The bitter end

Submitted by Django on June 19, 2011

1. Holocaust

Anti-Semitism had been a central plank of Nazi ideology. First it articulated the fightback of the German middle class against organised labour and economic uncertainty. Then it provided the rationale for an eastern expansion, and the hierarchy of races. In defeat, anti-Semitism assumed grotesque proportions in the extermination of six million Jews. Daniel Goldhagen was right when he wrote that 'the German perpetrators' understanding of their enemy was hallucinatory' (Goldhagen, 1997: 446). After the failure of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, the extermination of the Jewish race became a compensation for defeat. 'The Jews will certainly be the losers in this war, whatever happens', wrote Goebbels in March 1943, at a point when it was already apparent that Germany would be the loser (1948: 242).

Observing from afar, Franz Neumann wrote in 1944 that 'so vast a crime as the extermination of the Eastern Jews' was an attempt to make the masses 'perpetrators and accessories in that crime and make it therefore impossible for them to leave the Nazi boat' (Neumann, 1966: 552). This was Goebbels view as well, recorded in his diary a year earlier: 'On the Jewish question we have taken a position from which there is no escape'. 'Experience shows that a movement and a people that has burned their bridges fight with much greater determination than those who can still retreat', he added (Goebbels, 1948: 200). Though Einsatzegruppe Commandos perpetrated sporadic slaughters of Jews in 1941, the decision to coordinate the extermination in camps was made at the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942, after the Wehrmacht had been pushed 200 miles back from Moscow (Mayer, 1990: 265, 290). As historian Arno Mayer has insisted, the holocaust cannot be understood outside of the context of the German war and the failure of Operation Barbarossa (Mayer, 1990: 34). The extermination policy intensified as the Wehrmacht was driven back, culminating in the 'death marches', where camp guards drove their inmates to death rather than leave them to be liberated.

The relationship between the eastern war and the extermination of the Jews can be seen in the places that they were taken from. Three million of the six million Jews killed came from Poland, nearly one million from the other East European countries (Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Danzig), 700,000 from the Soviet Union. In Western Europe, the greatest numbers killed came from Germany -over 120,000, plus 50,000 from Austria, 100,000 from the Netherlands and 75,000 from France (Hilberg, 1985: 339).

2. 'Overpaid, oversexed, and over here'

The arrival of the American troops in Britain signalled the eclipse of British military hegemony. Though America's European mobilisation was smaller than Britain's, the superior quality of the soldiers' equipment, supplies and uniforms provoked a sullen response, 'overpaid, oversexed and over here'. More practically, the American High Command was blunt when it disagreed with British policy. Back in 1923, Leon Trotsky had deduced from the shifting balance of power that 'the victory of the U.S. over Europe, that is, first and foremost over England, is inevitable' (Europe and America). But Britain's defeat by the US was masked by their common struggle against Germany, saving Churchill's blushes, if not the dominance of the British Empire.

3. Liberation

The D-Day landings of 6 June 1944 opened the Second Front in Normandy. The impending liberation of the occupied powers by the United States caused difficulties for the ruling elites in those countries compromised by collaboration. According to a waspish De Gaulle, 'In 1944, the Americans cared no more about liberating France than did the Russians about liberating Poland' (Revel, 2004). For viable capitalist states to be recreated, it was necessary for the elites to lay claim to the efforts of the Resistance. M.R.D. Foot points out the curiosity that 'the local communist parties in western Europe, though much more numerous and sophisticated than their Greek opposite numbers, made no effective move towards seizing power' (Foot, 1976: 70). Instead they let the fruit of their efforts fall into the hands of ruling classes who had largely collaborated with the Nazis. Foot, downplaying the practical contribution of the Resistance, insisted on its moral importance: 'It gave back to the people in the occupied countries the self-respect they lost in the moment of the occupation' (Foot, 1976: 319). Taking advantage of the political hiatus, the Allies simply moved in to restore the elites to power. When Italian partisans arrived to arrest Fiat director and collaborator Vittorio Valletta, they found an English officer in his villa, waiting to present a safe conduct pass on his behalf (Ginsborg, 1990: 23).

4. Restoring the nation-state

Between 1935 and 1945 every European state bar Britain and the neutrals, (Switzerland, Ireland) had been invaded, overrun or over-thrown at least once. National ruling elites on mainland Europe were hopelessly compromised by collaboration with Fascism, and dependent upon the United States - or the USSR - for their security. The compelling question is why did the nation-state, so easily overthrown in wartime, return in peacetime as the archetypal form of political organisation.

In 1943 the US State Department exhibited a disdain for national sovereignty while looking at proposals for an international Bill of Rights: 'a barrier to state supremacy and racial superiority which are inimical to individual rights'. But pragmatically they had to acknowledge that there was no international government to enforce individual rights (Sellars, 2002: xii). The first reason for the re-establishment of nation-states in Europe was the limit of US power. Eisenhower felt he was 'invading Italy on a shoestring', being heavily outnumbered by German and Italian troops. This, according to Stephen Ambrose, was the reason that the US recognised Marshall Badoglio and King Victor Emmanuel's post-Mussolini government (Ambrose, 1981: 58). Though the US had the firepower to overthrow the collaborationist regimes, it lacked the resources to exercise continuing authority: 'Roosevelt privately confessed to Churchill that he doubted he could keep American troops in Europe for more than a year or so after the end of hostilities' (Ambrose, 1981: 72). According to economist and historian John Willoughby, American recognition of native German authorities was driven forwards by the collapse of military discipline in the post-war occupation (2001).

Though national elites were disgraced by their collaboration, the national idea was saved by the partisans: 'the legitimacy of post-war regimes and governments essentially resisted on their resistance record', according to Eric Hobsbawm (1994: 164). General De Gaulle's claim that 'eternal France' had never been defeated is essentially untrue. France had been defeated. More than that, its ruling elite had been craven in defeat, preferring Hitler to Blum (Clinton, 2002: 65). But the efforts of the French resistance, and principally of the militant working class minority, saved France's honour. While the ruling class was indifferent to national sovereignty, Stalinism remained wedded to one country, even to the point of putting off socialism to a later date. The moral deficit of the European national ruling elites was a persistent problem, and one that predisposed them to transnational institutions after the war.

5. Restoring the Empires

Describing a parade of Free French troops in Tunis on 20 May 1943, Macmillan qualifies his admiration 'the great majority of the French were of course natives’ (Macmillan, 1984: 89). The Socialists in the French Resistance put off the moment of colonial freedom to a future date, proposing 'the gradual emancipation of the native peoples'. But even this cautious promise was too much for the patriotic Communists, who struck it out of the Common Resistance Programme on the grounds that it would exclude the right (Clinton, 2002: 155). Amongst the natives fighting to liberate France were the future Algerian resistance leader Ahmed Ben Bella, who was awarded the Military Medal by General de Gaulle in person, and a Martinican medic, Frantz Fanon, attached to the Sixth Regiment Tirailleurs Sénégalais (6RTS). The 6RTS, who were much feared by the Germans for their tenacity in close quarter fighting, took part in the liberation of France, but were denied 'the military glory of crossing the Rhine into Germany' (Macey, 2000: 100). On 12 April 1945, Fanon concluded that he had joined up 'to defend an obsolete ideal' (Macey, 2000: 103). On 8 May, as Paris celebrated its liberation, crowds came out in Algiers adding banners for their own independence. French troops opened fire on the crowd, inaugurating five days of skirmishes that left 40 000 Algerians dead (Macey, 2000: 206). The Free French fought most of their war from the colonies with colonial troops, but Tunisia, Algeria, Senegal, Côte D'Ivoire and the others had to wait another twenty years for their independence.

The legal basis of the restoration of the European Empires was contained in an agreement made at Yalta, at the time of the Declaration on Liberated Europe. Churchill succeeded in persuading the Americans to exclude British and other Allies territories from the United Nations Trusteeship system, which would have seen them more rapidly opened up to US trade (Pijl, 1984: 135). This moderation of the Open Door policy was a sign that the US, in accepting the role of World Policeman, was also prepared to cooperate with the former colonial powers where they were able to restore order. At the same time, the moral basis of Empire, racial supremacy, was irreparably damaged by the association with Nazism. 'It seems to me that our own outlook on Colonial Policy is being recast', wrote Lord Hailey of the British Colonial Office, arguing that the Empire must stand on its promise of material betterment to subject peoples (Wolton, 2000, 133).

6. War Guilt

In 1940 the Ministry of Information launched an Anger Campaign to instil 'personal anger… against the German people and Germany', because the British were 'harbouring little sense of real personal animus against the average German' (Maclaine, 1979: 143). Sir Robert Vansittart of the Foreign Office gave a series of Radio Broadcasts (later collated into his Black Book) listing German wickedness over the ages, with the lesson that they were an intrinsically wicked people. The MOI's surveys suggested that British public were not so sure, some were even concerned that the 'effect of Vanittartism might eventually hamper an equitable solution after the war' (Maclaine, 1979: 156). In America, it was Treasury Secretary J Henry Morgenthau who put up the strongest argument for punishing Germany in a proposal to the Quebec Conference in September 1944 that became known as the Morgenthau plan for reducing the country to pastoralism by destroying its industry. A paper on the 'German Character' by Brigadier W.E. van Cutsem distributed to all personnel in the British Occupation Zone warned that 'Germans are not divided into good and bad Germans', that 'the sadistic trait is not peculiar to the Nazis' and that 'they exult death rather than life' (Meehan, 2001: 55). The American equivalent 'occupation booklet' told GIs that 'before the German people can learn how to govern themselves' they have to learn that 'their acceptance of the Nazi leadership made their defeat necessary' - not the defeat of the Nazi regime, not the liberation of the German people from the Nazi regime, but the defeat of the German people was needed (Willoughby, 2001: 102)

The effect of the 'collective guilt' idea was that it diluted the actual guilt of the Nazis and their supporters, while heaping blame on the German working class whose political defeat had been the overriding purpose of the Fascist regime. The new regime embraced the metaphysical concept of collective guilt, while turning a blind eye to the actual guilt of identifiable individuals. But when German workers pressed their claims, they were chided to remember that they, like all Germans, were guilty, and perhaps, as Churchill argued, after 'a generation of self-sacrifice, toil and education, something might be done with the German people' (Eisenberg, 1996: 24). When rations in the British and American Zones of Germany fell below 1100 calories provoking protests, officials explained 'the short answer is that Germany lost the war', while a delegation from the Medical Research Council dismissed complaints about children's rations on the grounds that they 'would have been regarded as satisfactory in England not so very long ago' - in other words, they had brought the problem on themselves (Meehan, 2001: 253, 248). Collective guilt was an ideology that legitimised first the Allies' rule, and then later the West German government's, while de-legitimating any claims made by the population. It also the ideological hold of an idea originally fashioned by the Nazis fashioned when they sought to implicate Germans in the 'final solution' of the Jewish question and so bind them to the regime.

7. The dead

At the war's end, the Soviet Union lost the most people, 13.6 million soldiers and 7.7 million civilians, a total of 21.3 million. In the European theatre, the next highest loss was Germany, at seven million (of whom 3.25m were troops and 3.81m were civilians) plus another 525,000 Austrians. Poland lost almost as many, 6.85m, of whom almost half were Jews. Yugoslavia lost 1.7 million, and Romania nearly one million. Not counting Germany, French losses were highest in Western Europe at 810 000, while Britain lost 388,000 (which is less than Greece at 520,000), mostly troops. American losses are entirely military, marginally less than Britain's at 295,000. In the Pacific Theatre, China lost ten million civilians and a million soldiers, while Japan lost 1.5 million soldiers and 300,000 civilians.

Primarily this was a war fought in the East. The less developed the country, the more lives it lost, and the higher the proportion of civilian losses. The German military killed the most people, but the German civilian population paid the highest price in Western Europe. German military losses were ten times those of Britain, five times those of Britain and America combined. Yugoslavia lost as many troops as Britain or America. Poland lost twice as many civilians as Germany. Soviet losses dwarfed them all. All told 60 million died, one tenth of them Jews selected for extermination, another tenth, Germans, one third of them Soviet troops and civilians.

8. Occupying Germany

US President Roosevelt outlined the 'four freedoms' on which the new world must be founded in a speech to congress on 6 January 1941: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The four freedoms became the moral basis for the allied forces' occupation of the continent. They put a priority on civil rights at the liberal end of the political spectrum, and on social rights (freedom from want) and security at the other end - but representative democracy was not a priority (The Atlantic Charter did 'respect the right of peoples to choose the government under which they will live' but only undertook to restore 'sovereign rights' to those who had been 'forcibly deprived of them', i.e. occupied Europe, but not the former Axis powers).

The practical challenge of ruling Germany would draw out the differences between the Allies, between a punitive peace and reconstruction, and between West and East. At Yalta, in February 1945, everybody favoured a punitive peace, with reparations for those nations damaged by Germany. In September 1945, an American paper to the Allied Control Authority's Directorate of Economics called 'A Minimum German Standard of Living in Relation to the Level of Industry', which proposed that industrial and agricultural output should be held down to the level of 1932 - the worst year of the depression in Germany (Willoughby, 2001: 91).

In August 1950, British High Commissioner Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick issued a press release rubbishing the idea that 'in the matter of dismantling or of restrictions on German industry England has been influenced by the desire to throttle German competition', adding that 'there is no danger that petty considerations such as fear of German competition will influence our policy'. In private, however, the 'petty consideration' of throttling German competition dominated British policy. Lord Cherwell thought that 'it should be possible to reach an agreement with the Russians by which they would take existing German machinery, raw materials and forced labour, while we should take Germany's export markets'. Labour's Herbert Morrison, then Lord President of the Allied Control Council, advised the Prime Minister to 'start shaping the German economy in the way which … will run the least risk of it developing into an unnecessarily awkward competitor'. Plans were drawn up 'for the total elimination of major shipyards, the equipment of which is to be allocated to reparations or destroyed'. British industries, including Courtaulds, Unilever and ICI, seconded staff to the British Civil Service to take part in the dismantling, so that they could grab machinery and technology, (Meehan, 2001: 228, 200, 207, 201, 230, 231). French, British, American and Soviet occupiers all used Germans as forced labour. British and American forces gave the French 55 000 and 800 000 prisoners respectively. Britain took 400 000 German prisoners back home to work. America had some 600 000 at work in Europe and America (Bacque, 1997: 61).

But British and American policies on German industry were bound to diverge. For the less competitive Britain, the economy was a zero-sum game, in which any German success could only be to Britain's detriment. Lord Plowden admitted that the growth of Britain’s foreign trade was due in large measure to Germany’s temporary eclipse as a supplier of capital equipment (Monnet, 1978, 279). When 'American dollars are propping up Ruhr steel' warned the Communist Party's William Gallacher, 'the outlook for this country will become darker than ever before' (Gallacher, 1951: 111. Gallacher had long since subordinated the cause of his class to that of his nation).

For the more competitive US, by contrast, increased prosperity was a win-win game, as German expansion would create new markets for America, and provide new resources. On 8 May 1947 Secretary of State Dean Acheson announced that America would 'push ahead with the reconstruction of those two great workshops of Europe and Asia - Germany and Japan' (Acheson, 1969: 260). It was a decision that arose primarily from practical needs, both to withdraw from direct responsibility for Europe, and to secure the continent as a destination for US exports in the future.

9. Denazification

Between 1945 and 1949 six million Germans went through the 'denazification' process, after every adult had been required to complete a questionnaire outlining their past activities and allegiances. Of these one million were classified as followers, 25 000 offenders and just 2000 major offenders. Subsequent judgement on denazification have been dismissive. Historian Mark Mazower judged that 'these purges left intact the same structures of power through which the Germans ruled Europe: local civil servants, police, business organizations and the press' (Mazower, 1998: 211).

At the same time, more recent studies by Canadian author James Bacque, and Patricia Meehan, a BBC documentarist who worked in Germany in 1946 have pointed to Allied excesses in the treatment of German civilians (though see Ambrose, 1991, for a critique of Bacque). Seven hundred thousand were kept in camps, of whom 56,000 died (Ambrose, 1991). 'We have 40,000 to 50,000 Germans still in concentration camps … the only right and proper description there is for these institutions', worried Wing Commander Norman Hulbert MP in 1946 (Meehan, 2001: 73). After inmates died under interrogation at Bad Nennsdorf camp, the British had to field accusations of torture in the press with an internal investigation. In 1954 a review of eighty war-criminal cases under Sir Alexander Maxwell found there were only 25 in which a conviction would have been justified (Meehan, 2001: 86). No doubt the blunt instrument of mass detention was useful in dictating terms to the German population, when thousands were protesting against the dismantling of industries, and the Hesse Land voted overwhelmingly to nationalise industries, only to be overruled by US General Lucius D Clay (Pulzer, 1995: 43).

But how was it that denazification process could be judged both excessive and insufficient at the same time? The answer is that Allied policy changed from punitive, to ameliorative in the space of a few years. H Stuart Hughes explained the injustice that implied: 'frequently it proved simpler to try the lesser offenders first, since their cases were easier to untangle'. But over time more amnesties were granted before the denazification process ground to a halt in 1949. 'Thus many insignificant people who had been tried earlier received heavy penalties, while some important offenders whose cases had been postponed escaped scot-free' (Hughes, 1981: 404-5).

The shift in policy was in the first place pragmatic. The Allies could not get Germany working without using former Nazi Party members and supporters in the Civil Service and Industry. Initial attempts to sideline the old regime were hampered by 'the fact they had to rely upon German employees with little training, little experience, little stake in the community and strong leftist leanings', according to historian John Gimbel (Willoughby, 2001: 76).

10. Spheres of Influence

Postwar reconstruction of Germany was premised upon currency reform. The Nazis financed the war effort by printing money and issuing bonds, increasing the money supply by 800 per cent and Reich Debt by 3000 per cent. Inflation however was kept in check by coercive price and wage controls. At the same time the money stock increased, output in the Western Occupied Zone had fallen by 60 per cent between 1944 and 1946. Initially, the occupiers kept the Nazi price and wage controls in place. But in 1948 they introduced a new currency, the Deutsch Mark, issuing DM60 to each person in exchange for RM60. The net effect was a reduction of the money stock by 93.5 per cent as all savings over RM60 were wiped out (Pugh, 1998). Currency reform was bitter medicine, but did restore confidence in the Mark at a time when nearly a third of all industrial output had to be bartered.

The reform, however, excluded the Soviet Zone, crystallising the difference between the two 'systems'. Soviet retaliation, an attempted blockade of Berlin was faced down, and the Cold War had officially begun. Despite the rhetorical confrontation, however, the West had long accepted that it could not challenge Soviet authority in Eastern Europe. The principle of 'spheres of influence' had already been established by America and Britain's occupation of Italy without reference to their Soviet ally in 1943. At the Foreign Office, Sir William Strang thought that it was better that Russia should dominate Eastern Europe than that Germany should dominate Western Europe' (Mazower, 1998: 229). In Moscow Churchill and Stalin formalised the carve-up writing down on a scrap of paper a list of where Western influence would predominate and where the Soviets would hold sway.

The practical reality was that the Allies were in no position to extend eastwards. Not because of the strength of the Red Army, nor because of the superiority of the Soviet system, but because Western capitalism lacked the resources and the dynamic to develop the east. Far from expanding, the destruction of the war years saw the contraction of the market system as capital was repatriated from the developing world back to reconstruct Europe. The boundaries of the 'free world' were not set by troops alone, but by the involution of the market system, such that it had little to offer the East. The ascendance of Stalinism was less to do with its intrinsic strength than the collapse of capitalism into war and territorial retrenchment.