Skip to main content
By Doug Enaa Greene
I. Totalitarianism and Marxist Historiography of the European Civil War
June 11, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — It is an article of common sense in our “democratic” societies to view the tumultuous era of 1914-1945 as an age of totalitarianism – the emergence of all-powerful single party states, total control of everyday life, political repression and terror, state control over the economy, and cults of personality. The totalitarianism tale is a simple one – after the massive bloodletting of World War I, the rival movements of fascism and communism battled for supremacy across Europe. The culmination of this clash between rival totalitarianisms was World War II with its bloody battlefields on the Eastern Front. Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe and the beginning of the Cold War, the enemy is said to have shifted from totalitarian fascism to totalitarian communism, and defeated in 1989-1991 by the forces of liberal democracy and the free market.
Western capitalist countries codified the totalitarian thesis into state ideology and a legitimate field of research, thus erasing questions concerning how both communism and fascism came to power and the interests served by their respective policies. In this view, both “class struggle and racial struggle can be declared equivalent.” Despite the assumed equivalence between the two totalitarianisms, politicians could say that while the crimes and threat of fascism resides in the past, the communist threat remains ever present, ready to destroy “freedom and democracy.” For historians such as Ernst Nolte, determining the qualitative differences between the two totalitarianisms served as a way to rehabilitate Nazism. Nolte argued that excessive focus on the crimes of Nazism took away attention from the Soviet crimes of the present.
For Nolte, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was the opening salvo in a global civil war without rules or boundaries. According to Nolte, Bolshevik Russia declared war upon the dominant classes, whom they viewed as responsible for the war and used “Asiatic” methods such as Cheka style state terrorism — terror and labor camps to commit “class genocide” against the bourgeoisie. Nolte says that the Nazis copied the Bolshevik methods of repression — “with the sole exception of the technical process of gassing” — as a response to “Asiatic” Bolshevik terror. Thus, Nolte sees Auschwitz and the Holocaust as copies “derived from the Asiatic barbarity originally introduced into the West by Bolshevism.” Nazi anti-Semitism and the genocide of the Jews was an understandable anti-communism (considering the number of Jews in leadership positions of the USSR) which was “an inverted—but every bit as tendentious—image of the extermination of a world class by the Bolsheviks" While Nolte admits that Hitler was guilty of “excesses,” certainly Nazi crimes were rational in light of “class genocide” and the Ukrainian famine? Operation Barbarossa—the Nazi invasion of the USSR in 1941 that led to 27 million deaths—thus becomes an act of self-defense of German (and European) civilization against “Asiatic Bolshevism”?
As Nolte says:
Did the National Socialists or Hitler perhaps commit an "Asiatic" deed merely because they and their ilk considered themselves to be potential victims of an "Asiatic" deed? Was the Gulag Archipelago not primary to Auschwitz? Was the Bolshevik murder of an entire class not the logical and factual prius [DG: prior to] of the "racial murder" of National Socialism? Cannot Hitler's most secret deeds be explained by the fact that he had not forgotten the rat cage? Did Auschwitz in its root causes not originate in a past that would not pass?
“Combatants of a Greater War” presents no original research or interpretation, nor does it attempt to be comprehensive, but merely presents a coherent alternative historiography to the totalitarian school and Nazi apologists like Nolte, by looking primarily at the work of three Marxist-influenced historians – Arno Mayer, Domenico Losurdo, and Enzo Traverso. These three historians have offered a powerful counter-narrative of how we should understand the “European Civil War” or the “Second Thirty Years War” of 1914-1945. As opposed to viewing the start of the “European Civil War” in 1917, Mayer says it began in 1914 with the outbreak of WWI that was caused by Europe's pre-capitalist and aristocratic elites, who had managed to resist the modernizing forces of capitalism and mass democracy. Mayer also argues that the cycle of revolution and the accompanying violence that began in 1917 can not be separated from the forces of the old regime who refused to bow to a new order and their foreign supporters: "The struggle between the ideas and forces of revolution and counterrevolution was a prime mover of the spiraling violence inherent to the... Russian revolutions." As Mayer puts it, “the Furies of revolution are fueled above all by the resistance of the forces and ideas opposed to it.” The Bolshevik Revolution had unleashed “universal” social forces that threatened the old order in Europe, bringing forth the counterrevolutionary nemesis of Nazism. Mayer agrees with the totalitarian school that fascism and communism are linked because anticommunism was the “necessary determinant and bold watchword of every variety of fascism, including National Socialism, its most extreme and paradigmatic form." Fascism, as Traverso and Losurdo highlight, drew inspiration from the practices of imperialist conquest and racism. The Bolsheviks were viewed, not just by the Nazis and fascists, but also by “respectable” imperialists as agents of a Jewish conspiracy to overthrow the old order, but also white supremacy through its support of colonial revolt. The Second World War on the Eastern Front cannot be viewed as a clash between rival totalitarianisms, but as “both a military campaign to conquer boundless living space in the East and a crusade to eradicate the Soviet regime and the Bolshevik ideology.” The Nazis' radicalization of war against the Jews was linked with the radicalization of war against the USSR. For the Nazi leadership, the mass murder of Jews was a rational action to eliminate their primary foe of “Judeo-Bolshevism.”
II. The Great War
Historians generally agree that the outbreak of the First World War ended the “Long Nineteenth Century” (1789-1914) and ushered in the unprecedented violence of the Twentieth Century. However, historians are sharply divided in understanding the reasons for the outbreak of the Great War. Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August (1962) views the causes of war as a series of miscalculations, mistakes and illusions on the part of the major powers. The German historian Fritz Fischer, advanced the controversial thesis that the German Empire caused WWI (echoing the 1919 Treaty of Versailles which required Germany to accept guilt for causing the war), using the crisis caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand to advance pre-existing plans to annex large portions of Europe and Africa. Marxist interpretations of WWI, including those of both Traverso and Losurdo, draw their inspiration from V. I. Lenin's Imperialism, viewing inter-imperialist rivalry as a principal cause of the war.
Many historians have looked at the different interplays of domestic and foreign policy amongst the great powers in the lead-up to and eruption of WWI. Arno Mayer has advanced the thesis that it was the “primacy of domestic politics” which caused the outbreak of the First World War. According to Mayer, the failure of the “primacy of foreign politics” approach is the “disposition to detach foreign policy hermetically from domestic politics; and to disconnect foreign policy and diplomatic actors rigorously from the political and social context from which they originate and in which they operate.” By 1914, all the Major Powers of Europe were in a revolutionary situation facing labor unrest, the emergence of nationalist, democratic and socialist movements that threatened the entrenched interests of the old order. The forces of the old order, “precipitated an active counterrevolutionary response...with the resolve of thereby arresting or reversing the course of history, which they claim is turning against them...” Ultimately, Europe's ancien regimes pushed for the arms race and war to
foster their political position by rallying the citizenry around the flag; and to reduce the politically unsettling cyclical fluctuations of the capitalist economies by raising armaments expenditures...[foreign policy decisions] were intimately tied to tied in with those social, economic and political strata that were battling either to maintain the domestic status quo or to steer an outright reactionary course.
In other words, the cause of the First World War was a preemptive counterrevolutionary move by threatened elites hoping to forestall revolution or reform from below.
Mayer's Persistence of the Old Regime (1981) expands on his earlier work to look at the state of the old order throughout Europe (Britain, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy) in 1914. Mayer begins with the premise that the “World War of 1939-1945 was umbilically tied to the Great War of 1914-1918, and that these two conflicts were nothing less than the Thirty Years' War of the general crisis of the twentieth century.” Thus, the two World Wars need to be viewed as part of a single whole. The cause of war in 1914 “was an expression of the decline and fall of the old order fighting to prolong its life rather than the explosive rise of industrial capitalism bent on imposing its primacy.” Despite revolutionary upheavals from 1917-23, the old order (outside of Russia) was able to recover and “aggravate Europe's general crisis, sponsor fascism, and contribute to the resumption of total war in 1939.” Lastly, the old regimes of Europe were not, according to Mayer, capitalist, but “thoroughly preindustrial and prebourgeois.” Europe was ruled by aristocrats, not the bourgeoisie, agriculture and rural life and not industry and cities dominated the lives of most people. Most governments were not parliamentary democracies, but were constitutional, traditionalist, or absolutist. The “steel frame” of political society, civil and military bureaucracies were controlled by “feudal elements” that “set the terms for the implantation of manufactural and industrial capitalism. thereby making it serve their own purposes. They forced industry to fit itself into pre-existing class and ideological structures.” And in the decade before WWI, the
old elites proceeded to reaffirm and tighten their political hold in order to bolster their material, social, and cultural pre-eminence. In the process they intensified the domestic and international tensions which produced the Great War that started the final act of the dissolution of Europe's old regime. 
Mayer says that his work “does not offer a balanced interpretation of Europe between 1848 and 1914 . To counteract the chronic overstatement of the unfolding and ultimate triumph of modernity-even the general crisis itself, including fascism, is being credited with serving this universal design and outcome - it will concentrate on the persistence of the old order.” He takes issue with historical works who posit a teleological view of progress, that winds up downgrading the “importance of preindustrial economic interests, prebourgeois elites, predemocratic authority systems, premodernist artistic idioms, and "archaic" mentalities. They have done so by treating them as expiring remnants, not to say relics, in rapidly modernizing civil and political societies.” Mayer is certainly correct to criticize ideologies of progress (Marxist and non-Marxist) that view socialism as the heir and continuation of capitalist progress. Rather, the mixture of modern and premodern social forces would produce the deadly mixtures such as fascism and the Holocaust. As Traverso argues, the gas chambers should not be seen as a ““break in civilization,” [but] reveal the extermination of the Jews “to be one of the faces of civilization itself.”
However, Mayer arguably goes too far in universalizing his thesis to countries where the predominance of the old aristocracy is strained—Britain and France—and exaggerates the resilience of noble power elsewhere. Geoff Eley also argues that the resistance of the old regime before WWI “required striking innovations of practice and ideology that bore scant resemblance to any 'traditional' nobilitarian order.” And while the nobility occupied major posts in European society, Neil Davidson argues, “their preponderance had already been eroded by 1914. In this perspective, the 1914–18 war, rather than its successor, sealed their fate...By the eve of World War I—the great caesura of modern European history—the nobility had to share its leadership with men of common origin.” Secondly, the nobility did not serve feudal interests, but their economic interests lay with capitalism:
Never has there been a more overwhelming consensus among economists and indeed among intelligent politicians and administrators about the recipe for economic growth: economic liberalism. The remaining institutional barriers to the free movement of the factors of production, to free enterprise and to anything that could conceivably hamper its profitable operation, fell below a world-wide onslaught. What made this general raising of barriers so remarkable is that it was not confined to the states in which political liberalism was triumphant or even influential. If anything it was even more drastic in the restored absolutist monarchies and principalities of Europe than in England, France, and the Low Countries, because so much remained to be swept away there.
Furthermore, Davidson (quoting Norman Stone) argues that by 1914, “with the important exception of Russia, all the major states of Europe also had “a large, educated, energetic middle class with enough money for its support to be essential to any state that wished to develop,” but it was the state that acted as the main agent of development.” In Britain, the middle classes were able to influence capitalist development and state policy, gradually transforming old institutions to serve their interests.
Hobsbawm views the retrenchment of the old order before WWI not as a reaction of the nobility, but of a bourgeois rejection of liberalism and progress, embracing and promoting reactionary beliefs of Nietzsche and Social Darwinism. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the bourgeoisie balanced their commitment to “progress,” reform and liberalism with a belief in order. While scientific, economic and technological progress remained unquestioned, after the 1870s, those same forces unleashed explosive forces that threatened bourgeois domination. As Hobsbawm put it:
Democracy produced socialism, the fatal swamping of genius by mediocrity, strength by weakness - a note also struck, in a more pedestrian and positivistic key, by the eugenists. In that case was it not essential to reconsider all these values and ideals and the system of ideas of which they formed a part, for in any case the 'revaluation of all values' was taking place? Such reflections multiplied as the old century drew to its end.
As bourgeois society moved closer to World War I, many members of the bourgeois class turned their backs on the same values that had brought them power and wealth, embracing reactionary and conservative beliefs in dictatorship and nationalism, in the face of the mass politics of democracy and socialism. A belief in progress was replaced by a belief in the irrational. Industrialization gave rise to a new working class and increased class conflict threatened to tear apart the nation. What was once safe and secure—so-called “traditional life” — had been uprooted by the industrial revolution. The “harmony” of traditional society was breaking down and thus needed to be remade. According to Robert Paxton: “Fear of the collapse of community solidarity intensified in Europe toward the end of the 19th century, under the impact of urban sprawl, industrial conflict and immigration.” If society was breaking down, there had to be a cause and a solution to it. There had to be someone or something responsible for the spread of Enlightenment ideas and their destruction of the traditional community. This culprit was found in the “Other”: the “discovery [in the 19th-century] of the role of bacteria in contagion… made it possible to imagine whole new categories of internal enemy.” In the aftermath of WWI, fascism would seize on this need to purify the nation of “disease” that threatened destruction: communists, trade unionists, homosexuals, and Jews.
Ironically, as the bourgeoisie lost their faith in progress, Marxism remained
the only ideology of serious caliber which remained firmly committed to the nineteenth century belief in science, reason and progress... which was unaffected by disillusion about the present because it looked forward to the future triumph of precisely those 'masses' whose rise created so much uneasiness among middle-class thinkers.
For both the bourgeoisie and the socialist left, ideologies of progress would be shattered by the outbreak of World War I, beginning a 30 year period of unprecedented death and destruction throughout Europe. During the preceding century European wars were either of brief duration or were localized in the Balkans, leading to the belief that institutions were being humanized and an end to war among “civilized peoples” was at hand. In the colonies though, violence was something that could be used “freely displayed without limits or rules.” Suddenly, World War I came, the first total war of the “democratic age and the society of the masses” of “anonymous mass slaughter, industrialized massacre, bombed towns, and ravaged countrysides.” This was an unprecedented upheaval and cataclysm of the mass death of soldiers for a few yards of ground, and the death of the “heroic” ideal of warfare.
According to Traverso, World War I was fought by “Taylorist armies” which combined the “principles of authority, hierarchy, and discipline and the instrumental rationality of modern industrial society and provided a foretaste of the forms of domination founded on the mobilization of the masses that were to climax under the Fascist regimes.” Total warfare obliterated the “distinctions between military and civilians” and revealed modernity to be a “denaturalization of violence, a violence confiscated and monopolized by anonymous, mechanical apparatus.”
Not only were masses of soldiers expendable, but Traverso says the war “was accompanied by the de-humanization of the enemy, an idea that was diffused by military propaganda, the press, and scholarly literature too.” This propaganda combined racist nationalist propaganda that abandoned “rational argument on the score of causes and justifications for the conflict, and instead appealed to a sense of belonging to a community under threat, calling for total, blind allegiance.” The War brought the same violence visited on colonial peoples back to the heart of Europe. And it provided one of the necessary elements in the formation of fascism with
warfare's intrusion into politics, the nationalization of the masses, the brutalization of the language and methods of conflict, the birth of a new generation of political militants shaped by their experiences at the front, the formation of violently nationalistic and racist movements led by an elite of angry plebeians convinced that arms were called for if democracy was to be replaced: all these were features of the face of the Europe that emerged from four years of war.
While political theorists such as Carl Schmitt and others blame the Bolsheviks for having unleashed international civil war by “constructing the figure of the ‘absolute enemy’, on whom a war without rules or limits is declared, ending in massacre.” The Italian historian Gaetano Salvemini said the First World War was not “a war between nations, we are witnessing a global civil war.” The Bolsheviks did not cause the soldiers in the trenches to be pitted against their officers, whom they blamed as leading them to die en masse for kings and capitalists. Before the World War, it was accepted as an article of faith that “the countries of the West all prided themselves on belonging to an exclusive family—in fact, a race (or family of races) destined to subjugate ‘inferior races.'” However, it was the Bolsheviks who “appealed to the slaves of the colonies to break their chains and wage wars of national liberation against the imperial domination of the great powers.” As Losurdo reminds us, the leaders of warring powers whether Churchill or the Kaiser hailed the war as righteous and US President Woodrow Wilson declared it to be “a holy war – the holiest in all history.” In contrast, “it was the Marxist tradition [of Lenin, Luxemburg, and Bukharin] that first highlighted its genocidal tendencies” of modern capitalism and imperialism made all too real in the trenches of Europe.
It was their unapologetic condemnation of colonialism and the bankruptcy of imperialism that was the true crime of Bolshevism, who were “renegades from the white race." To the ruling classes of Europe, the source of this new revolutionary “plague” was a barbarism “alien to Europe and authentic civilization: he was the Jew.” It was the rootless and intellectual Jewish cabal that conspired to destroy western civilization with their “‘messianism’ and ‘hopes for the millenarian kingdom, for the redemption of evil in this world’.” And in the aftermath of the war, as revolution stalked Europe, to combat the Jews was to combat communism in defense of the white race, tradition, the nation and private property.
For conservative historians and theorists of totalitarianism, there is no more hated event than the Russian Revolution (and by extension the French Revolution). For Francois Furet, the Russian Revolution was a coup carried out by intellectual fanatics with the 'insane goal' of “social engineering.” As Losurdo says, "There has never been a revolution that its opponents have not sought to de-legitimize by downgrading it to a coup d'etat or conspiracy." The Russian Revolution is condemned because it violated the natural economic and social order, which is (not so) strangely compatible with neo-liberal capitalism. For the totalitarian school, revolutions are driven by paranoia and utopian ideals that compel them to imagine enemy threats and resort to violence on a massive scale and extermination of suspected enemies. There was no positive goal to the French or Bolshevik Revolutions, just a frenzy of gratuitous violence, unconnected with social or economic forces. As Richard Pipes said, “[The Red] Terror is rooted in the Jacobin ideas of Lenin...[with the main goal as the] physical extermination of the “bourgeoisie.”” The only revolutions to be celebrated are “bloodless” revolutions for liberal capitalism, private property and parliamentary democracy like the American Revolution, which “never intended to bring about major changes in the colonies’ moral, social, or economic values or institutions.”
This right-wing framework views all revolutionary violence as identical, seeing the “Jacobin Terror by the light of the Bolshevik Terror at the same time that they asserted that the rule of fear and blood of 1793–94 had been the dress rehearsal and portent for that of 1917–89.” The same source of the violence can be detected in all revolutions – motivated by an ideological “virus” of Marx or Rousseau (devoid of any social dimension) – that can only lead to Terror and Genocide. In a sense, Marx was the direct precursor to the Gulag because human nature is unchangeable. Secondly, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany “were deemed to be fundamentally if not wholly identical: both were variants of the same totalitarianism, whose philosophic roots reached back to the Jacobin moment.” Once the basic identity between the two has been established, then it is a short step to concluding that Hitler took lessons from Bolshevism and for the “rehabilitation and justification of the anti-Communist warrant of Fascism and National Socialism...” The end result of this gambit is to view all revolutions as misguided ventures at best, but more generally, murderous totalitarian experiments that could only fail in the end.
Mayer argues, to the contrary, that revolutionary violence cannot be divorced from its social and political context. But instead, “it is a violent, fundamental, and abrupt change of incumbent elites, status and class relations, institutions, values, symbols and myths." A revolution is where one class replaces another – there is a fundamental shift in the nature of power and the installation of a new order. The beginning of a revolutionary regime is a rupture that gives “revolutionary leaders with the opportunity to articulate an unsteady synthesis of millenarian, eschatological, and Manichaean precepts." Suddenly, women are liberated, persecuted groups are given rights, artistic and cultural avante gardes are given free expression. A day of reckoning is at hand with the exploiters and a new world is in birth.
A revolution is not simply a coup, revolt or a rebellion. Revolts are driven to “preserve or reclaim established rights and institutions rather than radically recast or overturn them.” And while both revolts and revolutions both move against the ruling elite, rebels have “a limited horizon, is ill-organized and is short-lived, its leaders being unwilling to or unable to merge or coordinate their objectives or operations.” Yet the most fundamental difference between a revolt and a revolution is that the former is “endemic and territorial, revolutions are epidemic and cosmic. Indeed, 'any genuine revolution is a world revolution,' its principles being 'universal.'" It is no accident that the Bolsheviks saw their revolution, not only as the Russian Revolution, but also as the prelude to the world communist revolution that would continue into Germany and elsewhere. For Lenin and Trotsky, the Russian Revolution was for European workers, colonial slaves, and persecuted Jews. The Bolshevik Revolution would bring the downfall of all exploitation and oppression.
Yet revolutions, whether in Russia or France, face intense disorder and breakdown at the moment of their foundations and can not survive without “resorting to swift, extraordinary, and, if need be, cruel violence.” This new sovereign power ultimately relies upon the sword to defend itself from the forces of the old order that desire its overthrow.
And terror is a part of the foundational violence of all true revolutionary regimes – by wiping out the enemy within, especially those tied to the old regime. As Mayer observed, “not to do so is to sign the death warrant of a nascent political foundation. Besides, the primal terror leaves a residue of latent fear which is an essential principle and instrument of everyday rule.” The Bolsheviks, upon their ascension to power, faced a country on the verge of economic and social breakdown, peasant revolts, the invasion of 14 foreign armies, and monarchist White Armies. The Red Terror was the expression of an emergency government fighting for its life in a war against an enemy who had proven that they would show no mercy if victorious. And if there be any doubt, the Bolsheviks could remember the fate of the Paris Commune of 1871, the Spartacist Revolt and Hungarian Soviet of 1919 and the Finnish Reds. Terror is not so much used on ideological grounds, but “its success is measured by criteria of political efficiency, informed by virtue, and not by ideological standards.”
Violence is not primarily the result of revolutionary “fanaticism,” rather, “The struggle between the ideas and forces of revolution and counterrevolution was a prime mover of the spiraling violence inherent to the French and Russian revolutions.” Historians like Furet or Pipes forget that the Tsar, capitalists and landlords did not go quietly into that good night, but took up arms, waged a White Terror, and conducted pogroms against the Jews, whom they considered carriers of the revolutionary “plague.” If the defenders of the old regime refused to bow to the revolution peacefully, then they would be made to yield by force. As Mayer says: “there is no revolution without violence and terror; without civil and foreign war; without iconoclasm and religious conflict; and without collision between city and country.”
Yet the clash between revolution and counterrevolution releases centrifugal forces of its own as old hatreds, feuds and religious conflict polarize, which are further exacerbated by civil war and foreign intervention. And this violence was extraordinarily fierce and merciless. The Furies of revolution are “fueled primarily by the inevitable and unexceptional resistance of the forces and ideas opposed to it, at home and abroad.” The Furies of revolution can take on a life of their own as violence takes on a life of its own, as manifested by terror or purges of the class enemy. In the case of the French Revolution, its Furies found expression in the Jacobin Terror and the Napoleonic Wars, while the Russian Revolution, isolated by 1921, but faced foreign military threats, and saw domestic fratricidal violence during the Great Terror of the 1930s.
However, the Bolshevik revolution gave birth to a new revolutionary politics in the shape of the vanguard party capable of intervening between subjective and objective factors. It was the party's task to organize and lead the masses, to take advantage of a revolutionary situation, and to focus on the conquest of power. And it was this strategy that was able to succeed in Russia in 1917 and make communism into a world historical force that terrified the old order of Europe and the emergent fascist counter-revolution.
The end of World War I and the radical wave that shook Europe from 1918-23 appeared to confirm Bolshevik hopes that their revolution was the beginning of a world revolution. While the Bolsheviks inspired revolutionary movements in Germany, Spain, Hungary, Italy, the Baltic States and Bulgaria, nowhere was the Russian example repeated. The working class movement remained dominated by reformist social democracy, which settled for the creation of constitutional republics and pre-emptive reforms that maintained the bourgeois order. Nowhere did social democracy take advantage of the revolutionary openings that revealed themselves in the aftermath of World War I. In Austria, social democracy refused to risk a seizure of power, maintaining a defensive posture that ultimately led to their defeat in 1934 following a short-lived civil war; abdicating leadership of a working class movement in Italy in 1919-20; and, most notoriously, in Germany the SPD used the army and right-wing death squads to murder the revolutionaries Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and put down the workers' councils. The defeat of leftist insurgencies brought forth repression and White Terror.
For reactionaries, conservatives, and the ruling classes, it was now clear that the Bolshevik “contagion” was not an isolated event. For the elites of war-torn Europe, there was division over how to deal with social, political and cultural changes that had been aggravated by war and upheaval. According to Mayer, “sober-minded conservatives favored gradual reform as the best antidote to social unrest. Reactionaries, many of whom craved a return to a mythical and romanticized past, advocated standing firm and had fewer scruples about using repressive violence.” Although local elites remained wary of mass politics, they entered into alliances (not without friction) with the emergent fascist movements with their visions of national renewal, dictatorship and their love for regenerative violence. As Mayer notes, counter-revolution “remains lame and ineffectual unless it connects with the anti-revolution, which is a matter of the masses. Evidently counter-revolution, not unlike revolution, can be made only with the masses, which is not to say that either the one or the other is made for them."
As part of the counter-revolutionary crusade, the right resurrected anti-Semitism. However, this anti-Semitism grafted on political and racial traits to long-standing Christian Europe's Jewish hatred, seeing Jews as a carrier for communism. As Traverso puts it, political anti-Semitism was not limited to the fascist right, but was a vision shared by conservatives and liberals:
The vision of Bolshevism as a kind of virus, a contagious disease the bacilli of which were the revolutionary Jews of central and eastern Europe, who were rootless and cosmopolitan and lurked unseen in the anonymous metropolis of the modern industrialized world, hostile to the very idea of nation and traditional order, was extremely common in conservative culture. The specter of 'Jewish Bolshevism ' haunted the nightmares of the ruling elites, liberal and nationalist alike, confronted by the revolutionary uprisings of 1917-21.
In Russia, Germany and Hungary, the counter-revolutionary movement fostered the specter of anti-Semitism. In the case of Russia, half of the world's Jews lived within the Pale of Settlement—their rights severely restricted and subject to pogroms encouraged by the Imperial Court. All the major revolutionary parties condemned Tsarist Autocracy's virulent anti-Semitism. It was only natural that Jews would align with the revolutionaries and join the struggle against the Tsar. Jewish participation can be gauged in the disproportionate number of arrests they suffered: “29.1 percent of those arrested for political crimes between 1901 and 1903 were Jews (2,269 individuals), and in 1905 Jews accounted for 53 percent of the total political arrests.” However, what distinguished the Jews in revolutionary movements was not their numbers, but their prominence. At the beginning of 1917, the Jewish Bund (a moderate socialist party) counted 33,000 members, while the Bolsheviks with 23,000 members had only 1,000 Jews (or less than 5 percent). However, Jews were over-represented on the Bolshevik central committee such as Lev Kamenev, Grigory Zinoviev, Iakov Sverdlov, and Leon Trotsky. By 1918-1920, the number of Jews on the central committee (the standing administrative body of the Bolshevik Party) was roughly 20 percent.
Large numbers of Jews did not join the Bolsheviks until after the outbreak of the Civil War. Whatever else separated the White Armies of Wrangel, Denikin, Yudenich, and Kolchak, they were united in their vision of restoring “Russia Great, United, and Indivisible” and saw the Jews as the cause of Bolshevism who needed to be brought to heel. To this end, the Whites ordered or encouraged mass pogroms against the Jews which numbered between 60,000 and 150,000. In contrast, the Soviet Republic emancipated Jews. Although anti-Semitic acts were committed by the Red Army, these were not official policy and condemned at the highest levels of government. As a recent study of Lenin remarks:
the Bolsheviks had the courage to take up the fight on theoretical, political and military levels against the racist, anti-Semitic tide that later steeped the twentieth century in blood, which was a historical achievement on their part. One of the quoted historians must be right when he says that the pogroms were in one sense a forerunner of the Holocaust, because the Whites physically exterminated Jews en masse, without thought for age, sex or social status. In another sense, Lenin was perhaps the first to realize the significance of the link between anti-Semitism and anti-Communism in the ideology of the Whites and the terrorist practices of the civil war.
The White Generals, and counter-revolutionaries across Europe, were seeped in the conspiratorial mindset of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Tsarist forgery that blamed the Jews as the hidden hand behind the revolutionary movement. The conspiracy has the goal of seizing control of the state and society for its own nefarious ends. The Jews proved to be a convenient scapegoat since they represented a vulnerable minority “endowed with a historically well-established mythos and persona suitable for rigid stereotypical representation and projection.” The conspiracy has the goal of seizing control of the state and society for their own nefarious ends. The Jews proved to be a convenient scapegoat since they were a vulnerable minority which was “endowed with a historically well-established mythos and persona suitable for rigid stereotypical representation and projection.”
However, the White counter-revolution was defeated in Russia, but their anticommunism and anti-Semitic politics took root abroad. As Mayer says,
It developed and came of age throughout Europe in the form of Fascism. Not that anti-communism was the ultimate source and reason of fascism, but it most certainly was a necessary determinant and bold watchword of every variety of fascism, including national socialism, its most extreme and paradigmatic form.
Although anti-Semitism was central to the Nazi world-view, “it was neither its foundation nor its principal or sole intention.” Nazi Jewish hatred was mixed with social Darwinism, colonial expansionism, and anti-communism that formed a distinct and novel political practice.
Anti-Semitism not only wedded easily to anti-communism, but also with traditional elitist disdain for the working and “dangerous classes” who were racialized. For the counter-revolution, the working class was not a legitimate opponent, but an alien element who needed to be repressed as a matter of public hygiene to restore order. This view of race and the war of extermination that informed the fascist and, especially the Nazi, counter-revolution was not the product of “totalitarian” communism or Marxism, but as Losurdo observed, “go back, directly or indirectly, to the colonial tradition.” “Judeo-Bolshevism” in its advocacy of universal equality and causing class conflict that undermined the national community was a movement of sub-humans that would destroy civilization. According to Traverso, the Nazi leadership saw “the Russian Revolution as a 'revolution of Untermenschen,' a gigantic uprising aimed against Western civilization."
Throughout the 1920s and 30s, politics in Europe was militarized and polarized as “the methods, and practices of trench warfare were transferred into civil society, brutalizing its language and forms of struggle.” Just as the Bolsheviks had revolutionized socialism to make it a potent and active force of struggle, fascism had revolutionized the counter-revolution in opposition. Yet the two forces were diametrically opposed. As Mayer observed,
Counter-revolutions, whatever their variety, are less historically creative than revolutions. The ideologies of counter-revolutionary movements and regimes are solidly anchored in venerated principles, values, attitudes, and habits, both secular and religious, of established societies; their social carriers come from strata that have already climbed beyond the first rungs of the social, professional, and income ladder; their programs call for the purification rather than the transformation or overthrow of existing institutions; and their political allies are recruited from incumbent power and ruling elites.
The goal of the Nazi and fascist 'revolutions' was not to overthrow capitalism or to turn back the clock. Rather, the goal was to seize political power in order to realize a totalizing vision of ethnic or national rebirth. Fascism would avoid the problems of modernization that had brought about “the spread of rationalism, liberalism, secularization, individualism and capitalism.” This modernization had dislocated traditional values and threatened the national fabric. By contrast, the fascist state would act as a garden state which, using modern means, would “cultivate and breed healthy varieties of human beings.” The fascist state thus not only sought to create a nation of healthy human beings, but to purge society of ‘weeds.’ These new human beings would be pure and loyal community devoted to serving the Volk and the Nation in its pursuit of greatness and conquest.
Both communists on the left and fascists on the right were locked in armed struggle with each other and the liberal and parliamentary order. Despite their shared opposition to the bourgeois order, their values were utterly opposed—communists desired the end of private property and international revolution while fascists sought national rebirth and imperial domination. As Traverso stated:
Revolution and counter-revolution, Communism and Fascism, confronted one another in mortal struggle, but sharing an awareness of belonging to an armed century, a century of war that has put an end to the age of peace, liberalism, parliamentarism, progress. Both conceived politics as an armed conflict and the state as an instrument of war; liberal democracy seemed to them a memory of a bygone age... The Bolshevik critique of social democracy and the fascist critique of liberalism shared the same awareness of an irreversible caesura with the past. Their values radically opposed, but both believed in a new society engendered by war and revolution.
During the 1920s and 30s, fascists and like-minded reactionaries came to power across Europe—notably in Italy, Germany and Spain. Despite the promises of fascist “revolution,” their rise to power came with the active collaboration from sectors of the ruling class in government, military, industry or large landowners. In Germany, the ruling power bloc had lost popular support and legitimacy, and needed to restore profitability and labor discipline. It took the rise of the Nazis to reconstitute a new power bloc, which provided a popular base and crushed the labor movement and the far left. The German economy was geared toward war as military spending jumped from 2% of national income in 1932 to 32% in 1938. While Hitler sought revenge against France and Britain for the Versailles Treaty, his main enemy remained “Judeo-Bolshevism” in the Soviet Union.
V. Midnight in the Century
a. Nazi Germany
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they banned the communists and socialists. Paxton writes: “Soon, demoralized by the defeat of their unions and parties, workers were atomized, deprived of their usual places of sociability, and afraid to confide in anyone.” The Nazis created their own state-controlled union, which legally subordinated the working classes to the class interests of the reconstituted bourgeois regime. Instead of nationalizing the means of production on behalf of workers, Hitler delivered millions of slave-laborers into the hands of the bourgeoisie. And in order to keep the proletariat under the jackboot, the Nazis had to remake the state: “Over time the Nazi prerogative state steadily encroached upon the normative state and contaminated its work, so that even within it the perception of national emergency allowed the regime to override individual rights and due process.”
With the rise of the Nazis to power, democratic liberties were abolished, and the left and the organized working class was crushed, atomized and imprisoned. So what did National “Socialism” in power mean for the workers? For the working class, real wages dropped under Nazism and profits for the ruling class sharply rose. Despite the drop in unemployment from 6 to 2 million from 1933 to 1935, according to Ernest Mandel:
Before the Second World War, therefore the real wages of the German worker under National Socialism had already fallen by more than 10% as compared with the pre-crisis period, despite the considerable increase in production (in 1938 it was 25% above the 1929 level) and the rise in the average productivity of labor (in 1938 it was approximately 10% higher than in 1929) achieved under Nazi rule. It is little wonder that under such conditions the mass of profits shot upwards: from RM 15.4 million in 1929 and RM 8 billion in 1932 to RM 20 billion in 1938 (these figures refer to all forms of profit, including commercial and bank profits and undistributed company profits).
To achieve the restoration of German capitalism the masses of workers had to be pacified, which required a vast secret police apparatus and the extermination of anyone considered a threat to the new “national harmony.” At the same time, the state engaged in financing public works, such as railway and autobahn construction. While certain branches of industry and banking were wary of exchange, fiscal, tariff, and price controls the Nazis employed, “it was understood that business would readily accept state regulation in exchange for the economic and social benefits of rearmament.”
While the Weimar Republic had been a state of factions that had split the forces of the Volk and left it open to doom. Nazism would end all that by bring the Volk together. Nazism would rejuvenate the Volk by casting off those viewed as a danger. And that danger was seen as “International Jewry.” Throughout the 1930s, there was a steady escalation of measures against the Jews, both “legal” (ex. the 1935 Nuremberg Laws) and extra-legal (ex. Kristallnacht).
b. Soviet Union
The defeat of the European revolution had left the Soviet Republic isolated and the effects of the Civil War had left the country in ruins. None of these events had gone as Lenin and the Bolsheviks had foreseen or hoped. Not only had revolutionary outbreaks been defeated or contained everywhere outside of Russia, but by the 1920s, the USSR was a ruined and devastated country with a declassed working class, a hostile peasantry, and a merged party and state that were increasingly separated from the masses. International revolution was on the immediate agenda and Russia had to deal with prolonged isolation. The great powers fostered a containment policy to halt any further spread of the “Bolshevik contagion.” A combination of the Entente policy of “cordon sanitaire” - supporting the newly-independent Eastern European countries as buffer states against the further spread of communism - and the effects of the civil war “fostered a defiant siege mentality, and justified continuing emergency rule.”
According to Isaac Deutscher, as the power of the soviets broke down, the Bolshevik Party had the “usurper's role thrust upon it,” but he asks
What could or should the party have done under these circumstances? Should it have thrown up its hands and surrendered power? A revolutionary government which has waged a cruel and devastating civil war does not abdicate on the day after its victory and does not surrender to its defeated enemies and to their revenge even if it discovers that it cannot rule in accordance with its own ideas and that it no longer enjoys the support it commanded when it entered the civil war.
Indeed, the Bolsheviks had “substituted” themselves for the proletariat because it no longer existed as a cohesive social force.
Following the victorious conclusion of the civil war and the Kronstadt naval revolt, the Bolsheviks changed course and implemented the New Economic Policy (NEP). The NEP was instituted in order to provide breathing space for the Bolsheviks and to restore production. The NEP relaxed state control over the economy – allowing for the creation of small businesses and private trade, ended requisitions and permitted the development of a money economy. By 1927, the NEP had restored Soviet industry and agriculture to its pre-war levels, but it also led to the growth of the class of rich peasants and the private traders known as the NEP-men.
While the soviets had lost their influence and the social base for the Bolsheviks had disappeared, the most politically conscious and courageous workers had entered the party, government and the army. Yet according to Isaac Deutscher, they “did not in fact belong to the working class any longer. With the passage of time many of them became estranged from the workers and assimilated with the bureaucratic environment.” At the same time, the Bolshevik Party expanded enormously. From 23,000 members in 1917, it had grown to 700,000 in 1922, but it now was filled not just with dedicated revolutionary militants, but also Tsarist bureaucrats since it fell to the Party to run the government, industry, and the army. In order to administer the Soviet state and economy, the party needed expand to its apparatus. Thus, “in the month of August 1922, there was a count of 15,325 full-time officials of the party, 5,000 of whom were employed at the level of districts or factories.” Many communists, Lenin among them, soon realized that alien elements had entered the Bolshevik Party and that many communists were becoming infected with bureaucratism, careerism, and national chauvinism.
While Trotsky appealed to internationalism, his call did not fall on receptive ears, since Deutscher says, for “many rank and file Bolsheviks world revolution had become a lamentable myth by 1924, while the building of socialism in Russia was the exacting and exhilarating experience of their generation.” Feelings of Russian nationalism, dormant since the revolution began to revive in society. The party fanned the nationalist flames, including reliance on anti-Semitic slurs, against Trotsky and the Left Opposition. Deutscher says of this episode:
Official agitators ceased to distinguish between Trotskyists and Zinovievists, incited the rank and file against both, and hinted darkly that it was no matter of chance that the leaders of both were Jews-this was, they Suggested, a struggle between native and genuine Russian socialism and aliens who sought to pervert it....The distrust of the 'alien' was, after all, only a reflex of that Russian self-centeredness, of which socialism in one country was the ideological abstract....Jews were, in fact, conspicuous among the Opposition although they were there together with the flower of the non-Jewish intelligentsia and workers. Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev; Sokolnikov, Radek, were all Jews... The Bolsheviks of Jewish origin were least of all inclined to idealize rural Russia in her primitivism and barbarity and to drag along at a 'snail's pace' the native peasant cart. They were in a sense the 'rootless cosmopolitans' on whom Stalin was to turn his wrath openly in his old age. Not for them was the ideal of socialism in a single country.
Despite all the verbal tributes to Leninist internationalism, Stalin became the chief mouthpiece of this new nationalist sentiment. “He elevated the sacred egoism of the Russian revolution to a supreme principle — this was the real meaning of his idea of ‘socialism in one country.’” The adoption of building “socialism in one country” was dictated by the sheer backwardness of the USSR compared to the great powers, by developing a modern industrial socialist society, not only to withstand the dangers of capitalist encirclement, but delivering the people from backwardness by creating a higher standard of living and a radiant future which would allow Russia to serve as a beacon to humanity. The policy would also provide the ideological counterpart to the Party’s authority.
As Deutscher explains:
Socialism in one country also stirred the people's national pride, while Trotsky's pleas for internationalism suggested to the simple-minded that he held that Russia could not rely on herself and so he maintained that her salvation would ultimately have to come from a revolutionized West. This could not but hurt the self-confidence of a people that had achieved the greatest of revolutions-a self-confidence which, despite all the miseries of daily life, was real enough even though it was curiously blended with political apathy.
The forced campaign of Soviet industrialization and collectivization was thus part of the need to not only institute a new social system, but also to defend it, even in the absence of world revolution. Due to the fear of war and foreign intervention, democratic freedoms and many of the basic needs of the Soviet people (ex. consumer goods) were subjected to the greater need of self-defense and heavy industry (needed to fuel the militarization of the Soviet state against outside influence and internal dissent). The cordon sanitaire also fostered a conspiratorial mindset that saw plots, wrecking, and spies everywhere – which culminated in the mass purges of the 1930s. An unfortunate outcome of this outlook was that the USSR often placed their own national interests above those of the world revolution and many foreign communists found themselves embracing “sacred egoism” of the USSR by subordinating their own revolutionary activities to the conservative dictates of Soviet foreign policy.
One of the cornerstones of the Five Year Plan was the collectivization of agriculture and securing a reliable base for agriculture. From a country composed overwhelmingly of small peasant farms in the mid-1920s, by 1936 at least 90 percent of the peasantry lived on collective farms and 94 percent of crops were cultivated there, a shift achieved through a combination of government persuasion, tax incentives, and force. However, many peasants lacked experience with livestock, which when combined with poor planning, bad weather, and a lack of modern farm equipment, ultimately meant that socialized agriculture did not show its superiority over individual production for many years. Furthermore, many peasants, particularly the rich kulaks resisted collectivization and grain procurement by slaughtering their livestock and refusing to farm. In 1932-3, a combination of mismanagement by the government, overzealous party activists, kulak resistance, and poor weather had brought about a famine that disrupted the food supply and cost at least three to four million lives.
According to Losurdo, the violence of the collectivization campaign is not an example of “class genocide,” but rather was a “civil war ruthlessly waged on both sides.” The Soviet countryside responded to Stalin's “revolution from above” by rekindling the atmosphere of the Russian Civil War, which was not only reflected in splits at the highest levels of government, but also “took the form of a ‘nationalist’ and ‘separatist movement’ intersecting with ‘banditry with a political substratum’. While the violence of collectivization was horrible, the methods of “primitive socialist accumulation” bore resemblance to those of the “original accumulation of capitalism” in Europe.
Yet Losurdo remarks that even at its height, the violence of collectivization was not a genocide, but
what comes to mind in some ways is colonial warfare. Given that the revolution from above invested a countryside inhabited by national minorities, the moral de-specification characteristic of revolutionary ideology could sometimes intersect with forms of naturalistic de-specification.
The violence was also accompanied by “initiatives that tended in different, contrasting directions” such as soldiers helping with agricultural work, policies encouraging the free expression of the Ukrainian language, culture and customs. Thus, the Soviet policies in the Ukraine can not be compared “with Hitler’s explicit pronouncements on the need to rear a caste of slaves in the colonies, reducing their education to a minimum...” Losurdo concludes by stating that Soviet of collectivization campaign led to “pitiless repression” which “objectively struck ‘backward’ and ‘barbaric’ populations in the first instance facilitated transition from moral de-specification to the naturalistic variety on occasion.” However, this ideology of total war derived not from the logic of revolutionary ideology, but “In reality, as well as from the exigencies of total war and ideological fanaticism, the ferocity of the repression also derived from the pre-revolutionary colonial tradition.” While the Nazis saw the Jews as a virus to be eliminated or stripped of their identity, this was not the case with the Soviet government's treatment of the Ukrainians who's “de-specification” was mixed in with campaigns against the kulaks which “[were] queried and retracted in a notable number of cases.”
While Losurdo says intense violence of Stalin's Russia during collectivization was not compatible with those of fascism or the bourgeois democracies, this does not mean that it was a socialist measure. By 1929, the bureaucracy had already expropriated the proletariat elements in Soviet society. Collectivization under Stalin formed the content of the bureaucratic counter-revolution, with so-called ultra-left turn masking fundamentally right-ward tendency of voluntarism of "socialism in one country" of trying to overcome international and material limits by sheer will. In 1932, Trotsky argued for a retreat from forced collectivization:
The economic foundation of the dictatorship of the proletariat can be considered fully assured only from that moment when the state is not forced to resort to administrative measures of compulsion against the majority of the peasantry in order to obtain agricultural products; that is, when in return for machines, tools, and objects for personal use, the peasants voluntarily supply the state with the necessary quantity of grain and raw material. Only on this basis – along with other necessary conditions, nationally and internationally – can collectivization acquire a true socialist character.
Industrialization and collectivization needed to be accompanied with the general improvement of the well-being of the workers and peasants. Trotsky argued that socialist construction in the countryside would take a prolonged period, which would finally be solved by an international revolution, and not by bureaucratic fiat.
Losurdo says that the collectivization campaign did not involve the biological liquidation of the kulaks similar to colonial conquests, but it did involve the racialization of the enemy among the peasantry – who in many cases were exterminated, not simply re-educated. In this sense, Stalin's collectivization did resemble colonialism (with forms of slave labor that did more to accumulate capital in the long run than to liberate people from toil), which brings Stalin closer to the same kinds of counter-revolution Losurdo is so keen on rendering distinct from Stalinism.
The political trials that took place in the late 20s and early 30s, despite their groundless nature of conspiracies and wreckers linked to foreign powers, took place during “revolution from above” as tensions were growing acute. The Great Terror of the late 1930s was the culmination of the violence and terror that began with civil war. In explaining the terror, Mayer observes that “Stalin was, in the first place, concerned with maintaining and reinforcing the regime’s whip hand over the elite.... the great trials struck at the top, not the bottom, of the pyramid.” Stalin and the Soviet leadership saw any potential opposition as an existential threat “because they presumed it to be bound up with escalating international perils. No doubt Stalin conflated the threat to his personal leadership with the threat to the Soviet regime and Russian state.” Mayer states that the Great Terror was not an example of a planned extermination campaign or an omnipotent dictatorship, but
was at once cause and effect of a polity and society with multiple and severe strains between rival governing factions, between Thermidoreans and true believers, and between an overstrained center and refractory periphery. The resulting distempers were magnified by the deficiencies of the party-state’s administrative structures and cadres: far and wide the ouster or withdrawal of the old elites had left a vacuum inviting bureaucratic conceit and arbitrariness by unfitted officials of untried local security agencies and judicial organs. To the extent that the Great Terror was the ultimate ratio of an unbending but insecure regime, its “implementation was chaotic, uncontrolled, and manipulated by nearly all the[party-state’s] dignitaries.” In sum, the Stalinshchina was anything but a logical system with a coherent purpose: it unfolded and raged in an “atmosphere of panic... reminiscent of the European witch hunts, lynchings in the American South, or McCarthyism.
The USSR, by building “socialism in one country,” did develop modern industry, a planned economy and collectivize agriculture (all at great cost), but the regime grew more conservative as time passed – rolling back gains in culture, women's liberation and promoting Russian nationalism. Soviet socialism grew more focused on developing the productive forces, with more and bigger factories and larger steel outputs, as opposed to uprooting age old oppressions. However, the USSR was itself succumbing to its own version of the ideology of progress as they developed a centralized planned economy with its nearly singular focus on building the productive forces (as part of the march of history). Furthermore, the leadership of the party and state became divorced from the masses and bureaucratized. According to Soviet Marxism-Leninism, by the mid-1930s, there were no antagonistic contradictions under socialism, but any dissension was caused by enemy agents who needed to be eliminated.
However, the internal violence of the Soviet Union could not be separated from international politics. According to Mayer, the different policies adopted by the USSR “its hardening or relaxation—would depend in no small measure on external relations, notably on its ability to relax or end the quarantine in favor of peaceful coexistence.” The fatal relationship between the USSR and Nazi Germany extended outward and affected the foreign and domestic politics in most European states. And unless this interaction is understood, “there is no explaining the twisted diplomacy of appeasement, the cunning Nazi-Soviet Pact, and the unholy Grand Alliance.”
The defeat of German Communism, then the strongest party outside of the USSR, at the hands of the Nazis in 1933 (compounded by their own mistakes and strategy) necessitated a change in strategy for the Communist International from “denouncing social democrats for being social fascists to summoning them to a united or popular front against fascism.” While the mistakes of the Comintern have been (rightfully) criticized, Mayer states, “they realized their error and changed course much more rapidly than others.” Despite the change in course, the Comintern never really shed their belief that “fascism was no more than a pliable instrument in the hands of the capitalist class, and that its ineffectiveness would become apparent in no time.” However, communists were not the only group to misunderstand fascism or who pursued failed strategies. The same could be said of conservatives, reactionaries, liberals and social democrats. As Losurdo notes, the Comintern's embrace of the popular front “reduced activity for African emancipation to a farce.” Anti-colonial leaders such as George Padmore criticized Stalin not “as Hitler’s twin brother, but because he refused to recognize in the latter the twin brother of the leaders of British and French imperialism.” The Comintern's downgrading of the anti-colonial struggle against “democratic imperialism” became something difficult to fathom for millions living under its yoke since the USSR believed “the Third Reich took the lead of the colonial (and enslaving) counter-revolution.”
Ultimately, the communist change of course did not help them to form popular fronts (which included not only socialists, but also the “liberal” and “anti-fascist” bourgeoisie) or convince Britain and France to join them in a collective security pact against the fascist powers. The clearest example of the failure of the turn in Soviet and Comintern policy was displayed during the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Popular Front, elected in February 1936, during a period of rising social tensions between the far left and the far right, faced a military coup in July led by Francisco Franco - aided overtly by Hitler and Mussolini and tacitly by the bourgeois democracies.
However, the initial plan of the Nationalists to seize control of Spain failed and they held less than half of the country and were faced by an armed populace eager to make a revolution. Instead, the military coup provided the catalyst for the very revolution it hoped to prevent. It was the armed workers who secured Madrid, Barcelona and other vital regions for the Republic. Nationalist territory was split into two halves, separated by hundreds of miles. The Army of Africa, the best troops in Spain were stationed in Morocco with no way to reach the mainland (the bulk of the navy remained loyal). If the Army of Africa was unable to reach the mainland, the bulk of Nationalist forces would be isolated.
It was the German airlift (mostly Junker 52s) and naval assistance (these ships were vastly superior to antiquated Republican vessels) that allowed for Franco to move his elite troops and weapons to the mainland. Once the Army of Africa crossed over to the mainland, they were able to make mincemeat of Republican forces (thanks also to foreign aid).
What the Republic needed to defeat the rising, once the Nationalists had landed the Army of Africa on the mainland, was arms. The Nationalists had the bulk of the military on their side and some of the best units (Army of Africa) along with significant foreign aid. The Republic needed aid from the outside for their army, but it was not forthcoming. Great Britain and France (by in large) did not provide weapons to the Republic. The French closed their border (except for a few brief instances) to weapons that had been purchased by the Republic. It was only the Soviet Union (and Mexico to a lesser extent) who provided arms to the Republic, although they often had trouble arriving in Spain. Britain and France did not just deny the Republic arms, they also colluded with the Nationalists in securing safety for German/Italian supplies and stopping Republican arms shipments. Britain and France were also involved in the Non-Intervention Committee, that was supposed to keep foreign weapons from reaching Spain. However, in patrolling the Spanish coast, the German and Italian navies also participated (the two biggest violators of non-intervention).
The Spanish Civil War had now become an International War between irreconcilable ideologies. For the Nazis, the Spanish Civil War was “confirmation of their recent forewarnings about the boundless Bolshevik threat.” The Soviets also recognized that they had a stake in Spain and beginning in October 1936, the USSR began sending tanks, planes, weapons, ammunition, advisers, and - through the Comintern – tens of thousands of volunteers from more than 50 countries. Soviet advisers, diplomats and Comintern representatives had to navigate the Republican political landscape and deal with a fractured society, along with being caught up with the mania of the purges then taking hold in Russia (and that they carried over into Spain when dealing with the POUM). Despite this, they were able to play a major role, along with the newly reorganizing Republican army, at the crucial battle of Madrid.
In the end, only the Soviet Union aided the Republic with weapons for the duration of the war, but their supply did not match that of the Nationalists. As Stanley Payne says, “there is no doubt that Italo-German aid to Franco greatly exceeded in quality and effect, and also somewhat in sheer quantity and effect, the assistance from the Soviet Union and elsewhere for the Popular Front regime. The number of German military personnel in Spain was evidently at least twice as great as that of Soviet personnel, and the 70,000 Italian troops in Spain at the high point...in the late winter and spring of 1937 exceeded the total number of volunteers in the International Brigades.” The Germans and Italians were aided in their efforts not only by shorter supply lines, but also by the willing collusion of Britain and France. The USSR was hampered not only by a much longer supply route, where they were likely to be attacked, and that their overall strategy (and that of the PCE) of reaching rapprochement with the western powers was doomed to fail.
The Spanish Communist Party (PCE), in line with Soviet policy, believed that without a centralized army, an economy geared for war, and the support of both the USSR and the west that the Republic was likely to fall. And the goals of the PCE, along with their means appealed to many disparate social and political forces in the Republic. At times, the PCE was willing to engage in fratricidal violence with forces to their left in order to enforce their vision. And the battles around Madrid showed the fighting capability of the Republic. Even the late offensive at the Ebro showed that with adequate supply that the Republic could still resist. And in order to accomplish their goals, the PCE was willing to roll back the revolution not only order to secure foreign aid but to help restore a working government that could organize the defense.
However, the PCE and the USSR made a fatal calculation in courting western aid by rolling back the revolution. The Western powers did not want even a reformist Spanish Republic to win, but saw their class interests more closely reflected in the Nationalists who were staunch defenders of capitalism. This was reflected not only in the two-faced neutrality policy of the Non-Intervention Committee which the bourgeois democracies used to deny aid to all sides in Spain. This starved the Republic of arms, but the German and Italians violated the embargo anyway. And the USSR also hoped that if the PCE and the Republic pushed a moderate course, that this would convince Britain and France to join them in a collective security pact against the fascist powers. And this was also a miscalculation since the Western powers were colluding with the Nazis and arguing for them to go East. As Bolloten argues,
although British historians have on the whole avoided coming to grips with the thesis that Britain's aim was to turn Nazi aggression eastward, where the two totalitarian powers would exhaust themselves - a thesis which, in view of the fear of communism, has at least the merit of logicality – and have stressed other reasons for the policy of appeasement, evidence is overwhelming, despite the supervised release and even the disappearance of official documents from the records, that there were powerful currents in high level political and social circles that hoped that Germany would serve as a counterweight to Russia against the spread of communism.
Despite the USSR and the Comintern yielding to realpolitik, the possibilities for an anti-fascist alliance faded, as evidenced during the Spanish Civil War and Munich. Britain and France were more concerned with the threat of the Soviet Union than the threat of Nazi Germany. Stalin sought to prevent war in the east, signing a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1939. Suddenly, representatives of the great historical rivals - USSR and Germany were shaking hands and seemingly burying the ideological hatchet. As Losurdo states, however distasteful the Non-Aggression Pact, when compared to the Western powers, “the Soviet Union strives not as the first but as the last for an agreement with the Third Reich.”
Although, both the Soviet Union and Comintern were willing to sacrifice principles for pragmatism, had a record of their own crimes and blunders, for millions across Europe, they represented an alternative to moribund capitalism and the real threat of fascism. As Traverso observed, for intellectuals in the militarized atmosphere of 1930s Europe, there was “a deep metamorphosis in the world of culture: the transition from intellectual to fighter." For liberals who were aghast at the anti-fascist apologists for the USSR, they forget that “no mass mobilization against the Nazi menace would have occurred under the leadership of the old liberal elites.” Instead, liberals were all too willing to collude with fascism as a bulwark of order and property. By contrast, the struggle against fascism
needed a hope, a message of universal emancipation, which it seemed at this time could only be offered by the country of the October Revolution. If a totalitarian dictatorship like that of Stalin became the embodiment of these values in the eyes of millions of men and women, this is precisely because its origins and its nature were completely different from those of fascism.
The totalitarian school stresses the similarities between the USSR and Nazi Germany in their desire for total control and how both subordinated the law to ‘higher’ imperatives of race or class.” However, theories of totalitarianism obscure a fundamental difference between the two regimes and obfuscate the history of the twentieth century. For fascists, their “anticapitalist and antibourgeois animus,” (enshrined in their party programs) remained a dead letter. Always and everywhere, the main targets of fascist violence were socialists and communists. And as we have seen, the installation of fascism in power meant breaking unions, lower wages, and the expansion of the military. All of these objectives were celebrated by the industries that had no problem collaborating with fascism—they welcomed it into power and they profited from it. And it is no accident that capitalists and conservatives across Europe saw Mussolini and Hitler as saviors of private property from "Bolshevism." And in every occupied country during WWII, it was conservatives and capitalists who were the first to collaborate with fascism, while socialists and communists were the first to resist.
Despite fascist aping in both style and program, those of their communist enemies, the “revolutionary content of fascism was a “pseudo-doctrine." Fascism, unlike communism, did not change the forms of property, but “integrated the old economic, administrative and military elites into their system of power.” By contrast, in the USSR the bourgeoisie and its state apparatus had been completely abolished by the Bolsheviks. Declared aims also differed fundamentally. Stalin proclaimed universal equality, while Hitler sought supremacy for the Aryan “master race.” While Stalin's Purges killed in arbitrary manner those perceived as “enemies of the people” and imprisoned many in the harsh conditions of the gulag, this was not comparable to the Nazi racism that killed enemies for simply being alive. As Slavoj Zizek observed (quoting Marcuse), “the thin difference between the Stalinist gulag and the Nazi annihilation camp was also, at that historical moment, the difference between civilization and barbarism.”
For fascists, their programs were “far more militant in rhetoric, style and conduct than in political, social or economic substance." There was no fascist revolution, but a preemptive counterrevolution to stabilize bourgeois society that took the shape of heroic vitalism and regenerative violence against 'impure' elements. We cannot help but agree with Walter Benjamin that
fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves... The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.
VI. World War
a. The Modern Crusade
By the time the Nazis launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, they were already masters of Europe, occupying most of the continent. Hitler saw his true enemy as lying in the Soviet Union and conceived of their conquest and subjugation as “both a military campaign to conquer boundless living space in the east and a crusade to eradicate the Soviet regime and the Bolshevik ideology.” From this point onward, the primary theater of the Second World War would be on the Eastern Front in a ferocious campaign where no quarter was given since none was expected. The Nazis conceived of their war as racial and colonial war between fundamentally opposed ideologies. According to Traverso, the Nazi model of warfare was the
colonial wars of the 19th century...[for] the appropriation of 'living space,' a colossal plundering of the conquered territories, a process of enslavement of the indigenous peoples and, according to a Social Darwinist model, the destruction of 'inferior races.'...In a completely different historical context, they were inspired by the same fanaticism and crusading spirit that characterized the Nazi war against the USSR.
The Second World War was not just a total or an imperialist war like its predecessor, but several different wars were waged: the USSR vs. Nazi Germany, and lastly a “war of national liberation waged in the countries occupied by the Axis powers, and within this context, a civil war of the Resistance against the collaborationist regimes."
For Hitler and the Nazi leadership, the war in the East was an ideological and racial holy war “fixing on the Jews for slaughter as the most hated and accessible member of the "common enemy" "Judeobolshevism"—which they constantly invoked.” Jews were alien to the new German Empire and “a race fatally doomed to generate the bacillus of social decomposition and subversion in its various forms and, in particular, its most extreme form - namely, ‘eastern,’ barbaric Bolshevism. In conditions of total war, this dual de-specification left very little room for escape. The war in the East would wipe out the pestilence of communism and its Jewish carriers and secure “living space” for Germany just as the British had in colonizing India or the US in wiping out the indigenous.
However, the Germans were not the only army which invaded the USSR, but were joined by soldiers from allied states and right-wing volunteers from occupied Europe. As Mayer observed, Nazi propaganda “claimed to march not so much to protect the Third Reich or any other nation from imminent military attack as to save European culture and civilization from the perils of bolshevism. Berlin professed that "Germany's fight against Moscow was in the nature of a crusade of the European nations against bolshevism." Volunteers flocked to join the Nazi crusade from Italy, Romania, Hungary, Vichy France, Finland and Slovakia. For the collaborators, the war in the East “revealed the real meaning of the present war...would contribute not only to the defeat of "the most perverse force the world has known" but also to the "rebirth" of their own country, both at home and abroad.” Christian Churches blessed the swastika in their righteous war against “godless communism.”
The crusading spirit was manifest above all amongst the soldiers of the Wehrmacht. Omer Bartov's pioneering research reveals that the Wehrmacht was permeated with Nazi ideology of fighting a genocidal war against their perceived racial enemy in Russia. For one thing, the background of German soldiers predisposed them to accept the Nazi worldview. Many of the soldiers of the Wehrmacht had “spent the formative years of their youth under National Socialism.” The Nazi worldview that these soldiers grew up with was shaped in the Hitler Youth that was “a highly disciplined and devoted body of followers united by a single cause and led by a quasi-divine leader.” Bartov shows that when war came with the USSR, these young soldiers put their youthful indoctrination into frightful practice.
Bartov explains how the Nazi values of civilian life were further drilled into the minds of German youth when they entered the Wehrmacht. The army’s “propaganda made a conscious and concerted effort to associate Hitler with God, to present ‘his mission’ as emanating from a divine will.” To take a few examples of this ideological reinforcement, the Army used educational officers that were viewed “as highly important for the morale and motivation of the troops.” The educational officers were supported by the Wehrmacht commanders not just because of morale, but because they shared Hitler’s vision. For instance, General von Manstein proclaimed that a German soldier “must show understanding for the harsh atonement of Judaism, the spiritual carrier of the Bolshevik terror.” Even the army newspapers proclaimed the need for German soldiers to “sacrifice ourselves to this Fuhrer and strive to be worthy of the historical epoch molded by a heaven-storming will.” Bartov makes clear that the Wehrmacht was officially committed to fighting a racial war in the East.
Although Wehrmacht was officially committed to Hitler’s vision in the East, that doesn’t mean that the regular soldiers necessarily believed it. Bartov shows that regular soldiers had internalized the Nazi worldview by drawing on army surveys, intelligent reports and private letters. For instance, American and German surveys of Wehrmacht troops mirror each other in their conclusions. A German intelligence report of 1943 stated that “the ‘Fuhrer myth’ remained relatively strong… [among] ordinary soldiers.” An American report of POWs “revealed that more than two-thirds of the soldiers expressed ‘belief’ in the Fuhrer in August and late November 1944.” Both the Americans and the German surveys show that even as the war was going against the Nazis, the troops remained true believers.
Bartov’s strongest piece of evidence that the regular German soldier was committed to the Nazi crusade is their private correspondence. The soldiers’ letters stress two important themes, such as “the dehumanization of the enemy on political and racial grounds.” Secondly, the soldiers believed in the “deification of the Fuhrer as the only hope for Germany’s salvation.” Bartov’s use of the letters demonstrates that the soldiers understood that they were not fighting a traditional war in Russia but “to fight to free the world from this Communist disease.” Far from being unaffected by Nazi propaganda, soldiers’ letters show they were given the task of the “destruction of eternal Jewry” The German troops also held onto belief in Hitler, even as the war turned against the Reich. To the very end, Wehrmacht soldiers fought so hard because “belief in the Fuhrer and victory is unshakeable.” In 1945, as Germany was losing, the soldiers fought relentlessly against the Red Army. They had internalized the racial conceptions of the Nazis, believing that “the black and yellow races will destroy and devour Europe.” Bartov’s use of private letters shows that the Wehrmacht soldiers had become Hitler’s Army.
Bartov also uses the memoirs of soldiers to show that they maintained the Nazi perception of the war in the east after 1945. For example, in 1952 General Guderian claimed that invading the USSR “was a noble struggle whose goal was to defend ‘European civilization.’” A German pilot named Hans-Ulrich Rudel wrote in the postwar period that during Operation Barbarossa, Germany “needed to be bulwark of Europe against the East.” Both these men were writing after the fall of Hitler, when Nazism was not the official worldview of Germany. However, they still see the Eastern Front as a quest to defend Germany and Europe against the savagery of the East, not as a genocidal campaign. The memoirs show that Nazi ideas remained permeated in the minds of Barbarossa veterans.
The war against Russia was not conducted by an apolitical army fighting a traditional campaign. As Omer Bartov shows in Hitler’s Army from using letters, internal reports and army papers, the Wehrmacht was permeated with Nazi ideology from the highest levels to the rank-and-file. The regular soldiers, who saw the Soviets as their racial enemy to be annihilated, internalized this ideology. The hold of Nazi ideology even extended into the postwar reflections of soldiers who tried to rationalize the war in the East.
The Nazi invasion of the USSR in June 1941 changed the character of the war throughout occupied Europe. During the period of the Non-Aggression Pact, communist parties had been driven underground, but had largely refrained from engaging in open resistance. This strained communist relations with non-communist resistance forces. When the Wehrmacht rolled across the Soviet frontier, all the doubt, confusion and hesitation was replaced with a singleness of purpose. Communists threw themselves into the resistance, causing the Nazis to tighten the screws. Nazi repression drove large sections of the population into active resistance. As Mandel observed,
as the antifascist resistance grew in strength, so did the propensity of the local ruling class for collaboration with the Nazis. By 1943 the social rather than the national divide became permanent and the war acquired a revolutionary dynamic directed not only against the return of the old order but also against any more reform of it.
In Italy, fighting the Nazis also meant challenging the system that spawned them. As Claudio Pavone observed of the partisans, "Sure, he was fighting the Nazi - fascist enemy, but in his blazing red shirt be was considered, and rightly so, the combatant of a 'greater war,' that of all the oppressed against the oppressors, of poverty against wealth, of justice against injustice." In France, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Albania, communist parties emerged from the war armed, supported by millions and either in power or serious contenders for it. In occupied Europe, the situation was one of civil war where no quarter was to be given between the communist-led resistance against fascism which symbolized not only national capitulation and capitalist oppression, but came “ to denote a kind of human being with negative connotations from every public and private view."
The Communist Parties were uniquely suited for underground work and partisan warfare. As Eric Hobsbawm observed, it was
not only because Lenin's 'vanguard party' structure was designed to produce a force of disciplined and selfless cadres whose very purpose was efficient action, but because extreme situations, such as illegality, repression and war, were precisely what these bodies of 'professional revolutionaries' had been designed for. Indeed, they 'alone had foreseen the possibility of resistance war.'
By contrast, other left political forces were geared toward electoral and illegal work, not towards the revolutionary seizure of power. Hobsbawm identifies two other factors that allowed the communist parties to achieve hegemony and to mobilize masses of men and women. The first was international and the second was “ the passionate, quasi-millennial conviction with which they dedicated their lives to the cause.” For instance, amongst the communist fighters in France could be counted Spanish Republicans, German anti-fascist exiles, Eastern European immigrants, and Jews. Even the political adversaries of the communists had to admit their dedication.
However, the communist strategy of resistance walked a delicate balance between whether to emphasize national liberation or social revolution. The Grand Alliance of the Allies (USSR, UK and USA) dictated the first priority was winning the war and to that end, that local resistance forces should form “national fronts” to bring together the broadest spectrum of forces to oppose the Nazis. However, the dynamics of resistance compelled mass mobilization and challenged the old order. In Yugoslavia and Albania, the local parties translated their strength in arms into power (to the dismay of the USSR). The Greeks remained torn between whether to take power on their own or to accept Soviet policy that welcomed the return of a right-wing monarchy, ultimately leading them to defeat in the civil war of 1946-1949. Even in France, where the communist party slavishly followed the Soviet line, the dilemma of the character of fighting the war was an open question. The Gaullists saw “the purpose of resistance was basically to facilitate [Allied] military activity to liberate France and Europe” and restore the country to antebellum status quo, while on the other hand, the metropolitan resistance (including communists such as Andre Marty and Charles Tillon) were “dedicated to a strategy of immediate action leading to national insurrection, which would make the liberation of France not just a transfer of power between Petainists and Gaullists but a revolution in terms of both a mass movement and of the radical transformation of society, including the nationalization of key industries.”
In this civil war between communism and fascism, the two sides were clearly drawn. As British SOE agent Basil Davidson observed in explaining communist leadership of the anti-fascist resistance:
In Greece and Yugoslavia, and to varying degree in all occupied countries, large and serious resistance came and could only come under left-wing leadership and inspiration. Whole ruling classes had collapsed in defeat or moved into compromise with the Nazis. With notable exceptions, the beaten generals followed their governments and kings in exile, went into retirement, or took service with the Nazi occupiers. Some believed they could conciliate the conquerors; others despaired of any rescue; not a few shared the beliefs and aims of the Nazis. Preaching the unification of a nazified Europe, Hitler was able to win fighting volunteers from every occupied country.
Again, with exceptions, the right-wing sold out and the center simply vanished from the scene. Here and there patriotic officers tried to stand against this collapse, and called for resistance in the name of king and conservatism. Yet the people to whom they called proved reluctant or quite unwilling to follow them. Plenty of ordinary folk were ready to risk their lives, but only, as it soon transpired, if they were not risking them for king and conservatism. In these countries of bitter pre-war dictatorships, it further transpired, the self-sacrifice and vision required to begin an effective resistance, and then rally others to the same cause, were found only among radicals and revolutionaries. Exceptions there were; but such was the general rule. And again, in practice, this leadership was found above all among the men and women of harried and clandestine communist parties whose remnants were all still unbowed by persecution.
b. Destruction of the Jews
The Holocaust (or Judeocide as Mayer prefers to call it) was the culmination of Nazism's ideological, colonialist and racial war against the Soviet Union. According to Mayer, the extermination of the Jews was not (as the intentionalist school claims) planned before the war, but as the campaign on the Eastern Front “began to stall, Hitler and his generals never really faltered. Instead, inherently incapable of contemplating and seeking a negotiated settlement, they intensified the built-in brutality of their military and ideological warfare.” As we have seen, Mayer makes the argument that Nazi ideology and its antisemitism were a precondition to the Holocaust, but without the total war of Barbarossa, “the inconceivable could not have become conceivable, let alone possible and practicable.”
Mayer's interpretation challenges orthodox Marxist accounts that look for some economic rationale for the Nazis to exterminate the Jews. For these Marxists, often influenced by Comintern theories that fascism is “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital” adhere to a strict base/superstructure model, tend towards economic reductionism and a teleological view of “progress” and history which is unable to conceive of the irrational, the contingent or to view ideology as relatively autonomous. For Mayer, the Holocaust was an example of the “relative autonomy and irrepressible force of the Nazi Weltanschauung, which had a fixed canon and ritual... anti-Semitism occupied neither a prominent nor an unchanging place in this ideological constellation. It could recede or drop from view, only to resurface under new conditions, with different emphases, and for different purposes.” The economic “irrationality” of concentration camps, working to death, mass genocide of large segments of “potential” workers may seem to go against the logic of winning the war. And while it is true that some German industrialists wanted to put the Jews to work, it was both an expression of the spiraling radicalization of a war to the death and, according to Nazi ideology, wiping out the Jews (even if it meant a decline in production) was to annihilate the source of the “Bolshevik plague” and thereby, wholly “rational.”
Traverso also takes issue with the orthodox Marxist account of the Holocaust. For him, Marxism in the aftermath of WWII was “characterized by its silence on the subject of Auschwitz.” According to Traverso, the defeat of Nazi Germany at the hands of the Red Army meant a return to the ideology of progress. Just like Mayer, Traverso rejects economic reductionist explanations that look to explain the Holocaust that rely upon the “class interests of big German capital,” stating that to do so only caricaturizes Marxist theories of fascism. Traverso, who hails from the Trotskyist tradition, also takes issue with the interpretation offered by his mentor Ernest Mandel, that the Holocaust was the result of Nazi Germany pushing to an extreme the violent, destructive nature of modern technology and racist tendencies inherent within modern capitalism. While Traverso agrees that Mandel is correct to note the connection between capitalist modernity and racism which produced a volatile mix of rationality and irrationality that caused the Holocaust, he says Mandel “had difficulty in admitting that this genocide was determined ‘in the final analysis’ by ideology, despite the material interests (and military priorities) of German imperialism.”
For Traverso, (who can be said to follow in the steps of Walter Benjamin) the Holocaust is the “paradigm of twentieth-century barbarism” and proof that “economic and industrial progress is not incompatible with human and social retrogression.” Auschwitz shows that modernity, which has its emancipatory side, also brings with it destructive forces, showing the ambiguity of both modernity and the Enlightenment tradition. In line with Walter Benjamin, Traverso views progress as a “storm” and that our whole civilization and culture bears the marks of barbarism. It is imperative for Marxist theorists to understand the Holocaust, otherwise this casts “major doubt about the relevance of its answers to the challenges of the twentieth century.” Marxism after the Holocaust thus has to dispose of the idea of progress and that socialism is the “inevitable outcome” of history. Rather, history must be rethought from the point of view of the defeated and through the prism of catastrophe (in line with Benjamin). And socialism should be defined as a different civilization, not as “founded on the paradigm of the blind development of the forces of production and the domination of nature by technology.” In other words, socialism must be conceived of as a break with history – an end to bourgeois civilization and the inequities of class society.
However, Traverso does not believe that the Holocaust is so unique that it stands outside of history, but recognized that even the most violent breaks in history have origins. For Traverso, the Holocaust can not be separated from the wider European Civil War which produced the lethal synthesis of Nazism with its “anticommunism, imperialist expansionism and anti-Semitic racism.” However, its uniqueness consists not in the greater Nazi inhumanity towards the Jews nor the numbers compared to colonialism. After all, as Aimé Césaire long ago observed, the same destructive forces of Nazism had long “been applied only to non-European peoples” by the Great Powers as part of their “civilizing mission” in the colonies which the Nazis eagerly took up. To forget the imperialist and colonial roots of the Holocaust, as Losurdo observes means that the crimes of the Third Reich can be compared to those of the USSR, which ultimately mystifies them. Rather, the uniqueness of the Holocaust
does not consist in the concentration camp system, however, but rather in racial extermination: Auschwitz was the product of the fusion of racial biology with modern technology. This was a genuine civilizational break, which tore up the fabric of elementary human solidarity which human existence on the planet had until then been based on.
Traverso says that the last century with its bloodshed puts “a large question mark over Marx’s forecast about the historical role of the proletariat as the social subject of the liberation of the whole of humanity.” In its place, Traverso says we should draw on the spirit of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in envisioning how we think through an emancipatory project in line with Benjamin's dictum that the proletariat should “nourish themselves on the picture of enslaved forebears, not on the ideal of the emancipated heirs” and that revolt is “consciousness of exploding the continuum of history.” For Traverso, the struggle against exploitation and injustice is a basic ethical imperative of Marxists since, like the partisans in the Warsaw Ghetto, “people do not revolt only when they have a chance of winning; they revolt because they cannot accept an insult to human dignity.” Marxism must restore its utopian dimension and reject the ideologies of progress and the teleology of “inevitable victory,” but instead appreciate the linkage of “catastrophe with deliverance” that links the violence of our society with the wager of a possible liberation.
Traverso's rejection of deterministic and orthodox forms of Marxism and the ideology of progress is certainly commendable. But in its place, he offers only a vague and almost voluntaristic 'ethical imperative' to heroic action as the agent of change. In the end, neither Mayer nor Traverso's accounts of the Holocaust offer the easy answers and assurance of socialist victory found in orthodox Marxism. However, Traverso appears to accept a great deal of Adorno and Horkheimer's argument in the Dialectical of Enlightenment that the roots of the Holocaust were provided by the Enlightenment's legacy of instrumental reason, scientific progress and the domination of humanity over nature that was later transformed into domination over people. This in turn leads Traverso to practically throwing away the universalist heritage of the Enlightenment. Contrary to Traverso, Nazism and the Holocaust were not a product of the Enlightenment, but its negation. Fascism saw ideas of universalism, materialism, emancipation, secularism, republicanism, democracy, reason and Marxism as products of a “Jewish” plot that they wanted to annihilate. Otherwise, how can we make sense of the ferocious Nazi attacks on Hegel, the Enlightenment thinker par excellence? While it was true that many Enlightenment thinkers were elitist, sexist and anti-Semitic, those same thinkers supplied the intellectual and philosophical tools that can criticize their own shortcomings in favor of rationalism, universal rights and equality. The Enlightenment does not support fascism and genocide, but once purged of its bourgeois shortcomings, it provides a philosophical foundation for human emancipation – reaching its culmination in Marxism and communism.
The three authors—Mayer, Traverso, and Losurdo—despite their differences, provide a welcome alternative approach to how we understand the “European Civil War” or the “Second Thirty Years War.” In contrast to the totalitarian school, that Nazism and communism, far from being two sides of the same coin, were separated by their ultimate aims and the social classes they represented. These two forces were locked in mortal war where only one or the other could prevail. If we are to forget this and succumb to totalitarian interpretation than the violence and politics of first half of the twentieth century becomes inexplicable. Those who compare Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union forget that there is a distinct difference between those who started the Holocaust and those who ended it.
 Quoted in Reinhard Kuhnl, “From DeNazification to the 'Histroiker-Debatte': Reckoning with the Past in the Federal Republic of Germany,” in Radical Perspectives on the Rise of Fascism in Germany, 1919-1945, ed. Michael N. Dobkowski and Isidor Wallimann (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1989), 280.
 Domenico Losurdo, War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century (New York: Verso, 2015), 82.
 Enzo Traverso, The Origins of Nazi Violence (New York: New Press, 2003), 8.
 Ernst Nolte, “The Past That Will Not Pass: A Speech That Could Be Written but Not Delivered,” German History in Documents and Images. http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/pdf/eng/Chapter14Doc11Intro.pdf
 Arno J. Mayer, The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 45.
 Ibid. 23.
 Ibid. 67.
 Arno J. Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The 'Final Solution' in History (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988), 11.
 See contributions to The Outbreak of World War I, ed. Holger H. Herwig (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997).
 Arno J. Mayer, “The Primacy of Domestic Politics,” in The Outbreak of World War I, ed. Holger H. Herwig (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997), 43.
 Ibid. 47.
 Ibid. 44.
 Arno J. Mayer, The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981), 3.
 Ibid. 4.
 Ibid. 12.
 Ibid. 15.
 Ibid. 5.
 Traverso 2003, 2.
 Geoff Eley, review of The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War, by Arno Mayer, Journal of Modern History 54, no. 1 (March 1982): 97.
 Ibid. 98.
 Neil Davidson, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012), 377.
 Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Capital: 1848-1875 (New York: Vintage Books, 1975), 35-6.
 Davidson 2012, 378.
 Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire: 1875-1914 (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), 259.
 Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 35.
 Ibid. 36.
 Hobsbawm 1987, 259. For more on the relationship between Marxism and the “ideology of progress,” see my “Walter Benjamin, Blanqui and the Politics of the Apocalypse,” Red Wedge Magazine. http://www.redwedgemagazine.com/online-issue/benjamin-blanqui-and-the-apocalypse0
 Enzo Traverso, “European Intellectuals and the First World War: Trauma and New Cleavages,” in Cataclysm 1914, ed. Alexander Anievas (Boston: Brill Books, 2014), 202.
 Traverso 2003, 77.
 Ibid. 99.
 Enzo Traverso, “Inside the European Cataclysm,” Solidarity. https://solidarity-us.org/node/4422
 Traverso 2003, 92.
 Ibid. 96.
 Losurdo 2015, 20.
 Quoted in Ibid. 82.
 Ibid. 147. Losurdo also traces the hidden history of the linkage between liberalism, race and colonialism in his work Liberalism: A Counter-History (New York: Verso, 2011).
 Losurdo 2015, 103.
 Ibid. 120.
 Ibid. 168.
 Ibid. 293.
 Ibid. 194.
 Ibid. 81.
 Ibid. 22.
 Enzo Traverso, “The New Anti-Communism: Rereading the Twentieth Century,” in History and Revolution: Refuting Revisionism, ed. Mike Haynes and Jim Wolfreys (New York: Verso, 2007), 148-9.
 Mayer 2000, 26.
 Ibid. xiv.
 Ibid. xv.
 Arno J. Mayer, Dynamics of Counterrevolution in Europe, 1870-1956: An Analytic Framework (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971), 47.
 Mayer 2000, 31.
 Ibid. 30.
 Ibid. 31.
 Ibid. 4.
 Ibid. 99.
 Ibid. 45.
 Ibid. 116.
 Ibid. 4.
 Mayer 1988, 6.
 Mayer 2000, 52.
 Traverso 2003, 101-2.
 Tamas Krausz, Reconstructing Lenin: An Intellectual Biography (New York: Monthly Review Books, 2015), 262.
 Mayer 2000, 509-10.
 Ibid. 525.
 Kraus 2015, 278.
 Mayer 2000, 486.
 Ibid. 67.
 Mayer 1988, 90.
 Losurdo 2015, 287.
 Enzo Traverso, Fire and Blood: The European Civil War, 1914–1945 (New York: Verso, 2016), 27.
 Ibid. 53.
 Mayer 1971, 115.
 Roger Griffin, Modernism and Fascism: The Sense of a Beginning under Mussolini and Hitler (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 45.
 Ibid. 183.
 Traverso 2016, 226-8.
 Donny Gluckstein, The Nazis, Capitalism and the Working Class (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012), 159.
 This section drew on my “The Bourgeois Origins of Fascist Repression: On Robert Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism,” Socialism and Democracy. http://sdonline.org/47/the-bourgeois-origins-of-fascist-repression-on-robert-paxton%E2%80%99s-the-anatomy-of-fascism/
 Paxton 2004, 137.
 Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society (New York: Basic Books, 1969), 91.
 Paxton 2004, 121.
 Mayer 1988, 144.
 Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism (New York: New Left Books, 1976), 160.
 This section borrows heavily from my forthcoming The Chimes at Midnight: Trotskyism in the USSR 1926-1938.
 Mayer 2000, 66.
 Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, Trotsky 1921-1929 (New York: Verso Books, 2003a), 9.
 Ibid. 5.
 Pierre Broué, “The History of the Bolshevik Party (CP) of the USSR: Chapter VII. The Crisis of 1921: The Beginnings of the N.E.P. and the Rise of the Apparatus,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/broue/1971/ussr/ch07.htm
 For background on Lenin's last struggles within the USSR in regards to the growing bureaucracy see Moshe Lewin, Lenin's Last Struggle (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005); Moshe Lewin, The Soviet Century (New York: Verso, 2005), 32-43.
 Isaac Deutscher, Russia After Stalin (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953), 31.
 Deutscher 2003a, 216-218.
 Deutscher 1953, 31.
 Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 8-11.
 Deutscher 2003a, 241.
 Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1994), 139.
 Losurdo 2015, 200.
 Ibid. 201.
 Ibid. 203-5.
 Ibid. 204.
 Ibid. 205.
 Ibid. 206.
 Leon Trotsky, “The Soviet Economy in Danger,” Marxists Internet Archive. http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1932/10/sovecon.htm
 Mayer 2000, 662.
 Ibid. 661.
 Ibid. 661-2.
 Portions of this section are drawn from my “The POUM: Those who would?” LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal. http://links.org.au/node/4229
 Mayer 2000, 66.
 Ibid. 67.
 Mayer 1971, 14.
 Ibid. 14-5.
 Ibid. 15.
 Domenico Losurdo, “Stalin and Hitler: Twin Brothers or Mortal Enemies?” Crisis and Critique 3.1 (2016): 34.
 Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (New York: Modern Library, 2001), 208-19 and 221-5.
 Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-9 (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 64 for the Army of Africa needing German aircraft to reach the mainland. For the role of the navy and the defeat of the coup on Spanish ships, see ibid. 71-4.
 Hitler remarked ‘that Franco should erect a monument to the plane because it was so vital to his victory.’ Ibid. 73.
 For the advance to Madrid by the Army of Africa see ibid. 116-123. In August of 1936, Italy sent Franco a minimum of 27 fighters, 5 tanks, and forty machine guns. Up to September 1936, Germany and Italy sent a combined total of 129 aircraft sent to Franco. The USSR only began its supply of the Republic in October 1936. See Michael Alpert, A New International History of the Spanish Civil War (New York: Palgrave, 2004), 47 and 78. For an excellent summary of foreign aid to all sides see Thomas, 2001, 934-44.
 The Italians sent at least 70,000 troops and the Germans often provided some of their best fighters for the air force and outperformed Soviet fighters. Stanley G. Payne, The Franco Regime (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987), 156-160. It would be air cover that would prove decisive in the defeat of the Republic at the Battle of Ebro in 1938 for instance, see Beevor, 2006, 352-6.
 The Comintern also organized the International Brigades which brought at least 35,000 troops to aid the Republic from 53 nations. These soldiers proved invaluable during the Battle of Madrid in 1936 and stayed in Spain until late 1938. For a brief overview of the Brigades see Thomas, 2001, 940-4.
 Robert Colodny, Spain: The Glory and the Tragedy (New York: Humanities Press, 1970), 26-36. See ibid. 48 for the hostile Mediterranean route of Soviet arms to the Republic. Also Payne, 1987, 158 for a list of Soviet aid to the Republic.
 Arthur H. Landis, Spain: The Unfinished Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1972), 192-204.
 Francisco J. Romero Salvado, The Spanish Civil War (New York: Palgrave, 2005), 153.
 Mayer 1988, 151-3.
 “Stalin had sent Alexander Orlov [Soviet Secret Police agent-DEG] to the country and had given him the task of purging the revolutionary Marxist opposition to the Communists, the POUM.” Ronald Radosh and Mary R. Habeck and Grigory Sevostianov, ed., Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 106. For more on Soviet involvement in the suppression of the POUM following the May Days see 121-2. See also document 33 on ibid. 129-33. For a Trotskyist perspective on the repression of the POUM and the Revolution see Vadim Rogovin, 1937: Stalin's Year of Terror (Oak Park: Mehring Books,1998), 335-373.
 Payne, 1987, 156-7. For a fairly complete list of foreign aid to both the Republic and the Nationalists during the duration of the war see Thomas 934-44. Even though it is often claimed that the USSR scaled back their aid to the Republic after the summer of 1937, Soviet documents prove otherwise: “Although they reduced somewhat the level of aid shipped to Spain, the Soviets continued to send tanks, aircraft, artillery and tons of supplies until the very last months of the conflict.” Radosh, Habeck, Sevostianov 2001, 422 and see also 425-430.
 Burnett Bolloten, The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 172-3 and Beevor 2006, 287-292.
 Bolloten 1991, 178. Clement Leibovitz and Alvin Finkel, In Our Time: The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion (New York: Monthly Review, 1998) argues that Munich was not appeasement by the West of Nazi aggression, but collusion with them in order to turn Germany east.
 Losurdo 2016, 44.
 Traverso 2016, 256.
 Ibid. 270.
 Paxton 2004, 212.
 Traverso 2016, 236.
 Slavoj Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes (New York: Verso, 2008), 262.
 Mayer 1971, 63.
 Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), 41. Paxton 2004, 218 offered the following succinct definition of fascism: Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
 Mayer 1988, 11.
 Traverso 2007, 143.
 Traverso 2016, 60. Traverso borrows the concept of WWII as 5 different wars from Ernest Mandel, Meaning of the Second World War (New York: Verso, 1986), 45.
 Mayer 1988, 31.
 Losurdo 2015, 199.
 Losurdo 2015, 288.
 Mayer 1988, 222.
 Ibid. 225.
 Omer Bartov, Hitler’s Army (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 108-9.
 Ibid. 109.
 Ibid. 120.
 Ibid. 133.
 Ibid. 130.
 Ibid. 123.
 Ibid. 144.
 Ibid. 145.
 Ibid. 152.
 Ibid. 152.
 Ibid. 157.
 Ibid. 162.
 Ibid. 173.
 Ibid. 176.
 Ibid. 137.
 Ibid. 139.
 Mandel 1986, 39.
 Claudio Pavone, A Civil War: A History of the Italian Resistance (New York: Verso, 2014), 430.
 Ibid. 313.
 Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991 (New York: Vintage Books, 1996), 166-7.
 Ibid. 167.
 Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 283-91.
 For more on the Greek Civil War, see my “Struggle and suffering: The 1946-49 Greek Civil War,” LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal. http://links.org.au/node/4514
 Robert Gildea, Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015),115 and 290-1.
 Basil Davidson, Scenes from the Anti-Nazi War (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), 93.
 Mayer's reasoning for the term Judeocide as opposed to Holocaust is as follows: “The embryonic creed of "the Holocaust," which has also became an idea-force, has taken the reflective and transparent remembrances of survivors and woven them into a collective prescriptive "memory" unconducive to critical and contextual thinking about the Jewish calamity. A central premise is that the victimization of the Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany and its collaborators is absolutely unprecedented, completely sui generis, and thus beyond historical reimagining.” Mayer 1988, 16-7.
 Intentionalist and functionalist (or structuralist) are the two major historical schools of interpretation of the Holocaust. Intentionalist interpretations of the Holocaust argue that Hitler and the Nazis planned to kill the Jews at a relatively early date and that the policies leading to the death camps proceeded in a planned and premeditated fashion. In contrast, functionalists believe that there was a “twisted road to Auschwitz,” that arose from the inner functioning of the Nazi state from a process of cumulative radicalization. This debate is ably summarized in Ian Kershaw, The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems & Perspectives of Interpretation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 69-133
 Mayer 1988, 235.
 Ibid. 12.
 Georgi Dimitrov, “The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/dimitrov/works/1935/08_02.htm
 Mayer 1988, 259.
 Ibid. 352.
 Enzo Traverso, Understanding the Nazi Violence: Marxism After Auschwitz (London: Pluto Press, 1999), 60.
 Ibid. 60.
 Mandel 1986, 90-3.
 Traverso 1999, 59.
 Ibid. 22.
 Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/benjamin/1940/history.htm
 Traverso 1999, 4.
 Traverso 2003, 5.
 Ibid. 105.
 Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 36.
 An idea developed at length by Losurdo 2015, 287-8.
 Traverso 1999, 17.
 Ibid. 106.
 “On the Concept of History,” (note 195).
 Traverso 1999, 88-9.
 Ibid. 108.