Sixty years ago, in January 1933, an event of historic importance struck capitalist civilisation: the arrival of Hitler to power and the installation of the Nazi regime in Germany. To listen to the bourgeoisie, fascism was brutally imposed on capitalist society, forced onto its reluctant body. Not for a moment does this lie stand up to the test of historic facts. In reality, Nazism in Germany, as fascism in Italy, is the organic product of capital. The victory of Nazism came about democratically. As to the repugnant racism, the nationalist hysteria or the barbarity which, again, according to the democratic bourgeoisie, characterises the fascist regimes, they are not at all specific to these regimes. They are, on the contrary, the product of capitalism, in particular in its phase of decadence, and the attributes of all factions of the bourgeoisie be they democratic, stalinist or fascist.
The terrible reality of the holocaust is often used, by appealing more to the emotions than to objectivity, in order to back up the idea of a nature of fascism which basically differentiates it from capitalism in general and democracy in particular. The examination of the facts themselves show that barbarity is not exclusive to fascism but that capitalist democracy, so quick to denounce Nazi crimes, is directly responsible for millions of deaths and of equivalent suffering for humanity (the bombings of Dresden and Hamburg, atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The height of this criminal cynicism reaches the point of the categorical rejection by the democratic powers, notably Britain and the US, of any proposition aimed at freeing several hundreds of thousands of Jews from Hitler's camps. Moreover, contrary to the official propaganda claiming that the extermination camps weren't known about until the end of the war, the major Allied states were perfectly well aware of their existence from 1942 (see our pamphlet in French "Fascisme et democratie, deux expressions de la dictature du capital").
The victory of Nazism in Germany
The lie that the ruling class didn't know the real plans of the Nazi Party, in other words that they fell into a trap, doesn't for one moment stand up to the evidence of the historic facts. The origin of the Nazi Party has its roots in two factors which were to determine the whole history of the 1930s. On the one hand the crushing of the German revolution opened the door to the triumph of the counter-revolution on a world scale, and, on the other hand, German imperialism was still suffering from its defeat in the First World War. The early Nazi Party's objective was to finish off the crushing of the proletariat in order to reconstitute the military forces of German imperialism - on the basis of the terrible bloodbath inflicted on the working class in Germany by the Social-Democratic Party (SPD) of Noske and Scheidemann. This objective was shared by the whole of the German bourgeoisie, despite real divergences as much on the means to use as on the most opportune moment to implement them. The SA, the militias upon which Hitler depended in his march towards power, were the direct heirs of the Freikorps which had assassinated Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and thousands of other communists and militant workers. The majority of the SA leadership began their careers as killers in this same Freikorps. They were the 'White Guard' used by the SPD in power to crush the revolution in blood, and all with the support of the victorious democratic powers. The latter moreover, while disarming the German army, always took care that these counter-revolutionary militias had enough weaponry to carry out 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 alone was in a position to stem and then defeat the revolutionary wave which overwhelmed Germany in 1918-19. This is what the General Staff of the German army understood completely in giving a free hand to the SPD in order to deal a decisive blow to the revolutionary movement which was developing in January 1919. And if Hitler didn't follow up his attempted putsch in Munich, 1923, it's because the most lucid sectors of the ruling class judged it premature to put the Nazis in power. It was necessary, first of all, to complete the defeat of the proletariat by using the card of democratic mystification. This was far from being exhausted and still benefited, through the Weimar Republic (although presided over by the Junker Hindenburg), from a radical gloss, thanks to the regular participation, in successive governments, of ministers coming from the so-called 'socialist' party.
But, as soon as the proletarian threat was definitively exorcised, the ruling class - and we want to emphasise this - in its most classic form, through the flower of German capitalism such as Krupp, Thyssen and AG Farben, swung behind the Nazi Party with all its forces in its victorious march to power. The will of Hitler to bring together all the forces necessary for the restoration of the military power of German imperialism corresponded perfectly to the needs of the national capital. The latter, beaten and plundered by its imperialist rivals following the First World War, could only attempt to reconquer lost ground by engaging in a new war. Far from being the product of a so-called congenital Germanic aggressiveness which found in fascism the means of unleashing itself, this will was only the strict expression of the laws of imperialism in the decadence of the capitalist system as a whole. Faced with a world market which was entirely parcelled up, these laws leave no other solution to the injured imperialist powers in the carving up of the 'imperialist cake' than that of trying, by engaging in a new war, to grab the largest part. The physical defeat of the German proletariat, and Germany's status as a ransacked imperialist power following its defeat in 1918, made fascism - contrary to the victorious countries where the working class hadn't been physically crushed - the most appropriate means for German capitalism to prepare itself for a second world war. Fascism is only a brutal form of state capitalism which was about to strengthen itself everywhere, including the democratic states. It is the instrument of the centralisation and of the concentration of the whole of capital in the hands of the state faced with economic crisis, in order to orient the whole of the economy towards the preparation for war. It was thus with the total endorsement of the German bourgeoisie, that Hitler came to power. In effect, once the proletarian threat was definitively removed, the ruling class no longer had to preoccupy itself with maintaining the whole democratic arsenal, following the process that was already underway in Italy. There is no antagonism between Nazi barbarity and the values of democracy
'Yes, perhaps...' we're told, 'but aren't you making an abstraction of one of the traits which distinguishes fascism from all the other parties and fractions of the bourgeoisie, that is its inherent anti-semitism, when it is exactly this characteristic which provoked the holocaust?' It is this idea which is defended by the Trotskyists in particular. The latter in effect, formally recognises the responsibility of capitalism and of the bourgeoisie in general in the genesis of fascism, only to immediately add that this latter is, despite everything, much worse than the democratic bourgeoisie, as the holocaust shows. For the Trotskyists, confronted with this ideology of genocide, there's no hesitation in choosing the camp of anti-fascism, that of the Allied imperialisms. It is this argument, along with that of the defence of the USSR, which has served to justify their betrayal of proletarian internationalism and their passage into the camp of the bourgeoisie during the Second World War, on the side of the Allies against the Axis powers. It is perfectly logical to find today in France for example, the Trotskyist groups - the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire and its leader Krivine with the discrete but very real support of Lutte Ouvriere - at the head of the anti-fascist and 'anti-negationist' crusade, defending the vision according to which fascism is the 'absolute evil' and, from this assertion, qualitatively different from all other expressions of capitalist barbarity. Faced with this, the working class must be in the vanguard of the combat and defend, even revitalise democracy.
That the extreme right (Nazism in particular) is profoundly racist has never been contested by the Communist Left, nor moreover has the dreadful reality of the death camps. The real question lies elsewhere. It consists of knowing if this racism and the repugnant designation of Jews as scapegoats, responsible for all evil, could only be the particular expression of fascism, the evil product of sick minds, or if it is not rather the sinister product of the capitalist mode of production confronted with the historic crisis of its system, a monstrous but natural offspring of nationalist ideology defended and propagated by all fractions of the ruling class. Racism is not an eternal attribute of human nature. If the entry of capitalism into its decadence exacerbated racism to a hitherto unknown degree in the whole history of humanity, if the 20th century is a century where genocides are no longer the exception but the rule, that is not due to some perversion of human nature. It is the result of the fact that, faced with the now permanent war that each state must prepare for in the framework of a saturated world market, the bourgeoisie, in order to be able to support and justify this permanent war, must, in every country, strengthen nationalism by all means. What is more favourable, in fact, to the spread of racism than this atmosphere, so well described by Rosa Luxemburg at the beginning of her pamphlet denouncing the imperialist carnage of the First World War: "(...) the population of the whole town changes into a mob, ready to denounce anybody, molesting women, shouting: hurrah! and reaching paroxysms of delirium by starting crazy rumours: a climate of ritual crime, an atmosphere of pogrom where the sole representative of human dignity was a policemen on the corner of the street". She continues saying: "Defiled, dishonoured, wading in blood, covered in filth, here's how bourgeois society presents itself, this is what it is..." (The Crisis of Social-Democracy). One could use exactly the same terms to describe the multiple scenes of horror in Germany during the 1930s (looting of Jewish shops, lynchings, children separated from their parents) or evoke, amongst other things, the atmosphere of pogrom which reigned in France in 1945 when the stalinist paper of the PCF was odiously headlined "To each his Boche!" No, racism is not the exclusive prerogative of fascism, no more than its anti-semitic form. The celebrated General Patton of the democratic United States of America, the very person who was supposed to free humanity from 'the vile beast', declared at the time of the liberation of the camps that: "The Jews are worse than animals"; whereas the other great 'liberator', Stalin, himself organised a series of pogroms against the Jews, the Gypsies, the Chechens, etc. Racism is the product of the basic nationalist nature of the bourgeoisie, whatever the form of its domination, 'totalitarian' or 'democratic'. Its nationalism reaches a culminating point with the decadence of its system.
When the proletariat is absent from the scene of history, capitalist barbarity knows no limits
The only force that can oppose this nationalism which oozes from every pore of rotting bourgeois society, i.e., the proletariat, was beaten, physically and ideologically defeated. Arising from this, Nazism, with the consent of the whole of its class, could rely particularly on the latent racism of the petty-bourgeoisie to make this, under its anti-semitic form, the official ideology of the regime. Once again, although the professed anti-semitism put into practice by the Nazi regime was irrational and monstrous, it cannot be explained alone by the madness and perversity - in other respects quite real - of the leading Nazis. As the pamphlet published by the PCI, "Auschwitz or the great alibi" , very correctly underlines, the extermination of the Jews "... took place not at any moment, but in open crisis and imperialist war. It is thus inside this gigantic enterprise of destruction that one must explain it. The problem is found from this clear fact: we no longer have to explain the 'destructive nihilism' of the Nazis, but why the destruction is concentrated in part on the Jews".
In order to explain why the Jewish population, even if it was not alone, was designated first of all for general prosecution, then exterminated en masse by Nazism, it is necessary to take two factors into account: the needs of the German war effort and the role played in this sinister period by the petty-bourgeoisie. The latter was reduced to ruin by the violence of the economic crisis in Germany and sunk massively into a situation of lumpen-proletarianisation. From here, desperate and in the absence of a proletariat which could provide an antidote, free range was given to the most reactionary prejudices characteristic of this class without a future, and, encouraged by the fascist formations, threw itself, like a furious beast, into racism and anti-semitism. The 'Jew' was supposed to represent par excellence the 'stateless person' who 'sucked the blood of the people'; he was designated as responsible for the misery to which the petty-bourgeoisie had been reduced. This is why the first shock troops used by the Nazis came out of the ranks of a petty-bourgeoisie which was about to go under. And this designation of the 'Jew' as the enemy par excellence also had the function of allowing the German state, thanks to the confiscation of Jewish goods, to scrape together funds to contribute to its military rearmament. At the beginning, it had to do it discretely in order not to draw the attention of the victors of the First World War. The deportation camps, initially, had the function of furnishing the bourgeoisie with free labour, entirely dedicated to war preparation.
It is in the name of Nazi barbarity that the democratic Allied forces try to justify their part in a war marked out for its massive butchery and other crimes. Far from avoiding a future of new holocausts, the defence of democratic values by the ruling class can only help perpetuate a capitalist system the survival of which will mean the further accumulation of massacres and genocide.
RI, February 2003.