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1991: Ernest Mandel - The origins of National Socialism. Singularity and repeatability of the Nazi crimes.

23 October 2020
Surviving prisoners of Sonnenburg penitentiary speak with Red Army soldiers

The original German title of this essay translates to ‘On the historians’s dispute. Origin, essence, uniqueness and repeatability of the Third Reich’. It was written as an appendix to the German edition of Mandel’s The Meaning of the Second World War (London, 1986): Der Zweite Weltkrieg (Frankfurt a.M., 1991). The historians’ dispute or Historikerstreit was a dispute over the place of the Holocaust in German history and the origins of National Socialism. One of the triggers of the dispute was the argument by right-wing historian Ernst Nolte that National Socialism was a ‘response’ to Bolshevism.

The origins of National Socialism. Singularity and repeatability of the Nazi crimes.i

The so-called ‘historians’ dispute’ or Historikerstreit has arisen primarily over the question of the uniqueness of the Nazi crimes against the European Jews, the systematic, carefully planned and in the shortest possible time industrially executed murder of six million men, women and children. The victims were selected and murdered for a single reason: their alleged descent, determined by the authorities according to arbitrary criteria. There can be no doubt that this crime is indeed unique, the culmination of the long history of inhumanity committed by people against their fellow human beings.ii

The unsuccessful attempt by Professor Ernst Nolte, a historian hitherto respected as an interpreter of National Socialism, to relativize this uniqueness has nothing to do with science.iii It cannot stand up to a minimum of critical research and evaluation of sources. It is an ideological-political project to at least partially absolve the German power structures before and during the Third Reich from these terrible crimes, or when their complicity cannot be completely denied, to plead mitigating circumstances.

An alternative ‘historical sequence’ is constructed, paradoxically blaming the first victims of the Nazi dictatorship, namely the Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, trade unionists, radical pacifists and, in general, the left-wing ‘do-gooders’, for if not ‘complicity’ then at least ‘objective co-responsibility’ for the Nazi dictatorship. This arbitrary construction of history has nothing to do with science. It is almost a textbook example of a specific scientific blindness, a blindness determined by pure class and status prejudice.

One does need not dwell long on Prof. Nolte’s startling remark that the chairman of the World Jewish Congress, Chaim Weizman, declared war on Germany in 1938 and that this gave the Third Reich ‘a certain justification’ to treat German Jews as prisoners of war and hence to intern them—but ‘according to the rules of the Hague Land Warfare Convention’, i.e. not to murder them. First of all, it must be noted that under the Hague Land Warfare Convention, only members of the armed forces are considered prisoners of war, not unarmed civilians. The German Jews, however, were just such unarmed civilians, not members of any armed forces. Secondly, the Hague Land Warfare Convention does indeed authorize internment, but not for the deportation of prisoners of war to regions abroad, and this is what the persecution of Jews was about. Thirdly, the Jewish Agency was not a state under international law, nor did it have the power under international law to ‘declare war’. Fourthly, neither the German Jews nor any other group of European Jews were under international law ‘citizens’ of this non-existent Jewish state. The overwhelming majority of them were ordinary citizens of states recognized under international law (a small minority of them were stateless and possessed so-called Nansen passports). Fifthly, the overwhelming majority of Jews murdered in the death-camps and by the Sonderkommandos [mobile killing squads] were residents and citizens of states occupied by the German Wehrmacht. In this case, the Hague Land Warfare Convention specifically states that such residents and civilians must be treated in accordance with the laws in force in those states prior to occupation. The occupying power does not have the right to change the existing legal system; citizens, including Jews, must be guaranteed freedom of religion and the normal rights of freedom of worship and personal property. All measures of persecution of the Jews outside the German Reich, and most of them within the German Reich, therefore constitute a flagrant breach of international law and of the Hague Land Warfare Convention. Cooperation in such measures, which was carried out, inter alia, by officials of the Foreign Office and members of the German Diplomatic Corps, was an act of blatant breach of law, an open violation of international treaties and agreements that had been ratified by Germany.

In April 1986 an embarrassed Prof. Nolte tried to distance himself from his own thesis by inserting a footnote after ‘prisoners of war’: ‘Or more precisely as civilian internees’. But the Hague Land Warfare Convention makes no mention of internment, let alone deportation, of citizens of a foreign power from the occupied states they inhabit, and 95 per cent of the Jews murdered by the Nazis belong to this very category! The Hague Land Warfare Convention, on the other hand, declares in its Article 46: ‘The occupier is obliged to respect the person of the inhabitants of the occupied territory, their honour and family rights, their religious beliefs and customs, without regard to race, religion or political opinion’.

The absurd conclusions of Nolte’s argumentation can be seen if it is applied to other population groups in Europe. Which neo-conservative historian would accept the following sentences: ‘Since Germany was at war with France, Holland, Belgium, Greece, etc., Hitler had “a certain right’’ to treat all French, Dutch, Belgian, Greek, etc., in all occupied territories as prisoners of war, to intern or deport men, women and children’. Or: ‘Since Hitler had declared war on the Soviet Union, the Soviet authorities had “a certain right’’ to intern and deport Germans from throughout Europe, including civilians, women and children, as prisoners of war to Siberia? Why would not also apply to Germans what for Jews is easily accepted?

The Noltian claim that ‘fear of the Bolshevik rat-cage’iv somehow at least partly motivated Nazi violence, that the mass murder of the Kulaks and the ‘red terror’ preceded the murder of the European Jews, should be examined in more detail. Joachim Fest adds that the ‘Gulag Archipelago’ is ‘the logical and factual precedent of Auschwitz. Nolte goes further: Lenin, Zinoviev and others proclaimed and practised the ‘extermination of the ruling classes’ in Russia before Hitler proclaimed and practised the necessity of exterminating the European Jews.v This construction has no scientifically verifiable basis.

Hitler’s racial and biological anti-Semitism dates back to his Viennese period, long before ‘Bolshevik tyranny’ in Russia. There is not a single instance in Hitler’s early writings, up to Mein Kampf, of referring to this ‘rat-cage’. The same applies to the writings of his companions from the period 1919-1923. It has been proven that in those years, in contact with similar völkische, Pan-German trains of thought, the project of the extermination of the Jews emerged among Hitler and his This is therefore by no means the product of any ‘trauma’ caused by the Russian Revolution. On the contrary, it is a direct product of Russian counter-revolutionary efforts, which date from a time when there was neither Russian Bolshevism nor Russian Social Democracy.

This is because this project is a direct result of the reception by Hitler and his peers of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the falsified text produced by the tsarist secret police and widely distributed in Austria and Germany.vii This text forms the basis of the myth of the ‘Jewish world conspiracy’, a myth which Hitler in turn used in his plan for the physical extermination of the Jews. But in none of the writings of Hitler and his companions that refer to the supposed ‘Jewish world conspiracy’, up to and including Mein Kampf, is there any reference to a ‘fear of Bolshevism’.

This is no coincidence. For in the classically schizophrenic manner of all radical anti-Semites (who at the same time claim that the Jews are an ‘inferior, incompetent’ race, and that these ‘sub-humans’ pose a terrifying threat to the superior ‘master-race’), Hitler by no means assumed that ‘Jewish Bolshevism’ had developed Russia into a militarily force capable of endangering Germany or the German ruling class. On the contrary: he despised the Jews for their alleged weakness. He was convinced that they had turned Russia into a ‘colossus on feet of clay’ that would after the slightest blow fall into Germany’s lap like a ripe fruit. This attitude changed only after the defeat at Stalingrad, when the orders for the mass murder of the European Jews had long been given. The assertion that an opponent that Hitler and the Nazis considered to be so weak still frightened them so intensely that they were driven to the ‘preventive murder’ of millions of women and children reveals itself as pure apologetics.

It is true that for his propaganda Hitler instrumentalized the actual fear of Bolsheviks and Socialists felt by significant parts of the German upper and lower bourgeoisie during and after the November Revolution. But this by no means corresponded to an inner conviction or even personal fear among Hitler and his cronies. It was pure demagogy, aimed at gaining power, just as in the case of his pseudo-socialist demagogy. The systematic destruction of the KPD, the other communist and socialist groups, Social Democracy, and all those who the Nazis considered to be ‘Marxists’, i.e. the entire organized labour movement, was so successful that at the time of the proclamation of the Nuremberg Laws, of the Kristallnacht and the beginning of the persecution of the Jews in occupied Poland, there was no objective basis for a ‘fear of Bolshevism’. The weakening in 1937 of the Red Army as a result of Stalin’s mass purges of the Soviet officer corps only confirmed German big business, the German generals and the Nazi leadership in their contempt for the power of the Soviet Union. There is literally nothing left of any ‘mortal death’ as the result of any ‘rat-cage’, i.e. of the thesis that the Gulag archipelago was the ‘precondition for Auschwitz’.

Finally, it remains to be clarified whether the alleged orders for the physical extermination of all members of the Russian ruling classes, supposedly substantiated by two quotations from Zinoviev and Lenin (Joachim Fest adds an alleged quotation from Martin Latsis), are authentic. We would like to express the most serious doubts in this respect and point out the slipshod method of a historian who, in such a serious matter, relies exclusively on secondary sources (one might almost say tertiary sources), sources from counter-revolutionary Russian circles, who have been revealed as notorious forgers. There is no reason whatsoever to give the slightest credence to these professional liars and frauds who, among other things, spread the fairy tale that Bolsheviks made soup from the severed fingers of children. Unless Nolte and Co. provide serious evidence of the alleged fear of the ‘rat-cage’ and prove its influence on the Nazi plans for the murder of the Jews in the 1920s and 1930s, we are dealing with only a new myth. Or more sharply formulated: with a new attempt at demagogy, similar to the myth of a ‘Jewish world conspiracy’.

This conclusion is all the more pertinent as Prof. Nolte quotes a passage from a Vorwärts editorial that sees a ‘criminal novelty’ in the Bolsheviks’ alleged practice of holding an entire social class liable for acts of individuals. It is one thing for an uninformed and superficially written editorial to claim such nonsense. But for a renowned scientist to uncritically parrot such falsehoods, without any elementary investigation of his sources, is shameful. Must we remind Prof. Nolte of the execution of countless slaves simply because they were slaves, executed as members of a class held responsible for the crimes of individuals? Must we remind him of Martin Luther’s infamous statement; ‘Therefore, whosoever can, should smite, strangle, and stab, secretly or publicly [the rebelling peasants] and should remember that there is nothing more poisonous, pernicious, and devilish than a rebellious man’. This statement condemns the entire rebelling peasant-class to slaughter – without any investigation of personal guilt. And need we remind him above all of the terrible slaughter that Versailles carried out after the defeat of the Paris Commune—a slaughter in which more than 20,000 unarmed prisoners were shot, including all those with calloused hands, all those who looked intelligent, all those with white hair (General Gallifet: ‘You saw June 1848. You are even more guilty than the others’).viii And then one dares to speak of a ‘novelty’ when the Bolsheviks allegedly blamed a class for the actions of individuals!


Nolte combines the actual fear of socialism felt by the German (and international) bourgeoisie with what he alleges to be Hitler’s motivation for tyranny and for the obsession with the extermination of the Jews in particular. This leads to a far broader complex of problems than that of the allegedly partly ‘preventive’ character of Nazi mass terror. This is the complex of problems associated with National Socialism, more generally: with fascism and other extreme terrorist dictatorships as the final forms of contemporary counter-revolution. These forms are in continuity with the counter-revolution of the last two centuries, both in the field of ‘practical politics’, of state and para-state practices, and in the field of ideology. This problem cannot be dismissed by labelling it ‘Marxist jargon’; after all, Prof. Nolte and some of his fellow-travellers themselves explicitly raised the issue.ix Here again we have an impressive example of the myopia and class-prejudice of the conservative historian.

The thesis put forward by conservative historians that the ‘disproportionate’ number of Jews involved in the Russian October Revolution and in the German November Revolution, as well the ‘excessive number of Jews’ who played a leading role in the Weimar Republic,x would at least partly explain the growing anti-Semitism of conservatives and the ‘national camp’, as well as that of the Nazis, is based on a classical sophism. It can be shown that a ‘disproportionate number’ of Russians and Prussians, industrial workers, sailors, Orthodox and Protestant people, and even cyclists were active in both revolutions. We have not heard however conservative-nationalist groups advocate for the systematic, physical extermination of these different strata because of their alleged ‘disproportionate participation’ in the revolution. The argument of ‘disproportionate participation’ in reality stands in for ‘triggering’, ‘causing’, i.e. for the ‘Jewish world conspiracy’, which precedes both logically and chronologically the actual outbreak of the revolution. Since this thesis of the ‘triggering’ of the revolution by the Jews is just as meaningless as that of its ‘triggering’ by cyclists, no further discussion is needed here. But with it the apologetic thesis also collapses.

Prof. Nolte is guilty of an even cruder, but semantically camouflaged sophism when he indiscriminately identifies the threat of extermination of the Jews with the threat of extermination of the ruling classes expressed by revolutionary thinkers of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. In the first case it is physical extermination, i.e. the open threat of mass murder. In the second case, it is ‘annihilation’ in the sense of ‘abolition’ of those ‘classes as classes’, and not at all physical annihilation. In the rather astonishing list of radical thinkers and politicians he enumeratesxi - he could easily extend it to a number of early Christian church fathers! - there is not a single example of a text which postulates the physical extermination of the representatives of the ruling classes, let alone of their wives and children. It is unworthy of a scientist to cover up this ‘small’ difference with the Nazi murderers by means of a cheap verbal trick.

This faulty construction even has a direct impact on Nolte himself. He is a staunch supporter of individual freedom, and of the so-called ‘liberal revolution’.xii He is therefore an opponent of slavery and forced labour, which were based on the lack of personal freedom of millions of people. But in doing so, he himself ipso facto becomes a supporter of the ‘abolition of slave owners and the classical feudal nobility as classes’. For it is impossible to abolish slavery and forced labour without at the same time annihilating slave-owners and feudal nobility as classes.

The problem can be formulated in more general terms. Slave-owners and feudal nobility cannot seek the ‘annihilation’ of slaves and peasants as classes, since their own existence, their position of social power, their wealth are dependent on the very existence and exploitation of these ‘polar’ classes, just as those of the modern bourgeoisie are determined by the modern proletariat. But this has in no way prevented the ruling classes from murdering literally millions of members of the subordinated social classes, often in horrible ways that were even more cruel than those of the Nazis.xiii Several times in history, such mass atrocities in fact indiscriminately targeted collective groups of people: Roman prisoners of war (gladiators); early Christians; Christian sects condemned as heretics; ‘wise women’ devoted to birth control and birth control; hunter-gatherer peoples in areas coveted by white settlers; enemies of Islam; enslaved African tribes defeated in war and, etc. For if slaveholders or feudal nobles need slaves and peasants, they at the same time need obedient, humble, and constantly humiliated slaves and peasants who are willing to put up with their misery. To ensure this ‘order’, no cruelty, no mass murder goes too far.xiv

On the other hand, it is impossible for slaves and peasants to abolish their own lack of freedom, to anticipate ideologically (theoretically) their emancipation and to realize it practically, without the abolition and annihilation of the slave owners and the feudal nobility as classes. But far from implying mass murder, or leading to atrocities which are even remotely comparable in scale to those committed by the rulers against the ruled, there is no compulsion or logic to such acts. If one studies the history of real revolutions, one will be able to see again and again how magnanimous the popular masses are, how small the number of acts of revenge for injustice and violence experienced in the past was. In 99 out of 100 cases, acts of violence committed by those who liberate themselves were in response to acts of violence committed by the counter-revolution.

Whoever, therefore, denounces the allegedly inhumane, or life and freedom threatening consequences of radical attempts at emancipation, first and foremost of revolutions, while at the same time casting a veil over the many times more violent acts of preceding class rule, or throws both together other under the cliche pretext that ‘man is evil’, is at best an unconscious apologist for slavery and bondage, and at worst a miserable hypocrite.

Here we arrive at the historical sequence (the ‘historical precedent’). Prof. Nolte presents this sequence as follows:

1917 (1789) → fear of revolutionary violence among the bourgeoisie and Hitler → Nazi conception of violence and despotism

This is, however, a total reversal of the actual historical sequence:

Consecutive forms of class rule → (slavery, feudalism, emerging bourgeois society) → systematic use of intimidation and violence against the exploited and subordinated classes → fear of the oppressed for the rulers and their henchmen → emerging self-awareness of the exploited and embryonic emancipatory ideology, and from late-feudalism on, of emancipatory theory → increasing fear of this process among the ruling classes, stimulated by feelings of guiltxv → increasing use of counter-revolutionary terror and violence by the ruling classes →
Social revolutions since the 16th century, with marginal use of violence by the revolutionary classes; civil war intensified by foreign counter-revolutionary wars of aggression and intervention, which in turn intensify the revolutionary violence. →White Terror, fascism, Nazism.

One cannot, for example, detach the terror of the French Revolution from the war of aggression of the European monarchies against that Revolution. What can we say about the moral sense or the ‘scientific ethics’ of historians who deplore the ‘cruelty of the Parisian mob’ after the storming of the Bastille, and the killing of members of the ruling classes, but who do not link this to the murder of hundreds (some say 600) Parisian citizens by the—later killed by the ‘mob’—commander of the Bastille that took place immediately before. This is, however, something that distinguishes a revolutionary situation from a ‘normal’ one: in a revolution, the popular masses no longer passively accept such cruelties or register only verbal protests; they actively resist, including with counter-violence.

How can one judge the political ‘objectivity’ of historians, who ask for the number of victims of the Terror (some thousands deserving of pity, apart from the actual violent criminals among them), but who do not say a word about the hundreds of thousands of soldiers whose lives were sacrificed during the dynastic wars, the wars of the European monarchies against the French Revolution inspired by blind class hatred, and the wars of conquest of the counter-revolutionary Napoleon Bonaparte? Were the latter perhaps ‘legitimate’, while the former were fundamentally ‘illegitimate’? What kind of class prejudice characterizes such a view of history? And how can a historian blame Stalin’s crimes on the Russian Revolution when Stalin, in analogy with Napoleon Bonaparte, embodies the political counter-revolution, the Thermidor? Today, practically no one, not even in the Soviet Union, denies that he will go down in history as the greatest murderer of Communists of the 20th century.

It is therefore chronologically simply not true that the völkisch, Pan-German and conservative ‘hatred of socialists’ (‘hatred of Marxism’) was somehow caused or decisively stimulated by a ‘fear of Bolshevism’. This hatred was triggered by the emerging and growing labour movement, by the intensifying proletarian class struggle, and can be traced back, especially in Germany, to the time of Bismarck’s Anti-Socialist Laws, if not earlier. This hatred is therefore in no way related to the Russian Revolution. It was primarily directed at international Social Democracy and as well against international anarchism, and it existed long before there was a Communist world-movement. It was fear of the growing power of the labour movement, fear of the growing danger of a social revolution, i.e. fear of the loss of class privileges and positions of power. It developed in spite of the long peaceful development in between the Paris Commune and the Russian Revolution of 1905. It was not ‘fear of Bolshevism’ and ‘Bolshevik hatred’ that stood at the cradle of Nazi ideology and practice, but hatred and fear of socialism, fear and hatred of progress, if not a fear of reason and hateful rejection of reason all together. In this context, fascism and National Socialism appear as the terminus of a long extremely conservative, counter-revolutionary tradition, development and practice.xvi

Values and nihilism

These considerations are not marginal to the ‘historians’ dispute’ controversy, nor are they distractions from the real issue of the causes of Nazi tyranny that culminated in the genocide of the European Jews. An investigation into the causes of this violence cannot in any way ignore the ideological, mass and individual psychological factors among the chain of causes. It misses its goal if it excludes, or relegates to a general background, the defence of material interests and social power by the ruling classes and its most important factions.

The Nazi seizure of power is inexplicable if one cannot admit that it was the result of a series of deliberate decisions taken by the dominant parts of German big capital. When one looks at the mass of evidence available in this regard, one cannot help but notice the class-related interlocking of a number of psychological motivations and of certain mentalities (mental structures, ideological structures) with the defence of material interests and institutional positions of power.xvii One of the clearest weaknesses of the Nolte-Hildebrand-Fest argument lies precisely in ignoring this fact.

Individual fear (of murder, for example) must be distinguished from ‘existential class fear’, i.e. the feared demise of the social class to which one belongs. And ‘existential class fear’, in turn, must be distinguished from the feeling and conviction that certain socio-political or ‘purely political’ conditions must be changed in order to effectively defend one’s own class interests. And it was not the former forms of fear, but the latter, that motivated Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor. This was the dominant motive for the appointment of Hitler as Reich Chancellor among the board members of the German and the Dresdner Bank, among the industrial leaders of IG Farben, in the gentlemen’s clubs, among the agrarians involved in the Eastern Aid scandal,xviii not to say among Hindenburg, Papen, Hugenberg, Thyssen and the generals. Nolte and his companions cannot provide a shred of empirical proof for the opposite thesis.

There was no ‘revolutionary upsurge’ in Germany that in the short term threatened the class rule of capital, let alone one that put the establishment of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ on the agenda. Such an upsurge only existed in the rhetoric of the official KPD-Comintern propaganda that no sober observer, either in the camp of the bourgeoisie or that of the working class, believed. The reality was one of an ebb of proletarian class activity, of a defensive attitude of a working class that however still had an impressive potential for self-defence. Reality was marked by the growing threat that the economic crisis posed to the general conditions of capital accumulation and the limited possibilities of further increasing the rate of surplus value, the rate of exploitation of human labour. This limitation was the result of the remaining elements of parliamentary democracy. Radically increasing this rate of exploitation was the main social objective of big capital. To achieve this, parliamentary democracy had to be completely dismantled and the whole of the organized labour movement, including its moderate components—not just ‘Bolshevism’—had to be destroyed. This would force workers to a ‘sale’ of the commodity ‘labour-power’ on terms dictated by the state (or rather, enable the bourgeois state to dictate the price). This is the economic/sociopolitical logic underlying Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor.xix

A more precise determination of the class-related causes and the class nature of the Third Reich is in a double sense important for an analysis of the conditions which made the genocide of European Jews possible: on the one hand, it is important not to leave the technical-administrative preconditions for mass murder in the background. Fanatical racial hatred and anti-Semitism are by no means sufficient to make industrially organized mass murder possible.xx The mass murder required an efficiently functioning administration, planned use of the railway network, and cooperation by the chemical and construction industry who provided the actual murderers with the instruments of killing. No serious researcher today can claim that these accomplices did not know what their help was being requested for. If we consider the almost fanatical efforts made by entrepreneurs to protect their companies from intervention by the SS and their ilk, and if we compare those with the practically unlimited willingness to cooperate in the construction of the death-camps and the deportation of Jews, this complicity of the ruling class in the murder of European Jews becomes particularly evident.xxi On the other hand, it is necessary to examine the prevailing mental structures and mentalities that allowed about one million German citizens—citizens of a nation with a great cultural tradition—to indirectly participate in such mass murder. The thesis that these accomplices were inspired by some kind of ‘moral nihilism’ is historically and empirically untenable.

Such nihilism can at best be assumed for the actual SS murderers, and then only in a limited way. Such ‘moral nihilism’ is not to be found among the civil servants, the Reichsbahn administration of the railways, the diplomats of the Foreign Office, the engineers, the industrialists etc., who acted as accomplices to the deportation and murder of the Jews... We repeat: without their help these horrors could not have been realized. Rather than ‘nihilists’, these were people committed to the ‘elementary moral values’ of the ruling class, and in particular those of traditional leading strata. They firmly believed in concepts such as ‘honour’, ‘loyalty’, ‘love of the fatherland’, ‘sense of duty’, ‘willingness to make sacrifices’. It is not a contradiction, but rather a function of such a mentality that such people became accomplices to Nazi crimes. Unrestricted faith in the state and readiness to obey it unconditionally, unrestricted conformism and radical nationalism: these are the mentalities that turned this mass of cultured and semi-cultured subjects into accomplices in the atrocious crimes of the Nazi regime.xxii

This is unfortunately no exception; there is a tendency to reproduce Nazi-like conditions. Recently, US Secretary of State Roy Stacy declared in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, that the counter-revolutionary ‘Renamo’ movement, founded by the former racist regime of Rhodesia and supported by South Africa, ‘has started one of the worst Holocausts since World War II’. The New York Times of 23 April 1988 wrote:

100,000 people have been massacred in Mozambique—mainly by Renamo, a rebel group waging a bush war against Mozambique’s left-wing regime. Civilians have been shot, knifed, axed, bayoneted, burnt, starved, beaten, drowned and throttled. Nearly a million have fled into exile. [...] Survivors are herded into “control’’ areas, where men are enslaved and women raped. Ears, lips, noses and limbs are sliced to teach obedience [...] Incredibly, the rebels of Renamo are depicted as “freedom fighters’’ by Senator Jesse Helms and a vociferous lobby that now includes Senator Bob Dole and Representative Jack Kemp.

Another piece of the mosaic: On 3 May 1988, Le Pen declared on Radio Monte Carlo that the Kanak rebels must be ‘wiped out’ if they do not surrender (Le Monde, May 5, 1988).

Is such behaviour only a final result of the rejection of ‘higher values’ (religion!), i.e. of the excessive expansion of ‘pure reason’, the ‘secularization’ of a ‘disenchanted world’, in a word: of the Enlightenment, as not only reactionary ideologues, but also certain former Marxists and, unfortunately, some radical feminists claim? Or is it, on the contrary, a fundamentally irrational rebellion against a growing rationality that accompanies the development of bourgeois society?

Neither of these attempts at explanation correspond to the real development of the mentality that led to the Third Reich and enabled its radicalization, culminating in mass murder.

In order to understand this mental development, we must start from a critique of Weber’s thesis of the continuing rationalization of bourgeois society. Bourgeois society is characterized precisely by the combination of increasing partial rationality and increasing total irrationality. In the final instance, this due to the contradiction between objective socialization of work and private appropriation. In other words, it is due to the very essence of the capitalist market economy, of commodity-production, private property and competition. Only in light of this combination can phenomena such as fascism, nationalism, world war, the tolerating of prolonged economic crises with their accompanying mass destruction of human and material productive forces be understood.

It is precisely this combination that underwent a tremendous development in the Third Reich, in both its aspects: a tremendously increased partial rationality in many areas and an absurdly increased total irrationality in others, including the murder of European Jews. In these particular areas, including the final phase of the Second World War culminating in Hitler’s order for a ‘scorched earth’ policy to destroy German industry and infrastructure, one finds the combination of partial rationality and total irrationality in almost ‘chemically pure’ form.xxiii

It is certainly true that frustrations caused and nourished by the increasing partial rationality and the many contradictions in bourgeois society cannot be processed only rationally. They also lead to the inevitable rediscovery and renewed emphasis on emotionally and instinctual determined human actions. Following the so-called ‘Conservative Revolutionary’ ideologues, the Nazis tried to instrumentalize this mental trend for their own purposes and for those of German imperialism. But not every emphasis on feelings and drives is necessarily proto-fascist, misanthropic and destructive. The struggle for sexual freedom; the emphasis on emotional sympathy and solidarity with all victims of exploitation and oppression; a pacifism nourished by elementary instincts of self-preservation: all these are not purely rational impulses, but, in contrast to those of reactionaries, they are life-affirming, not life-destroying, they do not glorify death but are rather are humanist and altruistic, anti-fascist and not proto-fascist – indeed, they at least tend towards being anti-capitalist and not pro-imperialist.

So it is not the fatal emergence of emotional moments in politics that fed fascism. It is specific feelings and drives, and the myths reflecting them, that led to this result. Their hegemony is by no means historical certain. Their victory is by no means inevitable.

Here the political purpose of the conservative revision of history, which is the object of the historians dispute, becomes clearer. It is not—as Franz-Josef Straussxxiv put it—that no nation can in the long run live with a ‘criminalized history’. It is the behaviour of the ruling class and its henchmen that is ‘criminalized’ by the unmasking of Nazi crimes, not ‘the history of the German people’. One could just as well claim that the Soviet people—the different peoples of the USSR—could not live with a ‘criminalized history’, and therefore Stalin’s crimes should be played down. Fortunately, the development of Soviet historiography and the emerging public opinion in the USSR is going in the opposite direction. The rediscovery of the historical truth about Stalin’s crimes, and their rigorous exposure, the publication of all relevant texts, on the contrary raise the self-confidence of people, including their national pride.

The real goal of conservative historical revision is the rediscovery, strengthening and rehabilitating of those mentalities and intellectual structures that made the Third Reich possible. Because the results of historical research on National Socialism stand in the way of such a rehabilitation, it is necessary to play them down—without any new empirical material, but in the form of a purely ideological reinterpretation. To speak with Rolf-Dieter Müller: The renaissance of a national-conservative view of history is intended to cover a new emphasis on ‘eternal values’ such as ‘a sense of duty, willingness to make sacrifices, meekness, conformism’. And here the concrete connections between such ‘values’ and the ideologies of the Third Reich, including Hitler’s self-justification, are of course rather unpleasant for the neo-conservatives. Hence the necessary revision.xxv

A document that is shocking exactly in its banality, mendacity, delusion and stupidity, is Adolf Hitler’s response to French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier’s warning of the unimaginable consequences of unleashing a new war. On 27 August 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, the Führer and Chancellor of the German Reich—not yet the ‘greatest general of all time’—wrote the ominous words: ‘… But I beg of you, do understand this equally well; it is not possible for a nation of honour to give up nearly two millions of human beings and to see them ill-treated on its frontiers. I have therefore formulated a precise demand; Danzig and the Corridor must return to Germany... But I should despair of an honourable future for my people if, under such circumstances, we had not decided to settle the question in one way or another’.xxvi

Only in last September, the same Hitler had solemnly declared that the Sudeten question was ‘his last territorial claim’ in Europe: at that time there was no mention of Gdansk or of the Corridor. Nevertheless, on the eve of the Second World War Hitler in intimate circles already declared that it was not about Gdansk at all!

Here the traditional values of the ruling class (‘honour’, ‘patriotism’, ‘defence of the fatherland’, ‘martial strength’, ‘duty’, ‘nationalism’, ‘sacrifice’ etc.) were followed to their final inhuman consequences: first of all mass destruction of other peoples; then mass destruction of one’s own people; finally self-destruction. Was this so difficult to foresee in 1939, or in the years 1930-1933, if not earlier? Did not the most intelligent contemporaries—Leon Trotsky, Fritz Sternberg, Paul Levi, August Talheimer, Kurt Tucholsky, Paul Frölichxxvii —indeed foresee this? If the ruling class of Germany, its large industrialists, bankers, the generals, the heads of the executive, the major East Elbian agrarians, individuals such as Hindenburg, Schacht, Papen, Hugenberg, Thyssen, Kirdorf, could have imagined a picture of Germany in the spring of 1945, an image that Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 and the unfolding of the Second World War inevitably led to, would this unimaginable, avoidable misery have occurred?

The fate of humanity is in human hands. Exactly as Marxists and advocates of historical materialism, we are convinced that people make their own history. In order to prevent it from leading to the total self-destruction that undoubtedly threatens us in the age of weapons of mass destruction, an endangered biosphere and mass hunger in the Third World, each individual can still opt for a rational steering of the historical process towards safety rather than towards humanity’s suicide. However, for those entrapped in class prejudice, social arrogance and philistine narrow-mindedness, this requires great intellectual and moral effort. But those who are not capable of doing so must not blame others for their own or their peers’ crimes.

The path of life is not that of the ‘eternal values’ of the ruling class; these lead directly to death. It is that of growing conscious control over human destiny and over history, of more and not less rationality, combined with unrelenting struggle for radical emancipation, that is, with an ongoing struggle against all inhuman and degrading conditions. It is the path of disobedience, revolt, rebellion—a rebellion that correctly, scientifically recognized the preconditions for emancipation. This is the road of socialist revolution.

Decisive role of World War I

The ‘Prius’xxviii built by Prof. Nolte—1917 comes before 1933, 1941-42—is not only for the reasons given above baseless. It is above all baseless because it excludes an obvious Prius: 1914! Our neoconservatives (and perhaps liberals too?) are uncomfortable with this, because none of them can blame ‘Bolsheviks’, ‘Marxists’, or ‘Socialists’ for the First World War. As everyone today knows, the First World War was purely a product of great power politics, of raison d’État, of the arms race, of imperialist competition. But without the First World War, Hitler and the Third Reich would have been unthinkable.

Hitler was an enthusiastic supporter and proponent of the war. Only this war gave concrete form and content to his confused völkisch and racial-biological notions. Not ‘fear of Bolshevik tyranny’ but worship of violence as a means of enforcing the ‘law of the strongest’, based on Social Darwinism, was the foundation of his violent authoritarianism. Enthusiastic advocacy of war played a decisive role in this. Advocacy and affirmation of war in general and of the First World War in particular; indignation at the ‘unjustly’ lost war, allegedly caused by a ‘stab in the back’ (later the defeat at Stalingrad is also labelled an ‘unjust fate’; but this time without a ‘stab in the back’, except for that of his own generals instead of ‘Jews and Marxists’); rebellion against the ‘disgrace of Versailles’; elimination of the ‘November criminals’ who accepted this ‘disgrace’; preparation for the conquest of Eastern ‘living space’: these are, as is well known, the steps in the formation of Hitler’s political doctrine, the steps in his formation as a politician, gathering of his initial mass base, and building an alliance with significant factions of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie already before the collapse of the Weimar Republic. It is only in this general context that the trend towards the hypostasis of violence, as expressed by the Third Reich, the Second World War and Auschwitz can be recognized and explained. It did not come as a bolt of lightning from a blue sky. It was the final result of a fundamental departure from those civilising tendencies in modern history that had reached new heights in the liberal-capitalist era, but which were brutally interrupted by the unleashing of the First World War.

August 1, 1914 and the chauvinist enthusiasm that accompanied it, the acceptance of senseless mass killing and unbridled destruction form the major break in contemporary history. It was the first decisive step towards barbarism. Without it, Hitler had not existed.

It remains a historic merit of the consistent socialists and internationalists that they, early and without hesitation, warned their comrades, their class and the whole of humanity of these terrible dangers. Many of the best among them—Jean Jaurès, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Hugo Haase, Leon Trotsky, Antonio Gramsci—paid for it with their lives. In this context, we would like to quote just two of the countless quotations documenting this attitude:

‘...we must tremble at the thought of the catastrophe into which a European war today could drag the people. You have experienced the war in the Balkans—almost an entire army perished there, some on the battlefields, others in hospital beds, an army of 300,000 troops departed, it lost in the battlefields, in the roadside trenches or as typhus victims in hospital beds 100,000 out of 300,000 people. Think what a disaster this would mean for Europe: it would no longer be an army of 300,000 men, as in the Balkans, but four, five, six armies with two million people. What disaster, what carnage, what destruction, what barbarism!’. (Jean Jaurès)

‘The scene has changed fundamentally. The six weeks’ march to Paris has grown into a world drama. Mass slaughter has become the tiresome and monotonous business of the day and the end is no closer. Bourgeois statecraft is held fast in its own vise. The spirits summoned up can no longer be exorcised. [...] The cannon fodder loaded onto trains in August and September is moldering in the killing fields of Belgium, the Vosges, and Masurian Lakes where the profits are springing up like weeds. It’s a question of getting the harvest into the barn quickly. Across the ocean stretch thousands of greedy hands to snatch it up.
Business thrives in the ruins. Cities become piles of ruins; villages become cemeteries; countries, deserts; populations are beggared; churches, horse stalls. International law, treaties and alliances, the most sacred words and the highest authority have been torn in shreds. Every sovereign "by the grace of God" is called a rogue and lying scoundrel by his cousin on the other side. Every diplomat is a cunning rascal to his colleagues in the other party. Every government sees every other as dooming its own people and worthy only of universal contempt. There are food riots in Venice, in Lisbon, Moscow, Singapore. There is plague in Russia, and misery and despair everywhere.

Violated, dishonoured, wading in blood, dripping filth—there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretence to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law—but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form’. (Rosa Luxemburg)xxix

The historical tendencies at whose (interim) terminus are the Third Reich and Auschwitz are called ‘imperialism’ in economic and socio-political terms and ‘nationalism’ (chauvinism) in ideological and mass psychological terms. Following on from the Historikerstreit, Jürgen Habermas recalled the intellectual and psychological roots of nationalism in the 18th and 19th We would add to his remarks that this emerging nationalism coincided with the economic interests of the modern bourgeoisie in forming a unified national market (nation-state). It was also in the interest of the bourgeoisie to reduce class antagonisms, especially those between the peasantry and the urban petty bourgeoisie and the ‘fourth estate’ (the emerging proletariat) through the formation of a common ideology which partially negated such antagonisms, and build a common front against the nobility and the monarchy. There is evidence that the shrewdest representatives of the bourgeoisie consciously understood this.xxxi

Jürgen Habermas tries to limit the logic of violent nationalism by pointing to the constitutional legitimacy of state power in the Federal Republic of Germany—in contrast to force supposedly legitimized by ‘national interests’. But in doing so, he can in no way overcome the fundamentally inhuman dynamic of raison d’État. Max Weber already clearly stated that the state has a right (monopoly) to use force—‘as long as it is based on laws that can be changed’.xxxii

With his ‘ethic of responsibility’ Weber not only justified the World War but also the colonial wars. The Fourth French Republic was undoubtedly a ‘constitutional state’ with a democratic constitution in the Weberian-Habermasian sense. But, as they themselves admitted, that did not prevent its representatives from carrying out mass torture in Algeria. In a more limited sense, the same thing is repeated in the constitutional state of Spain with the use of force against Basque nationalists and in the constitutional state of Israel against the Palestinians. In the Weimar Republic, with its ‘most democratic constitution in the world’, not only proto-Fascists but also parts of the Reichswehr were able to commit mass executions of prisoners, including of women and nurses, with impunity; one need only think of the bloody violence of general Oskar von Watter during the suppression of the Ruhr uprising in 1920.

Experience shows that dogmatic of reason of state, even if it is constitutionally secured, paves the way for inhumanity as soon as a certain threshold of social and political tensions is crossed. Reason of state stood at the cradle of the Nazis—as it did at the cradle of Stalin.

The major lesson to be drawn from this mournful chapter in twentieth century history is that we must reject the universal validity of reasons of state as a criterion for practical action. Instead, it should be replaced by the critical judging of concrete actions. As a rule of thumb: all forms of torture, shooting of prisoners and other such atrocities are crimes against humanity, even if they are committed by representatives of constitutional ‘democratic’ governments; against them everyone has not only the right but the duty of resistance, rebellion, refusal to cooperate, of total disobedience.

It should be recalled – as Bernd Rüthers didxxxiii —that in the Third Reich as well most Nazi crimes were ‘legally’ justified and secured, with the open assistance of law professors and judges as well as high officials. Between formal law and the elementary precepts of humanity, absolute priority belongs to the latter. Those who, following Goethe, still believe that disorder is worse than injustice have not yet drawn the conclusions from Hitler, and are mentally prepared to accept, that the first acts of the great tragedy will be repeated, even if they recoil in horror from the last act.

Habermas thus fails to recognize the transformation of nationalism during the final decades of the 19th century from a universalist to an elitist ideology of domination. In principle, the former concedes to all peoples and nationalities the right to self-determination and self-rule; it thus implies a political project situated under the general concepts of democratization and emancipation. The latter however divides humanity into, on the one hand, Herrenvölker, with a ‘right’ to colonial and global empires, whose territory extends far beyond the areas in they are the majority, and, on the other hand, ‘sub-humans’, who are granted neither a right to statehood nor a right to self-determination. Thus, such a project excludes the extension of democratization and emancipation. On the contrary, it promotes violent, authoritarian forms of government, forms of government which tend to return from the colonial periphery to the colonial homeland. This transformation of nationalism was already unmistakable in the völkisch Pan-German tradition from which National Socialism emerged. With the Nazis themselves, it reached an extreme radicality.

Again, this is obviously the ideological transformation of an economic development. As is well known, one of the inspirers of the Nazi doctrine in this respect was the constitutional law expert Carl Schmitt. His conception of international law as banning intervention by powers only in a Grossraum (‘great space’) foreign to them is clearly apologetic and justified German imperialism’s claim to European hegemony. This claim was not mainly, and not even primarily, ‘purely’ territorial. Rather, the aim was to control resources, raw materials and reserves of additional labour, to own factories, banks and corporations, to enable complete domination over capital movements and investments, to determine favourable monetary, trade and customs policies in the German controlled Grossraum. It is imperialism without apologies, imperialism in its purest naked form.

This imperialism, in turn, is structurally linked to changing forms of industry and banking, the emergence of finance capital, the qualitative increase in the concentration and centralization of capital and the emergence of powerful corporate groups, the decline of price competition in favour of market domination, the growing instrumentalization of state power by big capital in its own interests, etc. etc. All such processes practically simultaneously were visible in different countries and on different continents. Everywhere they lead to similar political, ideological and legal justifications - albeit with many variations, from Naumann’s concept of Mittel-Europa to völkisch-Schmittian-Nazi extremism.

The imperialist desire for power and expansion, which underlies all such ideologies, is undeniable. In the broader historical framework of the development of ideology and mentality, the transformation of nationalism from universalist to elitist and hegemonic can be seen as another step in the development of the double standards which have dominated history up to now. Regardless of all the supposed universal ethical norms, in the sphere of broader social relations, especially in the case of relations between states, but also in class struggles, the practice corresponds to fundamentally different ‘moral rules’ (or rather: amoral or immoral rules) than those proclaimed for the private sphere. It follows such ‘principles’ as ‘necessity knows no law’; ‘my country, right or wrong’; ‘Manifest Destiny’ etc. Attempts to at least partially limit the extent of this double standard through constitutional provisions and international treaties have so far had little success. The attempts to justify great-power-claims under international show the extent to which this double standard has developed.

However, there is a historical tendency in history that runs counter to this ever-widening double morality and its acceptance of inhuman violence: that of the demand for a universal morality, valid for all human conditions, without distinguishing between ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’. Whereas in the past this demand was raised on a purely theoretical level by philosophers, founders of religion and prophets, outside the sphere of ideology only the smallest groups experienced actual initial steps towards its realization. But a breakpoint was the emergence of the modern proletariat and the modern labour movement. For the first time in history the rules of a universalist morality were extended to millions of people.xxxiv A conscious attempt was made to practise a universalist morality, beyond borders of state and nation.

This great attempt at a universalist overcoming of double standards has certainly been so far only partially successful. But it is not true that it has failed completely, that it has had no practical impact at all. Large proletarian masses, voluntarily and consciously, practised an internationalism that was a constant feature of the 20th century.xxxv It found expression in numerous examples in the 20th century - beginning with the prevention of a military intervention by Sweden against the separation of Norway in 1906, linked to the threat of a general strike by Swedish workers; the general strike by Italian workers who refused to transport arms during the Turkish-Italian war of 1912-1913; the prevention of a British military intervention against Soviet Russia in 1920 through the preparation of a general strike by British trade unions, the broad international solidarity with the struggle of workers and peasants during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-38 and the international solidarity movement with the Vietnamese people against the US intervention during 1965-1976.

However, the extent and relative success or failure of such attempts at practical internationalism depend on a number of different factors. They remain specific to certain situations; they were unable to prevent two terrible World Wars. As such, they do not yet represent the moment that determines contemporary mass behaviour. But they are a—sometimes latent (potential), other times realized - moment of this history. The physical survival of humanity in the age of weapons of mass destruction depends on whether this internationalism will be actually practised, whether it will prevail to the point where the use of mass violence, primarily war, will be made impossible by the suspension and prevention of the production of weapons. In our view, this is inseparably linked to the workers taking state power and controlling the main means of production.

These are not digressions from the subject of the ‘historians dispute’. For one of the—if I may say so, impertinent—theses put forward in this Historikerstreit is exactly the attempt to portray Hitler and his violent rule, if not fascism as a more general 20th century political phenomenon, as a product of socialism and of the modern labour movement, under the flimsy pretext that both were reactions against the ‘liberal revolution’ which prioritizes over everything the rights of the individual.xxxvi

In order to perform this historical somersault without breaking a leg, Prof. Nolte and his companions must, however, exclude the entire problem of nationalism/internationalism from their considerations. It is impossible to see Hitler in any other way than as a product and exponent of hegemonic nationalism and chauvinism. It is equally impossible to deny the causal connection between modern labour movement and the mass expanding of internationalism. Far from being in any sense a product of this labour movement, fascism and Hitlerism are the most radical reaction against them in the history of thought. This is openly and clearly expressed in Hitler’s struggle against Marxism as a propagandist of a ‘disintegrating’ internationalism.xxxvii

The rediscovery of nationalism as a ‘positive’ value corresponds to a certain international dimension of the neo-conservative turn: the greater autonomy of West German imperialism, which corresponds to changed economic power relations. This greater autonomy requires greater ideological self-confidence, i.e. a greater (self-)understanding of the ‘legitimacy’ of the history of its own imperialism.

But the limits of this greater autonomy are still determined by the need, as a result of the global balance of power, to act as part of an imperialist alliance. It is therefore a moderately ‘democratic’ nationalism which is spreading among the neo-conservatives; a nationalism acceptable to Reagan, Mrs Thatcher, Chirac, if not also Mitterrand, a NATO nationalism and not neo-Nazism. But ideologically, if not politically, the former pours water on the mills of the latter. It forms the fertile ground for the latter, making it again partially acceptable. And Habermas remains quite helpless in the face of this elementary tendency as long as he counterposes a ‘left-wing’ loyalty to NATO to a right-wing one: ‘The unreserved opening of the Federal Republic to the political culture of the West is the great intellectual achievement of the post-war period, of which my generation in particular could be proud [...] The only patriotism which does not alienate us from the West is a constitutional patriotism’.xxxviii

Historicization and apologism

Does any attempt to historically and sociologically explain fascism in general and the Nazi dictatorship particular necessarily have an apologetic aspect, tending to relativise the responsibility of Hitler, of the Nazis, the Third Reich in general and its rulers for all the crimes committed? This depends on what the content of this ‘historicization’ is.xxxix

Every historicization of the Third Reich that amounts to a historical determinism - whether it is based on reasons of a geopolitical,xl vulgar-Marxist (economistic) nature or a history of mentalities - certainly has at least in part an apologetic dimension. When classes and individuals find themselves in a situation in which they have practically no choice, they also cannot be criticized for making a bad choice (or at least not with great severity).

We strictly reject such a thoroughgoing historical fatalism; it does not correspond to the real conditions of the years 1930-1933, 1918-1923, 1914, and even further into the past. The same applies even more strongly to the years 1936-39 and the whole course of the Second World War. Classes, class factions, parties, party and state leaders actually and demonstrably could choose between different options, between variants of behaviour and decisions. How they chose at least had consequences for the further course of events. If this course of events leads to radically negative, destructive consequences from any point of view—whether that of their own class interests, of ‘national’ interests or of the interests of humanity as a whole—then there is no doubt that there is serious, decisive blame for these consequences.

The attempt to historicize Nazi rule, i.e. to explain it historically, leads to the radical rejection of any justification if the special responsibility of concrete social classes—of class factions, party leaderships and individuals - in the foundation and functioning of the Third Reich is convincingly explained. On the other hand, it is precisely the thesis that the Hitler regime was characterized by total irrationality, that the human mind is incapable of grasping and explaining the causes and extent of the Nazi crimes, that leads to conclusions which make the fight against fascism more difficult.

It is understandable that, given the scale of Nazi crimes, hatred of the Nazis should take the place of a scientific analysis of the causes and consequences of the Third Reich. But hatred makes blind. Blindness does not make it easier; it makes the fight against fascism more difficult. Rather, a maximum of intellectual weapons—including scientific knowledge—is required to make the ruthless fight against fascism as effective as possible. There is no contradiction at all between moral indignation and political commitment on the one hand, and strict scientific objectivity in research and the formulation of its results on the other. On the contrary: the more precisely fascism is scientifically analysed and comprehensively explained and recognized, the more effectively it can be fought. Precisely for this reason, science must not be subject to any ‘partisan’ preconditions, must not be hindered or restricted in its research by such preconditions. Only if it obeys exclusively scientific imperatives can it provide effective weapons in the fight against fascism.

This is all the more necessary because the womb that gave birth to this monster is indeed still fertile. One can read in Amnesty International’s annual reports about the expansion of torture in the world, or study the most important books on the practices of the military dictatorships in Argentina and Brazilxli, and realise that thirty years after the fall of the Third Reich, Argentine generals are in all seriousness claiming that behind the nationalist-populist guerrilla movement of the Montoneros there is not only an international communist conspiracy, but also an international Jewish conspiracy that aims to establish a new Jewish state in Patagonia.xlii We need to recognize how deep the roots of fascism go in the existing social order and realize the danger of its growth, if not a renewal of its struggle for power.

Here again we come up against the problem of the so-called singularity of National Socialist violence, of a more precise definition of this concept and its limitations. As we said, the systematic murder of six million European Jews simply because of their descent is without doubt unique in history.xliii But it cannot be detached from the nature of the Third Reich. In its essence and in its self-conception, this was a fundamentally authoritarian, terrorist, imperialist state which, using ideological justifications, institutionalized and elevated to state doctrine the systematic use of violence against its enemies—real, supposed or alleged—at home and abroad.xliv

This tendency, whose end product is the mass murder of European Jews, is by no means unique. Since the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century it has appeared in many imperialist states, although mostly only germinal form. Concrete events and publications attest to this. This can be traced back to early colonialism and the mass extermination of the indigenous peoples of the colonized territories, its ideological rationalizations and the whole system of the dehumanization of the victims.

Placing the Third Reich in this historical context, raises two questions: Why did the (preliminary) final result of the general historical tendency of imperialism (late capitalism) to leads towards barbarism in Germany and not elsewhere? And: can similar horrors be repeated elsewhere in the future? We can answer both questions correctly only if we start from an understanding of the dialectic of the general and the particular in the historical process.

The specificity of modern German history lies in the combination between the failure of a radical bourgeois (national-democratic) revolution as a result of the defeats of the German Peasants’ War and of the Revolution of 1848 as well as the above-average growth of German big industry and big banks after German unification in 1871. This combination led on the one hand to a belated but extremely dynamic penetration of German capital into the world market. German imperialism was pressing from the outset for a new division of the existing spheres of influence. On the other hand, it resulted in a specific structure of the bourgeois state, in which, compared to Great Britain, France and Italy, not to mention the USA, the specific weight of pre-capitalist strata and mentalities, specifically the East Elbian Junkers and the Prussian military caste (which played a decisive role in the foundation of the Reich)xlv was disproportionate.

This certainly does not mean that imperialist militarism can only be understood as the product of pre-bourgeois, semi-feudal militarism.xlvi It is a ‘pure’ product of imperialism itself. But in each state its specific features correspond in part to the specific structure of the local ruling class and especially the officers’ caste, its social origin, its particular mentality. The specific features of imperialism are therefore products of the concrete historical origin and the concrete historical development of a bourgeois, imperialist state.

This gave German big capital’s inevitable expansionary drive to redivide the world market an especially strong aggressive-military tendency, as was already evident in Wilhelmine Germany. The drive to conquer a larger sphere of influence on the world market tended increasingly towards a ‘grab’ for control of the world market, as Prof. Fritz Fischer convincingly put it.xlvii Of all people, Prof. Hiligruber, one of Prof. Nolte’s comrades-in-arms in the attempt to at least partially play down the Nazi crimes, has convincingly demonstrated this continuity between the global aspirations of Wilhelmine big capital and those of big capital in the Third Reich.xlviii

The central object, the material basis for this grab for control of the world market, was in both phases the European East, first and foremost Russia. This makes the renewed apologetic thesis, borrowed from Nazi propaganda, of the so-called preventive character of the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union historically untenable.xlix Empirically, this thesis is refuted by the fact that the order to prepare operation Barbarossal was given as early as July 1940, when it was impossible to speak of any kind of Red Army build-up on the western border of the USSR.

The subsequent build-up of Red Army forces on their Wester border was a necessary, defensive response as Hitler’s preparations for an invasion became known to the Soviet leadership (the military-strategic effectiveness of this response is another question!). This is confirmed by the military, diplomatic, commercial, ideological-propagandistic behaviour of the Soviet government and especially that of Stalin before and immediately after 22 June 1941. It is further confirmed by the fact that among the tens of thousands of documents seized by the German Wehrmacht during the first months of the war - when it penetrated deeply into Soviet territory—no proof of plans to attack Germany were found.

But the German attempt at seizing global power is by no means a concomitant phenomenon of imperialism or of late capitalism in the 20th century that is limited to German big capital. At least for British, Japanese and US imperialism similar attempts can be The specific form which this drive towards world domination takes for each of these leading imperialist powers is in addition determined by existing power relations and the historical characteristics of the ruling classes and class factions. But in general, this is a tendency of the imperialist age and its economic and technological infrastructure.lii In imperialism, we see how growing arms production creates an ‘additional’ market during phases of prolonged depression and how technology and industry is oriented towards a potential rapid military build-up.

For this reason, the observation of the uniqueness of Nazi crimes must not obscure a view of similar, though not identical, tendencies of other imperialist powers. Such an attitude has nothing to do with any concession to Nazism or neo-Nazism but is essential for a scientific and humanist approach to the history of the 20th century. It is not a question of somehow denying the particular responsibility of German imperialism for the Second World War. The attempts of Anglo-Saxon ‘revisionist’ historians, firstly Taylor and Hoggan and later Irving, to put this guilt into perspective are scientifically unsound and untenable.liii The Swiss historian Walter Hofer has thoroughly refuted them.liv

We need to stress that the particular mentalities that accompany, and to some extent underpin, the trend towards an authoritarian and violent state—mentalities that are a prerequisite for its efficient functioning - are largely determined or pre-conditioned by the needs and apparatuses of the ruling class (including, of course, its ideological apparatuses). This is the so despite the relative autonomy of political and ideological phenomena. This is clear when one compares the historical development of mentalities in the USA and even in Britain in recent years with that in the Weimar Republic.

There is no doubt that belief in authority, meekness, blind obedience, nationalist myopia and lack of moral courage prevailed among the German ruling classes, and among the middle classes they ideologically dominated. This, in turn, reflected the entire historical misery of the German bourgeoisie since the 16th century, even though an opposite, minority tendency also existed among German liberals and to some extent among Catholics. In Italy, where the popular attitude towards ‘state order’ was rather negative (after centuries of foreign rule) and where people were used to disobedience and scepticism towards the law, 85 per cent of the Jews survived. Eichmann expressed himself in typical terms when he complained that the Italians ‘lacked the minimum of honesty’(!) necessary to carry out his plans. Here, however, two concepts of ‘honesty’ collide: that of blind obedience of authority and state-power, and that of higher, human moral In the Anglo-Saxon countries (and particularly in France), as a result of the successful revolutions of 1643/1688, 1776 and 1789, the bourgeoisie and the middle classes were characterized by mentalities that put a greater emphasis on individual freedom, and were more distrustful of the state and the military. In addition to this tendency, however, there was also a minority tradition (partly of open counter-revolutionary origin), which—analogous to the Prussian tradition—was characterized by blind faith in the state and admiration of the military and war (just think of the political-ideological symptoms of British colonial die-hards regarding British rule in India, similar phenomena during the French Dreyfus affair; or the peculiar mentality spread in the United States by President Theodore Roosevelt regarding conquest of the Philippines, etc.)

One cannot fail to notice that, as a result of the recent neo-conservative ideological offensive in France, Great Britain, and especially the USA, a tendency to go against this historical tradition of the bourgeoisie is increasingly spreading both among the ruling class and the middle classes. This is by no means limited to isolated marginal groups of the so-called lunatic fringe. Examining the domestic political developments of Britain and the USA in detail shows a growing number of leading military men, politicians and big capitalists with similar tendencies to those of the Weimar Republic. Since the Watergate affair and Thatcher’s rise to power, at the latest, there has been a marked increase in a belief in authority, blind obedience, disdain, if not contempt, for democratic freedoms, and a growing willingness to sacrifice those on the altar of ‘state security’ and ‘necessity’.lvi

It can by no means be completely excluded that over the course of deepening structural crises of the late capitalist mode of production and increasing deterioration of the ‘normal’ accumulation of capital, there will be a qualitative change of the relationship of forces, to the disadvantage of the wage dependent class. Severe defeats of the labour movement and of the ‘new social movements’ could enable irrational, fanatical political adventurers to again seize power in major imperialist states.

Certainly, the outcome of the Watergate scandal and the Irangate affair show that these tendencies are not yet dominant in the West. Nor were they so in the Weimar Republic before 1923 or 1929. Their existence and expansion should give rise to deep concern before it is too late. Our thesis of the repeatability of extremely violent dictatorships in late capitalism, though possibly not in forms identical to those of fascism and National Socialism, is to be understood as a call to vigilance and resistance when there is still time and opportunity to do so. In this sense, it is a weapon for an effective struggle for democracy and human rights. An unhistorical approach to the appearance of the Third Reich, which makes its singularity absolute, makes it difficult to fight against renewed danger and against the continuing trend towards a relapse into barbarism.


i [Also see ‘The Uniqueness of Auschwitz: Hypotheses, problems and wrong turns in historical research’, in: Enzo Traverso, Critique of Modern Barbarism. Essays on Fascism, anti-Semitism and the use of History (Amsterdam, 2019). Translation and notes in brackets by Alex de Jong]

ii The most important contributions to the Historikerstreit, to which we refer here, are compiled in an anthology by Piper-Verlag (Munich/Zurich, 1987) under the same title. See also the anthology Dan Diner (ed) Ist der Nationalsozialismus Geschichte? (Frankfurt am Main, 1987). [English edition: Ernst Piper (ed), Forever in the shadow of Hitler?: original documents of the Historikerstreit, the controversy concerning the singularity of the Holocaust (Atlantic Highlands, 1993)]

iii We pointed out the weaknesses and contradictions of Nolte’s interpretation of National Socialism in a preface to Trotsky’s Schriften über Deutschland (Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Frankfurt am Main 1971).

iv [A reference to reports that Cheka officers tortured prisoners by enclosing them with starved rats that would eat into the body of the victim. The image of this rat-cage was used by Nolte as a symbol of the feared Bolshevik cruelty. Reports of the use of the rat-cage originated from circles of right-wing Russian exiles and are historically contested. See: Enzo Traverso, ‘The New Anti-communism: rereading the Twentieth Century’, in: Mike Haynes and Jim Wolfreys (eds) History and revolution. Refuting revisionism (London, 2007), pp. 138 – 1156, especially pp. 140-141.]

v Nolte, ‘Zwischen Geschichtslegende und Revisionismus’ in: Historikerstreit, and Joachim Fest in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 29-8-1986.

vi The first formulations about the necessity of the extermination of the Jews can be found in Kaiser Wilhelm in 1919 and among leaders of the Deutsch-Völkscher Schutz-und Trutz-Bund.

vii See the meticulous research of Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide (London, 1967).

viii Lissagaray, Geschichte der Kommune of 1871, Dietz-Verlag, Stuttgart 1920, p. 363. See also pp. 352, 357. The author quotes (ibid. p. 359) the following passage from the pro-government newspaper Le Temps: ‘Who does not recollect even though he had seen it but one moment, the square, no, the charnel of the Tour St. Jacques? From the midst of this moist soil, recently turned up by the spade, here and there look out heads, arms, feet, and hands. The profiles of corpses, dressed in the uniform of National Guards, were seen impressed against the ground. It was hideous. […] The rain and heat having precipitated the putrefaction, the swollen bodies reappeared. The glory of MacMahon displayed itself too well. The journals were taking fright. "These wretches," said one of them, "who have done us so much harm during their lives, must not be allowed to do so still after their death."’

ix See Nolte, ‘Zwischen Geschichtslegende und Revisionismus’, pp. 20 and 26-29.

x Joachim Fest: ‘And the fact that among those who had headed the Munich soviet republic, which was soon to end in chaos and horror, there were quite a few Jews, moreover, provided an apparent and in any case useful agitational confirmation of his anti-Semitic obsessions’. In: Historikerstreit, p. 105. ‘Apparently contradictory statements (regarding the Jews by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who would otherwise have been a tolerant individual [E.M.]) date from the period after the war, during which he and his circled struggled over responsibility for the catastrophe. They referred to the large number of Jewish revolutionaries in Russia and Austria, Hungary and Germany’ (Wilhelm-Karl Prinz von Preuen, Er führte kein Operettenregime, in: Die Zeit, of 13 May 1988. It is also worth mentioning that although many Bolshevik activists were of Jewish origin, their ties to the Jewish masses were severed and they could neither read nor write their language, ‘Yiddish’. The ‘October Revolution took place without the participation of the Jewish masses’. The ‘Bund’, the largest Jewish socialist party, supported the Mensheviks. It was Lenin’s energetic fight against anti-Semitism, which went as far as the threat of capital punishment, and the anti-Jewish pogroms by the ‘Whites’ that brought about a turnaround. Large parts of the Jewish Socialist parties and the majority of the ‘Bund’ passed to the Communists in 1919. (See: John Bunzl, Klassenkampf in der Diaspora, Vienna, 1975, pp. 134-135).

xi See Nolte, ‘Zwischen Geschichtslegende und Revisionismus’, on the alleged spiritual forerunners of ‘totalitarian collectivism’.

xii Nolte, ‘Zwischen Geschichtslegende und Revisionismus’, p.

xiii On 8 November 1799—on the threshold of the 19th century—three leaders of an attempted and failed revolution, Romao Pinheiro, Lucas Dantas and Manuel Faustino, were publicly tortured in Brazil. Their hands and feet were one for one broken, than they were quartered and decapitated. See: Clóvis Moura, Rebelloes da Senzala (Sao Paulo, 1981), pp. 65-66. In Santo Domingo/Haiti, until the end of the 18th century, one of the common punishments imposed on slaves was the burning of entire parts of the body, while salt and vinegar were sprinkled into open wounds. The victims were killed by burying them alive, with only the head sticking out of the ground, which was coated with honey to be eaten by ants and termites. See: Pierre de Vaissire, Saint-Dominque 1629- 1789 (Paris, 1909).

xiv After the slave revolt led by Spartacus, the Roman rulers nailed 6000 of his followers to the cross along the Via Appia. In order to avenge the killing of the slave owner Pedanius Secundus by a slave, all 400 urban slaves of this senator were according to custom executed in the year 61: “You can only keep this scum in check through terror’’, said the Roman senator Gaius Cassius.’

xv On the panicked fears of Portuguese-Brazilian slave-holders of a slave revolt in Brazil following the French Revolution, see Moura, Rebelloes da Senzala.

xvi Nolte’s attack on the ‘left-wing intellectual’ Tucholsky, which in this context it can only be seen as an attack on a ‘Jew’, is additional proof of this professor’s academic disposition, who does not seem to have much use for checking sources. The assertion that Tucholsky advocated the ‘gassing’ of the women and children of educated Germans (Ernst Piper (ed.), Forever in the shadow of Hitler?, p. 152) comes from an extreme right-wing secondary source. If Nolte had checked the original source, i.e. the magazine Die Weltbühne, he would have found that it was an ironic remark by Tucholsky in an article against militarism, war and the use of poison gas for killing.

xvii We cannot list here the numerous books and articles that support this thesis with countless data. We should remember, among other things, the many data that were made public during the Nuremberg trials of certain big German firms. The minutes of the trials against Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank and IG-Farben have recently been reissued. The editors have rendered a service to anti-fascist enlightenment and made a useful contribution to the Historikerstreit. A good synthesis of the Marxist interpretation of National Socialism can be found in Claus Radt, Der deutsche Faschismus (Frankfurt am Main, 1987).

xviii [The Eastern Aid or Osthilfe was a policy of financial support by the Weimar government to bankrupt estates in East Prussia. A scandal broke out in late 1932, early 1933 when it became known that a large number of Junkers had used the aid for luxury goods and holidays. The scandal involved people with connections to the highest positions of political power and was later covered up by the Nazis.]

xix In our book Late Capitalism (London, 1999) we tried to substantiate this thesis with what we consider to be convincing figures.

xx The bands of the fanatical anti-Semitic Ukrainian counter-revolutionary Symon Petliura murdered around one hundred thousand Jews in a large-scale pogrom during the Russian civil war. All they lacked was a ‘rationally’ and efficiently functioning administration and industry to commit a genocide of the Ukrainian and East Polish Jews in the fashion of Hitler. The ideological willingness to do so definitely already existed. Incidentally, it was the German occupation of Ukraine (May to December 1918) which, along with the establishment of the Hetman regime, reversed all the achievements of the ‘Rada’, the Ukrainian Central Council (such as granting full autonomy to the national minorities of Russians, Jews and Poles). In the following fights between Ukrainian forces under Hetman/Petliura and the counter-revolutionary armies of Kolchak and Denikin (slogan: ‘Beat the Jews and save Russia’) on the one hand, and the Red Army on the other hand, terrible pogroms occurred in 1919 and 1920 (see Bunzl, Klassenkampf in der Diaspora, p. 134).

xxi Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen of Münster was the only high church dignitary to protest in public against the murder of German mental patients by the Nazis. This led to the cessation of the murder campaign. However, no high German church dignitary spoke out against the deportation and murder of German and European Jews during the Third Reich, whereas the primate of France, Cardinal Pierre-Marie Gerlier, did. We do not believe that this was done out of reasons of personal cowardice, but rather—much worse—for political and ideological reasons, i.e. for fear of ‘weakening of the army’ in its ‘war against Bolshevism’. On this, Konrad Adenauer spoke the truth: ‘I believe that if on a certain day the bishops had all publicly opposed it from their pulpits, they could have prevented many things. This did not happen, and there is no excuse for that. If as a result the Bishops had been put in prison or in a concentration-camp, this would have been no reason for shame, on the contrary’. Quoted in Klaus Scholder, Politischer Widerstand, p. 262; in: Schmädeke/Steinbach (eds.), Widerstand gegen den Nationalsozialismus (Munich/Zurich, 1985).

xxii This completely escapes Polish science fiction author and futurologist Stanislaw Lem, who in his foreword to Wlaystaw Bartoszewski’s beautiful book Aus der Geschichte lernen? Aufsätze und Reden zur Kriegs- und Nachkriegsgeschichte Polens (Munich 1986, p. 11), expresses his concern about the possibility of a return to dictatorship in Germany because... judges refused to punish ‘non-violent blocking of road traffic’. Lem has still not understood that it was not non-conformism but conformism, not revolt and rebellion of the individual conscience, but the call for ‘order’ and ‘finally putting a to stop to these demonstrations’ that made the Third Reich possible.

xxiii Ulrich Herbert, Arbeit und Vernichtung, in: Ist der Nationalsozialismus Geschichte?, p. 198, tries to prove that for the Nazis their Weltanschauung (especially the extermination of the Jews) was primary in their relations with German industry—even after the emergence of a growing labour shortage. But his instructive and interesting study—like many others—proves exactly the opposite. One can only conclude that under the influence of this shortage, an ever more massive use of ‘foreign-born’ labour took place in the Reich. However, the ‘abundance’ of forced labourers was so great that the Nazis could allow themselves to apply different ‘use criteria’ for different ethnic groups, according to their racial theories. But in contrast to the first months of the Russian campaign, when this shortage of labour did not yet exist, and when the Einsatzgruppen [mobile killing squads] also immediately murdered Jews who were fit for work, the rule in Auschwitz was: ‘Killing through (i.e. after) labour’ - not immediate killing, at least not for those who were fit for work. This was the meaning of the ‘selections’ carried out by Dr. Mengele and his ilk.

xxiv [Franz Josef Strauss (1915 – 1988) was an influential rightwing German politician. He was a long-time leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian counterpart of the CDU. On the right flank of the CDU/CSU, he was a point of contact between mainstream conservatism and the radical right].

xxv Rolf-Dieter Müller, in: Geschichtswende? (Freiburg, 1987). Only after the [political shift to the right called the] 'Bonner Wende'  of 1983 did the Siemens foundation, the Weikersheim study center, supported by rightwing conservative sociologists and philosophers together with journals such as Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung and right-wing extremist intellectual magazines such as Criticon make the justification of nazi-crimes socially acceptable. The financing of the production of conservative ideology by large corporations (Thyssen as well is involved) restores a historical continuity severed by the Second World War.

xxvi Quoted in Walther Hofer, Die Entfesselung des Zweiten Weltkrieges (Frankfurt am Main, 1964), p. 305.

xxvii Even Erich Ludendorff, former comrade-in-arms of Hitler, wrote the following prophetic words to Reich President von Hindenburg on February 1, 1933: ‘By appointing Hitler Chancellor of the Reich you have handed over our sacred German Fatherland to one of the greatest demagogues [it would be more correct to write: one of the greatest demagogic, reckless adventurers, E. M] of all time. I prophesy to you this evil man will plunge our Reich into the abyss and will inflict immeasurable woe on our nation. Future generations will curse you in your grave for this action’. Quoted by Hagen Schulze, Die deutsche Katastrophe erklären, in: Dan Diner (Ed.), Ist der Nationalsozialismus Geschichte?, p. 91. The same Ludendorff, one of the main proponents of the imperialist war of conquest of 1914-1918, embodies the epitome of nationalist cynicism. After 1918 he led a relentless demagogic campaign of denunciation of the ‘violent peace of Versailles’ after he himself cold-bloodedly forced the militarily weakened Soviet Russia to accept the ten times worse treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

xxviii [From the Latin, meaning coming ‘before’, the precondition for.]

xxix Rosa Luxemburg, The Crisis of German Social Democracy (‘the Junius Pamphlet’, 1915) chapter 1. Available online at []. Jaurès, L ‘Esprit du Socialisme (Paris, 1964) p. 178.

xxx Jürgen Habermas, ‘Geschichtsbewusstsein und posttradtionale Identität’, in: Eine Art Schadensabwicklung (Frankfurt a. M., 1987), pp. 165-167.

xxxi In his Memorial de Saint-Hélène, Napoleon Bonaparte expresses this quite openly (1st volume, p. 362 of the edition by Collection La Pléeiade, Paris Gallimard, Paris, 1956).

xxxii Max Weber, Wirschaft und Gesellschaft (Tübingen, 1965).

xxxiii Bernd Rüthers, Entartetes Recht – Rechtslehren und Kronjuristen im Dritten Reich (Munich, 1988).

xxxiv This was not yet the case, for example, with early Christianity, which—with some notable exceptions—explicitly accepted slavery and called on slaves to acknowledge their duties to their masters. See numerous sources on this subject in G. E. M. de Ste Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient World (London, 1981), p. 419f.

xxxv This is in contrast to the Stalinist caricature which identified proletarian internationalism first with defence of the Soviet Union, then, to an increasing extent, with total submission to the manoeuvres of the Soviet bureaucracy at the diplomatic and military levels.

xxxvi In his 1983 article ‘Marxismus und Nationalsozialismus’ (Vierteljahrhefte für Zeitgeschichte) Prof. Nolte already advocated the thesis of an alleged ‘common ground’ of both ideologies, among other things with regard to the tendency towards ‘totalitarian collectivism’ and a ‘justification’ of mass killing. This contradicts his own earlier analyses of National Socialism. When Nolte, following Settembrim and Gobetti, speaks of a ‘liberal revolution’ as a ‘revolution of individualism’, he apparently forgets, as do countless other advocates of ‘economic freedom’, that in the capitalist mode of production the economic freedom of some is conditioned by the economic compulsion for others to sell their labour to the former. For the latter there is economic unfreedom. If everyone would have free access to means of production and food, few would be willing to sell their labour to capitalists without being forced to do so.xxxvii In reality, Marxism did not, of course, ‘cause’ this international behaviour in parts of the modern proletariat but only expressed in conscious form what, based on material interests, was already in germinal form instinctively semi-consciously present.

xxxviii Jürgen Habermas and Jeremy Leaman, ‘A Kind of Settlement of Damages (Apologetic Tendencies)’, New German Critique, 44 (1988), pp. 25-39, there p. 39.

xxxix Dan Diner, in: Ist der Nationalsozialismus Geschichte? pp. 72-73; is unable to comprehend National Socialist mass crimes because he places them wholly beyond the scope of actions determined by interests. The fact that they undoubtedly had irrational (Diner says ‘counter-rational’, we consider the difference to be irrelevant) traits does not make them unique. Was Hitler’s order for the scorched earth policy on German soil not ‘counter-rational’? What, then, was the ‘instrumental rationality’ of the senseless mutual mass murder of Muslims and Hindus during the partition of India? Are not all manifestations of blind fanaticism, including religious fanaticism, irrational (counter-rational), and by no means determined by instrumental rationality? Has depth psychology not long ago revealed that there are numerous examples of human behaviour, both individual and collective, that are driven by a destructive drive, including a self-destructive drive? Is not the mass murder of European Jews therefore an extreme phenomenon of a much more general trend which can and must be explained?

xl On the alleged geopolitical determination of German foreign policy by the so-called central position of the Reich, see among others Hagen Schulze, ‘Die deutsche Katastrophe erklären’, pp. 95 – 97.

xli See among others Nunca Mas: The Report of the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared (New York, 1986), Joan Dassin (ed) Torture in Brazil: A Shocking Report on the Pervasive Use of Torture by Brazilian Military Governments, 1964-1979 (Austin, 1998) and the reply by the Brazilian military (Brasil Sempre, Rio de Jainero, 1986) which openly justifies the use of torture against ‘subversives’.

xlii See Jacobo Temerman, Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without a Number (Madison, 2002).

xliii In purely numerical terms, the murder of the indigenous peoples of Central American exceeds the murder of the European Jews. Between the landing of Cortez and 1564, the population of Mexico and the Central American areas fell by 8.5 million. Only 1.5 million Indigenous people remained alive. The ratio is worse than for European Jews. However, there was no formal decision by the Spanish gentlemen to exterminate all indigenous men, women and children. But for the eight million innocent victims this was neither consolation nor a lesser evil.

xliv Trotsky and after him Nicos Poulantzas characterized the fascist dictatorship as an ‘institutionalized’ civil war or state of siege, in which, however, the hands of those targeted are tied, at least as far as their possibilities for legal reaction are concerned.

xlv Friedrich Engels already pointed out that those who triumphed over the revolution of 1848 also became the executors of its last will. But they did so in their own fashion, with the consequences we now all know.

xlvi This thesis, originally formulated by Joseph Schumpeter was later taken up, in a more nuanced fashion, by Arnold Mayer. See: Arnold Mayer, The Persistence of the Old Regime (London, 2010). The rise of the USA as the most prominent imperialist power and strongest military force has decisively disproven this thesis.

xlvii Fritz Fischer, Griff nach der Weltmacht. Die Kriegspolitik des Kaiserlichen Deutschland (Düsseldorf, 1964).

xlviii See, among others, Andreas Hillgruber, Deutsche Grossmacht-und Weltpolitik im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Düsseldorf, 1977), as well as by the same author Der Zweite Weltkriege, 1939-1945: Kriegsziele und Strategie der grossen Mächte (Stuttgart, 1982). Here only one of many relevant quotes: ‘Hitler’s program aimed at making Great-Britain into a ‘junior partner’ of German imperialism and at conquering the European regions of Russia (’living space in the East’). This would follow elimination of France as a military force to provide continental maneuvering space’.

xlixSee for example Kaltenbrunner, in: Rheinischer Merkus / Christ und Welt vom 12. 12. 1986; Gillessen, Der Krieg der Diktatoren in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 20. 8. 1986; Topitsch, Psychologische Kriegsführung, in: Allgemeine Schweizerische Beiträge zur Konfliktforschung, 1/1987; etc. A good overview of this topic is provided by Gerd R. Uberschar, Deutsche Zeitgeschichte in Hitler’s Schatten, in: Geschichtswende?, an anthology published by Dreisam-Verlag, Freiburg, 1987. Hillgruber himself made a clear statement regarding the subject of ‘preventive war’: ‘From the context of our presentation it has become very clear that Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union cannot be considered a ‘preventive war’ in the usual sense of the term – meaning an act of war undertaken in order to pre-empt an opponent who is ready to attack or is already preparing to do so.’ (Andreas Hillgruber, Hitler’s Strategie (Frankfurt a. M., 1965), p. 533.

l [code-name of the Nazi invasion of the USSR.]

li [See: Ernest Mandel, The Meaning of the Second World War (London, 1986), chapter 1.]

lii Japan today has the technological and industrial potential to again become a military superpower within a very short time. Whether this will actually happen depends entirely on the political balance of power regarding domestic and foreign policies.

liii [A.J.P Taylor in his Origins of the Second World War (London, 1961) questioned the particular responsibility of the Nazi regime for the outbreak of the war. Mandel criticized this work as inconsistent in its evaluation of the political steps taken by different government and unsubstantiated by facts. See: Mandel, The Meaning of the Second World War (London, 1986), pp. 26 – 28. David L. Hoggan and David Irving are far-right publicists and Nazi-sympathizers.]

liv Walter Hofer, Die Entfesselung des Zweiten Weltkrieges, p. 419.

lv Prof. Adrian Lyttelton in: New York Review of Books, 31 March 1988.

lvi In our book Delightful Murder: A Social History of the Crime Story (London, 1984), we stated that this must also be seen in the context of growing criminal tendencies in late bourgeois society. This is evidenced by the growth of organized crime, the increasing law-breaking, or at least law-avoiding, of ‘legal’ big capital and the growing intertwining of ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ big capital. It is also shown by the expansion of secret services, the growing cooperation between secret services, parts of the military apparatus and far-right conspirators with organized crime and parts of ‘legal’ big capital. The latter was most clearly illustrated in Italy with the conspiracy of P2 and the ‘strategy of tension’ in 1969, when a bombing of the Bologna railway station resulted in a massacre. [P2 was a Masonic lodge that developed into a hub of far-right forces as well as different public and political figures].

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