Do you really think that we who have stood before you a hundred or a thousand times preaching faith in a new Germany,... would lay down our weapons in exchange for a parliamentary railroad pass? If we only wanted to become representatives, we would not be National Socialists, but rather German National Party members or Social Democrats. .... We do not have the stomach for that. We do not beg for votes. We demand conviction, devotion, passion! A vote is only a tool for us as well as for you. We will march into the marble halls of parliament, bringing with us the revolutionary will of the broad masses from which we came, called by fate and forming fate. We do not want to join this pile of manure. We are coming to shovel it out!
---Goebbels, On why you should vote National Socialist
I’ve always admired this fire in the belly, and if people look at me askance it is because they confuse the post-war myth with the pre-war reality. The myth is that the Nazis put an end to a struggling democracy, like a boot brutally squashing a lovely Spring flower under heel That is nonesense. Whatever they may have brutally done after coming to power, a democratic Weimar was as dead as door nail by 1929 when Hindenburg began to rule by presidential decree. What existed from thereon out was a parliamentary dementia in its final throes.
The reality was far more than a “Depression” which, it is said, confused and frightened Germans. It was that. On the morning after the United States enacted the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (1930), six million Germnas were thrown out of work. But it was that on top of a decade of acquiescent defeatism that had left Germany, as Hitler put it, “a dismayed and shattered nation.”
The inescapable record is that, since taking over the government in 1919, the Social Democrats had acquiesced in every imagineable act of diplomatic and economic subordination to outside interests: accepting guilt for the Great War which was no more Germany’s fault than it was France, Russia or Austria’s; accepting the loss of territories that had been as much German as French or Polish; accepting a demilitarized helplessness, and accepting a crushing burden of reparations which reduced Germany to a virtual debtor-slave state through 1980. The most remarkable Social Democratic initiative in this dismal sequence was to initiate the hyper-inflation of 1920 which wiped out everyone’s savings and gave us photographs of people pushing wheel barrows of worthless marks to the bread shop.
It is true that Germany began a “recovery” in 1925 which lasted until 1929; but it was a recovery engineered by Wall Street banks which backed a new temporary currency (the so-called rentenmark) and underwrote the Dawes Plan pursuant to which American banks lent money to Germany to help it pay reparations to France and England who in turn paid back their loans from American banks. Needless to say, like Pay Day Lenders today, Wall Street didn’t help Germany pay its debts for free. The result in Wall Street was that juicy interest payments were raked in from all sides; but Germany itself had been “privatized” and was a mere cork bobbing on the swells of “market-magic”.
It is of course unfair to blame the Social Democrats alone for this wretched state of affairs -- and the Nazis didn’t. For most of its existence, Weimar was governed by a coalition of Social Democrats with the Catholic Center Party and a variety of lesser right wing parties. With the death of the Social Democrat Stressman in 1929, the chancellorship passed to the Catholic, Bruening who faced the economic debacle by raising taxes and cutting back drastically on social services (while trying to negotiate some breathing room with American Banks). Who wouldn’t be disgusted?
But to truly understand the disgust one has to be aware of the promise. Beginning in the 1880s -- a period known as the Grunderzeit or Foundation Time -- Germany was the most prosperous and advanced country in the world. Bismarck had lain the foundations of the social welfare state, including unemployment benefits, pensions, education and health care. While nothing is perfect, the pictures from these times show a remarkably healthy and happy people virtually across the spectrum. Now, beginning in the 1930’s, across the spectrum, there was nothing but political chaos and misery, as people lined up for soup and bread and as armed bands from all political hues marched and fought in the streets.
Who would not be engraged by such a state of affairs? Goebbel’s speech drew from and spoke to a just anger. Not to vicariously feel that anger is to not understand history -- a history trenchantly summarized by Hitler upon assuming office.
“MORE than fourteen years have passed since the unhappy day when the German people, blinded by promises from foes at home and abroad, lost touch with honor and freedom, thereby losing all. ...It wasn’t quite “Marxism” that had ruined Germany, but with due latitude for poltical rhetoric, Hitler had distilled the essence of the matter. A political cowardice and incompetence, bordering on the treasonous, was allowing Germany and its people to be despoiled. Why?
We never received the equality and fraternity we had been promised, and we lost our liberty to boot. ...
The insane conception of victors and vanquished destroyed the confidence existing between nations, and, at the same time, the industry of the entire world. ...
The misery of our people is horrible to behold! Millions of the industrial proletariat are unemployed and starving; the whole of the middle class and the small artisans have been impoverished. . . .
A year later, speaking to the Nuremberg Party Day rally, Hitler recalled the early days of the Nazi “struggle” which, he said, had been infused with a single guiding principle: “We would be a party with an ideology” The crowd roared its approval. Some 80 years on and this hardly seemed something to roar about. “I promise I will stand for something” isn’t much of a promise is it? But this reaction overlooks the historical context.
It is worth remembering that it was Lenin who in 1914 excoriated the Social Democrats for loosing their ideology by enlisting in support of the Kaiser’s war. He accused them of flying a false flag, of betraying socialist ideals, and of being shameless opportunists and chauvinists who had forged an alliance with their antipode, the bourgeoise state. In a word, an ideologically committed socialist could not be a nationalist. “Social-nationalism has grown out of opportunism and it is opportunism that gave it power.” (Lenin, Collected Articles, pp 133-134)
It was a curiously prophetic damnation; for, when this was written in 1917, the National Socialists did not yet exist. But the thrust of Lenin’s perception was that by being a party without an ideology, the Social Democrats could only be a party of opportunists who would inevitably become the opposite of what they had set out to be.
Hitler's statement was not as empty as it might seem at first. With Lenin's critque in mind, it can be seen that having any ideology at all works against mere opportunism which itself is the greatest political degradation of all. Hitler’s accusation that the Social Democrats had sold out to American finance capitalism was a charge that began with Lenin’s accusation that they had sold out to German nationalism. They were, in either view, a party without convictions in search of a railway pass. [FN1- Qui Bono?]
But Social Democrats were not the only sell outs. The Catholic Center also sold out. These two coalition parties were politically closer than one might think. The Catholic Center (predecessor of today's Christian Democrats) formed part of what at the end of the 19th century was called the Third Way -- parties that rejected the anti-social materialism of liberal capitalism as well as the anti-national or anti-religious dialectical materialism of Marxism. Proponents of the third way included the likes of Bismarck, the Catholic Church, the various hues of fascism and falangism and Proudhon’s “petit bourgeois socialism” (quoth Marx). While these factions disagreed on collateral issues, they all espoused an ideology of class cooperation within a mixed regulated economy for the good the state as reflecting the good of the whole. The gradualism of the Social Democrats, which espoused “interim” measures on the “peaceful march toward full socialism” brought them into the third way and rendered them (at least in Communist eyes) de facto fascists. Communists themselves regarded fascism (in this broad and economic sense) as a transitional phase and no one in Europe at least would consider it odd to call FDR’s New Deal “fascism-lite”.
However, in addition to agreeing on a basket of socio-economic issues, the Social Democrats and the Catholic Center also also collaborated in the overall geo-economic passivism of the Weimar Republic -- policies which by 1930 had led to nothing but national-bankruptcy. The difference between the two parties could be said to be that the Social Democrats sold out their socialism and ultimately their nationalism whereas the Catholic Center sold out its nationalism and ultimately it’s social syndicalism. From the Nazi perspective, they both had sold out the German People “thereby losing all”.
The subsequent war has obscured the validity of the Nazi position. The Allies (by which we mean the United States, England and France) were not interested in doing anything just by Germany. They had her down and were going to keep her there and squeeze her for what she was worth for the ultimate benefit of American banks. In such a situation, there were three alternatives: the Communist alternative of a revolution against the entire capitalist system, the Nationalist solution of autarchic economic self sufficiency (which was adopted by Canada in 1932 and Germany in 1933) and, lastly, the quivering Quisling solution of meekly negotiating the least wrenching shaft possible. The Nazi choice, which flipped the Allies the bird, was well within the parameters of the practical and honorable. Who would not tell them to Go to Hell?
To summarize one of the most complex periods in history with a few paragraphs is perilous indeed, so caveat lector. Understanding the appeal to Germans held out by Nazi criticisms of Weimar's geo-political and economic "policies" should not be mistaken for indifference to their ultimate, genocidal crimes against humanity.
It is also important to bear in mind that, in terms of political economy, virtually all parties in Germany in 1930 were to the left of any current political party in the United States. None believed in the “magic of the market” or in the privatization of civil society; virtually everyone in the United States does. [Fn2]
Thus, in terms of political economies, no comparison truly exists between today’s Democratic Party and either Germany’s Social or Christian Democrats. Whatever inching FDR and later LBJ may have begun toward something like the Bismarckian State, it has long since gone by the wayside.
But it is precisely in the “wayside” that an analogy exists. Like Germany’s Social Democrats of yore, today’s Wussiecrats are “a party without an ideology” -- a collection of craven opportunists, who sell out, over and over again, to the masters of the “bouregoise state” -- corporate finance and industrial capital, just as the coalition parties in Weimar caved in and sold out to much those very same interests playing out on the international stage
If the Wussiecrats do not hit the air-waves and the streets with a firm progressive propaganda, at once educating and drawing strength from the broad masses of ordinary people, it is precisely because they don’t have an ideology. If they cave in before rabble rousing slanders and compromise, compromise and compromise again with banksters and corporate interests who regard American “society” as nothing more than something to be plundered until it has nothing more to give, it is because they are willing to stab the American people in the back for a jet ride and a paltry jingle of compaign coin.
Lenin and Goebbels saw the phenomena from different angles -- the one from the class perspective of the worker, the other from the national perspective of das Volk -- but both, were they here today, would recognized the Wussiecrats for what they really are.
ANNOS UNDEVIGINTI NATUS EXERCITUM PRIVATO CONSILIO ET PRIVATA IMPENSA COMPARAVI. PER QUEM REM PUBLICAM A DOMINATIONE FACTIONIS OPPRESSAM IN LIBERATATEM VINDICAVI.I have always gotten a wry kick out of the Divine Augustus’s opening lines to the summary of his Life’s Work [Res Gestae]. It took a certain panache to say “In my nineteenth year, on my own initiative and at my own expense, I raised an army with which I set free the state, which was oppressed by the domination of a faction.”
Of course, as everyone understood, Augustus had in fact established a military dictatorship; but to the end, he assiduously persisted in the fiction that he had “restored the Republic” -- and that fiction was his great and perduring act of statesmanship.
Augustus hated the title of imperator -- “chief,” “commander,” “duce” or “fuhrer”. He gave short shrift to sycophants who addressed him as such and as soon as he could he gave up direct command of the legions.
“Although the senate and Roman people consented that I alone be made curator of the laws and customs with the highest power, I received no magistracy offered contrary to the customs of the ancestors. What the senate then wanted to accomplish through me, I did through tribunician power, and five times on my own accord I both requested and received from the senate a colleague in such power."It was not a lie; but for those familiar with the Roman Constitution the statement was a subtlety of evasion and equivocation that is simply exquisite. Yes. Augustus was merely, the “first” senator, an amiable, bourgois gentilhomme, who merely had the honorary privilege of speaking first in the Senate. The charade was strictly observed by the better Caesars for almost two centuries. As Gibbon inimitably put it,
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
"The masters of the Roman world surrounded their throne with darkness, concealed their irresistible strength, and humbly professed themselves the accountable ministers of the senate, whose supreme decrees they dictated and obeyed."But Augustus was also sensible that the Romans were governed by pride. As much as a spurious freedom, they could be led by the nose if they were assured that they were the masters of the world.
As is well known, Julius Caesar was assassinated by “strict constructionists” who feared (not unreasonably) that he wished to make himself a king. But, according to the German historian, Mommsen, there was another issue at play as well: Casesar wanted to be ruler of a Mediterranean Empire.
Virtually all ambitious Romans of this epoch were obsessed with the memory of Alexander the Great. In despair at 30, Pompey sighed that at his age Alexander had conquered “the world”. But it wasn’t just a conqueror that young Romans saw in Alexander. They all understood that Alexander had forged a new social and cultural demographic broadly known as “Hellenism” under whose Greek umbrella the various peoples and cultures of the Middle East were united. From Greek statuary in India, to the Septuagint in Judea, to the Library at Alexandria, to a thousand different manifestations of language, food, song, and prayer, Alexander’s achievement was a monument on whose foundations we today still stand.
According to Mommsen, Caesar’s real ambition was to complete this work -- to forge a new multi-cultural empire around the shores of the Mediterranean. He conceived of turning the Senate into a representative body for all the peoples of this world within the construct of something like a strong but constitutional monarchy. The dalliance with Cleopatra was nothing romantic, but rather a calculated move to associate a co-monarch who could command the obedience and reverence of a key eastern block within this new empire.
The Romans -- and especially the Roman mob -- would have nothing of it. They were Romans; they had conquered the world; they were not about to be “degraded” to the level of peoples whose butts they had kicked. The Romans, like Americans today, were nothing if not belligerent, loud, jingoistic and xenophobic. As of Augustus’s day, they were also fat, lazy and spent their time munching snax while watching the Big Game.
Augustus understood the nature of the beast and foreswore any caesaresque notions of “pan-mediterraneanism”. No, no. Roman ways, including Roman privileges were sacrosanct.
But ever the artful, dissembler, Augustus laid the patient groundwork for precisely that pan-mediterranean empire that his predecessor understood had to be. Augustus did it by means of something that might be called a “Roman Option.”
He gave instructions that Roman citizenship was to liberally granted, not to every unwashed metic, but to as many responsible middle class types as possible. At the same time he encouraged the extension of Roman malls, theatres and manners wherever possible.. New Romans were to be welcomed into the Roman Senate and lesser regional senates were to be established throughout the Empire.
It worked. Within a hundred years, Rome was ruled by emperors born in Spain or Gaul or Africa. Within two hundred years, the Greeks were called Romanoi. De facto, Augustus had created the Mediterranean Empire that was the apotheosis of the Ancient World (in the West).
But the “original” Romans themselves remained fat, lazy and self-enfatuated. The vitality of empire passed to the peripheries while the center itself remained degenerate and decayed. It is almost impossible to comprehend how debased the Romans had become. The saying that made the rounds in the Empire’s closing decades was: Ridet et Moritur
She laughs and expires. Romans were literally at the Games when Alaric besieged the capital in 410. They had come to “expect’ empire. Their legions marched off to battle with glistening armour animated by the strong expectation that they had a right to win. Increasingly they lost. Increasingly they paid off their enemies and, in the end, by the Sixth Century, when the Germans had taken over the Western Empire, the name “Roman” had become an insult.
As is well known, Gibbon blamed Christianity, for this rotting from within. But that, in my opinion, was his delightfully sarcastic Enlightenment prejudice. To a certain degree, Christianity did reflect a “turn inward” but of all the many cults and gnosticisms that rampaged the Empire in its later days, Christianity was, in fact, one of the more socially focused and practical.
It is also somewhat stretched to think that Romans were fussing about all the theological controversies Gibbon so sardonically ridicules. No doubt then, as now, there were those fought over unseen fundamentalisms and those who exploited such fantasmagoric convictions political advantage. The Pagan-Christian squabble over the statue of Victory in the Senate Hall remains a paradigmatic example of mankind's propensity for factionalism "even where no substantial occasion exists." (Madison, Federalist Paper 10) But closer to the heart of Roman degeneracy the fact that they confused their past achievements with their present capacities and had come to expect the good things in life as a birthright. They became, in Gibbon’s word, “ennervated” and despised those who actually worked and fought for a living as crude lower people.
Without any irony Americans are pleased to think of themselves “as Romans” Alas, the analogy holds. At all levels, Americans are a people infused by a sense of “entitlement” -- not simply to welfare or food stamps (that’s the least part of it) but to a “consumer life style” purchased, now, on easy credit, to be paid off tomorrow sometime, if ever. This entitlement is buttressed by the a phalanx of absurd prejudices, artfully fanned by the corporate media
We are a Light unto the nations; the freest most succcessful society ever.Selfishness is taken for individuality and self-reliance morphs into nastiness against the less fortunate. The actual deficit of either bravery or freedom is made up for by vicariously enjoyed brutality and indifference to cruelty.
We are a nation of hardy invidivuals; the most powerful country in the world and we kick ass
There are, as everywhere and at all times, decent and thoughtful Americans. But the country as a whole tailors to the image of the indulent slob who confuses his present capacities with his past prowess while living in the clarity of mythical simplicities.
The artfulness of Augustus -- what makes him great in the eyes of history -- is that ultimately he used his deceptions for some concept of the greater historical good. Hoodwinking his own people and despite them he laid the foundations for what became the Western World. Hardly a shabby accomplishment.
To say that there is no Augustus on the American horizon is an understatement. The corporate caesars who rule this country and shroud their boardrooms in darkness do so not for any exalted vision of the common good, but for their own rapacious profit. If Rome was plundered from outside, America is plundered from within.
Thousands of the industrial proletariate have forever been thrown out onto the streets as US enterprises shipped jobs overseas and then paid their whores in the press to whip up anti-immigrant hysterias.
The middle class whose shrinking wealth was puffed up by easy credit has had its holdings wiped out by a financial bubble which has come close to bankrupting the world’s economy. Two adminsitrations have flooded bank coffers with trillions of dollars and yet, after unloading themselves of toxic assets and refusing to refinance crushing mortgage terms, the banks not only refuse to lend even to prime customers but are closing down their retail operations. This is a “Fuck You” to America on a colossal scale.
After declaring bankruptcy on the broken back of unions, car manufacturers undercuts their own dealers and sell directly on the internet. Most of its sales are overseas anyhow.
To say, as the Mudia do, that consumer confidence is “down” ignores the more salient fact that “confidence” is down because wherewithall is nill. In this last month, actual unemployment rose to between 16 and 18 percent. Defying the worst prognostications, available credit sank by 20 billion and 35 millions or 12% of the country is on food stamps.
By all real indicators, the economy is imploding; but this fact is papered over by statistics that take into account the astronomical asset plunder of the upper one percent. This is much like saying GDP was “up” under Ghengis Khan.
There are, in fact, two economies: theirs and ours. To date, none of the Obama Administration’s nostrums have actually worked in favor of the working man or to stimulate a real productive economy. Now comes the Obama Administration with a health reform proposal that will require everyone to buy into one of the most sinister and evil scams the economic world as ever seen --- the U.S. medico insurance complex.
Is Obama’s proposal an Augustan Artifice, giving lip service to the sacred free market taboo while creating a new reality or is it just a timid cave in to corporate caesars? It is hard to say because thus far he has been low key, cryptic, equivocal which is, to be sure, the very essence of Augustan statesmanship. But the details that have thus far emerged provide “incentives” without “requirements” That was the same approach that has allowed banks to literally walk away from all socially economic responsibility while pocketting billions.
Disguised or not, without directly imposing standards on the medico-insurance complex the villainy will simply find new and improved ways to exploit the public. We need not repeat the horrors of this “uniquely American” monstruousity. What might be worth knowing is who profits from it.
- Ronald A. Williams, Chair/ CEO, Aetna Inc., $23,045,834 per annum,
- H. Edward Hanway, Chair/ CEO, Cigna Corp, $30.16 million
- David B. Snow, Jr, Chair/ CEO, Medco Health, $21.76 million
- Michael B. MCallister, CEO, Humana Inc, $20.06 million
- Stephen J. Hemsley, CEO, UnitedHealth Group, $13,164,529
- Dale B. Wolf, CEO, Coventry Health Care, $20.86 million
- Jay M. Gellert, President/ CEO, Health Net, $16.65 million
- Raymond McCaskey, CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield), $10.3 million
- Angela F. Braly, President/ CEO, Wellpoint, $9,094,771
- Michael F. Neidorff, CEO, Centene Corp, $8,750,751
- Todd S. Farha, CEO, WellCare Health Plans, $5,270,825
- Daniel P. McCartney, CEO, Healthcare Services Group, Inc, $ 1,061,513
- William C. Van Faasen, Chairman, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, $3 million
- Cleve L. Killingsworth, President/CEO Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, $3.6 million
- Charlie Baker, President/ CEO, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, $1.5 million
- James Roosevelt, Jr., CEO, Tufts Associated Health Plans, $1.3 million
- Daniel Loepp, CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, $1,657,555
And while they themselves are thus destroyed what do Amurkans do? Twitter et moritur.
So as I look out at the U.S. panorama today, I think back to Rome and Germany. Our political parties are as spineless and oppotunistic as Weimar’s and our people are as arrogant and enfeebled as the later Romans. There is no grass roots party with a true fire in its belly and there is no statesman with the long view and subtle artifice of an Augustus.