This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Monday, 26 November 2012

Our Weimar Republic

From November 2008:

It’s difficult, nowadays, living in India, to forget the second-most well-known comment of a certain extremely well-known, bearded nineteenth-century German Jew.

In order to understand what I’m going on about, it might be of some use to go back in time and revisit the Weimar Republic of Germany, in the 1920s and early 30s, that time of political, economic and social turmoil when the old order, shattered to pieces by the First World War, was reluctantly giving place to the new. Hyperinflation seared the economy; a loaf of bread might cost a billion Marks. Germany swarmed with political parties of the right and the left, and revolution was in the air.

There was Adolf Hitler, then Führer of the National Sozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiters Partei (NSDAP) – later to be infamous as the Nazi party; there was its street fighting arm, the roughnecks of the Sturm Abteilung (SA); there were all manner of right wing militias, which enjoyed the covert  support of the German state; organisations professing utter loyalty to the German nation, with names like the Oberland League and Kampfbund, armed, uniformed, and trained by the German Army, of which more anon; but which were not supposed to be part of any formal military force. These militias were primarily filled with ex-soldiers smarting from the defeat in the war, and looking for someone to blame. Their leaders were hysterically anti-Jewish, anti-Communist, and “nationalistic” to an extent that one normally doesn’t associate with sane individuals.

There was a German Government; democratically elected, but weak, effete, a crumbling agglomeration of individuals, most of whom were either out for the main chance, or else scheming for the formal restoration of the Kaiser’s monarchy; a government that, after the defeat of the Great War, had made itself utterly subservient to the dictates of the British and French victors, less a government in fact than an agency for the exertion of victor’s justice on the populace.

There was a Communist Party; inspired by the success of the Russian Communists in their recently concluded Civil War, it dreamt of its own Revolution of the proletariat, and had its own street brawlers; but which got no armaments or funding from any outside source, and was therefore of less effect as a fighting arm than its opponents. Like other Communist movements of the time, it dreamt of a world without borders, where the proletariat of different nations would live together without the intervention of the nation-state and artificial national boundaries. Accordingly, its opponents claimed that its loyalties lay with foreign agencies, not with the state.

There was a German Army, the Reichswehr, which was, by the Treaty of Versailles, forbidden to exceed 100,000 men (in those days of non-mechanised combat, a hundred thousand man army was paltry indeed) or have tanks or aircraft. This Reichswehr was staffed by officers who were allegedly non-political, but who were, like the police, riddled from top to bottom with right-wingers, monarchists, and Nazis.

The story of the Weimar Republic is instructive: it’s the story of how a national government can allow itself to be destroyed, through inaction and through its own complicity, and be replaced by a fascist dictatorship – simply because too many people chose to wait until too late or chose to look the other way.

The story of the Weimar Republic is also the story of the rise of the Nazi Party: for if the republic had responded promptly and effectively, Nazism could have been crushed, and the history of the last eighty-odd years would have been substantially different. Therefore we need to study the Weimar Republic primarily through the viewpoint of what the Nazis did to it and how it reacted.

Before I go any further: for the purposes of this post, I shall use the term “Nazi”. By this I don’t necessarily mean the party led by Adolf Hitler; as I said, Hitler was then the chief of the NSDAP, and apart from the NSDAP and its SA goons, there were many other militia of different shades of right wing ideology. In order to simplify things I shall refer to all of them collectively as the Nazis – and most of them eventually ended up as part of the Nazi party anyway.

Any fascist party, almost by definition, is a party of exclusion: it excludes anyone it deems to be the “other”; by reason of race, language, political affiliation or any combination of these, it identifies an ‘other” which it claims to be the Enemy. And, as a corollary, a fascist group speaks for (or, rather, on behalf of) the majority – which it identifies as “nationalism.”

For Hitler and the Nazis, then, the Enemy was threefold.

The first were the effete “traitors of November” who were allegedly responsible for the defeat in the Great War. Since these were primarily socialists and social democrats, ergo, they were responsible for the defeat (not the battlefield reverses, which, being soldiers and ex-soldiers, the Nazis could not bring themselves to admit).

The second lot of the Enemy were the Jews. Now the Jews were a readymade enemy, a sitting target one might call them. They were not – at least theoretically – Aryan Germans. They worshipped (again theoretically) a different deity. By and large, they were economically successful, an unpardonable sin in Nazi eyes for someone who was not a genuine German with rights, someone who remained an interloper even if he or she had ancestors living in Germany for centuries. And, since the Jews were economic competitors for the German capitalists and industrialists, the latter paid the Nazis to take on the Jews. Cosy arrangement, don’t you think?

The third set of enemies was the Communists. They were enemies on several levels. First, they were internationalists. I did say that the Nazis were ultranationalists. So the Communists, being suspected of extranational loyalties, were automatically the enemy. Then, of course, Communism is (at least in theory) the opposite of fascism in being inclusive – the enemy of the Communist is the class enemy, not the black or Jew or whatever. Thirdly, the Communists, being Communists, were also the enemy of the capitalist-industrialist group who were already paying off the Nazis against the Jews. And of course there were many Jewish Communists – unlike the Jews of Eastern Europe, the average German Jew was never particularly religious – so that was a double sin.

So what did the Nazis do? First, they set out to make themselves synonymous with the state. What the Nazis were, that was the nation. What the Nazis did, therefore, they did for the nation, and anyone opposing them was automatically an enemy of the nation. The Nazis understood all too well something that the Bush gang used much later. Wave the national flag, and the opposition will dutifully fall in line.

The Nazis had a powerful rallying point, the fact that what was indisputably German territory, the Rhineland, was under French occupation, and the Weimar Republic did doodly-squat to get it back.

And, naturally, the tone of the times meant that the Nazis had sympathisers literally everywhere. Even when they launched an open rebellion against the state, the tragicomic Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923, all that happened to the ringleaders was a temporary imprisonment. Nazi crimes were always never quite “crimes”; they were legitimate expressions of nationalistic outrage. The victims of the Nazis were always responsible for whatever happened to them; for whatever the Nazis did, they did for their love of the Nation. Including the pogroms, murders, bombs, and the like. The militarism and the worship of war as the highest state of being was all part of the same thing, as was the myth-making (such as the myth of the pure Aryan German superman, backed up by moronic “philosophy”).

And the Weimar Republic’s politicians watched. They either did nothing, or tried to counter the right wing politics of the Nazis by more right wing politics. While the nation reeled from the Great Depression, and the Nazis gained ground among the middle class, they played their little political games and allowed their soldiers to get ever more nazified under their very eyes. And so the Nazis came to power in 1933 by election, and they never let power go till the Second World War ended in their defeat in 1945.

I should mention that the Nazis had inspiration: the Fascists of Italy, cut from basically the same cloth, who took power in 1922 by rather more direct means than the Nazis did. The Fascisti launched a March on Rome and threatened civil war unless they were put in power. The King of Italy capitulated, and Fascist leader Benito Mussolini was made Prime Minister of Italy. I shall speak a little more about this in a moment.

Now to return to the comment of the famous German Jew I mentioned at the beginning of this article, when I, an Indian, look around, I see some worrying things.

The Weimar Republic had the Nazis. We in India have the Hindu Right, whom I call the Hindunazis. I call them the Hindunazis for many reasons, not least the fact that they openly admire and seek to emulate the Nazis. But there are so many other resemblances:

The Nazis had the Jew as the Enemy, the Other who would not integrate, who looked different and prayed different. The Hindunazis have the Muslims and increasingly, the Christians, who are Other, Foreign, don’t integrate, have different gods, and should be wiped out. As the Hindunazis say, “pehle kasai, phir isai” (first the Muslims, then the Christians) will be destroyed.

The Hindunazis also have their sights on the secular people, those who think that different religions should get along and that minorities have the same rights as the majority, just as the Nazis targeted the socialists.

And, naturally, the Hindunazis hate the Communists. The Communists are all, you know, Chinese agents. And the Chinese allegedly occupy Indian territory, so the Communists are Quislings and fifth columnists and enemies of the state.

Of course, right wingers everywhere always attract funding from capitalists and industrialists, because they think the right wingers will protect their interests. The German capitalists poured funds into the Nazi war chest; the Indian capitalists will pay off the Right.

Then we have the profusion of “patriotic Hindu organisations”, with names like Abhinav Bharat, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, and the like. These are basically gangs of armed goons who have repeatedly and viciously attacked and murdered people who are their “enemies”: Muslims, Christians, secularists, leftists, and so on. And just as whoever the Nazis declared as the enemy became the national enemy, because the Nazis were the Nation, so whoever the Hindunazis declare the enemy is the National Enemy. And Hindunazi violence is not just pardonable; it’s justifiable, even glorifiable, because it’s done for the Nation, often waving the Indian flag to establish that little fact.

And just as the Reichswehr and the police became riddled through and through with Nazis while the nation succumbed to incompetent government, corruption and stagflation, the Indian government is corrupt, incompetent, unstable, and seeking to counter the Hindunazis by competitive right wing policies. The Indian Army, on which I shall be writing another blog post in the near future, was supposedly non-political (I never believed it was, and in the army blog I shall state my reasons). But serving Indian Army officers are now being investigated for passing explosives on to the Hindunazis to make bombs with, and retired Indian Army officers run military training schools for them too. And when Hindunazis are actually found to be guilty of violence, the law works slow, slow, slow, or not at all.

And just as the hyperinflation-wracked Weimar Republic’s citizens looked for someone to blame, India’s people, with costs steadily rising, a collapsing social order, violence everywhere, a declining economy, a deteriorating environment, and so on, seek enemies to blame it all on; and like the Nazis, the Hindunazis have enemies ready to blame.

There are other similarities, too many to mention, but a few are:

*The Nazis wanted Lebensraum in Eastern Europe. The Hindunazis want the forcible capture of Pakistan.

*The Nazis and Hindunazis both rely on mythology to claim superior status, and both claim descent from “pure Aryan stock”.

*The Nazis and Hindunazis both worship violence as a weapon of first resort.

*The Nazis made the alleged burning of the Reichstag by the Communists a pretext to begin emergency rule and suspend the rule of law. The Hindunazis used terrorist bombings, more and more of which now turn out to be their own handiwork, to press for what amounts to emergency rule and suspension of the rule of law.

It’s unlikely that the Hindunazis will get to power in India on their own by electoral methods. When they were in power in the past, they had to rely on less right wing coalition partners who kept them somewhat in check. But they have been responsible for forcing a competitive rightwards shift in the political sphere, and if they succeed in suborning the army (by no means impossible), they might try a March on Delhi a la Mussolini. They might even get away with it.

Oh yes, Karl Marx was right. The only problem is that history this time round might just not repeat itself merely as farce.

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