Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hitler’s Accession to Power 75 Years Ago: The Lessons for Today

Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany 75 years ago this Wednesday. During the 12 years that the Hitler regime endured, from 1933 to 1945, January 30 was the most revered date in the Nazi calendar.

The Nazis saw January 30 as the day their National Revolution began. Hitler boasted that his Third Reich would last a thousand years and that it would place the German super-race in command of the lesser races of the world.

The bogus racial “science” that was developed in Europe in the late 19th century held that in the natural course of events, the superior races would conquer and subjegate the inferior races, and reduce their populations to beasts of burden.

In the Nazi version of this twisted utopian vision, the Germans were destined to break out of the narrow confines of Central Europe through the conquest of “living space” in the vast territory of the Soviet Union.

Three quarters of a century after Hitler took power, his project of conquest is understood as the basic cause of the Second World War and his pathological racial theories, which underlay the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust, are comprehended as the quintessence of evil.

Therin lies a great problem for those who are determined to learn the lessons of history. In our collective memory, we have created a space, or an abyss, for Hitler and the Nazis that removes them from historical analysis. Hitler, the Third Reich and the Holocaust have become absolutes, synonomous with the extreme negation of all that is human.

It is regarded as outrageous, even unforgivable, to compare any contemporary political movement, party, or political leadership to the Nazis and Hitler. One runs the risk of being accused of monstrous exaggeration on the one hand or of cheapening the memory of the Holocaust and the full range of Nazi evil on the other.

As a consequence of this way of thinking, we fall prey to failing to pay attention to what gave rise to Hitler and the Nazis, and therefore, we are less able to recognize those forces in the contemporary world that contain within them the potential for extremes of inhumanity.

Nazism was the gutter ideology that flared in Germany in the aftermath of the country’s defeat in World War One. In its noxious stew were extreme nationalism, pseudo-scientific racism, the adulation of force, contempt for democracy, and fear of Communism.

While the Nazis remained on the margin of German politics during the 1920s, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 opened the way for their rise over the next few years. Hitler played on the fears and insecurities of the Germans in a time of vast unemployment and misery. His highly effective and well financed propaganda machine endlessly drove home these simple lessons:

· Germans are suffering as a consequence of the brutal terms of the Treaty of Versailles imposed on them by the allies at the end of the war.
· The Communists, acting on Stalin’s orders, are planning to seize power and to subject Germany to a Red Terror.
· The Jews are Germany’s supreme foes, an alien race, dividing the nation from within, and dedicated to its destruction.

What is hard to realize because we associate Nazism with implacable evil is that Hitler presented a vision of a cleansed and newly empowered Germany to his fellow citizens. He was a utopian visionary.

Seventy five years after Hitler’s rise to power, we should not imagine that in our time extreme inhumanity will come bearing the Swastika.

Instead, those who would negate humanity, or very large parts of it, will come dressed in the garb of the 21st century. Here are some of the wardrobes extreme inhumanity wears in our day:

· A division of labour globally in which giant corporations, directly or more typically through contracts with suppliers, virtually enslave workers, who are often women and children, in factories where they are often abused, underfed, and paid starvation wages;
· The adoption by leading states of military doctrines that embrace the use, where necessary, of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction---weapons compared to which, Hitler’s arsenal was comprised of bows and arrows;
· The subjection of tens of millions of people to repeated, simplistic and extreme religious propaganda, which negates those of other faiths or those who espouse secularism. In this religious extremism, under the brand names of the world’s major faiths, we encounter the shining utopian visions of our time, visions whose realization would involve the deaths or the conquest of many millions of people.

There are few people alive today who were old enough on January 30, 1933 to take in the torch light parades through the streets of Berlin that acompanied Hitler’s rise to power, and to reflect on what it portended.


leftdog said...

This is an amazingly accurate analysis of the past and present of fascism. Mr. Laxer provides wisdom at the conclusion of this post that we ignore at our own peril.

himself said...

The three wardrobes all predate fascism by a good long time. For a contemporary manifestation of fascism, how about the modern version of corporatism in which society is considered to be composed of "communities," each entitled to a proportionate slice of the pie, the exact proportionality, of course, to be decided by government agency? In this view of society, group "rights" are good and individual rights bad -- they make it difficult to run society like a corporation.

son of gaia said...

Very sober and rational analysis, thanks!

I've got another modern manifestation for you - the revival of the ideology: "a person's value to society is a function of their state of health" as promulgated by modern Health Promotion and manifested as: "you cost too much, so we will allow you to suffer and/or die"

Roy Harrold
Surreality Times

Pelalusa said...

Interesting analysis, James. I came upon your post, about 9 months after you wrote it by searching for: Obama Hitler 75 years ago

In your world view, I sense that you believe that the worst things today are religion, multinational businesses, and conservative governments.

I, on the other hand, view arrogance, ignorance, and intolerance as the necessary key ingredients that lead to a blind overthrow of our long held institutions. Nothing more represents this trio nowadays than the blind followers of Obamanation; not all Democrats but way too many of them.