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Adorno, Horkheimer and Pollock worked up a theory that industrial society was bound to lead to dictatorship, as the domination of nature would carry over into the domination of man, showcased in Horkheimer’s lectures, collected as The Eclipse of Reason, and then later in the influential sociology text Dialectic of Enlightenment. Hannah Arendt who came to America in 1941thought along similar lines, as she argued in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). In their own way, each of these theses were drawn from the antirational philosophy of Martin Heidegger, except that where he had seen Fordist America and the USSR as the twin exemplars of what he called ‘the endless etcetera of indifference’, Arendt, Adorno and Horkheimer tweaked the argument and said that, no, it was Nazi Germany that fulfilled the programme of totalitarianism. For Cold War propagandists the identification of Communism and Fascism under the same label, ‘totalitarian’ was a great advantage, and a stick to beat off those left-wingers who argued that Fascism arose out of capitalism. Not all of the German exiles were convinced by the totalitarianism thesis. Brecht, pointing to the collapsing Hitler regime, asked Adorno ‘what will now become of their economist Pollock, who was expecting a century of Fascism’? Like Brecht, Franz Neumann saw the inner workings of the Nazi state as a terrible mess, not highly rationalised as Adorno and Horkheimer claimed.
Though many intellectuals fled Germany, many more stayed and the Universities were recruiting grounds for the NSDAP. Scientists like Werner von Braun worked for the Nazi war effort, as did many chemists and engineers. The legal theorist Carl Schmitt did much to theorise the Fuehrer Principal with his doctrine of ‘Decisionism’. The existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger was an enthusiastic Nazi, taking up the Rectorship of the Freiburg University. Heidegger’s students publicly burned books in Freiburg the same week that he was appointed rector. Heidegger made Freiburg a model of Nazi pedagogy. Along with the Nazi salutes Heidegger instituted a ‘scholarship camp’ in the woods, during summer break, ‘SA or SS service uniforms will be worn’.7 Amongst the discussion topics was nazification of the university. While he was pulling on his jack boots, Heidegger’s most promising student Hannah Arendt had fled first to France, where she narrowly avoided deportation back to Germany, and escaped instead to America and worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.
Japanese intellectuals were drawn to, and helped to draw up the Pan Asian appeal of the Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere. Think tanks like the Shōwa Research Association gave intellectuals an important role in the framing of Japan’s imperial outlook. In June 1933 the leading communists Sano Manabu and Nabeyama Sadachika put out an Apostasy Declaration, where they denounced the Soviet Comintern and instead allied themselves with Japan’s imperial mission. The statement framed Japan’s cause in the language of militant Marxism, claiming that Japan’s war with the Chinese nationalists, objectively speaking, has a very progressive meaning. Also under today’s international conditions, if Japanese were to fight the United States, that war could turn from both countries’ war of imperialism into Japan’s war of national liberation.8 Many radicals followed their shift. The poet Nguchi Yonejiro defended the war in China to his Indian pen pal Rabindrath Tagore saying that Chiang Kai-shek was a US puppet.
Tagore wrote back ‘you are building your conception of an Asia that would be raised on a tower of skulls’.9 In Italy the idealist philosopher Benedetto Croce supported Mussolini at first but soon distanced himself from the regime. Giovanni Gentile, on the other hand, supported Mussolini throughout, and was called the ‘philosopher of Fascism’ by the dictator, even taking a government post in the rump republic of Salo. Gentile was killed by partisans in 1944. The Fascists also earned the admiration of the painter Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and his ‘Futurist’ painters, which included Giacomo Balla, organised as the Novecento Italiano and sponsored by art critic Margherita Sarfatti, who was close to Mussolini. In praising war Marinetti was as good as his word, serving in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War and on the eastern front against the Soviet Union in his late sixties.
American intellectuals also lent their services to the war effort. Many had already been recruited into government service under the Federal Art Project and the Public Works of Art Project, a cultural wing of the Works Progress Administration.10 The left wing Mexican muralist Diego Rivera got work with the FPA, as did the Abstract Expressionists Ad Reinhardt and Jackson Pollock. Even the militant Marxist Paul Mattick got work writing an economic history of Illinois. As we have seen, the anthropologist Ruth Benedict did work for the Office of War Information analysing the ‘Japanese character’ and the sociologist Talcott Parsons helped with the psycho-social assessment of the German and Japanese people, preparatory for the post-war occupation.
In Britain many intellectuals made the passage from pacifists to supporters of the people’s war. The British civil service went out of its way to recruit new talent during the war, and Secretary to the Labour Ministry Beryl Power accumulated a central register of 80 000 ‘New Men’ to ginger up the gerontocracy.11 Writers J.B. Priestly and George Orwell worked for the BBC, the latter broadcasting to India, when the censors let him. Orwell rounded on his
fellow intellectuals for their lack of patriotism in his 1941 essay ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’:
During the past twenty years the negative, fainéant outlook which has been fashionable among English left-wingers, the sniggering of the intellectuals at patriotism and physical courage, the persistent effort to chip away English morale and spread a hedonistic, what-do-I-get-out-of-it attitude to life, has done nothing but harm.
Despite his reaction against left wing critics of war, Orwell’s dystopian Nineteen EightyFour, was a sharp exposure of the oppressive nature of War Socialism in England – right down to the naming of the BBC’s own censor’s office, room 101, as the regime’s torture chamber.
Filmmaker Humphrey Jennings was typical of a certain attitude that the divisions between the intellectuals and the masses were breaking down. ‘Some of the damage in London has been pretty heart-breaking’, Jennings wrote to his wife in October 1940, ‘but what an effect it has had on the people!’ What warmth – what courage! What determination … a curious kind of unselfishness is developing … We have found ourselves on the right side and the right track at last!
It was a feeling that the once-radical poet Spender knew from his work in the Fire Brigade at Cricklewood, which ‘fulfilled one of the aspirations which had been a cause of my joining the Communists.’ But it was in the service of the British Empire, not World Communism that this needy poet would at last ‘get to know the workers’. The psychology at play was not so different from the one that persuaded Martin Heidegger that in signing up for NSDAP he was joining a ‘true community of the people’.12 British artists worked for the war effort with the support of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, set up by J.M. Keynes, which sponsored plays and concerts bringing culture to working class audiences across the country. As the Council’s bulletin was pleased to recount ‘one of the first missionary tours of the Old Vic, by Lewis Casson and Sybil Thorndike, was in the Monmouth mining valleys and it was quickly followed by others in the South and North’.13 More radical arts groups like the Unity Theatre and the Artists International Association moved from radical pacifism to enthusiastic support for the people’s war – with the endorsement of critics like the anarchist Herbert Read and Anthony Blunt (though he was later ‘exposed’ as a Soviet spy, Blunt’s Stalinist boiler-plate writings of the time make it hard to believe that his political affiliations were unknown to the authorities). The conservative critic Cyril Connolly was sceptical about the mission to take
art to the people:
We are becoming a nation of culture-diffusionists. Culture-diffusion is not art. We are not making a true art. The appreciation of art has taken wings, we are at last getting a well-informed inquisitive public. But war-artists are not art, the Brains trust is not art, journalism in not art, the BBC is not art, all the CEMA shows, all the Army Bureau of Current Affairs lectures, all the discussion groups and MOI films and pamphlets will avail nothing if we deny independence, leisure and privacy to the artist himself. We are turning all our writers into commentators until one day there will be nothing left for them to comment on.14 Other leftists like the Communist James Klugmann and fellow traveller Basil Davidson took on intelligence work, as did philosopher A.J. Ayer and the future children’s writer Roald Dahl, who, along with advertiser David Ogilvy spied on Washington. Ogilvy and sociologist Charles Madge developed the modern science of opinion polling which was used by the Ministry of Information. Analytical philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein dutifully put higher thoughts aside to work as a dispensary porter at Guy’s Hospital. Russian-born political philosopher Isaiah Berlin was First Secretary of the British Embassy in Washington when officials had to make the case for the Empire against American critics by saying that what it withheld in freedom, it more than made up for in welfare – the argument of the ‘British Colonial Charter’. Years later Berlin finessed those ideas in his celebrated lecture Two Concept of Liberty (1958), which contrasted negative liberty, by which he meant ‘freedom from’ restraint, and positive liberty, ‘freedom to’ achieve goals, which might mean welfare provision. Berlin’s biographer Michael Ignatieff explained: ‘“Two Concepts” was consciously crafted for an era of decolonisation, and its message towards colonial peoples demanding their liberty was highly sceptical’ – an argument honed in Washington in the war.15 Berlin’s good work for the Empire earned no points from the anti-Semite Roald Dahl, who nicknamed him ‘the white slug’.
In the Soviet Union the heroic days when artists like Aleksandr Rodchenko and Dziga Vertov travelled the country in ‘agit-trains’ showing constructivist art to the masses were long gone. The experiment of ‘ProletCult’, which elevated working class art with a violently philistine attack on ‘bourgeois’ culture had been judged excessive. Instead Soviet writers were drawn into ‘Popular Front’ work, like the 1934 Soviet Writers’ Congress, where the aim was to win foreign intellectuals into sponsoring Soviet ‘peace’ campaigning. In the war the USSR’s cultural life was harshly downgraded in favour of the war effort. Writers like Ilya Ehrenberg and Vassily Grossman were attached to the Red Army as war correspondents.
Director Sergei Eisenstein’s film Alexander Nevsky of 1938 had been dismissed, but was rehabilitated for its patriotic, anti-German story during the war. Eisenstein made the film Ivan the Terrible in1944 in which many saw parallels with the life of Stalin – flattering in the first part, but leading to suppression of the second. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich who was in Leningrad in the early months of the siege, wrote the first part of his Seventh Symphony there. The symphony caught a mood of pride in Soviet resistance against the Wehrmacht and won Shostakovich not only the Stalin Prize, but also honorary membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as his portrait, in a fireman’s helmet, on the cover of Time magazine for 20 July 1942. On 9 August 1942, after the commander of the Soviet artillery carried out an intensive bombardment of German troops to ensure their silence, Leningrad’s remaining musicians gathered to play the Seventh, which was relayed by loudspeaker to the people of Leningrad and their tormentors.16 Philosopher George Steiner tells this anecdote about the Hungarian Marxist Georg
Lukacs, in Moscow during the war, expecting to be taken into custody by the secret police:
he was all packed, in Moscow, ready for when the knock would come on the door, and it came. And he said to his wife very calmly: “Es ist gekommen. It has come. Auf Wiedersehn.” The car had drapes, a KGB car, and the airplane was blacked out, of
course. He wondered to which camp they were taking him. He said to himself: