Campaigns against "Negationism": Allies and Nazis Jointly Responsible for the Holocaust

Printer-friendly version

The ideological campaign which is trying to identify the political positions adopted by the Communist Left against World War II, with those of "negationism" (ie the calling into question of the Nazi extermination of the Jews: see "Anti-fascism justifies barbarism" in International Review 88) has two aims in view. The first is to discredit the Communist Left in the eyes of the working class, as the only political current which refused to succumb to the "Sacred Union" during the Second World War. Only the Communist Left denounced the war as an inter-imperialist war like that of 1914-18 - just as Lenin, Trotsky, and Rosa Luxemburg had done with World War I - by showing that the war's supposed specificity as a conflict between the two systems of fascism and democracy was nothing but a shameless lie designed to enrol the workers in a gigantic bloodbath. The second objective belongs to the ideological offensive aimed at making the workers believe that despite its imperfections, bourgeois democracy is the only system possible, and that they should therefore mobilise to defend it, as they are asked to through a whole series of political-media campaigns, from the "mani politi" operation in Italy and the "Dutroux affair" in Belgium, through all the row over Le Pen and his electoral success in France. In this offensive, the role of the denunciation of negationism is to present fascism as "absolute evil", and thus absolve capitalism as a whole from responsibility for the Holocaust.

Once again, we declare vigorously that the Communist Left has nothing whatever to do with the "negationist" movement, which brings together the traditional far right and the "ultra-left" (a term which is completely foreign to the Communist Left: see International Review no.88). For us, there has never been any question of denying or minimising the terrifying reality of the Nazi extermination camp. As we said in the previous issue of this Review: "Understating the barbarity of the Nazi regime, even under the pretext of denouncing the anti-fascist mystification, comes down in the end to diminishing the barbarism of the decadent capitalist system, of which Nazism was merely one expression". The denunciation of anti-fascism as an instrument for enrolling the proletariat in history's most terrible inter-imperialist carnage, and as a means to hide the real culprit responsible for all these horrors - capitalism as a whole - has never meant the slightest concession in denouncing fascism, whose first victims were proletarian militants. The essence of proletarian internationalism - which the Communist Left has always intransigently defended, in direct line from the true marxist tradition, and so against all those who have betrayed it and trampled it underfoot, the Trotskyists to the fore - has always been to denounce all camps, and to show that they are all equally responsible for the abominable suffering inflicted on humanity by all imperialist wars.

In previous issues of this Review we have shown that the barbarity of the "democratic camp" during World War II was fully equal to that of fascism, both in its horror and in the cynicism with which its crimes against humanity were perpetrated: crimes like the fire-storm bombardment of Dresden and Hamburg, or the nuclear destruction unleashed on an already defeated Japan. In this article, we will demonstrate the Allies' conscious complicity in the Nazi regime's genocide by remaining silent about the concentration camps, despite the fact that they were perfectly aware of their existence and their function.

Fascism was desired and supported by the bourgeoisie

Before demonstrating the Allies' complicity in the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis in the concentration camps, it is worth recalling that fascism's appearance - which has always been presented by all wings of capital, from the "classical" right to the extreme left, as a monstrous historical accident, the product of the deranged minds of Hitler or Mussolini - is indeed the organic product of capitalism in its decadent phase, and of the defeat suffered by the proletariat in the revolutionary wave that followed World War I.

The idea that the ruling class did not know of the Nazi Party's real intentions, that in some sense it was taken for a ride, does not hold up for an instant in the face of historical facts. The Nazi Party has its roots in two factors which determined the whole history of the 1930s: on the one hand, the crushing of the German revolution, which opened the way to the triumph of the counter-revolution world-wide, and on the other the defeat of German imperialism in World War I. From the outset, the objectives of the Nazi Party were to complete the crushing of the proletariat, on the basis of the terrible bloodletting already carried out by the social-democratic SPD of Noske and Scheidemann, in order to rebuild the military strength of German imperialism. These objectives were shared by the whole German bourgeoisie, whatever their real disagreements as to the methods to use, or the best moment to set them in motion. The SA militia which Hitler used during his rise to power were the direct descendants of the Freikorps which assassinated Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and thousands of communists and working class militants. Most of the SA leaders began their careers in these same Freikorps, which were the "white guard" used by the SPD to crush the revolution in blood, with the support of the thoroughly democratic victorious powers, which disarmed the German army, but nonetheless made sure that the counter-revolutionary militia always had enough weapons to do their dirty work. Fascism was only able to develop and prosper on the basis of the physical and ideological defeat inflicted on the proletariat by the left of capital, which had been the only force capable of holding back and then vanquishing the revolutionary wave which swept over Germany in 1918-19. This was perfectly understood by the German General Staff, which gave the SPD carte blanche to deal a decisive blow against the developing revolutionary movement, in January 1919. And if Hitler's attempted Munich putsch in 1925 did not meet with support, this was because the most lucid sectors of the ruling classes did not yet consider the time appropriate. It was necessary first to complete the defeat of the proletariat, by using the democratic mystification to the hilt via the Weimar Republic, which despite having the junker Hindenburg as president still kept a radical veneer thanks to the participation in successive governments of ministers from the so-called "Socialist" Party.

But as soon as the proletarian threat had been removed definitively, the ruling class - in its most "classical" form let us remember, through the ruling groups of German capitalism: the Krupps, Thyssen, AG Farben - supported the Nazi Party with all its strength in its march towards power. Henceforth, Hitler's desire to reunite all the forces necessary for the restoration of German imperialism's military power corresponded perfectly to the needs of German capital. Defeated and despoiled by its imperialist rivals after World War I, Germany had no choice but to try to recover lost ground in a new war. Its determination to do so, far from being the product of any supposed German aggressivity, some kind of congenital deformation which found its means of expression in fascism, was nothing other than the strict expression of the unbending laws of imperialism in capitalist decadence. In a world market entirely shared out between the great powers, those that arrived late at the imperialist table lost out in the division of the imperialist cake, and had no option but to try to carve themselves a bigger slice by war. The German proletariat's physical defeat on the one hand, Germany's status as a defeated and despoiled imperialist power on the other, made fascism the most adequate means for Germany to prepare for the next world slaughter, contrary to those countries which had been victorious in war, and whose proletariat had not been physically crushed. State capitalism was being strengthened everywhere, including in the "democratic" countries. Fascism, as a particularly brutal form of state capitalism, made it possible to centralise and concentrate all capital in the hands of the state, and to orientate the entire economy towards preparation for war. Hitler this came to power as democratically as you please, that is to say with the complete support of the German bourgeoisie. In effect, once the proletarian menace had been thrust aside for good, the ruling class no longer needed to worry about maintaining the whole democratic arsenal, thus following in Italy's footsteps.

Racism and anti-Semitism: products of the whole of decadent capitalism

"Yes perhaps" we will be told, "but aren't you ignoring fascism's visceral anti-Semitism, which distinguishes it from all the other fractions and parties of the bourgeoisie, and the fact that it is precisely this particular characteristic which provoked the holocaust?". This idea is defended by the Trotskyists in particular. While formally they recognise the responsibility of capitalism and the bourgeoisie in general in the birth of fascism, it is only to add that fascism is nonetheless worse than bourgeois democracy - as the Holocaust proves, and that faced with this ideology of genocide we cannot hesitate for a moment: we must choose our camp, the camp of democracy and the Allies. Along with their defence of the USSR it is this argument which served to justify their betrayal of proletarian internationalism and their passage into the bourgeois camp during World War II. It is thus perfectly logical that in France today, we find the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire and its leader Alain Krivine, with the discreet but real support of Lutte Ouvriere, at the head of the anti-fascist and "anti-negationist" crusade, defending the notion of fascism as the "absolute evil", and so qualitatively different from all the other expressions of capitalist barbarism that the working class should take the lead in fighting for the defence and even the revitalisation of democracy.

As Marx often said, the problem is already - and we would say deliberately - badly posed in the question itself. The Communist Left has never denied that the extreme right and Nazism in particular are profoundly racist, any more than it denied the terrible reality of the death camps. The real question is elsewhere. Is racism, and the disgusting way the Jews were made scapegoats for every ill only the expression of fascism's particular nature, or is it not rather the sinister product of the whole capitalist mode of production, faced with its system's historic crisis, the monstrous but natural offspring of the nationalist ideology defended and propagated by every fraction of the bourgeoisie, without exception. Racism is a characteristic of societies divided into classes, not a timeless attribute of human nature. If capitalism's entry into decadence has exacerbated racism to a degree never seen before in humanity's history, if the 20th century is one where genocide is no longer the exception but the rule, this is not due to some perversion of the human species. It is the result of the fact that the bourgeoisie can only justify the permanent war that every state must fight in a saturated world market, already shared out down to the smallest pebble, by reinforcing nationalism by every means possible. What could be more favourable to the blossoming of racism than the atmosphere that Rosa Luxemburg described so well at the beginning of her pamphlet denouncing the first world carnage: "(...) the population of a whole city transformed into a mob, ready to denounce anybody, to molest women, to shout "hurrah ", and to reach the paroxysm of hysteria by starting crazy rumours itself; a climate of ritual crime, an atmosphere of pogrom, where the only representative of human dignity was the policeman at the comer of the street".
And she continued: "Soiled, dishonoured, wallowing in blood and covered in filth: this is how bourgeois society appears; this is what it is ... " (The Crisis of the Social-Democracy). We could use exactly the same terms to describe the awful scenes in 1930s Germany: the looting of Jewish shops, lynchings, children separated from their parents. Or indeed to describe the pogrom atmosphere in France in 1945, when the Stalinist French CP's daily could headline "Every man get himself a Boche!". No, racism is not exclusive to fascism, any more than its anti-Semitic form. General Patton himself, the famous general of "democratic America" come to liberate humanity from the "evil beast" declared during the liberation of the concentration camps that "the Jews are worse than animals" , while the other great "liberator", Stalin, organised a whole series of pogroms against Jews, gypsies, Chechens, etc. Racism is the product of the inherently nationalist nature of the bourgeoisie, whatever form its domination takes, whether "totalitarian" or "democratic"; and decadence has raised nationalism to a paroxysm.

Because the proletariat - the only force capable of opposing the nationalism that oozes from every pore of rotting bourgeois society - had been beaten both physically and ideologically, Nazism was able, with the consent of the ruling class, to use the racism endemic within the petty bourgeoisie to make racism and anti-Semitism the official ideology of the regime. However monstrous and irrational the anti-Semitism professed and practised by the Nazi regime cannot be explained merely by the madness and perversity - however real - of its leaders. As the PCI pamphlet Auschwitz, or the Great Alibi very correctly emphasises, the extermination of the Jews "did not take place at just any time, but in the midst of a crisis and imperialist war. It must thus be explained from within this gigantic enterprise of destruction. This fact clarifies the problem: we no longer have to explain the "destructive nihilism" of the Nazis, but why this destruction was concentrated in part on the Jews". To explain why the Jewish population, although not alone, was first singled out as the object of general hatred, and then exterminated en masse by Nazism, we have to take account of two factors: the demands of the German war effort; and the role of the petty bourgeoisie during this sinister period. The latter had been reduced to ruin by the violence of the economic crisis in Germany, and was falling massively into the lumpen-proletariat. Without the proletariat to act as an antidote, the desperate petty bourgeoisie gave free rein to all its most reactionary prejudices, characteristic of a class with no future, and plunged, like a mad dog, into the racism and anti-Semitism propagated by the fascist formations. These pointed to the Jew as par excellence the nationless cosmopolitan "sucking the blood of the people", and the scapegoat for the poverty of the petty-bourgeoisie, in order to rally this class to it. Most of fascism's first shock troops did indeed come from a petty bourgeoisie sinking into declassed status. But this designation of the Jew as enemy number one had another function: it allowed German capitalism, thanks to the expropriation of the often important funds held by Jewish families; to gather discreetly the funds needed to rearm German imperialism, especially in the beginning, without attracting the attention of the victors of the First World War. At first, the concentration camps had the same function: the provision of a free labour force, entirely dedicated to the preparation of the war.

The Allies' silence during the war

From 1945 to the present day, the bourgeoisie has constantly exhibited the obscene images of the heaps of corpses found in the Nazi extermination camps, and the starving bodies of those who survived that hell. By contrast, during the war, the Allies were very discreet about the camps, to the point where they were completely absent from the wartime propaganda of the "democratic camp". This might be explained by the Allies ignorance, not of the camps' existence but of their use for systematic extermination from 1942-43 onwards. After all, spy satellites did not exist in those days ... This fairy story, according to which the Allies only found out what was really happening at Dachau, Auschwitz, Treblinka etc, will not stand up to the slightest historical study. The secret services existed already, and were very active and efficient, as we can see from certain episodes of the war where they played a determining role, and the existence of the death camps could not have escaped their attention. This is confirmed by the work of numerous historians of World War II. Thus in the French paper Le Monde (a paper which is very active in the "anti-negationist" campaign) of 27th September 1996 we read: "A massacre [ie that perpetrated in the camps] whose extent and systematic nature were contained in a report by the Jewish social-democratic party, the Polish Bund, was officially confirmed to American officials by the famous telegram of 8th August 1942, despatched by G. Riegner, representative of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva on the basis of information supplied by a German industrialist from Leipzig named Edward Scholte. We know that at this time, most of the European Jews doomed to die were still alive". It is thus clear that the Allied governments were perfectly aware, from various sources, of the existence of the genocide under way by 1942, and yet the leaders of the "democratic camp", Roosevelt, Churchill and their henchmen, did everything to avoid these revelations being given any hasty publicity, and even gave strict instructions to the press to maintain an extreme discretion on the subject. In fact, they lifted not a finger to save the millions condemned to die. This is confirmed in the same article of Le Monde, which writes "(...) in the mid-1980s, the American author D. Wyman, in his book The Desertion of the Jews (Calmann-Levy) showed that several hundred thousand lives could have been saved were it not for the apathy, or even the obstruction, of certain organs of the US administration (such as the State Department), and of the Allies in general". These extracts from the thoroughly bourgeois and democratic Le Monde only confirm what has always been said by the Communist Left, and in particular in the pamphlet by Bordiga and the PCI Auschwitz or the Great Alibi. Today, this same pamphlet is being pilloried for having supposedly been at the source of the negationist theses as to the non-existence of the death camps - which is nothing but an infamous lie. As for the loud and virtuous cries of horror - after 1945 - from all the champions of the "rights of man" at the horror of the Holocaust, the Allies' silence during the war shows just how much they are worth.

Is this silence to be explained by the latent anti -Semitism of certain Allied leaders, as some post-war Jewish historians have maintained? Anti-Semitism is certainly not restricted to fascist regimes - we may recall Patton's declaration quoted above, or again Stalin's well-known anti-Semitism - but this is not the real reason behind the silence of the Allies, some of whose leaders were either Jews themselves, or close to Jewish organisations (Roosevelt for example). No, the real reason behind this remarkable discretion lies in the laws that regulate the capitalist system, whether its rule be covered by the banner of democracy or of totalitarianism. As in the enemy camp, all the Allies' resources were mobilised for the war. No useless mouths, everybody must be occupied, either at the front or in the production of armaments. The arrival en masse of populations from the camps, of children and old people who could not be sent to the front or the factory, of sick and exhausted men and women who could not be immediately integrated into the war effort, would only have disorganised the latter. So the frontiers were closed, and such immigration prevented by every means possible. In 1943 - in other words at a time when the Anglo-Saxon bourgeoisie was perfectly aware of the reality of the camps - Anthony Eden, minister of His Most Gracious and Democratic Britannic Majesty decided at Churchill's request that "no ship of the United Nations can be affected to transfer the refugees to Europe", while Roosevelt added that "transporting so many people would disorganise the war effort" (Churchill, Memoirs, Vol 10). These are the real and sordid reasons that led these accredited anti-fascists and democrats to remain silent about what was happening in Dachau, Buchenwald, and others of sinister memory! The humanitarian considerations that were supposed to drive the anti-fascist camp, united against fascist barbarism, had no place in their sordid capitalist interests and the demands of the war machine.

The direct complicity of the "democratic camp" in the Holocaust

The Allies did not merely remain silent during the war about the genocide perpetrated in the camps. Their abject cynicism went much further than that. First, while they never hesitated an instant to deluge German cities with bombs, they refused to make the slightest military effort against the camps. By the beginning of 1944, the railways leading to Auschwitz were within easy range of Allied aviation, but although two escapees from the camp provided a detailed description of its functioning and topography, the Allies did nothing. Then, "Hungarian and Slovak Jewish leaders begged the Allies to act when the deportation of Hungarian Jews began. They all proposed the same target: the railway junction of Kosice-Pressow. It is true that the Germans could have repaired the tracks fairly quickly. But this argument does not hold good for the destruction of the Birkenau ovens, which would undoubtedly have slowed the extermination machine. Nothing was done. In the end, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that not even the minimum was tried, that it was drowned in the bad faith of the generals and diplomats" (Le Monde, 27th September 1996).

However, contrary to the laments of this bourgeois paper, the "democratic camp" was not an accomplice to Holocaust merely out of "bad faith" or bureaucratic sloth. As we will see, this complicity was wholly conscious. At first, the deportation camps were essentially labour camps, where the German bourgeoisie could benefit from a cheap labour force entirely at its mercy, directed entirely to the war effort. Although the extermination camps existed already, at the time they were more the exception than the rule. But after its first serious military reversals, especially against the terrible war machine set in motion by the USA, German imperialism could no longer properly feed its own troops and population. The Nazi regime thus decided to rid itself of the excess population in the camps, and from then on the gas-ovens spread their sinister shadow everywhere. The abomination of the executioners carefully gathering their victims' teeth, hair, and finger-nails to feed the German war machine, was the fruit of an imperialism at bay, retreating on every front, and plumbing the depths of the irrationality of imperialist war. But although the Nazi regime and its underlings perpetrated the Holocaust without a qualm, it brought little benefit to German capital, desperately trying to gather together the wherewithal to resist the Allies' inexorable advance. In this context, there were several attempts - in general conducted directly by the SS - to make some profit out of these hundreds of thousands, even millions of prisoners, by selling them to, or exchanging them with the Allies.

The most famous episode of this sinister bargaining was the approach made to Joel Brand, the leader of a semi-clandestine organisation of Hungarian Jews, whose story has been told in the book by A. Weissberg, cited in the pamphlet on Auschwitz, the Great Alibi. He was taken to Budapest to meet the SS officer in charge of the Jewish question, Adolf Eichmann, who instructed him to negotiate with the British and American governments for the liberation of a million Jews, in exchange for 10,000 trucks, but making it clear that he was ready to accept less, or even different goods. To demonstrate their good faith, and the seriousness of their proposal, the SS even proposed to release 100,000 Jews as soon as Brand obtained an agreement in principle, without asking anything in exchange. During his journey, Brand made the acquaintance of British prisons in the Middle East, and after many delays which, far from being accidents were deliberately put in his way by the Allied governments to avoid an official meeting, he was finally able to discuss the proposal with Lord Moyne, the British government's representative in the Middle East. There was nothing personal in the latter's utter refusal of Eichmann's proposal: he was merely following the instructions of the British cabinet. Nor was it a moral refusal to bow to a revolting blackmail. There is no room left for doubt when we read Brand's own account of the discussion: "I begged him to give me at least a written agreement, even if he failed to keep to it, which would at least save 100,000 lives. Moyne then asked what would be the total number. I replied that Eichmann had spoken of a million. "But how can you imagine such a thing Mr Brand? What would I do with a million Jews? Where would I put them? Who would take them in?". In desperation, I said that if the earth no longer had room for us, there was nothing left for us but to let ourselves be exterminated", As Auschwitz or the Great Alibi so rightly says of this glorious episode of World War II, "unfortunately, while the supply was there, the demand was not! Not just the Jews, but even the SS had been taken in by the Allies' humanitarian propaganda! The Allies did not want these million Jews! Not for 10,000 trucks, not for 5,000, not even for nothing".

Some recent historiography has tried to show that this refusal was due above all to Stalin's veto. This is just another attempt to hide the direct complicity of the "great democracies" in the Holocaust, revealed in the misadventure of the naive Brand, whose veracity nobody seriously contests. Suffice to say in reply that during the war, neither Churchill nor Roosevelt were in the habit of being dictated to by Stalin, while on this particular point they were on the same wave-length as the "little father of the peoples , demonstrating the same brutality and cynicism throughout the war. The thoroughly democratic Roosevelt refused other, similar attempts by the Nazis for example when at the end of 1944 they tried to sell Jews to the "Organisation of American Jews", demonstrating their good faith by deporting 2000 Jews to Switzerland, as is detailed by Y. Bauer in his book Jews for Sale (published by Liana Levi).

None of this is an accident, or the fault of leaders rendered "insensitive" by the terrible sacrifices demanded by the war against the ferocious fascist dictatorship - the explanations usually put forward to justify Churchill's ruthlessness, for example, of certain inglorious episodes of the 1939-45 war. Anti-fascism never expressed a real antagonism between on the one hand a camp defending democracy and its values, and on the other a totalitarian camp. This was never anything but a "red rag" waved before the workers to justify the war by hiding its classically inter-imperialist nature as a war to divide up the world between the great imperialist sharks. The Communist International had already warned that this war was inevitable as soon as the Treaty of Versailles was signed; anti-fascism made it possible to wipe this warning from the workers' minds, before enrolling them for the biggest slaughter in history. While it was necessary, during the war, to keep the frontiers firmly closed to all those who tried to escape the Nazi hell in order not to disorganise the war effort, once the war was over it was another matter entirely. The publicity suddenly given to the camps' existence after 1945 was manna from heaven to the bourgeois propaganda machine. Turning the spotlight on the awful reality of the death camps allowed the Allies to hide their own innumerable crimes, and to attach the proletariat firmly to the defence of a democracy presented by all the bourgeois parties, from the right to the Stalinists, as a value common to working and ruling classes, something defended against the danger of new Holocausts. This was all the more important in the desperate situation of the "Liberation", as the bourgeoisie confronted the possibility of proletarian resistance to their wretched rations.
In attacking the Communist Left as an ancestor of "negationism", the bourgeoisie is following faithfully that old adage of Goebbels, that the bigger a lie the more chance it has of being believed. Workers should remember who it was that ignored the terrible fate of the deportees in the death camps, who cynically used them as a symbol of the democratic system's superiority, and to justify the system of death and exploitation that is capitalism. Today, the bourgeoisie is making every effort to use anti-fascism to revive the democratic mystification, in response to a working class which is tending to return to the path of struggle. The proletariat should remember what happened to the workers in the 1930s, who let themselves be trapped in anti-fascism, only to be turned into cannon-fodder under the pretext of "defending democracy".

RN, 4/3/97

Historic events: 

General and theoretical questions: 


75 years on