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September 10, 2009

Comments

Richard J

Can't disagree with this, especially with the thankfully never enacted plan Adam Tooze dug up (in Wages of Destruction) whereby the Wehrmacht's (including its SS divisions) Ostfront was to be supplied by cutting off completely food supplies to every city in the Soviet Union under its control. (The fate of a typical Russian POW was definitely a feature, not a bug).

However, considering the pre-war period, it's a strange one, really. Is it better to live in a society where state brutality is generally confined to certain well-defined but inescapable (and in several cases, seemingly purely without rational foundation) segments of society, or a statistically more murderous one where state violence is meted out effectively at random?

I've never come up with an entirely satisfactory answer.

jamie

Either way, you duck and dive. I think I would have preferred the communists on the ground that at least I wouldn't have been ashamed of myself. The Nazis came to power with a large measure of popular support, via largely electoral means, preaching virulent nativism: communism was bolted on and clamped down. It would be hard, as a German, to think that you weren't in some way basically complicit in a general cultural enterprise. The Baader-Meinhof group were batshit crazy, but their perceptions were not entirely inaccurate.

Phil

Actually the Nazis did lots of "effectively at random" brutality - the idea that they only came for the Jews and the Communists, so you might be OK as long as you kept your head down, is a bit of a myth. There was a celebrated law case after the war in which a woman was found guilty of attempted murder, on the grounds that she'd told the Gestapo about unpatriotic remarks her husband had made in letters home. Causing disaffection in public carried the death penalty - and the courts interpreted 'in public' more and more broadly as time went on. (The poor guy who was denounced didn't get the death penalty, although he was sent to the Eastern Front - which probably says something about the regime's priorities at the time.)

Tom

I'll say this for Joe Stalin...

Actually I won't, for fear of having my windows kicked in by enraged Decents, but surely the big difference is that Soviet communism was at least partially able to self-correct in the face of imminent catastrophe, while Nazism inevitably went more and more loopy as time went on and didn't long survive the demise of the main character. After all, the Nazis only ever managed a tally of two Fuhrers, one of whom shot himself and the other almost immediately surrendered.

On the other hand, the Soviets both improved markedly after Stalin checked out while obviously still remaining at core an unpleasant secret police state. Possibly there's an evolution/creation duality here - Soviet communism could evolve (albeit with the occasional mass extinction event) while Nazism was deemed to be perfectable without further work and thus fell over at essentially the first hurdle. It's no good drawing up plans for your World Capital in Berlin if several hundred thousand Russians turn up with flamethrowers and artillery support before the cement's dried.

Anyway, isn't this just the usual east European Russophobia at work? The usual rule of that area is that everyone who's anyone has been fucked over by the Germans and Russians at least once. At least that's what a Galician nationalist of my acquaintance believes, along with the evident fact of Polish racial superiority.

jamie

"I'll say this for Joe Stalin...

Actually I won't, for fear of having my windows kicked in by enraged Decents"

Ah, fuck 'em. Stalin's their daddy. Everyone's wrestling with the uncomfortable but persistent suspicion that it took Stalin to beat Hitler: it's the big open dirty secret of World War two historiography. Stalin murdered millions of people to get the Soviet Union in some sort of shape to resist Hitler, millions more died in the struggle and his price was the life, liberty, and property of the people of Eastern Europe, which we were in no position to refuse him but which we gave him anyway. And then the Palestinians get stiffed with the bill for hundreds of years of European anti-semitism. Now we sit on top of this huge pile of corpses crowing about how our liberty makes us an example to the world, like lottery winners preaching enterprise to the starving.

I really do dislike the whole tribe of Westernists, right or pseudo left, even when I'm not drunk.

Richard J

Point taken, Phil, especially as the war went on (the accounts of lynched schoolboys in uniforms dangling from trees at the end are unforgettable).

You have to admit though, that given the actual number of Gestapo agents in a typical Gau, the main method of enforcement of norms was the aggrieved neighbour/family member. (Come to think of it, I was reading a case transcript the other day about a guy who sought a pre-emptive high court injunction to stop his neighbour from ever even considering blocking a right of way he never used - would have fitted right into the third reich, srsly.)

i Everyone's wrestling with the uncomfortable but persistent suspicion that it took Stalin to beat Hitler.

And, for me, the next level of uncomfortable suspicion is that without a convenient Communist bogeyman bubbling away behind Poland supporting the German communist party both directly and indirectly, the Nazis would have never convinced the middling sort to vote for them. Don't get me wrong, Weimar Germany would more than likely have ended up as some kind of unpleasantly brutal right-ring dictatorship, but closer to Chile or Italy than the uniquely weird form of the NSDAP.

Phil

without a convenient Communist bogeyman bubbling away behind Poland supporting the German communist party both directly and indirectly, the Nazis would have never convinced the middling sort to vote for them

I'm a structuralist with regard to this one - I think post-Weimar Germany was structurally screwed. Remove the KPD and there would have been some other organised group forcefully representing the interests of strikers and the unemployed; the ruling class would have been just as scared of them, and just as glad to see the brownshirts pitching in against them.

Jamie - shame on you! We're Enlightened, that's what we are, we Europeans. And we've endured the uniquely tragic history of the European twentieth century, which means that... um... means that we'll know not to do that again - hold on, that's right actually, it means that we're now even more Enlightened! Oh, we happy lucky tragic few! Uniquely, only in the Western world (only in Western Europe actually, but we can talk about that another time) - double Enlightenment! And no returns.

Chris Williams

While we're getting all grand narrative with this one, it might be worth remembering that the eeviil 'human rights for everyone - even people we don't like' doctrine which suddenly appeared in 1945 did not do so because of a random outbreak of Librul niceness. It did so as part of a hard-headed anti-fascist strategy on the part of the United Nations, at the time when the UN was results-fixated alliance rather than a number of diplomats in New York.

I'm in the lucky position of being able to force c.6000 people to read Mazower's 'Dark Continent' if they want to get a history degree. Heh.

Richard J

Mazower's

Hitler's Empire was strangely disappointing, somehow. Never quite gelled into a coherent thesis for me, but that may a product of reading it in twenty minute chunks on the train...

Phil

While we're getting all grand narrative with this one

Not me, I was just being silly. But the two arguments (or your argument and my derision) aren't as incompatible as they might look. If there's a banner saying We Know We're The Good Guys Because We Were On The Right Side In 1945, I'll not only march under it but help hold it up. But a lot of Jamie's "Westernists" seem to march under one saying We Know We're The Good Guys Because We Were On The Right Side In 1688 - and there's a sizeable faction who favour What You Lot Don't Realise Is That We Were On The Right Side In 1945 Because We Were On The Right Side In 1688 (Which Obviously Entails That There Was More Than One Right Side In 1945 And Some Were Righter Than Others (Oh So You're Denying That Now Are You?))

By comparison, Confucianism looks quite attractive sometimes.

Philip Hunt

"But if they hadn’t beaten the Nazis, there would have been no coming back at all, nor likewise for the Czechs, Slovaks and the other Slavic peoples."

Slovakia fought on the German side in WW2, so this statement is probably partially wrong.

jamie

"Slovakia fought on the German side in WW2"

Until the Slovaks staged a big rising in anticpiation of the arrival of Soviet troops. I think it's likely they would have risen against Tiso anyway at some stage, which would have meant another General Gouvernment for them. But Ukraine is probably a better example.

"I'm a structuralist with regard to this one - I think post-Weimar Germany was structurally screwed."

Likewise. there were just too many people, mainly from the right but from all points of view, who didn't want a democratic republic. Same in Italy, Poland, Hungary, Spain, Portugal and Romania (dark continent is very good on this, btw). I think you'd have a similar problem if a democratic constitution just dropped from the sky on to China right now.

Igor Belanov

I think that's one of the problems with 'democratisation theory'. On one hand it's supposed to be based on active citizens exercising their democratic rights to involvement in the political process, but in practice it often depends on people being apathetic enough or economically affluent enough not to make too many demands on government or the elites.

In countries like Germany, Italy and Japan democracy made real roots when the more ingrained and fanatical anti-democrats were either exterminated or totally discredited by war.

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