a) National Socialism. (Nazism.)
A factor which is frequently ignored or insufficiently considered in the success of the Nazis in gaining, not only considerable activist members but a eventually a mass support in elections, is one that should be obvious when its full title is considered. Nazism is short for National Socialism and when Hitler joined this infamous Party, it was also known as the German Workers Party. It was the inclusion of these two powerful ideologies, ‘nationalism’ and ’socialism’ in the title of the party and in its programme and activities, particularly when implemented, which for many Germans were the initial and continuing attractive features of National Socialism. The importance attached to ‘anti-capitalist’ socialist type rhetoric in this German ‘Workers’ Party, was emphasised by Hitler in his book Mein Kampf;
“Thus the task of the state towards capital was comparatively simple and clear: it only had to make certain that capital remain the handmaiden of the state and not fancy itself the mistress of the nation. This point of view could then be defined between two restrictive limits: preservation of a solvent, national, and independent economy on the one hand, assurance of the social rights of workers on the other.” (Mein Kampf Pimlico. page 190.)
So practically everyone at that time in Germany was a ‘socialist’ of one kind of another. The spectrum of socialisms, was similar to that described by Marx in the 19th century, as ‘Feudal Socialism’; ‘Petty-bourgeois Socialism’ ‘True Socialism’; ‘Bourgeois Socialism’; and ‘Utopian Socialism’. It should be recalled that during the preparations for the First World War, the vast majority of socialist deputies, many associated with the Second International, voted for war credits on the basis of sustaining national pride and national development. A broad spectrum of them considered that a successful capitalist economy within the German nation would create the most advantageous circumstances for workers in terms of employment and wages. Their kind of paternalistic ‘socialism’ then (as often now) was almost universally permeated with nationalistic ideology.
Both these ideologies were actively promoted within the German Workers Party which became known as the Nazi Party. Of the 25 points adopted by it in 1920, over half were taken from the familiar and popular paternalistic socialist agendas of the time, the rest were fundamentally nationalistic. Consider the socialistic ones for example: Point 6 included a declaration opposed to parliamentary corruption: Point 7 declared it was for full employment: Point 10, made it a duty for everyone to work for the benefit of all: Point 11, demanded the abolition of unearned incomes: Point 12, declared war profits a crime and subject to confiscation: Point 13, aimed to nationalise all amalgamated big business: Point 14, called for profit-sharing in large enterprises: Point 15, demanded large-scale provision for old age benefits:
Point 16 demanded the communalisation of large department stores: Point 17, called for land confiscation for communal purposes without compensation and the abolition of mortgage interest: Point 18, declared that ursurers and profiteerers were criminals and should be punished with death: Point 20, looked forward to the setting up a thorough development of a national and practical-based education system: Point 21, called for the raising of the standard of national health and the abolition of juvenile labour: Point 23, demanded a law prohibiting political lying and its dissemination in the press. We can see from this that from very early on National Socialism had co-opted a strong paternalistic ‘socialist’ agenda together with an array of popular nationalist prejudices, which in the socio-cultural climate of the time would appeal to many socialist minded workers and intellectuals. Or again as Hitler indicated;
“The basic idea we had in mind were the same as those later realised in the German Workers’ Party. The name of the movement to be founded would from the beginning have to offer the possibility of approaching the broad masses; for without this quality the whole task seemed aimless and superfluous. Thus we arrived at the name ‘Social Revolutionary Party; this because the social views of the new organisation did indeed mean a revolution..” (Mein Kampf. page 189.)
b) The socialists.
Perhaps I should make clear what I meant by ‘paternalistic socialism’ in the previous section, because it does have a bearing upon the situation which led to the Nazi conquest of power. It is the form of ‘socialistic’ thinking which views the organisation of societies from the standpoint of an elite. Paternalistic socialism considers the position of workers from high and concludes they need protection from the worst cases of exploitation by rampant capitalism. It contains a wide spectrum of socialist thought and activism, from liberal to fascist and communist. At best, the paternalistic socialists wish to provide legal protections and supplementary benefits for those who are most vulnerable under the capitalist mode of production, whether capital is privately held or held under the jurisdiction of the state.
Paternalistic socialism is a top-down hierarchical viewpoint which may or may not contain some vague idea of the eventual eradication of capitalist exploitation (as with the so-called parliamentary road to socialism) or its violent overthrow (as with the Bolshevik and Maoist socialists). Despite considerable differences between the variants of these ‘socialisms’ what unites them is that at all stages it will be those elites in power (elected or self-appointed) who will determine the pace and content of the policies they decide upon. Paternalistic socialism is an insufficiently considered broad category under which the various competing elite versions of ‘socialism’ can be usefully grouped for analysis.
In contrast to the radicaly paternalistic programme of the Nazis, noted above, the other socialist and part-socialist parties had very timid paternalistic positions and proposals. In some cases they were actively colluding with the employers to ensure that militant workers demands did not appear as part of their own ‘socialist’ policies. The main-stream socialists of Germany at the time often appeared more nationalistic than the openly nationalists. They were committed to neutralising the unrest in the nation and ensuring capitalism continued to prosper. They frequently made the case that some austerity type sacrifices from working people would be necessary during the crisis, for the benefit of the nation as a whole.
For example, a prominent German socialist Scheidemann, (who had previously declared during the First World War that the workers would; “stand by their promise..and not be outdone by the patriots”) wrote the following in 1922;
“So long as the millions of working class are labouring with political insight, to make the Republic secure, they will go on making the greatest sacrifices from pure love of their country, set Germany on her feet again and bring her respect and honour.” (quoted in Germany from Defeat to Conquest. WMK Patterson. page 305)
He was correct in predicting that German workers would later make great sacrifices, as did all the workers of the world during the second capitalist inspired world war (1939-45), but those sacrifices did not bring respect and honour to German society – quite the reverse! But the point here is that senior figures in the socialist camp within Germany could confidently make such statements based on their elite form of socio-nationalistic understanding. That this view was general among the socialist left at the time is confirmed by Stresemann of the right-leaning People’s Party who wrote; “Even the majority socialists agree that order has to be maintained”. To many workers these ‘leaders’ appeared more right-wing than socialist and their disgust was eventually reflected in the voting patterns of the German electorate.
But not before the ‘soft’ socialists were given one last chance. In 1928 a new election brought a change of government with a majority of left-wing members including deputies in charge of Finance, Labour and the Interior. The socialist vote increased as did the Communist indicating a left swing among the voting population. Most of the other parties lost votes – including the Nazis. The newly elected socialists in their highly-paid government posts responded to this left mood by allowing the police in special riot squads to disrupt and disperse workers demonstrations, which they did with considerable brutality. Curfews were also introduced and death the punishment for ignoring them. Furthermore in 1929 it was discovered that the socialists on Berlin City Council had been taking bribes from big-business with municipal supply contracts. Corruption and arrogance was as rife among ‘left’ as it was among the ‘right’.
In other words, the ‘left’ German Labour and Socialist leaders were not unlike their counterparts in other regions and continents of the world. They were part of that ‘aristocracy of labour’ (white-collar and blue) who had achieved positions of power and influence, along with good salaries, within the capitalist mode of production. And all this on the backs of the industrial and commercial struggles of the working classes and their hard-earned union and party subscriptions. The very best these paternalists were prepared to do for the mass of people was to promise better things in the future, once they had helped the system recover and the crisis was over. Meanwhile, the workers, non-workers and unemployed would have to tighten their belts and tough it out. If this sounds all-to familiar and much like the European ‘socialist’ left policies today in the current systemic crisis of capitalism, it is not hard to guess why.
So from where should desperate workers and non-workers then expect radical measures to solve their problems? Perhaps the communists? It becomes clear from the increasingly militant actions of workers and in particular by the uprisings in 1923, that within Germany, socio-economic desperation had seriously set in during the inter-war period. At the same time, during these years the main-stream ‘socialists’ supported the government and the army against the workers as they had done in 1918, 1919 and 1920. So at a time when workers were indicating by various means their need and desire for some radical if not quite revolutionary solutions to the capitalist crisis, the bourgeois and petite-bourgeois ‘socialists’ were indicating their unflinching aspiration to frustrate these radicalised desires.
c) The Communists.
Although there was a Communist Party in Germany the majority of workers did not see joining or supporting this organisation as fulfilling their needs. It is well known, or at least should be, that the Stalinist-inspired sectarian policy of the German Communist Party, among other things, held that its members should consent to the ‘defeat of social-fascism’ first, before their turn would come. Its reasoning was broadly that when workers became disappointed with all the alternatives, they would eventually turn to the Communists. By classifying those on the left, who were not directly obedient to the CP’s line as social fascists, they refused serious solidarity work with any other group of workers. Controlled and directed by the Stalin faction in Russia via the Comintern, the policy of the sectarian Communist Party of Germany was to bide their time.
It should also be noted, as the Bolshevik Bukharin admitted in 1927, that during this period, the Soviet Government elite at that time was hand in glove with German capitalists and their political representatives. The German-Soviet pact enacted in 1926 was enabling the manufacture and supply of military weapons such as aircraft, U-boats, munitions and poison gas on Soviet soil. This enabled the Soviet State in Russia to enhance its military capability and the Weimer Republic in Germany to get round the sanctions imposed by the allies after the First World War. Eg.
“We do not and never have concealed the fact that we have concluded an agreement with Messrs Junkers under which aircraft were and are being built…we shall never deny ourselves the benefit of the good offices of any capitalist State…” (Bukharin January 1927)
This ‘good offices of any capitalist state’ agreement was part of the German secret re-armament programme and no doubt benefited the soviet preparations for its later expansion. This also meant that orders filtered down from the Kremlin to the German Communist Party not to do anything to unduly disturb the ‘good’ relations between Berlin and Moscow. Meanwhile the defeat of the various worker uprisings and the consensus among the political classes (left and right) for stability and order, emboldened the new government, with the support of those socialists in the Reichstag, to abolish the eight-hour day. With rapidly increasing mass unemployment, those managing to hold onto work had to work between ten and twelve hours a day for very little pay.
To repeat an earlier question: who would offer the radical measures more and more people – including workers and non-workers – realised were necessary?
d) The 1929 Wall Street Financial Crash.
With the soft left (Parties and Trade Unions) in league with the right and the Communists content to plough their own sectarian furrows, something of a social and political vacuum opened up. However, the financial collapse of the Wall Street bubble in 1929 sent further shock waves around the capitalist world and Germany plunged further into social, political and economic difficulties – too many to mention here. This crisis was reflected in the fact that the Reichstag was dissolved and new elections took place. The socialists were still the largest group with 143 seats and the Nazi’s second with 107. The Communists took 77. Anyone interested in political events would have noticed that it was the National Socialists who in a motion to the Reichstag called for the nationalisation of the banks in October 1930.
The observant worker in Germany could also not have failed to notice that the Berlin section of the National Socialists who called for a strike of 126, 000 metal workers and threatened any member of the party with expulsion for strike-breaking. Similarly when in December, Hindenburg, the President promoted an Emergency Decree, observers noted that it was only the Communists, Nazi’s and assorted others who voted against, whilst the socialists were among those who supported the Decree. The same pattern of voting occurred later on a motion to provide winter fuel payments to those on welfare benefits. A further economic ripple effect of the Wall Street Crash was to increase unemployment figures to over 6 million.
And during this period, practically all political parties and tendencies, including religious tendencies were constantly playing the nationalist card. The German National Catholic Committee issued a statement in 1931, which among other things declared; “..help us to free Prussia from the claws of socialism, then we shall be able to build up a Christian, respected, strong and flourishing Reich from the present ruins.” In this climate of competing nationalisms and socialisms, it undoubtedly appeared to many working people that the National Socialists were, despite their supremacist tendencies, in fact the ‘hard left’ of the political spectrum in Germany at this time. The full military and racial agenda, particularly its virulent Judeophobia did not reveal itself fully until much later, allowing many ordinary citizens to be deceived about its potential trajectory. It is in the nature of elites ‘socialist’ or otherwise, to deceive.
This deception included a high degree of self-deception among many of the socialists and other workers who joined the National Socialist Party based upon its above-noted political programme of what many saw as transitional demands. Indeed, the National Socialist Party was gaining members all the time, and despite some splits, already had its armed contingents up and running. The notorious SA (Sports and Athletics) organisation, which was later dismembered by Hitler in favour of the SS, had a very strong working class welfare ethos within it at the start. This was mixed with a semi-feudal anti-capitalist perspective and the latter was the basis for its shock troop fighters whose initial ‘revolutionary’ objectives were the dismantling of big-business commercial outlets and religious institutions.
However, much it is denied, it is a fact that millions of workers joined the Nazi’s on the basis of its socialist programme, its promised anti-capitalist agenda, its radical measures to end unemployment and its initial welfare provisions, not because they were rabidly racist or nationalist. Enough of them, white-collar and blue, joined and/or voted for the Nazis, for the combination of Nazi worker activists, big-business support, militarised contingents and right-wing elements to eventually swamp (by intimidation, arrests or beatings) all other liberal, socialist and independent worker forces in Germany. Most of these who didn’t convert, escape or hide ended their days in concentration camps of one form or another.
e) The two-fold warning from history.
As a systemic crisis deepens and begins to effect more and more people, it becomes obvious to increasing numbers that radical measures are necessary and inevitable. When it is just the lowest paid workers who suffer, the rest of the better off workers do not involve themselves in any great numbers. The former often struggle militantly, but are frequently defeated by a combination of state offensives and indifference from other workers. However, at later stages, when enough of even the well-off workers and the middle-class start to suffer either directly through unemployment or wealth depreciation, then radicalisation of the masses is generally not too far off. When the crisis of the system reaches its extremes then it becomes obvious to practically everyone who are not part of the protected elite, that radical measures are indeed necessary if not desirable. During this period, radical parties of left and right begin to be formed or invigorated.
The first warning from history is that the totalitarian direction of political solutions to a systemic crisis of the capitalist mode of production, is initially masked by deliberate intent or by naivety of the political actors (voters or members) themselves. The political solutions they offer at first ignore the systemic nature of the economic mode of production under the domination of capital and focus upon the symptoms rather than the cause of general distress. Since, in a complex system of production and consumption, the symptoms elements highlighted by the crisis may be many, it becomes possible for politicians to select one or more as a scapegoat. Their logic then alleges that the elimination or removal of the scapegoat will solve the many problems facing society. If this succeeds – or is allowed to succeed – then this to some degree determines what is to follow.
In Germany, the scapegoats emphasised by the National Socialists led by Hitler were initially, the weak parliamentarian’s of the Weimar Republic, some unpatriotic capitalists and the capitalist elites of other European countries – by the imposition of the Versailles Agreement. This initial selective targeting along with their ‘socialist’ programme allowed the National Socialists to begin their rise toward popularity. Later, when these had been neutralised or undermined, by events and the Nazis gained more members, influence and power, the scapegoats became, the Communists and Jews. In other words beware the naivety of allowing the scape-goating of some section to be unopposed.
The second warning from history stems from the effects of the weak paternalism of the soft ‘liberal’ socialist left and the sectarian vanguardist left. The first of which in spite of any radical rhetoric, during periods of extreme crisis, refuse to implement radical measures. The second by their sectarianism and dogmatism repel all those not so minded. Both serve to split the ranks of workers and focus the efforts of those who join them on divisive party politics. Those looking for ‘leadership’ and solutions from the ‘top’ who initially support such ‘left’ socialist (unfulfilled) promises, or sectarian elitism become disillusioned with them, abandon them organisationally and at elections. They are often accused of ‘betrayal’. However, workers and their supporters can only be ‘betrayed’ by their political or trade union leaders as long as they are encouraged to ‘need’ such leaders and to place their trust in such paternalistic posturing.
When these elite ‘infidelities’ happen it is inevitable that some withdraw completely from struggle due to disillusionment and become passive elements. Others commence looking for the most successful radical alternative leadership within the existing political spectrum – overlooking any faults they may have in certain policy areas. In Germany during the early 20th century crisis of capitalism, the most radical political party was the National Socialists and the final result was a brutal totalitarian dictatorship under the Nazis. In Russia, the most radical political party during that profound crisis, was the Bolshevik socialists and the final result there was also a brutal totalitarian dictatorship.
It should be clear from the warnings from the political history of the last systemic crisis of the capitalist mode of production, that politics is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Working people, employed and unemployed, white-collar and blue, need to be encouraged to look to themselves and organise collectively at the grass roots to solve the problem of repeated crises by the creation of communal economic production for social need and to end the stranglehold of capital over labour and end the motive of profit to initiate production. Any temporary involvement in politics should only be to assist or facilitate the process of creating spaces and opportunities for self-organisation and self-defence of communities and the horizontal linking together of such communities. In my opinion, these are the priorities, not electioneering.
Roy Ratcliffe (February 2015.)