From the Vaults: Encounter, December 1984

In the first issue of Standpoint, Daniel Johnson, the editor of the magazine declared that the mission of Standpoint was to be the new Encounter. This was a lofty but admirable aim as Encounter, which ran from 1953 through to 1990, was a wonderful magazine.  As Frances Stonor Saunders explains (Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War [Granta Books, 2000]), Encounter “held a central position in post war intellectual history.”

The magazine ran at a loss and its financial backers included those who had a “principal interest in … a vehicle for communicating anti-Communist ideas to intellectuals in Asia, India and the Far East.” It is highly unlikely that the writers for the magazine knew who had been providing financial support. This changed in April 1967 when Ramparts revealed that the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which supported the magazine, had received substantial funds from the CIA. As well as CIA financing, the British government also provided financial assistance by paying a salary to one of the editors and bulk purchasing copies of the magazine for distribution. For those interested in this history, as well as Frances Stonor Saunders’ account, one can read Hugh Wilford’s more recent book, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA played America (Harvard University Press, 2008).

Below, I copy an extract from an essay entitled “Was Hitler a Marxist?” that appeared in the December 1984 issue of Encounter.  Sadly the article does have some flaws as the author positively cites Hermann Rauschning’s 1939 book, Hitler Speaks, which is not necessarily reliable and the translation that the author used of an article by Friedrich Engels  is also open to question. Nevertheless, I do believe that the extract  I copy below is worthwhile reading.

Was Hitler a Marxist?

Reflections about certain Affinities

George Watson

Encounter, Vol. LXIII, No. 5, December 1984, pp.19-23.

… [W]hen the young Adolf Hitler was not painting, or sleeping, he was reading voraciously in books borrowed from Munich libraries – among them the writings of another revolutionary thinker, Karl Marx. That bout of study lasted for over a year…. And he read around it as well as in it:

“I immersed myself in the theoretical literature of this new world, trying to be clear about its possible effects.”

…. I want to argue that Hitler did find Marxism useful in life, even indispensable, and that recent historians of Nazism have failed … to tell what he was thinking. And they have failed because … they have missed the evidence under their noses. They have missed Hitler’s Marxism….

Several years ago … I suggested that the Nazi exterminations of 1941-45 may have been directly inspired by Stalin’s Russia, which by then had a good twenty years of exterminating experience. Hard as Soviet evidence is to collect, Communist extermination beyond doubt came first; and it is likely enough that the Nazis borrowed from it after 1941. After all, they had been allies of the Russians by then for two years….

It is no longer widely known that Marx, Engels and some of their socialist successors believed in genocide, declared that belief, and held it because they were socialists….

Since the 1930s we have convinced ourselves that Fascists believed in race war and Marxists in class war; and we were wrong. Marx and Engels publicly declared that whole nations as well as whole classes would have to be exterminated. And that, they proclaimed, was essential to any advanced doctrine of scientific socialism.

It is sometimes thought that the 1849 Marx-Engels programme for … extermination dropped out of site in modern socialist debate, a forgotten morel. It may be forgotten now by political scientists, perhaps out of embarrassment: it was not forgotten in the early decades of this century. Stalin alluded to it approvingly in The Foundations of Leninism (1924) some months after Lenin’s death when he was laying hands on power…. Stalin’s argument is frankly genocidal, and his warrant for genocide is the 1849 article. The Soviet state, Stalin argues, will have to destroy whole peoples who stand in the revolutionary path….

The socialist programme of nation-killing in 1849 had been German in emphasis. Some nations are bearers of progress, Engels believed, others (mostly Slavs) are not. Being counter-revolutionary, they must “perish….” [S]ocialism will leave them so far in the rear as to be irreclaimable. They are “Völkerabfall” he argues …  and their fate is to disappear with new socialist order. Genocide is progressive in these terms: “… and that too is progress.”

The Marx-Engels hit list for historical progress was a curious one, and it had little to do with Jews. In fact Marx’s famous essay on “The Jewish Question” can so easily be exculpated as a programme for extermination (though not as a programme for repression) that it may well have contributed to a glib neglect of other evidences of genocide in the Marx-Engels corpus…. Engels language in 1849 is uncompromising….

[It contains a] touch of Mein Kampf … in its rhetoric. And Hitler, if he ever read the article, may have relished Engels’s concluding sentences most of all:

“The next world war will cause not only reactionary classes and dynasties, but also entire reactionary peoples, to disappear from the earth. And that too is progress.”

…. In what sense was Hitler a socialist? What was Hitler’s probable knowledge of the socialist tradition of the 1840s, in favour of exterminating whole categories of mankind?

It is certain that Hitler read widely in Marxist literature….. Hitler never called himself a Marxist in public. He came surprisingly close, however, to calling himself one in private…. In the early biography of Conrad Heiden (1936-37), he is reported as finding Trotsky’s memoirs nothing less than “brilliant” … an unexpected reaction from one who passed into history as readily hostile to anything Communist. But the truth is that official Communism was objectionable to Hitler, less because it was too radical than because it was too tame…..

A different translation of “The Magyar Struggle” by Friedrich Engels can be seen freely on line at marxists.org. Even with this translation, the genocidal argument is clear:

Among all the large and small nations of Austria, only three standard-bearers of progress took an active part in history, and still retain their vitality — the Germans, the Poles and the Magyars. Hence they are now revolutionary.

All the other large and small nationalities and peoples are destined to perish before long in the revolutionary world storm. For that reason they are now counter-revolutionary….

The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is a step forward.