This war can’t end soon enough

26 05 2011

I’m not quite halfway through Evans’s The Third Reich at War, and by now all of the theoretical contradictions of Naziism come crashing into one another in practice:

1. Hitler sets out a goal of a racially pure Germany, but the need for labor means that hundreds of thousands of Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, and other racial inferiors are imported into Germany.

2. The belief that the conquest of the east would provide sufficient resources for Germans to wage war in both east and west—that war was necessary for Germany’s very survival—is turned upside down as the need and/or difficulty of holding these areas becomes a drain on the Old Reich’s (Germany proper) own resources.

3. The National Socialist’s disdain for, well, socialism, means that the rationalization and coordination of the war effort is fatally delayed. When Albert Speer does finally take over armaments production, he succeeds only insofar as he’s able to shutter small producers in favor of efficient larger producers; in doing so, he reneges on the 1930s promise to protect the petit bourgeoisie.

4. Hitler’s preference for his deputies to fight amongst themselves for position means he never imposes the discipline necessary to march them all in the same direction.

5. The Nazis are offended when the people in countries they overrun fight back; they consider such resistance to be so out of bounds as to provide justification for the initial invasion.

6. The Nazis claim to be acting according to the highest ideals in exterminating Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs, but go to great lengths to hide evidence of such extermination. (SS and Police Leader Odilo Globocnik did protest such subterfuge: he argued that instead of digging up the bodies of the dead to be burned, they should “bury bronze tablets stating that it was we who had the courage to carry out this gigantic task.”)

7. The most glaring contradiction, of course, is the contention that the German is the pinnacle of human being, a superbeing who is nonetheless threatened by the very existence of the weak and parasitic Jew.

Sure, you could spin this last point with reference to Jews as vermin or viruses or whatever, but it is nonetheless striking how much power Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Goring, et. al., give to Jews, so much power that they in effect put the onus for the war on Jews themselves. The great and noble German will always be vulnerable as long as Jews exist.

(It is this last point, of course, which makes the Nazis nothing like Nietzsche’s Overman: the Overman is not only not threatened by the weak, he pays them no mind. And, of course, Nietzsche thought anti-Semitism was stupid.)

I should also mention one last, well, not contradiction, exactly, but avoidable tragedy: that in so many cases Communist and Zionist prisoners could not overcome their conflicts to coordinate resistance to camp guards and administrators. Even amidst the great gnashing of teeth of the Nazi death maw their antipathy was more important than death itself.

Anyway, by this point I’m reading less out of intrinsic interest than in a kind of savage anticipation of the end.

I cannot wait for the Nazis to end.



8 responses

27 05 2011

not to take away from the antisemitism, but I can’t help noticing a broader anticosmopolitanism in rightwingnationalist ideologies, does this jibe with your research?

27 05 2011

Absolutely. The inward-looking rwnats are, of course, opposed to outsiders on principle (think of various US supremacist groups in parts of the inter-mountain west), but even the expansionist nats see the world as less to be explored than conquered: The Nazis had both a European and a global project, but it was all about stamping out and purifying.

27 05 2011

yes stamping out as purifying, but also some organic fantasy of literally coming out of the pure-land (here corn-fed), and an odd lipservice to peasant/farming life but also venerating high arts and courtly life, is this part of the lingering shadow of the medieval?

27 05 2011

also on a TNC-ish note is there something here related to southern aristocratic/landed-gentrification/yoeman-famer thing like Jefferson and all?

27 05 2011

The Nazis were explicitly forward-looking (which is why I consider them to be counter- rather than anti-modern), but it was of a brutalist type of progress, such that “high art” as such was viewed with suspicion as cosmopolitan, effete, and/or degenerate.

Some Nazis did, of course, appreciate the finer things of life, but this was on a strictly personal (as opposed to ideological) level. Others justified their appreciation for works which might generally be considered high art by reclassifying them as manly or as embodying classical ideals. As a rule, nuance was not much appreciated.

As for an agrarian ideal, that’s harder to say. There were certainly plans for the Greater Reich to be populated by towns ringed by smaller villages and farms, or great estates (owned by elite Nazis, natch) similarly ringed. That said, Naziism was always an urban movement, one centered on the petit bourgeoisie as well as on the mass of non-organized workers. Their calls to nationalism and blood-and-soil arguments did appeal to smallholders (the Nazis were not much interested in preserving the old landed estates, whose gentry tended to be monarchist), but their policies to reorder agrarian labor policies met with a fair amount of resistance on the ground. In any case, the Nazis were always wiling to squeeze the countryside for both labor and food in order to satisfy the needs of the urban populace.

Finally, as a future-oriented movement, they looked to industrial and transportation technology both to bolster and to prove German supremacy. This points to yet another contradiction in Naziism: the desire for living space conflicted with the need to concentrate laborers to feed their technological pretensions.

27 05 2011
30 05 2011

Does the reading happen to touch upon how, despite the contradictions, so many of the general population were swept into supporting the regime?

31 05 2011

Nationalism, oppression, propaganda, the failures of Weimar, hyperinflation, global depression, longstanding anti-Semitism, desire for greatness, shame over the loss in WWI, division among opponents, etc.: It was a whole stew of reasons, major and minor, as well as a willingness to give this Hitler fella a chance to sort things out.

And a significant minority of the (non-Jewish) population, including leftists, Catholics, old-school conservatives (both monarchist and militarist) never did cotton to the Nazis. The first target of the Nazis after the 1933 takeover were the organized left (the Communists and Social Democrats and associated organized labor group), after which the churches were targeted. The Catholics were cowed into/had their silence bought off (thru the Concordat), and Protestant organizations taken over or, again, disbanded or neutered; again, the point was to smash the possibility of organized resistance. The old guard was variously ignored, bought off, flattered into submission, or humiliated out of any political role.

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