The movement towards a wiser, more enlightened, society comes in instalments complete with agonising setbacks. History is that eternal tension between action & reaction. For all our progress & enlightenment there will always be that other tribe, just over the hill, envious of what we have achieved. There is always some section of society “left behind”…. for every Roman Empire there are the barbarians waiting to tear it down. The lessons are not always what we could wish for. It’s too easy to shrug and pretend that it’s impossible to understand WHY progress gets squashed. Yet each destructive barbarity, each anguish, each ungodly setback, has an origin. To see it we should entertain a little uncomfortable history. “History” as seen through the eyes of a monster who was, himself, history. The world seen by a barbarian.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle
The first law of reading “Mein Kampf” is that nobody talks about reading “Mein Kampf“. It always seemed to be an obscure & infamous tome that nobody had read – like Machiavelli’s “The Prince“. Apparently even Mussolini couldn’t read it through to the end. He admitted it was too boring. Mein Kampf was thrust briefly into the UK limelight briefly in 2016 when the British LBC Radio Presenter James O’Brien quoted from it to argue that speeches at the Conservative Party Conference sounded vaguely fascist. It was a noble effort yet it is hard to use Hitler’s book in this way to accurately track current affairs. The significance of that mind-set becomes more apparent when you follow up a read of Mein Kampf with such studies as that contained in the Rees book “The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler” 1. This gives the matter some context.
From such works it is possible to draw a thread of belief from the days of 1930s Fascist Europe through to more contemporary events such as Trump & Brexit. It can be summed up in the name given to Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will“. It is that strict doctrine of “facts don’t matter”, experts don’t matter, only power & determination matters. Hitler cared little for the briefing papers given to him. He preferred his own intuition. It is the belief that “who dares wins” – that if you are only brave and audacious enough then the laws of economics & physical reality no longer matter. The idea of social Darwinism of the strong prevailing over the weak. These remain the signature features of the political ‘Right’ today.
In the essay below we will take a walk through Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” to dig out its main themes. Mein Kampf is partly autobiographical and partly a political manifesto. The Nazis were a movement, not a political party. The NSDAP had principles not detailed policies. The main points were (for me) the controversies of the various English language translations of the book, Hitler’s obvious contradictions & hypocrisies, his experiences of poverty & the working classes, his anti-antisemitism, his social Darwinism, the countries he saw as enemies & allies, his hatred of democracy, his beliefs about the power of propaganda, the limits to growth & the need for German living space in the East, his views on economics, his experiences on World War One.. and, finally, what conclusions we draw about what National Socialism was, and was not.
On the 1st January 2016 the copyright on Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” (“My Struggle”) expired. In Germany reprinting the book was banned after WW2 by Bavaria’s regional government, which held the copyright. Upon expiration the Munich’s Institute of Contemporary History published its “Critical Edition”. This first Mein Kampf reprint [in Germany since war] entered its sixth print run in the first year after 85,000 copies of annotated version of Hitler manifesto were sold. Translations into English and French are planned. No doubt serious scholars will find a place in their library for this – the definitive post war German edition (translated into English). Until such a tome becomes available the English speaking world had several choices in the matter:
- Dugdale 1933
- Murphy 1939 (the version we first read)
- Reynal & Hitchcock 1938
- Mannheim 1943
- Ford 20092
The enormous gap of 66 years is interesting. After the war the book was closed and many thought it should never be re-opened. The most recent work by Michael Ford is not without controversy. As it is the latest work it is undoubtedly the best and easiest to read from a contemporary English-speaker’s point of view. However it was not published by a major scholarly institute. Its origins are sketchy being produced by a team of people (who go un-named) and was then self-published by a man with no known background in publishing anything like this before. We could find only one serious scholar online who had felt the need to critique the Ford work. Other than that it seemed to be widely ignored. All the publicity for it was self-generated and its reputation was largely spread by word of mouth on internet forums. Rather too many of these forums are by the far-right. Not places you would like to spend your time but we begrudgingly have to agree with the assessment. This is currently the best English translation until the “Critical Edition” comes out in English. We can say that because we dragged ourselves through the Murphy work so we know this is certainly the same book – and it certainly is a heck of a lot easier to read.
So keen was Ford to publicise his team’s translation (in the absence of any obvious academic support) that he also published a companion guide called “Mein Kampf: A Translation Controversy“3. It can be recommended for its background coverage of the history of Mein Kampf and its English translations. Without any third party citations from any learned institutions it is hard to be objective about what the alleged “controversy” actually is. Before we read this guide we were not aware of any such controversies. If there were any they may have been lost in history and drowned out by the crimes of the Nazis. According to Ford the controversy concerns the “censorship” of the English versions. However he supplies no evidence to back this up. Instead his analysis suggests many mis-translations, errors, omissions and alterations. So Ford’s mission was to correct these errors, make the book more readable, in a contemporary (American-English) way, and convey it in a fashion that would transmit the original flavour of Hitler’s delivery style.
Ford also supplies copious notes to explain the text. These are a godsend although they occasionally test the reader’s patience as they slide from sublime to ridiculous. They seek, occasionally, to explain matters that you would have thought were common knowledge. However this is aimed at a North American audience so the dumbing-down may be explained in the same way that some Hollywood movies render common topics super-facile. There is no doubting how much work Ford’s team have put into this translation as the companion guide reveals quite incredible levels of technical detail. Ford obviously took the time to get under the skin of Hitler’s original meaning. At the other extreme you get the feeling that Ford is slightly over-milking his material. He devotes an entire page to an argument about the true meaning to a vaulted ceiling. It all comes over as a little self-congratulatory whilst simultaneously belittling the earlier works. Even worse Ford’s glowing praise for Hitlers’ writing is just a little too glowing at times… On the plus side I learnt more about Hitler’s use of oddly-coded “racist” language. In Murphy (our first reading) the translator used the words “folk” or “folkish” to describe a philosophy in place at the time.
This use of the word “folk” in contemporary culture somewhat recalls images of Morris Dancing, singers wearing Aran sweaters performing in smoke-filled pubs, and fantasy movies with elves & dwarves in them. In the context of 1920’s Germany it meaning is utterly different. Ford translates it as “racialist” which gives it a far more sinister overtone (although not quite as threatening as the word “racist”). These subtle inflexions in the choice of words between twenty-first century English versus 1920’s German is important if the true meaning is to be communicated. Ford explains:
” “Volkisch” etymologically derives apparently from the Latin word “popularis” – “belonging to the nation” – often [especially during the Nazi-era] with special emphasis on Volk and race.”
This linking of the word Latin word “popularis” is likely to have some connection to a word we hear all too often these days: “populism” defined as “a political approach that seeks to disrupt the existing social order by solidifying and mobilising the animosity of the “common man” (or “Volk” in German) or “the people” against “privileged elites” and the “establishment.” Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778–1852), a Lutheran Minister, a professor at the University of Berlin and the “father of gymnastics”, introduced the concept of Volkstum, a racial notion which draws on the essence of a people that was lost during the Industrial Revolution. Populism thus played a role in mobilising middle class support for the Nazi Party.
For a work as controversial as Mein Kampf the interpretation is problematical. It is hard to read it free of any kind of prejudice because we know exactly how this story ends. How many others have posted their personal manifestos to the world only for them to lie forgotten because they proved of no consequence? Mein Kampf lives on because we all know of its consequences. We will always interpret it through our own cartoon-like view of history. We expect the book to be about starting World War II and killing millions.
If that is all you are after then you will find plenty of evidence for Hitler’s intentions in his book. Of this there is no doubt. However, if you wish to really know WHY then you need to dig way past your preconceptions and perform a very uncomfortable exercise: put yourself in the author’s shoes. Hitler was a monster who did monstrous things. To treat him otherwise is to enter a dark place few of us are willing to entertain. Our culture is so unwilling to engage with the history of the Nazis that they become relegated to the role of Hollywood bad guys. Nazis die in large numbers in war movies and video games because what else are they for? There is no need to question their motives because they are just cartoon bad guys. Once demonised we put them carefully in a box and learn nothing.
So, here we are, the barbarians have come for us and history has turned full circle. Those demons don’t live in their box any more. They march in the streets. They own newspapers. They use propaganda to win referendums that undermine democracy. They teach us that foreigners are bad. Yet, somehow, they are now “respectable”. We would agree that Fascism need not be debated – it must be smashed. Smash it we will… but history will always come back in the next cycle to put up the next version of the barbarian. Over and over again it will mutate. These creatures of Nationalism, who seek to put nations against each other, will always be there until the genesis of their creation is exposed. Why read Mein Kampf? Because, as the Jewish academic & author Norman Finkelstein puts it:
“…the fact [is] that Hitler’s Mein Kampf and speeches are primary historical sources and clearly ought to be studied if we are to learn from the past…”4
So let us look again at that young man whose picture leads this blog. The young man in green with the funny moustache and his arm around a comrade…
In his writing Hitler strove to find solutions to Germany’s problems. Specifically he tried to solve the problem of making Germany safe for all time. How could he ensure that this nation would win all future wars and its people be secure? The security & sustainability of your people are perfectly understandable concerns for all politicians. Hitler’s political goals evolved in the years running up to his imprisonment. His time in prison gave him the downtime he needed to bring his ideas together and to reconsider his specific objectives. It was a time of reflection. He referred to his incarceration in the Landsberg Fortress as a “university education paid for by the state”.5 It was only at the point of writing did Hitler abandon his plan for a German-Russian fascist-monarchist alliance in favour of his ill-fated plan for conquest and lebensraum.6 He had also been quite unconcerned by France in his previous speeches yet by the time he put pen to paper that nation had suddenly become a threat to Germany’s hegemonic domination of Europe. His political landscape was to continue to evolve after Mein Kampf was finished. For example Poland hardly features anywhere in the book.7
Context is everything. If we truly knew the context of Hitler’s world we would understand what it is about our contemporary culture that exposes us to the same fears. He lived in far less enlightened times. Eugenics was a respectable science and antisemitism was commonplace. Many of our historical heroes were rabid racists as any biographer of Winston Churchill will testify. Yet when it comes to OUR heroes we are far more forgiving than we are to our bogey-men. We ease our own discomfort with a layer of subtle hypocrisy and apply different rules to folk depending upon whether they are perceived to be “us” or “them”. This is a lousy way to assess historical cause and effect. Hitler’s analysis of what threatened Germany [and his proposed solutions] lead to crimes beyond imagination. Yet we normalise the same attitudes in others on the basis that they didn’t produce the same outcomes. Hence it was OK for Churchill to be a raving racist because it didn’t lead to the consequences that Hitler’s racism lead to.
Yet we choose to ignore Churchill’s gassing of the Kurds and the millions who starved to death in India during World War II.8 Allied actions in Europe against Axis soldiers AFTER hostilities ceased caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths.9 Yet we cannot talk about these things, they are unacceptable: they tell us things about ourselves that we refuse to believe. I discuss these matters in more length the essay “History as Propaganda” 10 from March 2018 on this site.
If we acknowledged our own crimes as morally relative to the crimes our our enemies then our world would fall apart. Hence nobody talks about reading “Mein Kampf”. It is all too familiar. We wish it weren’t so. The reason the monsters don’t go away is that we are the monsters. We cannot see what is inside all of us. It is not in our interest. Hitler was the result of the human condition and all its complexities. This does not exonerate him from responsibility for his many crimes. It explains how close we are to making all the same mistakes…. Mistakes have consequences.
We live in a time when the last hundred years has seen two world wars. This colours everything that follows. Hitler was born in 1889. For him the events of his “last 100 years” in Europe would have seen the French Revolution, Napoleonic wars (which killed anything up to 6 million people), pogroms against Jews in Russia (driving them out into western Europe), numerous revolutions, the Crimean war, the Franco-Prussian war, multiple changes in national boundaries, the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, endless feuds between Catholics & Protestants, the rise of more liberal democracy via the Enlightenment, and the introduction of the Napoleonic Code [the first modern legal code to be adopted with a pan-European scope] which was far more liberal in its treatment of the Jews. In 1831 Charles Darwin sails on the H.M.S. Beagle on a voyage that would lead to the theory of evolution – his “Origin of Species” is published in 1859. In 1878 European powers get together in Berlin to settle problems regarding revolts and war against the Ottoman Empire. They recognise Bulgarian and Romanian independence and give independence to Montenegro and Serbia, whilst the Habsburg monarchy in Vienna is given approval of its takeover in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1881 Austria-Hungary joins Germany’s alliance with Russia.
For detailed insight into the sort of European history that influenced Hitler read through the early chapters of Gareth Stedman Jones’ book “Karl Marx – Greatness and Illusion“11 In it we learn that German philosophers of the 19th Century considered
“Prussia as the land of the Reformation and the Enlightenment stood for religious toleration and freedom of thought.”
One can ask “what went so wrong?” We would recognise many “modern” elements to the State that featured in Hitler’s history books. For example the 19th Century saw the expansion of the Zollverein, the Prussian dominated Customs Union and early fore-runner to the modern European-wide EU Customs Union that the British seem to keen to leave in 2019. Prussia enjoyed other modernisation processes in 1820’s including the liberalisation of the labour market (removal of Guilds) and the growth in the free market for land (replacing feudalism). The concept of “communism” first emerges in France in the 1840’s and was actually assumed to be a threat to Germany in that time period – even if this wasn’t reasonable. However State Socialism grew in popularity at the time with the rise of the German Social Democratic Party. In response Bismark introduced welfare measures in the 1880’s that covered sickness, old age and unemployment. Germany remained immune from revolution through the 19th Century which was blamed upon the “timidness” of the proletariat. Yet in 1878, after attempts on the life of the emperor, Bismark dissolved the Reichstag and outlawed the Social Democratic Party.
These kind of “recent” events cannot be discounted in their effects upon young minds growing up in this crucible of world history at the turn of the century. Germany was relatively a new nation whose territory had had been continually fought over. Entire regions had swapped ownership between Russia, Poland, Prussia, Austria, Hungary, etc. Borders were far more fluid than we can imagine. A place like Bavaria was more like an independent nation for Hitler than how we perceive it today: a sub-region of Germany. This challenges our cosy assumptions about national identity and what it is to be “German”, “British”, “Austrian” or “American”. Hitler would naturally come to believe that fighting for territory would be ‘normal’ in a way unimaginable to us today. Yet we STILL live in times when many feel that they do not belong. These people feel unsettled. For them the question of identity should not be a problem yet still they feel threatened. Somehow adrift in a world they do not comprehend. Yet they have no good reason to. Their recent history is not Hitler’s. So why is this still a problem? How hard can it be to eradicate the scourge of Nationalism? Given the endless damage it has caused why do people fall for its charms over and over?
Ford kicks off his translation of Mein Kampf with a Preface that contains this claim:
“Germany did not follow Hitler because he was a racist, they followed him because he promised a great future.”
The German people believed he could rescue them from a bad place. In doing so they likely discounted a lot of what he write in Mein Kampf. The raw Mein Kampf probably meant a lot more to the original, contemporary, German reader. Indeed Hitler makes a slightly cryptic remark in his Foreword “My writing is not for strangers” for it was designed for his followers, the people who had seen him speak. It is claimed that the entire book was dictated whilst in prison whilst Hitler monologued. This point is well accepted although contested by those who cite evidence of several known early drafts that show they were edited. However this proves nothing. It was edited to keep its oratory style if Hitler intended this to be a version of his best speeches. However seeing someone speak is different from reading the text of that speech. This is because, as well as context, the body language and tonal inflexions convey another layer of meaning. In the absence of this layer Hitler’s written words come over to a 21st Century English readership as “rambling” and “complex nonsense” (as Ford suggests).
Whilst it may have been hard for us to comprehend the bizarre magic spell Hitler had over the Germans of his day, the early English translations of Mein Kampf did not help. Indeed they may have coloured our entire understanding of what it was that the German people saw in him. It may have been too easy for the last 70 years to dismiss it all as some temporary madness. Maybe, maybe not.
So, what is it you learn for reading this book twice?
Note that throughout this essay we refer to the term “Nazi” to represent the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (English: National-Socialist German Workers’ Party) the NSDAP. The NSDAP actually avoided the term as it was a derogatory term applied to them by their opponents. According to Wikipedia:
“The term “Nazi” was in use before the rise of the NSDAP as a colloquial and derogatory word for a backwards farmer or peasant, characterizing an awkward and clumsy person”
Fascists are always the worst kind of self-righteous hypocrites. Mein Kampf is a great testimony to this. Example:
“Experience shows that emigrant groups are more likely to be made up of the healthiest and most energetic individuals.”
Such testimony could well be lifted from any modern liberal work on the benefits of immigration. Yet Hitler wrote these words. He was very uncomfortable with the mixing of peoples from different places (he hated cosmopolitan Vienna precisely for that reason) yet he lauded the emigrant in the context of a German moving WITHIN German borders. He was referring to the country boy moving to the big city: himself (although he was also referring to the people who would leave Germany to go to America). So, again, context is everything. Hitler’s words, COULD, sound liberal and educated. In context they refer only to a very limited circumstance. He would not mean it to apply to any Jews who entered Germany.
Here is another example of where Hitler describes the pressure of internationalism but ONLY within the borders of Germany:
“Modern transportation throws men together in such a way that slowly, but steadily, the boundaries of provinces and states are being blurred, and even the cultural variations which separate groups by geography will gradually begin to fade and those groups will become more uniform.”
Hitler here is literally describing the modern joined-up world. He could see it happening. Yet he could only describe this in terms of the unification of different Germans into one “race”, one ethnic group. Hitler wrote that the new Nazi State would “ignore the boundaries drawn by past political forces” although his intentions were somewhat insidious in comparison to more modern liberal ideals that unite people across ethno-national borders by tearing down the barriers. He could not comprehend something like the modern EU with its open borders and shared rules and regulations.
Hitler goes onto describe how the German people will be unified into one body by conscripting all young men into the army and having them stationed far away from home. It was exactly the sort of social engineering conducted by Stalin in the Soviet Union although his tactic was quite draconian and deemed appalling by modern standards.
The other two areas where we can see Hitler’s blatant hypocrisy is in his attitude to the Jews and the Marxists. He writes of Marxism in almost glowing terms. They are everything he wants for his National Socialism – without the internationalist element. Hitler’s many descriptions of Marxists sounded, confusingly, like he was describing the Nazis:
“Marxism always held the point of view that weapons were to be used… Marxism did not care at all for parliament or democracy…”
He goes on to describe the Jews in a way that suggest that Jewish culture is successful in comparison to his Aryan race. He describes a world where the Jews dominate art, journalism and the professions. By any measure he is describing a people with tremendous social capital. Surely this means the Jews are successful and the Aryan race a failure? No. For Hitler all this display of success means nothing. For him the only true source of art, culture and science is the Aryan race. According to him the Jews were just very good at stealing from the German races.
Typical bigotry. Give him two people to compare: one a success and one a failure and he will proclaim the the failed man a victim of the successful-man IF the failed-man is of a “good race” and the successful man of a “bad race”. Swap the roles around, in our experiment, and the successful-man is successful because of his race. The failed-man fails because he is the member of a “bad race”. In short, a racist (like all good conspiracy theorists) see ALL evidence is re-affirming their prejudice. It is quite a natural form of prejudice and we are all guilty of it. It is called confirmation bias. Hitler does not possess the objectivity required to identify it in himself. It is a demonstration of Charles Bukowski’s famous maxim about stupid people being full of confidence. As demonstration of this Hitler proclaims he is “defending the work of the Lord“.
So sure is Hitler that he is right that he launches into vast tracts that are fact-free zones. Take this example:
“In countless cases we see where the pure race stands strong, while the mongrel breaks down.”
“Countless cases“? Yet Hitler chooses to name not a single example or scientific paper to back him up. This is pure polemic designed to invoke gut reactions in his followers. Mein Kampf is one of his very long rhetorical speeches. He does not dwell on reason. As we now know, everything Hitler (and others) believed about so called “race purity” in the 1920s and 30s was utter nonsense. It had no basis in fact yet he wrote about it at length as if it was real. He was the ultimate example of the art of the propagandist. All style, no substance.
Despite the fact that the Jews of Germany were producing a large part of that Nation’s culture, art and science Hitler concludes (of course) that
“He is not the brilliant creator, but the superficial imitator..”
“All human culture, art, science and invention which surround us are almost exclusively the creative product of the Aryan race… the Jew has never possessed a culture of his own..”
Since all other cultures were just imitating the Aryan race then it was natural to conclude that
“If, starting today, all future Aryan influence on Japan were to end, as if Europe and America were both destroyed, Japan’s present advance in science and technology might continue for a short while, but within a few years, the well would run dry.”
I am sure the modern Japanese would well laugh at this nonsense given their post-war cultural and industrial domination of the world. Hitler would contrast the Jews to the Aryans and write something like
“What people have gone through the greater upheavals and yet always come through the most tremendous catastrophes of humanity unchanged?”
Yet who is Hitler talking about here? Is this “self preservation” a good thing? A symbol of a strong an powerful Aryan race? No, he was describing the Jews.
“The Jewish people’s willingness to self-sacrifice does not go beyond the basic instinct of individual self-preservation.”
“It is the Jewish nation striving for world domination, a phenomenon that is as natural as the Anglo-Saxon’s urge to dominate the world. Just as the Anglo-Saxon pursues this course in his own way and fights his battle with is own weapons, so too the Jews fights with the weapons he knows best.”
“The Jew guards his racial purity more than any other nation of the world.”
Their survival instinct is a result of “cunning”. The Aryan survival instinct is a result of superiority. Apparently, although other races possess “intellectual powers” only the Aryans possess “the spirit of idealism“. He writes at length about how important it was to have good public speakers in the Nazi party but then immediately writes that the Jew uses “his deceitful skills of twisting the truth” as a “provocative speaker“. Hitler is literally describing himself and the Nazi movement, but as soon as the object of discussion is a Jew the wording immediately becomes pejorative. He describe himself and the Jews in exactly the same way – but when he does it is powerful and right. When the Jew does it is weak and mischievous.
Long sections of Mein Kampf are devoted to Hitler’s belief that the German people must be self sufficient in food and, to achieve that with a growing population, they had to invade Russia. But then this:
“Jewish expansion is an act of typical of all parasites. He is constantly looking for new land for his race.”
Another area where we see the double standard of the bigot is in Hitler’s writings about the Christian Church. A surprising amount of Mein Kampf deals in faith matters as it clearly was more dominant in 19th Century Europe than it is in today’s secular states. Hitler writes this of the Church:
“It would be wrong to hold a religion or a Church responsible for the scoundrels who abuse it.”
This is his metric for Christianity. He does not see Christians as a race. An entirely different yardstick is used to measure Judaism of course. The reason:
“Jesus made no secret of His feelings towards the Jewish people, and even used the whip to drive this rival out of the Lord’s temple”
Jesus was a Jew. He drove the money changers out of the temple. Hitler doesn’t see it that way. Of course.
The Working Class Experience
Hitler refers to the contemporary experience of the urban poor in multiple sections. From his own account he had experienced such urban blight from his time as a casual labourer on building sites in Vienna when he was young. However his relaying of the details comes nothing close to the sort of first hand experiences you can read in places like George Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier“12 or “Down and Out in Paris and London“13. You do not get the feeling that Hitler really saw any of what he describes first hand. He is emotionally detached from such grinding poverty although he writes about it in sufficient detail for it to be a believable account.
Hitler’s experiences with the Marxist Trade Unionist from his days on the building sites were to be formational for him. He was sympathetic to both the workers and the Trade Union movement, yet he hated the Marxists. His hatred of Marxism was to form one of the cornerstones of the Nazi movement yet his reasoning for such dislike remains elusive if we are to use his own words. It is almost as if the reasons are so obvious that he need not commit them to paper. The suspicion is that he so internalised this distrust that he ceased to expand upon his reasoning. Reading between the lines it appears as if the antipathy extends from Marxist Internationalism. This represents the very opposite of Nationalism, hence for Hitler this was poison. The very idea that any man from any place of any colour or creed could be your equal and your comrade was utterly unacceptable. It was the diametric opposite of Hitler’s ideology that demanded devotion to a single Nation and ethnic grouping. Marxism, to Hitler, represented an existentialist threat. He believed that if it was not for the reality of the dog-eat-dog world then mankind would shrivel and die. It was a “competition-is-good” ethos not so different to the neo-liberal “greed-is-good” ideology that replaced it.
Writing of the Marxists and the Trade Unions Hitler believed that…
“…[w]ithin a few decades, their trained hands had turned a method of defending human social rights into an instrument for destroying the national economy. The interests of the workers had no place in their plans.”
Thus it seems as if Hitler did have great sympathies for what the Unions were attempting to achieve for workers’ rights but believed (much as Margaret Thatcher and the modern political Right did in Britain in the 1970’s and 80’s) that the Unions had too much power and were using it for political purposes. Before we make too many parallels with modern neo-liberalism it is worthwhile recalling how Communist forces crushed the anarchist socialists during the Spanish Civil war14. It wasn’t the Fascists who destroyed the worker’s cooperatives. The 1920’s and 1930’s were a time of great revolutionary turmoil in Europe that is outside contemporary understanding for most of us.
However the influence of Marxism as a political body was important to Hitler in a very different way too. The Marxist political force was an enormous influence in everything the Hitler did to establish the NSDAP. He modelled the Nazis on the Marxist politics in an effort to appeal to their followers and draw them away from Internationalism and towards his brand of ultra-Nationalism. To this end Hitler’s assessment of the privileged classes (there seems to be no middle class as such) is withering. Although the success of the Nazis (later in German history) did swing on the involvement of the educated classes, Hitler was dismissive and planned to build the Nazi movement with the working classes. He was occasionally quite scathing of the bosses who denied the workers their rights. He believed that cooperation between workers and bosses was essential for the health of the national community. This concept actually survived in Germany to this day and is believed to be one of the key elements that makes its economy so successful.
To be fair he does express sympathy for the plight of the urban poor stating his feelings of “social responsibility to establish a better system for our development“. Yet, for him, the problem was never just economics or simple injustice. No. For Hitler the poor were a consequence of weaknesses in economics and cultural life. The poor were not just to be cared for. The poor were to be prevented by social Darwinism that would weed out the weaker elements. Poverty, believed Hitler, was a moral weakness to be fixed by a large dose of “national pride“. Poverty was a disease caused by a lack of “pride in the fatherland“. This is so close to what modern Conservatives believe in contemporary Britain today.
Hitler’s dream was to “nationalise” the people and educate them in the greatness of their nation and the need to fight for it. It is easy to belittle Hitler’s belief in a Nationalism as a cure-all. Yet much of his diagnosis is uncomfortably prescient. He is very clear that it is the very early experiences of a child that lead to their living in adult squalor or flourishing. His cure is for the young to be educated from a very early age. The young were to be instilled in the Nationalistic fervour he felt. His understanding of the problem is little different from our modern point of view even if our treatment if vastly different. Today we would replace Hitlers Nationalistic fervour with platitudes about “self respect”. This serves as a healthy reminder that Hitler’s words do not stem from the Middle Ages. His concerns are scarily modern in the outlook. He faced many similar problems to urban folk of today. His prescription – to make Germany great again – is also too familiar.
Hitler may be history’s most infamous anti-Semite but he hardly invented it. There is no way to downplay Hitler’s loathing of the Jews. Oddly though he claims that such hatred came upon him only after he left home to study in Vienna. He knew a Jew in school but claims no prejudice against the boy at that time. Only “caution” because that boy was “quiet“. In his youth the Jews were an unfamiliar curiosity – a people with a different religion. That is all. He saw no significance in Judaism as a political matter – although he was vaguely aware of antisemitism. So it appears as if he was not taught to hate and did not acquire this belief from his family during his upbringing. For him the Jews were “outwardly Europeanised and looked human” – they were Germans. He even wrote that he saw no need for pogroms because of people’s religion.
In Vienna he changed his views upon the Jews as a political question because (he claims) Karl Marx was a Jew. (Incidentally, Karl Marx was not a Jew. His father had converted to Christianity before Karl was born and Karl was raised as a Christian. One of Karl’s earlier works was even, arguably, antisemitic. This is not a religious question. Hitler treats the Jews as a race – and that is an entirely different matter.) He, at first, avoided the antisemitic press but turned to the Nationalist German papers because he was repelled by the pro-French attitude of the liberal press. His first encounter with antisemitism gave him “something to think about“. Vienna was an apparently modern and cosmopolitan metropolis standing at the gateway of multiple European empires. Despite of what Hitler claimed in Mein Kampf he had Jewish Jewish business partners and friend in Vienna with whom he got on quite well.15 In Vienna Hitler was met by cacophony of peoples of all colours and creeds. It over-whelmed this simple boy from the country. His sanctuary was Nationalism and through its publications he learnt that there was something wrong with the Jews. A bit like your simple country lad today in Britain picking up a copy of the Daily Mail or the Express newspapers and learning that there is some kind of threat from Muslims.
Hitler became anti-semitic through the books he read. He is at great pains to point out that he did not like other people’s guttural prejudice against the Jews. For him it was a matter of “science“. The problem was the “attitude of the Jews themselves“. This problem was Zionism. Hitler’s writing is confused at this point as he openly recognises that most liberal Jews rejected Zionism as a political project but then he almost instantly concludes that “it made no difference; they were all still Jews“. This is as scientific as it gets yet these views were picked up form his favourite books. It was Immanuel Kant who wrote in his religious tract “Religion within the Limits of Mere Reason” (1793) that
“…the Jewish religion is not really a religion at all, but merely a community of a mass of men of one tribe”16
Kant was not alone. Hitler also read the works of idealist philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte17 who was a German Nationalist and anti-Semite. Another of Hitler’s favourites was Georg Willhelm Friedrich Hegel, once a professor of philosophy at the University of Jena who wrote “Phenomenology of Spirit” (1807) and “Philosophy of Right” (1821). Hegel argued that mankind would naturally become more rational and moral yet he deemed Jews to be irrational. This new world, based upon reason, would exclude the Jews. So it was for other philosophers who influenced Hitler such as Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860).18 Hitler was enthusiastic about the work of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who idolised any warfare that glorified the German fatherland. Nietzsche had once claimed that the Jews were the enemies of Germany.19
The French diplomat and writer Count Arthur de Gobineau (1816 – 82) initiated the idea of a “Nordic race” – a view rigidly endorsed by other prominent nineteenth century thinkers. Paul de Legarde mixed these ideas with Germanic folklore and ferocious anti-Semitism dressed up as respectable idealism. Then there was Hitler’s favourite composer Richard Wagner and writers, historians, journalists and intellectuals from the social elite like Julius Langbehn, Houston Stuart Chamberlain, Ernst Krieck, Alfred Rosenberg and Wilhelm Marr (1819 – 1904) who all were virulently anti-Semitic.20 Finally it was Ernst Haeckel who distorted the work of Charles Darwin to give us the concept of “social Darwinism”.21
Thus when Hitler makes the usual platitudes about the Jews not washing, being poor, being filthy, etc, he was dipping into a vast pool of respectable thought. This was how many intellectuals thought and Hitler, too, thought of himself as being to the intellectual elite. Today we view Hitlers writing as reading like all the usual nonsense you can expect from a racist. Yet for many at that time time and in that place this was normal. Once his prejudice was established then Hitler saw a Jewish problem everywhere. He hated the Jewish dominance in the professions, the arts and in journalism. He disliked their plays, their movies were awful, their journalism sneered at the German people, he claimed they operated the prostitutes of Vienna, and (worst of all) they led the global conspiracy of Marxism. Hitler loved Germany like a child idolises a parent. Any criticism of his homeland in any liberal press was taken to be treachery. He wrote at length about how the Jews were not Germans because they hated Germany so much. They had committed the sin of sins: they lacked National pride.
Yet to write only of this historical anti-semitism as a standalone phenomena is to misrepresent what was happening in Europe in the 1800’s. For a more nuanced approach we turn to noted Hebrew scholar and historian Shlomo Sand and his 2009 book “The Invention of the Jewish People“.22 The 19th Century saw the birth of a new philosophy – of the “science of Judaism” – a movement that started in Germany lead by German-Jewish historian Isaak Markus Jost who wrote “A History of the Israelites from the Time of the Maccabees to Our Time” in 1820. The movement sort to give the Jews an identity through a scientific study of history. Writes Shlomo “Jost was well aware of the early signs of German nationalism and, like most literate individuals of Jewish origin, looked for indirect ways to join it“23. Yet Jost was not Zionist in the modern sense and did not see the Jewish people as being politically separate from non-Jews. He and his liberal contemporaries saw themselves as Germans first.
It was not until the 1850’s that Heinrich Graetz’s “History of the Jews from the Oldest Times to the Present” became centrally significant in supporting the idea of ethno-Jewish Nationalism. The concept of a ancient and lost Jewish homeland was given objective & historic shape – the Jews were a “people” – a nation. Graetz explored his more-forthright version of Jewish history and nationhood at the time of Bismarck’s unification of Germany. Jews had felt their identity was crumbling so Graetz’s “History of the Jews” restored hope: “the only option was to invent and adhere to a parallel national mythology“24 write Shlomo. Nationalism was resurgent in central Europe and it coloured all around it. By 1862 Moses Hess had published his seminal work “Rome and Jerusalem: The Last Nationalist Question” which Shlomo describes as “an unmistakable nationalist manifesto“. Hess was clear – the Gentile and the Jews would always be in conflict because they were distinct races.
Hess despised the Germans and it was no surprise that he was deported from the young nation and moved to France. There he took temporary leave from his political writing to take up the then fashionable natural science recently given new direction by Charles Darwin. This “science” concerned race theory and consisted of prejudiced writings about Jews, Africans and the peoples of the Orients. No doubt Hess would have read Robert Knox’s “The Races of Man“, James W. Redfield’s “Comparative Physiognomy, or, Resemblances between Men and Animals“, Carl Gustav Carus’s “Symbolism of the Human Form“, Heinrich von Treitschke’s “One Word about our Jewry” and Arthur de Gobineau’s “Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races“. Treitschke had read Graetz’s “History of the Jews” and was enraged by the concept of Jewish Nationalism. The debate raged for years.
The central European crucible that birthed German ethno-Nationalism bore Zionism. The two conflicting interests cross-fertilised and reacted against each other to deepen the perception of an ethnic divide. If the Jews or the Germans were to consider themselves as a separate race then what was sauce for the Goose was sauce for the Gander.
A common thread you see in Hitler’s beliefs and the modern day political-Right is their shared belief in social Darwinism – the survival of the fittest. Hitler believed the German people, his Aryan race, were the fittest race on the planet and it was God’s work that they survive. All others would perish. He wrote that Marxist internationalism “denies the noble goal of Nature“. This means that the needs of the majority of people did not matter as they would outweigh the value of the individual. The “dead weight of numbers in place of the eternal privilege of strength and power“. As such Marxism was against the “essentials of it survival and civilisation” because it ensured the survival of the weakest. This meant (through Hitler’s eyes) that the weakest would over-whelm the strong leading to the end of mankind. Hence “strength and power” was earned. It was a reward and should be guarded against any form of charity that would protect the weak. The weak were to be weeded out to keep the garden strong and healthy.
By modern standard such beliefs remain abhorrent yet still they prevail in neo-liberal dogma that seeks to shrink the state at the expense of the poor.
“…if people are defeated in their struggle for human rights, this means those people are not favoured on the scale of Fate and they are not slated to remain on this world.”
Thus the weak must perish because the “law of humanity is above the law of the state“.
Hitler enters into a tirade against prostitution that lasts many, many pages. His beef with the oldest profession seem to be a mortal fear of syphilis. He believed that those with syphilis would produce diseased children. The health of the German people would be saved by good marriages. The Nazi State’s mission would be to encourage such couplings with a good housing policy and a minimum wage. Quite how such social policies were compatible with his “survival of the fittest” rationale is explained away by his dual attitudes to the the members of the Aryan race versus those of other races. His Darwinism was often of a nationalistic flavour, ie, our tribe versus your tribe…. But our tribe would look after its own. Hence for him it was only “common sense” that eugenics would weed out the unhealthy seed and the physically handicapped from the population through “harsh segregation” and by making them sterile. It was only “humane” to do so. Likewise the fertility of the healthy would be enhanced – they would be encouraged to have as many children as possible. He also speaks glowingly of the United States:
“…[t]he United States of America [..] by excluding all immigrants who are unhealthy and outright refusing entry to certain races, the Americans are showing at least faint signs of a common attitude in the race-based Nationalist state idea.”
The racial purity of the planet would be guaranteed through warfare. Yet the racial purity of the master race would be guaranteed by rounding the sick people up into camps & sterilising them. There would be no civil war to sort the weak from the strong within German society.
“This desire to be humane – this craze – has become fashionable. By weakly submitting to this deviance and sparing the feelings of individuals from hurt, we have sacrificed the future of millions.”
Britain, Italy as allies/France as enemy
“The British will be the most valuable ally in the world.”
“In the foreseeable future, there will only be two possible allies for Germany: England and Italy.”
It is well known that Hitler was an Anglophile. Despite the fact that he only narrowly escaped death on the trenches of World War One during a British Gas attack he seemed to bear no ill-will. You wrote lovingly of the British Empire and culture. He loved the Brits as much as he hated the French and saw it as destiny that the German and British people would come together to contain the threat of the French and to extinguish Marxism.
We first learn of Hitler’s leanings in this direction when he write of his admiration for British architecture. He believed Vienna should have parliament building as grand as the one in London. He wrote that the British built grand architecture that were “temples dedicated to the glory of the nation“. By comparison he disliked Austrian architecture so much that he stated that this was the reason he was an “enemy” of Austrian democracy.
After British architecture Hitler admired the British propaganda he experienced in World War one. This was to prove a model for all that followed under German Fascism. However, this is the least of it. Hitler makes it explicit that he wishes to invade Russia for its farmland to feed this burgeoning German population. In the very same section he then writes:
“For this kind of policy, there was only one ally in Europe – England. Only with England covering our rear could we have begun a new Germanic migration… No sacrifice should have been too great to win England’s friendship.”
The “rear” he writes of is France. Hitler repeats the same sentiments at great length throughout multiple sections of the book. If there was one nation of earth he hated and wished to destroy after Russia it was France. The motivations were different of course. Russia was living space but France was personal…
“…the alliance [with Britain & Italy] would give Germany a chance to quietly make all those preparations that would be necessary in order to later settle the account with France.”
“Not only did England have no interest in destroying the German State completely, but she had every reason to see it become a future rival of France in Europe.”
“France is and will remain absolutely the worst enemy of Germany.”
France was the villain, the “deadly enemy of our people“. It was to be destroyed and such beliefs were common amongst reactionary Germans from the time that Napoleon occupied the nation a century before. The French Revolution set an example in the 19th Century that cause nothing but horror amongst conservative Germans. The revolution ushered in a new era of change, new philosophies, atheism, republicanism, tolerance, freedoms and much that was novel and discomforting. France was setting a bad example…
So Hitler seems pretty convinced that Britain was no longer interested in crushing Germany and was far more open to the idea of containing France. France, he wrote, had become infected with “negroid livestock” from its African colonies. Over time, he argued, this would water down the French blood and finally destroy Europe. It was a cancer he wished to remove. He resented this “African state on European soil“. It was the reason he rejected expansion of the German African colonies as a solution to German over-crowding.
Hitler genuinely wished for an alliance with Britain right up to 1939. He went to great pains to bring peace with the British Empire. Why did Hitler so love the British? Liberals argued that Britain ruled the waves because it was a great trading nation. Hitler disagreed. Through his eyes he believed that
“No people have every used the sword more brutally in the service of its economic conquests or more ruthlessly defended them afterwards than the English.”
Make no mistake. Hitler loved the British because he considered them to be as ruthless as he wished Germany to be. He was modelling the future Germany spiritually on what Britain had done a century before. Later in the second book Hitler devotes several pages to analysing British history. He saw such history as a game of chess where the British Empire prevented any major rival from rising to prominence. His analysis is similar to Bush era analysis of the neo-Conservative policies hailing out of Washington. Hitler then rationalises that Germany could play this great game in Europe to its own advantage. He would either need England or Russia on his side – and he sure wasn’t fond of doing deals with revolutionary Russia. He even goes as far as recognising that Britain’s power was “wavering” in the face of the rise of America as the new global superpower.
“British statesmanship anticipate fearfully the time when the slogan will not be “England rules the seas”, but will become, “The seas belong to the Union”.”
[Note the odd translation here of “Britannia Rules the Waves” which seems to have lost a lot in being translated into German then back into contemporary American English. We guess Ford was unfamiliar with the phrase.]
Hitler chastises Britain’s alliance with Japan as being “irresponsible from a racial standpoint” but agreed that it would help keep American power in check. He wrote that Britain after World War One was “over-exerting herself to maintain her position in the world...” Despite his racialist views of Japan he also recognised their rising power and believed that the Jews and Japanese were enemies. Hence if your enemy’s enemy is your friend this pointed the way to the final alliance of Axis powers in World War Two. This view was cultivated by the fact that Britain seemed to be leading the way on that front.
Hitler barely mentions Mussolini one or twice in Mein Kampf. This is intriguing given that Italian Fascism predates the rise to power of the Nazi Party and it was a major influence. Remember that Hitler also wrote that his racialist policies were unique to the Nazis – they invented them, he wrote. So no doubt he didn’t wish to give the impression that he was influenced by Italy. He also believed that Italy would be threatened by France hence they would join Germany and Britain in an anti-French alliance. He was certainly right about Italy as events were to show.
“A World-Concept that rejects the idea of blind rule by democratic masses and gives the world to the best people, to the highest quality human beings, must obey the same noble principle it follows within its people and make absolutely certain that the best minds become the leadership and those great minds are the predominant influence over people. This World-Concept does not build on the idea of majority, but rather on that of character.”
The introduction of universal voting in Austria, wrote Hitler “destroyed the German numerical superiority“. The German ethnic groupings in Austria were in a minority. This mattered not a bit to Hitler who felt it unfair that all those other Austrians enjoyed greater numerical numbers. Democracy was only of any use if the Germans were in power.
“The democracy of the West today is a forerunner of Marxism, and without it Marxism would be unthinkable.”
Hitler is very clear about this. He hated Parliamentary democracy because he believed a minority of the strong should rule the majority of the weak. Marxism was the politics of the poor masses hence democracy gave “Social Democracy” [Marxism] power. He longed for a return to Imperial values where a monarch made the rules and might made right. “Parliament was worthless” he wrote. The Members of Parliament lacked individual responsibility hence were perceived as being unaccountable. Thus democratically elected officials were not able to take command of a country because the people were not voting for strong leaders. Hitler believed that true leaders should dictate what was right to the people. People, he wrote, were a “flock of sheep” who need not understand policy. Instead they were to be “coached“.
Hitler’s contempt for the common man is a thread throughout Mein Kampf. It is a wonder that his readership never took the hint. Maybe everyone simply believed Hitler meant somebody else? For Hitler the old aristocracy was an example of the true scientific “nature” of leadership. Leaders would be selected by a battle in which only the strong survived. Such “great thinkers” should not be wasting their time “haggling for the approval of the majority“. They should be out there being “creative” and “achieving“.
“A majority always represents stupidity and cowardice. A hundred cowards do not make a hero any more than a hundred fools make a wise man.”
“We can never denounce sharp enough the silly idea that geniuses are discovered through general elections. The average nation only finds a real statesman once in a blue moon, not a hundred at a time.”
Hitler’s disdain for Parliamentarians largely extended from how he felt they stabbed Germany in the back in World War One. Politicians, voted for by majorities, were not to be trusted. In Austria Hitler believed that “the government is driving a nationality to its destruction” by which he meant the German minority. Thus it was that he wrote that “rebellion of every member of that people is not merely a right, but a duty“. Hitler’s hatred for democracy stems from a very existential problem. His German people were having their ethnicity stolen from them by the democratic Austrian Parliament (as he saw it). Being an Austrian-German he felt this personally. The fact that a happy Austrian human being was indistinguishable from a happy German human being meant nothing to him.
Let us not think for a moment that Hitler’s contempt for democracy extended only to the Austrian parliament nor that he wished for a peaceful overthrow. His determination to create a dictatorship in Germany by violence is explicit
“The Marxist parties should have been dissolved and the Reichstag brought to reason at the point of a bayonet if necessary.”
However Hitler remains philosophical about violence
“Every attempt to fight a World-Concept by violence will eventually fail unless the struggle is for a new way of thinking.”
By this Hitler meant that he wished for no power vacuum. He would fill that vacuum and replace Marxism with his fascism. His new German fascists would be recruited from the Marxist parties. He explains that no working class Marxist would abandon his cause for a bourgeois party of the privileged classes. [Translation note: Michael Ford translates Hitler’s use of the word “bourgeois” as “privileged class” – we assume such dumbing down reflects a North American ignorance of the meaning of the original word although is still in common use in philosophical discussion in Europe today and its meaning common knowledge.]
Experts, Propaganda & Media
“This obsession with objectivity has quickly contaminated almost every one of our institutions, especially state of intellectual institutions.”
“We National Socialists, as the supporters of a new World-Concept, must never take our stand on the celebrated “basis of facts”, and we must be especially careful of mistaken facts.”
..or “fake news” is we call it these days… Hitler wrote of himself
“I had become the master in the art of propaganda.”
The political-Right in Hitler’s time, as today, is proud of its disdain for enlightenment principles. The century before Hitler wrote Mein Kampf represented a period in which great strides in emancipation and enfranchisement as Europe lifted itself out of the value systems of the Middle Ages. Serfdom, religion and aristocracy were in retreat everywhere in the face of liberal, republican, atheist, Hegelian philosophy that stemmed from the French Revolution. Even in Hitler’s time, liberals saw the French state as the ultimate expression of human freedom – something to be emulated. Of course Hitler hated this. To him it represented pacifism and the weakening of national spirit. He described this modernistic idealism as “abstract principles” that detracted from the welfare of the nation.
Hitler planned to revolutionise the German economy by restructuring interest-based finance capital. He scoffed at the experts who said this couldn’t be done with an anecdote:
“..similar “experts” such as the Bavarian Medical Faculty regarding the question of introducing the railroad… riders of the new “steam-horse” did not become dizzy, spectators watching the train pass were not made ill…”
As colourful as this anecdote is, it is but an anecdote and bears no relationship to the actual criticisms of the economics profession. Hence for those wed to dogma, there is no reason why something cannot be done. If there is will, then there is success.
Hitler’s nationalism then, as it is today, was all about emotions, not reason. The problem with Germany, Hitler wrote, was “political, cultural and moral” hence concluding that the right policy should be one based upon propaganda that caused a emotional reaction in the masses because:
“In political matters, decisions are based more on feeling than understanding.”
This explains Hitler’s fascination with the role of propaganda in politics. Modern politics is little different although the propaganda is more subtle. Neither should we think that the Nazis invented such manipulation. They honed the craft that Hitler learnt from the British government in World War One and from the German tabloid newspapers and “Socialist-Marxist” organisations. Such practices were already widespread but Hitler’s explicit discussion of it as a political tool appears unusually frank. (As is his admission that the mass of people are sheep and easily lead. Propaganda was to “be aimed continuously at the masses alone!”)
He remarked that he learnt “an infinite amount from the enemy’s propaganda” – something he felt that the German leaders in Berlin did not. He believed that propaganda was a weapon of war and should be used ruthlessly. The gloves should have been off and he was frustrated by his war-time leaders’ reluctance to engage in such brutal tactics. He writes that the British soldiers never felt that they were “being lied to at home” whereas the Germans did. The British propaganda swept over the trenches like a “tidal wave” writes Hitler. The lessons were all there. The German leaders refused to learn them because they “craved objectivity“. They wished to be “fair to the enemy rather than risk an injustice“. In short, they unwillingness to lie was a weakness. The British portrayed the Germans as
“…the sole guilty party for the outbreak of the War. This was a lie, which because of the complete and one-sided colossal boldness of its presentation, appealed to the emotional and extreme attitude of the common people, and therefore it was totally believed.”
British propaganda played successfully to internal divisions in German. The southern Bavarians were told that the war was the fault of the northern Prussians. It caused Hitler great pain.
“It is a mistake to try and create propaganda in the same way you would create a document for scientific instruction. The great masses’ capacity to absorb information is limited.”
“Propaganda must limit itself to saying a very little, but saying it a lot.”
Thus it is that our contemporary politicians have boiled down their messages to soundbites which are then endlessly repeated ad nausea as a substitute for any deeper discussion or understanding.
Hitler turns to the topic of Propaganda many times in Mein Kampf. Indeed you could describe it as his favourite topic. His first position in the National Socialist Party was as their chief of propaganda. He took his example from British work in World War One and from the journalism he experienced in Vienna. He regarded the press as propaganda. In essence this is a remarkably healthy attitude! What remarkable progress we might make in modern Britain if most people regarded the mainstream media as propaganda instead of a source of facts. Hitler’s only complaint was that these “teaching materials are not in the hands of the state“. He learnt quickly that the press could succeed quickly in producing “a particular opinion among the public“. How little has changed. We think he would be quite proud of the modern Britain’s right-wing media. It engineers the opinion of state and public too.
“A few days were enough to turn some ridiculous affair into a momentous act of state, while vital problems were generally forgotten or simply erased from the memory of the masses.”
Hitler’s phrases [like “Most public opinion results from the way the public matters are presented to the people through an overwhelmingly impressive system of controlled information.“] sound as if they are lifted from the work of Noam Chomsky discussing the modern media. Hitler’s describes his tabloid journalists as “squids“, “rogues“, an “insidious group of manufacturers” and a “pack of scoundrels“.
Hitler launches his grand theory of public gullibility. He wrote that there were three types of people; those who believe everything they read, those who believe nothing they read, and a third group who are able to rationally dissect the news to seek the truth. The first group was in the majority and they were “simple-minded“. It was the job of the State to prevent this gullible people from “falling into the hands of bad, ignorant or evil-intentioned gurus“.
“It must not be misled by chatter about so called “freedom of the press” into neglecting its duty.”
This makes for uncomfortable reading in a modern environment where all national discourse is poisoned by extremist right-wing newspapers who fulfil only their proprietors wishes. The results for a democracy can be devastating. In Britain today it is ‘The Sun’ newspaper that calls the result of every election. Yet its version of “journalism” plumbs the lowest depths of the gutter. Certainly there is much to be said about the State’s role in protecting vulnerable people from such filth & lies, regardless of the usual calls for “freedom of the press“.
Of course the position in Germany in the 1920s is the reverse of modern Britain. Hitler was complaining about the liberal and “Social Democratic” press that carried the agenda of modernism. In his time the State failed in its “duty” to controls the press “to win the favour of this pest by flattery, by recognising “value” of the press, its “importance”, its “educational mission”, and other such nonsense”.
“No one had the courage to use a radical remedy that would completely solve the problem.”
Hitler’s liberal press (that he so hated) was guilty of “decency” in avoiding “physical brutality” in supporting the Treaty of Versailles. Such press insisted upon peace with a war using only “intellectual weapons“. Hitler believed this nonsense only appealed to “empty headed” and “unintelligent people“. Such people were “intellectuals” but they did not understand the true nature of man.
“Man must never be so misguided that he believes he has ascended to the position of lord and master over Nature… where the strong are masters over the weak..”
German Nationalism & Politics
“…what we see is the result of inadequate training in the love of German culture from childhood.”
Nationalism is a curious beast. The love of one set of traditions over another, the loyalty to one patch of dirt over another, un-reason, irrational, emotional – heart above head. For the nationalist the simple “love” of their homeland is the solution to all problems rather than what history proves it to be – the source of all our problems.
German nationalism was built around the “ability and willingness of an individual to sacrifice himself for the whole“. The people should have faith in a will to achieve the impossible
“If the art of the politician is considered the art of the possible, then the political philosopher is one whom it is said pleases the Gods only when he demands the impossible. He will almost always have to give up fame in the present, but in its place, if his ideas are immortal, he receives glory from future generations.”
Such romantic idealism remains a cornerstone of all extreme political belief. Brexit itself has been described as a cargo cult in which its desirability is in exact proportion to its impossibility.
Hitler believed that his National Socialism would merge the individual with the National State. In stark contrast to the modern Right-wing neo-liberal order he wrote that
“Once we let self-interest become the ruler of the people, the bonds of social order are broken. When man focuses on chasing his own happiness, he falls from Heaven straight to Hell.”
“..hyper-individualism (or laissez faire) [..] may occasionally do a good service, but overall, it has cheated us of world domination. If in its historical development the German people have possessed an instinct for group unity [..] the German Empire would probably be master of the globe.”
A fine ideal considering the inherent failings of the modern order’s cult-of-the-individual and its “greed is good” economics. This offers stark contrast to modern neo-liberal thinking and is worth keeping in mind before we call modern Conservatives “Nazis”. Yet Hitler was clearly no communitarian with flowers in his hair. He believed the German nationals would come together not in love and harmony but in conquest. He believed in the German “will” that would overcome all obstacles
“German power is not “How do we manufacture arms?” the real question is, “How are we to produce the spirit that enables our people to bear arms?” When a strong will rules the spirit of the people, they will find a thousand ways…”
The Limits to Growth & War against Russia
“Oppressed lands are not brought back into the lap of a common Reich by fiery protests, but by mighty sword. [..] The purpose of this foreign policy must be the securing of weapons and finding allies.”
Hitler believed that Germany was over-populated and in need of more living space. Indeed his outlook was quite Malthusian. He believed that Germans would end up starving as their population growth would outstrip the nation’s ability to feed itself. Germany by then was already an economic power and the traditional economic response was to export engineering products for the foreign exchange required to import food stuffs. Hitler believed in autarky for Germany and his solution would be “new territory in Europe” through an alliance with Britain. He goes onto write about how “force of arms” is necessary. Lost territories will only be regained through “sharp sword” and “bloody battle“. There is no ambiguity about this throughout the book. It is portrayed as a great destiny – a duty ordained by higher beings, to re-unite the Aryan Race is Europe.
“..we are ambassadors of the highest level of humanity on this earth and are bound by a solemn duty.”
“We must secure the territory and soil that is due the German people for their place on this earth.”
“Gaining this territory only proves the might of the conquerors…”
Might made right. If Germany was to become a “world power” it would need Russia’s “vastness“. At a time when the British Empire ruled a quarter of the globe such ideals may have been commonplace. Only Hitler’s obsession with racial purity makes his writing so scary for the period it was written in. Hitler combined his belief in over-population, autarky and Darwinistic “survival of the fittest” to conclude that it would be Germany’s destiny to take for itself more land in the East. He discounts modern methods of birth control believing that they subverted the course of nature:
“The moment reproduction is restricted and the number of births reduced, we have a craving at any cost to “save” even the weakest and most sickly instead of allowing the strongest and healthiest to survive naturally.”
“By brutally and immediately, eliminating the individual that can’t handle the storms of life, she keeps the race and species strong and even pushes them to supreme achievement.”
This supreme achievement was conquest of new lands through warfare. To him it was the only “sound” policy. There would be short term losses he argued, but it would be worth it for the longer-term gains.
“At present, large areas of land still exist in the world that are being unused and just waiting to be broken by the cultivator.”
…just as long as that cultivator was a deserving German farmer. Any other race that already possessed and worked the land was not deserving – they were “inferior“. Germany just needed “the strength to take it“. It was “pacifist blindness” that stopped Germany taking what was rightfully theirs. Germany had to be “ruthless” if it was to prevent the world from becoming dominated by inferior races who were “simple minded and cruel“.
“…people possessing brutal will power will triumph over the nations that have denied themselves that they need to survive.”
Germany could not have a peaceful economy in which it simply traded for the food it needed.
“Germany should have realised that some day it would need to back-up its acquisition of daily bread by “peaceful economic work” with the sword.”
Mein Kampf is not a blueprint for World War Two but Hitler is not shy in his explicit intentions for invading the undeserving Slavic nations to his east.
“If European soil was the objective, it could be acquired primarily at the expense of Russia.”
“…when we say territory and soil today in Europe, we can only think about Russia and the border states under her control.”
The reasoning here is that Russia is truly part of greater Germany because everything that is good about it is down to the influence of the Aryan race. Hence it had to be cleansed of the Slavic & Jewish sub-races that currently occupy it. Despite the over-whelming lengths to which Hitler goes towards claiming Russian territory for Germany as living space the Translator Michael Ford interjects with an odd note claiming that Hitler “was not planning an invasion” and only expected to be “invited in to put down a revolution“. The background to this claim is not given and it remains without any obvious credibility given Hitler’s self-proclaimed obsession with Russia as a place for the Germans to live.
Hitler was never to be a liberator. He said so himself. He had been approached by representatives of Balkan states plus Egypt and India who hoped he might aid their independence movements. Given his love for the British Empire he scoffed at such an idea. The British Empire was not “about to collapse in India” he wrote.
“England will only lose India if she falls prey to racial breakdown.. I [..] would prefer to see India under English rule than under the control of any other Nation.”
There were no higher ideals concerned with defending the underdog of unlocking the chains of oppression. He would be no guiding light to the “proud Orientals“. Such ” “Oppressed Nations”, which I can see are racially inferior“. Germany would have its own empire. It would not help the weak, it would dominate them. Hitler also figured that Russia would be a push-over. Since future wars would be highly mechanised it only figured that he could destroy Russia because “Russia does not own a single in which an automobile that actually runs can be manufactured“. Such technical assessments of Russian abilities were commonplace in the west. The operating assumption was that Russia was only able to copy western designs – badly. Facts proved this analysis inaccurate but this myth continued up until the point the Soviets put the first man into space.
Regardless of the lengths Hitler goes to announce his intentions to crush Russia he feels it necessary to write at equal length as to why Russia would not make a good ally. The reasons are self evident, ie they are racially and technically inferior, they are run by Jews, they cannot be trusted, they were “common criminals” and the “scum of humanity“, etc, etc. But also
“You do not form an alliance with a partner whose only interest if your destruction.”
Given his overt threats it would hardly be of surprise that Russia would want to destroy you. Yet as history was to prove, the Russian never took the threats in Mein Kampf very seriously and did indeed become allies of the Nazi State. They remained so up until the point that Hitler’s tanks rolled over the borders. Stalin was so surprised he entered a state of depression for days – refusing to believe the news.
In March 1940 George Orwell reviewed Mein Kampf for “The New English Weekly“. By that time of course Britain was at war with Germany & Russia was a German ally. What did such a great contemporary think make of such a turnabout?
“Probably, in Hitler’s own mind, the Russo-German Pact represents no more than an alteration of time-table. The plan laid down in Mein Kampf was to smash Russia first, with the implied intention of smashing England afterwards. Now, as it has turned out, England has got to be dealt with first, because Russia was the more easily bribed of the two. But Russia’s turn will come when England is out of the picture—that, no doubt, is how Hitler sees it.”
Any reader of Mien Kampf would find such an interpretation somewhat odd given Hitler’s long love affair with the British Empire. Yet the reality was that Britain was at war with Germany and this coloured everything. What strikes us most if Orwell’s description of Hitler’s “monstrous” vision for Germany:
“…he envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state of 250 million Germans with plenty of ‘living room’ (i.e. stretching to Afghanistan or thereabouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder.”
Capitalism & Economics
“…it is dangerous to combine a great political world-philosophical fight with economic matters..”
Economics is another area in which Hitlers seems schizophrenic. He often states that economics is the enemy of dogma. He preferred dogma – gut reaction and emotion. Economics as just too scientific and rational. If anything he made the case for the continued poverty and insecurity of the German people as that would make them restless for the Nazi solution. Yet in the next paragraph he contradicts himself and suggests that people need to be alleviated of economic woes in order to be able to devote themselves to the political battle. The writing of Mein Kampf predates much of the formulation of actual Nazi economic policy which did not occur until the 1930’s. For Hitler matters of Nationalism trumped all rational economic interests. It is literally there in his opening words on page one and echoes throughout the entire book:
“Austria must return to the great German mother country. Not for economic reasons. No, the economics are unimportant. Even if it did not make economic sense, it must still take place because blood belongs in one common realm.”
So right from the get-go the irrationality of Nationalism and “blood” dictates all policy even if it makes the people poorer. Populism in 2017 has not changed one iota. It is all based upon bluff and bluster. Economists are dismissed as “experts” who the “people have had enough of“. Thus it is that the modern populist cherry pick their own “experts” to wave the flag for Nationalistic policies like Brexit. They need not make any rational sense and they will guarantee that everyone is the poorer for them.
The reason such reasoning kicks off the book is equally as important. Hitler was “German” but he was born just over the border in Austria. This division between the nationality he “felt” he was and where he physically was goes right to the heart of the Nationalism delusion. In reality there is no relationship between where you are and what you are. Your DNA does not dictate your culture. If anything your location dictates your culture but only in a very approximate sense.
Hitler’s views on Capitalism are ambiguous and would undergo quite an evolution in the years 1925 to 1945. The views he portrays in Mein Kampf are simplistic, even naive. He views international finance and capitalism as being the preserve of the Jews. Hence it is all a big plot to destroy Germany. Indeed, from his perspective this would seem a natural conclusion. Men of the Jewish faith did indeed control large flows of global capital but the idea that the “Jewish race” were conspiring to use this power against Germany was nonsense. If international finance did not favour Germany it was for other reasons. In the post-World War One agreements signed at Versailles Germany got a pretty rough deal and it is widely recognised that these restrictions lead to the raise of Fascism. There is cause and effect here, it just doesn’t need secret race conspiracies.
He complains that during World War one that all war production “was under control of financial Jewry“. He specifically singles out finance as the issue rather than the production. He feared that “international capital” would be made “ruler of Germany“.
“It was the destruction of the national economy in order to establish the rule of international capital.”
The fear of financialisation and globalisation are not new. Hitler’s fears were articulated through racists theory and antisemitism. Without such ideological nonsense the contemporary fear remains for quite good reasons. The modern Right don’t use such explicitly antisemitic origins for their ideology but contemporary populist sentiment reflects the fear of outsiders owning “our” economy. Ironically the rise of Thatcherism and the neo-liberal order in the 1980s rebelled against such autarky. Globalism was good. The fear of losing control of the economy was dominant in the Left not the Right at that time.
Such desire for greater local autonomy is expressed across the political spectrum and throughout time. The rise of the Transition movement circa 2008 was driven by fears of peak oil and climate change – the solution was re-localisation. Social history is written large with the cycles of expanding and contracting world trade. It has always been simultaneously an external threat and a source of wealth. Such it was with the Luddites and the breaking of the machines, the opportunities always outweighed the drawbacks. This has never stopped politicians from manipulating the people’s natural fears to their own ends.
As such we read Mein Kampf today and recognise contemporary themes all to readily:
The State “only had to be certain that capital remained a servant of the State and did not become the master of the people.”
…a war goal long since fought for and lost sadly. Hitlers opinions at this time were shaped by economist Gottfried Feder who later became a key member and guiding light of the National Socialist movement in inter-war Germany. Hitler attended one of Feder’s lectures shortly after the end of World War One [entitled “Breaking the Slavery of Interest“] and clearly the young soldier was impressed. He learnt of the
“difference between capital as the result of work and a capital derived from speculation investments.”
Certainly this is a worthwhile lesson even by modern standards. Hitler learnt about “international finance and loan capital” which lead to him forming core beliefs that lead directly to the founding of the German National Socialist Workers Party. Finance economics were a critical ingredient to the Nazi solution to Germany’s problems. Hitler knew this regardless of all his rhetoric about propaganda. He knew it was important to save the details from the masses who would not truly understand. Hence he would spin the propaganda to sell the dream to the German people but the bedrock of National Socialism would be an economic plan.
Mein Kampf does not go into detail as to what that plan was. That wasn’t important of course. Clearly economics was critical to the plan but not of significant interest to Hitler. He articulates no further on the matter other than to explain how Feder
“..laid bare the fact that this capital is always dependent on the payment of interest.”
Hitler wished to break the link between what he called “finance capital” and the “national economy“. By this he meant opposing the “internationalisation“. Indeed he goes as far as saying
“I saw Germany’s development much too clearly not to have known that the hardest struggle would have to be fought against international capital and not against hostile people..”
It is not entirely clear what Hitler means and his explanation of his rationale is somewhat lacking. It is tempting to assume that he simply wished to exclude the Jewish banking system from German economics. Frankly that is not the whole story. He describes “interest-based finance capital” as a form of “slavery“. Such a concept predates Hitler of course and is still a contemporary concern. Just look at the campaigning zeal behind the “Positive Money” campaigns and the the video series “Money as Debt”. Anybody with a radical agenda for their national economy over the last few hundred years has laid plans to replace the system of debt-based money creation. Yet it never quite happens. Whatever Hitler’s race-based assumptions about the banking system he was always in good company – then and now – as to the underlying problem. But clarity on the matter is not something you will read in Mein Kampf.
Hitler’s views of economic rationalism are eccentric. He devotes large tracts to arguments about whether the state has a role in the economic formation of a nation. He argues that the State has no role in economics. The state has the job of driving the destiny of the people as a great nation. The state is a “race orientated organisation” – a community – that represent the “spirit” of the nation.
“They think they can build up the state by purely economic means, but in reality, the state comes form the will of a species and race to survive.”
“No state has ever been created by establishing a peaceful economy.”
In short: the state is an engine of war. It needs “heroic traits” not the “ego of a businessman“. These concepts bear uncanny resemblance to modern Right-wing politics and neo-liberal philosophy.
“We can see this from the simple fact that man never sacrifices himself for economics. People don’t die for business, but for ideals.”
This is certainly true from a propaganda point of view. We invade Iraq to give the people “freedom“. We are not there to seize they oil assets so that large oil companies can cream off profits. However, in our modern world the state is actively engaged in economics, all the while telling the people that its about “ideals“. Hitler would have understood.
Hitler’s vision for Germany was of a simplistic agrarian farming nation: food production outweighed all other production. He disliked modern international trading because such “world economic conquest” lead to “industrialisation” that was “harmful“. The harm he refers to is Germany’s ability to feed its own population without the need to trade for food. (He also bemoaned the way factories replaced the small craftsman.) The industrial revolution would gut the rural communities of workers who would flee to the cities and live in squalor. The squalor would lead to greed, inequality & dissatisfaction – which would lead to revolution. Those knowledgeable of the work of Karl Marx would recognise this instantly. As much as Hitler hated Marxism he cannot help but regurgitate one of its main principles concerning the the self destructive nature of industrial Capitalism.
The irony in all this is that after he repeats Marxist theory he then proceeds to write that “Marxism launched a constant and visible war on German heavy industry to turn it into an international business“. The logic here is pretty tortured but Hitler repeats this “logic” on multiple occasions in his writing. Since Marx was a Jew (he wasn’t) and since the international bankers were all Jews (of they weren’t, although many were) it followed that the international banking system was a Jewish-Marxist plot.
“The internationalisation of our German economic system, by transferring control of German working strength into the possession of Jewish world finance, can only be completed through a state that is politically Bolshevik. However, in order for the Marxist shock troops of the international Jewish capitalists to finally break the backbone of the German National State, it needs the cooperation of outside forces.”
Any German company that was owned by non-German Banks was victim of Marxist Revolutionary plot. It is a totally ridiculous conspiracy theory that is so slim and pathetic it is hard to understand how anyone took it seriously. Hitler seriously asked people to believe that Capitalism was a Marxist plot. The delusion continues into his tracts on the Trade Union movement which he believed the Jews also dominated
“This happens easily because he is not interested in a real and honest correction of social abuses, but only in forming a blindly devoted economic fighting force that will shatter national economic independence.”
Hence we have the model for all Conservative antipathy towards the Trade Union movement in Britain and America every since. Although in Hitler’s crazy mixed up version it would be the Jewish Trade Unionist that would destroy German industry with Capitalism and international finance. QED Marxist are Capitalists.
Hitler’s describe early 20th century globalisation as
“..individual nations began to resemble businesses that mutually undercut one another, stole customers and orders, and tried to outwit each other in every way while making protests as loud as they were harmless. This development not only seemed to progress, but it was generally hoped it would someday transform the world into one huge department store where the reception area would for all time display statues of the most skillful manipulators and most harmless executive..”
How reminiscent this description of the modern economy or Europe and the World. We somehow secure ourselves form the horrors of Fascism by putting it into some far-off bubble that has no bearing upon today. It is like Hitler came to power in some far-flung middle ages. This is nonsense. Hitler rose to power in a very modern world. His concerns are very contemporary. We would treat his description of the modern global marketplace as a very “normal” description of how the world should be.
That was not how Hitler saw it. He recoiled in horror at the idea that modern nation states engaged in economic competition with each other. Financial operations, he wrote, are “easier” than military ones. Hence the best men would choose to work in the peaceful economy – a distraction from his proper place (in the army). What was worse, the German people would slowly lose its “essential racial element required for its existence“. Business would make men weak and ineffectual on the battlefield. The German State must not “owe its survival to economics“. For him man only had value if he was engaged in great deed.. And those deeds were conquest on the battlefield.
“Even as a boy, I was no “pacifist”.”
Of all Hitler’s beliefs this is one that is most alien and bizarre. It is all the more bizarre for it was completely discounted by all who supported him into power in 1933. It recalls the fate of modern American voting for Donald Trump in the belief that he didn’t really mean all the racist stuff he said. For Hitler the peaceful market competition was no substitute for a good war. So when World War One came he embraced it.
“To me, those days seemed like deliverance from the anger of my youth. Even now, I am not ashamed to say that I fell on my knees overcome by a wave of enthusiasm and thanked Heaven from an overflowing heart that it had granted me the good fortune to live in this time.”
World War One & revolution in Germany
Hitler’s description of Germany’s entry into World War One is illuminating. It is worth repeating his words in full:
“..warnings were ignored along with all other common sense. People were convinced they were on the high road to a world “conquest”. All they could see was the enormous chance of success without any cost whatsoever. Once again, there was nothing for the average man to do but watch in silence while the “elected officials” marched the country straight to damnation, with the good folk following after them like rats following the Pied Piper of Hamelin.”
What strikes us about these words is how uncannily they can describe the British people’s march to Brexit in 2017. This is how Hitler sees how his country was dragged into war. It is very hard reading his words not to empathise just a little with his view. World War one was a catastrophe for Germany leading directly to the rise of the Nazis and Germany’s destruction in World War Two.
For Hitler war was a kind of tonic that would produce forth the very best that his Aryan nation had to offer.
“A race of people also need such a jolt to bring out the dormant genius… There is no better opportunity to observe this than in a war.”
The war effort for the Germans collapsed when there was a Marxist revolution that deposed the Kaiser and made Germany a republic in 1918. Hitler claims this was only possible because the very best of the German youth had died on the fields of France in the war. This had left only the bad guys, the Jews, the pacifists and the Marxists in charge. Ironically this could be said to be an ideal argument for peace. But Hitler doesn’t do such irony or introspection therefore the point escapes him.
Of course this revolution succeeded in Russian in the same timescale. Russia had two revolutions. The first approximates to the the German experiences in deposing the Tsar and his family. A democratic parliament was established as was done so in Germany. That was as far as revolution got in Germany as the backlash resulted in the rise of Fascism. Yet in Russia history took a different course when the Bolshevik Revolution put paid to democracy and Communism resulted. Hitler has a theory for this too. Germany did not go the way of Russia because of the “closer racial unity of the German intellectuals and the German labourer“.
In the end, everything comes down to race.
What was National Socialism?
It is hard to classify 1920s fascism in a meaningful way using 21st century political concepts of “Right” and “Left”. Contemporary discussions that attempt to identify the Nazis as being “left-wing” usually rely upon an entirely superficial reading of the word “Socialism” in “National Socialism”. Those on the Left who identify all modern Conservatives as “Nazis” usually miss several ideological gaps that we have identified in several places in this essay. There is no good fit one way or the other with contemporary mainstream politics. Of course there are real Nazis today who self-identify as Nazis – they are easy to spot. But the general classification relies more on cultural similarities than anything in economics.
It is worthy of note that Hitler self identifies his Nazis of being of the “right”. It is implicit in the few places where he contrasts the Nazis to the “Left-Wing parties” or the “Reds“. We know that he does not consider his National Socialist German Workers Party to be of the Left – regardless of the wool covering this wolf. Hitler also details how the “Red press” attacked the National Socialists. So not only did the Nazis identify the as not be “Red” – even the “Reds” attacked them because they were not Marxists. They were not socialists.
“The spirits among German-Nationalists kept whispering to one another their suspicion that basically, we were only a variation of Marxism, maybe even Marxists or some kind of Socialists in disguise… How often we shook with laughter at these simple-minded, scared privilege class rabbits with their clever guesswork about our origin, our intentions, and out aim.”
The next time some fascist on social media claims the Nazis were “socialists” just remind them that Hitler thought such beliefs were those of the “simple-minded” – the “scared rabbits“. He laughed at them. Yet he was inspired by the Marxists and wrote about how, after World War One, when he was in Berlin, how impressed he was by “a mass demonstration of Marxism”
“A sea of red flags, red armbands and red flowers created a tremendous visual spectacle.. I could feel and understand how easily the average man could give in to the hypnotic spell of such a grand demonstration.”
“We chose the colour red for our posters.. in order to provoke the political Left wing, to drive them to fury, and to lure their members into our meetings.”
In 2012 book “The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler” Rees25 discusses the reason why Hitler didn’t join the Freikorp in 1918 upon his return to Germany. As Hitler wrote, he decided to stay in the Army and was based in Munich in early 1919. However he doesn’t reveal that he was “elected as a representative of his battalion” – this implies he was actively involved with the “Soldiers Council” in the Socialist Republic of Bavaria. Rees speculates that this “would scarcely have been possible if he [Hitler] had been opposed the Communist revolution“. Although Hitler omits the episode from Mein Kampf he is not shy in his repeated praise for Marxist political structure & propaganda. In May 1919 the Freikorp entered Munich and ended the “Soviet Republic” in a bloody battle. Rees implies again that Hitler had been a Communist and only changed sides after the May ‘liberation’. This would be simplistic. From his own words we can deduce that Hitler may have briefly flirted with the Marxists and the experience may well have formed the foundation of his hatred of them.
Hitler and the Nazis didn’t want to be Marxists but they sure-as-hell wished to emulate their style & recruit from their membership. He wrote that the Marxists were responsible for class-war which he would put a stop to. Never doubt that the Marxists, the reds, the “left“, were always the enemy
“..the real duty fall to our National-Socialist movement in preparing for the victory of our idea and taking up its defence against the terror of International Marxism itself…”
Through the book he is very clear that he believed that Marxist theory was a catastrophe for mankind. He claims that Marxism never worked and failed everywhere it was tried. This was written just a few years after the Russian Revolution which he goes on to address in a separate section. The Cuban Revolution happened many years later and would struggle due to an illegal US blockade. His critique is hardly scientific and it likely to be based on the experience of previous revolutions around Europe during the middle of the 19th Century.
In his rejection of the economics of the detested “Reds” he concludes that their failure is down to not recognising the “value of race and the importance of the individual“. This is curious as he often contradicts himself on the matter. Hitler does use the language of class although not as often as he uses the word “race“. For him all the German Aryans should put their class differences behind them to come together as race. But in the first few foundation years of the German National Socialist Workers Party it was the membership of the Marxist working classes that Hitler chose to recruit.
“Assigning the great mass of people who are now in the internationalist’s camp to their proper place in a national community does not mean that we will sacrifice the protection of their class interests; we will not abandon the worker.”
Hence the use of the term “Socialism” that Hitler deliberately chose to recruit from the Marxist ranks. Hitler often shows genuine concern for the workers
“…we must not lower our current upper classes, but instead must raise the lower classes to a higher level… the movement must deliberately improve the workers’ social and cultural position..”
“We must snatch them from their internationalist madness, relieve their social distress, lift them above cultural misery, and lead them into the national community..”
“…the purpose of the Movement is [..] to win over those who are anti-national.”
These promises were carried out when Hitler finally made it into power. However, to get power, he made pacts with the wealthy industrialist classes in the early 1930s – a good few years after Mein Kampf was written. All political parties have to “grow up” at some point and learn to make certain compromises on their path to power. It is the source of much modern cynicism with politics. With some certainty we can say that Hitler stuck to his guns. He did raise the workers without threatening the privileged class. He didn’t sell out but the Germany we went to war with in 1939 was a fully fledged Capitalist one, albeit that the Capitalists were comfortable bed-fellows with the Nazis. Despite all the negative words Hitler had to write about the stock exchange, it remained open and trading successfully in German right up until the fall of Stalingrad. You could say that this was part of Hitler’s “genius” (if such a thing could be argued to exist) – he managed to get a majority of Germans on board. Even if his ship was about to sink.
Hitler made the Nazi party into a model of his beliefs. He had committees and parliamentary democracy (the same “nonsense” and “foolishness“) banished. Instead “one special man” was put in charge of each area based upon merit. He simply did not like attending committee meetings. He prepared his propaganda and allowed no interference. There was no more collective responsibility. It was winner takes all – for the right man or woman. Nobody would get to vote on this.
“In a time when majority-rule is the master everywhere, a movement that adapts itself to the principle of one leader who carries all responsibility will someday, with mathematical certainty, overcome the present circumstances and will emerge victorious.”
The next major ideological plank of National Socialism was to create the movement as cult
“The greatness of any powerful organisation, which embodies an idea in this world, depends on the absolutely religious fanaticism with which it establishes itself… It must be fanatically convinced that it is right and just and it must be absolutely intolerant of any idea or organisation that is counter to its own teaching.”
“Great change is accomplished only when driven by fanatical and hysterical passions.”
Hitler goes right on to compare the rise of the Nazis to the rise of Christianity
“It was created through unyielding and fanatical declaration and defence of its own teachings.”
Members would strive for conflict (not avoid it) and “embrace that hatred“. This was politics as war. Uncompromising and belligerent. The Nazis “world-concept” [this is a clumsy translation that neither Murphy nor Ford put over very well – it would have been better translated as “philosophy“]
“..sees the state only as a means to an end and its end is the preservation of the racial existence of mankind. In other words, racialist theorists are far from believing all races are equal, but understand different races have inferior or superior merit.. This.. obligates racialism to honour the universal Will of Nature.. to demand the subjugation of the inferior..”
Make no bones about it. It was not enough that the Nazies were simply “not internationalist” or even “ultra-nationalists”. There were out and out racists. It was core to who they were. The wolf may have looked like a sheep but it was a very different beast. Internationalism is the simple belief that all men are equal and brothers. Hitler’s nationalism was not just an absence of this. It was diametrically opposite. Men were not equal. Life was subject to the laws of nature which pitted race against race in a battle for survival. Only the strong would survive. This Darwinian “natural selection” (and yes, Hitler does user the phrase “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest“) was a matter of survival. He intended the Aryan race to come out on top and destroy Marxism. Racism was the politics of the Nazis regardless of how many good Germans may have discounted it for expediency.
To understand how seriously the racialist Nazis took this matter it is worth considering how often Hitler compare the Aryan likeness to being that of God:
Marriage is “the institution that is appointed to reproduce mankind in the image of the Lord, not monsters that are half man and half ape.”
Hitler genuinely believed that racial purity was next to Godliness. He was doing God’s work. A National Socialist Germany would be the living embodiment of these sentiments. Schools would focus less on academic achievement. Instead young men would be taught physical education to prepare them for the army, whilst the girls would be made fit enough for motherhood. Men would be “real men” not academics. They would be taught to endure pain in silence. It calls to mind Orwell’s “1984” and the principle of “Ignorance is Strength”. Literally. Hitler went as far as saying that young strong German men would not become Marxist revolutionaries. Only the weak have time for revolution!
So education was to shape the young people of Germany to build a “uniform bond” and “produce a united state of mind“. No young person would leave school as a pacifist or a democrat. No, they would be “a complete German” understanding “the importance of their race” and the “purity of their blood“. These children would love their people and be willing to sacrifice themselves for those people. The Nazis would “kindle the national pride with shining examples“.
“..the State itself consistently robs millions of other young people of their natural instincts. They do this through pacifist-democratic education that poisons their logical patriotic thought and gradually transforms them into a herd of sheep, tolerant of every tyranny…”
Which, of course, was exactly what Hitler demand of the German people – unquestioning loyalty of his tyranny. Yet Hitler warned
“Nationalism is like a temperamental thoroughbred horse which will not allow just anyone into the saddle. It’s no wonder rulers preferred to keep away from such a menace.”
Considering the resulting “menace” the Nazis were to Germany these were quite prescient words by the author. His intention was to create a nation as an attack dog straining at the leash. He would unleash it upon Germany’s enemies. The “menace” would be controlled by launching it upon an outside victim.
Such an attack dog could not be brought into being if “half the people are miserable, oppressed and destitute, how can anyone be proud of such a state“? The Nazis would cure inequality and poverty as a means of creating the nationalistic bond between the German people. Any great man in such a society would only be truly great if he was “a member of one’s own race“. The pride of one would be the pride for all through the unity of the race. Hitler was also not impressed by any false display of loyalty
“Yelling the loudest doesn’t give a person the right to call himself a nationalist unless a great, loving care for the preservation of a common, healthy nationality stands behind those hoots and hollers.”
A true National Socialist had to be genuine. Certainly this seemed to be true of Hitler himself. He may have made a few compromises on his way to power but no one could ever claim he was for sale. He was a man if principle and completely incorruptible.
It wasn’t all about the superiority of the Aryans either. Hitler does occasionally mention the inferiority of other races in most repellent terms. He describes how, if a negro became a lawyer, teacher of minister then this nothing more than the “miracle of animal training“. It was “criminal insanity to train a born half-ape“. Like training a poodle. For “negro” also read “Hottentots” and “Zulus”. Hitler writes that it is a sin against God to train such animals in preference over the Germanic people. There was to be no doubt, the Nazis would be a “race-based” party. Their’s was the new religion of “racialism“. Hitler claims that the Nazis not only invented this new form of racism but they “created it“. He was proud to have changed the political vocabulary by introducing his racialist doctrine.
History shows us the tragic consequences.
In Britain today we see how a small segment of the electorate voted for the blatantly xenophobic policies of a relatively insignificant UK Independence Party that threatened to steal Conservative voters in marginal constituencies. This changed the course of British history causing the language of British politics to change. Suddenly it became respectable to treat casual xenophobia as if it was somehow normal – even justified. We were told there were too many immigrants when there was not. We were told that all immigrants are a drain on our society’s resources when they demonstrably are not. The right-wing press dictated that the foreigners were there to take your jobs, steal your hospital beds and sponge off the welfare state. This was all propaganda, none of it was true. Yet the doctrine became openly discussed as if it were real. The poison entered our political system and Brexit was the result. Brexit will only harm Britain in the way that Hitler destroyed Germany. That way was folly then. Folly now.
One of the key politicians who lead to this see-change in British society had spent years as a journalist in Brussels. He fed notorious anti-foreigner “news” back for publication. Each absurd and outlandish claim was easily debunked but nobody was listening. It created the mood music for the moment – an overture to our own destruction. Before the rise of Hitler most Germans were actually happy with the peace of the Versailles Treaty. Yet the Nazis turned this contentment into controversy and dissatisfaction.
Hitler’s people would enjoy a society engineered as a meritocracy – yet such equality would be founded on “the way everyone fulfils his obligation to the community“. People, wrote Hitler, should not be judged by their income. Pay should not be the only element that drives people’s ambition.
Hitler’s National Socialism was a revolutionary movement designed to bring about a totalitarian system of government. The agenda is spelt out at length. Hitler drew very close parallels to the rise of the Christian church. He explicitly states that it will be a fanatical & dogmatic religion of intolerance. Like the Church it would destroy the “pagan altars“. He wrote “intolerance is absolutely indispensable for the growth of a faith“. The foundation of the Nazi party would be a declaration of war upon the old system, of democracy. Hence it was founded as a “vigorous fighting organisation” consisting or “warriors”. There would be no compromise, the new system was infallible. They would destroy Marxism and the Jews through “superior leadership and with better-disciplined, more blindly obedient, and better drilled troops“. This was war and a war needed an army. That army was the working classes: the “ordinary man of the people“. It required “firm devotion to doctrine” and would not adjust “to match the scientific results of the moment“. It would be evidence free like all good religions.
The National Socialists believed that cooperation with other political parties was a weakness. Hitlers Darwinist principles extended to his politics. The Nazis would kill off competing political parties through a survival-of-the-fittest system.
“…nothing truly great in the world has ever been achieved by an alliance.”
He wrote that “this contest improves the breed of the individual fighter“. Evidence suggest that Hitler organised his government in this fashion. Two Departments were given similar portfolios leading to conflict. Hitler saw this conflict as healthy. Competition was strength. He believed that the German Empire was founded on the exact same principles – an “unconscious struggle for dominance by separate interests“. Then the “natural conflict finally put the best man in the position he earned“.
So, we have walked a few miles in Hitler’s shoes. How was it? It is important at this stage to note that Hitler’s depiction of his own political journey was idealised. That is – it was not literally true.26 Yet we live in a time of post-truth politics thus we are quite used to this. We actually expect our politicians to be economical with the truth in order to explain their politics in a persuasive fashion. Despite what Michael Ford asks you to believe (and that hyperbole seems to be based on his desire for self-publicity) Mein Kampf is largely everything you might believe. Even given a modern English translation and copious margin notes you cannot help but notice that it remains overly-long, often dull, repetitive, angry, polemical, nonsense. Hitler is so full of shit. He wanted so hard to be the “philosopher leader” yet he was a monster and his words cannot hide that.
However Hitler lived in a time when such monstrosities seemed commonplace. What is impressed upon the reader is the fact that so much of what concerned him sounds so remarkably “modern”. Germany through the early 20th Century was a very contemporary-looking liberal state. Frighteningly so. It is quite disconcerting to realise that they were so close to be us – today. We are them. Our circumstances are only a little different. If anything our modern neo-liberal order has opened the doors and welcomed in the Nazis with the same blend of austerity and anti-foreigner propaganda that worked so well the last time. But this time the Nazis own most of the mainstream media.
It is simplistic to argue that Hitler was simply evil. He has his moments when you can almost see his appeal. He wrote up his dictatorship to sound like a meritocracy. When it came to his own German people he wanted to end inequality and poverty. He wished to raise people up and educate them in their culture. In an enclosed bubble of the Aryan race (an entirely fictional notion) there was much to Hitler’s “socialism” that could have been praiseworthy. He wrote at length about the need for a country where the working man would be valued as equal to an academic.
Yet his care in these matters is an illusion.
His entire purpose of raising up the poor was to arm them to the teeth to attack Germany’s enemies…. and Hitler saw those enemies everywhere. He failed to understand that the inferior races were well able to defend themselves. The power of his people’s “will” could not overcome the economic power of the United Sates nor the vastness of the Soviet Union. Facts matter. Putting YOUR “country first” serves no purpose in a world where there are 200 countries jostling for access to the same set of finite resources. Warfare creates dead people. Nothing more. Cooperation has always proven to be a far more successful way forward. The European Union, that grew out of the ashes of World War Two, is proof of that. Today the German people are “great” in exactly the way that Hitler would have detested.
Hence “socialism” is an empty concept when married to “nationalism“. It is a nonsense. An oxymoron. Only internationalism can truly build a lasting peace and an economic framework in which inequality, injustice and poverty can be cured.
What about Hitler as a person? He is surprisingly modest about his achievements and skills through the book. It typical fashion he described the design of the Swastika emblem and credits “a dentist from Starnberg” for the design “that was not bad at all.. but had one flaw“. He himself adapted the design to its final form we recognise today. He occasionally admits to being fallible. In one example he wrote “I committed a small psychological error” during one of his speeches. Yvonne Sherratt27 writes that
“Hitler has been considered of singularly little talent and had failed.”
She goes on to describe him as “lazy” and a “dropout”. Yet it is hard to square this with what he achieved later in life. He certainly found his talent and it was not to be academia as he had wished. He was conscious about his rising success in leading the Nazi party but this fact doesn’t really dominate his narrative. The book does gloss over his alleged failings in Vienna but it is hard to imagine him, or any of us, dwelling upon that at length. He strikes you as a man with an unusual gift for oratory. He held Germany in his spell. He writes about the need for good speech makers in the Party and details how his propaganda turned the people around and bent them to his message.
“Only the spoken word is capable of producing truly great revolutions… every great and world-shaking event has been produced by the spoken word and not by the written word.”
Indeed this is an element so lacking in modern politicians. Their media image is so carefully groomed that they are polished, slick… yet have to offend as few people as possible. The modern politician is bland beyond belief. Simply uninspiring. A young contemporary of Hitler’s, Emil Klein28, said after the war that
“..to listen to a Hitler speech was to be taken on a journey, from an initial sense of despair as Hitler outlined the terrible problems the country faced, through a realisation that the audience were not to blame for the current troubles, to a vision of how all this could be corrected in a better, classless world once one strong leader, who had emerged from the German people, was able to gain power at the head of a national revolution. For people who were struggling under the impact of an economic crisis, this could be enthralling.”
“I still believe to this day that Hitler believed that he would be able to fulfil what he preached. That he believed it in all honesty, believed it himself… And ultimately all those I was together with, the many people at the party conferences everywhere, the people believed him, and they could only believe him because it was evident that he did [believe it] too, that he spoke with conviction, and that was something lacking in those days.’ “
Maybe it is because our modern age of mass communication and media amplifies any minor flaw. Prior to the modern age all our “great” political leaders were deeply flawed yet it was not openly discussed. None would have survived the modern media age. Hence they remain unprincipled, unexciting and uninspiring. Maybe we all long to have a leader with Hitler’s charisma in charge if it means we get results? Maybe that was his charm. Hitler touched people by talking to them. This was the man who had fought in World War One – probably quite heroically. The man who had known utter poverty and worked as a casual labourer on a building site. How many in our modern generation of politicians can claim this heritage? How many can you truly believe in?
It would be wrong to say that you can read Mein Kampf and learn some “secret” to world domination. Hitler was no magical wizard. This is no book of spells. There is no incantation that can be repeated here to replicate his results. This is not a recipe for success. Hitler’s methods were simple but very specific to his time and place. They are not really transferable. His message was simple: it take lots of hard work, lots of talking to people and lots of propaganda to achieve what he did. The dogmatic way he turned the National Socialists into a secular religion is astonishing leading us to wonder: why were people so gullible?
That question before 2016 seem academic. Then came Brexit and Trump and we wondered no more. We have come to realise that it is all too easy to conjure up the same demons. You just need years of hardship and falling living standards. You just need someone to blame. Yet our common repulsion at such things normally relies upon the assumption that such populist political leaders are “manipulating” the people in a cynical fashion. That may be true now. Maybe now we more easily see straight through such attempts at mass control. Yet you don’t get this impression of Hitler. He was for real. He meant it. Every word is sincere. He sounds passionate and incorruptible. Maybe that was his charm. He was utterly uncompromising and he believed completely in what he was doing. There was no doubt in his mind. He knew the job of a leader was to lead and he found himself gently ushered into this role by his followers. No where does he write as if HE is the new Messiah. Whilst he doesn’t acted surprised or resentful that it has come down to him alone, neither does he write in overly proud tones. It was a dirty job and someone had to do it.
The propaganda images of Hitler were carefully honed to build the leader myth around him. His personality cult convinced Germany that it could achieve anything. They just needed the “will” – the equivalent of the extremist right wing newspapers in contemporary Britain scream “believe in Britain” from their front pages. As if simply “believing” was enough to overcome common sense and reality. Yet for a few short years Germany did just THAT. Although a mass movement, it would be a mistake to believe that the Nazis were supported by 100% of Germans. It is likely that Hitler may have never truly commanded a majority of the vote before elections were suspended. He need only have held the balance of power like small parties do. Most of the men and women who followed him into war never supported him. They were fighting for Germany – their homeland. That was their tragedy – but it is ours too. How many times in the post-EU Referendum times were the British people told that we must “all rally behind” Brexit or that those who wished to remain in the EU were “talking Britain down“?
You have to wonder what someone like Hitler could have achieved if they could have found another way to lead the German people. What if his radical agenda required no scapegoats? What could he have achieved without his racialist principles? Would it have been the same? Is the secret ingredient to his success simply “HATE”? Is it possible to engineer some kind of “LOVE” version? The long trail of history that lead to the rise of Hitler started with the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Modern Europe was born out of the turmoil of the 19th century. Hitler was a reactionary who longed for a return to older certainties of aristocratic King-leaders who conquered foreign lands for his people by force of arms.
“The French Revolution.. had to find an army of troublemakers led by majestic demagogues who inflamed the passions of an already tormented people.”
You seriously wonder if Hitler had any idea that he was describing himself. In our earlier study of his hypocrisy we cited many examples of his utter chutzpah and subjectivity. Yet he is never self-conscious. He seemed to operate in an environment where any introspection or doubts simply didn’t exist. For want of a better phrase – he utterly lacked irony.
With Hitler we always safely compartmentalise his effect. It was of a different time. A different place. A different people. Even if we draw contemporary analogies with Trump & Brexit it doesn’t touch deep enough inside our own darkest fears. What would it take for any of us to vote for Hitler? Just how desperate would we need to be? Are we desperate people? So often during the ugly and acrimonious battle over Britain’s future (after the disastrous EU referendum result) how far would some of us have gone to get our country back? What if the anger of the silent majority had been funnelled by a new leader of a new party? What if that leader offered a hard remain? Full Schengen, membership of an EU army and the Euro currency? Somebody with radical alternatives? Somebody who would promise to do away with the traitors in the newspapers? Someone who would sweep away all those weak and pitiful politicians in Parliament who voted time and again against the wishes of the British public for the sake of their careers? What if our saviour promised to blow away that entire corrupt system and told us he or she could get things done? The traitors would swing from lamp-posts and the liars would be burnt. Their newspaper offices shattered and destroyed. Their toxins washed away…
We are all capable of being that angry. We can all do just that. Yet there will be no such dangerously-radical liberal revolutionary to shake our world. It is not in the nature of the beast. Intelligent people have so many doubts. The danger our civilisation faces is from the far right, not the centre. It is a threat born of low intelligence and under-achievement. These are the people who believe what they read in the newspapers. These are people who want the easy answers. They want the world that is promised for them by their demagogues. A world where what is rightfully theirs is simply given to them – taken back off the people who ‘stole’ it from them. People who believe they are victims – because that is what they have been told. Yet Trump is no Hitler. Trump wishes the feather the bed of his own class and everyone else’s expense. His danger is to world peace, true now as it was then. Who cares about these monster’s domestic policies? Yet we care when it is us it effects. With Brexit there is no chance of this ultra-nationalistic nonsense making Britain great again. Nations these days are only “great” in an inter-nationalistic sense and that sense is measured through their economies. Everything else is illusion.
How do we cure people of these illusions?
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.” – C.G. Jung
- Laurence Rees “The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler” Ebury Publishing ISBN 9781448117291
- See “Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler The Ford Translation, Elite Minds Inc 2009 ISBN 978-0-9841584-2-3
- “Mein Kampf: A Translation Controversy” ISBN 9780977476084 Elite Minds Inc 2009
- “Beyond Chutzpah – On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” updated edition by Norman G Finkelstein, published in the UK by Verso Books 2005/2008 ISBN 978-1-84467-149-6
- See page 319 “Becoming Hitler” Thomas Weber, Oxford University Press 2017 ISBN 978-0-19-966462-7
- See Weber 2017 page 320
- See Weber 2017 page 322
- For more on the infamous Benghal famine read Jame Heartfield’s “Unpatriotic History of the Second World War” Zero Books 2011 ISBN 978 1 78099 378 2
- For more on the allegations against Allied Commanders in Europe after the end of World War Two read Jame Bacque’s “Other Losses” 2011 Talon Books ISBN 978-0-88922-665-4
- See our “History as Propaganda” at http://www.post-carbon-living.com/blog/index.php/2018/03/14/history-propaganda/
- See “Karl Marx – Greatness and Illusion” by Gareth Stedman Jones, Penguin Books 2016 ISBN 978-0-141-02480-6
- See “The Road to Wigan Pier” ISBN 978-0-141-18529-3 Gollancz 1937
- See “Down and Out in Paris and London” ISBN 978-0-141-1843808 Gollancz 1933
- See George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd 1938
- See Weber 2017 page 141
- See “Hitler’s Philosophers” Yvonne Sherratt, Yale University Press, 2013 ISBN 978-0-300-15193-0 page 39
- Sherratt 2013 page 41
- Sherratt 2013 page 42 through 43
- Sherratt 2013 page 49
- Sherratt 2013 page 51
- Sherratt 2013 page 54
- See “The Invention of the Jewish People” by Shlomo Sand ISBN-13: 978-1-84467-623-1 Verso 2009
- Shlomo 2009 page 70
- Shlomo 2009 page 75
- See Laurence Rees “The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler” Ebury Publishing ISBN 9781448117291
- Weber 2017 page 316
- Sherratt 2013 page 17
- Quoted in Rees “The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler“