Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Friedrich Engels, proto-Nazi

Since my last post, I have been reading a great deal of material by the great theorists of communism - Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao - as well as some other more contemporary communist writers. I found the very early material, by Engels and Marx, very intriguing, and not for the first time I was struck by the similarities between 19th century German socialist thought and that of German National Socialism.

This quotation I found to be noteworthy. After the socialist revolution, Engels writes,

The anarchy within social production is replaced by consciously planned organization. The struggle for individual existence comes to an end. It is only at this point that man finally separates in a certain sense from the animal kingdom and that he passes from animal conditions of existence to really human ones. The conditions of existence environing and hitherto dominating humanity now pass under the dominion and control of humanity, which now for the first time becomes the real conscious master of nature, because and in so far as it becomes master of its own social organization. The laws of man's own social activity, which have hitherto confronted him as extraneous laws of nature dominating him, will then be applied by man with full knowledge and hence be dominated by him. Man's own social organization, which has hitherto confronted him as a process dictated by nature and history, now becomes a process resulting from his own voluntary action. The objective extraneous forces which have hitherto dominated history now pass under the control of man him self. It is only from this point that man will himself make his own history fully consciously, it is only from this point that the social causes he sets in motion will preponderantly and ever increasingly have the effects he wills. It is humanity's leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom. [Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, 1880]

Isn't this a description of Germany after the National Socialist revolution of 1933? Or what that revolution intended to achieve? 

Marx, Hitler - and the other National Socialist writers - aren't sufficiently read and understood. That is to say, people attribute false things to them, and intellectuals are often content to accept the misconceptions built up around their ideas, instead of reading Mein Kampf, Das Kapital, and Myth of the 20th Century to learn what 'Hitler really said' or what 'Marx really said'. Which isn't to say, of course, that their ideas are beyond reproach: simply that people don't put the time and effort into gaining a proper understanding. Suffice to say, were one to immerse oneself in the canonical writings of German National Socialism, and see The Triumph of the Will, to really understand what German National Socialism was about, one would begin to see close similarities between the ideas expressed in the Engels essay and those in the National Socialist writings (and the Triumph film). I challenge the unprejudiced reader to do this.

Hitler has, in the pages of Mein Kampf, no time for Marxism, of course: but one has to make a distinction here. Mein- is a classic piece of Marxist socialist literature: it has the tone of a Marxist text, it is written with the voice of a Marxist - even the title Mein Kampf evokes Marxist 'class struggle', and, as we know from reading the book, Hitler loves words like 'worker', 'proletariat', 'bourgeois', and so forth. The social commentary, the sympathetic descriptions of the poverty, indigence, poor living conditions of the German working-class, is patterned after Marx. But - he is anti-Marxist. What he is really opposing is (what I call for the purposes of this essay) Bolshevism, which is Soviet communism (and he conflates two disparate parties, the German Social Democrats and the Communists, treating them as one and the same, and viewing them both as 'Marxist'). Hitler builds his theories on the back of theoretical Marxism, the Marxism of Marx and Engels, the Marxism and German communism of the 19th century; but he has concocted those theories specifically to combat the Marxism of Lenin, Bela Kun, Rosa Luxembourg and the other Sovietised, Judaised communists of the early 20th century. (As to what his reaction would be to the non-Jewish communists - the Ho Chi Minhs and Maos and Castros - is anyone's guess).

This leads to the question: what is Marxism anyhow? Surprisingly, Marx didn't write much on politics. His Kapital, on the surface of it, is an economic text - like Keynes' General Theory or Hayek's Prices and Production (1931) - and of interest mainly to students of economics (and Marx was a great economist with a better understanding of market forces, supply and demand, than many Keynesians today). Marx's great political text is The Communist Manifesto, but Marx didn't write it - Engels did. It was Engels who developed Marx's ideas into a fully-fledged, coherent, consistent ideology, and it was Engels who really formulated the doctrines of 'dialectical materialism' and 'historical materialism'. Certain of the ideas people misattribute to Marxism - e.g., the 'immiserisation thesis', the doctrine of the 'inevitability' of socialist revolution - were really the work of Engels, although, in fairness, Engels was merely expanding upon hints in Marx's work, amplifying them to the n-th degree (and, by doing so, making Marx look foolish to later generations). Lenin, particularly in the foundational communist text State and Revolution (1917), takes Marx even further: the book is a mathematical proof of the necessity of class struggle, class war, violent revolution and a brutal mass extermination of the 'class enemy' - from Engels' version of Marx. Much of what people know as 'communism', 'Marxism', comes from Lenin.

Which isn't to let Marx off the hook, by any measure; it isn't to say that Marx's ideas were right, or good: it's just an illustration of how ideas can develop. In the case of Hitler, it's an example of how one can absorb the aesthetic of Soviet communism, even the tone (the literary tone) of a writer like Lenin or Marx (particularly the vitriol and contempt), and the high ideals (the beautiful socialist ideals) of an Engels, and come up with something completely original - and completely opposed, antithetical, to one's influences. Perhaps it's similar to the adaptation of Christianity, a Semitic, Middle Eastern doctrine, by the Celtic and Germanic barbarian tribes: the doctrine becomes nativised, acclimatised, to the soil of the countries it was transplanted to (in much the same way Christianity has been adapted, and transmuted, by Africans). In the arts, and in popular culture, we see this all the time: rock music began life as an Afro-American musical form, which was then white-ified by Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

We should, of course, be asking the question: is Marxism true? In politics, however, theoretical truth - or falsity - often doesn't matter. The center-piece of Marx's and Engel's theories - the theory of surplus value - may have been refuted from the outset by many economists: certainly, if Marx got that theory wrong, then he got everything wrong, because he built all of Kapital on the explication of that one theory. But that theoretical disproof didn't stop communist revolution. As Hitler - and the rest of the European anti-communist movement realised - communism can only be refuted with fists and bullets. Intellectuals are the 'discussing class', as Schmitt points out in Political Romanticism (1919), but for communists, the 'truths' of communism aren't up for discussion, and anyone who disagrees with them is the 'class enemy', and has to be executed, starved to death, marched into a gulag... It's a kind of inverse Hegelianism. In Hegel, 'truths', such as Christianity, or the liberalism of the French Revolution, occur in time - that is, they manifest themselves in distinct historical epochs and dominate everything in those epochs. 'Truth' and 'untruth' manifest themselves in time, as historical facts. Kojève illustrated this idea with an example: suppose you are to write, at 9 a.m., that 'It is the afternoon', on a piece of paper, and then put that paper in your pocket. At that time, the statement on that paper is not true: but, take it out of one's pocket during the afternoon, and read it - it is true. It is often the case, Hegel notes, that the 'truth' in a particular historical period only becomes so, becomes 'fact', after a war or struggle of some kind. And so, under Bolshevism, Hegelianism becomes into the doctrine that 'truth' is imposed, by force, in the course of a war, during the advent of a historical epoch (e.g., the transformation from capitalism to socialist revolution).

Now, though, at this point in time, the fighting for the 'truths' of Marxism is well and truly over: we can look at it from the viewpoint of genteel intellectuals.

A common criticism of Marx, made by so many that it has become an intellectual cliché, is that his 'social commentary' (that is, descriptions of poverty, misery, suffering, brutality and exploitation) in Kapital isn't 'How things are now', that Marx was a Victorian, and a Dickensian; this leads to the corollary, 'Marxism was true for Victorian England'. Perhaps Marx's selective accounts were just assembled for the purposes of propaganda - and Kapital is propaganda. This is the argument of the Hayek-edited volume, Capitalism and the Historians (1954), which is counter-propaganda to Marx's propaganda. But, even so, Kapital, isn't just social commentary: it's an economic model. In the same way, the journalist and publicist Jude Wanniski's The Way the World Works (1978) - the first lengthy explication of the supply-side economic model (devised by Wanniski's tutors, the economists Robert Mundell and Art Laffer) - is interspersed with real-life case studies drawn from political and economic history. Combining journalism, polemic and economic theory really is quite common in practical, applied economics (and the Keynesian Paul Krugman is a journalist and polemicist as well as an academic economist). As Althusser points out, the theories of Marx are true - in particular, his theories of value are true - regardless of whether or not the 'social conditions' of Kapital have improved or not (although Althusser writes with the moral indignation of someone who seems convinced that they have not improved - i.e., as if he was not living in 1960s France, but in the slums of Dickensian England).

Althusser views Marxism as one step up from economics: he sees it as a 'science' - almost a metaphysic - which is above and beyond economics, sociology, social commentary. It appears that the dialectics of Marxism is really what fascinates him (as it did Mao). And it is the dialectical materialism, and historical materialism, which is the second line of attack against Marxism: to whit, according to the theory, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the backsliding of China towards capitalism after 1979, couldn't have happened. Communist societies can't devolve into capitalist ones - any more than frogs can turn back into tadpoles, or butterflies into caterpillars. Time, history, "dialectical development", doesn't go into reverse. While it is true that Marxist theorists - the Maoist, 'anti-revisionist' ones - cobbled up rather contrived, tortuous, theories as to why the Soviet Union was, after Khruschev, a 'capitalist' nation, these theories don't explain the collapse of the Soviet Union, and were devised before the collapse. As for China: how did a 'capitalist roader' clique, under Deng Xiaopeng, manage to steer China away from a communist economy (and towards a hybrid communism-capitalism) while retaining communism in its legal and political forms? The only conclusion a Marxist can draw  is that the communist revolutions in Russia and China were rather weak to begin with - or perhaps they were false starts for communism, and the 'inevitable' collapse of capitalism, and the advent of socialist revolution, is still a long way off. Which is rather dispiriting for the true Marxist.

Marx, like Hegel and Spengler, was very much in the German 'historicist' thinkers. The danger of such lines of thought is that one is committing oneself to historical predictions of great events, just around the corner: if those events don't come true, one is in the same position as those American Christian Fundamentalist prophets who are promising Armageddon and the end of the world next Tuesday. Hegel got around this difficulty by pronouncing that world history came to an end about 1812 or so; any events after that were post-history, so to speak, because the world had reached the apex of its development. But Engels made some wild-eyed predictions of global economic collapse and socialist revolution, and even went so far as to make some (very implausible) predictions as to what the future socialist world would look like (e.g., money would be abolished, children taken from their parents and raised in collective schools - true of Pol Pot's Cambodia, but not anywhere else). Lenin was more circumspect, hedging his bets: his position is, 'We don't know', what the world would look like exactly after the advent of socialism and the downfall of capitalism. But, along with Engels, and Stalin, he still believed in the 'inevitability' of the collapse of capitalism.

It is this 'historical materialism', this 'dialectic', which makes a true Marxist - theoretically speaking. Kapital is a description of an economic system which inevitably develops into class tension, leading to class struggle and class war. But as to the resolution of that struggle, Kapital is, by my reading, vague: the resolution could be trade unionism and the amelioration of Dickensian working conditions; or it could be out and out Engels-ism (i.e., the abolition of property), leading to Bolshevism, Leninism, revolutionary war and the rest. Lenin devoted most of his writing and polemic to proving the latter - that, to be a true Marxist, one had to be a Leninist. Stalin and Mao followed him in this.

But possibly the basic Marxist theory could be taken in a different direction. I read Mein Kampf over ten years ago, and, noting at the time the socialist content of the book, came to agree with Hayek's characterisation, in his The Road to Serfdom (1944) of both German National Socialism and Soviet Communism as springing from the same root. I toyed with the (rather unconventional) idea that perhaps Marx had been right, in his predictions of socialist revolution, the downfall of capitalism, but that his theories came true, not in Soviet Russia, but in National Socialist Germany. (Yockey, on the other hand, looks at (what he calls) 'The German Revolution of 1933' as confirmation of Spengler's predictions). Which is an oddball position, I admit, but one held by a good many European communists in Hitler's time who were attracted to, and converted to, German National Socialism and Italian Fascism.

But to put, for the time being, the question of the ultimate truth - or untruth - of Marxist theory to the side: something I've asked pondered upon, for a long time, is the question of why fascism was such a tremendously successful doctrine - garnering millions of adherents in a very short amount of time - when the Far Right, in the post-war period, right up to the present day, has struggled to gain a few thousand (according a recent German news report, the NPD only has six thousand members). One answer is, I think, a lack of class politics. Far Right nationalism, in the post-war period, goes into two directions: the individualist élitism of the Evola variety, or a conservatism which denies that classes exists and views the nation as part of a unified, homogeneous (e.g., class-less and without social division) whole. Whereas Hitler and Mussolini intuitively understood that society was based on class division, and utilised Marxist theories of class struggle, socialist revolution, etc., with great effectiveness. Which isn't to say that today's nationalist parties don't have plenty of working-class adherents - they do - just that the leadership doesn't utilise class and socialism to the extent that Hitler and Mussolini did. (As for the American Far Right, it is pure individualist: you only have to look at the excellent VDare.Com as an instance of how individualist and neoliberal the American Far Right is. In contrast, the American Left has reinvented itself in the Occupy movement and utilises class politics and so has been able to mobilise quite a large number of decent young Americans (and not so decent) and get them on to the streets. Socialism does exist in America, it just doesn't exist on the Far Right).

Althusser always defended Marx's Kapital against charges that it was out of date: Althusser's response was that capitalism was always evolving, and so today's capitalism (that is, the capitalism of the 1960s and 1970s) wasn't going to be the same as in Marx's. Whether or not this is true of capitalism - however one defines it - certainly, political theory is always evolving. The Marxist theory of the 1920s and 1930s, which Hitler and Mussolini lived and breathed, was fairly basic: what came after their deaths was, in comparison, highly sophisticated. One of the goals of the New Left intellectuals was to blow Marx, and socialism, up and reassemble them again. The left-wing French philosopher Deleuze did a similar job when it came to the philosophy of Bergson, Nietzsche and Spinoza. We intellectuals on the Far Right need to investigate the New Left's researches, adapting their reinvented Marxism to our own purposes, while at the same time retaining the 'brutalist', simplistic revolutionism of Lenin's State and Revolution, which was (if I am right) such a decisive influence on fascism.

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