Brown Battalions and a Brown World.

Adam Tooze’s The Wages of Destruction is a fairly odd book for a number of reasons. The chief reason for this is the subject-matter. The history of the Nazi state, like every other issue around which the Western ruling class has a guilty conscience (which is most, these days) is planted thick with taboos. You are not supposed to talk objectively about that history; you must identify yourself with the ruling-class line, meaning that you must begin by establishing yourself as a Zionist and an anti-Communist; thus the Nazis were bad because they killed the Jews and not because they killed the Slavs. You must also not discuss the way in which the West used the Nazis, before, during and after the war, against the Left. Therefore it is almost impossible to discuss ideology, policy or the implementation of that policy (apart from the Holocaust, but you have to be careful, in discussing that, for it is easy to accidentally say things which Zionists won’t like).
A J P Taylor’s The Origins of the Second World War was heretical simply because it attempted to analyse the foreign and diplomatic policy of the Nazi state as if it were any other state. Using this material, Taylor concluded that the Nazis almost certainly had not possessed a clear plan of action; that their territorial expansion was opportunistic and inept, and that they blundered into war with the West without anticipating or desiring it. This is plausible, although Taylor over-eggs his pudding (he soft-pedals the very clear indications that the Nazis definitely wanted a shooting war with Poland, though they had known for five months that this would very probably lead to war with the West, as it did — and the fact that they established the Nazi-Soviet Pact beforehand was clearly insurance against a war with the East as well). The point about Taylor’s analysis, however, was to torpedo the notion that Hitler was a uniquely evil person simply because everybody had said so at the Nürnburg trials.
(It should be pointed out that not only the Right are idiots in this respect; recently two British Trotskyites, Andy Newman and Richard Seymour, virtually came to blows over the question of whether anyone should have supported Winston Churchill during the Second World War. Seymour felt that Britain should rather have lost the war because it was a capitalist war and true socialists had a duty to refuse to fight. To be fair, Seymour also seemingly feels that the Soviet Union should have lost the war because Stalin was bad; that is, the Soviet Union should not have wasted so much energy on militarising and then its people would have had a much better time of it — apart from the probability of a fascist coup in the early 1930s and the extermination of the inhabitants in the 1940s, of course, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, murdering the kitchen staff, burning down the restaurant and bulldozing the rubble. All this does not make Seymour an absolute idiot or Newman a genius or Churchill a democrat, but it does show what ideological bigotry can accomplish when matched with money-sheltered ignorance.)
The thing which Tooze does is to perform essentially the same procedure in economic analysis. What did the Nazis want to do? What did they say, and what actions did they take? What limits restrained their activities? How would a rational actor have acted in pursuit of those goals and under those circumstances?
Another advantage which Tooze has is that, unlike Taylor and many British historians before the 1980s, his horizons are not limited to Europe but expand to include the United States. Between 1945 and 1979 Britain continually pretended that it was not a satellite of the United States; only after Thatcher came to power was this satellite status turned into a badge of self-fantasised glory. As a result, Tooze can acknowledge that the Nazis were very worried about, and also envious of, the Americans. Comparison between the Nazis’ performance and the Americans’ performance is extremely politically helpful to Tooze, because it enables his critics to see him as pro-American; if he says nice things about America, he must be “one of us”, and therefore such American propagandists as Niall Ferguson, not to speak of the Daily Telegraph, happily endorse him.
Of course, this shows the shallow ignorance of Tooze’s critics but that should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever read either Ferguson or the Telegraph.
The gist of Tooze’s argument is contained in the simple fact that Germany wanted to be an independent actor but lacked the energy to do so. By the 1920s, Germany had a great economic potential which it could not easily realise because the global economy was controlled by an Anglo-American financial axis. At the same time, because of grotesque maldistribution of wealth, Germany had trouble with indigenous growth; Germans were producing for export rather than for a domestic market, and it was politically difficult to pursue genuine redistribution (nor did the left-wing parties in Germany have any clear idea what that meant, although the Left brownshirts seem to have had some idea). Germany’s economic growth in the 1930s was based on American portfolio investment, which evaporated like a will-o’-the-wisp when the American economy collapsed between 1928 and 1931. Meanwhile, Germany could not be considered truly independent because it was militarily weak and surrounded by militarily strong nations which forbade it to expand its armed forces.
Wow. Does that remind one of anything? Very clearly, it is the contemporary situation of any ambitious impoverished nation today. Foreign financiers prise open the currency market and thus constantly raise the spectre of inflation (which paralyses the central bank). Domestic financiers are in thrall to foreign capitalists while domestic manufacturers and miners madly chase an export drive as commodity, goods and service prices plummet. The ruling class wants so large a slice of the national income that it obstructs all efforts to build an internal market, preferring foreign imports (shoving up the current account deficit). And, of course, there is the constant threat of foreign invasion if the government tries anything funny, while a whole panoply of dictated treaties and rigged “international agencies” serve as means and pretext for interference in internal affairs to prevent the government from expanding its armed forces — most particularly, from developing weapons of mass destruction (in the 1930s aircraft fulfilled the same role as nukes today).
It’s no wonder that the Americans and their puppets invariably invoke Hitler whenever they are planning aggression and genocide against some weak state. Hitler is, quite bizarrely, what Noam Chomsky once called the “threat of a good example” — simply because Hitler’s regime managed to effectively break out of the ring. Germany bought off its opponents with fraudulent currency and then made the currency real by a massive programme of national development. Tooze makes everything clear; the Nazis really were concerned with socio-economic development even though their big goal was to spend on armaments. They were also constantly concerned with their lack of foreign exchange, and managed it by doing barter deals with other impoverished countries (much as Zimbabwe managed its own foreign exchange crisis this century) along with utterly ruthless exchange control regulations, which are almost always the sign of a poor country trying to go places.
Most particularly, the Nazis managed to promote industrial development by allowing profits to float free, but then obstructing dividends. You could make as much money as you wanted, so long as you didn’t put it in your own pocket or that of the shareholders. This harnessed the natural greed of capitalism — every capitalist wants profits, and with trade unions abolished profits were easy to come by — but made financialisation impossible. (The leftist and anti-Semitic elements of the Nazis were united against usury, which meant they were suspicious of banks.) As a result, since you couldn’t import goodies and you couldn’t stuff your pockets, all you could do was reinvest your capital productively, and the Nazis were only too eager to help you do this — both investment and return on investment soared in the late 1930s to unprecedented heights, and the investment was especially on hi-tech industry; aviation, synthetic chemicals and machine tools. But for the war, Germany would have dominated Europe in the 1940s.
Tooze observes that all this was happening sustainably, but that military activity was not so sustainable. By about 1940 the Nazis were hitting the buffers because they didn’t have the personpower to run agriculture and industry simultaneously. (Contrary to propaganda, German women were much more fully employed than British; Nazi misogyny was real, but not significant as a brake on production.) In addition, they now had five million people in uniform and were frenetically trying to equip these ramshackle armed forces — focussing only on army and air force, since they knew they had no chance of building a world-class navy). They had set themselves production targets which could not possibly be met given their resources. As a result, Tooze argues, going to war in late 1939 was probably inevitable; had they waited, they would have had to scale back their plans and the Anglo-French forces, backed by the United States, would have surged ahead of them and made war increasingly dodgy.
Tooze also argues that the invasion of the USSR was equally inevitable. Here he is probably on shakier ground. Had the Nazi state really focussed its attention on crushing the United Kingdom after June 1940, it could probably have conquered Britain in 1941. Deciding instead to wage a strictly limited war against the UK while preparing for unlimited war against the USSR gave the UK time to weaken the Italians beyond hope and to build up solid defenses as an ultimate American base for invasion of the Continent. As it turned out, the failure to conquer the USSR meant that the war was lost by November 1941, the rest being essentially detail.
Once Germany was prepared to be a loyal and obedient satellite of the United States it could realise many of its goals within the narrow confines of U.S. policy. However, it appears that this was a temporary issue. The Americans did not anticipate that Germany and Japan would develop as rapidly as they did; on the other hand, the Americans, because of their military monopoly, were able to prevent Germany from developing genuine independence. More than sixty years after defeat, Germany has no more real autonomy than Haiti or Samoa. Meanwhile, the United States does what it can to crush or co-opt any other autonomous nations.
Which, then, seems to be the message which Tooze is providing for us. On one hand, independence requires a determination to act with independence. On the other, powerful states will obviously try to prevent this. Germany managed, for seven years, to use a combination of economic and military muscle to develop a degree of independence, but then lost this, probably irretrievably, over the following five years. This was not because Nazi Germany was specially evil (even though in many ways it was). Germany’s failure was a natural product of the political and economic conditions in which it operated. It may have ascribed British, American and Soviet hostility to mad fantasies of Jewish, Freemason and Bolshevik conspiracies which did not actually exist, but the hostility was real.
The point is that surrender is failure, and unthinking resistance is also failure. Tooze’s message is that one needs both to acknowledge economic and diplomatic factors if one wants to be a successful nation, and therefore balance national interest against what is actually attainable. The Nazis ultimately attempted too much and thus failed. What this means for the nascent anti-American coalition of the twenty-first century is curious and intriguing. It also appears, now that South Africa is dropping out of that quasi- imaginary coalition, that South Africa is undertaking to finally lose the race for national independence.


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