Additional comment on the Holocaust discussion: the ideological part

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Wed Nov 5 19:06:49 MST 2003

What I really left out from my brief comments on the horrors of the
Holocaust and Hitler, was something about the overall ideological meaning.

The salient point is this. Hitler sought to build a populist, mixed-class
national-socialist movement which attacked both big business (with
allegations of Jewish conspiracies and so on) and he also attacked the
communists, socialists, social democrats and so on (especially the threat of
bolshevism and communism depicted as a Jewish plot, which is of course
totally ridiculous). So he attacked both the Right and the Left. Thus, he
gave expression to the frustrations, fears and anxieties of middle-class
people, unemployed workers, disaffected people, people whose lives had been
ruined by war and economic havoc, and all sorts of people, who had either
lost their way or could not see a way out, and wanted to blame somebody
else, or make somebody else responsible for that, searching for easy,
identifiable scapegoats and "weak spots", the vulnerable or deficient
characteristics in people, whom they believed had been the cause and source
of their own situation of powerlessness.

But if you look at what actually happened when Hitler took power, it is
clear that he sided with fractions of big business and sought to rebuild
German industry on a state-capitalist basis, specifically through
co-operation and joint ventures between the state and groups of capitalists
who provide money (others were plundered), using primitive accumulation
strategies, and all that is well-documented. This is basically what his
"national socialism" consisted in. And the Nazi government persecuted and
killed communists, social democrats, and socialists, perceiving them as
their deadly enemy.

For their part, however, the socialists and communist parties were extremely
active in the anti-fascist resistance, which is one factor which explains
why, after world war 2 ended, and party-political activity became less
restricted or legal again, the memberships of the communist and
socialdemocratic parties rose gigantically in most European countries. The
working class could see very well, the crucial part which the Red Army had
played in defeating the Nazi's and the part that Communists and social
democrats had played in the anti-fascist resistance.

But of course the neo-conservative and liberal bourgeois intellectuals want
to mystify all of this. They want to show (1) that Hitler had nothing to do
with "decent capitalism", and on the other hand, they want (2) to minimise
the communist and social-democratic role in fighting and defeating the
Nazis, and suggest that there was no difference between the Nazi's and the
Communists, they were both despotic rabble. They often do this by reducing
everything to psychology and psychopathology, and by suggesting that the
Nazis killed and persecuted people indiscriminately, that they also
persecuted and killed decent business people, and therefore that Nazism
doesn't really conform to any definite pattern beyond psychopathological
arbitrariness, or insofar it did conform to a pattern, this must be
explicable in terms of Nazi ideology, psychology and culture itself, which
is depicted as being completely alien, separate and different from "decent
capitalism", or else in terms of some sort of "totalitarianism" theory. In
this way, it is 'proved" (sic.) that capitalism and imperialism does not
create fascism, and that something else is to blame.

The amalgam of  "totalitarianism" is ideologically very convenient here,
because it allows us to place all kinds of fascism, despotism and communism
in one big heap, and counterpose it to "decent liberal capitalism" or some
such thing. The problem with this ideological manoeuvre is, that it becomes
impossible to understand the real causes and origins of fascist corporatism,
and the real meaning of what they historically did in power, and what they
really did in power, was to smash and regiment the German labour movement
and its organisations, and that was the basis for everything else that they
did. If German and foreign business people hadn't believed that Hitler could
provide investment opportunities and create market confidence, then they
wouldn't have supported or tolerated him, financially and otherwise.

If we focus exclusively on the Holocaust and the Nazi persecution of the
Jews, and even perversely sexualise the controversy, then historical reality
is distorted, twisted and falsified, and we can no longer learn anything
from it correctly, and in that case, the Nazi experience just becomes a
mystical symbol of oppression, and the very word "Nazi" just ends up being a
hate-word, used for any rightwing people you don't like. But that is not a
very good basis for socialist and democratic political policy, which must be
based on reality, on facts, on an analysis of what is really happening, or
what has really happened. And the reality is, that the themes and modes of
organisation of the extreme right, or neo-fascists in our own time, are not
simply a rehash of the Nazism of the past, and if we only just make crude
historical analogies and stereotypes, then we miss the real meaning of
modern neo-fascism. I personally don't claim to be an expert on the topic, I
prefer to direct my thoughts to how good people can be, if I can, rather
than how awful they can be, but I think we should be aware of that, for the
sake of objectivity and political effectiveness.

In reality, although many neo-fascists in Europe have a nostalgic sentiment
about the "good old days" (sic.) when Hitler and Mussolini "sorted things
out", their modern rightwing arguments do not depend on the ideologies of
the past, and therefore, if liberals try to make a crude amalgam between
neo-fascists of today and their forerunners in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s,
then they confuse the issue, and they actually play in the hands of the
neo-fascists, because the fascists will engage in versions of "Hitler
denial", or they will say that they don't believe what Hitler or Mussolini
believed, what the Nazis believed and so on, that they are democratic, and
so on. People are falsely associated with ideas that they do not believe,
and practices which they do not engage in, this sows confusion, and just
helps the very people being opposed politically.

The main scapegoat of the neo-fascists in Europe today, is immigrants and
foreigners, who are blamed for the problems of European culture, immigrant
contributions to that culture are ignored or downgraded, and insofar as the
discussion in European politics focuses on concern about democracy, they
want to democratically campaign to deny foreigners the right to vote, and
block immigration of all the people they don't like. Many immigrants are in
a weaker position, so immigrants are an easier and more easily identifiable
scapegoat for them, if it is a question of finding somebody to blame, and
you can whip up considerable xenophobia exploiting the conflicts which
occur, when different ethnic groups are at loggerheads with each other. This
does of course happen, because as we know, capitalist society is based
structurally on competition between private enterprises and individuals in
the market place, and on perpetual class-conflicts, and that means that
"divide and rule" tactics become very refined, and the neo-fascists want to
divide the white indigenous workers against the non-white workers, and unite
them under the neo-fascist banner against the Left, against the Greens,
against Liberals, and against global corporate big business, with creative
policy ideas about how to solve the problems of European integration (many
if not most oppose it on the ground that it does not benefit ordinary white
indigenous people in European countries).

So my conclusion here is, that the real defence of the working class and its
friends, and of progressive ideas against the xenophobes, racists and
neo-fascists, doesn't become effective, if we just keep on discussing
endlessly about the Holocaust, or about Hitler. This would be a bit like
wanting to put a plaster on somebody's finger, when the person is under
threat of being poisoned. Fascism isn't just a problem for Jews, and it
isn't simply about anti-Semitism, this is just stupid. We have to be aware
in this regard with what is happening in actual reality, and not get bogged
down into historical analogising which doesn't really reflect the true
situation. I can give an example of this, because the xenophobic  right-wing
nationalist party in Flanders (Belgium), the Vlaams Blok, and its leader Mr
de Winter, we are talking about a highly organised group which is legal in
Belgium, has actually courted Jewish opinion in Belgium, and made overtures
to win over a fraction of Jewish opinion on the basis of united
anti-Moroccan antipathies.

That already shows you, that the terms of ideological controversy about
fascism and anti-Semitism  today cannot be captured by easy stereotypes
culled from Hollywood movies or from history books. I do not know how
successful they were, but the logic here is, that if the xenophobes, racists
and neo-fascists win over some Jews, then they divide the Jews against each
other, and if they don't win over the Jews, then that just proves the Jews
were on the wrong side anyhow. And if, in that sort of situation, you just
keep talking about Hitler and the Holocaust, then you are not concentrating
on what the real political situation is now, what sides are being taken, and
that is what you ought to be doing, if you are focusing on this political


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