The National Socialist regime of the 1930s has always fascinated me, ever since, around the age of 12, I came across an article on medical experimentation in the concentration camps and was almost physically sick. Since then, I have accumulated a large library of books from every perspective. The story has nagged at me because the conventional narratives never seemed quite right.
First, there was the historical-epistemological problem that the victors of any struggle always write the narrative. It takes time for a detached and independent analysis of the facts to emerge just as the facts themselves ossify into highly selective documentation with the deaths of the participants.
Second, the truly horrific fate of the Jews and the barbarism and totalitarianism of a rough-hewn populist movement was always presented as a sort of grim morality tale around a demonic figure (Hitler), as a folk tale of inevitability where virtue was finally rewarded after many trials and tribulations.
What such a narrative failed to do was deal with the inconvenient facts that the participants were working in real time with limited knowledge, that all parties involved were human beings and neither angels nor demons and that few could see how acts in one place at one time could possibly result in effects in another place and at another time. There was, I suspected, more chaos in the history than hindsight reconstruction had permitted.
Third, I felt uncomfortable at the way post-war commentators insisted on speaking for the victims of circumstance and criminality. The story was equally skewed by the enforced silence, guilt and shame of the losing side (partly out of fear of vengeance or legal penalty).
This, as well as the competition between various parties that subsequently ensued over their victim status, struck me as precisely the wrong method of getting at the truth of the matter - certainly of precisely why and how things had happened.
It has been pointed out [by Cesarani - see below] that amongst the Jewish victims of the Nazis, the survivors were disproportionately young and mobile and that this has given us a narrative that takes little account of the perspective of those settled, older and with families.
In contemporary events, we see similar issues arise. Narratives are written by those with the resources to gather information and manage the media. These narratives are then imposed on us and we are given limited access to alternative stories. Very few active participants in the drama ever get to tell their story directly.
Victims are often mediated through NGOs with an eye to policy change and fund-raising. Perpetrators are wholly demonised and unable to explain what process led to their emotions and actions. Sides are taken, attitudes are not adjusted to reality and actions are consequently undertaken that worsen the situation.
A politics of outrage can emerge without the resources or will being to hand that will achieve any major change to a situation until it has reached cataclysmic proportions and become an existential clash of grand narratives with only one possible winner amidst the expenditure of much blood and gold.
The current migration crisis is like a re-run of the 'Jewish problem' of the 1930s with the same lack of analysis, the same populist hysteria, the same desperation, the same impossibility of a liberal solution and the same threat of it turning cataclysmic because no one is listening to anyone else or questioning the ideological assertions of those with access to the media.
Mountains of print and documentary footage seem to skirt profound questions of what our species is like when faced with humiliation and poverty perhaps because the conclusions were often too shocking for most liberal minds to contemplate. Observing our species in its raw rather than cooked state is left to the servants. It is evaded as we evade our own deaths.
There have been honourable exceptions. Laurence Reese's Their Darkest Hour (2007) managed to escape the good versus evil trap to show how evil was to be found in the chaos of all sides of the Second World War. You certainly need a strong stomach to read his text to the end.
Similarly, the idea that actors involved in the drama were in full control of events always struck me as absurd, a point brought out in the diplomatic arena by Zachary Shore's What Hitler Knew (2002).
Hitler was an emotional chancer of not inconsiderable natural intelligence but, like all of us, he was not a person whose views did not change over time. Finding what precisely drove him affects every judgement we subsequently make about his regime.
Was he driven by antisemitism or by something else? Cesarani certainly makes the plausible case that, in fact, although anti-semitic, he was more driven by his nationalism and an imperialist analysis of the state of Germany.
Reese and Shore helped bring me to the conclusion that, just like a lot of corporate and administrative life today, most activity takes place in a state of muddle in which sociopaths are constrained more or less by the degree to which the muddle is regulated.
The recent child abuse scandals across the world indicate that sociopathic predation is not deterred even by the existence of any ostensible cultural regulation.
Using Cesarani to Try & Understand What Happened
Coincidentally to the Livingstone 'scandal', I recently picked up what strikes me as the most definitive and most mature account of the war on the Jews I have yet read (I have not completed the book but the issue of Livingstone and the Labour Party is urgent: my comments below take us only to 1938).
This book is the late David Cesarani's distillation of a lifetime of Holocaust studies published this year, Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949. On the reading so far (and I will review it when I have completed it), it is a competent and humane account of the tragedy.
Cesarani does not offer us another folk tale but rather a sound explanation of events rooted in what people actually knew of their situation and in the context of their own interpretation of that situation.
The issue in our intellectually trivial mass media was whether
Livingstone was or was not an antisemite because he had made an
off-the-cuff remark that was interpreted as saying that Hitler was a
Zionist - much to the glee of excitable BBC reporters.
Cesarani's narrative, fact-based, is highly instructive in assessing Livingstone's claims. I use those facts here while making it clear that the interpretation is mine. And why do I allow myself to comment when I have only got to 1939 in the book? Because Livingstone was referring primarily to the early period of Nazi rule, the era of the so-called Haavara Agreement.
His comments should be judged on an understanding of what the Nazi regime was thinking in that period when it was in effective coalition with German Conservatism and not from the perspective of the exterminatory 1940s.
The fact that people change their mind over time has to be accepted and the error not made of believing what happened at point B was part of the understanding of the people at point A.
As the 'enemy within' (of which more later), the preferred strategy of the Nazis in the 1930s came to be expulsion (much as the Moriscos were expelled in Spain in the 1490s) but a series of unfortunate facts on the ground conspired to drive the regime into encouraging emigration through terror
and expropriation at a time when the Jews had nowhere to go and the
only ones with a plan under such circumstances were the Zionists.
As we shall see, the soup of terror, theft and murder emerged out of many ingredients - the reluctance of ordinary Jews to be expelled, the vicious anti-semitism of the dim-witted ordinary activist in the populist movements that underpinned the regime, the perception of Hitler that the Jews were getting in the way of his war plans, the emergence of ambitious Nazi radicals in the security apparat, the inability (rather than failure) of the West to provide a refuge for the expelled or send in troops on humanitarian grounds (we have seen how that has ended up in recent history), German desperation to build up economic resources for imperial ambitions and the diplomatic problems that suddenly emerged when the radicals tried to dump the problem on the British Empire.
In this context, the Zionist strategy in Germany assisted the process of apartheid without actually enabling much migration while the Zionist strategy in America, almost certainly from ignorance rather than intent, began to 'prove' to National Socialists (and indeed Italian Fascists) that Jewry was international and was engaged in a project to limit and control the aspirations of European nation-states that had lost out on the plundering of the world by the Western Empires.
From apartheid to expropriation and expulsion, the road to extermination emerged as the final act in a drama in which an 'enemy within', constructed in part by the way that the West criticised the regime, came to look like a fifth column using up vital resources in a struggle of existential import to the Nazis.
The poor Jewish people across Europe found itself positioned as something it never was, an active trans-national plot against Germany and, without intent, Zionism accidentally helped in the construction of that meaning by its own determination to be an international actor.
The Zionists and the Nazis - The Alliance of the Incommensurable
Cesarani makes it clear that the National Socialists
actively encouraged Zionist-like solutions to the 'Jewish Problem' between
1933 until the borders closed with war in 1939.
The 'alliance' of convenience between Nazis and Zionists began originally as a shared interest in diminishing the sincerely felt belief of
most conservative German Jews that they had a place in Germany and were not simply (in the Nazi formulation) Jews in Germany.
By analogy we can see the difference in tone that the term 'British Muslims' has from 'Muslims in Britain'. The first is inclusive and the second positions Muslims as the 'other' and potentially, in a crisis, the 'enemy within'.
Zionists were complicit in this, initially willingly and latterly certainly not so, although for complicated reasons. One of those reasons was they wanted assimilationist conservative Jews to feel that they had no place in Germany because they wanted these Germans, many wealthy and cultured, to emigrate to an ethnically pure Jewish homeland, preferably in Palestine.
Zionists were engaged in their own cultural, political and ideological struggle within Western Judaism. They were temporarily blinded (in Europe) by that internal struggle to the threat to Jews of being seen as 'internationalists' in an age of nationalism where, paradoxically, a Jewish version of the prevailing nationalism would be seen as an internationalist plot against specific nationalisms.
Both Zionists and National Socialists were creatures of the late nineteenth century with a similar pseudo-scientific essentialism about their own identity, an essentialism you might then have found across the so-called civilised world, in late British imperialism as much as in the Japanese Empire.
However, we can never go so far as to say that Hitler 'was a Zionist' (that
claim does not stand up) but only that an identity of interest emerged
in these years which fell apart only when the Nazis realised that the British
were themselves considering creating a Jewish State in Palestine, one which
would have given Jews a recognised diplomatic status from which to
criticise the National Socialist regime.
At that point, Nazi policy remained the expulsion of the Jews by forcing them to emigrate but the Zionist model of a Palestinian homeland ceased to be of any intrinsic interest to the Nazis smewhere between 1936 and 1938.
The Nazis just wanted the Western powers or neighbouring states to take them off their hands and, to jump ahead beyond our 1938 cut-off date, the Nazis were still obsessed with strategies of expulsion rather than extermination well into their war on Poland in 1939.
The diplomatic status of the Jewish people in this context was relevant in its potential for mobilising further the most
Nazi-critical force of consequence in international relations, the American Democrats
who were in power under FDR and, as we shall see, Jewish activism in the US had a disturbing kick-back effect on German attitudes.
We like to date American hegemony from the middle of the Second World War when it took over from an exhausted British Empire and sealed the deal in the Suez Crisis but, in fact, American economic power, even under conditions of Depression, and its associated diplomatic influence were already central to the deliberations of weaker European powers in the 1930s.
The diplomatic status concern emerged because Jews overseas had emerged as a force to be reckoned with in defending their kindred in Germany.
We might say that we had here an emergent conflict of Zionisms - one in the West seeking to bring the West into play against Germany on behalf of German Jews in general and one in Germany seeking to collaborate with the National Socialists against the German-Jewish community that was not Zionist.
This fact alone belies the claim of a co-ordinated International Jewry. Yet Jews were speaking to each other on political matters and sufficiently so to create the perception of 'International Jewry' amongst those minded to see it.
Conservative German Jews themselves tended (until a certain point of no return) to want to quieten down Western protest precisely because of the provocative effects on German national feeling and the way it raised doubts about their own loyalty just as they initially competed with Zionists in an effort to halt the apartheid process within Germany. The Zionists and the religiously orthodox Jews had less of a problem with the 'apartheid' model.
By 1936-1937, the situation had
become so critical for Jews in Germany that the representatives of
German Jewry (who had had a very different vision of the future of the
Jews in Europe than the Zionists) and the Zionists started to co-operate.
also changed after an abortive attempt (stopped by the British) of a
small Nazi delegation to visit Palestine and meet with right-wing
Zionists. The diplomatic issue (see above) had also intruded at this point and the Nazis were starting to radicalise their own emigration strategy which they saw as existential because of the coming (as Hitler saw it) inevitable war of survival.
From the Anschluss (March 1938) onwards, Zionists remaining in Austria and then in Germany were trapped into becoming little more than a tool of a strategy that might have accorded with their ends but which definitely did not accord with their vision of the means.
Zionists can certainly not be held responsible for any 'complicity' after this period, perhaps for quite some time before, for the simple reason that they had no choice in the matter. So, the situation is complicated, as complicated as, say, the decision to immolate a hundred thousand people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Far far more complicated
than Livingstone implied but there was still more substance to his claims
(taken as a brief period of history when the full extent of Nazi Party
determination to impoverish German Jews and chase them out of Germany
was unclear) than critics like John Mann can admit. The obviousness of the radical strategy of total expropriation emerged only with Kristallnacht (1938).
It is certainly not
anti-semitic to point out uncomfortable truths about the three years of
early Nazi-conservative rule in Germany but it should equally be said
that the alliance of interest between right-wing Zionists (who showed,
at times, proven disregard for the fate of Jews who wanted to remain
Europeans) was based on the assessment which many shared at the time that
Nazi policy was merely going to be a matter of 'apartheid'.
What no one, not even the Nazis, were seriously envisaging was that 'apartheid' was just the first
stage of a process that would later lead to extermination both by deliberation and under the
exigencies of war within a decade. Extermination emerged out of repeated alternative policy failures under conditions where the Nazis had truly boxed themselves into a corner from which there was no escape.
The Radicalisation of the Nazis
The problem was that the emigration solution proved difficult because most Jews understandably would not follow their own Zionist ideologues and give up their lives and livelihoods as German Jews easily. Most German Jews were, bluntly, not Zionists in the 1930s.
The emigration strategies of Nazis and Zionists alike were equally stymied by the politically understandable reluctance of the Western Powers to offer hundreds of thousands of Jews a new home during domestic economic crises and, in the case of Palestine, with the threat of destabilising further an unstable part of the British Empire.
German frustration was driven by the brute fact that whatever they did, there was nowhere for the Jews to go - just as the small town and rural Nazis were becoming increasingly vicious in their frustration that the Jews were not being 'emigrated' as promised.
The oil between these two wheels - Nazi populism below the level of the leadership and Western inability to offer help to the Jews (and it was a political inability since some politicians seem to have been keen to do more but were constrained by democracy itself) - was provided by one particular Nazi faction, its Jesuits in the SS, who applied moderate intellect and relative efficiency to an ignorant and chaotic ideology.
It was the SS, specifically Eichmann, who opportunistically grabbed the power being provided by populist street action to seize administrative control of the Jewish Problem and make active use of Zionist networks to try and drive the emigration strategy just as Goring and other Nazi bosses were driving the matter for entirely different reasons (war preparedness) through overt expropriation.
If 'extermination' was not a confirmed policy of the Nazis in the 1930s, expulsion was - even ghettoisation tended to be accidental rather than deliberate until after war was declared. Extermination only emerged later as an
option (although radical Nazis never shied from the policy conceptually) when large
numbers of Jews were trapped inside German territory as borders closed.
economics of the situation in the mid-1930s had already implied that from being producers (the basis
of early relative 'tolerance' under the influence of Schacht) the Jews (thanks, of course, to the very policies of marginalisation and expropriation) had
become drains on the resource required for the future war effort.
This attached itself to a sort of existential
panic amongst the Nazi elite that, combined with their absurd theories and
ideology, would eventually sentence both Jews and leading Nazis to death. Cesarani brings out a number
of other pressures working towards tragedy in this context.
One is the pressure on Hitler and the elite
from their own radical (mostly rural and small town North German) party
activists. It seems that the racist Nuremburg Laws were actually welcomed by many
German Jews as giving (in theory) some protective legal basis for what
was in danger of turning into a lawless pogrom.
More than once, the
leadership was driven by the lawlessness of the Party, especially during the period of joint rule with conservatives.
shirt elements may not have been a threat to the military after the
Night of the Long Knives but they and the Gauleiters could still act as a populist rabble that
claimed to speak for the ideals in Mein Kampf (even where their Fuhrer
appeared to have moved on somewhat).
There is evidence of frequent
attempts to try and manage the rabble from above in these early years rather than to egg them on. Racist radicalisation emerges as a force emanating from state enterprises only with Himmler's acquisition of security functions and the failure of conservative policies to achieve the nationalist and imperialist (not antisemitic) ends of Hitler.
Hitler might be characterised by the mid-1930s as an 'old man in a hurry', watching the clock tick and seeing time working against his life's work.The frustration of Hitler with the Jews as threat to his war aims and the populist instinct for the pogrom only merged with the horrors of Kristallnacht, an operation actually engineered by Goebbels much to the irritation and frustration of other Nazi barons.
With the monstrous Kristallnacht and the impetus it gave to a radical intensification of the expropriation to force emigration strategy under Goring aided by Heydrich and the Ministries, the Nazi regime entered a new and fateful phase and Zionism becomes virtually irrelevant to the story except as non-consensual creatures of the SS' emigration strategy.
The balance of interest in
1933-1935, however, was towards an 'apartheid' (much as we rightly deplore this today) that initially permitted Jews to have their
own economic and cultural identity as Jews in Germany rather than as German Jews, a status preferable (it seemed to many Jews) to being
attacked by brown shirted thugs or having to abandon their assets and lifestyles
for an untested future in Palestine, a French slum or Madagascar.
Bear in mind that the Western Governments tolerated, even if they disapproved morally, South African apartheid for many decades after the Second World War. And we have to say that there are some apartheid elements, 'justified' by security considerations, even today in aspects of right-wing Israeli policy directed at the Arabs.
As we shall see, the effects of Western boycotts on national
economic viability while Hitler was planning his war for 'lebensraum'
turned the Jews from being a cultural problem that could be solved
through apartheid or expulsion ('medievalism') into an existential
modern problem perceived to be decisive to any potential failure in prosecuting an eventual war
The malign ideology and bad science of
the Nazis conspired accidentally with the self-righteousness of external
activism to reinforce the conspiracy theory and worsen the position of
the Jews at a time when the struggle for Germany appeared to be becoming increasingly existential to men
How Right Was Livingstone?
Cesarani plausibly argues that, though Hitler was
deeply antisemitic, his antisemitism was second
order (in comparison to many of his followers) to his prior interest in
making Germany great again through successful war-mongering.
were not the main object of his policy but were incidental to his main object
- the conduct of war (although, of course, he saw the war as one not
only for respect and empire but against 'International Jewry' so it would be foolish to say that the Jews were not a consideration here).
tragedy unfolds in the 1930s in part as overseas Jewish responses confirmed the
conspiracy theory and the Nazi radicals in charge of the security apparat
(notably Himmler and Heydrich) were enabled by these attacks on German
aspirations (as they saw them) to promote their position as agents within the Nazi State.
German Jews were squeezed between the policy
priorities of the senior Nazi elite, the ideological obsessions of the
Party whose radicals had captured the state security apparat and the radical activism
Zionism denied any solution to the problem that positioned Jews as
good Germans, a positioning which German conservatives (who shared power
with the Nazis until around 1936) and Catholics (who acted as a
restraining influence in Bavaria and the South) could conceivably countenance.
Zionists can definitely not be said to have not had the Jewish interest
at heart (that would be absurd) but their commitment to cultural
separateness found itself in a call-and-response relationship to
National Socialism because their ideologies were surprisingly similar in
many ways during the early 1930s.
On the evidence of Cesarani,
for the period to 1936 at least and in muted form possibly beyond, there was a relationship of sorts between ideological
National Socialism and ideological right-wing Central European Zionism -
enemies fundamentally but both complicit in separating out the Jewish people from
their European heritage and creating a unique identity, either to be
contained and made self-sufficient or expelled from Europe.
Livingstone was saying that Hitler and his advisers on Judenpolitik were
Zionist, he is wrong. If he was saying that Hitler accommodated Zionism
as the lesser evil, that his advisers and executives were favourable to
Zionism over and against other forms of Jewish political expression and that Nazis and Zionists willingly collaborated for a period to resolve
the 'Jewish problem' through exclusion and expulsion/migration, then he
appears to be right.
But he is right only for this very early stage of
National Socialist rule (1933-1936) when Conservatives and Zionists both retained some
power and when economic considerations restricted the ability of the
regime to damage Jewish domestic economic power or alienate the US in
As we will see, it was the US which alienated Germany as much as Germany alienated the US - their world views were incommensurate. The Jewish situation worsened when their asset value as restraint on the West (especially America) shifted from one based on attempted economic extortion to a brute and obvious positioning as hostages on good behaviour (meaning non-interference with German imperial expansion).
Once Germany appeared to have got past the
propaganda coup of the 1936 Olympics, won some foreign policy victories
that created domestic enthusiasm for the regime and Hitler had shifted
from a conservative economic policy to a radical Four Year Plan directed
at a war in the East (late 1936), the conspiracy theorist in Hitler saw
the actual recent conduct of American Jews as 'proof' of the danger of International
Jewry to his war ambitions.
Interestingly, Mussolini interpreted matters in a very similar way and flip-flopped in his previously tolerant approach to Italian Jews after the activist criticism of his Abyssinian adventure which he also put down to Jewish agitation.
Hitler seems not only to have become
enraged at the Jews but to have given the space for Himmler and Heydrich
(using the security apparat) to overwhelm the rule of law and actively
invent an intensified and more brutal anti-semitism (but still directed at emigration) even where it did not exist before. This rage is what permitted the authorisation for Kristallnacht.
question begged by Livingstone's intervention, though, is whether
right-wing Zionism worsened the situation for German Jewry or not.
own view (looked at from 1938 but not later) is that it did but only
marginally when compared to the inherent malignancy of Nazi ideology,
the understandable but damaging blockage placed upon migration by
worried neighbours and the logic of Hitler's policy of war.
always going to be economically unsustainable for Germany and would inevitably leave behind the lines
hundreds of thousands of people alienated from national socialism by
national socialism itself.
The tragic logic of the situation was (after
marginalisation) towards Jewish containment (a trajectory of policy that was initially and ironically regarded by
many as preferable to
disordered pogroms - a malign 'tribute' to the value of German order, an
order that eventually murdered millions in an apparently orderly way), deprivation of resources and,
eventually, systematic extermination
worst that could be said of right-wing Zionism was that it was not helpful to the situation in 1931-1935 and
that its model of Jewish separation became a self-fulfiling prophecy that helped drive that trajectory of death.
Its American version also helped to turn a national German prejudice about Jews into a more existential
matter in which the will to extermination could eventually flourish, weakening
conservative restraint on national socialism by feeding into the fantasies about the power of International Jewry.
But the logic of
national socialism (war) and the nature of its ideology placed the Jews
in a situation of potential destruction from day one. Perhaps the dabbling and
equally inappropriate ideology of right-wing Zionism merely brought the
crisis forward a bit, weakened the Conservatives of course and made things a little easier for the Nazi extremists.
But we cannot make
the right-wing Zionists in any way responsible for the crimes of
National Socialism. If Livingstone's point is that
right-wing Zionism is problematic and problematically linked to national
socialist attitudes to politics, then he has that point but no more than that point.
We cannot go so far as to assume that 'Hitler was a Zionist' rather
than that the Nazis supported Zionism as an option in a critical period.
The right-wing Zionists proved to be right about the need for Jews to
escape Europe at that time even if they contributed to the conditions
that created the reason to escape.
It is as if they were complicit in
forcing the issue and were sometimes half-aware of what they were doing
but without being responsible for the unforeseeable tragic consequences. We are dealing with a tragedy beyond anyone's control other
than the Nazis (and even their control of events has been exaggerated).
They too were hurtling to their own destruction on the basis of their
The Austrian Tipping Point
is more to add because the collaboration with Zionism was to continue but
under very different circumstances in Austria after the Anschluss in
1938. Cesarani continues to make the point that Hitler's Judenpolitik
was virtually in abeyance by this time. The Fuhrer's primary concern was
the impending war effort so that appropriating Austria was merely appropriating a
potential war asset.
On the other side, Austrian Nazi activists were little more
than a thieving and vengeful rabble who made their German counterparts look civilised. The German military was even forced to
restore order (not the first time) under Nazi orders
against the thuggery of Nazi activists in Vienna. There was to be similar confusion and ambiguity in the wake of Kristallnacht.
Hitler nor the Party activists were interested in Zionism per se by this
time - Hitler (with Goring as lead economic organiser) saw the Jews only as either an asset or a liability in the cause of
war while the party activists just wanted humiliation
and dispossession without any considered strategy. Looting and humiliation of a hated enemy was the imaginative limit of many activists.
The policy gap was eventually to be filled by
Eichmann, deputed to Vienna in March 1938 or thereabouts, who promptly
introduced a policy of encouraging emigration by arranging the release
of Jews from detention to recreate the 'Zionist' infrastructure.
Eichmann even made financial arrangements to help restore some economic cohesion to
the Jewish community while they were being plundered by the local Austrian
Party and 'legally' by Goring from Berlin.
What Eichmann 'achieved' in Vienna was so successful locally that the same methodology was re-imported to Germany. A new strategy of expropriation (rather than just marginalisation, civil restrictions and punitive taxation) was employed that was designed to increase the asset base of the State but also, again, drive Jews to emigrate.
We cannot say that Hitler or the Nazi Party was at all 'Zionist' at this point but we can say that the Nazi security apparat was still
collaborating with Zionism in 1938 although under conditions where the
Zionists were no longer equal partners
(as it might be argued they were in 1933) but simply tools with little
choice in helping to drive the emigration policy of mid-level Nazi technocrats.
What happened in Austria confirmed that any pretence of 'co-operation'
was now over and that Zionists were simply being forced to collaborate in
finding a way out for the Jewish community which, by now, to anyone with
any judgment, was passing the point of no return.
To get out if you had the money was the only possible and
reasonable solution but only for middle class Jews who had some
resources. The idea of being an assimilated European Jew was now a
nonsense wherever the National Socialist writ or influence might run. The Zionists had won an Pyrthic intellectual victory over the assimilated German Jews.
How Zionism and Nazi Ideology Could Be Alike
is staggering in retrospect that this shift from a 'civilised'
apartheid based on identity politics (there is an irony here in that modern British identity politics owes a great deal to Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London) to full pogroms (Vienna and Kristallnacht in 1938) and
the total plundering of Jewish wealth for other purposes took barely
There is no reason why any European
Jew at the beginning of the process could have predicted the state of
affairs at the end. This lets Zionism off the hook somewhat as
'prescient' perhaps about the need to emigrate but also, in one interpretation. in collaborating for a solution that
was (on paper) against the interests of liberal European Judaism.
Zionists were working with
like-minded identity politicians on the other side but not realising that their temporary
collaborators were infinitely more ruthless and chaotic. Nazi rationality (and it was rational from false
assumptions like all activist ideologies) was based not (also ironically) on
identity alone but on a preparedness to use violence and war as the means of preserving the
Livingstone (if he intended this) makes a good point that right-wing
Zionism was 'like' National Socialism in certain key respects (as an
ideological ethno-nationalism that had limited interest in those of its own kind
who did not subscribe to the ideology)
but he was wrong in another.
Zionism lacked the power to be an equal
of a rival ideology with full access to the resources of a major
European State and it faced a philosophy of utter hatred towards its own
base, the Jewish people. So, Zionists in 1933 were as deluded as to the
future as virtually everyone else in that year.
logical with the Nazis within their own ideological model because they were deluded. Livingstone has
misinterpreted what happened by reading back from the present his own
concerns about the conduct of Israel in a very different situation while rightly positioning
German Interwar Zionism as on the European Political Right (whatever may
have happened to it later).
to call his interpretation anti-semitic is wholly wrong - even
disgraceful - since many assimilationist and other liberal Jews would
have shared a negative assessment of Zionism and deplored the acceptance
of their own removal from Europe as ethnic
cleansing avant la lettre.
They would equally have deplored early Zionist collaboration with
Eichmann and other Nazi technocrats. They cannot have known that the
Zionists would be proved right by history (indeed, the Zionists had no
prescience of the extermination themselves).
The fact that only emigrant
Central European Jews were likely to survive the following decade or so
was no more understood by Zionists than anyone else in 1933 - even
It might have been better therefore if Mann had not behaved as a bit of verbal thug
himself in the street but had contested Livingstone's interpretation on what facts were available. He would certainly not have won the argument that
Livingstone was anti-semitic but he would have won the argument that
'Hitler was not a Zionist'.
Mann would, had he behaved in a measured way, have increased understanding in the
general population of the nature of interwar antisemitism and why
Israel has the collective mentality it often has.
He would perhaps have reduced the
instinct for antisemitism after Gaza and redirected the questioning to the specific conduct of the Israeli Government rather than the existence or general ideology of the country.
Israel today is not the same creature as the one imagined by right-wing Central European interwar Zionists. But Mann threw away
the game on irrationality and emotion, showing up a political party (in its
subsequent actions which disciplined the victim of the verbal assault and not the perpetrator) that now looked no longer fit for office
The Bolshevik 'Threat'
A key factor in all this is that the German view of the Jews was not entirely without basis historically but that the basis for Nazi claims was not adequately questioned because the average German right wing political activist, let alone 'citizen', was as intellectually lazy as our average contemporary British Labour MP. The anti-semitic history was inadequately questionedby all parties.
We have to understand the average German reaction to the disproportionate
role of Jewish intellectuals in the Bolshevik-driven chaos of 1918-19
and to the role of radical Zionism and the Jewish community
mobilising the American Democrats
and the Left in Western Europe against Germany in 1933-1934.
interpreted as being engaged in a war on German aspirations. Both were seen as
actual conspiracies in operation against the German national interest. Ideological rigidity was as much on the Bolshevik and American Democrat side as on that of the National Socialists.
The Jewish community anywhere is mostly very ordinary and
just like the rest of us who are not Jewish. The myth of Jewish genius is like all national-ethnic myths, harmful to the right of ordinary folk to live ordinary lives without being defined from outside, a right specifically denied by the National Socialists.
The problem of incommensurate world views tends to lies in the activism and propaganda of a very small minority of
activists and their influence on the mass. Most Germans too were basically decent, if morally lazy, just like us and most Jews.Ordinary people may not have loved the Jews but most were shocked and unhappy at the excesses of Kristallnacht ... they were not liberal but also not cruel.
Many excesses against Jews can be put down to a demographic - very young people, indoctrinated over the cohorts that received their education between 1933 and 1938, and slightly older cohorts who had suffered humilation and loss of opportunities between 1929 and 1933. These were the ones who be militarised between 18 and 21 and have received the most intensive anti-semitic indoctrination.
But returning to the Bolshevik problem, the
mythologies of the War on the Jews have allowed us to evade the implications
of what actually happened. For example, the Bolshevik risings in Central Europe did
look co-ordinated to Germans and were partly co-ordinated in fact.
These risings seriously
frightened the solid base of national conservatism.
They were opportunistic but they looked like a 'stab in the back' especially as
the Bolsheviks had deliberately stabbed the Russian war effort in the back
in 1917-1918. The indoctrinated activists in their twenties and teens received a mythic history of struggle that covered the period of their childhood.
Hitler added to this mix a radical evolutionary analysis
that, offensively, saw German survival as based on the same sort of
imperial expansion as the British had undertaken. Germany could,
however, only build an empire in one direction, eastwards. There, it faced not only a new rising Soviet empire which was perceived to be partly
Jewish-led but a large number of Jews who were 'in the way'.
imperialist war-mongering, an intensification of British and other Western imperialist attitudes but with
rassenpolitik added, also involved a perceived defensive element.
Only the Communists on the one side and Western liberals, including many American Democrats, had a critique of imperialism. Both were to prove very weak in their convictions when the opportunity for different forms of empire came their way after the defeat of the Nazis.
Imperialism was normal in this era and the question for Germans was only how they, as a significant economic power in potential, shared in the loot. But a failure to act (in the perception of many Germans) would place Germany in the position of being a victim and
not predator on economic fundamentals
within a few years.
The economy had to be put on a sound footing not for its own sake but in order to re-enter the struggle for survival that Social Darwinism (and not just in Germany) considered the normal condition of humanity.
Whether true or not is not the point. This vision helped to create a perception of
'Jewish' Bolshevism as being not only a proven past threat but a probable future threat with a
only brief window offered (in Hitler's eyes), by exercising an act of national will, to change the tide of
One of the differences between Marxism-Leninism and National Socialism was that the former saw history progressively in terms of particular inevitabilities whereas National Socialism saw nothing inevitable except through weakness, lack of engagement in history and lack of will.
Although the philosophers cannot be held responsible for the political expressions of their world view, Hegel and Nietzsche were combatting here over the nature of existence through half-educated and ignorant ideological proxies.
The Jewish role in 1918-1919 thus became part of the 'proven' and probable threat
(noting that Stalin's purges did not get under way until 1935-1936 and
so the 'old Bolsheviks' had not been clearly eliminated) just as Hitler put together his war strategy in those same years.
wonder whether Stalin's purges had an element of trying to lance the
boil of Nazi perceptions but I have seen no evidence of this. If he did have that purpose, it would have been futile - the matter was existential for Hitler. However, it was not only the Soviets whose world view was incommensurate with National Socialism.
How American Capitalism Was Understood
US situation was entirely different. It might be regarded as offering a problem
of democratic politics shared with Germany insofar as, unlike the Soviet Union,
National Socialism represented a form of quasi-populist pseudo-democracy
in which the actions of party workers
and public opinion had real political meaning.
George Orwell has almost certainly not done us a favour in helping the liberal mind take totalitarianism as meaning far more totality of control than there was in both the Soviet and National Socialist cases.
In both cases, the State had full control in crushing any obvious dissent against the ideology through terror but it was proportionately driven to radical positions, ones that could be inconvenient to policymakers, by activist and popular readings of the ideologies themselves.
Liberal ideological hegemony in the West today operates in a similar way but with 'terror' replaced with manufactured shame and guilt.
In the period 1934-1936, there was thus an American-German clash of cultures derived from the working of two
domestic political forces on their respective leaderships and
pulling them apart. In the US, the New York Jewish community was engaged
in its own political struggle to establish itself as a voice in the
American Democrat Party.
It was divided between conservative and radical
Jews, either Zionist or Leftist or both. The latter mobilised through an assertive Zionist and
internationalist commitment to World Jewry whereas the former adopted a
more conservative 'fraternal relations' approach with Jews overseas,
listening to them rather than claiming to speak for them.
As we have noted, conservative German Jews begged American Jews to go easy on the Nazi regime because
radical activism angered the nationalistic pride of Germans (which many German Jews shared at that time).
both the idea that German Jews were not loyal Germans (which would have horrified German Jews) and that there was some
sort of plot against Germany in which Jews were participants.
Part of the
problem was that National Socialism had two enemies in its own
mind that were enemies of each other (Liberal Capitalism and Bolshevism). They could only be presented as one enemy by introducing a spurious all-encompassing Jewish
Bolshevism we have covered above but capitalism was the other
threat and there is some evidence here that Zionist
activism may have made things worse only because it did not understand or perhaps care what was driving German sentiment.
The point to remember is that millions of Germans
had lost their jobs and were thrust into penury in 1929 (only five years or so years after an earlier inflationary economic shock that had destroyed middle class savings) because
American 'capitalists' under pressure at home had simply withdrawn their
funds and left Germany in the lurch.
Perhaps we can now understand this anger better after 2008 given the language of Occupy and their attack on banksters although the pain after our recent crash was nothing compared to the pain of Germans (and indeed most other developed nations) after 1929.
Why the American capitalists did this was not clear to
many people who had not been raised in a pure free market culture. The simple fact of the capital flight and its consequences created a gap of understanding into which conspiracy theory, anger and resentment could enter.
However, the positions of Hitler and the Nazi
leadership on the one hand and that of the mass of the Party were different, at least
initially. Hitler metaphorically cut off the heads of the SA in the Night of
the Long Knives but he left the Party in existence, inchoate and the basis
of his power. Hitler led it but he was also led by it - and it could prove
an embarrassment at times in the early years.
The Party's version of the iniquity of American capitalism - initially subsumed under the national socialism of the Strasser Brothers - lost its alternative racial-socialist interpretation at the top with the purge of 1934 so that anger turned even more fiercely towards the anti-semitic analysis as the basis for an explanation for what was inexplicable.
The anti-capitalist interpretation of events were only to return later (from 1936), with the anti-semitic elements even further intensified, because an attempt to accommodate capitalism under conservative leadership failed to deliver the goods in the eyes of the Nazi elite. Events in the US seemed to suggest that the failure was down to active Jewish interference in weakening the German economy.
This part of the tragedy begins because the National Socialists initially
were concerned solely with strengthening the economy through traditional
capitalist means but with added corporatism. Hitler not only brought the military under his wing but also the national capitalists by promising to maintain order and property. Big business offered in return to make Germany strong.
This first phase had the
economy run not by Nazis but by a Conservative Hjalmar
Schacht who protected Jewish economic interests to a degree, not because
he liked Jews but because the Jews were major contributors to German
economic strength. The assumption was that, here, that 'international Jewry' could still be made to work for Germany.
The aim was to encourage inward investment but within apartheid lines - which shows some seriously sloppy thinking and arrogance on the part of the Nazis.
But the Nazi
Party's demands for a 'Judenpolitik' (ironically moderated to some extent
in the Nuremburg Laws) created a tension with the American Jewish
interest in defending their 'own people' - as a people first without
regard for the national German context.
Zionists and liberals in New York were, of course, 'morally' right but their protests
led to boycotts, diplomatic problems for Germany and restraints on
investment. Schacht's policies directed at controlling and taxing Jewish wealth unfairly
then compounded the anger on the American side
which reached to the level of the Presidency.
By the time of the 1936
Olympics, Germany had lost a PR battle it was never going to win but it had
rebuilt its economy (admittedly on sand) despite the boycotts and
But if a German war machine could not be built against the Soviet
Union with the support of the West, then Germany (around late
1935/1936), once the Olympics were out of the way, would do it on its
own. But the three years of boycotts and diplomatic pressures had by now been interpreted as Jewish disloyalty and subversion.
had developed in Nazi Leader's minds that the Jews were not potentially neutral Conservative Germans to be fleeced within their economically viable social 'ghettos' but were a potential Fifth Column and a source of assets that might be used by Germans themselves. There was no incentive, as conservative policies failed, even to allow the category of German Jews to exist.
The Plundering Years
For Goring, Schacht's successor as master of Germany's economic destiny, as 1936 became 1937 and then 1938,
Jewish wealth was of more use (in his opinion) to the Reich expropriated
than operating within a corporatised free market system,
We can now see
where this was heading. The Anschluss (seizure of power in Austria, 1938)
brought all this to a head. The Nazi Leadership had simply given up on
Western approval and understanding. Kristallnacht was just a giant 'get stuffed' gesture to the West. Germany now adopted a position of full-on nationalist defiance.
American boycotts had, in fact, proved potentially disastrous to Germany and had caused immense worry to the Nazi Leadership whose own survival depended on delivering the economic goods after the disaster of 1929 in order to prosecute the policy of 'German greatness'. At the same time, the global economy was not exactly driving forward as 1937 turned into 1938.
The Nazi solution was not
to act 'rationally' along the lines assumed to be 'rational' by Americans (who perhaps never
learn about the counter-productive nature of sanctions to existentially threatened regimes) but, on the contrary, they drove ever harder towards
autarkic solutions involving expropriation. There were calculations about balance of payments that made this inevitable.
It is hard, however, to see
what else American Jews could have done except protest and boycott since no
action at all would have involved complicity with an apartheid regime
that would have exported its ideology at Jewish expense across the world.
Indeed, the background in the mid-1930s was a sharp rise in deliberate state antisemitism - in Romania, Poland and Italy in particular and antisemitic feeling was rising in the United Kingdom and France (and elsewhere) - in response to the German example.
The perceived lack of Western understanding of German nationalism in the 1933-1935 period was not just a Nazi sentiment either. Conservatives were
clearly getting as fed up as Nazis with Western cultural intransigeance by 1935 and the sentiment was shared by many ordinary Germans.
Add to the pot the German sense of grievance over recent history, the complicated relationship between
German Jews and German Nationalism and the fact
that the language used by American activists (not always Jewish but also including many liberals) looked anti-German and we can see that the sense of
Germany being up against the wall and on borrowed time could be widespread.
Even German Jews found the American stance problematic. Both diplomatic
networks, German and American, were now being driven by populist pressures but were also ideologically attuned to distrust the other.
American diplomats were frustrated by the vicious crimes of the Nazi Party in the country and perhaps by the insouciance of the British. German diplomats made no headway because there was no headway to make.
While the Nazi
Leadership tended to choose effective conservatives over
incompetent Nazis (as they did in relation to the Wehrmacht in its
squabble with the SA and in economic policy while they were
working within a capitalist rather than a pseudo-state socialist
system), they would always choose Nazi policies over conservative policies when conservatism failed.
And there were certainly many Nazi radicals ready to fill the void left by conservative failure.
Economic stalling and balance of payments problems, even though Schacht
solved the immediate problems for Germany derived from the Crash, arose in part
because of boycotts and lack of investment because of bad PR.
Germany was not being integrated into the global economic system on its terms. It felt that it received nothing but often futile attempted obstruction in its drive to restore its economic base. This meant
that the regime could only concede to the American
'capitalists' or find an alternative expropriatory and autarkic strategy. There was no middle way.
The first required kow-towing to the West. The second meant defiance. Kow-towing would mean political suicide for the regime. Hitler himself would be unlikely to survive for long as Chancellor.
circumstances could the Party in the country and so Hitler permit
concessions to the degree necessary to reintegrate Germany into the world
system. Such concessions would ahalt Hitler's real project - empire. Hence the firing of Schacht.
Hence also, the shift of attitude towards the Jews from
being regarded as an economic asset to being regarded as a liability,
and, hence, the move towards expropriation and then extermination when 'all
other means had failed' (the notorious 'Final Solution'). In other
words, pure evil arose in part from a clash of world views when what we had had before was just qualified evil.
Judging Hitler and the Zionists
Nothing I write should be interpreted as a 'justification'
of Hitlerism - far from it. But the point here is that
Hitlerism is not the creature of one demonic mythic figure but a much more complex phenomenon.
His story is an example of what
happens when a) conditions become intolerable for too many people and b)
a politics of response is based either on false facts (such as racism
or conspiracy) and/or on false interpretations of history (Hitler was
right-ish about the methods of the British Empire but was wrong about
their applicability to Central European conditions).
One might say that
evil arises not from some sort of satanic malice or occult philosophy but from ignorance,
disorganisation, intellectual laziness and stupidity. The poor Jews were
truly in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It could certainly happen again to
some other bunch of poor sods quite as easily when all the pre-conditions are in place. What happened in Cambodia and Rwanda has at least served to shake us out of our torpor in this respect and stopped us believing that the genocidal mania of the 1940s was quite as unique as some would like to think.
To summarise where we have got to, we can say that while it is wholly ridiculous to call the Nazis Zionist, it is not ridiculous to
say that Nazis and right-wing German Zionists were mutually simpatico
for a brief period when the former were looking to emigration as the
solution to a 'problem' created out of their respective ideologies.
solution was, for a period, precisely the same solution as that of the Zionists but they were solutions to
different problems. And yet the solutions were similar enough that the two ideologies could cohere for a few years in a particular place.
The right-wing Zionists
were trying to out-compete conservative rivals for the affection of
German Jews and this period of mutual Nazi-Zionist sympathy certainly existed from
around 1932 to around 1936 but it equally certainly died with the Anschluss if not two years before with Hitler's public commitment to a war strategy in 1936.
By 1938, any Zionists within reach of the now all-powerful Nazi machine simply became the bullied tool of the radical emigration
strategy of that year, a strategy which was then stymied by the inability of
the Western powers to respond by opening their doors because of internal
political pressures ... this strategy was then further radicalised by war.
It is important to face up to this historical
misjudgement of a small part of the Jewish community and to the fact that the original impulse of Zionism
in relation to the Arabs is little different to that
of the Nazis to the Jews and the Slavs (and the Imperial Anglo-Saxons to their subject peoples) in one respect - settler
Right-wing Americans in particular have fetishised settler imperialism because of their own history of expansion on their continent
(the British now just pretend it never happened) but National Socialism was,
at heart, a settler-imperialist project first and an
anti-semitic project second.
For Jews to deny this aspect of their own
impulse (which pre-existed the persecution in Zionism) is part of the denial of this
brief period of 'simpatico'. The history of 1932-1938 is thus one of miscalculations by
everyone - Western Powers, Jews of all persuasions and Nazis.
situation was unprecedented. Each party was dealing with what
were to it existential problems: survival
in the mind-set of the two main participants (we should not
under-estimate the degree to which many Germans saw themselves as
potential victims of attack and colonisation from the East) and the political and cultural risks
of mass immigration in the case of the third.
know the Nazis got it profoundly wrong but there is a persistent
refusal to understand what circumstances created
the tragedy and why, once certain wheels were set in motion, things
had to turn out the way they did.
Above all, the Nazis had a false model of
imperialism (they should have listened to Lenin on the subject) while
conservative Jews had a false model of the German State. The West was
constrained by its own liberal democratic forms.
The Social Darwinism of
the era was one of those nut cults that science periodically produces - a bit like
climate change obsessionalism today - but it was far more generally acceptable across the West at the time than many of us realise.
All that Hitler did was to follow the theory through to its logical conclusions much as modern deep greens equally dangerously follow through some eco-political ideology to its logical end as nihilism about humanity.
But nothing is inevitable intrinsically. There would be merit in the National Socialist concept of the will in politics if only those willing things actually understood what they were willing in a rational way.
Things start to become
inevitable only if the players in the game insist on not being aware of
their own magical thinking. We see exactly the same thing playing out
today in the belt of idiocy from Tallinn to Kiev, an idiocy that may yet
turn millions of us into flaked ash in the convenience of our own
Some Contemporary Political Conclusions
So what of the Labour Party and Ken Livingstone and what of the political lessons to be learned today, at least those that go beyond trite statements like 'never again' from people who refuse to look what happened dead in the eye? Of Livingstone, we can say this. He interpreted facts without empathy and with a weak understanding of conditions at the time.
Having said this, Livingstone was at least trying to work with the facts and he was doing what we badly need to have done in our political culture - show a willingness to bring difficult data out into the open and debate their meaning transparently and accountably in order to guide future policy.
He was, somewhat hamfistedly, engaged in a primitive attempt at political education, spoiled somewhat by his own ideological prejudices. But there is no evidence of antisemitism here, merely evidence of a lack of deeper thought that might have been made deeper with a civilised debate.
As for the Labour Party (we should really pass over John Mann's conduct in silence), to suspend Livingstone was an act of panic by ignorant and frightened people under weak leadership who demonstrated, in this one act, that it was worse than intellectually flaccid, it was the creature of the ignorant, the lazy and the ideological.
That it compounded its error by not disciplining an MP (or at least being fair in not suspending Livingstone) who made unsubstantiated accusations about the motivation of a colleague beggars belief unless you accept that the Party itself has become ignorant, intellectually lazy and driven by ideological conflict.
Such a party, wherever it exists, does not deserve to rule, precisely because it reproduces the very qualities of National Socialism - ignorance, intellectual laziness and ideology - that drove it to disaster. Malice does not come into the matter.
The Labour Party is not alone in this. As the Brexit Debate has shown on all sides, liberal democratic politics has become more than a little degenerate when it comes to political education and civilised debate.
At its worst, it has become little more than a matter of professional half-wits posturing for advantage, an advantage dictated by their own emotionalism and posturing, designed to appeal to a population too busy with life to do more than treat politics as theatre.
But there are other lessons that are difficult from this dreadful period in human history. The first is that, yes, well, things are complicated and that it is important to be clear about one's values, to critique them in depth oneself and to consider the implications of placing those values too far ahead of the consequences of holding to them.
Part of the critique has to be a realisation that all our values are highly contingent on circumstance and are not quite the eternal verities each of us likes to think they are. An analysis of consequences cannot take place until we understand how the 'other' has come to have the values they have.
For whatever reasons, the West seemed to be both too pushy and too half-baked and indecisive in its reaction to National Socialism and, indeed, Bolshevism, not setting enforceable boundaries to behaviour early enough.
However, it also failed to find ways to relieve the pressure on events where the values of the other may not be ones we like but which might have to be recognised as sincerely held, then working to correct false perceptions and untruths and organising in advance in order to be able to police the limited but important value boundaries that had been set.
The mistakes made over Germany in 1919-1923 and then subsequently are being repeated today in the treatment of Russia with, one hopes, not such dire effects. Of course, hindsight is a beautiful thing and one cannot see how, in fact, things could have turned out easily in any other way.
The avoidance of Auschwitz and Nagasaki was probably beyond the capacities of everyone involved because everyone involved was working with limited data in real time and found their decision-making increasingly existential as each year passed.
What would have been required would have been beyond the period's capability and is beyond ours today - a rejection of imperialism in a determination to support national sovereign aspirations where they were in alignment with the popular will.
We might also refer to the need to detach the State as ordering mechanism from ethnicity and identity and a total economic system that concentrated on avoiding failed states rather than relying on the free market to decide whether ordinary people would go hungry or not.
Similarly the value boundaries are either not there, too rigid or too extensive today as then - asserted but not policed because activists demand too much of state powers that have neither the resources nor will to do anything but exhort and, through exhortation, create further resistance, defensiveness, resentment and an understandable reversion to identity.
Activist pressure in the interwar case could have been more subtle but it needed a stronger lead from states both in setting boundaries of acceptable behaviour (involving hard decisions) but also to be put in its box when it threatened to have worse consequences on the situation of those it purported to help.
The correct balance between righteous indignation and the safe exercise of power remains a problem today. Both Zionism and National Socialism were flawed ideologies with activist issues. They were both 'essentialist' about identity, placing race and ethnicity ahead of humanity.
Communism and American Liberalism have made similar errors in placing a universalised humanity ahead of really existing humans in all their complexity and difference. German and Austrian Conservative Jews were not much better with their deluded Wilhelmine or Austro-Hungarian Nationalism.
The unravelling of ideological formulations in favour of the questioning of all grand projects is one way forward - whether it be of Europeanism or British Identity - to be replaced with the politics of rational 'sufficient' (that is sufficiently organic and sized) nation-states that are secular, limited, administratively efficient, welfarist and defensive in international affairs.
Such states should be tolerant of difference and democratic but committed to neutral political education about the hard choices that arise from shared values. But, of course, that would take political courage in an ignorant population driven by infotainment values.
The ultimate lesson of the Livingstone controversy is that we have not progressed as far from the situation in the 1930s as we might have believed. All the participants have failed to be clear about their core values, engaged in sound-bites and simplifications.
They have also failed to engage in political education (which can be done simply through a cheap web site) and engaged in a populist politics in which decisions are being made in the light of how something will appear rather than whether it is true or not.
In this respect, in terms of style, Livingstone has the edge over his critics because he has tried to avoid becoming involved in a fruitless sound bite war until his case is fully prepared and it may be that he will adjust his view as he goes back to the facts in question.
Perhaps the low point lately has not been the Livingstone Debate but the Brexit Debate. We do not need to go too deep into it but the 'flip-flop' on Europe from Corbyn, McDonnell, Momentum and the intellectuals who service this Group on the Left springs to mind.
It is still unclear, given their profound and sustained criticism of the European Project which has extended in some cases for decades, how, within a space of a few months, like a herd of wildebeest frightened by some predator, they have turned into Remainers. Either they have been talking nonsense for decades or they are talking nonsense now. One suspects a bit of both.
What seems to have happened is that their position on the most significant, indeed existential, decision made by the British population in many decades has not developed out of a considered position on values but has emerged out of the need to manage a particular political power structure in contingent circumstances.
This is precisely the sort of short term event-responding decision that sets humanity on its paths of inevitability to disaster. And, lest you think I am only having a go at the Left, we see the same daft trajectories of inevitability taking place in NATO's dealings with Russia.
There we have rigid ideological thinking on Western expansion, disregard for Russian security and the self-determination of peoples, pandering to the ethnic nationalist instincts of small powers, failure to have a strategy of viable defence and a refusal to understand the cultural roots of Russian nationalism or the effects of activist interference in the region.
These have all combined to create the possibility of a trajectory towards conflict no different from that in the 1930s. At one level, we cannot learn from history - no past event ever repeats itself exactly as before. History is not a science. At another level, we learn from history by understanding not what was done but how things were done.
This means understanding and critiquing the trajectories and the common reactions of our species to our own ignorance and the repetitions of certain ways of dealing with circumstances, the construction of ideology, the demonisation of the other, the inability to critique value, the refusal to face facts, the allowance given to activist hysterics, the weakness in asserting our own considered values where it matters and our blind acceptance of the inevitability of things.
The Livingstone debate over the relationship between Zionism and National Socialism is a marker event, showing us how we misuse history in contemporary liberal politics and how, in doing so, we are likely to follow trajectories that lead us towards disaster in the future.
Saturday, 28 May 2016
Saturday, 7 May 2016
Dear X –
It is with regret that I resign from the Labour Party. Could you remove me from all membership and e-circulation lists? I do not think this will come as a surprise but it strikes me as good mannered to give some reasons. It would appear that I made a mistake in re-joining the Party and it is for me to take responsibility for my misjudgement. The reasons may, however, be instructive because I am not alone in my concerns.
1 Lack of Respect for Dissent Within the Tradition
The insulting response by the Labour In Europe representative to my dissenting position on the European Referendum and the failure of the Chair to offer any reasonable opportunity for a reply would not in itself be sufficient cause to leave.
What provided sufficient cause alongside other issues of concern was the discovery that a Party Conference decision was not merely the basis for the decision of the Party Leadership to unite around the pro-Remain policy (which is reasonable) but that it was clear that those who disagreed with the policy would, more generally, not be treated with respect but rather treated as the enemy within.
I was not alone across the Party in finding pressure, often bullying (though I would never accuse anyone in XXXXXXXXX CLP of this), being placed on Members not to promote a dissident view but to follow a ‘line’, an attitude that I thought was one that went out with the old Communist Party. This lack of respect for reasonable dissent within the democratic socialist tradition was, frankly, shocking.
2 Lack of Respect for Evidence-Based Debate
The recent furore over Livingstone’s radio comments was equally disturbing. In fact, Livingstone had expressed an opinion based on a reasonable interpretation of certain facts. He had not expressed any anti-Semitic opinion whatsoever and that was clear at the time. Another MP then barracked him aggressively in public and in an un-comradely way.
Again, if this had resulted in an open debate about what Livingstone said, it would be classed as political education. It may be that the balance of opinion might reasonably have contested his position. Instead, Livingstone was virtually witch-hunted in public and the MP who verbally attacked him not only escaped any censure for his appalling behaviour but was protected by the Whips.
The matter was then ‘framed’ in the media as one of general antisemitism (which was un-evidenced) in terms that bode ill for future freedom of debate and speech. Once again, the Party appeared to be moving towards the adoption of ‘lines’ and the rejection of open debate and away from a strategy of public political education which is the only way to engage honourably with the British people.
One aspect of this farrago was that the thuggish behaviour of the Labour Right and the intemperate arguments of the Labour Left were both derivative of the fact that each had its own constituency based on identity, Jewish or Left-Muslim in this case, which leads me to the third reason …
3 The Infiltration of the Party by Identity Politics
One thing that has radically changed since my earlier period with the Party is the further intensification of American-style identity politics as an acceptable ideology for a democratic socialist party. I find myself very uncomfortable with identity politics because it collectivises not the people as a whole but sections of the population around their attributes and beliefs. It is an indirect concession to fascism.
What do all these have in common? They represent a closed-in exclusive activist ideology that is deeply alienating to dissent within the democratic socialist tradition – a person can be disrespected because they are a) critical of the European Project, b) educated, meaning here willing to test opinions against facts and undertake a civilised debate, and c) male (and, no doubt, the wrong skin colour in some contexts).
Enough is enough. The Party was founded on general working-class representation and on Enlightenment principles based on educational improvement and equality. The post-Marxist infiltration of the Party has created something else entirely – a liberal-left middle class party that expects group-think as a matter of course and reinstates communitarian ideology in place of political pragmatism and liberation ideology.
This has little to do with Left and Right – I am a Corbyn supporter and the Labour Right have led on the promotion of identity politics – but everything to do with civilisation and progress. The Labour Right are far more culpable in general than the incoming Left but I am reluctant to waste the rest of my life trying to contribute to a Party in a state of near-civil war, one in which my core values are clearly not respected.
Having said all that, I want to emphasise that there is no rancour or issue with the local Party (other than the failure to challenge visiting officials and identity activists). I know that the members are hard-working, decent, intelligent and good people who have made great strides in a very conservative local environment. I wish them individually well but it would be wrong to stay silent.
Unfortunately, I cannot wish a Party well that I fear would bring its new habits of discrimination, authoritarianism and evasion and avoidance of challenging debate into high office. Armed with the machinery of the State, there is a serious risk that this culture of disrespect for dissent, of rejection of open debate in favour of media brawling and of discriminatory identity politics could become oppressive.
It is simply not enough to say that we should put up with these flaws in order to ensure a Labour Government, especially one that can reverse neo-liberal austerity measures. History teaches us that a Government that does not have core values based on reason and respect is a very dangerous Government and an anti-austerity culturally authoritarian Government could be very dangerous indeed.
If the Labour Party wants to win my vote (since that is now what it has come down to), it will have to demonstrate to me and to others that it represents the interests of the whole working population and not that of special interests, that it adopts pragmatic evidence-based policies and that it can accommodate reasoned debate and criticism on major existential issues. At the moment, the Party is not for me.
The resignation is effective immediately.