An interesting observation was made recently (February 2015) by Yanis Varoufakis, a senior member of the new government of Greece. In wishing to fulfil the election promises of the Syriza Party to end austerity, Yanis was seeking to influence the elite in Europe into easing the Greek debt burden created by previous governments. In a television interview he pointed out that debt burdens and the humiliation felt by German citizens after the First World War contributed to the rise of Nazism in Germany. He did not hint at the radical measures a left government could take if talks failed, but rather raised the spectre of Fascism. No doubt with an eye to the rise in extreme right-wing parties in Europe, he had made an important point, but only a partially valid one.
In the 1020’s and 1930’s, the last period of severe crisis by capitalism did indeed lead to radicalisations and it did so along apparently opposite ends (left and right) of the European political spectrum. Not surprisingly, a similar phenomenon is reoccurring in the present profound systemic crisis. Syriza itself is part of the leftward trend and is faced with the right-wing Golden Dawn on the streets of Greece and in elections. This pattern of radicalisation is more or less repeated throughout the rest of Europe as both left-wing tendencies and right-wing tendencies are gaining strength and numbers, albeit differentially. It was of course, the extreme right which eventually gained the upper hand, in Germany, Italy, Spain and to some extent in Greece itself – but not without a struggle and not without a defeat for the working classes and the poor.
Germany in particular, probably represented the country where the most radical right-wing solution to the systemic crisis of the capitalist mode of production took place. Nevertheless, it must be said that Italy under Mussolini and Spain under Franco, also enabled capitalism to weather this cyclical stagnation phase, turn its inactivity into all out productive/destructive warfare, and by this means eventually lead to a revival once again. The horrors and industrial levels of brutality attendant upon the Second World War are the main sources of the usual bourgeois derived ‘warnings from history’ concerning Nazi and Fascist brutality in general. Yet in fact saturation area-bombing (incendiaries and high explosives) of civilians and concentration camps (ie Horror) existed on both sides of this capitalist-inspired divide. More draconian still there were; gas chambers and furnaces in Poland on the Axis side along with fire-bombing and nuclear incineration on Germany and Japan by the Allies side.
Predictably perhaps, the usual warnings about these totalitarian solutions to the crises of capital focus mainly upon the end game. As we know it was an end-game in which the state via its political elite on both sides, dictated economic, social and military affairs. A situation of so-called ‘war socialism’ or ‘war fascism’ depending upon the nuanced view taken of these totalitarian developments. Within a very short space of time; industry, management, labour-power deployment, wage levels, profits, production standards, welfare provision, profits, trade unions, were all put under state regulation on both sides of this totalitarian outcome. Furthermore in Germany they tried to solve the crisis by blitzkrieging their way to extra territory and resource acquisition, thereby provoking all-out war.
However, this end game of totalitarianism and total war came after a whole period of unrest and socio-political manoeuvring which led up to it. It is this process (only partially hinted at by Yanis Varoufakis) which needs to be considered if humanity is to avoid a repeat or partial repeat of the totalitarian tragedy resulting from the last crisis of the capitalist mode of production. And an important key to understanding how the right-wing in Germany (and to a lesser degree in Italy) came to dominate lies in examining the role of National Socialism (Nazism) and the negative role of the other sections of the ‘socialist’ left – which is the subject of the further paragraphs located under the same title in the black panel above.
R. Ratcliffe February 2015.