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Russia and Germany

ISSUE:  Autumn 1937

The Soviets. By Albert Rhys Williams. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. $3.00. The Third Reich. By Henri Lichtenberger. Translated from the French by Koppel S. Pinson. New York: The Greystone Press. $3.00. The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism. By Robert A. Brady. New York: The Viking Press. $3.00.

Lenin said: “It is more important that we try out one experiment in socialism, completely, to its conclusion, than whether we succeed or fail.” And by socialism, in this instance, Lenin meant the people’s own way of life. Mr. Albert Rhys Williams has grasped, in “The Soviets,” the essence of the socialist experiment, by emphasizing that it is the people who matter, not the mere abstractions of right and justice. His book is a most substantial contribution, from the standpoint of the average intelligent reader, to the understanding of the range and variety of Soviet civilization. For nearly a decade Mr. Williams has identified himself with the Russian people of every class. He has candor, curiosity, integrity, and good humor. He covers a vast range of subjects: races, nationalities, forests, minerals, education, party organization, trade unions, factories, farms, food, art, the crafts, social insurance, et cetera. He does not hide his sympathy for the creative purposes and the accomplishments of the Soviets; he is frankly impressed, as only an American can be impressed, by constructive achievements, by the vigorous life of town and country, by the essential kindliness and human warmth of the people.

His large volume, like a thesaurus, answers hundreds of questions, dealing with the simplest and the most complex matters. It is designed frankly for those who want to know the terse, vital answers without technical details. And he succeeds in giving an accurate picture; although, if by accuracy we mean explanations in relation to historical and cultural backgrounds, the critical reader may find some explanations too sanguine or over-simplified. If contemporary art, in the non-Bolshevik sense, is not always free, he is quick to remind us that the Soviets are carrying literature to the millions who never had it before. If critics of the type of Andre Gide or Max Eastman fear the “bourgeoisi-fication” of Soviet life, the progressive restoration of the bourgeois family, inheritance, savings, property, and international diplomacy, Mr. Williams does not fail to say that we cannot look for a Utopia, and that pride in the Revolution remains as a creative force. He is not tormented by the contrast between the actual and the absolute ideal, by the mediocrity of merchandise, by the ever-present pictures of Stalin, by the rigidity of the established “party line,” by the absence of intellectual revolt. He is frank to admit the existence of conformism, but he finds no absence of awareness of this state on the part of thinkers and leaders. What is more vital in a foreign observer, he does not fail to report the greater and the all-engrossing preoccupation of the masses and leaders alike with the work of building up a Commonwealth on the foundations of common wealth, on the basis of planning and abundance for all. He sees with the Russians that liberty is not so much the right to form an opposition party, as it is the embodiment, in custom and institutions, of the full and abundant life for the millions. It is the liberty to participate in the heroic tasks of building the economy of security and abundance, with the full understanding that in its present stages the task involves sacrifice, common purposes, and a new discipline. Therefore, when the forest is cleared, the chips must fly. Did not the French Revolution have its period of infinite hope and social equality, followed by censorship, dictatorship, and the consolidation of the economic and cultural gains under a rigid discipline of the general will?

It is the common practice to lump communism and fascism under the inclusive title of authoritarianism. A careful reading of the two books on Germany under review should dissuade us of this common uncritical habit. M.

Henri Lichtenberger, author of “The Third Reich,” is an Alsatian and is the director of the Institute of Germanic Studies at the Sorbonne. Mr. Robert A. Brady, author of “The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism,” is professor of economics at the University of California. The former book deals with the raw materials of history, with the chronicle of events, without any attempt to evaluate them critically. The latter presents in full the complex bureaucratic structure of fascist Germany as an instrument for regimentation of both industry and labor, for the progressive impoverishment of the masses in body and mind, for aggression and for war.

The works of Lichtenberger and Brady are complementary for our understanding of modern Germany. M. Lichtenberger presents the story of German post-war depression, the final economic collapse, the flounderings of the Weimar Republic, the political manceuvrings of National Socialism; his history is aimed at awakening in the reader the spirit of sympathetic reasonableness and compromise with the economic aims of Nazi-ism. For instance, he goes to great trouble to relate the reduction of unemployment under Hitler, but omits to say that it was done for war purposes and by the use of forced and underpaid labor. He stresses the abolition of industrial strife, but he is not seriously concerned about the loss of democratic institutions, trade unionism, parliamentarism, the co-operative movement, and the host of protective social measures built up so painfully in the course of three generations. Yet, to the outside world, the how of employment is of great significance. During the fourteen years of the Weimar Republic, the annual budget and the analysis of its details used to be published regularly, together with an explanatory memorandum. But in 1933, the Hitler government stopped the publication of the analysis; in 1934, the explanatory memorandum was omitted; and no budget at all has been published since 1935. We are not acquainted with the liabilities resulting from the various work-creation and other special bills and from the financing of the rearmament program. The Nazi state scorns the public method of devaluation followed by other nations as a “Jewish fraud,” and prefers the method of uncontrolled and unlimited credit inflation, kept secret from the German public and the world. But the Nazi method is an economic fraud that cannot remain concealed for long, and sooner or later the bill will have to be presented to the German nation for payment.

Professor Brady presents, behind the facade of centralized economic and political unity and power, the sections of German life that have been exterminated by the dictatorship, the paralyzing effects of a single-minded rulership on every phase of life and culture, and the coercive rigidity which is depriving the masses of the power of adaptation and creative participation. In the early stages of the Nazi experiment the cost has been paid by the masses of labor, small business groups, and the lower middle classes, deceived as they have been by the demagogy of anti-capitalism, by promises to smash the hateful system of monopoly and finance-capitalism. But today the final bill for economic recovery and political prestige will have to be presented to the owners of war and capital-goods industries, to the large-scale agrarian producers, and to financial institutions. This much is clear from Professor Brady’s heavily documented and painstaking economic study: industry has rid itself of the unions and higher wages, but it has subjected itself to the complete control of the state in all matters affecting its initiative and freedom of enterprise. In submitting itself to the government’s need for rearmament, it has helped to build up the capital-goods industries to the neglect of consumption-goods industries, and has created a discrepancy which threatens the whole economic structure of Germany.

It is a matter of a great deal of concern to the outside world, how, under this system of economic unbalance and war preparation, the final bill of Nazi-ism will be presented for payment. Considering the expansionist, imperialist ambitions of Germany, is not this bill to be presented for payment to the world—in the shape of a general war? Can the completely unbalanced economic and financial structure of Germany, the complete militarization of its national economy, and the complete regimentation of the people fail to touch the economic and political fortunes of the rest of humankind? Are we really innocent and unconcerned spectators on the sidelines of Nazi-ism, free to believe that fascism is only a German problem? The heavily over-industrialized Ruhr demands the whole of Central and Eastern Europe for its assured market, and to this end it is backing the way to empire, enlisting the small Baltic and Danu-bian states in the crusade against communism, and supporting intervention in Spain. The world cannot remain indifferent.


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