Thus the basic Nazi tenet of more intense nationalism produces its opposite reaction – internationalism.
Hitler’s “new order” faces the dilemma: its permanent war needs grow more rapidly than its acquisitions. There could be no more telling proof of this than the constant expansion of the Nazi orbit, both the conquests and the penetrations. And Hitler cannot stop even with a possible victory over Great Britain. Being the most desperate representative of the hardest pressed capitalist sector in a world of uneven capitalist development, in which imperialist competition grows ever keener, he must go on. Now he attempts to harness the resources of the European continent. But this harnessing follows the pattern of “autarchy,” a reactionary measure which is in direct conflict with the essentially progressive implications flowing from the obliteration of national boundaries and the “unification” of Europe. The interdependence of nations, or of national economies, is by no means lessening. On the contrary, it is increasing. Any attempt at “autarchy” brings out immediately, and more sharply, the growing need for the world market.
Besides, in the scheme of intensified capitalist exploitation, Europe cannot substitute for colonies. The greater the industrialization of war the more urgent is the question of raw materials. Not merely raw materials in general, but certain specific and essential kinds that most often are available in sufficient quantities only in certain parts of the globe. And the problem presented is not only the one of buying these raw materials for cash or barter, it is primarily the problem of securing control over the sources of supply as well as of the avenues of transportation. In other words, the “new order,” even though it may embrace the whole of continental Europe exclusive of the USSR, intensifies and enlarges all the needs of national capitalism. Above all it will require for its survival new fields of capital investment and exploitation of cheap colonial labor. However, the orbit of the world market is narrowing, not for any rational reason, but because of the lack of buying power of the masses. So, while Hitler may now be reaching out for the Mosul oil fields, tomorrow he faces the American empire in a far more deadly struggle for control of the world market and for redivision of the world. The permanency of war is inescapable – except for the proletarian revolution.
What, then, is the position of the proletariat in Hitler’s “new order”? Specific information is scant. Some of its general features, however, we do know. It would be preposterous to attempt to describe here the strain of war upon the mass of the population, the frightful devastation from which no geographical sphere is totally exempt, the life in constant fear of bombings, the actual destruction of homes with its attendant misery, or the killing and maiming of both young and old, that could be described adequately only by those who have experienced its tragic realities. It is important to remember that all these terrible consequences of war always bear down the heaviest upon the proletariat. The effect that these must produce we can also understand. They constitute some of the bitter lessons out of which our class will mature.
This is the class that carries the actual burden in the reorganized Europe. In the first place, the reorganization is a gigantic levelling process. It is a levelling downward. For the mass of the people it means, above all, a terribly reduced standard of living. From now on they will subsist on permanent ration cards. Obviously the lack of consumers’ goods, if not actual starvation, will pinch ever harder. On top of this is the forced tempo in the factories. Labor in this new scheme of exploitation is forced labor. In the occupied countries new antagonisms and eventual conflicts in industry are added to the hatred of the oppressors.
Knowing in general the conditions in what was pre-war Germany, it is clear to us that the German workers themselves can in no way be exempt from this enormous strain. The common notion that the German nation as a whole would draw benefits from the conquests is simply preposterous. The class lines are much more sharply drawn there. Nor could Hitler just simply take measures to feed the German masses at the price of starvation in the occupied countries. In the first place that would be too risky, and in the second place, while the Nazis take loot from these countries, nevertheless each one of them, for one reason or another, is considered important in the whole scheme of the “new order,” and is not altogether stripped. We may be sure that the German masses suffer the economic privations no less than the others, and in addition they bear the brunt of the battlefield. While these privations grow at home the German soldiers find themselves “defending” the fatherland far from the soil of their ancestors and most often in hostile territory. The effect on the soldiers of being surrounded by universal hostility is inescapable.
Moreover, the Nazi advance in the Balkans, for example, immediately brings the agricultural products of such granaries into competition with the German farmers, undermining if not destroying the last of the limited privileges which they had enjoyed ever since the days of the Hohenzollerns in order to play the assigned role of a social counterweight to the industrial proletariat. The industrialization of agriculture which follows in such territories must necessarily mean a growing proletarianization of the native populations. But this process is not confined to such territories. Throughout the spheres of the “new order,” the economic reorganization, its greater concentration and centralization of industry together with the growing state supervision, leads to a constant elimination of the middle class and an ever greater proletarianization of the population. At the same time the industrialization of war – or to put the matter in other words: the fortunes of mechanized warfare depending so completely and exclusively on the production in huge quantities of all its intricate implements, raw materials and fuels – elevates the industrial proletariat to a position of new and greater importance. Not one battle could be won; nay not even started, without its productive labor. The factories, the mills and the mines become the most decisive part of the battlefront. All the Nazi glitter smeared on to the “new order” would fade and decompose and the hideous structure itself would collapse if the industrial proletariat should fail to furnish these all important sinews. In the hands of the proletariat lies a power far greater and far more magnificent than all the imposing Nazi conquests could ever convey.
We do not forget the devastating blows suffered by these working masses during the last two decades, failures and betrayals by their parties, both socialist and communist, the terrible defeats and the destruction of their organizations. In fact the monstrosity of the present mechanized mass slaughter could become possible only on the background of such disasters. The workers were once again reduced to the lowest depths of wage slavery, long exacting hours of toil, a miserable wage level, and all their rights wiped out. For a long time reaction to any stimulus on their part seemed less than normal.
Now, however, new political conjunctures are appearing in rapid succession and are striking sledge hammer blows at the decrepit capitalist structure. Simultaneously the war-revived gigantic industrial machinery, while grinding profits out of the toil of the workers, is also inevitably pounding a new consciousness into their minds. They will begin to wield their new power and put it to the test, at first to realize their most elementary demands; but rising also to greater heights. Out of their experience a new leadership will be forged. There will be proof aplenty that the crushing of labor organizations by no means eliminated the class struggle. On the contrary; new fuel is being added to fire the smouldering flames of revolt. The proletarian hatred of the fascist regime must of necessity become universal regarless of former national boundaries. And the workers alone, finding their new place in the “new order,” can lead to a better road in the coming upheavals. Their aim will eventually become crystallized into the exact opposite of the Hitlerian “unification” of Europe, the complete synthesis – the free people in a Socialist United States of Europe. Undoubtedly there will be stimulus aplenty leading in this direction. It does not matter whether it finds its initial impulse in Berlin, Prague, Oslo or Paris.
1. This article was written two months or more ago. Since then, the verification predicted by Comrade Simmons has begun: Hitler’s plan to rule through a wide stratum in the occupied lands that would come to amicable terms with Germany and govern as “independent” nations, has broken down completely in Holland and Norway, great strike straggles in Holland were halted only by death penalties and naked bayonets, there have been serious physical clashes between the Nazis and Norwegian workers, etc. Hitler knew how the universal hostility of the conquered populations had destroyed the morale of the German troops during the last war in Belgium, France, the Ukraine, and sought in this war to avoid direct military rule of the occupied countries. In that he has already failed. – EDITORS
Last updated: 7.6.2005