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Back to the Front

ISSUE:  Autumn 1934

The Berlin Diaries. Edited by Dr. Helmut Klotz. New York: William Morrow and Company. $2.75. The Hour of Decision. By Oswald Spengler. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $2.50. Germany Prepares for War. By Ewald Banse. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. $3.00. Hitler Over Europe. By Ernst Henri. New York: Simon and Schuster. $1.90. Socialism’s New Beginning. New York: League for Industrial Democracy. 35 cents. Europe Between Wars? By Hamilton Fish Armstrong. New York: The Macmillan Company. $1.50.

Half of the books here considered either bear no signature or are signed by a nom de plume which is more accurately a nom de guerre. All of them attempt to state facts, theories, or estimates of events about which only the official version is known with certainty. Any picture composed from such sources is almost sure to be distorted, yet contemporary Germany permits no other picture to become available. And because these books have emanated from the most widely divergent groups to left and right, there is a possibility of mutual cancellation of falsities, leaving a general impression that is substantially correct.

What is outstanding in that general impression?

Foremost is perhaps an impression of the negative foundation of the unity which made possible Hitler’s rise to power. The National Socialism that triumphed in 1933 was a union of the disinherited, bent on securing the estate they believed to be theirs. Among them were some formidable heirs.

These were three in number, Junker-Prussia, Ruhr-Prussia, and the peasant-bourgeois combination whose French counterpart made 1793. Politically or economically, all three had been expropriated by the war or its economic consequences; all three therefore found equally congenial the slogan of a nation which should be strong abroad, and all three combined with equal enthusiasm against the existing German state on the grounds that Weimar was the domestic equivalent of Versailles, the institutional symbol of defeat.

The revolt against Weimar was a revolt against the social dominance (if indeed only an incomplete mastery) of the nineteenth-century working class. The Junkers hated such a state because it represented the rule of the city, and of the underdog of the city at that. The Ruhr hated such a state because it challenged the profit system. The peasant-bourgeois combination hated such a state because it represented successful economic competition at its own group’s expense.

But the revolt against Weimar sprang from a source deeper than such concrete grievances as these. The revolt against the economic egalitarianism (however theoretical) of Social Democracy was in its essence a revolt against the rationalism of which economic egalitarianism was only one deduction. It was a revolt against the dominant tendency in Western European history since the eighteenth century. It was a repudiation of reason as the primary instrument of national policy, as well as a repudiation of the economic man.

Instead of the economic man, the warrior. Conquest above contract, the sword above the word. Ewald Banse has summarized the transition:

The sword has lain rusting in the corner for fourteen years in the German countries, while the pen has had the stage to itself; and as a result we have gone to the dogs. Certainly the pen is good, but the sword is good too and often far better, and we want both to be equally honored among the German people. The pen is good and the sword is good. But the sword is the older weapon, and it is the final, the ultimately decisive one—therefore let it have first place.

On January 30, 1933, the transition was made effective. Given the sword in power, against whom should it be turned? The offensive against the Jews was its first spectacular application. More systematic than its expropriation of the Jew was its expropriation of the worker.

The events of the last year and three-quarters have not followed the Marxian formula for capitalism in collapse. In spite of a decade of political preponderance, the workers did not take over; they were taken over. John Strachey, in his “Coming Struggle for Power,” has adequately explained why Social Democracy, born of nineteenth-century trade unionism, was doomed to be an impotent accessory after the fact, forever defending jurisdictions while the issue concerned frontiers. The explanation of why the Communists didn’t fight lies with Moscow.

The re-establishment of the warrior as the German ideal, the return of the Teutonic knight as the national hero, entailed a return to the economics which made him possible. If the knight, then the serf. The confiscatory program of raised prices and lowered wages, labor battalions and absolutism in factory management, carried through since Hitler came to power, has imposed a thoroughly non-Marxian status on the German working class.

Given the sword in power, by whom shall it be held? The sword was raised to power by the uplifted gesture of the Hitler salute; its point was in a precarious position for some of the heads beneath it. The peasant-bourgeois combination hailed Hitler as the incarnation of a government which should be at once popular in origin and absolute in power. Junker-Prussia hailed Hitler as a step towards restoration, as a popular adjunct to the re-establishment of its traditional rule. Ruhr-Prussia hailed Hitler as its political creature, through whom to create an industrial-military state.

In the negative aims of Hitler’s supporters there was unity; in the positive aims the diversity was so great as to make it inevitable that, once the sword was in power, a struggle should follow among the forces by whom its power was attained. Who among them should feel the point of the sword, and who should hold the hilt?

That the working class should have let power go by default is less surprising than that the Junkers should have done likewise. “The Berlin Diaries” chronicles the double collapse of the Socialists in Prussia and von Schleicher in the Chancellery. After Hitler’s unqualified accession to power, Ruhr-Prussia could afford to wait for Hindenburg to die. And between Thyssen of the Ruhr and the little man of the peasant-bourgeois combination it was obvious who would be master. The Reichstag fire put a spectacular finish to democratic government. The “purge” of the Storm Troops on June 30, 1934, put an equally spectacular finish to popularly sustained absolutism.

When Hindenburg became president he became at once a symbol and a tool. Will Hitler’s case run parallel? If so, the field is left to Ruhr-Prussia and Goering, for the purge cut Goebbel’s constituency no less than Hindenburg’s death cut von Papen’s. The combination of a militant industrialism and an industrialized militarism is a congenial one. The cutting off of two-thirds of the force that put the sword in power greatly widens the arc around which its point must be swung if domestic control is to be maintained, but it settles the question of who holds the hilt.

The question however remains, and the drawing in of winter renders it more and more pertinent, whether the sword is an effective weapon for pricking the economic machine into action. That battle is one of steel against steel, and the advantage is to the steel of the machine, since it can cause pain and not feel it.

The age-old alternative to domestic failure is foreign war.

Spengler’s “Hour of Decision,” Banse’s “Germany Prepares for War,” and parts of “The Berlin Diaries” and “Hitler Over Europe” respectively indicate the extent to which the philosophy, the strategy, and the material equipment for war have already been manufactured. The new weapon is aero-chemistry. The Schlieffen Plan which so nearly succeeded in 1914 was a plan of surprise attack by an unexpected route, with everything staked on the initial blow. The new French fortifications have rendered surprise next to impossible in the two dimensions in which the major actions of past wars have taken place: along the length and breadth of her frontier, France is prepared. But the third dimension remains. Goering’s public mania is the air.

After a detailed account of the gas, bacteria, and planes already available, the author of “Hitler Over Europe” ends his book by calling on the German working class to rise for the salvation of themselves and of the world. Barring the inner check of revolution (the handbook called “Socialism’s New Beginning,” which the League for Industrial Democracy has smuggled out of Germany into print, is moderate in the extreme), what are the deterrents which may prevent the launching of such a war?

Hamilton Fish Armstrong’s “Europe Between Wars?” is an estimate of them. The analysis of a trained and free observer, it gives a coherent summary of balancing forces, with one curious exception. It was published before the spectacular tests of air-defences that shattered the night skies of London’s late July, and before Mr. Baldwin definitely connected England with Europe by shifting her frontier from the Channel to the Rhine. Yet the logic of a discussion of England’s policy as part of a chapter, “How Will France Choose?” seems difficult to maintain.

Once midsummer of the twentieth anniversary of the World War had passed, the European correspondents who had made no secret of existing tensions began to write that there was little possibility of war breaking out this year. Winter is no time for winning campaigns. But winter is the time when economic campaigns also are likely to be lost. And a frozen terrain would be unimportant if Nazi Germany should be faced with that alternative, and elect to take the Western World back to the front, by air.


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