- Category: Theory
- Created on Friday, 28 August 2009 09:33
- Written by Bertold Brecht
"One day the German industrialists will try to find bayonets (and any bayonets will do) in the hope that their loss of political power will only be temporary if their economic power can be salvaged. Is that clear?But how is it with the rest of the German people, the ninety-nine percent?Is the war in their interest too? Do they need war?
Well-meaning people are too hasty by half when they confidently answer: No. A comforting reply, but not a true one. The truth is that the war is in their interest so long as they cannot or will not shake off the system under which they live....
The idea of forcibly educating a whole people is absurd. What the German people have not learned when this war is over from bloody defeats, bombings, impoverishment, and from the bestialities of its leaders inside and outside Germany, it will never learn from history books. Peoples can only educate themselves; and they will establish popular government not when they grasp it with their minds but when they grasp it with their hands."
Intro by Mike Ely
It is no surprise that there is controversy over how to evaluate people who support the system and its crimes -- particularly in the U.S. today.
In almost a decade of global rampages after 9/11, after the torture of people worldwide, the shameless unprovoked aggression against Iraq, the escalating occupation of Afghanistan, the drone assassination, the waves of commando raids, the militarization of the border and more... after all that, there is still a void where a visible, unrepentant, strident antiwar movement should be. There is deep confusion among even people who are otherwise progressive. And there is, as we all know, a section of society that actually supports U.S. empire -- and equates that imperialist exploitation with "freedom" or even "the free world."
So how do we view this? Do we simply decide that the people are "complicit" and "guilty" of those crimes (that they are not opposing)? Are large sections of the people just willingly "drinking the koolaid"?
Do we seek to explain horrible silence by deciding that people have chosen their privilege over their humanity? Do we assume that within the U.S. people (including white working people) have no progressive interests (in common with the people of the world)? Are people fixed by relative privilege and their specific history -- locked into a structure that inexorably commands their minds and loyalties -- or can even the deeply complacent be shaken awake and radically transformed -- by both sudden conjunctural events and long-term political work?
Are the "interests" of different sections of people fixed and simple? Or do "interests" appear in complex patterns -- objective interests, subjectively perceived interests, short term interests of self and family, long term interests of humanity and class, interests in survival in the face of threat, interests in great self-sacrifice to make a new world? What is the relationship between interests and political desires?
Judging the "Good Germans"
There are lessons to be learned from history, and from the debates raised by communists of a previous generation. And as with all discussions of war crimes, complicity and true horror -- the question of Nazi Germany crops up, and the complicity of the so-called "Good Germans."
The rise of Hitler both crushed and coopted radical resistance movements in Germany. There was a remarkable and even dogged solidarity of Germany people behind the war effort. One telling story: the waterfront of Hamburg had for decades been a center of revolutionary politics in Germany -- it was a base area of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and in the early 20s, it has been a staging ground for a revolutionary uprising. But in World War 2, when the British firebombing of Hamburg leveled this strategic military port, the dockworkers jumped into action and restored the operations with an energy that the Nazis proclaimed as heroic.
And so, when World War 2 ended, there was a huge debate (not just in Germany but all over Europe, and around the world) over whether the Germans were simply a guilty people -- whether they were by nature fascists. And whether they had "collective guilt" -- i.e. deserved punishment at the hands of the victors. This theory of "collective guilt" was (interstingly enough) put forward most strongly by the British imperialists, who pointed out that there had now been three major wars in Europe (a generation apart) over Germany's place in the world. Some British forces proposed permanently deindustrializing Germany ("turning it into a potato patch") and carving it up forever into small zones. (They wanted to return to the central Europe of the early 1800, before Bismark, when there was no unified Germany.
In this debate, it was the Communists who argued against the theory of collective guilt -- and thought that the responsibility of fascism and war crimes (including the genocide of Nazi camps) should be focused more narrowly on the ruling classes and the Nazi rightwing nationalists. And they argued that the class nature of society needed to be understood, and the complex interest of the people (even in an imperialist country like Germany) needed to be viewed with more subtlety and historical sweep.
In our ongoing debates about the complicity and potential of different peoples within the United States (including white people), there are things to learn from that earlier discussion of German guilt and the "Good Germans" who more or less "went along" in different ways with the crimes of the Germany ruling class.
The following is an essay by one of those Communists -- the well-known playwright Bertold Brecht. It was originally called "Das andere Deutschland" ("The Other Germany"). It was written during World War 2, at a time when the defeat of Germany was not yet in sight -- before the full crimes of Nazism were known, and when the debate over the guilt of the German people was already raging. (In fact,, Brecht had trouble getting the essay published in English language press -- including presumably the communist press -- because of the nationalist anti-german moods in English-speaking countries. (Brief history of this essay is given at the end.)
Thanks to Observer and Tell No Lies (who suggested this essay). Observer wrote:
"I believe it has a lot to say about unraveling this discussion. It was once reprinted in a short-lived cultural magazine called CAW! put out by SDS....I think it has some profound insights into the problem of how people’s temporary interests may be twisted by the system to believe that their interests lie with the current regime, so long as they do not understand the possibility of a true, and revolutionary alternative. Millions of people in the 1960s had their sights raised, only to have their hopes rushed and their horizons lowered."
Kasama has added paragraph breaks to the essay -- to make it easier to read online.
* * * * * * * * * *
by Bertold Brecht
In the days when the great powers were not yet fighting Hitler and not a few voices from abroad - some not silent even today - gave him encouragement, the world well knew that he was being fought from within and his enemies were called: the other Germany. Refugees, many of them known throughout the world, and foreign correspondents on furlough, reported that this other Germany really existed. At no time were even half the votes cast for the Hitler regime and the existence of the most frightful Instruments of oppression and the most frightful police force which the world has ever known, proved that the opponents of the regime were not inactive. Hitler ravaged his own country before he ravaged other countries; and the plight of Poland, Greece, or Norway is scarcely worse than that of Germany. He made prisoners of war in his own country; he kept whole armies in concentration camps. In 1939 these armies numbered 200.000 - more Germans than the Russians took at Stalingrad. These 200.000 do not comprise the whole of the other Germany. They are only one detachment of its forces.
The other Germany could not stop Hitler, and in the present war which has brought the great powers into conflict with him, the Other Germany has almost been forgotten. Many doubted if it really existed or at least denied that it had any significance. One factor was that the fighting democracies had to combat illusions about the striking-power of Hitler's armies. And there were powerful groups that regarded the other Germany with mistrust; they feared it was socialist. But there was also a suspicion that confused the friends of the other Germany, even some who themselves belonged to the other Germany.
The terrible question was: had the war put an end to the civil war which smoldered in Germany all through the first six years of Nazi reign? It is well known, after all, that wars engender fierce nationalism and bind the peoples more securely to their rulers.
The exile's trade is: Hoping. It affords no gilt-edged securities.
Some forecast that the Nazi regime would not be able to abolish unemployment; and when it was abolished, they forecast that it would go bankrupt. Some placed their hopes upon the Reichswehr, on the pride of caste of the Prussian Junkers, who would not want to go to war under the leadership of a corporal; or upon the Rhineland industrialists who in general must have feared a war.
Even when war broke out, some said: »the regime can keep the war going while it remains a Blitzkrieg fought by boys of twenty and a mechanized army of experts: but no longer. The workers remain in the factories and at least thirty SS divisions are needed to guard them.« The conquest of Poland and Norway, even the subjection of France seemed to be handled by this army of experts. But then came the Russian campaign, and with it an almost universal fear. Especially those who hated the Soviet Union were afraid. For this was no war of experts. The whole people would be drawn in. The higher age-groups »who still recalled with a shudder the First World War«, hundreds of thousands of workers who regarded Russia as their fatherland were drafted. The workers, precisely that part of the people which the regime itself had always called its most unshakable enemy, entered the war precisely at the moment when it involved the country which they had viewed with special sympathy. Even those who had hoped most invincibly were silenced. Did no other Germany exist?
A man sticks to his trade, and the exile's trade is: hoping.
Very soon therefore all sorts of explanations were available, all more or less technical. The Hitler regime, it was said, had had to keep two countries in the dark about the invasion to the very last minute, the Russians and the Germans. That proves, does it not, that the regime was embarrassed by the whole affair? Investigations of Nazi labor policy during their five years of preparation for war were a more serious matter.
Already in the last year of the Weimar Republic the situation of the working class was catastrophic. Rationalization of industry had created unemployment; the world crisis, which struck Germany with particular force, turned unemployment into a national catastrophe. Competition among the workers themselves became a very war. The German working class was already divided into parties; the parties were now divided against themselves. This legacy was taken over by the great and, as many think, legitimate heir of the Weimar Republic: the Third Reich. Unemployment was done away with in short order. Indeed the speed and scope of the abolition were so extraordinary that it seemed like a revolution. The factories had been taken over by force. The Fourth Estate stormed the Bastille ... only to remain there in captivity. At the same time the political organizations of the working class were dissolved and decimated by the police. In this manner this class was transformed into an amorphous mob without will or political awareness. From now on the state did not have to deal with organizations, only with individuals. Napoleon had maintained that one need only be stronger at a given point at a given time; Hitler put this strategy to brilliant use. His policies need no longer be approved by these »private persons«. But that is not all. Peaceful industry, which produces commodities, does not require that the workers take pleasure in their work; modern mechanized war, which is simply the industry of destruction, does not require that the workers take pleasure in war. Destruction is the commodity they deal in.
Such is the technical-economic side of a social system which degrades the common man to the status of a tool politically as well as economically.
Such explanations are more illuminating than those of philosophers of history who in foolish and demagogical resentment cry that the German people are by nature bellicose, that their desire to conquer is only equal-led by their willingness to obey - and so forth. But these explanations are not the whole truth. They show how the working classes came to be slavishly dependent upon the ruling classes; they do not show how the workers have come to be dependent on the success of their rulers in war.
(Emil) Ludwig and Vansittart complain that the German people at least put up with Hitler's war. The truth is that they had to put up with the war because they put up with a system that demands - among other things - wars.
To complain that the German people allows its government to wage frightful war of aggression is actually to complain that the German people does not make a social revolution.
In whose interest is the war being fought? Precisely in the interest of those who can only be removed from their high positions by a social revolution on a gigantic scale. The interests of the industrialists and the Junkers may sometimes diverge, but both need war. They may quarrel about the conduct of the war; but they are alike sure that it should be conducted. Important English Journals have described how the Junkers in the Ministry of War whip up competition between the trusts and how effectualy the trusts fight to get influence on the conduct of the war. No group that owns anything is against the war. If the war becomes hopeless the trusts may try to get rid of the Hitler gang or even of the generals for the sake of peace; but they will only make peace in order to make war later with all possible strength and as soon as possible. The important thing for them is naturally to keep what they own, namely, economic power, without which they could never hope to regain the political power which they need to make war. French ministers have described, and General de Gaulle has confirmed their descriptions, how the French industrialists were so afraid of their own people that they could not prostrate themselves before their German conquerors quickly enough. They thought the German bayonets necessary to the preservation of their property. One day the German industrialists will try to find bayonets (and any bayonets will do) in the hope that their loss of political power will only be temporary if their economic power can be salvaged. Is that clear?
But how is it with the rest of the German people, the ninety-nine percent?Is the war in their interest too? Do they need war?
Well-meaning people are too hasty by half when they confidently answer: No. A comforting reply, but not a true one. The truth is that the war is in their interest so long as they cannot or will not shake off the system under which they live. When Hitler came to power, seven million families, that is more than a third of the population, faced starvation. The system could find no work for them, could not even keep them on relief. When work was found for them it was only in industrial preparations for war. Meanwhile the so-called middleclass was ruined and driven into the munitions' factories. Hundreds of thousands of shops and workshops were closed and closed for good: the cash-registers were melted down. The farmers also were ruined; they are now mere tenants acting under orders. They can cultivate their land only with the cheapest slave-labor, the labor of prisoners of war. Even the smallest factories are ruined for good and their owners have to look for administrative jobs which they can only find if the state is victorious and has occupied territories to dispose of. So they all have a stake in the war. All. Is that clear?
Somewhere there must be a terrible miscalculation, that is clear too, and will be clearer still as the war gets worse and worse. In the bombed cities men crouch in the cellars of burning houses shaken by animal fear and begin to learn. Presumably the retreating armies in the south and in the east are also beginning to learn. Where is the miscalculation? Somewhere near Smolensk a Silesian soldier points his gun at a Russian tank which will crush him if it is not stopped. There is hardly time to realize that what he is pointing his gun at is unemployment. And if he does realize, how little has been gained! An engineer is bent over an improvement in the construction of fast fighter-planes. He hardly has time to consider what he is going to do in a poverty-stricken Germany that has lost the war. But surely something in the back of his mind is, however mysteriously, stirred; perhaps he half-suspects there must be a miscalculation somewhere. Hamburg is burning and a crowd of people is trying to get out of the town; an SS man beats them back home. His parents owned a furniture store in Breslau. It is closed down now. What if the war is lost? What if it is won? He continues to club the crowd. There are many parents in it.
Only the individual can think. Only the group can go to war. It is easier for the individual to follow the group than to think for himself. Every individual in a crowd would perhaps do one thing, but the crowd does another thing. The Russians and the Americans are further away than the sergeant; the RAF is further away than the police. And the war is a fact, whereas thinking is weak and unpractical, a dreamy affair. War demands everything but it provides everything too. It provides food, shelter, work. One can do nothing that is not for the war; to do something good means "good for the war." In war all vices and weaknesses are released. But the war also brings out all the virtues: diligence, inventiveness, perseverance, bravery, comradeship and even kindness. And yet there is an enormous miscalculation somewhere. Where?
When the fate of so much and so many is involved, it is hard to think that only the leaders are responsible for the war. It is easier to assume that the leaders are only responsible for the war's being lost. Now it is very unlikely that the Nazi regime, vicious as it is, would go to war for fun. It has not done so. As far as war and peace are concerned, the regime probably had no choice. Whoever rulers are, they rule not only over bodies but also over minds; they command not only deeds but thoughts. The regime had to choose war because the whole people needed war; but the people needed war only under this regime and therefore have to look for another way of life. This is a colossal conclusion. And even when the hand on the reins becomes uncertain, the road to this conclusion is a long one. For it is the road to social revolution.
History shows that peoples do not lightly undertake radical changes in the economic system. The people are not gamblers. They do not speculate. They hate and fear the disorder which accompanies social change. Only when the order under which they have lived turns to an indubitable and intolerable disorder do the people dare, and even then nervously, uncertainly, again and again shrinking back in terror, to change the situation. A world which expects the German people to revolt and turn itself into a peaceful nation is expecting much. It is expecting of the German people courage, determination, and new sacrifice. If our other Germany is to win, it will have to have learned its lesson.
Ending in defeat, the last war freed the German people of their political fetters for a time. In the years after the war the whole people were actively trying to create a government for the people and by the people. Gigantic labor parties and small bourgeois parties, partly under catholic influence, condemned war and all policies that lead to war. It seemed that war would be discredited for generations. The arts, music, painting, literature, and theatre flourished.
It did not last long. The people had neglected to occupy the key-positions in the national economy. Those who had been used to giving the orders offered their services as specialists of order and their services were accepted. The boasted order which they kept was the order of attacking battalions; the much talked of chaos which they avoided was the occupation by the people of the key-positions in the economy. And after a year or two in which their economic positions had not been even challenged, they took back the political positions, and the preparation of the next war began. Will all this happen again? In order to answer this question in the negative one must be able to interpret favorably the very fact which at first seems to make nonsense of the query, namely, the much-reported »unshakable morale of Hitler Germany.«
The fact that there has been no quick reaction to the privations and defeats of Nazi Germany is admittedly irritating. One must, however, be able to see that precisely this delay indicates how deep and broad the reaction will be. This time the imperialists have no parliaments to turn to when they want someone to end their war for them. Today there are no dynasties which can be sacrificed as scapegoats without in the least endangering the structure of the state. On the other hand if the masses try to fight their way out of the war they will have to confront hundreds of thousands of Hitlerites who can only be defeated in a tremendous civil war, a civil war which must be conducted with the improvised commandos of a popular government. The people must rise against their torturers - the torturers of the whole world - and defeat them.
One thing is certain. If the German people cannot throw off their rulers, if on the contrary these rulers manage to play a "Frederickian Variation," that is, manage to keep the war going until disagreement among the allies presents an opportunity for a negotiated peace; or, alternatively, if the rulers of Germany are beaten militarily but left in power economically, a pacification of Europe is unthinkable. In the latter case military occupation by the allies would certainly not help. It is hard enough to control India in these days by violent colonization; it would be quite impossible to control Central Europe. Should the allies take up arms not only against the harassed regime but also against the whole people, they would need immense forces; the Nazis needed more than half a million SS men, the largest police force in history, and a fanatical block-warden in every block in every town; they also had to hold out a hope of a successful war of conquest without which both the police and the population would starve. The foreign soldier with a gun in one hand and a bottle of milk in the other would only be regarded as a friend worthy of the great democracies that sent him if the milk were for the people and the gun for use against the regime.
The idea of forcibly educating a whole people is absurd. What the German people have not learned when this war is over from bloody defeats, bombings, impoverishment, and from the bestialities of its leaders inside and outside Germany, it will never learn from history books. Peoples can only educate themselves; and they will establish popular government not when they grasp it with their minds but when they grasp it with their hands.
* * * * * * * * * *
Brief history of this piece:
Translated by Kasama (from German): This essay first appeared in English in "Progressive Labor" magazine, New York, Vol. 5, No. 3, March-April 1966. Eric Bentley wrote a foreward. Brecht had given him the German manuscrupt in 1943-44, and asked him to both translate it and if possible find a publisher. Bentley did the translation but found no one at that time who would publish it. The German manuscript was to have been returned to Brecht, but was lost -- and so the only version that now exists in German is a re-translation (back from English) done by Rolf Dornbacher.