On January 30, 1933, German President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Reich chancellor, the most powerful office in the government. But there were only two other Nazis in the cabinet. In terms of cabinet members, traditional reactionaries such as Franz Von Papen (1879-1969)—the vice-chancellor—and the arch reactionary media baron and Nationalist Party leader Alfred Hugenburg (1865-1951) dominated the government.
Hugenburg was the Rupert Murdock of Germany. Leaving aside the Nazis, Alfred Hugenburg’s Nationalist Party was considered Germany’s most right wing, representing the large landowners. Hugenburg held the Ministry of Economics and Food, a ministry of considerable interest to Germany’s large landowners.
The Communist movement at first believed Hugenburg, not Hitler, was the dominant member of the new government. Not only were Nazis a small minority in the cabinet but the Prussian landowner and militarist Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934) still occupied the presidency and had the power to appoint and dismiss the chancellor.
The view that Hitler was not the real power in the cabinet, however, ignored several crucial facts. One was that the two Nazi ministers besides Hitler gave the Nazis control over the bulk of Germany’s police forces. The Ministry of the Interior was awarded to Nazi Wilhelm Frick (1877-1946), a lawyer and policeman by profession. The other Nazi, Herman Goering (1893-1946), held the post of minister without portfolio and, more importantly, served as acting minister of the interior for the State of Prussia. This gave Goering effective control of Germany’s police force, including its political branch—the “red squad” in U.S. terminology. The Prussian red squad was soon given a new name—State Secret Police, or Gestapo (1) for short.
Even more importantly, the Nazis were not just another bourgeois political party, only further to the right. They were a combat organization with a huge SA militia, whose membership numbered in the millions—compared to only 100,000 for the official German military, the maximum allowed under the Treaty of Versailles. Members were recruited mostly from Germany’s desperate middle-class youth, who had few prospects in Depression-bound Germany. The SA was organized to wage civil war against all wings of the workers’ movement—especially the Communists but also the Social Democratic Party, the trade unions, cooperatives, youth groups, and so on, in the streets of Germany.
Imagine if Donald Trump today commanded a private army of tens of millions of mostly middle-class youths, dwarfing in size both the regular army and all police forces of the U.S. Imagine further that this militia was fanatically loyal to Trump’s person. Further imagine that this private army was waging violent war in the streets against the trade unions, all African American organizations, Mexican-American organizations, immigrant rights groups, and Muslim and Arab organizations. This is what a full-fledged, Nazi-like mass fascist movement would look like in the early 21st-century U.S.
By contrast, traditional right-wing parties lack this kind of mass organization. They are generally electoral and propaganda machines that target atomized layers of the middle class and backward layers of the working class in order win votes on election day. This is how Franz von Papen’s Center Party, supported by the Catholic Church, and Alfred Hugenburg’s Nationalist Party, supported by large landowners, worked. This is the way all traditional bourgeois parties operate, whether they are right or left wing.
For example, the present-day U.S. Republican Party—especially its “establishment wing”—operates this way. The U.S. Democratic Party provides yet another example.
The leaders of traditional bourgeois parties want their supporters to remain passive and unorganized until election day, when they are expected to cast their votes for the party’s candidate and then go home and forget about politics until the next election.
In contrast to traditional bourgeois parties, German workers’ parties like the Social Democratic Party before 1914 and the Communist Party were movements whose members were involved in not only trade union struggles but politics in general on a day-to-day basis. The parties not only led mass trade unions, but their members ran buyers’ cooperatives; had youth wings, sports clubs and cultural societies; and maintained vast networks of publications.
In this respect, Mussolini’s Italian Fascist Party and Hitler’s National Socialists built parties that were mirror images of the workers’ parties. Like the workers’ movement, the fascist parties had not only mass militias (the “black shirts” in Italy and the “brown shirts” in Germany) but youth movements and even their own “trade unions” designed to battle genuine trade unions in the factories and shops. The Nazi “union,” called the National Socialist Factory Cells, did all it could to win the support of factory workers, though with limited success.
Another feature of the fascist parties that distinguished them from the more familiar type of right-wing parties often mistakenly called fascist is that they often denounced the big capitalists and even sometimes described themselves as socialists. The official name of the Nazi Party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. If the word “National” was dropped from the name, it could be the name of a left-wing workers’ party. However, in practice both the Italian black shirts and the Nazi brown shirts organized middle-class supporters to attack only the workers’ movement and its allies. They never went beyond verbal attacks when it came to the capitalists or large landowners.
And here we come to the crucial difference between ordinary right-wing and even far right-wing bourgeois political parties and genuine fascist parties. As a general rule, the large capitalists and landowners prefer the people to be atomized. As British supporters of Margaret Thatcher put it, society is made up of “sovereign individuals”—meaning the individual commodity owner. Society, the Thatcherites proclaimed, is a myth. This leaves the great majority of people who own only their labor power disorganized and powerless. The same is also true of members of the middle class, who own tiny amounts of landed property—homeowners—and/or a few stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, and maybe a small business.
Much like the proletariat, members of the middle class proper often have to sell their labor power because their “property income” is insufficient to live on. Under capitalism, where money is power, in the absence of large mass organizations only the very wealthy can have a significant impact on politics. It is therefore the atomization of the “masses” into a mere collection of individual commodity owners that best ensures the domination of finance capital.
But the exceptional conditions in which Germany’s ruling class found itself in the early 1930s did not allow bourgeois-imperialist Germany this luxury. German finance capital needed a middle class massively organized to wage war on the (also massively organized) workers’ movement and its allies if it was to emerge from the social and political crisis it found itself in.
An act of individual terror and new elections
The Hitler government called for new elections for March 5. Hitler’s hope was that a combination of brown-shirt Nazi terror, the suppression of the Communist press, and the “temporary” suppression of the Social Democratic press would lead to a large majority of Nazis, and if necessary their right-wing allies in the Reichstag, who would vote Hitler the full dictatorial powers he demanded.
Then, on February 27, the Reichstag, the building where Germany’s parliament meets, was set on fire. A young Dutch man, Marinus van der Lubbe (1909-1934), set the fire. Van der Lubbe hoped that this act of individual terrorism would somehow lead to a mass uprising that would overthrow the Hitler government before it achieved a full-scale fascist dictatorship.
Van der Lubbe was a former member the Dutch Communist Party who had dropped out the party because he could not abide by party discipline. The Nazis claimed the burning of the Reichstag building was a signal for a Communist insurrection—a complete lie. It was as though the Bolsheviks in 1917 had burned the Winter Place rather than marched on it. It was long assumed that the Nazis manipulated van der Lubbe into setting the fire, though recent bourgeois historians claim there is no “smoking gun” evidence of this and that van der Lubbe likely acted on his own. (2)
Whatever the truth, Hitler took full advantage of the resulting hysteria and claimed that Germany was facing a Communist insurrection. He “explained” that the only way the insurrection could be put down would be if he was voted dictatorial powers to deal with the situation.
Unfortunately, no Communist insurrection was impending. If one was and the insurrection had been successful, tens of millions of lives would have been saved and a lot else besides. In reality, Hitler was able to become chancellor only after years of retreat by the workers’ movement. The failure of the KPD and SPD to unite in action against the common fascist threat to their very existence before Hitler became chancellor meant that they were in no position to launch even a successful general strike. The KPD did call for a general strike, but it failed.
The election held on March 5 took place during the hysteria generated by the burning of the Reichstag—those of us who lived through 9/11 and the recent Paris events have some idea of what it must have been like. With their press banned and their comrades terrorized in the streets by rampaging brown shirts—who had been given “auxiliary police” powers—the Communists and Social Democrats were in no position to campaign in a normal way.
However, the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party were still legal parties—though not for much longer—and were allowed to take part in the March 5 Reichstag elections. These were very far from being free elections, but they were not the electoral farces that Hitler was to organize in the years ahead, where only Nazis could take part and the electorate was offered the choice of yes or no. In the event, if you dared vote no, the Gestapo might invite you to have a chat down at the station. But on March 5, Germany was still in a kind of twilight zone between Wiemar democracy and the Third Reich.
The outcome of the March 5 election
Rather surprisingly, the Nazis did not achieve a majority of the vote. They had to settle for 43.9 percent. This showed, even through the very distorted mirror of this “semi-free election,”that the majority of the German people did not want a Hitler dictatorship. The same, however, could not be said of Germany’s ruling capitalist class and its landlord allies.
The Social Democrats in the face of the brown-shirted terror suffered considerable losses but managed to win 18.3 percent of the vote. The Communists managed to come in third, with 12.3 percent.
These results might have encouraged some contemporaries to hope that Hitler’s supremacy would be short-lived and that he could still be overthrown in the near future. However, that was like confusing unseasonably warm fall weather, which sometimes occurs after some initial cool weather, with spring. In fact, the workers’ movement had suffered a gigantic defeat not only in the voting booths but where it really mattered—in the factories, shops and streets. Before things could get better, they would have to get a whole lot worse.
Hitler wins dictatorial power with ruling-class support
When the new Reichstag met, Hitler demanded an “enabling act” to provide the “legal basis” of his dictatorship. On paper, with the Nazis lacking a majority, this seemed out of reach. Even counting Hitler’s closest allies, Hugenburg’s Nationalist Party, the Nazis still lacked the necessary two-thirds’ super-majority to amend the German constitution.
In reality, this didn’t matter. The capitalists and landlords had now concluded that the only way to ensure a strong government in Germany capable of waging war against the Soviet Union and if necessary other imperialist powers was to give Hitler the dictatorial power he demanded.
Reichstag President Herman Goering, in order to ensure a super-majority for the bill to make Hitler dictator, banned the Communist deputies—whose party was now formally declared illegal—from attending the Reichstag. All other bourgeois parties except for the Social Democrats voted for the “enabling act.”
Before they were declared illegal, the Social Democrats did offer to support Hitler’s foreign policy—hadn’t they voted for war credits on August 4, 1914? Hitler made it clear that he neither needed nor desired the Social Democrats’ support. However, the Nazi dictatorship was still not complete. The Social Democrats and the trade unions remained legal organizations as did the other bourgeois parties. Hitler wasted little time in “remedying” this situation.
May Day becomes a legal holiday German Nazi style
The next major move of the Nazis on the road to a complete fascist dictatorship was to split the Free Trade Unions away from the SPD, now Germany’s only legal working class-based party. The Nazis hinted that perhaps they would tolerate the Free Trade Unions—the traditionally Social Democratic-led trade union federation—if the unions, along with the Catholic and liberal trade unions, agreed to support the policies, both domestic and foreign, of the Hitler government.
The leader of the Free Trade Unions, Theodore Leipart (1867-1947) took the bait. In return, the Nazis made May Day—International Workers’ Day—a legal holiday for the first time in Germany. But there was a catch.
Instead of the red flag of the international workers’ movement, or even the Republican red, black and gold, the banners were the red, white and black flag of imperial Germany and the swastika flag of the Nazis. The Nazis celebrated not the unity of the workers of the world regardless of nationality. Rather, the Nazi May Day was to celebrate the unity of the German nation—exploiter and exploited alike—against the Soviet Union and virtually all the other nations of the world.
Hitler had one more surprise for the leaders of the German trade-union movement. The following day (May 2), all trade-union offices were occupied by Nazi storm troopers and the police. The Free Trade Unions were banned and their apparatus put under the control of the Nazi National Socialist Factory Cells.
Leipart, the leader of the Free Trade Unions, also got a surprise “gift” from Hitler. He was arrested and thrown into a concentration camp. The other trade unions were dissolved a few days later into the new “German Labor Front,” the Nazi replacement for genuine trade unions.
By the middle of 1933, all parties except the “National Socialists” were either disbanded or merged with the Nazi Party. It had taken Mussolini four years between the time he was named prime minister of Italy in 1922 and the time the Fascist Party was declared Italy’s only legal party and all independent organizations of the workers destroyed. It took Hitler only six months to accomplish the same thing. But he was not finished yet.
From SA mass movement to SS police state
German fascism had lifted millions of impoverished middle-class youth to their feet, dressed them up in brown uniforms, and sent them to fight the Communists, the trade unionists and the Social Democrats—while beating up the occasional Jew when the opportunity presented itself. The leader of the SA, Ernst Rohm (1887-1934) (3) saw the SA as the nucleus of a new mass “revolutionary army” that would replace the traditional German armed forces.
Rohm hoped that brown-shirted “revolutionaries” would accomplish a massive redistribution of the nation’s wealth in the interests of the the victorious middle class. Now that the workers’ movement was crushed—the first “revolution”—the time had come for a second revolution against the large property owners. This would-be second “socialist” revolution had of course not yet occurred, and both Hitler and Germany’s large property owners were determined that it never would.
The traditional officer corp was horrified by the idea of a “second revolution.” If the SA was transformed into a full-fledged army, Germany’s field marshals and generals could be out of a job. The magnates of capital and landed property also opposed a “second revolution,” though they were quite happy with the first one against the workers’ movement.
Rohm’s middle-class brown-shirted militia, unlike the working class, was completely incapable of reorganizing production through the establishment of a state-owned planned economy that makes capitalists unnecessary. Even if a second SA-led “revolution” had occurred, the capitalist system would have continued. But the personnel of the capitalist class would have changed somewhat with some of the brown-shirted thugs becoming capitalists in their own right at the expense of some of Germany’s existing capitalists.
Even though Rohm’s “second revolution” was not a threat to the capitalist system, it was a threat to individual capitalists. Mussolini had faced similar problems with his black shirts, the Italian equivalent of the SA. His solution was to gradually bureaucratize them and integrate them into the existing military-police apparatus. Hitler took far more radical measures to deal with the SA and the closest thing he had to a personal friend, Ernst Rohm.
The Night of the Long Knives
On the night of June 30, 1934, Hitler ordered the arrest and murder of the top leaders of the SA. Ernest Rohm was personally arrested by his friend Hitler. Rohm was given a gun and few minutes to do the proper thing—commit suicide. When Rohm refused, he was shot. This was how Adolf Hitler dealt with his friends when they became inconvenient. As for his enemies, he simply had them shot. Among those shot were General Kurt von Schleicher—Hitler’s immediate predecessor as German chancellor—and Georg Strasser, who had urged the Nazis to join a Schleicher government.
This bloody purge of the Nazi movement has gone down in history as “The Night of the Long Knives.” From that time onward, the much smaller elite SS, which had begun as a selection of especially reliable SA members assigned to be Hitler’s personal bodyguard, replaced the mass SA as the main militia of the Nazi Party. Unlike the SA, the SS men were highly disciplined, had a proper respect for the large property owners, and were often recruited directly from their ranks. Under its leader, Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945), the SS took charge of Germany’s police force including its red squad, the Gestapo.
The SS was the apparatus that ran the later concentration camps and actually carried out the mass extermination of European Jews—defined in racial, not religious, terms—as well as Rom people. In class terms, Hitler and the Nazi Party had organized the German middle class in the form of the SA to crush the workers’ organizations. Now the middle class’s own fighting organization, the SA, was crushed by the SS, the representative of the large capitalists and their landlord allies.
There was still one question to settle before Hitler’s power was completely consolidated, the succession to President Paul von Hindenburg. This question was posed because Hindenburg was now in his late eighties and in failing health. He died on August 2, 1934. The top military brass hoped that the Hohenzollern monarchy would now be restored. However, Hitler did not desire this.
In Italy, King Victor Emmanuel (1869-1947) had played a key role in handing the premiership to Benito Mussolini in 1922. Mussolini was therefore formally only Italy’s prime minister, not its head of state. Victor Emmanuel continued to possess what would have seemed in 1934 the only theoretical power to dismiss him. Hitler had no desire to give such power to a Hohenzollern or anybody else. From his own point of view, Hitler was proved correct.
In 1943, as Italy faced invasion and certain military defeat at the hands of the U.S. and Britain, the Grand Council—the highest body of the ruling Italian Fascist Party—met and stripped Mussolini of the position of commander in chief of the armed forces, returning the title to the king. The next day, Mussolini met with King Victor Emmanuel to explain the situation to him. Victor Emmanuel had Il Duce arrested and carted off in an ambulance. The Nazi Party, organized on “the leadership principle,” had no counterpart to the Grand Council. There was no body within the Nazi Party that had the power to remove Hitler from any office he held.
The officer corp wanted a kaiser. Der fuhrer couldn’t live forever, after all. Hitler compromised by not assuming the title of president. Instead, he declared himself “chief of state” (4) but with the title of fuhrer, not president. In effect, the office of German president was abolished, but the position of chief of state remained. Perhaps when Hitler finally died, the officers could hope the monarchy would be restored. But in the meantime, the German office corp was required to swear a personal oath of loyalty to Hitler’s person, not as a republican president or kaiser, but simply as “the leader.”
Unlike removing Mussolini, there was no way to remove Hitler except by assassination. The Nazi Party had no body that even formally elected leaders, and the Reichstag, which now included only Nazis, did not have the power to remove Hitler as chancellor. The appointment of the German chancellor was the job of the chief of state, which was Hitler himself.
Several attempts by members of the officer corp to remove Hitler by assassination were made, the most famous being on July 20, 1944, as Germany faced certain defeat. But all failed. The result was that Hitler remained dictator until, with all fronts collapsing, the Soviet army was within a block of Hitler’s Berlin underground bunker. On April 30, 1945, der fuhrer decided to commit suicide in order to avoid falling into Soviet hands. By then, Germany had been reduced to both moral and physical ruin and the German capitalist class was at the mercy of their U.S. and Soviet conquerors.
Once in power, the fascists in both Germany and Italy evolved from a reactionary mass movement into a military-police dictatorship. Not just any military-police dictatorship but one that still bore the marks of its origins as a mass movement. Like its Italian counterpart, the now ruling National Socialists created mass organizations that could spy on and police the population far more effectively than a traditional police state could.
The Nazi dictatorship had another purpose. It was to organize the population for war against the Soviet Union and other governments that stood in the way of German imperialism. Here I will briefly examine only the most important of the mass organizations that the Nazis created out of the raw material of the mass fascist movement.
One such organization was the Hitler Youth and its female counterpart, the League of German Girls. These were boy and girl scouting organizations but on a gigantic scale. All “Aryan” German youth—Jews were excluded—were strongly encouraged to join. The boys in the guise of making trips to German countryside forests and mountains were trained to act as cannon fodder in the service of German monopoly capitalism. The experience of enjoying the pleasant German countryside would soon give way to the horrors of the Russian front.
As for the League of German Girls, if you take the program of the modern feminist movement and turn it into the opposite, you have the Nazi approach to women. The job of women in the Third Reich was to produce as many babies as possible. Abortion was strictly illegal. Women were forced to drop out of the labor market, making the unemployment figures look better. Educated women who lived through the period often explain that they had to give up plans to pursue professional careers because this was not in accord with Nazi ideas on the role of women as baby-making machines. The male babies would in the future play the dual role of surplus-value producers for German capitalists and cannon fodder for German militarism. Female babies would grow up to produce more babies for the greater glory of the Reich and the profits of German capitalists.
Of all the mass organizations the Third Reich created, perhaps the most important was the German Labor Front. The Labor Front was created in May 1933 after the trade unions were occupied in the same month and incorporated into the National Socialist Factory Cells. It was headed by Dr. Robert Ley (1890-1945), who was a corrupt and depraved character from the middle classes, much like many of the other men around Hitler. After the Night of the Long Knives, veterans of the National Socialist Factory Cells were purged from the Labor Front if they had any ideas of acting like a trade union.
Instead, Dr. Ley proclaimed the “leadership principle” applied not only to the Nazi Party and the government but also within the factory and all other economic enterprises. Just as in the Nazi Party and the state, Adolf Hitler was unchallenged as “Der Fuhrer,” so in the factory or other economic enterprise the boss was to be the unchallenged leader. Every boss got to be a Hitler within his own business.
Just like all “loyal Germans” had the duty to obey their “Leader” in matters of state, so it was the duty of all German workers to obey their bosses without question in the world of work. In this way, Ley claimed and the other leaders of the German Labor Front declared, the class struggle among Germans would be ended and the German nation would be united in eternal struggle against other nations.
Soviet and Nazi dictatorships compared
Supporters of capitalism often try to draw an equal sign between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Both dictatorships emerged out of class struggles that ended not in compromise but with the decisive victory of one class over the other classes. In both cases, the victorious party—within six months in the case of Germany and four years in the case of the Soviet republic—declared all other parties illegal.
In the Soviet Union, the capitalist class was oppressed in the most dramatic way possible. They lost their capital—their ability to exploit wage labor, the very basis of their existence. To the extent that they didn’t emigrate, the former capitalists were forced to get jobs. The same was true for landlords and landed property in the Soviet Republic, which declared all land to be state property. Now, things can’t get worse than this—if you belong to the delicate classes, that is.
But what about Nazi Germany? If Nazi Germany was really like the Soviet Union, the German capitalist class—and the landowners—would have been similarly oppressed. But were they? Pro-capitalist historians often try to prove that the German capitalists were really very oppressed by the Nazis, and so Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union— despite their radically different ideologies—were not very different in practice. Let’s examine the question more closely.
It is true that a massive bureaucracy emerged out of the Nazi mass movements just like a bureaucracy emerged out of the Bolshevik Party and the mass movements that it headed. Didn’t both bureaucracies attempt to establish planned economies? And wouldn’t the Nazi bureaucracy sooner or later push aside the capitalists entirely and expropriate them if it had lasted a little longer?
This theory ignores one little thing, the bureaucrats’ personal material interests. Corrupt officials of the German Labor Front or any other Nazi mass organization could invest the money they stole in the stocks and bonds of German corporations, or even use it as “seed money” to create their own private businesses to exploit wage labor.
In the Soviet Union, on the other hand, the fact that enterprises were owned by the state made this impossible or at least illegal. Corrupt Soviet bureaucrats could and did steal consumer goods and enjoy a nicer “lifestyle” than workers or more honest bureaucrats. But they could not buy stocks and bonds in Soviet enterprises nor did they have much—legally anyway—to possibly start up their own private businesses like their counterparts could do in capitalist countries, including Nazi Germany.
Of course, many Soviet bureaucrats wanted to change this situation and consequently developed a tremendous hatred of the whole institution of state-owned property. This hatred rose to the surface during Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost reforms. By the end of the Gorbachev era, they were demanding privatization of industry, something they got big time under Boris Yeltsin and his counterparts in other ex-Soviet republics.
The last thing corrupt bureaucrats like Robert Ley and the many little Robert Leys that filled the Nazi bureaucracy from top to bottom wanted was the nationalization of land or German private industry. From their point of view, that would kill the goose that laid the golden eggs. This doesn’t mean that the Nazi government and party, and the organizations they controlled, didn’t sometimes create new companies. Indeed, the two most important companies the Nazis created are thriving today.
The best known company of specifically Nazi origins is the giant automaker Volkswagen, which was recently in the news over the “emissions scandal.” The other is the steel corporation known today as Salzgitter AG but originally called the Herman Goering Works, after the number two Nazi, Herman Goering.
The Nazi origins of Volkswagen
Adolf Hitler believed that if the United States could have the cheap Model T and its successors like the Model A for the “masses”—Germany a far greater nation in Hitler’s eyes due to its greater “racial purity”—should also produce cheap cars for the German masses. Hitler wanted to re-mold the German working class in the image of the U.S. white working class. The U.S. white working class, unlike the German working class, lacked political class consciousness and was very conscious of its “race.” All too often, class solidarity, even at the trade-union level, in the U.S. took second place to racial solidarity. Large-scale ownership of cars—what Baran and Sweezy called “automobilization”—would in Hitler’s vision contribute to this.
When he came to power, Hitler asked the German automobile capitalists whether they could produce a cheap car for a price under a thousand German Reich marks. The German auto capitalists told the fuhrer that they could not produce a car that cheap and still make what they considered adequate profits. If Hitler and his Third Reich had been even remotely anti-capitalist, the government would have moved to nationalize the German automobile industry. Hitler did nothing of the kind.
Instead of nationalizing the automobile industry or even using state funds to create a state-owned company producing cheap cars side by side with the existing for-profit German automobile industry, which produced only luxury cars at that time, Hitler had Dr. Ley’s Labor Front build the first Volkswagen factory.
In Nazi Germany, you had little hope of getting a job unless you belonged to and paid dues to the Labor Front. Though he did have a certain artistic inclination, Hitler was not a professional auto engineer. The fuhrer needed the help of a professional auto engineer to design the People’s Car—Volkswagen in German. He found a gifted professional automobile designer and auto engineer in Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951), known at the time as a designer of sports cars. Just as important from Hitler’s point of view, Porsche was a firm supporter of National Socialism.
“Porsche,” Wikipedia writes, “was a member of the German Nazi party and the SS. He was a recipient of the German National Prize for Art and Science, the SS-Ehrenring and the War Merit Cross.” Today, Porsche is a brand name for high-priced German sports cars, and the Porsche family is still active in the German auto industry. Even in modern Germany, it sometimes pays to have Nazi ancestors. Somehow, the fact that Porsche was not only a member of the Nazi Party but the SS is not much emphasized today. I guess it wouldn’t do much to enhance the value of the Porsche trademark.
Three Nazis played the decisive role in launching Volkswagen. These were Adolf Hitler, the fuhrer; Robert Ley, head of the “Labor Front”; and engineer Ferdinand Porsche. Members of the German Labor Front—virtually all German workers—were encouraged to purchase their “beetles” on what amounted to a layaway plan. They would pay now and receive a car later. As it turned out, the beetle was not to be mass produced during the Third Reich. The war economy meant that the Volkswagen plant ended up producing military vehicles and not civilian “beetles.”
However, a few prototypes were built and obtained by the top Nazi brass and their families for their personal use. Among them, if we are to believe the British expert on Nazi Germany Richard Evans, was Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun. So at least she didn’t have to wait until the German victory, which never came, to obtain her beetle. Which was a good thing for her since she was destined to commit suicide in the Berlin bunker with Hitler after the fuhrer finally agreed to marry her in the final hours of his life.
After the war, the Volkswagen plant fell into the hands of the British. There was talk of disassembling and moving it to Britain as war reparations, but the British auto capitalists had little interest in it. There was also talk of Ford Motor Company buying it up, but Ford wasn’t interested either. The U.S. already had its own cheap cars. Since the plant’s original owner, the German Labor Front, as a Nazi Party organization no longer existed, Volkswagen ended up in the hands of the West German government.
During the post-World War II economic boom, which was particularly strong in West Germany, Volkswagen became extremely profitable. This perked up private sector interest in Volkswagen that had previously been absent.
In 1960, Volkswagen was transformed into an ordinary corporation with the West German government selling off its shares. As we know, Volkswagen, despite the recent emissions scandal, has thrived, with its Nazi origins forgotten.
The only relic of state ownership that remains is that, according Wikipedia, the German state of Lower Saxony—not the German Federal government in Berlin—holds 12.7 percent of the company’s outstanding shares as of 2012.
Its goes without saying that there isn’t today nor has there ever been anything anti-capitalist about Volkswagen. It was simply a case of governmental initiative playing a role in launching a new industry—in this case cheap cars—and then handing it over to the private sector once it became profitable.
The Herman Goering Works
The second major German company of Nazi origin, now known as Salzgitter AG, is sometimes given as an example of the Hitler government’s “oppression” of German business. The origins of this company can be found in the need of Nazi Germany to rapidly increase steel production as part of its preparations for war.
Germany had low-grade iron ore but lacked cheap iron. From Berlin’s point of view, there was a real danger that when the now inevitable war came, Germany would be cut off from its sources of iron ore, crippling wartime steel production. Germany’s lack of raw materials had played a significant role in Germany’s defeat in World War I.
In 1936, Hitler instructed Herman Goering to prepare the German economy for war within four years’ time. One solution would have been to temporarily nationalize the German steel industry with the intention of returning it to private ownership when the war was—hopefully, from the viewpoint of Goering and his associates—won. Many capitalist governments have nationalized industries under comparable circumstances. For example, the U.S. government nationalized the railroad industry during World War I, and the British government owned the British Steel industry for a period of time after World War II.
The government of Adolf Hitler, however, rejected such a “radical” solution. Instead, the Herman Goering Works was established at the initiative of the government with a mixture of both state and private ownership and with the specific task of using the low-grade iron ore to produce steel for the coming war. The German steel companies didn’t relish competition from a company that was pursuing an aim other the immediate enrichment of its owners—namely preparation for war. The steel kings feared the result would be a mass overproduction of steel and a consequent collapse of their profits, a “danger” that in the real world was to be staved off by the war itself.
Friedrich Thyssen (1873-1951) was a particularly aggressive industrial capitalist and is the poster boy for those bourgeois historians who claim that the Nazis oppressed big business as well as the workers. During the 1920s, Thyssen financed the Nazis before most of Germany’s other industrial kings did. After Hitler came to power, Thyssen joined the Nazi Party and was thrilled by the destruction of the Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the trade-union movement.
However, his support for the Nazis began to wane when the Herman Goering Works was established as part of Germany’s four-year war plan. When the war broke out, Thyssen opposed the war, believing correctly as it turned out that Germany couldn’t win. He was kicked out of the Nazi Party, expelled from the Reichstag and his fortune confiscated by the government. Thyssen eventually ended up in a concentration camp but was well treated. After the war, the confiscated assets were returned to the Thyseen family by the government of West Germany.
Under Hitler, individual capitalists were not allowed to openly oppose the government even if they had more latitude than some other Germans, like workers for example. Even in “democracies,” the government occasionally takes action against individual capitalists who stand in the way of the general interests of the nation’s capitalists as a whole, which it is the government’s function to represent. There was therefore nothing anti-capitalist whatsoever in Hitler’s treatment of Friedrich Thyseen.
After World War II, the Herman Goering Works was renamed the Salzgitter AG works. The original name could hardly be used after the end of the Third Reich. It continued to operate as a nationalized company until 1998, when it too became an ordinary, strictly for-profit corporation whose shares can be purchased on the stock exchange.
It should be noted that other famous companies that dominated the Third Reich, like the chemical monopoly IG Farben, the banking giant Deutsche Bank, and the famous manufacturer Siemens, came into existence well before Hitler’s rise to power and they or their corporate descendants continue to play dominate roles in Germany’s economy. None of them were owned by the state either before, during or after the Third Reich. The corporate name IG Farben has disappeared—the name was tainted by Farben’s role in supplying the death camps with poison gas and exploiting death camp labor—but the chemical giant BSAF, which was part of the Farben Trust, remains one of Germany’s most important companies and is now the world’s largest chemical company.
As for the steel industry, Krupp and Thyseen are no longer separate companies. German Reichs and Federal Republics come and go, but the centralization of capital goes on, and in 1999 Krupp and Thyseen were merged to form today’s ThyseenKrupp steel company.
The other example of the supposed anti-capitalist policies of the Nazis, less often used today because of its blatant anti-Semitic implications, is the Aryanization policies of Hitler’s government against Jewish capitalists. In the 1930s, the renegade Italian ex-Communist Bruno Rizzi (1901-1977), wishing to make peace with Mussolini, by then allied to Nazi Germany, pointed to Hitler’s “Aryanization” policies as proof that fascism was carrying out progressive “anti-capitalist” policies. Rizzi claimed these were converging with the those of the Soviet government led by J.V. Stalin and to a lesser extent the Franklin Roosevelt government in the U.S.
According to Rizzi, Hitler and Stalin and to a lesser extent Roosevelt were establishing a “bureaucratic collectivism” that would eventually evolve into socialism. In reality, as we saw above, the hopes of the SA leadership for a “second revolution” that would redistribute the wealth of Germany ended with the Night of Long Knives. However, this still left the question of Jewish capitalists that Rizzi pointed to as an example of Hitler’s alleged progressive anti-capitalist policy.
Hitler was indeed determined to eliminate the Jews entirely from Germany and Europe, including Jewish capitalists. He launched a program of expropriating the Jewish capitalists, who were forced to sell their interests in German businesses not to the state but to “Aryan” capitalists at rock bottom prices.
The result was that many “Aryan” capitalists, taking advantage of the Nazis’ fanatical anti-Semitism, were able to seize a part of the capital of Germany’s Jewish capitalists. There was nothing anti-capitalist about this racist measure. It merely represented a change in personnel within the capitalist class. “Aryanization” was indeed a great windfall for the “Aryan” capitalists, who in any event constituted the majority of Germany’s capitalist class.
This points to a general pattern that is downplayed or ignored altogether by bourgeois historians of the “holocaust”—its class bias within the Jewish community. Wealthier Jews were far more likely to escape with their lives from the Nazis—even if they had to part with a portion of their capital—than were poor and working-class Jews.
Lacking capital, working-class Jews in the path of the Nazis in almost every case had to part not with their capital but with their lives. The most extreme case occurred in Poland, which had the largest Jewish community in Europe and included a large working-class component. The Jewish working class in Poland was physically exterminated almost to the last man, women and child. The development of Polish politics would almost certainly have evolved very differently if the Jewish working class had survived and in time the Jewish and Polish workers had merged with one another.
The German economy under the Third Reich
As we saw, the German economy reached the bottom of the industrial cycle about the middle of 1932. The Hitler government instituted not a socialist policy but a massive policy of “Keynesian” deficit spending to pump up monetarily effective demand. This included the building of Germany’s then futuristic autobahn highway system. This program was something like the massive U.S. Federal Highway System built by the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s. It had obvious military implications but was also designed to prepare the way for the “automobilization” of Germany in the future. Partially, as a result of this massive “Keynesian” stimulation, largely for war purposes, the German capitalist economy under Hitler recovered from the super-crisis much faster than the economies of most other capitalist countries, including the United States.
However, Germany, unlike the U.S., was still very short of gold and foreign exchange. It was therefore forced to institute a series of “mercantilist” capital controls in order to keep money in Germany. If money flows out of a country, monetarily effective demand shrinks within the country and any attempt at Keynesian stimulation polices are frustrated.
Similar strict controls were established on foreign trade, with the state deciding what companies could obtain foreign exchange for import and which couldn’t. The result was that as the German economy recovered rapidly after 1933, few consumer goods were imported. Only commodities useful for the war economy were. This along with the destruction of the trade unions and the police role of the Labor Front kept German wages calculated on an hourly basis at very low levels.
If such strict controls on foreign exchange and foreign trade had not been imposed, the mark would have depreciated as the German economy recovered more rapidly than the other capitalist countries. This would have led to soaring trade deficits, growing indebtedness, and sooner rather than later a huge depreciation of the mark, ending in a massive flight of money capital. A deep economic crisis would then have resulted that would have threatened to blow up the entire Hitler regime.
Though Germany’s economic recovery seemed impressive after 1933, especially when compared to the recoveries of the U.S., Britain and especially France, a fact which indeed helped to consolidate the Nazi regime, the economy of Nazi Germany was extremely unstable. In the long run, the controls the Hitler government imposed could not have been maintained. The German capitalists seeking individual maximum profit would have found ways to circumvent them, leading to the collapse of the economy.
Therefore, a successful war of conquest or economic and political collapse were the alternatives that faced the Hitler government. For Hitler, war was not an option, it was a necessity.
Germany’s war aims and the rise of the U.S. world empire
Last year, a TV series based on the U.S. science writer Philip K. Dick (1928-1982), “The Man in the High Castle,” was launched on Amazon. Amazon’s version takes considerable liberties with Dick’s novel. The premise of the novel published in the early 1960s is that Germany and Japan won WWII. The United States was partitioned, with Nazi Germany occupying the eastern U.S and establishing a Nazi government there with Japan occupying the western U.S., creating a somewhat more liberal Japanese-dominated government.
Dick realized that Japan, unlike Germany, was not actually fascist, though it certainly was imperialist. In Dick’s novel, there is a buffer zone between the Nazi-controlled eastern U.S. and the Japanese-dominated western U.S. By the early 1960s, the time in which the novel is set, Germany is plotting a new war, this time against its former ally Japan.
Could something like this have actually happened? Was Hitler seeking world domination, or was he pursing more limited aims?
Hitler did believe that one day Germany would dominate the world. But he was realistic enough to understand that this could not be the immediate outcome of the war he was planning. Hitler’s first goal, which he hoped to realize in his own lifetime, was to transform Germany from a regional European power, which didn’t even have a colonial empire, into the unchallenged master of Europe. France—Germany’s main rival on the continent—was to become a satellite imperialist power of Germany.
Since France had been Germany’s opponent in the two preceding European wars, the Franco-Prussian war and World War I, Hitler himself a veteran of the “western front” felt he had to reduce France to satellite status before he attacked the Soviet Union. Otherwise France might have taken advantage of a Soviet-German war to attack Germany.
The smaller imperialist powers of Europe, like the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy, were also to be reduced to satellite imperialist status, or perhaps in the case of the Netherlands be absorbed into Germany proper. Hitler wanted to make an alliance with Britain. The fuhrer was a great admirer of the British Empire, which up to that time was the greatest organization of exploitation and oppression in all human history.
In Eastern Europe, Hitler had quite different plans. Poland, Ukraine, Belorussia (a region of Eastern Europe in present-day Belarus and Poland), and Russia were to be transformed into German “white colonies.” The Jewish population was to be either worked to death or physically exterminated as were the Rom people. All sense of Polish, Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Russian nationality was to be extinguished, though Hitler didn’t foresee their complete physical extermination like he did in the case of Jews and the Rom people.
After Germany’s victory, Hitler believed a part of their population would either die off or be exterminated by the victorious Germans. A portion of their surviving population would sink to the level of colonial slaves, much like the populations of India and Africa under the rule of the British Empire. Another portion would be Germanized and absorbed into the German population.
Hitler and his Nazi Party foresaw that a part of the German surplus population after the war would be encouraged to emigrate to Poland,Belorussia, Russia proper and especially the agriculturally rich Ukraine in search of “living space.” Many of these Germans would be expected to establish farms using what was left of the local population to perform menial farm labor, much in the way the Boers used native Africans on their farms in South Africa. The large available supply of cheap—at least initially—land would also encourage private homeownership along U.S. lines. This would further contribute to Hitler’s overarching aim of transforming the German working class along the lines of the U.S. white working class that lacked class consciousness but instead identified with the white or Aryan race.
Hitler saw the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe as Germany’s version of the American West. As a boy, Hitler was a great fan of the German writer Karl May’s (1842-1912) novels set in the American West. It is no accident, therefore, that Hitler’s special train that carried the fuhrer eastward as Germany conquered territory was named “Amerika.” What Hitler was attempting to do was to transform Germany into nothing less than a second U.S. He had no plans to attack the United States let alone occupy the United States, at least within his lifetime.
However, if Hitler had achieved his aims, there would be no U.S. world empire. Instead of being dominated by a U.S. empire, the world would have been divided between Germany, which would have dominated Europe; the United States, which would have dominated the w\Western Hemisphere and the eastern Pacific; Great Britain, which would have dominated Africa, the Middle East and India; and Japan, which would have dominated China, South East Asia and the Western Pacific.
All other imperialist powers such as France and Italy would have been reduced to satellite status. One reason why Nazi policies seem so over the top even by imperialist standards is that Hitler was attempting to build an imperialist colonial empire not in Africa, Asia, or Latin America but within Europe itself. The victims were not “people of color” but “white” people.
In the long run, well beyond his own expected lifetime (5), Hitler assumed there would be a struggle for world domination among the five major imperialist powers for world domination, which Hitler hoped and expected Germany to win due to its superior racial character. For example, no non-white people would be citizens of the German Reich—instead many European whites would reduced to the level of the “colored” races—and there would be no Jews or Rom people at all. Only then would a German world domination be established that would last for a thousand years.
National Socialism not for export
Though Hitler’s National Socialism was largely modeled on Italian Fascism, Hitler had no desire to see other countries adopt their own variants. Hitler was interested only in advancing the interests of German imperialism. National Socialism was designed to do this under the specific conditions in which Germany found itself after World War I. The Hitler government was actually wary of other fascist movements in Europe, because these movements aimed to advance national interests of their own countries and not Germany’s.
For example, Hitler had no interest whatsoever in promoting a version of National Socialism in France. The last thing the fuhrer wanted was a French version of the Third Reich that would also seek to control Europe! Instead, he was quite happy with the senile Marshal Petain (1856-1951) and the slippery and corrupt Pierre Laval (1883-1945), who acted as his stooges in France. In Hungary, Hitler preferred the long-time military dictator Admiral Miklós Horthy (1868-1957) to the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross movement. Hitler only agreed to put the Arrow Cross movement in power when Horthy attempted to reach an agreement with the allies when it was clear that Germany was going to lose the war. Similarly, the Nazis supported the Romanian military dictator Ion Antonescu (1882-1946) over the fascist Iron Guard movement.
Hitler and Ukrainian nationalism
During the 1930s, Hitler encouraged Stephan Bandera’s (1909-1959) anti-communist, anti-Semitic Ukrainian nationalist movement, which aimed at achieving an independent capitalist Ukraine. If a counterrevolutionary mass uprising had developed in the Ukraine led by Bandera’s forces (6), this would have provided a huge opening for Nazi Germany. Bandera and his fellow Ukrainian nationalists for their part were more than willing to work with Nazi Germany.
However, once the Germans occupied the Ukraine, their plan was to eliminate Ukraine as a nation altogether, transforming it into a “white” colony of Germany. Hitler’s aims at that point collided with those of Bandera. Nazi Germany then withdrew its support for Bandera though Ukrainian anti-Communists continued to be used by the German occupation authorities against the Communist-led partisan resistance and to assist in the extermination of the Ukrainian Jews.
Bandera spent much of the war in a German concentration camp—not a death camp—and like steel magnate Fritz Thyssen was well treated. Then as the tide of war turned decisively against Germany, Bandera was released and Germany once again formed alliances with the Ukrainian nationalists in the hope that a mass Ukrainian nationalist uprising would help prevent a Soviet victory. Fortunately, these hopes were not realized.
Could Germany have won?
In the long run, it is hard to see how even in the event of a Soviet collapse how Germany could have achieved even Hitler’s immediate aims. The reason is that Germany found itself at war with virtually all the other peoples of Europe. This was not due to the personality of Adolf Hitler or even the nature of German fascism. Instead, it was rooted in the basic contradictions of capitalism that I have explored throughout this blog. Just as one capitalist kills another, so one capitalist nation aims at eliminating or subjecting all other capitalist nations.
That this is true is shown by the growing hatred of Germany in Europe today. These present-day conflicts are rooted in Germany’s economic success relative to that of other imperialist and lesser capitalist countries in Europe and not in Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party, now long gone.
As far as the basic contradictions within European capitalism are concerned, things have not changed all that much since the days of Hitler and even the pre-1914 Kaiserreich. If the proletariat had been victorious in Germany after the Great War—or even better if the German proletariat had been able to make a socialist revolution before imperialism was able to plunge Europe into war—Germany would have become the leader of a new Europe in the process of building a socialist society.
Instead, under the leadership of its capitalist class Germany ended up in a disastrous struggle against virtually all the other peoples of Europe, a struggle Germany could not win then and almost certainly will not be able to win in the future. The result of this tragic conflict between Europe’s most advanced country and the other nations and peoples of Europe was the decline of Europe and the rise to world domination of the United States.
Germany was brought to the very brink of complete destruction. However, what failed to occur in the 20th century can still occur later in the 21st but only if the lessons of the tragic 20th century are learned. The biggest of these lessons is that the continued rule of Germany by its capitalist class means sooner or later the ruin and destruction of Germany. If this happens again, there will likely be no recovery for either Germany or the world.
If it didn’t take decades to defeat Nazi Germany, the credit is due not to U.S. or British imperialism but to the peoples of the Soviet Union led by the Soviet Communist Party. This is a fact that we should never forget and remains important in understanding Russian politics today.
But the price was high. The Soviet Union in order to defeat the immediate threat of Nazi Germany had to ally with its most dangerous long-term enemy, the United States. The U.S. was the only imperialist power in a position to strive for world domination as an immediate war aim. Roosevelt was able to force the Soviet Union under pain of its complete immediate destruction to fight against its will for the establishment of the U.S. world empire by smashing the U.S.’s most dangerous imperialist rival, Germany.
It was absolutely necessary for the Soviet Union to do all it could to crush German imperialism. Once Germany imperialism was destroyed as an independent imperialist country, however, the Soviet government could no longer take advantage of the political and military conflicts between the imperialist countries that had formed the foundation of Soviet foreign policy between 1917 and 1945.
The U.S. for its part waited as long as possible to open a second front. Only when it became clear that the Soviets had the momentum to march all the way to Berlin and perhaps all the way to Paris and beyond did the U.S. and Britain move to attack and occupy Germany from the west.
Once the Germans were put in their place, the U.S. immediately turned against the Soviet Union. In a very real sense, the road that ended with Gorbachev and Yeltsin can be traced to events in Berlin in 1933.
A brief note on the holocaust
Many of the crimes commonly attributed to the Nazis and even Adolf Hitler personally are actually inherent in imperialism. However, one crime that the Third Reich committed that is hard to imagine any non-fascist government committing was the attempt to physically exterminate the Jews of Europe. During World War II, Hitler demanded that all the governments in Europe—whether they were colonial administrations like the “General Government in Poland” or satellite imperialist governments like that of France—turn over their Jewish population to the Germans for extermination.
There were various degrees of compliance by the various European government to this demand. The result was that the great bulk of the Jews in Eastern Europe were physically exterminated, while many more Jews in Western Europe survived. In his final days in his downtown bunker, Hitler expressed satisfaction that he had at least largely accomplished the killing of the Jews of Europe—especially in Eastern Europe where most of Europe’s Jews had lived—despite the failure of achieving all his other aims.
The Jews had survived the breakup of the ancient world because they had played a vital role as a commercial merchant caste (7) within a largely natural economy. However, with the rise of capitalism, there was no need for a commercial caste, making the Jews expendable. The Jews themselves underwent a class differentiation, producing modern capitalists at one pole and a growing class of wage workers with a decaying petty-bourgeois mass of small business people in between. Deprived of their historic economic role that had stood in the way of their assimilation into the emerging nations of the modern world, the only question was whether the Jews would be assimilated into the modern nations or would be disposed of in some other way.
It was said that the policy of Russian czarism towards the Jews was that one-third would be exterminated, another third would converted to Christianity—in other words assimilated in the Great Russian nationality—and the final third would remain Jewish. While this program proved to be beyond the powers of czarism, it is in fact the program that imperialism as a whole was to implement in the course of the 20th century. One-third of the Jews were exterminated by German imperialism under the Nazis, one-third have been assimilated in the United States—today most children of Jewish families marry non-Jews—and the final third have been retained as Jews who are not assimilating into a viable modern nation.
These are the Jews of Israel, who are used for the special purpose of assisting the U.S. world empire in attempting to prevent the emergence of a modern united Arab nation, and to a lesser extent against other oppressed nations and peoples as well. This, in turn, gives fresh life to anti-Semitism, a question that I will examine more closely in posts later this year.
We cannot change history, but we can learn from it. The story of Nazi Germany is not only of historical interest because the imperialism that bred the Nazis still exists. Indeed, the basic contradictions of monopoly capitalism/imperialism have only grown over time. Could a new monster like Adolf Hitler be lurking somewhere in the imperialist world today, with the difference that this new Hitler, unlike the old Hitler, would be armed with weapons capable of destroying modern society for good?
As the U.S. empire that arose out of the defeat of Nazi Germany declines, it is breeding new racist reactionary movements—with the difference that this time Muslims rather than Jews—for now at least—are the favored target. Examples include the Donald Trump presidential candidacy in the United States, the electoral success of the National Front in France, and the rise to power of the viciously Islamophobic Law and Justice Party in Poland. And now Germany itself—today a part of the U.S. world empire—is itself being swept by a wave hysteria over “dark-skinned Arabs” or “North African Muslims” attacking white Christian German women.
For those who have studied the history of the Third Reich, this is a chilling echo of Hitler’s claims in “Mein Kampf” and Julius Streicher’s (1885-1946) portraits of Jews in the pornographic newspaper Der Stürmer—the Stormer—of dark-skinned Jews with exaggerated Semitic features stalking and raping German Aryan women with the aim of polluting the purity of the German Aryan race. (8)
As signs mount that the upswing in the global industrial cycle that began in 2009 is peaking, or maybe has just passed its peak, with a recession of unknown depth and duration looming, it becomes all the more urgent to combat both the old and the new forms of racism. The looming recession will unfold against a background of growing class polarization, the growth of far-right movements, and new and old forms of racism in both Europe and the U.S. These are subjects I will be examining throughout this year beginning next month.
1 The Gestapo did not grow out of the SA or even the SS but was a continuation of the pre-existing political police. After the “Night of the Long Knives,” it increasingly fell under the control of the SS, with many SS men joining. Originally, the Gestapo proper was confined to the State of Prussia, though German states also had similar red squads, which worked closely with the Prussian Gestapo. In 1936, the German police including the Gestapo were put under the control of the central government in Berlin with SS chief Himmler holding the title of chief of the German police. At this time, the political police departments of the other German states were merged with the Prussian Gestapo to form a single united German Gestapo. During World War II, the Gestapo became the terror of Nazi-occupied Europe and played the leading administrative role in carrying out the holocaust.
The Gestapo was formally abolished with the defeat of the Third Reich, but many of its personnel continued to work in the West German police. For example, after the war the first head of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels (1900-1957), found employment in the Ministry of the Interior of West Germany. (back)
2 Resulting in one of the most sensational political trials of the 20th century, the Bulgarian Communist and Comintern leader Georgi Dimitrov (1882-1949), who was in Berlin at the time, was arrested and charged by the Nazi government with responsibility for the Reichstag fire. Dimitrov confronted his Nazi accusers in court and the court was forced to acquit him. This was a major embarrassment for the Nazis. Dimitrov’s defense against his Nazi accusers along with Fidel Castro’s “History Will Absolve Me” speech before Batista’s court in 1953 are classic examples of how revolutionaries can under certain circumstances put bourgeois governments “on trial” in their own courts—especially when they are engaged in patently illegal activity like Hitler’s government in 1933-1934 and Batista’s government in 1953. (back)
3 Ernest Rohm and many other SA leaders were gay. Germany is indeed the home of the modern Gay Liberation movement. The German Social Democrat and later leader of the revisionist movement Edward Bernstein, an associate of Marx and Engels, was gay. Bernstein was the first political figure to raise the issues of what we call today gay liberation. However, the fact that Rohm and his friends were gay caused many leaders of the workers’ movement to associate homosexuality with fascism. Many left parties banned open gays from membership. Bourgeois liberals adopted a similar attitude, even more so. The liberal U.S. journalist William Shirer (1904-1993) in his “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” pointed to Hitler’s toleration of gays in the SA as an example of Hitler’s utter depravity.
As a result of this, with few exceptions, gays faced hostility across the political spectrum from far left to far right and every point in between. This situation only began to improve after the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City, which launched the modern Gay Liberation movement. The fact that some of Hitler’s friends like Ernst Rohm were gay did not prevent the Hitler government from declaring homosexuality illegal and throwing open gays into concentration camps. In the camps, gays were forced to wear a pink triangle just as Jews were forced to wear yellow stars. (back)
4 Spanish dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975) did exactly the same thing, though with a better, longer-lasting result from his point of view. Franco was a general who headed a counterrevolutionary coalition of fascists, the top military brass, the church, and various monarchist groups backed by Spain’s capitalists and landowners. In 1936, he launched a civil war with the aim of overthrowing the new Spanish republic. Like Hitler, Franco did not want to share authority with a king in his own lifetime. He declared himself “chief of state,” leaving the door open for a monarchical restoration.
Later, after World War II, Franco did name Juan Carlos, until recently Spain’s king, as heir apparent. However, Juan Carlos was not allowed to become king before the dictator died in 1975. Perhaps events would have followed a similar course if Germany had defeated the Soviet Union and the war ended in a negotiated agreement between Germany, Britain and the United States. In order to prevent total chaos in the event of his death, Hitler did name Herman Goering to take over, and if Goering was not available, Rudolf Hess. After Hess flew to Britain in a bid to negotiate a peace with Britain, he was out of the running, leaving Goering.
In the final days of the Third Reich, after Hitler decided to make a final stand in Berlin, Goering wrote Hitler a cautious letter asking whether the time had arrived for him to assume command. Goering hoped to negotiate a separate peace with the United States and Britain at the expense of the Soviet Union. Hitler responded by expelling Goering from the Nazi Party and ordering his arrest. The fuhrer named Karl Dönitz (1891-1980) to be president—in effect reestablishing the office that he had abolished in 1934—after his suicide, with Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) succeeding Hitler as Reich chancellor.
After Hitler’s suicide, Chancellor Goebbels made a desperate attempt to negotiate with the Soviet Union, which now occupied much of Berlin, but was turned down. Goebbels and his wife then killed their children who they had brought with them to make a last stand in Hitler’s underground bunker in Berlin. Horrified Soviet soldiers found the bodies of the Goebbels children the next day.
President Dönitz’s government, located in Flensburg in northern Germany, which was still controlled by German forces, lasted a little longer. After attempting to negotiate a separate peace with the United States and Britain, it was forced to surrender unconditionally to the Soviet Union, the U.S. and Britain on May 7, 1945.
On May 8, all guns fell silent on all the European fronts. This government was allowed by the United States and Britain to linger on until May 23, when Dönitz and his cabinet were arrested by the Western allies and carted off to be tried for war crimes at Nuremberg, bringing the Third Reich to a formal end.
Under these conditions, it is doubtful that any of the Hohenzollern pretenders would have been interested in taking the throne, even if it had been offered. But if things had ended more favorably for Nazi Germany, perhaps Herman Goering would have been Hitler’s successor. Goering, who came from a wealthy Prussian landowning family, was considered a more traditional figure than Hitler.
Perhaps he would have appointed a Hohenzollern to be his successor as head of state much like Franco appointed Juan Carlos (1938- ) a Bourbon—yes, a branch of the same Bourbon dynasty that was overthrown by the Great French Revolution—to succeed him as king and head of state in Spain. In any event, one way or another even a temporarily victorious Germany would have then returned to a more traditional form of capitalist class rule after Hitler’s death because the Nazi Party was far too unstable to serve as the instrument of capitalist class rule much beyond the lifetime of Adolf Hitler. (back)
5 Hitler apparently suffered from Parkinson’s disease and heart problems and other medical issues as well, so he did not expect to live to a very advanced age. (back)
6 Ukraine was the Soviet Union’s richest agricultural area. It is here that the class conflict between the better-off peasants and the working class—the main class contradiction in the Soviet Union—was therefore most acute. The excesses of Stalin’s not always voluntary collectivization of agriculture often drove the middle peasants into the hands of the richest peasants, and nowhere was this more true than in Ukraine. Nazi hopes for an anti-communist mass uprising in Ukraine were therefore not without a certain basis. However, once the Nazis conquered Ukraine, their polices of wiping out the Ukrainian nation altogether brought them into conflict not only with the supporters of Soviet power in Ukraine but the main Ukrainian nationalists as well. (back)
7 This doesn’t mean that there were no class divisions among the Jews. It means that the class structure of the Jewish population was different than that of the surrounding population. This is generally the case in other religious minority communities as well, for example the Christian minority in the Arab countries. (back)
8 To avoid any possibility of misunderstanding, I and all real Marxists condemn rapes or sexual attacks on women by men under any circumstances. Such attacks are never justified. I therefore condemn any attacks by “North African, Arab men”—if they really occurred—against German women, or any attacks by Jewish men against “Aryan German Women,” for that matter—if there were any that might have occurred in the days of the Nazis. Such attacks are not only criminal in themselves but play straight into the hands of the worst enemies of the working class, the racists and fascists. (back)