60. The First World War did not resolve any of the problems that had given rise to it. Europe remained divided into hostile powers. German imperialism, which had tried to reorganize Europe according to its own needs, was shackled by the Versailles Treaty; England and France had been drained by the war. The ascendant American great power put Europe on rations. European capitalism suffered from constant fever attacks in the form of inflation, stock market crashes, political crises and class battles. The most malicious form of these ailments was expressed in the growth of National Socialism (Nazism).
61. Nazism expressed the most reactionary and brutal tendencies of German capitalism. That is the key to understanding it. Hitler’s rise from a Viennese homeless shelter and the trenches of the world war to becoming a megalomaniacal dictator cannot be explained by the social composition and psychology of his supporters. He owed his power to the ruling elite, which placed him at the head of the state. The millions that Thyssen, Krupp, Flick and other industrial magnates donated to the NSDAP, Hitler’s appointment as chancellor by Hindenburg, the symbolic figurehead of the army, and finally the agreement of all the bourgeois parties to the Enabling Act are eloquent testimony to the fact that the vast majority of the ruling elite had placed themselves behind Hitler when all other mechanisms to suppress the working class had failed.
62. What differentiated the National Socialists from the other bourgeois parties was their ability to turn the despair of the ruined petty bourgeoisie and the rage of the lumpen proletariat into a battering ram against the organized workers’ movement and place it at the service of German imperialism. “In order to try to find a way out, the bourgeoisie must absolutely rid itself of the pressure exerted by the workers’ organizations; these must be eliminated, destroyed, utterly crushed”, warned Trotsky in 1932. “At this juncture, the historic role of fascism begins. It raises to their feet those classes that are immediately above the proletariat and that are ever in dread of being forced down into its ranks; it organizes and militarizes them at the expense of finance capital, under the cover of the official government, and it directs them to the extirpation of proletarian organizations, from the most revolutionary to the most conservative.”
63. National Socialism could not be content with suppressing the Communist Party: “Fascism is not merely a system of reprisals, of brutal force, and of police terror. Fascism is a particular governmental system based on the uprooting of all elements of proletarian democracy within bourgeois society. The task of fascism lies not only in destroying the Communist vanguard but in holding the entire class in a state of forced disunity. To this end the physical annihilation of the most revolutionary section of the workers does not suffice. It is also necessary to smash all independent and voluntary organizations, to demolish all the defensive bulwarks of the proletariat, and to uproot whatever has been achieved during three-quarters of a century by the Social Democracy and the trade unions. For, in the last analysis, the Communist Party also bases itself on these achievements.”
64. The members of the National Socialist movement originated―at least up to its seizure of power―almost exclusively from the middle classes. It recruited from among artisans, peddlers, the civil employees and peasants, whom the war, inflation and crisis had robbed of any faith in democratic parliamentarianism and who longed for order and an iron fist. At the head of the movement were officers and NCOs from the old army, who could not reconcile themselves to Germany’s defeat in the world war. However, the programme of the National Socialist movement was anything but petty bourgeois. It translated the basic needs of German imperialism into the language of mythology and racial theory. The dream of a “thousand-year Reich” and the hunger for “Lebensraum (living space) in the East” expressed the expansionist urge of German capital, whose dynamic productive forces were constricted by Europe’s closely meshed system of states. Racial hatred provided consolation for the German petty bourgeois in the face of his real powerlessness and prepared him for a war of extermination.
65. Even the anti-Semitism of the Nazis had a rational core. The systematic destruction of more than six million Jews, Sinti and Roma by Hitler’s regime is often described as historically “unique”. This characterisation certainly applies as far as the extent of its criminal energy is concerned―the systematic, industrially organized, mass destruction planned by sections of the state apparatus. However, if it is taken to mean that the Holocaust is inexplicable and cannot be understood through historical-materialist analysis, it is wrong. Even if the anti-Semitic prejudices that Hitler exploited can be partly traced back to the Middle Ages, the Nazis’ anti-Semitism was a modern phenomenon. It was inseparably bound up with the destruction of the workers’ movement and the war against socialism.
66. Hitler’s own anti-Semitism stood in close relationship with his hatred of the socialist movement. “The labor movement did not repel him because it was led by Jews ; the Jews repelled him because they led the labor movement,” writes the historian Konrad Heiden. “It was not Rothschild, the capitalist, but Karl Marx, the socialist, who kindled Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism.” In Vienna, Hitler had personally experienced the fact that many Jews were active in the leadership of the workers’ movement. Likewise in Vienna, he became acquainted with and admired the Christian Social Party of Karl Lueger, who purposely exploited anti-Semitism to drive a wedge between the workers’ movement and the disconcerted petty bourgeoisie. Lueger won large support among the petty bourgeoisie and middle class with a mixture of anti-Semitism and anti-capitalist rhetoric, and from 1897 to 1910 was mayor of Vienna.
67. The claim that the Holocaust was the end product of latent anti-Semitism that was widespread throughout the entire German population, made amongst others by the American historian Daniel Goldhagen in his book “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”, is completely wrong. The Marxist workers’ movement had energetically fought against anti-Semitism. As a result, the anti-Semitic Christian-Social Labour Party of Adolf Stöcker could not win influence among workers in the Wilhelminian Empire, because it encountered the bitter resistance of the SPD. “Opposition to anti-Semitism had become a badge of honour for the workers’ movement”, reports the historian Robert Wistrich. “The fierce campaign undertaken by the Social Democrats against Adolf Stöcker’s Berlin movement did to a large extent immunise the working class against anti-Semitism.” The smashing of the KPD and SPD was the precondition for allowing anti-Semitism free rein. Before the term KZ (Concentration Camp) became a synonym for the persecutions and mass murder of the Jews, the Nazis established the first concentration camp in Dachau as a prison for workers’ leaders. Even afterwards, there were numerous cases of selfless assistance and solidarity, which did not take on a broader, organized form only due to the pervasive terror of the Gestapo. The fate of the Jews was inseparably bound up with that of the socialist workers’ movement.
68. Even after the Nazis had state power firmly in their grasp, they were not able to put their murderous fantasies of the ruthless extermination of “the entire Jewry, Freemasons, Marxism and churchdom of the world” into practice unchecked. For that, war was necessary. Now the murder of the Jews merged with the war of extermination in the East, which aimed, from the outset, at physically exterminating the entire political and intellectual leading layer of the Soviet Union―“Judeo-Bolshevism” in Hitler’s words―in order to secure centuries of German dominance. The cold-blooded murder of six million Jews was the high point of a campaign of destruction, to which millions of communists, partisans, intellectuals and ordinary people fell victim in Poland, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The barbaric character of imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, found its highest expression in this campaign of destruction.
Leon Trotsky, What Next? Vital questions for the German proletariat.
Konrad Heiden, Adolf Hitler: Eine Biografie, 1936.
Quoted in: David North, Anti-Semitism, fascism and the Holocaust. A critical review of Daniel Goldhagen’s ‘Hitler’s willing executioners’, Labor Publications, p12.
SS-leader Heinrich Himmler on November 9, 1938, the day of the Reichspogromnacht, quoted in Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945.