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Wednesday 30 January 2013

The Nazis – A Lesson From History

It was 80 years ago today: German President Paul von Hindenburg, to many of his countrymen a war hero, but probably too long in office, swore in Adolf Hitler as Reichskanzler with the intention that the Nazi leader would assemble a right-leaning coalition Government. Business leaders were generally in favour of this move. Some believed that they had “hired” Hitler.

Many tolerated the brownshirts, the blackshirts, the militarism, the screaming oratory and yes, even the routine anti-Semitism, as unemployment was dramatically reduced and the great inflation did not return. Even the war brought benefits: when Hitler returned to Berlin after securing the French surrender, in the same railway carriage the Germans were forced to board in 1918, he was genuinely popular.

Sadly for most ordinary Germans, the Nazis’ hold on the levers of power was by this point irreversible, and when Hitler’s lust for yet more conquest led to a supremely inadvisable invasion of the USSR, followed by a yet less advisable declaration of war on the USA, they were stuck with a leader who was rapidly losing touch with the real world. Thus the beginning of the lessons from history.

Some pundits, though, have difficulty grasping this idea, and the appallingly pompous Simon “Enoch was right” Heffer is one of them. In the world of the Hefferlump, the far right is resurgent because of the EU. Europe, to him, is “a continent in chaos”. That there is no Communist threat, none of the fantasist “Jewish conspiracy” rubbish, and none of the militarism does not count.

Heffer then tries to tie the ramblings of “Duce” Berlusconi – talking up Mussolini – as trimming towards what he calls the “Hitler effect”. But the situation in Italy was very different, as the dictatorship was far longer established. Francisco Franco also briefly befriended Hitler, but Falangist Spain was nothing like the Third Reich. No, Heffer misses the point entirely by trying to play to the Europhobe gallery.

The lesson that we should instead be learning is articulated by Fritz Lustig in a Guardian Comment Is Free piece, where he briefly revisits his own experience as a teenager growing up in the Berlin of the 1930s and notes the ultimate futility of his family imagining they could “sit it out” without leaving, before concluding that the lesson for right of centre Governments is very straightforward.

And that is that engagement with a party further to the right is not merely a hazardous enterprise, but a situation where mainstream Conservatives can rapidly lose control. Once the Nazis were given any control, they merely took more. And there was no organisation like the EU, no charter of human rights, and none of today’s ability to pass information and react before it is too late.

We’re less likely to see another Hitler, because Europe is not a continent in chaos.

1 comment:

Chris Neville-Smith said...

I skimmed through the Mail article and I agree that a lot of this is a cobbling together of circumstantial arguments to reach a conclusion clearly thought of in advance. Unsavoury groups have been around long before the eurozone crisis started. However, the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece is something that must be taken seriously.

Greece now is probably the best breeding ground for fascists for a long time. Like 1930s Germany, you've got a sharp fall in living standards, anger over subservience to foreign powers, and easy scapegoats in your own country who are different from the indigenous population. The only things that are missing are fear of communist rivals (so far Syriza has managed to avoid driving the middle-class into the arms of fascists), and a Hitler. That may change. And if, God forbid, Golden Dawn do manage to take power, they sure as hell won't care what the European Court of Human Rights thinks.

This is a long way from Nazis being on the rise all over Europe because Europe is a chaos, but it would take a lot of wild sweeping statements to argue that the conditions in Greece now have absolutely no connection with EU. That's not to say that everything the EU does is wrong, but this is something that should perhaps be borne in mind when people gush about how wonderfully the EU prevents this sort of thing.