[Marxism] Götz Aly in Monde Diplo

Rod Holt rholt at planeteria.net
Wed May 18 23:45:43 MDT 2005

Here it is
Le Monde diplomatique


May 2005
The world at war
Germany: the division of the spoils
by Götz Aly
I WANT to ask a simple question that has never really been answered: how 
could it have happened? How could the Germans have allowed and committed 
unprecedented mass crimes, particularly the genocide of Europe's Jews? 
While the hatred the state whipped up against all "inferior" peoples - 
"Polacks", "Bolsheviks" and "Jews" - no doubt prepared the ground, it is 
not an adequate answer.
In the years before Hitler came to power, the Germans harboured no 
greater feeling of resentment than did other Europeans; German 
nationalism was no more racist than that of other nations. There was no 
Sonderweg (special German path to modernity) that would lead logically 
to Auschwitz. There is no empirical basis for the idea that a specific 
form of xenophobia, a deadly anti-semitism, had developed early in 
Germany. It is wrong to assume that there must have been specific and 
long-standing causes for a mistake with such fatal consequences. A range 
of factors led to the National German Socialist Workers' party (NSDAP) 
gaining and consolidating power, but the most important arose only after 
At the heart of this study is the relationship between people and 
political elite under national socialism. We know that the edifice of 
Hitler's power was fragile from the start. So how was it stabilised in a 
way that allowed it to last for 12 destructive years? We must clarify 
the general question: how could an enterprise which, in retrospect, 
appears as overtly deceitful, megalomaniac and criminal as Nazism have 
achieved political consensus on a scale we find it hard to explain today?
I consider the Nazi regime as a dictatorship in the service of the 
people. The war period, which brings out clearly the other features of 
Nazism, provides the best answer to the question. Hitler, the NSDAP 
Gauleiter (regional leaders), many of the ministers, state secretaries 
and advisers acted the part of traditional demagogues, constantly asking 
themselves how best to secure and consolidate general satisfaction and 
daily buying public approval or at least indifference. Giving and 
receiving was the basis on which they founded a consensual dictatorship 
consistently endorsed by the majority; an analysis of the internal 
collapse at the end of the first world war had revealed the pitfalls 
that their policy of popular beneficence would need to avoid.
During the second world war, the Nazi leadership tried to distribute 
food supplies in such a way that they were seen to be fairly allocated, 
particularly by poorer people. They did all they could to maintain the 
apparent stability of the Reichsmark (RM) to prevent any worrying 
reminder of the inflation of the 1914-18 war or the collapse of the 
German currency in 1923. And they saw to it - this had not happened 
during the first world war - that families of the military received 
enough money, nearly 85% of mobilised soldiers' former net pay, compared 
with less than half for British and American families in the same 
position. It was not unusual for the wives and families of German 
soldiers to have more money than before the war; they also benefited 
from the presents brought back by soldiers on leave and parcels sent 
from occupied countries by military post.
To reinforce the illusion of benefits that were guaranteed and likely to 
increase, Hitler saw to it that the farming community, manual workers, 
white-collar workers and lower- or middle-rank civil servants were not 
significantly burdened by war taxes; the situation in Britain and the 
United States was crucially different. Exempting most German taxpayers 
meant considerably increasing the tax burden for those sections of 
society with large incomes. The exceptional tax of RM8bn that property 
owners were required to pay at the end of 1942 is a striking example of 
the policy of social justice ostensibly practised by the Third Reich. 
The same is true of the tax exemption for bonuses for working nights, 
Sundays and public holidays accorded after the defeat of France (and, 
until recently, considered by Germans as a social benefit).
While the Nazi regime was ruthless in its dealings with Jews and peoples 
it considered racially inferior or alien (fremdvölkisch), its class 
awareness led it to tax in a way that benefited the weakest Germans.
Taxing the moneyed classes (only 4% of German taxpayers were earning 
more than RM6,000 a year) could not provide the funds necessary to 
finance the second world war. So how was it possible to finance the most 
costly war in history with minimal impact on the majority of the 
population? Hitler spared middle-class Aryans at the expense of other 
population groups.
To curry favour with its own people, the government of the Third Reich 
ruined the currencies of Europe by exacting ever-higher occupation 
taxes. To secure the standard of living of its own people, it stole 
millions of tonnes of food to feed its soldiers, and had the rest sent 
back to Germany. German armies were supposed to feed themselves at the 
expense of the occupied countries and to settle their running costs in 
those countries' currencies: they mostly succeeded. German soldiers 
deployed abroad, which was almost all of them; supplies provided to the 
Wehrmacht in occupied countries; the raw materials, industrial products 
and foodstuffs purchased on site for the Wehrmacht or to be sent back to 
Germany; all these were paid for in currencies other than the 
Reichsmark. The leadership applied simple principles: if someone has to 
die of hunger, it should not be a German; if wartime inflation is 
inevitable, it should affect any country except Germany.
Strategies were devised to achieve this. German coffers were filled with 
the billions acquired by despoiling Europe's Jews, first in Germany, 
then in allied countries and those under Wehrmacht occupation.
Relying on large-scale predatory and racial war, national socialism was 
a source of real equality, largely based on a policy of social 
advancement on a scale unprecedented in Germany; that made it both 
popular and criminal. The material comforts, the benefits of mass 
criminality - indirect and with no sense of individual responsibility, 
but willingly accepted - left most Germans feeling that the regime was 
taking care of them. That drove the policy of extermination forward: the 
criterion was the people's wellbeing. The absence of anything that could 
be described as real internal opposition and the subsequent lack of any 
feeling of guilt are a product of this historic combination of factors.
By answering the "how could this have happened?" question this way, we 
avoid resorting to anti-fascist formulas. This answer is hard to post up 
on walls and impossible to isolate from the national histories of 
postwar Germans in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the Federal 
Republic of Germany (FRG) or Austria. But it is essential to understand 
the Nazi regime as a form of national socialism so as to question the 
recurring tendency to blame individuals or clearly defined groups. 
Sometimes the mad dictator, a sick and charismatic figure, and his 
immediate entourage are blamed; sometimes the ideologists of racism. 
Others blame the bankers, the big bosses, the generals or the 
exterminators in the grip of killing fever. In the GDR, Austria and the 
FRG, a wide range of defence strategies have been adopted, but they have 
all gone in the same direction, allowing most of the population to enjoy 
a tranquil existence and a clear conscience.
Those who profited from the policy of Aryanisation are usually too 
quickly linked with big industrialists or bankers. The committees of 
inquiry into the Nazi period set up during the 1990s in many European 
states and big companies, made up of specialist historians, reinforced 
that impression, but it is misleading in the overall context. 
Historiographers are happy to add a number of middle- or high-ranking 
Nazis to the list of those who profited from Aryanisation. For some 
years the "man next door" has figured too: Germans, Poles, Czechs or 
Hungarians, whose questionable services to the occupying power were 
often rewarded with goods taken from Jews.
But any theory that focuses solely on individual beneficiaries fails to 
answer the question - what happened to the assets of Europe's 
expropriated and murdered Jews?
The method of financing the war adopted in Germany in 1938, requiring 
that private assets be converted into government bonds, has been passed 
over by those who have considered the policy of Aryanisation from a 
legal, ethical or historiographical perspective. That viewpoint 
reflected the desire of the German leadership to hush up the material 
benefits of the pillage. Reference to the forced conversion of Jewish 
assets into government bonds was taboo, the actual figure kept secret. 
The persecution of the Jews had to be presented by the Nazis as purely 
ideological, and the defenceless victims of mass murder seen as 
despicable enemies.
In 1943 the Wehrmacht high command drew up a list of 19 political and 
military issues that were a source of concern to soldiers, which 
officers had to answer as uniformly as possible. It included: "Haven't 
we gone too far on the Jewish question?" The answer was: "Bad question! 
National socialist principle forms part of our Weltanschauung [world 
view] - no debate" (1). But there is no reason to confuse the arguments 
available to Nazi indoctrinators with the historical facts.
There is no doubt that many Germans were sceptical of Nazism. But many 
of those who allowed themselves to be carried along by it latched on to 
vague elements in the programme. Some followed the NSDAP because of its 
attitude to France, the old enemy; others because the young German state 
was making a major break with traditional morality. Some Catholic clergy 
blessed the weapons used in the crusade against pagan Bolshevism and 
opposed the confiscation of church assets and euthanasia.
The Volksgenossen (national comrades - that is, Aryan citizens) with a 
socialist bent were enthused by the anti-clerical and anti-elitist 
aspects of national socialism. The follow-my-leader attitude that 
millions of Germans adopted for individual reasons and with disastrous 
consequences could later easily be reformulated as historically 
ineffective "resistance" precisely because this range of partial 
affinities existed.
The actor Wolf Goette was as far removed from Nazi ideology as the 
writer Heinrich Böll. He always found German policy repugnant and felt 
"dreadfully ashamed" when he passed anyone wearing the "yellow 
insignia". But, unlike Böll, he initially considered the film Ich klage 
an (I Accuse), which sought to justify euthanasia, as taking a "proper 
and appropriate line". He thought it a moving work of art that showed 
"with remarkable cinematographic quality" the "need for euthanasia" in 
the "case of certain incurable diseases", although he later voiced 
discreet doubts "in the event that a despotic state were to proclaim 
that idea". But Goette appreciated his career possibilities and 
opportunities for fine living as a result of the German dictatorship in 
Prague, a city of plenty. He was preoccupied with his personal interests 
and politically neutralised (2).
It was only the frantic pace of activity that allowed Hitler to maintain 
a balance between the unstable mix of the broadest range of interests 
and people's political positions. There lay the political alchemy of his 
regime. He took decisions and staged events in rapid succession. He 
enhanced the status of the NSDAP and supported his original militants, 
the Gauleiter and Reichsleiter, more than his own ministers. His skill 
in organising power became apparent after 1933: he did not allow the 
all-powerful party to become a mere appendage of the state. He was able 
(unlike East Germany's Socialist Unity party later on) to mobilise the 
state machinery with unprecedented success, to allow it to develop 
creativity that contributed to the objectives of national uprising and 
stretched Germany's forces to the limit.
Most Germans were initially caught up in the process, intoxicated as the 
pace of history seemed to speed up. Later, as a result of Stalingrad, 
which had a major impact inside Germany because of related Allied 
carpet-bombing, people went into a state of shock that produced the same 
torpor. The bombing was a source of indifference rather than fear: 
people felt they couldn't give a damn. The deaths on the eastern front 
made people focus on daily concerns and wait for news of son, husband or 
fiancé (3).
Germans lived through the 12 years of Nazism as if in a permanent state 
of emergency. In the whirlwind of events, they lost all sense of balance 
and measure. "It all seems like a film to me," said Vogel, the grocer 
described by Victor Klemperer in his journal (4), speaking in 1938, in 
the middle of the Sudeten crisis. A year later, and nine days after the 
start of the Polish campaign, Hermann Göring assured the workers of 
Rheinmetall-Borsig in Berlin that they could soon count on a leadership 
"teeming with energy" (5). In spring 1941 Goebbels confirmed that in his 
diary: "All day, a crazy pace"; "rapturous life on the offensive under 
way again". Or, in the anti-British intoxication of victory: "I spend 
the whole day in a fever of happiness" (6).
Hitler frequently warned his inner circle that he might soon die - all 
part of his attempt to keep up the pace required to maintain the 
political equilibrium of his regime. (Like an inept tightrope walker who 
can keep his balance only by using his pole in ever-broader sweeps, 
faster and faster, until he crashes to the ground.) An analysis of 
Hitler's military and political decisions is always more accurate if it 
focuses on the immediate reasons for those decisions and their effect in 
the short term, rather than on all the extreme propaganda directed 
towards the future. ________________________________________________________
(1) Administrative services of the Wehrmacht, Points discussed 
(May1943), NA, RG 238, box 26 (Reinecke Files).
(2) Wolf Goette (1909-1995) letters to his family, Wolf Goette archives, 
Prague, 1939/1942.
(3) Birthe Kundrus, Kriegerfrauen, Hamburg, 1995.
(4) Victor Klemperer, Mes soldats de papier, Paris, 2000.
(5) Völkischer Beobachter, 11 September 1939.
(6) Elke Fröhlich, ed, Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels, Munich, 1997.
 Translated by Julie Stoker

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 1997-2005 Le Monde diplomatique

Johannes Schneider wrote:

>Götz Aly was discussed here a few weeks ago. The discussion was based on a
>report published in the English edition of the liberal German magazine Der
>Now Götz Aly himself is published by the English edition of Monde Diplo. I
>think this is a better exposure of his ideas.
>Germany: the division of the spoils 
>One unconsidered reason for the support that ordinary Germans gave to Hitler
>for 12 years was the improvement in their living standards, which the Nazis
>had financed from loot and exploitation.
>By Götz Aly 
>Unfortunately this is for subscribers only. Perhaps someone can post the
>full article here.

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