Fund Your Utopia Without Me.™

29 April 2012

The Socialist Roots of Naziism

Music to read by:

"I can remember
By the wall
And the guns
Shot above our heads
And we kissed
As though nothing could fall
And the shame 
Was on the other side
Oh we can beat them
For ever and ever.
Then we could be heroes just for one day."

"The state has undergone a process of' socialisation, and Social Democracy has undergone a process of nationalisation.  In Prussia, there existed a real state in the most ambitious meaning of the word.  There could be, strictly speaking, no private persons.  Everybody, who lived within the system that worked with the precision of a  clockwork, was in some way a link in it. The conduct of public business could therefore not be in the hands of private people. It is simply collectivism freed from all traces of an individualist tradition, which might hamper its realisation."


By Friedrich A. Hayek

It is a common mistake to regard National Socialism as a mere revolt against reason, an irrational movement without intellectual background.  If that were so, the movement would be much less dangerous than it is.  But nothing could be further from the truth or more misleading. The doctrines of National Socialism are the culmination of a long evolution of thought, a process in which thinkers have had great influence far beyond the confines of Germany have taken part.  Whatever one may think of the premises from which they started, it cannot be denied that the men who produced the new doctrines were powerful writers who left the impress of their ideas on the whole of European thought.  Their system was developed with ruthless consistency.  Once one accepts the premises from which it starts, there is no escape from its logic.  It is simply collectivism freed from all traces of an individualist tradition which might hamper its realization.

Though in this development German thinkers have taken the lead, they were by no means alone.  Thomas Carlyle and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Auguste Comte and Georges Sorel, are as much a part of that continuous development as any Germans.  The development of this strand of  thought within Germany has been well traced recently by R. D. Butler in his study of The Roots of National Socialism. But, although  its persistence there through a hundred and fifty years in almost unchanged and ever recurring form, which emerges from that study, is rather frightening, it is  easy to exaggerate the importance these ideas had in Germany before 1914.  They were only one strand of thought among a people then perhaps more varied in its views than any other.  And they were on the whole represented by a small minority and held in as great contempt by the majority of' Germans as they were in other countries.

What, then, caused these views held by a reactionary minority finally to gain the support of' the great majority of Germans and practically the whole of Germany's youth?  It was not merely the defeat, the suffering, and the wave of nationalism which led to their success.  Still less was the cause, as so many people wish to believe, a capitalist reaction against the advance of socialism.  On the contrary, the support which brought these ideas to power came precisely from the socialist camp.  It was certainly not through the bourgeoisie, but rather through the absence of a strong bourgeoisie, that they were helped to power.  The doctrines which had guided the ruling elements in Germany for the past generation were opposed not to the socialism in Marxism but to the liberal elements contained  in it, its internationalism and its democracy.  And as it became increasingly clear that it was just these elements which formed obstacles to the realization of socialism, the socialists of the Left approached more and more to those of the Right.  It was the union of the anticapitalist forces of the Right and of the Left, the fusion of radical and conservative socialism, which drove out from Germany everything that was liberal.

The connection between socialism and nationalism in Germany was close from the beginning.  It is significant that the most important ancestors of National Socialism-Fichte, Robertus, and Lassalle-are at the same time acknowledged fathers of socialism.  While theoretical socialism in its Marxist form was directing the German labor movement, the authoritarian and nationalist element receded for a time into the background.  But not for long.  From 1914 onward there arose from the ranks of Marxist socialism one teacher after another who led, not the conservatives and reactionaries, but the hard-working laborer and idealistic youth into the National Socialist fold.  It was only thereafter that the tide of nationalist socialism attained major importance and rapidly grew into the Hitlerian doctrine.  The war hysteria of 1914, which, just because of the German defeat, was never fully cured, is the beginning of the modern development which produced National Socialism, and it was largely with the assistance of old socialists that it rose during this period.

"Most cruel joke of all, however, has been played by Hitler & Co. on those German capitalists and small businessmen who once backed National Socialism as a means of saving Germany's bourgeois economic structure from radicalism. The Nazi credo that the individual belongs to the state also applies to business. Some businesses have been confiscated outright, on other what amounts to a capital tax has been levied. Profits have been strictly controlled. Some idea of the increasing Governmental control and interference in business could be deduced from the fact that 80% of all building and 50% of all industrial orders in Germany originated last year with the Government. Hard-pressed for food- stuffs as well as funds, the Nazi regime has taken over large estates and in many instances collectivized agriculture, a procedure fundamentally similar to Russian Communism." 

- Time Magazine, 2 January 1939

Perhaps the first, and in some ways the most characteristic, representative of this development is the late Professor Werner Sombart, whose notorious Handler und Helden (“Merchants.and Heroes") appeared in 1915.  Sombart had begun as a Marxian socialist and, as late as 1909, could assert with pride that he had devoted the greater part of his life to fighting for the ideas of Karl Marx.  He had done as much any man to spread socialist ideas and anticapitalist resentment of varying shades throughout Germany; and if German thought became penetrated with Marxian elements in a way that was true of no other country until the Russian revolution, this was in a large measure due to Sombart.  At one time he was regarded as the outstanding representative of the persecuted socialist intelligentsia, unable, because of his radical views, to obtain a university chair.  And even after the last war the influence, inside and outside Germany, of his work as a historian, which remained Marxist in approach after he had ceased to be a Marxist in politics, was most extensive and is particularly noticeable in the works of many of the English and American planners.

In his war book this old socialist welcomed the "German War" as the inevitable conflict between the commercial civilization of England and the heroic culture of Germany.  His contempt for the "commercial" views of the English people, who had lost all warlike instincts, is unlimited.  Nothing is  more contemptible in his eyes than the universal striving after the happiness of the individual; and what he describes as the leading maxim of English morals: be just "that it may be well with that it may be well with thee and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the land" is to him "the most infamous maxim which has ever been pronounced by a commercial mind." The "German idea of the state," as formulated by Fichte, Lassalle, and Rodbertis, is that the state is neither founded nor formed  by individuals, nor an aggregate of individuals, nor is its purpose to serve any interest of individuals.  It is a Volksgemeinschaft in which the individual has no rights but only duties.  Claims of the individual are always an outcome of  the commercial spirit.  "'The ideas of 1789"-liberty, equality, fraternity-are characteristically commercial ideas which have no other purpose but to secure certain advantages to individuals. 

 "I see in unrestrained capitalism the evil of our epoch and am naturally also an opponent of modern Judaism on account of my socio-political views.”   

- Adolf Stocker, Socialist

“If we are socialists, then we must definitely be anti-Semites.  How, as a socialist, can you not be an anti-Semite?”  

- Adolf Hitler, Munich, August 1920
"Auschwitz meant that six million Jews were killed, and thrown on the waste-heap of Europe, for what they were considered: money-Jews. Finance capital and the banks, the hard core of the system of imperialism and capitalism, had turned the hatred of men against money and exploitation, and against the Jews. . . . Antisemitism is really a hatred of capitalism." 

- Ulrike Meinhof, a left-wing German terrorist of the 1970s

Before 1914 all the true German ideals of a heroic life were in deadly danger before the continuous advance of English commercial ideals, English comfort, and English sport. The English people had not only themselves become compl etely corrupted, every trade-unionist being sunk in the morass of comfort," but they had begun to infect all other peoples.  Only the war had helped the Germans to remember that they were really a people of' warriors, a people among whom all activities and particularly all economic activities were subordinated to military ends.  Sombart knew that  the Germans were held in contempt by other people because they regard war as sacred-but he glories in it.  To regard war as inhuman and senseless is a product of commercial views.  There is a life higher than the individual life, the life of the people and the life of the state, and it is the purpose of the individual to sacrifice himself for that higher life. War is to Sombart the consummation of the heroic view of life, and the war against England is the war against the opposite ideal, the commercial ideal of individual freedom and of English comfort, which in his eyes finds its most contemptible expression in the safety razors found in the English trenches.

If Sombart's outburst was at the time too much even for most Germans, another German professor arrived at essentially the same ideas in a more moderate and more scholarly, but for that reason even more effective, form.  Professor Johann Plenge was as great an authority on Marx as Sombert. His book on Marx und Hegel marks the beginning of the modern Hegel renaissance among Marxian scholars; and there can be no doubt about the genuinely socialist nature of the convictions with which he started.  Among his numerous war publications the most important is a small but at the time widely discussed book with the significant title, 1789 and 1914: The Symbolic Years in the History of the Political Mind.  It is devoted to the conflict between the "Ideas of 1789," the ideal of freedom, and the "Ideas of 1914," the ideal of organization.


Organization is to him, as to all socialists who derive their socialism from a crude application of scientific ideals to the problems of society, the essence of socialism.  It was, as he rightly emphasizes, the root of the socialist movement at its inception in early nineteenth-century France.  Marx and Marxism have betrayed this basic idea of socialism by their fanatic but utopian adherence to the abstract idea of freedom.  Only now was the idea of organization again coming into its own, elsewhere, as witnessed by the work of H. G Wells (by whose Future in America Professor Plenge was profoundly influenced, and whom he describes as one of the outstanding figures of modern socialism), but particularly in Germany, where it is best understood and most fully  realized.  The war between England and Germany is therefore really a conflict between two opposite principles.  The "Economic World War" is the third great epoch of spiritual struggle in modern history.  It is of equal importance with the Reformation and the bourgeois revolution of liberty.  It is the struggle for the victory of the new forces born out of the advanced economic life of the nineteenth century: socialism and organization.

"Because in the sphere of ideas Germany was the most convinced exponent of all socialist dreams, and in the sphere of reality she was the most powerful architect of the most highly organized economic system.-In us is the twentieth century.  However the war may end, we are the exemplary people.  Our ideas will determine the aims of the life of humanity.-World History experiences at present the colossal spectacle that with us a new great ideal of life penetrates to final victory, while at the same time in England one of the World-Historical principles finally collapses."

The war economy created in Germany in 1914 "is the first realization of a socialist society and its spirit the first active, and not merely demanding, appearance of a socialist spirit.  The needs of the war have established the socialist idea in German economic life, and thus the defense of our nation produced for humanity the idea of 1914, the idea of German organization, the people's community  (Volksgemeinschaft) of 'national socialism.... Without our really noticing it  the whole of our political life in state and industry has risen to a higher stage.  State and economic life form a new unity... The feeling of economic responsibility which characterizes the work of the civil servant pervades all private activity." The new German corporative constitution of economic life, which Professor Plenge admits is not yet ripe or complete, "is the highest form of life of the state which has ever been known on earth."

"What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.…. Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man – and turns them into commodities…. The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange…. The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general." 

- Karl Marx, "On the Jewish Question," 1844

"The Jewish nigger, Lassalle, who, I’m glad to say, is leaving at the end of this week, has happily lost another 5,000 talers in an ill-judged speculation. The chap would sooner throw money down the drain than lend it to a ‘friend’, even though his interest and capital were guaranteed. In this, he bases himself on the view that he ought to live the life of a Jewish baron, or Jew created a baron (no doubt by the countess). Just imagine!" 

- Frederich Engels letter to W. Borgius
 "Slavs have no capacity to attain civilisation."

- Karl Marx, 15-16 February 1949

 "For us, economic conditions determine all historical phenomena, but race itself is an economic datum." 

- Karl Marx

At first Professor Plenge still hoped to reconcile the ideal of liberty and the ideal of organization, although largely through the complete but voluntary submission of the individual to the whole.  But these traces of liberal ideas soon disappear from his writings.  By 1918 the union between socialism and ruthless power politics had become complete in his mind.  Shortly before the end of the war he exhorted his compatriots in the socialist journal Die Glocke in the following manner:  "It is high time to recognize the fact that socialism must be power policy, because it is to be organization.  Socialism has to win power: it must never blindly destroy power.  And the most important and critical question for socialism in the time of war of peoples is necessarily this: what people is preeminently summoned to power, because it is the exemplary leader in the organization of peoples?"

And he forecast all the ideas which were finally to justify Hitler's New Order: "Just from the point of view of socialism, which, is organization, is not an absolute right of self-determination of the peoples the right of individualistic economic anarchy?  Are we willing to grant complete self-determination to the individual in economic life?  Consistent socialism can accord to the people a right to incorporation only in accordance with the real distribution of forces historically determined."

The ideals which Plenge expressed so clearly were especially popular among, and perhaps even derive from, certain circles of German scientists and engineers who, precisely as is now so loudly demanded by their English and American counterparts, clamored for the centrally planned organization of' all aspects of life.  Leading among these was the famous chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, one of whose pronouncements on this point has achieved a certain celebrity. He is reported to have stated publicly that "Germany wants to organize Europe which up to now still lacks organization.  I will explain to you now Germany's great secret: we, or perhaps the German race, have discovered the significance of  organization.  While the other nations still live under the regime of individualism, we have already achieved that of organization."

 "Lenin is the greatest man, second only to Hitler, and that the difference between Communism and the Hitler faith is very slight."

- Josef Goebbels, The New York Times,  28 November 1925

Ideas very similar to these were current in the offices of the German raw-material dictator, Walter Rathenau, who,  although he would have shuddered had he realized the consequences of his totalitarian economics, yet deserves a considerable place in any fuller history of the growth of Nazi ideas. Through his writings he has probably, more than any  other man, determined the economic views of the generation which grew up in Germany during and immediately after the last war; and some of his closest collaborators were later to form the backbone of the staff of Goring's Five-Year Plan administration.  Very similar also was much of the teaching of another former Marxist, Friedrich Naumann, whose Mitteleuropa reached probably the greatest circulation of any war book in Germany.

But it was left to an active socialist politician, a member  of the Left wing of the social-democratic party in the Reichstag, to develop these ideas most fully and to spread them far and wide.  Paul Lensch had already in earlier books described the war as "the flight of the English bourgeoisie before the advance of socialism" and explained how different were the socialist ideal of freedom and the English conception.  But only in his third and most successful war book, his Three Years of World Revolution, were his characteristic ideas,  under the influence of Plenge, to achieve  full development. Lensch bases his argument on an interesting and in many respects accurate historical account of how the adoption of protection by Bismarck had made possible in Germany a development toward that industrial concentration and cartelization which, from his Marxist standpoint, represented a higher state of industrial development. 


"The result of Bismarck's decision of the year 1879 was that Germany took on the role of the revolutionary; that is to say, of a state whose position in relation to the rest of the world is that of'a representative of a higher and more advanced economic system.  Having realized this, we should perceive that in the present World Revolution Germany represents the revolutionary, and her greatest antagonist, England, the counter-revolutionary side.  This fact proves how little the constitution of a country, whether it be liberal and republican or monarchic and autocratic, affects the question whether, from the point of view of historical development, that country is to be regarded as liberal or not.  Or, to put it more plainly, our conceptions of Liberalism, Democracy, and so forth, are derived from the ideas of English Individualism,  according to which a state with a weak government is a liberal state, and every restriction upon the freedom of  the individual is conceived as the product of autocracy and militarism."

In Germany, the "historically appointed representative" of this higher form of economic life, "the struggle for socialism has been extraordinarily simplified, since all the prerequisite conditions of Socialism had already become established there.  And lietice it was necessarily a vital concern of any socialist party that Germany should triumphantly hold her own against her enemies, and thereby be able to fulfil her historic mission of revolutionizing the world.  Hence the war of the Entente against Germany resembled the attempt of the lower bourgeoisie of the pre-capitalistic age to prevent the decline of their own class."

That organization of capital, Lensch continues, "which began unconsciously before the war, and which during the war has been continued consciously, will be systematically continued after the war.  Not through any desire for any arts of organization nor yet because socialism has been recognized as a higher principle of social development.  The classes who are today the practical pioneers of socialism are,  in theory, its avowed opponents, or, at any rate, were so up to a short time ago.  Socialism is coming, and in fact has to some extent already arrived, since we can no longer live  without it."