From International Socialism, No.69, May 1974, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
A Social History of the Third Reich
IF YOU WANT to know the Nazi mortality rate for measles, the various angles at which the arm should be raised for a ‘Heil Hitler’, what Frau Himmler said to the wife of the German ambassador in Rome about the latter’s silk dress, or the one that Moishe told Goldstein at Treblinka about bars of soap (in the chapter called ‘Humour’ (sic)), then read this book. If, on the other hand, you want to understand what fascism is, whether its victory was inevitable, and how it can be fought, buy a copy of IS Journal 38/39 (reprint 30p) which contains a sizeable chunk of Trotsky’s writings on fascism from 1930 to 1934.
What is fascism? Professor Grunberger’s only suggestion is that it was caused by the German ‘national’ preference for synthesis without conflict – whatever that means. But fascism did not descend from the sky. In fact, the first stirrings of National Socialism in Germany were felt soon after the First World War, initiated by disillusioned lower and middle ranking officers of the defeated German Army.
Germany’s defeat in 1918 was the prelude to the collapse of the German Empire. In November 1918 effective control of the country was in the hands of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils. But the Social Democrats did not lead the working class to victory. Instead they ruthlessly crushed the revolutionary workers’ movement, and murdered its leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
The economic and political scene in the years that followed saw a steady lowering of the standard of living, the re-establishment of parliamentarism, and the confusion and demoralisation of the working-class movement.
In 1929, Germany underwent its third crisis in less than 12 years. Once again its economic and social ‘stability’ vanished overnight. Millions of workers were thrown out of work, the peasants were ruined as agricultural prices slumped, and whole sections of the middle class were suddenly faced with worthless savings and bankruptcy.
As always in such a situation the ‘middle ground’ of politics quickly disappeared. In the September elections of 1930, the Communists polled a 40 per cent increase on their three million votes of 1928. But at the same time, the Nazi vote increased by a staggering 800 per cent. Six and a half million despairing and disillusioned Germans sought a solution to their misery in fascism. The middle layers swung with such force behind the Nazis that many sections of the working class were sucked behind them.
Grunberger cannot see the class force in the fascist gains. He does not understand the central feature of the Nazi regime – the crushing of all working-class organisations to maintain the falling profit margins of the giant capitalist corporations. He talks of Hitler’s ‘revolution’ of 1933, not understanding that fascism leaves the fundamentals of the social system untouched. And because of this, he implies that the Nazi victory was inevitable – the Germans were all duped by Hitler’s expertise at voicing their ‘intense nationalism’ which is supposedly a congenital German disease.
Why did the petty bourgeoisie of Germany and large sections of the working class swing to the right?
Since Lenin’s death in 1924, the Russian Communist Party, and with it the Communist International, had been degenerating steadily under the control of Stalin. In 1928 Stalin decreed an ultra-left line for the International. Revolution, he argued, was just around the corner. The social democrats were playing a purely reactionary role and were as great a danger to the working class as were the fascists. Indeed, ‘social democracy and fascism are twins,’ decreed Stalin.
‘In countries where there are strong Social Democratic Parties, fascism takes the particular force of social fascism.’
It followed that there was no need to fight the Nazis as fascism already existed in the form of the Social Democratic Party. A united front of Social Democratic and Communist workers against the common fascist threat was ruled out. Instead, the main attacks of the German Communist Party were aimed at the ‘social fascist’ supporters of the Social Democrat government. Under Stalin’s directives the Communist Party proved itself unable to put forward a serious alternative to the fascists. By 1931, there were more than 100,000 in the para-military Nazi storm-troopers (SA). In 1932, the Nazis gained 37 per cent of the votes in new elections. 400,000 members of the SA were fighting for control of the streets.
The Social Democratic leaders did nothing, leaving the Communist Party to fight alone in the street battles. But no-one took seriously the belated call of the Communists to defend a government which had all along been dubbed ‘social fascist’. On the strength of the massive 14 million Nazi votes in the 1932 election and the support of big business, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany on 30 January. Within a few weeks the Communist Party was banned, the social democrats suppressed. Hitler’s path was now downhill all the way.
Capitalism today faces a crisis in which the same stark choice of socialism or barbarism will face us all. Only the creation of a strong, confident, revolutionary workers’ party can avoid the mistakes of the past and win over the wavering and crushed middle classes. To this task Professor Grunberger’s book has nothing to contribute.
Last updated on 26.2.2008