Saturday, 17 July 2010

Alone in Berlin - Hans Fallada. Its application to Ireland.

Government is government, and government is force,
Left or right, right or left, it takes the same old course.

Crass. Bloody Revolutions, 1980.

It’s hard to know where to stand on politics really. The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848,  the time of the famine, and quite a period has elapsed since then in terms of manifestos and famines.

There was no exact timescale given in Marx' and Engels' work for the collapse of capitalism, other than it was inevitable. However, capitalism – with all its glaring faults - has survived the Russian revolution and the subsequent corrupt Stalinist states of the old Eastern Bloc.

But at least the idea of communism was a noble one, if you will excuse the paradox. It had the eradication of classes, along with exploitation, war, racism, sectarianism and all the rest at its heart. In sharp contrast to the idea of fascism - and Nazism in particular – with its hateful messages of race superiority, Darwinist nationalism, anti-humanitarianism, state oppression, and the promotion of war as politics by other means. Oh, and the little matter of the genocide of a whole, selected, mass of people. So the only thing you have left is to question authority.

 I have just finished reading “Alone in Berlin”, originally entitled “Jeder stirbt fuer sich allein”, written by Hans Fallada in 1947. Fallada lived in Nazi Berlin and was sent by the government of the day to an insane asylum for not meeting their expectations of political understanding. He survived the experience and subsequently wrote the book, based on the true story of resistance by two ordinary working class Germans, Otto and Elise Hampel.

It’s a great book, if written a little clunkily… though I don’t know how much of that is to do with the translation. It is based on the Hampels’ campaign of dropping subversive postcards around Nazi Berlin in the war years, after their son had been killed on the western front.

The postcards bore such messages as “German people wake up! We must free ourselves from Hitler’s supporters!”, “Hitler’s war is the workers’ death, there will be no peace with Hitler’s regime” and “Why fight and die for Hitler’s plutocrats?”.  It all sounds relatively harmless and, given the odds stacked against the couple, quite Quixotic. But these were the days before the Internet, where radio and the newspaper were the major means of information dissemination .

The saddest thing is, the vast majority of the postcards left around Berlin did not promote critical thinking of the Nazi regime among the public but, rather, were delivered by conscientious citizens straight to the Gestapo.  Now, it is all very easy to sit back and criticise the actions of such Berliners for carrying out their civic duty while the thinking, critical, ones were sent off to concentration camps. But they were doing what they thought was right - they didn't realise they were participating in one of history's most evil episodes.

The best thing, it would seem, is to take an Anarchist approach and question and criticise all orthodoxy and authority. That is the only thing that brings progress... no matter what country or what time you are born into.

Otto and Elise Hampel where beheaded in 1943 as enemies of the state.

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Tim Johnston said...

Communism and fascism are in 'sharp contrast'?
Have to disagree with you on that one. As far as communism goes, what option did you have if you were bourgeois? or a capitalist? Just get killed, says Marx. Nice.
Fascism, correctly understood, is little different (why is genocide of a class of people less abhorrent than that of a 'race' of people?). Fascism was about uplifting the poor, being kind to the environment, getting things done (now! dammit, none of that "democracy" mumbo-jumbo), forcing business to submit to government etc, all in one country, under an umbrella of nationalism.
If you were around in the 30s and looked at the propaganda, it'd have been hard enough to tell the difference, let alone having to choose.
The idea that one is about love while the other is about hate is, I think, one of the sad myths that gets thrown around these days.
Maybe we're more prepared to forgive harm (not to mention mass murder) when its perpetrators are motivated by good intentions? What do you think?

The Gombeen Man said...

Sure Tim, any one of the millions sent to the gulags by Stalin might question any distinction between the two systems, but there is, and much of it comes down to intent. Marxism never called for the physical extermination of a class, but for the eradication of classes.

The system that prevailed in Russia was a perversion of a well-meaning ideal, with Stalin's murderous purges and elimination of political opponents (Trotsky being one example). In the end, the system collapsed under the weight of its own corruption and oppression.

Nazism, however, had at its very core the ideal of the extermination an entire "race" of people. I think that makes it very different indeed.

I suppose when it comes down to it, Churchill's quote on liberal parliamentary democracy is quite a good one:

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Bernd said...

Niggling point ... Fascism and National Socialism should never be deemed synonymous.

Fascism in itself does hold no genocidal programme, like Communism or Bolshevism don't. Only added ingredients lead to murder on a massive scale - in Germany it was the Nazis' racial superiority complex, in Croatia it was a perverted Christian ideology, to name the two worst fascist regimes.

Then again genocide wasn't exactly unknown in totally different ideological worlds - and we don't even have to look at the hotly debated Holodomor.

Maybe by switching to the term "Democide" we can get closer to the core as well - to the person murdered it is highly irrelevant whether he/she was murdered by the Nazis for being Jewish, by the Croats for being Serbian or by the Soviets for being an intellectual ... especially if one was a Jewish intellectual from Serbia ...

Tim Johnston said...

whether or not Nazism had genocide at its core, Nazism is not the whole of Fascism, which had a different character in, say, Italy. I tend to agree with Bernt in that respect. What I can't get over is the widespread attitudes towards the different body-counts of both fascism and Communism.
While communism may not have genocide at its core, it certainly has the ingredients, and the resulting "soft" genocides - or democides, good word! - came about because of the need for experimentation and allowing so-called 'experts' to plan the economy. Communism does not glorify death, war and Fatherland as does fascism, but corpses are corpses and I don't think Communism gets off lightly as a philosophy of love!
I do take your point about a well-meaning ideal though, although one could argue that the national regeneration promised by fascism is a 'good', or at least workable, idea too. A remark about the banality of evil should be thrown in here too...

Dakota said...

@GM 15:48, yep IMO the very basis of Communism had the universal best interests of mankind at heart. It fundamentally envisaged breaking down class differences. Fascism and especially its spin-off National Socialism were exclusionary and overtly nationalistic. The very opposite in a sense. While saying that, unfortubately theoretical Communism is just that, theoretical. Humans being human completely destroyed the original good intentions.

Also GM that seems like a good book!

The Gombeen Man said...

Yes folks... think it's a case of authority corrupts. And look at Christianity - based supposedly on a "love thy neighbour" ethos. How many wars, deaths and persecutions carried out in its name?

Maybe we've just not evolved enough just yet?

Anonymous said...

I not condondoning Nazism but wasn't it the Nazi's intention at first to transfer the Jewish people to Madagascar but they changed plans during the course of the war. Many of the Jewish died from malnutrition and cholera in the camps not just gassing. The Nazis wanted just as much of utopia as the Communists only it was Aryan not proletarian.

It could be argued that political correctness is a sort of reverse Nazism. The "PC brigade" (sorry for using that cliched term) haven't killed many yet but watch this space. Remember that film starring Cameron Diaz a few years ago.

Free Mind.

PS I've posted again at the Toyosi post but I may have forgot to sign my name.

Anonymous said...

The Cameron Diaz film is the Last Supper made in 1995. Guests with the politically incorrect views are killed after being invited to dinner.

Free Mind

Dakota said...

@Anonymous 20:18 the Nazis intention was to eliminate the Jewish people. The original intention was transportation but with individuals like Himmler in charge - under the direct orders from Hitler - there was only going to be one outcome.

You also make a good point about Political Correctness. IMO it is a corrosive concept although began as a reaction to negative social presumptions it has transformed into something far more negative. Which does nothing but continues to undermine the most vulnerable.

The Gombeen Man said...

Free Mind. Regardess of whether the Nazis attempted extermination of the jews took the farm of carbon monoxide poisoning, shooting, burning, gassing, Zwangsarbeit (forced labour) or death marches, the intention was to exterminate them. So ideologically twisted were they, that they worked their jewish slave labourers beyond the point of, even in their terms, efficient production. The jews, and "slavs" in their captivity were treated far worse - ie to the point of death - than captives from the west.

The Nazis vision of "Utopia" involved invading the countries of the East and enslaving their peoples - those they did not kill out of hand. All jews, of course, where to be wiped out.

For a "PC liberal" like me, that was an unacceptable kind of Utopia.