[Marxism] Buying off the German people

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Mar 24 07:09:43 MST 2005

(The debate about whether US imperialism buys off its working class through 
the super-exploitation of the 3rd World has been on-going on Marxism lists 
and PEN-L on the Internet for as long as I can remember. Here's some 
interesting new information on another imperialist power that would seem to 
suggest that this is exactly what took place.)

Der Spiegel, March 22, 2005
How Germans Fell for the 'Feel-Good' Fuehrer

By Jody K. Biehl in Berlin

Hitler not only fattened his adoring "Volk" with jobs and low taxes, he 
also fed his war machine through robbery and murder, says a German 
historian in a stunning new book. Far from considering Nazism oppressive, 
most Germans thought of it as warm-hearted, asserts Goetz Aly. The book is 
generating significant buzz in Germany and it may mark the beginning of a 
new level of Holocaust discourse.

A well-respected German historian has a radical new theory to explain a 
nagging question: Why did average Germans so heartily support the Nazis and 
Third Reich? Hitler, says Goetz Aly, was a "feel good dictator," a leader 
who not only made Germans feel important, but also made sure they were well 
cared-for by the state.

To do so, he gave them huge tax breaks and introduced social benefits that 
even today anchor the society. He also ensured that even in the last days 
of the war not a single German went hungry. Despite near-constant warfare, 
never once during his 12 years in power did Hitler raise taxes for working 
class people. He also -- in great contrast to World War I -- particularly 
pampered soldiers and their families, offering them more than double the 
salaries and benefits that American and British families received. As such, 
most Germans saw Nazism as a "warm-hearted" protector, says Aly, author of 
the new book "Hitler's People's State: Robbery, Racial War and National 
Socialism" and currently a guest lecturer at the University of Frankfurt. 
They were only too happy to overlook the Third Reich's unsavory, murderous 

Financing such home front "happiness" was not simple and Hitler essentially 
achieved it by robbing and murdering others, Aly claims. Jews. Slave 
laborers. Conquered lands. All offered tremendous opportunities for 
plunder, and the Nazis exploited it fully, he says.

Once the robberies had begun, a sort of "snowball effect" ensued and in 
order to stay afloat, he says Germany had to conquer and pilfer from more 
territory and victims. "That's why Hitler couldn't stop and glory 
comfortably in his role as victor after France's 1940 surrender." Peace 
would have meant the end of his predatory practices and would have spelled 
"certain bankruptcy for the Reich."

Instead, Hitler continued on the easy path of self deception, spurring the 
war greedily forward. And the German people -- fat with bounty -- kept 
quiet about where all the wealth originated, he says. Was it a deplorable 
weakness of human nature or insatiable German avarice? It's hard to say, 
but imagine if today's beleaguered government of German Chancellor Gerhard 
Schroeder could offer jobs and higher benefits to the masses. "No one would 
ask where the money came from and they would directly win the next 
election," Aly says.

The Nazis helped themselves to Jewish wealth and used it to feed the war 
Likewise, in the 1940s, soldiers on the front were instructed to ravage 
conquered lands for raw materials, industrial goods and food for Germans. 
Aly cites secret Nazi files showing that from 1941-1943 Germans robbed 
enough food and supplies from the Soviet Union to care for 21 million 
people. Meanwhile, he insists, Soviet war prisoners were systematically 
starved. German soldiers were also encouraged to send care packages home to 
their families to boost the morale of their wives and children. In the 
first three months of 1943, German soldiers on the Leningrad front sent 
more than 3 million packages stuffed with artifacts, art, valuables and 
food home, Aly says.

"About 95 percent of the German population benefited financially from the 
National Socialist system. The Nazis' unprecedented killing machine 
maintained its momentum by robbing from others. ... Millions of people were 
killed -- the Jews were gassed, 2 million Soviet war prisoners were starved 
to death ... so that the German people could maintain their good mood." By 
contrast, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill cajoled his people in 
1940, just after France had fallen, to "brace ourselves to our duties" so 
that in a thousand years, "men will still say, this was their finest hour."

How to make a criminal regime thrive

The Nazi war plunder had a snowball effect. If Hitler stopped it, the Reich 
would have been bankrupt.
Aly's theory is not only fascinating for its brazenness, but also for the 
ruckus it is causing in Germany, where lately the trend has been to accept 
that Germans, too, suffered under Hitler and under the Allied bombing raids 
at the war's end. Aly is now negating much of that suffering, insisting 
that every single German benefited from Hitler's culture of killing. The 
Feuilleton, or cultural pages, of German newspapers -- which only recently 
exploded with coverage of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of 
Aushwitz -- have teemed with articles about Aly since the book, "Hitler's 
People's State" came out on March 10. In the left-leaning newspaper Die 
Tageszeitung, he has even engaged in an open fight with Cambridge economics 
historian Adam Tooze who has criticized the mathematical methods he used to 
substantiate his theory. Sales, too, are much better than he or his 
publisher imagined. "I didn't write the book for the lay person," he says. 
"It's crammed full of facts and dry historical and economic data and has 
close to 1,000 footnotes." But if people want to read it, he says he won't 
complain. It will come out in French this autumn and in English in 2006.

The timing for the book's German release, as his publishers well know, 
couldn't be better. Germany will spend the next six weeks hitting dozens of 
World War II anniversaries before arriving at memorial celebrations on May 
8 and 9 marking 60 years since the war's end. It is also, says Aly, no 
coincidence that the work comes close to three generations after Hitler's 

"The book could have been written 10 years ago, even 20 years ago," he 
says. All of the documents were there. We just weren't open to them. 
Personally, I didn't have the questions then."

The documents include reams of complex economic, bank and tax records as 
well as thousands of clippings from regional newspaper archives that Aly 
spent the past four years scouring. In the book, he uses them to support 
his theory that half the war was financed by government credit and that 
close to 70 percent of the rest came from plunder. "I am not trying to turn 
the history of National Socialism on its head," he insists. "But I think -- 
despite all the time that has passed -- it is still important to ask the 
most fundamental questions, namely how all this happened. What were the 
most important elements that allowed this criminal regime to thrive? So 
much came out of the German middle class. That is the most troubling aspect 
of the history."

Such ground has been broken before. In his 1996 bestseller, "Hitler's 
Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust," controversial 
Harvard professor Daniel Goldhagen -- an American Jew -- dared to point his 
finger at average Germans and insist they not only knew about the Third 
Reich atrocities, but in their rabid anti-Semitism were eager 
co-conspirators. And for decades, historians have spoken of Hitler's 
popular appeal, his ability to head off unemployment and shore up the 
nation's shoddy infrastructure. In fact, Germany's famous "Autobahn" 
(highway) is sometimes called the "Hitler Bahn" because it was built by the 
Nazis. His Napola and Adolf Hitler schools famously cut through social 
classes, admitting rich and poor to Nazi indoctrination. Still, until now, 
economists have struggled to prove that the plunder from abroad really 
drove the war machine.

Perhaps, says Aly, that is partly because German historians weren't ready 
to look at what he calls "secondary" questions about the structural and 
financial underpinnings of the Nazi war machine. "Writing about them would 
have reduced the human scale of the tragedy," he says. Plus, he insists, it 
is always "much easier to say it was the fault of a small group of elites, 
the power-crazed SS commanders, or even big businesses" than to point to 
your own greed. German society has spent decades digesting and "perhaps now 
we have reached a new level," he says.

Were Germans liberated from the Nazis, too?

Current politics seems to mirror this sentiment. These days, making use of 
an agile word and mind flip, Germans have begun to insist that they -- like 
the rest of Europe -- were also liberated on May 8, 1945. They say it marks 
the day they and their children were freed from Nazi oppression. Still, in 
1945, says Aly, Germans didn't think they were being liberated. "They had 
to be liberated from themselves," he says. "That's the problem."

In truth, Germans have made great strides in accepting their guilt and have 
even "liberated themselves," enough that it is now politically acceptable 
for German politicians to participate in World War II anniversaries in 
other countries. In May, Gerhard Schroeder became the first German 
chancellor to participate in a D-Day celebration. In January, German 
President Horst Koehler bowed his head at Auschwitz in memory of the 1.5 
million people killed before the Red Army liberated the camp. Another trip 
is planned to Moscow for May celebrations.

Scholarship and even more delicately, German Holocaust sensitivities, too 
have progressed in recent years. In January, the first post-war 
German-Jewish comedy, "Alles Auf Zucker" (Bet it all on Zucker) was 
released and became an immediate box office hit. Before its release, film 
and television executives had long held that any productions involving Jews 
and Germans meant poison at the box office. Germans are also starting to 
talk about their own suffering during the war, particularly during the 
relentless Allied bombing of German cities such as Dresden. Aly accepts 
such suffering as truthful, saying talking about it shows that Germans have 
made advances from the shame-faced decades just after the war when no 
German academic could look at the war objectively. The question, he says 
is, "how do you relegate that suffering? We were also victims of our own 

The important thing, he says is that German perspectives continue to 
evolve. He sees his book as an important part of that process. "I think in 
10 years, because of this book, our understanding will be very different 
than it was less say a year ago," he says. "That's because my book contains 
a large number of short descriptions and sketches, and I am quite certain 
that the questions I ask will be investigated by my colleagues. That will 
definitely give us a lot more information. I notice it already in the echo 
from the book. I am getting letters from families who corroborate what I 
write. I'm sure more of that will come."

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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