Posts Tagged ‘Weimar’

The Rise of Trump, and Kautsky’s Description of the Mass Appeal of Fascism

September 24, 2016

I found this extract from Karl Kautsky’s “Some Causes and Effects of National Socialism” in the section on Fascism in Lucien Laurat’s Marxism and Democracy (London: Victor Gollancz 1940). It’s footnote 2 on pages 174-5. What struck me was the similarity between Kautsky’s view of the rise on the Nazis in Germany, and some of the factors underlying the rise of Trump today and the increasing right-wing extremism of mainstream politics in Britain. Kautsky wrote

Those masses of the people without political and economic knowledge, drawn into political activity only by the war and its effects, were imbued with militarist ideas and were totally ignorant of political economy. They believed that the will and political power would be sufficient to obtain for them all they desired. These desperate people entirely failed to recognise the existence of economic laws, which must be known before measures can be taken to restore the economic system to health, nor did they see the international character of the crisis, which demanded international remedies.

These elements thirst for power rather than for knowledge; having no confidence in themselves they do not demand that political power should be given into their hands, but into the hands of an individual from whom they expect their salvation, that is to say, an improvement in their personal situation…

In a moment like the present the strength of National Socialist propaganda is very great, particularly as since the war the militarist idea has vanquished the economic idea. A far-sighted strategist is well aware of the importance of the economic element, but the ignorant soldier believes only in the omnipotence of violence. The war with all its evil consequences has reinforced this belief amongst certain classes of the people, so that to-day the crassest petty-bourgeois ignorance believes itself capable of guiding the development of the State and of society without any preliminary study, and solely in accordance with its most pressing needs…

To these circumstances is added the absolute necessity for radical intervention in economic life, the paralysis of parliamentary activity owing to a more or less even balance of party strength, the bankruptcy of the old political parties, the despair not only of the workers, but also of the middle classes and the intellectuals, belief in the omnipotence of violence, and the ignorance of great masses of the people, particularly the youth, with regard to economic and social questions, a phenomenon particularly striking since the World War and for which the war is largely responsible.

This analysis of the rise of Nazism doesn’t completely explain the rise of Trump and the Far Right in America and the Continent today, but there are certain elements common to both. These are:

1. The effects of war and violence.

The West has been at war for about 15 years now following 9/11 against Islamism, and the result has been that all Muslims are regarded by a certain portion of the population with deep suspicion as potential terrorists and a threat to western society. The result has been a rise in xenophobia. At the same time, both America and Britain have at the level of popular culture a deep faith in the ability of the militaries to emerge victorious. All it needs is for us to give more support in terms of personnel and funding to our troops, and al-Qaeda and ISIS will be wiped out. While al-Qaeda and ISIS certainly need and deserve to be wiped completely from the face of the Earth, this simplistic view of ending the present wars through more violence and force ignores the radicalising effect of our attacks and counterattacks on the indigenous population, and the possibility that more peaceful methods, such as sanctions and the freezing of terrorist bank accounts, may be a far better solution.

2. Ignorance of the Economic Causes of the Global Crisis.

The current economic crisis, and the devastation of societies all over the globe, has been brought about through the operation of economic laws. Laissez-faire capitalism doesn’t work, and the neoliberalist economics embraced by politicians of various shades since Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan have been responsible for immense economic, social and political damage. But these are supported uncritically by vast numbers of the population, who revere these figures as saving the country from the threat of socialism or encroaching liberalism. As the real economic causes of the crisis aren’t recognised, people look around to find scapegoats for their ills, finding them in the threat of ethnic minorities.

3. Kautsky’s statement that people’s sense of personal powerlessness leads them to expect and demand salvation from a strong political figure also seems apt. The right has led a campaign over the past three decades and more to destroy the very organised working class organisations, which have acted to protect and empower working people, such as trade unions. And the effect of the recession, with its threat of redundancies and the imposition of zero hours contracts and short-term contracts, has been to make more people feel powerless. As a result, they turn to a strong political figure, like Trump, to give them what they feel they need, rather than empowering themselves through left-wing campaigning and political action.

4. The paralysis of parliamentary activity, and the bankruptcy of the old political parties. The precise circumstances between America today and Weimar Germany of the 1920’s and 1930’s is different, but the overall analysis still holds here as well. Hitler came to power at the end of the 1920s and beginning of the ’30s, when parliamentary democracy in Germany broke down completely. The ruling coalition that governed the country since the end of the First World War between the Social Democrats, Catholic Centre Party and the two Liberal parties collapsed, with the individual parties refusing to cooperate with each other. Hindenburg, the president, began to govern by decree, as provided by the German constitution. He also approached the Nazis to break the deadlock by including them in a coalition which would have the necessary majority. The result was demands by Hitler for total power, and the final collapse of German democracy.

In America, public opinion of congress is extremely low. The power of the corporations to influence politics is such that polls have shown that only 9 to 25 per cent of the American public believe their politicians are doing a good job and representing them. A study by Princeton found that America was no longer a democracy, but an oligarchy because of the corporate nature of American politics.

There are also significant differences, however. While the majority of Trump supporters are middle class, the majority of supporters for Bernie Sanders, the self-confessed democratic socialist, were young. Most of the audience for Fox News is in its late sixties and above. It’s America’s young people, who are challenging the Conservative political establishment of the older generation.

As for Trump’s middle class support, this has been interpreted as disproving the explanation that Trump’s rise is due to the impoverishment of the American working class. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean that the threat of impoverishment isn’t one of the factors behind his rise. One of the causes of the emergence of Fascism in Germany and Italy was the fear of those countries middle classes that they were losing their social status, threatened by big business from above and organised labour from below. Certainly the rise of Trump, and that of the neocons before him, is due to the sense of threat felt by white, middle class men that their privileged social status is under threat from women and ethnic minorities. At the same time, the American middle class is shrinking due to the effect of neoliberal economics in immiserating the broader masses of working people, including salaried employees.

My guess is that much of this analysis also applies to Britain, where many people have the same view of the essential morality and effectiveness of using extreme military force against the peoples of the Middle East; a sense of threat of foreigners and the unemployed taking jobs and support from the dwindling welfare state; an ignorance of the role of Conservativism and neoliberal economics as the direct cause of the growing impoverishment of British society; a feeling of powerlessness that looks to strong leaders to save them; a feeling of despair engendered by a corrupt parliamentary system, dominated by a shared political consensus between left and right in neoliberalism, and permeated with corporate corruption.

What is needed to stop the growth of the extreme right is not just a campaign of anti-racism, but also a renewed assault and abandonment of the prevailing neoliberal consensus. More people need to be shown that not only are immigrants not responsible for poverty and poor welfare provision, but that these have been directly caused by the likes of Thatcher and Reagan. And far from neoliberal and conservative economics being the only effective system, it is possible to challenge these and think outside them, to see them as the real cause of contemporary poverty and the economic and political crisis engulfing America and the world.

Hope Not Hate: No Springtime for British Nazis

July 7, 2016

Here’s a bit of good news from the anti-racism/ anti-religious extremism organisation, Hope Not Hate. Media reports of a resurgence in the Far Right are more than a little exaggerated. They aren’t experiencing a rise. In his piece for ‘The Insiders Blog’, Matthew Collins reports that the NF, BNP, English Defence League and their ilk are still small, nasty and brutal. They have about 200 members in prison, and another forty or so are on remand waiting to be sentenced. And unlike the Nazi party in late Weimar Germany and the first years of the Third Reich, they’re aren’t finding new recruits. The Far Right have less than a quarter of the membership they enjoyed at their peak in 2009, when they had 60 councillors up and down the country.

There has been an increase in racism, but Collins makes the point that, unfortunately, the stormtroopers of British Fascism don’t have the monopoly on it. Much of its increase is due to the referendum coinciding with the World Cup, which always sees a rise in racism. He writes

I hate to sound like a Brexiter, but we are not Europe; this is not Germany and this is not the 1930’s. Much of Nick Griffin’s more palatable rhetoric from the last decade is now so mainstream that you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between him and a local election candidate on your doorstep. To redress that, Griffin’s gone back to even more extreme ways and was last seen stuffing his face with Goulash in an upmarket restaurant in Budapest- at the EU’s expense.

And concludes

The language and rhetoric now worrying us, should worry us. But perhaps we should worry about the rise of a mainstream where this language, narrative and behaviour has until now been so apparently acceptable.

The article can be read at: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/blog/insider/far-right-not-rising-the-mainstream-is-just-repeating-4936

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. At one level, it’s very good news that the Far Right aren’t expanding, are still suffering from a shrinking membership. Unfortunately, since the Brexit vote there has been a rise in racist incidents, and the decision to leave the EU has been taken by too many people as making racist views and abuse acceptable. They aren’t, and shouldn’t be.

Workfare Before the Nazis

February 17, 2014

Reichsarbeitsdienst

Members of the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the Nazi compulsory ‘voluntary’ work organisation used to end unemployment.

I’ve already blogged on the strong similarities between the Coalition’s workfare and the Reichsarbeitsdienst established by the Nazis. This, like workfare, was a form of voluntary work, which had been made compulsory and extended in order to combat the massive unemployment resulting from the Great Crash of 1929. By January 1932, the year before the Nazi Machtergreifung, unemployment in Germany had reached 6,042,000.

Franz von Papen, the German Chancellor, had also attempted to lower unemployment by encouraging the German industrialists to take on more workers. Those that did so were rewarded with tax vouchers, and allowed to cut wages by up to 50 per cent. The trade unions naturally denounced this as stimulating the economy ‘at the expense of the workers’. His predecessor, Bruning, had similarly tried to create more jobs, but had suffered from the hostility of the country’s leading industrialists, to whom von Papen’s grant of tax breaks and wage cuts were intended to make the policy more acceptable.

Von Papen was an aristocrat from Westphalia. Although he was formally a member of the Catholic Centre party, he was no democrat and led a government in which members of the aristocracy were so predominant that it was mocked as ‘the baron’s cabinet’. When Papen led the coup against the Prussian government, he was described as a member of the DNVP, the Conservative Deutsche National Volkspartei. The Prussian government was led by three of the main democratic parties, the Socialist SPD, the Roman Catholic Centre Party and the DDP, one of the German Liberal parties. They were brought down by a referendum organised by the DNVP, the Nazis and the paramilitary Stahlhelm. Before this, Papen, and his predecessor, Bruning, had seen the exclusion from power of first the SPD and then the Catholic Centre Party, until only the parties of the Right remained.

This is another point of similarity to contemporary Britain. The Coalition is similarly aristocratic, with Cameron, Clegg and Osborne all true, blue-blooded, Eton-educated members of the aristocracy. They have similarly come to power in a right-wing coalition that has been brought to power through an international financial crisis. They have also tried, albeit ostensibly, to solve the problem of unemployment through a series of measures including cut wages, and indeed, no wages at all, for the unemployed compulsorily placed in the Work Programme.

Those measures were harsh and unjust then, just as they are harsh and unjust now. Workfare, like its Nazi and Weimar predecessors, should be rejected and genuine measures to generate jobs and give workers a living wage, need to be introduced instead.

IDS’ Beliefs and Fascist Irrationalism

February 17, 2014

Ian Duncan Rimmer

Ian Duncan Smith: The Sane Choice

‘Do I detect a little anti-intellectualism here? Must’ve started about 1982 [the year Reagan was elected] I think’,

– Comedian Bill Hicks on being reproached for reading in a Virginia waffle house.

‘This man is dangerous. He believes his own propaganda.’

– German Conservative politician on Adolf Hitler.

Ian Duncan Smith doesn’t seem to like defending his policies rationally. His department has repeatedly refused demands to release the figures of the numbers of people, who have died due to being denied benefit support as a result of his reforms. Such requests are decried as ‘vexatious’. Other excuses for not releasing them include the straightforward admission that these would create public opposition to them, and prevent their implementation. Mike’s blogged about this a number of times on Vox Political, after his own request for the figures under the FOI was turned down. These statements are a tacit admission by IDS and the rest of his department that they know their policies are killing people by the thousands, and that they simply don’t work in the way they’re claimed. They just don’t want you and the rest of the British public knowing it.

When challenged whether his views are correct, IDS has been known to retreat into mere statements of belief. They are correct, according to IDS, because he believes in them.

Another political figure, who used much the same arguments, stressing belief, rather than rationality, was the Right-wing German writer, Ernst Junger. Junger stated that it was completely unimportant whether a cause was true or not. What was important was ‘to sacrifice oneself for a faith, regardless of whether that faith embraces truth or error.’

Junger was one of the intellectual precursors to Nazism. He declared that it was a privilege to take part in the intellectuals high treason against intellect. Unlike the Left, who were horrified by war, Junger saw it as inspiring and ennobling, glorifying the First World War and its violence in his 1922 collection of essay Der Kampf als innere Erlebnis (Struggle as Inner Experience). He stated

Combat is one of the truly great experiences. And I have still to find someone to whom the moment of victory was not one of shattering exaltation… I should not like to do without this force among the complex of emotions that drive us through life.

Considering war as a necessity and a release, he further stated that in military combat

the true human being makes up in a drunken orgy for everything he has been neglecting. Then his passions, too long damned up by society and its laws, become once more uniquely dominant and holy and the ultimate reason.

He therefore urged for a state of Total Mobilization, in which work would be a preparation for war. This would lead the working class away from Socialism and Marxism, and spread nationalism further throughout society. Of the First World War he said

This war is not the end, but the chord that heralds new power. it is the anvil on which the world will be hammered into new boundaries and new communities. New forms will be filled with blood, and might will be hammered into them with a hard fist. War is a great school, and the new man will be of our cut.

Other Right-wing intellectuals also shared Junger’s irrationalism. Junger was influenced by Oswald Spengler, whose ‘The Decline of the West’ exerted a profound influence on Fascist and nationalist groups in Germany and throughout Europe. In his 1924 speech On the Political Duties of German Youth, Spengler declared

Whether one is right or wrong-that doesn’t amount to much in history. Whether or not he is superior to his adversary in a practical way, that is what decides whether he will be successful. .. To be honourable and nothing else-that’s not enough for our future… To train oneself as material for great leaders, in proud self-denial, prepared for personal sacrifice, that is also a German virtue. And, given the case that, in the hard times ahead, strong men will appear, leaders to whom we must entrust our fate, then they must have something upon which they can rely. They need a generation such as Bismarck did not find, which appreciates their kind of action and does not reject it for romantic reasons, a dedicated band of followers who have, but way of long and serious self-training, come to the point of understanding the necessary and do not-as would doubtless be true today -reject it as un-German.

Both Hitler and Mussolini saw their parties as movements, first and foremost, in which action and belief came before reasoned analysis and political programmes. Hitler refused to announce the Nazis’ programme for the 1933 German elections because

All programmes are vain; the decisive thing is the human will, sound vision, manly courage, sincerity of faith, the inner will.

Mussolini attempted to give Fascism a quasi-religious element in the policy of Fascismo Mistica, that would render it invulnerable from rational attack. Ten years before Hitler’s statement, he declared that Fascism was, above all, a myth:

We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, it is passion. It is not necessary that it shall be a reality.

George Sorel

This Right-wing celebration of the forces of unreason, of belief and violence instead of rationalism and intellectual analysis and discussion, ultimately derives from Georges Sorel. Sorel was a Syndicalist, who believed that the workers should use trade unions to seize power in through violent revolution in a General Strike. However, it was not necessary that the General Strike should actually occur. All that mattered was that it should provide an inspiring myth that would encourage the workers to action against the bourgeoisie.

This irrationalism was designed to place the central, mobilising ideas of Fascism and Nazism beyond rational criticism.

Just to assert the supreme importance of such things as race, blood, soul, will character, and manly courage is to place all politics beyond criticism, since obviously belief in such things is impervious to rational attack. To say that modern Italy is the heir of Imperial Rome, that the Third Reich is the continuation of the empire of Barbarossa, that liberalism is foreign to the ‘Latin mind’, that purity of race is more important than thought, that ‘insight’ is more valuable than ‘barren intellectualism’-all of these assertions may be ridiculous, but they are argument at a level above-or below-that at which refutation is possible.

Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought III: Hegel to Dewey (London: George Harrap & Co. Ltd. 1959) 300.

And so it is with Ian Duncan Smith. His statements that he ‘believes’ in his policies towards the unemployed and the disabled is also intended to put them beyond rational questioning.

Now Conservativism isn’t Fascism, even though many of the proto-Nazi writers of the Weimar period, such as Moeller van den Bruck, considered themselves ‘revolutionary conservatives’. Nevertheless, Conservatism does share with Fascism a stress on the irrational, and an appeal to social solidarity rather than rational arguments. This is particularly clear in Private Eye’s review of Roger Scruton’s 1987 Untimely Tracts

Roger Scruton is an anomaly: a conservative intellectual. In the past, few Tories have felt a need to theorize and few have been able to write or enunciate clearly. Even now most Tory utterances are pleasantly uncomplicated: the faithful barking of Paul Johnson, say, or the appreciative gargling of Auberon Waugh.

But this will not do for Professor Scruton. He wants his arguments; he has to have his reasons. Of course, to well-brought-up Tories this simply show him up as a grammar school bug, too keen by half. Scruton knows that intellectuals are a bit off, but he just can’t help himself. He is a philosopher, through and through. For the social solidarity which stiffens most reactionaries, he seeks to substitute a flow of ‘hences’ and ‘therefores’.

‘Rogers’ Thesaurus’ in in Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994) 287-8.

Hence the furious denunciations of Left-wing intellectuals and academics for daring to question rationally traditional society and its institutions. It’s therefore not surprising that Scruton in the above book declared that most teachers were ‘diseducated’, lamented that the majority of MPs ‘are no longer from a social class which feels no need to use the Commons for the purpose of social gain’ and defends hereditary peerages as essential to economic stability.

Now I am not accusing IDS of being a Fascist, but his appeal to belief to defend his policies, rather than reasoned argument, is part of Fascist irrationalism. You can also see a Fascistic element in his militarism, and the determination to use mass mobilisation – workfare – to mould the working class to take them away from socialism. Under IDS this is much less to do with forming work as preparation for war, and so giving the workers an element of excitement, but of simply crushing their wills to reduce them to the level of servile drones for international capitalism.

All this needs to be challenged, and IDS held to account. His appeal to belief, rather than facts and figures, is ridiculous and dangerous, just as it was to a far great extent with the Nazis and Fascists.

A Lesson from Weimar Germany: Gustav Stresemann, Company Directors as Politicians and the State Funding of Political Parties

August 5, 2013

While the Conservatives have attacked the Labour Party for its links to the trade unions, they themselves have profound links to big business and have consistently acted in the interests of the corporations that fund them and of which many of their MPs are directors. My brother, Mike, Another Angry Voice , Street Democracy, and numerous other bloggers have noted that the Conservative MPs, like Ian Duncan Smith, proposing the dismantlement of the welfare state and the NHS have connections to companies seeking to profit from this. Their spin doctor, Lynton Crosbie, is in the pay of the tobacco companies, hence Cameron’s decision not to pass laws requiring the sale of cigarettes in plain white packaging. See http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/cameron-corrupt-corporate-whore-according-to-meacher/, https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/the-discreet-charm-of-lord-coe/, http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/lies-lobbying-lynton-and-a-last-insult-before-the-long-summer-break/, http://streetdemocracy.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/social-services-for-vulnerable-children-in-england-to-be-privatised/, http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/lazy-lord-coe-and-tory-nhs-reforms.html, http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/lynton-crosby-conflicts-of-interest-tory.html, http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/tory-donations-peerages-contracts.html, for example. Going further back in time, Private Eye in the latter Thatcher administration and Major era printed the number of Tory MPs with connections to the alcohol industry, when those administrations introduced 24-hour drinking and rebuffed calls for greater legislation regarding its sale and advertisement.Recently there have also been called for state funding for political parties, following the fall in their funding as they have lost members. These issues are, however, very definitely not unique to early twenty-first century Britain. Concerns over the politicians’ connections to industry and suggestions that this should be replaced by state funding were first raised nearly ninety years ago by the German statesman, Gustav Stresemann.

Stresemann was the leader of the Deutsche Volkspartei, DVP, or ‘German People’s Party’.This was the successor to the National Liberals of pre-WWI Germany. Anti-socialist with the slogan ‘From red chains make yourselves free/ Only the German People’s Party’, it was the party of business and academia. Its party councils attracted leading businessmen, and industrialists such as Stinnes, Vogler and Kalle served as DVP deputies in the Reichstag. In 1930 ten of the Party’s deputies in the Reichstag between them were directors of 77 companies. This troubled Stresemann, who wished the party to develop a more genuinely Liberal, disinterested approach to politics. In 1928 he and his colleague, Julius Curtius, received complaints from other members of the party when the joined the cabinet of the new Reichschancellor, Hermann Muller, a member of the SPD, the German socialist party. Stresemann countered that the 23 members of the parliamentary party were connected with big business, and did not have the courage ‘to take a position contrary to that of the big employers’ groups and industrial associations’. Stresemann began to consider that the only way to prevent such undue industrial influence in the Party should be by limiting the donations from industry and establishing a system of state funding for the parties. Unfortunately, the catastrophic economic collapse of 1929 and the foreign policy crises of the late 20s and 30s prevented him from doing anything about this. Nevertheless, it is significant that he recognised this as a problem, and suggested that state funding should be used to oppose it.

Most people in Britain probably feel that politicians are already paid too much and too well rewarded, and their parties too corrupt, malicious or incompetent to deserve state funding. It is important to note that in all the calls for the state funding of political parties, no-one has called for limiting political donations. Instead state funding is seen as solution to a general lack of funds. I feel that the next there are calls for political parties to be subsidised by the state, it should be accompanied by legislation limiting the amount they can receive from industry, as suggested by Stresemann. Only then can we expect anything like a parliament free from such commercial interests.