Posts Tagged ‘Helmuth James Moltke’

European Federalism, the EU and the German Resistance to Hitler

February 28, 2019

The rabid Eurosceptics of UKIP, the Leave campaign and various other groups frequently claim that the EU is the product of Nazism. James Goddard, the noxious, racist leader of the British ‘Yellow Vest’ movement, was filmed last week screaming ‘Nazi’ at Anna Soubry for her support of the Remain vote and a second referendum. He’s one of those, who believe that the EU really does owe its origin to the Nazis, and screamed this at Soubry as he subjected her to abuse. Well, Soubry is far right, but because of her contemptible attitude to the poor and refusal to hold a bye-election along with the other members of the Independent group. But she’s not a Nazi for supporting the EU, and Goddard and others, who believe that the EU was somehow spawned by Hitler and his thugs are simply wrong.

I was taught at school when we studied the EU that it had its origins in a series of economic arrangements creating free trade zones between France and Germany, and then Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, which were intended to stop the rise of such destructive nationalism and prevent further European wars. And the idea of a European parliament or federation to preserve peace long predates that. The Quaker William Penn in the 17th century wrote a pamphlet recommending a European parliament as a means of securing peace after the horrors of the 16th and 17th century wars of religion, including the Thirty Years’ War, in which 1/5 of the German population starved to death. In the 18th century, the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote his The Peace of Europe, recommending a European federation, again as a means of stopping war. In the 19th century, the Italian revolutionary Mazzini also believed in a European federation as a means of guaranteeing peace.

Germany, with France, is one of the two mainstays of the EU. And while the EU has allowed Germany to dominate Europe economically, to the disadvantage of other nations, like the Greeks, that’s not why the German people support the EU. They support it because they genuinely believe it is needed to prevent the resurgence of militant nationalism, like that of the Nazis.

It also seems to me that some of this attitude goes back to the wartime Kreisau Circle, a movement of socialist and bourgeois intellectuals and anti-Nazi clergy, who met on the estate of the nobleman, Count Helmuth James Moltke in Kreisau in Silesia. They were determined to find a way to end the Nazi dictatorship and create a more just European order which would prevent such tyrannies ever returning. And this included a united, federal Europe. The German historian, Karl Dietrich Bracher, discusses the group’s ideas in his book, The German Dictatorship (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1970). Their ideas of a federal Europe are described on pages 544 -45. He writes

At the centre of the discussions of this multifaceted group were the internal reforms, the basis of the new post-Hitler order. The approach to foreign policy mentioned earlier points up the unique qualities but also the limitations of the Kreisau Circle: the break with nationalism; the movement towards a European internationalism rejecting both the French hegemony of Versailles and the old and new ideas on German hegemony; German-French and German-Polish understanding in the place of disputed territorial demands. These ideas were largely the work of the Socialists (Haubach, Leber and Reichwein); Leber had consistently maintained that the principles of economic cooperation and democratic domestic policy must also govern international relations. But Moltke and his friends, also departing from the historico-political traditional ideas of their class, spoke of the Europeanisation of political thought and of the need for revising the idea of the state as an end in itself. The problem of East German and East European nationality policies gave rise to the idea of a supranational, federalist solution. Moltke quite early had devoted himself to the problem of the minorities. This formed the basis on which cooperation with exponents of Socialist, internationalist concepts could be worked out. In some respects Moltke went even further by raising the seemingly utopian idea of the division of Germany and Europe into small, self-administered bodies. This type of radical federalism, which invoked the sovereignty of a European federation, meant a revolutionary break with nineteenth- and twentieth-century modes of thought, according to which the defence against ‘particularlism’ and support for the national unitary state was the highest law.

The practical proposals of the Kreisau Circle lagged far behind such radical models. But even more ‘realistic’ supporters of a moderate national idea like Trott zu Solz made the preservation of the existing states dependent on a restricted sovereignty in favour of a European federation. While Moltke represented the most consistent moral and legalistic position and was highly critical of appeasement and its disregard of international principles of law in favour of national revisionism. Trott believed that concessions to the traditional national principle were indispensable. But in 1938 he, too, unlike Goerdeler, came out for the 1933 borders and against territorial claims; central to his idea of Europe was German-British cooperation. Beyond that, Trott expressly stressed the role of the working class, in which ‘a strong tradition of international cooperation and rational politics’ still lived on. Apparently he had in mind in particular the example of the United States, and he visualised a unified Europe with a common economic policy and citizenship, a ‘joint highest court’, and possibly also a European army. Leaving aside the question of whether or not some of the visionary details were realistic, the basic idea of a non-nationalist Europe in which neither a strong France nor a strong Germany would tip the scales offered a more constructive vision of the future and also more persuasive alternative to Hitler than the regressive ideas of Goerdeler. (My emphasis.)

This, I think, is where some of the origins of the EU lie. And definitely not in Nazi propaganda about a European union of states under German domination to fight communism. When Goddard, the Kippers and the other anti-EU fanatics spout that the EU was created by the Nazis, they’re flat out wrong. And revealing their own poisonous ultra-nationalism in the process.

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