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THE COURSE OF THE WARChapter Thirteen A Time of Reaction ‘Business interests in every one of the democracies of Western Europe and the New World welcomed Hitlerism as a barrier to the expansion of Communism.’ Sumner Welles, 19441 After the First World War, governments staggered and some fell. In October 1917 Kerensky’s provisional government in Russia was overthrown by the RSDLP ‘Bolsheviks’.
In Hungary, too, a Soviet government was set up, and in Germany, socialist revolution was only just diverted by the reformist government. In Ireland, having threatened a rising in 1916, Sinn Fein set up a provisional republic three years later. A wave of industrial militancy spread across Europe, from the Clydeside to Milan. Nor was this disorder restricted to Europe. In China nationalists challenged the mandatory powers, and the warlords. The African National Congress demanded political rights, and the Congress Party called for independence for India. With the support of the working class, the left challenged the power of the existing order. In this great upsurge there were many disagreements and contests between Socialists, Communists and anarchists, nationalists and constitutional reformers.
And there was hesitation. The strike wave of 1919 did not know where to go. The Soviet government struggled with civil war and famine. The German socialists swung between reform and revolution. American loans were helping to stabilise Europe. The powers-that-be proved more resilient than the rebels hoped.
Post war stabilisation had the effect of tying the Socialist parties closer to the state. In power, their authoritarian instincts and social conservatism were on display. Before the ‘Anschluss’ uniting Austria and Germany, in Red Vienna ‘Marxist councillors offered a “social contract” with parents … offering assistance in return for their commitment to responsible parenting’, but where this was lacking ‘social workers were on hand to remove children to the municipal child observation centres’.2 In Belgium, Workers Party leader Henrik de Man’s ‘Plan of Works’ caused a stir across the Socialist Parties for its strident economic nationalism, and later de Man would embrace Nazism as ‘the German form of socialism’.3 In France the ‘Popular Front’ government enjoyed the support of the Communists for its denunciations of the top ‘200 families’ while the Socialist president assured critics that the economy remained capitalistic.4 Austerity, not prosperity, though was what the Socialists had to offer - ‘more apartments were obtained by Nazi Aryanization policies in the Austrian capital in three years than had been built by the Social Democrats in the 1920s’.5 Then there was the reaction against the left. The counter-revolutionary White Army reduced Russia to bloodshed and famine. In the spring of 1918 the Whites gained the support of a force of British, American, Japanese, Czechs and Slovaks invading from Siberia in the east, Murmansk and Archangel in the West. At the War Office Churchill demanded a full-scale invasion to overthrow the ‘tyrannic government of these Jew Commisars’.6 In Hungary, Admiral Horthy’s reaction successfully overthrew the short-lived Soviet Republic.
‘Horthy’s courts and officer gangs killed thousands of people in “reprisals” and interned, imprisoned and maimed tens of thousands’, according to Victor Serge.7 In Germany the ‘Socialist’ Ebert set the paramilitary Freikorps on his Communist rivals, and had Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknicht killed along with hundreds of supporters of the Spartakusbund in January 1919.8 In Ireland, auxiliaries known as the ‘Black-and-Tans’ were recruited to back up the Royal Irish Constabulary against nationalist rebels. ‘When we begin to act we must act like a sledgehammer, so as to cause bewilderment and consternation among the people of southern Ireland,’ said Churchill.9 In the USA in 1919 anticommunist hysteria was whipped up and followed by the Palmer Raids against socialists, and the election of Warren G Harding on a platform of ‘normalcy’. Anti-socialist repression in America was directed at newer migrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. In 1920 Anarchists Nicolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were framed for a robbery in Boston (they were eventually sent to the electric chair on 23 August 1927).
While the left-wing of the workers’ movement was met with violence, tentative feelers were put out to the moderates. Social Democrats held office at local and national level in Germany, and in Britain, first in McDonald’s Labour-Liberal alliance government of 1923. US loans underwrote a moderate Social Democracy in Europe. ‘In the autumn of 1923 everyone thought that Germany was on the eve of civil war’, recalled Ilya Ehrenburg, ‘but nothing happened … the workers were worn out’. Instead ‘the days of the Dawes plan were approaching, of Stresemann’s shrewd diplomacy, of sudden plenty after years of unremitting want’.10 In Ireland the Treaty negotiated between David Lloyd George and Michael Collins in 1922, divided Ireland between the 26 Counties in the South and a six-county northern Ireland that remained under British rule. Liam Lynch and Liam Mellowes on the anti-Treaty side, and Collins himself on the pro-Treaty side died in the ensuing civil war between the Republicans.
Though the White Army had been defeated, the cost to Soviet Russia was too great to survive in the absence of a European revolution. The working class, always a minority, had come close to extinction, leaving the Soviets (workers’ councils) an empty shell, until their suspension in 1919. Bolshevik party activists were consumed with bureaucratic tasks. The Bolsheviks had managed to stabilise the economy by permitting a controlled market in grain (the ‘New Economic Policy’) though with destabilising consequences. In the debate over how to proceed, the advocates of ‘Socialism in one country’ won - though this meant not socialism, but an unstable and dictatorial regime based on Russia’s backward technological base. Under Joseph Stalin, the regime took the final step of destroying democracy within the party in 1924, purges of old party members soon followed, leading to the executions of Zinoviev, Bukharin, Kamenev and in 1940, after years in exile, Trotsky. The ascendance of the new leadership did not mean a restoration of the market though, in fact when peasantproprietors threatened the regime, Stalin ‘collectivised’ agriculture, at a terrible human cost.
The majority of communists in the West continued to believe that the Soviet Union was building socialism, an illusion that would cost them dear.
In Italy in the First World War Samuel Hoare, for the British Secret Service, bribed a maverick Socialist Benito Mussolini to use his group and its newspaper to support the war effort. Mussolini’s damascene conversion to the cause of war took him from far left to far right, and soon he was organising ex-servicemen to attack militant workers. Henry Channon, to whom Hoare had opened up wrote in his diary ‘so English government funds did much to create the Fascist revolution’, adding: ‘this is very secret’.11 In 1921 his Fascists won 36 seats drawing support from agricultural workers, students and small proprietors. In 1922 Mussolini led a ‘March on Rome’ (though he personally travelled by train) and – taking advantage of a power vacuum – made himself ‘Il Duce‘, dictator of Italy. In Germany there were many small parties of the far right, but it was the National Social Democratic Workers Party (NSDAP), which took advantage of the decline of the mainstream Conservative parties, and offered a more brutal challenge to the left in its city redoubts. On the 8th and 9th of November 1923, Adolf Hitler attempted a Putsch in Munich, and after a hiatus of indecision the army used force to restore the Bavarian Government.
Far right parties sprung up all over Europe. Hungary’s National Defence Association, grounded in the struggle against the 1919 Soviet was one of the first, Romania’s Iron Guard was founded in 1927, and Anton Pavelić’s anti-Marxist and anti-Serbian Ustaša began in January 1932 – all three went on to found governments that would be a part of the Axis.
Even in Britain, though, Winston Churchill mobilised middle class volunteers in the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies to defeat the General Strike of 1926. In Shanghai, Chiang Kai-Shek ordered a brutal purge of leftists from the Nationalist Kuomintang movement that left 12,000 dead in April 1927.
In 1932, 25 000 army veterans and their families camped out in Washington asking for payment on their Service Certificates – they called themselves the ‘Bonus Expeditionary Force’ (BEF). Saying that there was ‘incipient revolution in the air’, General Douglas MacArthur, the army Chief of Staff, ordered Major George S. Patton to gather infantry, tanks and cavalry around the Washington monument: ‘we are going to break the back of the BEF’.
Despite orders from President Hoover not to pursue the men across the Anacostia River, MacArthur did and routed their camp. William Hushka and Eric Carlson were killed and two babies died from the effects of adamsite gas. ‘It was a great victory’, said Secretary of War, Hurley.12 Hitler mobilised the middle classes against the KPD and militant labour, but depended upon the backing of industrialists and the establishment to put him in office. Despite the belief that Hitler’s NSDAP enjoyed popular support, he came to power in 1933 two years after the party’s vote had peaked in the 1931 elections. Panicked that the Nazis influence might be waning, those backers gave him what he wanted. Between 1933 and 1939 225 000 people, Communists and Socialists, mostly, were convicted of political offences by Nazi courts, with nearly twice as many again imprisoned without trial.13 Ordinary Germans protested vehemently at the euthansia programme against the mentally ill and disabled, and succeeded in stopping the policy. When their Jewish husbands were imprisoned, German women massed in Berlin in protests over three days, and won the release of 6000 men.14
The class character of Fascism
Hermann Rausching was a farmers’ leader who ‘joined the [Nazi] party in the summer of 1931’. Rausching remembered that ‘just as the mass of the lower-middle class suddenly became interested in politics and crowded into Nazism, so sections of the educated felt compelled to play their part in public life’ – because of the failure of the mainstream parties.15 Left-wing activist Daniel Guerin wrote in 1936 that Fascism was buoyed by the squeezed middle classes, both in the towns and in the country (Fascism and Big Business, New York Monad Press, 1973 (orig. 1936), pp 41-62). In Italy, Fascists appealed to the broken peasants: ‘You see, the socialists have promised you everything and given you nothing; they prevented you from even becoming independent farmers’. On the other hand ‘the fasci have installed hundreds of families on their own land which they can farm all year round’. In his manifesto Mein Kampf Hitler feels the middle class pain: ‘For people of modest situation who have risen above that social level, it is unendurable to fall back even momentarily.’ 16
Students, in particular played a big part in the German Nazi party’s breakthrough:
‘student organisations fell into the hands of the Nazis long before the government institutions did’, writes Victor Farias. In the winter term of 1930-31 Nazis were elected in the common rooms of the Berlin Technical University, Breslau University, Erlangen, Giessen, Greiffenswald, Jena, Liepzig and Rostock. At the Conference of German Students that year, the Nazis won an outright majority and took the union presidency. So, too, did schoolteachers play their part. Of the 700,000 NSDAP leaders, more than a fifth, 160,000 were teachers, mostly from elementary schools.17 The unhappy middle classes made up the foot soldiers of the Nazi movement – and they were much needed as a counter-weight to the working class supporters of the Socialist and Communist parties. But the big push that made the German NSDAP into a governing party was the support of big business, in the shape of the ‘Circle of Friends of the Economy’ got together by Wilhelm Keppler. The Keppler Circle met Hitler on 18 May 1932. Among those present were Dr Karl Fuetefsich of the chemical giant I.G. Farben, Karl Lindemann of the Norddeutsch Kreditbank, a Bremen-China trading firm and a Salzberg cement works, Herbert Goering, August Rostberg, who was in a Potash syndicate, Rudolf Bringel of Siemens, Emil Helfferich (Hamburg-America Line), Otto Heuer (Heidelberger Portland Zementwerke AG), Graf von Bismark and many other industrialists, CEOs and bankers.18 Earlier, on 27 January of that year, Hitler spoke to the Industrial Club in Dusseldorf.
Warning them that without the work the Nazi party was doing ‘already today there would be no more bourgeoisie alive in Germany’, Hitler promised that ‘we have formed the inexorable decision to destroy Marxism in Germany down to its very last root’. More, with his middle class followers, Hitler had the means to make good his promise. ‘Where is the organisation which can boast as ours can, that at need, it can summon 400,000 men into the street who are schooled to blind obedience and are ready to execute any order?’ 19 Scandalised, scholars from Max Horkheimer to Daniel Goldhagen have tried to cover up the middle class foundations of the Nazi Party and its business-backers. Instead they have tried to turn the truth on its head and claim that the Nazis were the working class, and their victims cultured property-owners.
In Austria, Engelbert Dollfuss led the ruling Christian Social Party. The rival Social Democratic Party had deep roots in local and regional government, especially in cities, most notably ‘Red’ Vienna. Taking advantage of a constitutional crisis to claim dictatorial powers, Dollfuss had created his own Fascist movement, the Fatherland Front in 1934. Using the paramilitary Home Guard to attack the Social Democrats, Dollfuss launched a war against the left. When the Social Democrats fought back, Dollfuss sent in troops, who blasted KarlMarx-Hof housing estate with howitzer cannons. Many hundreds were killed, more wounded, more than a thousand arrested, nine Social Democrat leaders executed, and the party was outlawed.