Posts Tagged ‘nazism’

“The interpretation of fascism as an instrument of big business has been classic since Daniel Guerin. But the seriousness of his analysis conceals a central error. Most of the “marxist” studies maintain the idea that, in spite of everything, fascism was avoidable in 1922 or 1933. Fascism is reduced to a weapon used by capitalism at a certain moment. According to these studies capitalism would not have turned to fascism if the workers’ movement had exercised sufficient pressure rather than displaying its sectarianism. Of course we wouldn’t have had a “revolution”, but at least Europe would have been spared Nazism, the camps, etc. Despite some very accurate observations on social classes, the State, and the connection between fascism and big business, this perspective succeeds in missing the point that fascism was the product of a double failure; the defeat of the revolutionaries who were crushed by the social democrats and their liberal allies; followed by the failure of the liberals and social democrats to manage Capital effectively. The nature of fascism and its rise to power remain incomprehensible without studying the class struggles of the preceding period and their limitations.”

– Gilles Dauve, Fascism/Antifascism. Translation of 

« Bilan » Contre-Révolution en Espagne. Edmonton, Black Cat Press: 1982. 

(via forestrebel)

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““Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi Party” is an intentionally obnoxious line from the hilarious “Springtime for Hitler” in Mel Brook’s The Producers. Not hilarious is the reality that doctors in Nazi Germany were “smarties” in Brook’s sardonic sense, as they joined the Nazi SS in a far higher proportion than the German general population. Also not funny is that U.S. doctors and healthcare professionals—from their “aiding torture” (description used in the CIA Inspector General’s Report) at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere to the more recent drugging of detained child migrants—have served U.S. authoritarian policies.

In the Journal of Medical Ethics in 2012, Alessandra Colaianni reports “More than 7% of all German physicians became members of the Nazi SS during World War II, compared with less than 1% of the general population… . By 1945, half of all German physicians had joined the Nazi party, 6% before Adolf Hitler gained power.” Colaianni points out, “Physicians joined the Nazi party and the killing operations not at gunpoint, not by force, but of their own volition.”

Colaianni offers several explanations for doctors’ penchant for authoritarianism—reasons that continue to exist today. Two of her explanations are doctors’ socialization to hierarchy and their exceptional career ambitiousness. “Medical culture is,” she concludes “in many ways, a rigid hierarchy… . Those at the lower end of the hierarchy are used to doing what their superiors ask of them, often without understanding exactly why… . Questioning superiors is often uncomfortable, for fear both of negative consequences (retaliation, losing the superior’s respect) and of being wrong.” She also points out, “Becoming a doctor requires no small amount of ambition… .The stereotypical pre-medical student [is] ruthlessly competitive, willing to do anything to get ahead.”“

“Authoritarian” is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “characterized by or favoring absolute obedience to authority.” Authoritarians in power demand unquestioning obedience from those with lower rank, and authoritarian subordinates comply with all demands of authorities.

I have a special interest in authoritarianism among psychiatrists and psychologists. In their schooling and training (and often beyond that), they live for many years in a world where one complies with the demands of all authorities, and so their patients who challenge authority and resist illegitimate authority appear to be “abnormal” and “mentally ill.”

In my training to become a psychologist, I discovered that students, trainees, and subordinate mental health professionals who challenged authorities routinely got labeled as having “authority issues,” which stigmatizes them in terms of career advancement. Both the selection and socialization of mental health professionals breed out most anti-authoritarians, and the handful of anti-authoritarians who manage to slither through the academic hoops to obtain their degrees have all, from my experience, paid a career price for challenging illegitimate authority. And that punishment has intimidated other mental health professionals from taking an anti-authoritarian path.

Corroborating my personal experience of the retribution heaped upon those rare anti-authoritarian psychiatrists, the journal Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry (in 2017) devoted an issue to dissident psychiatrists Thomas Szasz (1920-2012) and his protégé, psychiatrist Ron Leifer (1932-2017).

Perhaps the most famous anti-authoritarian psychiatrist in U.S. history is Thomas Szasz. His The Myth of Mental Illness (1961) brought the wrath of the entire psychiatric establishment against him. Szasz continues today to be widely misunderstood. “He did not deny that people suffer mentally and emotionally,” Leifer pointed out, “He was not even denying mental illnesses exist. He acknowledged that they exist, but … not as diseases in the same sense that diabetes or pneumonia are diseases.” Szasz argued that “mental illness” is a metaphor for emotional and behavioral problems in living. Szasz has been widely accused of being anti-psychiatry, but what he opposed was coercive psychiatry. Szasz was a fierce opponent of involuntary psychiatric treatment, believing psychiatry and psychotherapy should only be utilized when there is informed choice and consent.

What was establishment psychiatry’s reaction to Szasz? Psychologist Chuck Ruby reports, “Starting immediately on his open revolt, Szasz’s colleagues ridiculed him, and they considered him a traitor to the profession of psychiatry.” Ruby, the Executive Director of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry, notes, “There were unsuccessful attempts by New York state officials to remove him as a professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University at Syracuse, and his superiors at the university attempted to goad him into quitting.” Szasz was a full professor with tenure; but the chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, David Robinson, according to Leifer, “tried to drive Szasz into insubordination so he could fire him.” Szasz ultimately had to hire a lawyer to defend and protect his tenured appointment.

Ron Leifer, lacking tenure, was far more vulnerable to a career “hit.” Leifer reported that he was “excommunicated” from academic psychiatry in 1966, “fired [by Robinson] in retaliation for publishing a book that was interpreted to be criticism of psychiatry.” Leifer recounted, “I applied at other departments of psychiatry … but was rejected because of my association with Szasz. So much for the free expression of ideas in academic psychiatry!”

Then there is the case of Loren Mosher (1933–2004), the psychiatrist perhaps most respected by ex-patients who have become activists fighting for human rights. In 1968, Mosher became the National Institute of Mental Health’s Chief of the Center for Schizophrenia Research. In 1971, he launched an alternative approach for people diagnosed with schizophrenia, opening the first Soteria House in Santa Clara, California. Soteria House was an egalitarian and non-coercive psychosocial milieu employing nonprofessional caregivers. The results showed that people do far better with the Soteria approach than with standard psychiatric treatment, and that people can in fact recover with little or no use of antipsychotic drugs. Mosher’s success embarrassed establishment psychiatry and displeased the pharmaceutical industry. Not surprisingly, the National Institute of Mental Health choked off Soteria House funding, and Mosher was fired from NIMH in 1980.

Dissident psychiatrists are a rare breed, and those whom I have known tell me that the attempted hit on Szasz and the successful hits on Leifer and Mosher were as predictable as any hit by La Cosa Nostra (“our thing”)—as the psychiatry establishment is also not exactly tolerant of any challenges to “their thing.”

Anti-authoritarian patients should be especially concerned with psychiatrists and psychologists—even more so than with other doctors. While an authoritarian cardiothoracic surgeon may be an abusive jerk for a nursing staff, that surgeon can still effectively perform a necessary artery bypass for an anti-authoritarian patient. However, authoritarian psychiatrists and psychologists will always do damage to their anti-authoritarian patients.

Psychiatrists and psychologists are often unaware of the magnitude of their obedience, and so the anti-authoritarianism of their patients can create enormous anxiety and even shame for them with regard to their own excessive compliance. This anxiety and shame can fuel their psycho-pathologizing of any noncompliance that creates significant tension. Such tension includes an anti-authoritarian patient’s incensed reaction to illegitimate authority.

Anti-authoritarian helpers—far more commonly found in peer support—understand angry reactions to illegitimate authority, empathize with the pain fueling those reactions, and genuinely care about that pain. Having one’s behavior understood and pain cared about opens one up to dialogue as to how best to deal with one’s pain. Because anti-authoritarian mental health professionals are rare, angry anti-authoritarian patients will likely be “treated” by an authority who creates even more pain, which results in more self-destructiveness and violence.

It is certainly no accident that anti-authoritarian psychiatrists and psychologists are rare. Mainstream psychiatry and psychology meet the needs of the ruling power structure by pathologizing anger and depoliticizing malaise so as to maintain the status quo. In contrast, anti-authoritarians model and validate resisting illegitimate authority, and so anti-authoritarian professionals—be they teachers, clergy, psychiatrists, or psychologists—are not viewed kindly by the ruling power structure.”

– Bruce C. Levine, ““Don’t Be Stupid, Be a Smarty”: Why Anti-Authoritarian Doctors Are So Rare.” Counterpunch, August 16, 2018. (via quoms)

Source: antoine-roquentin

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Bertolt Brecht, War Primer 

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Fascism and Aesthetics
The rise of fascism in Europe was perhaps the epochal transformation of Benjamin’s era, and had menacing overtones for him as a radical and a Jew. Benjamin offers an original theory of fascism, which situates it within cultural transformations. He rejects both the orthodox Marxist view that fascism is simply a dictatorship of finance capital, and the progressivist view that it is some kind of premodern or anti-modern relapse into barbarism. Instead, he argues that capitalism arises from particular changes in everyday culture, or ‘ideology’ in an Althusserian sense, arising from the development of capitalism.

In the epilogue to ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin argues that fascism seeks to respond to proletarianisation and massification without altering the property structure. It does this by giving the masses ‘a chance to express themselves’, as a substitute for power. It offers emotional rewards instead of material rewards.

Fascism logically leads to the aestheticising of politics. Politics is turned into the production of beauty, according to a certain aesthetic. This is achieved through an immense apparatus for the ‘production of ritual values’. Benjamin is thinking of the Nazi propaganda-machine, with its choreographed torch-lit marches and rallies, iconic posters and statues, and films such as Triumph of the Will. This machine is widely recognised as a forerunner of the modern PR industry.

Fascism is thus partly a product of spectacle. Benjamin relates it to the spectacular nature of commodities, which are transformed in their presence from simple objects to spectacle or phantasmagoria. Fascism expands the logic of spectacle into the field of politics, with its charismatic leaders, eye-catching posters, movie-like Manichean discourse, torchlit rallies, and powerful logos and symbols.

According to Benjamin, fascism inevitably leads to war. War is the only way to channel mass movements and intense emotions, without challenging the property system. It simultaneously serves, in classic Marxist fashion, to channel the forces of production which are blocked by the property system.

Some Marxists see crises such as those of the 1930s and today as crises of overproduction. This means that capitalism is in crisis because it can’t get people to consume as much as it can produce, usually because people aren’t being paid enough. As a result, people are left unemployed and machines and factories are left idle. People who adhere to this theory see the Second World War as a resolution of the crisis of overproduction. The state artificially inflated demand by producing weapons. It then destroyed a lot of other resources by using them. This got people producing again, and was a way out of the crisis.

Benjamin is unusual in linking this account to the cultural usefulness of war. For Benjamin, war does not only serve capitalism by consuming resources. It also provides a way to channel intense emotions and frustrations which would otherwise destabilise the system.

Benjamin links the fascist aesthetic to the Futurist Marinetti’s claim that ‘war is beautiful’. The Futurists were a mainly Italian art movement whose work celebrated modern technology, speed and power. Initially progressive, some of them went over to fascism. Their aesthetic is often associated by Benjamin with fascism. He viewed them as symptomatic of the aspect of fascism which glorified technology.

The aspect of war which can most easily be aestheticised is the display of technology, and the power of human agents as masters of powerful technology. In order to aestheticise war, it is necessary to edit out human suffering, whether of soldiers or civilians. Benjamin suggests, however, that destruction is integral to the process. Humanity is now so alienated that it can contemplate its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure.

Marinetti expected war to supply sensory and aesthetic enjoyment in a world changed by technology. This is the ultimate in alienation. Humanity observes itself from outside, as an object of contemplation. Benjamin sees this as the culmination of the idea of ‘art for art’s sake’ – or in Marinetti’s slogan, ‘let art be created, let the world perish’. The appropriate response, according to Benjamin, is to politicise art.

War is further aestheticised by inter-war writers such as Ernst Jünger. In his ‘Theories of German Fascism’, engaging with Jünger, Benjamin extends his critique of fascistic trends in art. Jünger extends the idea of ‘art for art’s sake’ to war. (This ‘war for war’s sake’ also appears in Deleuze’s digression on the bad type of war machine, which takes war as its object).

Mass technological warfare is an image of everyday actuality – the destructiveness and meaninglessness of mass alienated technology. But it appears to the likes of Jünger as a magical force of eternal war. This leads to a ‘mystical’ view of war: the state must show itself worthy of the magical forces of war.

For Benjamin, this is not simply a matter of false consciousness. Rather, it is derived from a particular ‘primal experience’, or constitutive trauma. Jünger was a professional soldier for whom warfare is the natural or habitual environment. His literature defends his particular professional habitus, his conventional way of life. He simply celebrates what he is familiar with, without any basis for preferring it. Benjamin asks, ‘Where do you come from? And what do you know of peace?’ The criticism here is that Jünger and those like him can’t extol war as preferable to peace, because they only know war.

The authors of war literature, according to Benjamin, are expressing a particular class perspective. Many of them are specialist soldiers, commandos and engineers – the military equivalent of the managerial class. The ideology of endless war, of a magical power of war, is implicitly portrayed as a kind of class ideology of the elite soldier.

These former soldiers were to become the social basis for fascism, as Benjamin recognised. Many of them graduated from the army to the Freikorps to the Nazi Stormtroopers. Today, this underlines the importance of demobilising and reintegrating former soldiers – many of them economically disadvantaged and war-traumatised – in the aftermath of conflicts. It also underlines the persisting importance of militarised masculinity in the securitisation of civilian spaces.

According to Benjamin, the literature he refers to is an effect of World War 1. Technological warfare has exhibited a disastrous gap between massive destructive effects of technology, and minimal moral illumination arising from such effects. This produces a kind of meaninglessness (a common theme in Frankfurt School work). The main danger today stems from the difficulties in organising human relationships in accord with the relationship to nature and technology, so as to use technology as a key to happiness instead of destruction. In short, people are losing control of their technology because they retain competitive relationships which lead to mass destruction. Benjamin sees his era as having the last chance to overcome this discrepancy. This would be a transition to socialism through the conversion of the world war into a global civil war.

Technological warfare dispenses with the symbols of heroism. War has become akin to sports in that its achievements are not so much personal as ‘record-setting’ – how many are killed. The escalating power to kill in huge numbers associated with gas warfare (and later, nuclear weapons) renders war extremely risky, and predominantly offensive (rather than defensive). The protection of civilians is lost. The winner is now the side which conquers the war, not the adversary, and avoids losing control of its meanings and effects.”


Andrew Robinson, “Walter Benjamin: Fascism and Crisis.Ceasefire, August 14, 2013.

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“Who participated in supernatural thinking in Germany in the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s? Everyone? And do you think Nazis actually believed this stuff, or did they find it politically convenient?

Educated urban liberal elites and Jewish intellectuals were the least likely to embrace any of this as authentic, or see it as anything other than a pathology of modernity that was particularly strong in Austria and Germany and needed to be dealt with. They could see people they otherwise respected finding some of it interesting, and worried about that response, but they were almost universally opposed to it.

Then you have the German and Austrian middle and lower-middle classes. Traditional religious practice was waning over the course of the 19th century. World War I was really galvanizing in that regard because it called everything into question. Many people who were—well, I don’t want to use the term that some of the intellectuals at the time used, like “half-educated,” “semi-educated”; Theodor Adorno [said] “occultism is the metaphysic of dunces.” Let’s say, clearly these were people who were educated enough to want an alternative to traditional religion, to want to be able to argue scientifically or with authority about religion, science, and politics, and they’re finding these alternative doctrines and institutes and classes on parapsychology and tarot reading as a kind of supplement to the [disenchantment of] the world that occurred through industrialization. And that was true of millions of Germans and Austrians. (It was also true in Britain and France!)

Why did so many Nazis, in particular, believe it or find it interesting or see it as potentially helpful in manipulating the population? Because they grew up during a flowering of supernatural thinking across Germany and Austria. So even the Nazis who were skeptical recognized it as a profound theme. You have both Hitler and Goebbels in the 1920s acknowledging that ‘folkish [völkisch]’ thinkers are the ones most likely to join the Nazi Party. Many of these people want to wander around “clothed in bearskins,” as Hitler put it in Mein Kampf, talking about mystical runes. Now Hitler and Goebbels said, “That’s not what our movement is about.” So some people say, “You see, Hitler wasn’t into that!” But my question is why didn’t Churchill or Roosevelt or France’s Prime Minister Leon Blum have to write things like that to their constituents repeatedly? It’s because [supernatural thinking] wasn’t so intrinsic to [their] movements.

So to come back to France for a minute: In France, you don’t see the equivalent politicization and racialization of it. You have theosophy in Britain and America. But it’s a relatively harmless movement, where people get together in a drawing room and try to connect with spirits and write novels about Atlantis. But the concept of root races, which [H.P.] Blavatsky, the Russian progenitor of theosophy, talked about, never gets brought up as an actual basis for belief in “superior breeding” or race war among the liberal or conservative parties that run the government in Britain and America. It clearly is not influencing Roosevelt or Churchill’s view of social policy or foreign policy.

But in Germany so many of the people who joined the Nazi Party or supported it are using language and ideas directly borrowed from these occult and border scientific doctrines. “Tschandals,” the lesser races, a Thule civilization.

You make a distinction between pseudoscience, which tries (and fails) to operate within mainstream science, and what you call “border science,” which works around the edges, from a faith-based epistemology. What was the relationship between the people who were still trying to work within an international mainstream of scientific activity in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, and the people who were doing these border-scientific experiments that were increasingly supported by the regime? (World Ice Theory, for example—the idea that everything in our universe was created when the collision of two stars flung icy celestial moons and planets everywhere—happened to align with ideas from Nordic mythology, so it got a lot of support from the Nazis despite its origins in a dream.)

[Border science] was easily dismissed as amateurish by mainstream scientists in the 1910s and 1920s. There were no university posts or research institutes officially sponsored by the Imperial German, Austrian, or Weimar government to promote world ice theory. But it was wildly popular among völkisch and esoterically inclined thinkers, like engineers, who didn’t quite understand modern physics but understood enough technical jargon to kind of glom onto the ideas and argue that they were valid as an alternative to “Jewish physics.”

In the 1930s Hitler and [Heinrich] Himmler gave an honorary doctoral title to the living co-progenitor of World Ice Theory, or “Glacial Cosmogony” as they called it, Philip Fauth. They put him and Hans Robert Scultetus, who was trained as a meteorologist, in charge of a World Ice Division in ’35 or ’36 within the Ahnenerbe, Himmler’s giant Institute for Ancestral Research. The sole purpose of the division was to coordinate and propagate World Ice Theory as official Nazi doctrine.

A year or so in they started to get nasty letters from the Prussian Academy of Sciences, or professional physicists and geologists, asking “Hey, what are you doing here? It’s bad enough that kids can’t do math anymore and we’re trying to rebuild our military and improve our technology. Now you’ve got these official publications claiming that World Ice Theory is just as good or better than modern geology and physics. This is really problematic.”

The really mainstream, well-known natural scientists—as far as I can tell, they were just ignored. So Himmler didn’t put them in jail or anything, he just wouldn’t give them the time of day when they wrote the letters. But if you were a person within the SS ambit, like this guy named Georg Hinzpeter, you were in trouble. All Hinzpeter said was, “You know, if we use what we’ve got in the last 30 years in terms of physics and geology, some calculations and claims that [co-progenitor of the theory Hans] Hörbiger made 40 years ago—not his fault, that was the 1890s—don’t quite hold up, and maybe we should rethink these premises.” And that was when Himmler and Scultetus and this other guy, Edmund Kiss, who wrote fantasy novels about Atlantis—not even a scientist!—they all agreed: “You know what? We’ve got a protocol [The Pyrmont Protocol] now. Anyone practicing World Ice Theory now has to subscribe to its basic tenets”—almost like a bible. “And if you don’t, you will not be allowed to publish, at least not with the imprimatur of anything in the government, and you will not get any funding.” In 1939, World Ice Theory became a very rigid kind of orthodoxy.

As in many other areas, the Third Reich was not a totalitarian regime in all ways. They weren’t going to start locking up otherwise brilliant “Aryan” scientists who paid their taxes and joined the military because they found this theory laughable. But they weren’t going to change what they thought or redistribute funding in a more rational way, either.

What other theories, beside World Ice Theory, did the regime adhere to in that way?

Well, the entire apparatus of race theory was founded at least as much on ideas drawn from Indo-Aryan religion, Nordic mythology and occult or border-scientific doctrines as it was on modern biology or eugenics. Eugenics as practiced in most of the West was limited by the fact that those people wanted to be accepted by mainstream biology. So eugenics was a pseudoscience, not a border science. It did come out of mainstream genetics and biology, it just made claims that were out of all proportion with scientific capacity or reality at the time. And when that proved as destructive as it was, both scientifically and ideologically [after World War II], it got reined back in.

In the Nazi case, it’s the opposite. While they make certain nods to the eugenics movement and say “Oh, this brilliant Swedish or British eugenicist was very inspiring,” when you look at how they argue about race, with the Jews being monstrous and the Slavs “sub-human,” while Indian, Japanese, and perhaps even Persian and Arab civilizations are deemed at least partially Indo-Aryan, it’s all this stuff that’s wrapped up with ariosophy, theosophy, anthroposophy—these major occult doctrines that were prominent in Austria and Germany. It had so little to do with actual empirical science, or even pseudoscience practiced elsewhere during the first half of the 20th century, that it opened the way for all these fantastical policies.

To what degree was anti-mainstream-science feeling within the Nazi Party also anti-Semitic?

I wouldn’t say they were “anti-science.” The Nazis simply thought that there are new sciences, new ways of doing things that traditional scientists hadn’t accepted, in part because they’d been corrupted by Jewish leftist materialists who don’t understand the mystical parts of life. Because the Jews, they insist, are these soulless, self-interested, evil people who just can’t get the organicist connection between soul and body—and all these other ideas that völkisch and esoteric thinkers, and many Nazis, embraced.”

– Rebecca Onion interviews Eric Kurlander, “The Nazis Were Obsessed With Magic,” Slate. August 24, 2017.

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“No one can demand that, in the very countries that have granted them asylum, the émigrés put a mirror to the world that has created fascism. But whoever is not willing to talk about capitalism should also keep quiet about fascism. The English hosts today fare better than Frederick the Great did with the acid-tongued Voltaire. No matter if the hymn the intellectuals intone to liberalism often comes too late, because the countries turn totalitarian faster than the books can find publishers; the intellectuals have not abandoned hope that somewhere the reformation of Western capitalism will proceed more mildly than in Germany and that well-recommended foreigners will have a future after all. But the totalitarian order differs from its bourgeois predecessor only in that it has lost its inhibitions. Just as old people sometimes become as evil as they basically always were, at the end of the epoch class rule has taken the form of the “folk community” [Volksgemeinschaft]. The theory has destroyed the myth of the harmony of interests [between capital and labor]; it has presented the liberal economic process as the reproduction of power relations by means of free contracts, which are compelled by the inequality of the property. Mediation has now been abolished. Fascism is that truth of modern society which has been realized by the theory from the beginning. Fascism solidifies the extreme class differences which the law of surplus value ultimately produced.

No revision of economic theory is required to understand fascism. Equal and just exchange has driven itself to the point of absurdity, and the totalitarian order is this absurdity. The transition from liberalism has occurred logically enough, and less brutally than from the mercantile system into that of the nineteenth century. The same economic tendencies that create an ever higher productivity of labor through the mechanism of competition have suddenly turned into forces of social disorganization. The pride of liberalism, industry developed technically to the utmost, ruins its own principle because great parts of the population can no longer sell their labor. The reproduction of what exists by the labor market becomes inefficient. Previously the bourgeoisie was decentralized, a many-headed ruler; the expansion of the plant was the condition for every entrepreneur to increase his portion of the social surplus. He needed workers in order to prevail in the competition of the market. In the age of monopolies, the investment of more and more new capital no longer promises any great increase in profits. The mass of workers, from whom surplus value flows, diminishes in comparison to the apparatus which it serves. In recent times, industrial production has existed only as a condition for profit, for the expansion of the power of groups and individuals over human labor. Hunger itself provides no reason for the production of consumer goods. To produce for the insolvent demand, for the unemployed masses, would run counter to the laws of economy and religion that hold the order together; no bread without work.

Even the façade betrays the obsolescence of the market economy. The advertising signs in all countries are its monuments. Their expression is ridiculous. They speak to the passers-by as shallow adults do to children or animals, in a falsely familiar slang. The masses, like children, are deluded: they believe that as independent subjects they have the freedom to choose the goods for themselves. But the choice has already largely been dictated. For decades there have been entire spheres of consumption in which only the labels change. The panoply of different qualities in which consumers revel exists only on paper. If advertising was always characteristic of the faux frais of the bourgeois commodity economy, still, it formerly performed a positive function as a means of increasing demand. Today the buyer is still paid an ideological reverence which he is not even supposed to believe entirely. He already knows enough to interpret the advertising for the great brand-name products as national slogans that one is not allowed to contradict. The discipline to which advertising appeals comes into its own in the fascist countries. In the posters the people find out what they really are: soldiers. Advertising becomes correct. The strict governmental command which threatens from every wall during totalitarian elections corresponds more exactly to the modern organization of the economy than the monotonously colorful lighting effects in the shopping centers and amusement quarters of the world.

The economic programs of the good European statesmen are illusory. In the final phase of liberalism they want to compensate with government orders for the disintegrating market economy’s inability to support the populace. Along with the economically powerful they seek to stimulate the economy so that it will provide everyone with a living, but they forget that the aversion to new investments is no whim. The industrialists have no desire to get their factories going via the indirect means of taxes they must pay to an all-too-impartial government simply to help the bankrupt farmers and other draft animals out of a jam. For their class such a procedure does not pay. No matter how much progovernmental economists may lecture the entrepreneurs that it is for their own benefit, the powerful have a better sense of their interests and have greater goals than a makeshift boom led with strikes and whatever else belongs to the proletarian class struggle. The statesmen who, after all this, still wish to run liberalism humanely, misunderstand its character. They may represent education and be surrounded by experts, but their efforts are nonetheless absurd: they wish to subordinate to the general populace that class whose particular interests by nature run contrary to the general ones. A government that would make the objects of welfare into subjects of free contracts by garnering the taxes of employers, must fail in the end: otherwise it would involuntarily degenerate from the proxy of the employers into the executive agency of the unemployed, indeed, of the dependent classes in general. Nearly confiscatory taxes, such as the inheritance tax, which are forced not only by the layoffs in industry, but also by the insoluble agriculture crisis, already threaten to make the weak into the “exploiters” of the capitalists. Such a reversal of circumstances will not be permitted in the long run by the employers in any empire. In the parliaments and all of public life, the employers sabotage neoliberal welfare policies. Even if these would help the economy, the employers would remain unreconciled: economic cycles are no longer enough for them. The relations of production prevail against the humanitarian governments. The pioneers from the employers’ associations create a new apparatus and their advocates take the social order into their hands; in place of fragmented command over particular factories, there arises the totalitarian rule of particular interests over the entire people. Individuals are subjected to a new discipline which threatens the foundations of the social order. The transformation of the downtrodden jobseeker from the nineteenth century into the solicitous member of a fascist organization recalls in its historical significance the transformation of the medieval master craftsman into the protestant burgher of the Reformation, or of the English village pauper into the modern industrial worker. Considering the fundamental nature of this change, the statesmen pursuing moderate progress appear reactionary.

The labor market is replaced by coerced labor. If over the past decades people went from exchange partners to beggars, objects of welfare, now they become direct objects of domination. In the prefascist stage the unemployed threatened the order. The transition to an economy which would unite the separated elements, which would give the people ownership of the idle machines and the useless grain, seemed unavoidable in Germany, and the world-wide danger of socialism seemed serious. With socialism’s enemies stood everyone who had anything to say in the Republic. Governing was carried out by welfare payments, by former imperial civil servants, and by reactionary officers. The trade unions wished to transform themselves from organs of class struggle into state institutions which distribute governmental largesse, inculcate a loyal attitude in the recipients, and participate in social control. Such help, however, was suspect to the powerful. Once German capital had resumed imperialist policies, it dropped the labor bureaucrats, political and trade unions, who had helped it into power. Despite their most honest intentions, the bureaucrats could not measure up to the new conditions. The masses were not activated for the improvement of their own lives, not to eat, but to obey — such is the task of the fascist apparatus. Governing has acquired a new meaning there. Instead of practiced functionaries, imaginative organizers and overseers are needed; they must be well removed from the influence of ideologies of freedom and human dignity. In late capitalism, peoples metamorphose first into welfare recipients and then into followers [Gefolgschaften].

Long before the fascist revolution, the unemployed constituted an irresistible temptation for industrialists and agrarians, who wished to organize them for their purposes. As at the beginning of the epoch, uprooted masses are again available, but one cannot force them into manufacturing as one did then; the time of private enterprise is past. The fascist agitator unites his people for the battle against democratic governments. If during the transformation it becomes less and less attractive to invest capital in useful production, then the money is put into the organization of the masses one wishes to wrest away from the prefascist governments. Once that has been accomplished at home, then it is tried internationally. Even in foreign countries the fascist states appear as organizers of power against obstinate governments. Their emissaries prepare the ground for fascist conquests; they are the descendants of the Christian missionaries who preceded the merchants. Today it is not English but German imperialism which strives for expansion.

If fascism in fact follows from the capitalist principle, it is not adapted only to the poor, the “have-not” countries, in contrast to the rich ones. The fact that fascism was initially supported by bankrupt industries concerns its specific development, not its suitability as a universal principle. Already during the time of greatest profitability, heavy industry extorted its share of the class profit by means of its position of economic power. The average profit rate, which applied to it as well, always exceeded the surplus value produced in its own area. Krupp and Thyssen obeyed the principle of competition less than others. Thus, the bankruptcy that the balance eventually revealed showed nothing of the harmony between heavy industry and the needs of the status quo. The fact that the chemical industry was superior in the market to heavy industry in terms of profitability was not socially decisive. In late capitalism the task assigned is to remodel the populace into a combat-ready collective for civil and military purposes, so that it will function in the hands of the newly formed ruling class. Poor profitability thus merely stimulated certain parts of German industry before others to force the development.

The ruling class has changed. Its members are not identical with the owners of capitalist property. The fragmented majority of the shareholders have long since fallen under the leadership of the directors. With the progression of the enterprise from one among many competing economic units to the impregnable position of social power of the modern conglomerate, management gained absolute power. The scope and differentiation of the factories has created a bureaucracy, whose apex pursues its own goals with the capital of the shareholders and, if need be, against them. The same degree of organic conglomeration of capital that limits the economic incentive for further investment allows the directors to put the brakes on production in the course of political machinations, and even to halt it, without being affected much themselves. Directors’ salaries at times free themselves from the balance sheets. The high industrial bureaucracy takes the place of the legal owners. It turns out that actual disposition, physical possession, and not nominal ownership are socially decisive.

Juridical form, which actually determined the happiness of individuals, has always been considered a product of ideology. The dispossessed groups in the bourgeoisie cling now to the hypostatized form of private property and denounce fascism as a new Bolshevism, while the latter theoretically hypostatizes a given form of socializing property and in practice cannot stop the monopolization of the production apparatus. It ultimately matters little whether the state takes care of its own by regulating private profits or the salaries of civil servants. The fascist ideology conceals the same relationship as the old harmonizing ideology: domination by a minority on the basis of actual possession of the tools of production. The aspiration for profit today ends in what it always was: striving for social power. The true self of the juridical owner of the means of production confronts him as the fascist commander of battalions of workers. Social dominance, which could not be maintained by economic means, because private property has outlived itself, is continued by directly political means. In the face of this situation, liberalism, even in its decadent form, represents the greatest good for the greatest number, since the amount of misfortune suffered by the majority in the capitalist mother countries is less than that concentrated today upon the persecuted minorities [in totalitarian countries].

Liberalism cannot be re-established. It leaves behind a demoralized proletariat betrayed by its leaders, in which the unemployed form a sort of amorphous class that fairly screams for organization from above, along with farmers, whose methods of production and forms of consciousness have lagged far behind technological development, and finally the generals of industry, the army, and the administration, who agree with each other and embrace the new order.

After the century-long interlude of liberalism, the upper class in the fascist countries has returned to its basic insights. In the twentieth century, the existence of individuals is once again being controlled in all its details. Whether totalitarian repression can persist after the unleashing of productive forces within industrial society cannot be deduced. The economic collapse was predictable, not the revolution. Theory and practice are not directly identical. After the war the question was posed in practical terms. The German workers possessed the qualifications to rearrange the world. They were defeated. How far fascism reaches its goal will depend on the struggles of the present epoch. The adaptation of individuals to fascism, however, also expresses a certain rationality. After their betrayal by their own bureaucracy since 1914, after the development of the parties into world-spanning machineries for the destruction of spontaneity, after the murder of revolutionaries, the neutrality of workers with respect to the totalitarian order is no sign of idiocy. Remembering the fourteen years [of the Weimar Republic] has more attraction for the intellectuals than for the proletariat. Fascism may have no less to offer them than the Weimar Republic, which brought up fascism.

Totalitarian society may survive economically in the long run. Collapses are not a short-term prospect. Crises were rational signs, the alienated critiques of the market economy, which, though blind, was oriented to needs. In the totalitarian economy, hunger in war and peacetime appears less as a disruption than as a patriotic duty. For fascism as a world system, no economic end is visible. Exploitation no longer reproduces itself aimlessly via the market, but rather in the conscious exercise of power. The categories of political economy — exchange of equivalents, concentration, centralization, falling rate of profit, and so on — still have a tangible validity, except that their consequence, the end of political economy, has been attained. In the fascist countries, economic concentration proceeds rapidly. It has entered, however, into the practice of methodical violence, which seeks to master social antagonisms directly. The economy no longer has any independent dynamism. It loses its power to the economically powerful. The failure of the free market reveals the inability of further progress in the forms of antagonistic society of any kind. Despite the war, fascism can survive, unless the peoples of the world understand that the knowledge and machines they possess must serve their own happiness, rather than the perpetuation of power and injustice. Fascism is retrograde not in comparison to the bankrupt principle of laissez-faire, but in terms of what could be attained.

Even if it had been possible to limit armaments and divide the world, by following the example of the conglomerates (one should recall the efforts at a British-German, and beyond that, a European coal cartel), even then fascism would not have needed to fear for its survival. There are innumerable tasks to be done which would provide food and work and yet not allow individuals to become arrogant. Mandeville, who knew what was needed, already designated the distant goal of fascism at the beginning of capitalism: “We have work for a hundred thousand more paupers than we actually have, work for three or four hundred years to come. In order to make our land useful and well populated everywhere, many rivers would need to be made navigable and many canals built. Many regions would need to be drained and protected for the future against floods. Large expanses of dry soil would have to be made fertile, many square miles of land more accessible and thus more profitable. Dei laboribus omni vendunt. There are no difficulties in this area that work and perseverance cannot overcome. The highest mountains can be toppled into the valleys that stand ready to receive them, and bridges can be built in places where we would not dare think of it…It is the state’s business to correct social ills, and take on those things first which are most neglected by private persons. Antagonisms are best cured by antagonisms; and since in the case of national failure an example accomplishes more than an order, the government should decide on some great undertaking that would require an immense amount of work for a long period, and thus convince the world that it does nothing without anxious concern for the most distant posterity. This will have a solidifying effect on the wavering spirit and the flighty mind of the people; it will remind us we do not live only for ourselves and will ultimately make people less distrustful, and thus will instill in them greater patriotism and loyal affection for their home soil, which, more than anything else, is necessary for the higher development of a nation.”

According to practical reason, the people must obey as if in prison, only with the difference that it also should have its own conscience as warden and overseer, alongside the agents of the regime in power. “The origin of the highest power is for practical purposes inscrutable for the people which is subject to it, i.e., the subject should not practically reason…about its origin; for if the subject who had pondered out the ultimate origin were to resist that now prevailing authority, then by the laws of the latter, i.e., with complete justification, he would be punished, destroyed, or (outlawed, exlex) expelled.” Kant embraces the theory “that whoever is in possession of the supreme ruling and legislating power over a people, must be obeyed, and so juridically-absolutely, that even to research the title to this acquisition in public, that is, to doubt it, in order to resist it in case of some failing, is itself punishable; that it is a categorical imperative: Obey authority that has power over you (in everything which does not contradict the inwardly moral).” But the scholar of Kant knows: the inwardly moral can never protest against an onerous task ordered by the respective authority.

Fascist nationalization, the installation of a terroristic party apparatus alongside the administration, is the opposite of socialization. As usual, the whole functions in the interests of a set group. The command of outside labor by the bureaucracy is now formally the last resort; the command of competing firms is delegated, but the contrasts blur: the owners become bureaucrats and the bureaucrats owners. The concept of the state completely loses its contradiction to the concept of a dominant particularity, it is the apparatus of the ruling clique, a tool of private power, and this is more true the more it is idolized. In Italy as well as in Germany, large public enterprises are being reprivatized. In Italy, electric factories, the monopolies on telephones and life insurance, and other governmental and municipal operations, and in Germany the banks above all, have gone into private hands. Of course, only the powerful profit from that. In the long run, the protection of the small businessman proves to be a pure propaganda hoax. The number of corporations which dominate the entire industry grows steadily smaller. Under the surface of the Führer-state a furious battle takes place among interested parties for the spoils. The German and other elites in Europe, which share the intention of keeping the populace in check, would long ago have started an internal and external war without this binding tie. Inside the totalitarian states, this tension is so great that Germany could dissolve overnight into a chaos of gangster battles. From the beginning, the tragic gestures as well as the incessant assurances of a multi-millennial permanence in National Socialist propaganda reflect the intimation of such a frailty.

Only because the justified fear of the masses constantly brings them together do the subordinate leaders allow themselves to be integrated and if necessary massacred by the mightiest one. More than was ever the case under capitalism, anarchy is hidden behind the unity and harmony, atomistic private interest behind the planned economy. An equalization occurs which is no less coincidental to human needs than the previous price range of free markets. Despite all the directives, the forces which bring about the distribution of social energies to the various branches of production are as irrational as the mechanisms of the profit economy, which were formerly removed from human power. Freedom is no less a delusion for the leaders than for the businessman; as he depends on the market, they now depend on blind constellations of power. Arms build-ups are dictated to them by the interplay among the groups, by fear of one’s own and foreign peoples, by dependence on certain parts of the world of business, just as the expansion of factories is dictated to entrepreneurs in industrial society by social antagonisms, not by the contest of people against nature, which is the only criterion for determining a rational society. The stability of fascism rests on an alliance against the revolution and on the elimination of the economic remedy. The atomistic principle, according to which the success of one person is tied to the misery of the other, has even been intensified today. In the fascist organizations, equality and brotherliness prevail only on the surface. The struggle to rise in the barbarian hierarchy makes one’s comrades presumptive opponents. The fact that in a war economy more jobs are available than workers does not abolish the struggle of all against all. Wage differentials in the individual factories, for men and women, for blue-collar and white-collar workers, for various categories of proletarians are crasser than ever. With the abolition of unemployment the isolation of human beings has not been broken. Fear of unemployment is supplanted by fear of the state. Fear atomizes.”


Max Horkheimer, “The Jews and Europe.” Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, December 1939

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“Thinkers like Adorno and Arendt tended to approach Nazism through the lens of philosophy. They accepted Nazi self-assertions of “totalitarianism”; that a total, unified society was bound together through identification with party and leader, that all was driven through a Volksgemeinschaft (national community, or the consciousness of being part of an “authentic” national community). The reality was considerably messier. Adorno’s colleague Franz Neumann considered the same questions from the vantages of political economy and law. Far from “state capitalism,” where the profit motive is eliminated and production is under the complete control of the state, Neumann noted that under Nazism, business — especially large corporate interests — was given extraordinary leeway. They did not have perfect free rein, but large business interests were relieved of many previous social democratic restrictions. Independent labor organizations were crushed, and business was allowed to coagulate into massive, profit-generating monopolies as long as it produced the necessary goods and services the party and the army required.

The closer Neumann looked at the day-to-day operations of Nazism, the less convinced he was that one could call Nazi Germany a “state” in any traditional sense of the word. Along with his fellow Frankfurt School colleague Otto Kirchheimer, they noted that power, authority, and responsibility were not, as propaganda would have it, bound up entirely in the person of the Leader, but rather were confusingly diffuse throughout a disjointed and irrational system. Everyone (that is everyone included within the national-racial community) was to fall in line or develop themselves through Führerprinzip into autonomous self-starters, entrepreneurs, and pioneers of the national spirit in whatever sector they worked. Even as a rump state maintained the appearance of a heavy bureaucracy, with a great deal of actual organization still left to technocrats, industry was given wide berth. Society was dominated by myriad (in the parlance of our time) “thought-leaders” with overlapping and competing fiefdoms. The party itself maintained personnel connections within nearly every sector, and its own areas of control, particularly over racial questions — the sine qua non of Nazism. A deal was struck whereby the armed forces, still bruised and feeling “betrayed” by German surrender from World War I, came to an internal balance of powers agreement. Hitler was in charge, to be sure, but only through a constant negotiation between these sectors and their own mini-sovereignties. And even Hitler wasn’t the sovereign decision maker both his fervent supporters and adamant critics wanted him to be; Hitler’s office was more of a clearinghouse, often receiving conflicting positions in, sometimes sending conflicting positions out to be resolved by some other, smaller leader elsewhere. Certainly, the Führer was a dictator, but he was first among many, neither the striding colossus of Nazi propagandists nor the all-powerful, mini-mustachioed evil of moralistic Western popular culture.

In his final analysis, Neumann realized that Nazi Germany was not really a state in any recognizable sense at all. Far from Hobbes’s Biblical Leviathan — a mechanistic vision of a commonwealth functioning collectively for the safety and flourishing of its individual subjects whose power is bound up, expressed, and represented in the person of a monarch or ruling council — Neumann saw in Nazi Germany Hobbes’s alternative vision, the rumbling horror of the land monster Behemoth, a beast for Hobbes composed of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, the Long Parliament, and Puritan businessmen taking on the appearance of a new state but in reality a mere disjointed assemblage of military, economic, and even restrictive sexual power that in Hobbes’s analysis spelled out the essence of anarchy in Britain and the utter devastation of Ireland. The German Behemoth under Nazi rule was a similar amalgam. Famously, it was only with the handshake agreements of traditional conservatives, the new far-right nationalists, the army, and, most importantly, the business elite, that the Nazis were given a shot at “governing.” Several of the business elite had to personally petition Hindenburg to appoint Hitler in the first place.

Profits and Salaries in Dark Times
Neither Neumann (nor Hobbes for that matter) should be misunderstood. A “behemoth”-like structure can be highly efficient. Nazi efficiency in disenfranchisement, slavery, and genocide was unparalleled in terms of their speed and thoroughness. But such a structure functionally overturns the most basic logic of the state; it is diffuse sovereignty.

In this diffuse sovereignty, soaring profits went not simply to the one percent of its day, but to reinforce the power of a nascent class of executives across different economic and social sectors. Even while internal regulations on, say, labor conditions were dismantled, external quotas and quality controls were implemented. These regulations often had the blessing of business, especially big business, which used such controls to crowd out small- and medium-sized firms that could not meet the substantial party, “state,” or military demands. And this meant that large German business did well. So well, that the only real Nazi-era restriction (before they were removed altogether at the start of the war) on profit was a 1934 rate cap of six to eight percent on dividends and even then, the surplus beyond this was merely redirected into short-term government bonds which would pay out against the taxes owed by the firm. But, as Neumann noted of profits in the Nazi-era, “profits are not identical with dividends. Profits are, above all, salaries, bonuses, commissions for special services, over-valuated patents, licenses, connections, and good will.” These profits went to the “supermanagers” of the Third Reich.

Men (and they were almost always men) like this were the linchpin of Nazi society. After soaring, inflationary highs during World War I, and an unsurprising loss in the subsequent crash compounded by the Great Depression, the share of income of the top one percent in Germany began to return to relatively normal levels during the Weimar years. But once the Nazis consolidated power, the fortunes of the Thousand Year Reich’s one percent truly took off. This was particularly the case for those supermanagers at the very top, the 0.1 percent. From just under four percent in 1930, their share of the national income under the new Nazi order would nearly double by the eve of World War II.

In contrast, during roughly the same period, the United States saw not only a drop for the top 0.1 percent but a choppy and precipitous one, from above eight percent before 1930 to below four percent by the middle of World War II. These figures refer to the top share of labor income alone, excluding return to capital. Despite similar counter-cyclic spending, whatever was so richly rewarding for Nazi-era Germans in the highest income group did not correspond to their American counterparts. This is not peculiar to the United States; similar trends can be observed in, for example, France and Sweden. A new “managerial class” appeared in nearly all developed economies, but clearly it was in some way less valued in social democracies (or for that matter, in the Soviet Union) than in the new fascist societies.

Over the last 35 years, our own “neoliberal” society has developed some rather unexpected parallels with Nazi Germany. In his much celebrated work Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty noticed an odd feature of our contemporary economy: though income inequality levels in the United States are today similar to those that existed at the beginning of the 20th century, there has been a change in how high-income earners derive their income. In Piketty’s overall argument the vast economic growth, stability, and equity of the postwar to mid-1970s era, the Trente Glorieuses, was due to the historic idiosyncrasy of rebuilding after the World Wars, pumping economic output in North America, Europe, and Japan far above where they “naturally” lie at about 2.5 percent. Yet the general tendency is for the return on capital (historically stable at around four to five percent) to always exceed the growth of the economy. This has the distributional consequence of allocating a higher share of national income to investors (capital income) relative to workers (wages), and will gradually lead to societies characterized by high income and wealth inequality (i.e., a kind of neofeudalism). In such societies, it makes more economic sense to marry into wealth than pursue any kind of a career because income disparities are primarily driven by inherited wealth and the significant advantage of earning a return on capital over earned wages. However, the odd bit that pops up in Piketty concerning our contemporary economic situation is that the gradual increase in income inequality over the past three decades is the direct result of a surge in top wages, rather than a revival of capital income — this is not the “idle rich.”

The salaries of the top one percent have increased from roughly eight percent of total income in the 1980s to a staggering 18 percent of total income today. While wages for the vast majority of Americans have remained largely stagnant for the past 35 years, the top one percent has seen growth by nearly 140 percent and of that massive income — so large as to actually exceed capital returns — nearly three-quarters goes to the tiny top 0.1 percent. The bulk of these “star salaries” do not come from, say, high-earning celebrities (artists, actors, athletes), but rather from individuals such as corporate executives, hedge fund managers, university presidents, etc. Piketty calls the individuals who comprise this top 0.1 percent “supermanagers.”

How do we explain this explosion in salaries? We could begin with the theory that high pay reflects a supermanager’s productivity and skills (i.e., large contributions to corporate profits), yet this does not hold up to scrutiny. To begin with, there is a very sharp discontinuity of salaries between those at the very top and those immediately below, where one would have expected a gradual increase if qualifications or professional experience were the key driver. Executive pay has been found to rise when sales and profits increase for reasons that are beyond a manager’s control (e.g., price fluctuations). Further, given the size and complexity of the modern corporation, it is difficult to determine what share of a firm’s performance can be directly linked to the skills of any particular executive manager or officer as opposed to the rest of workers. Controlled experiments (e.g., determining the performance of a different manager in the same environment) are impossible. Assessing performance on the basis of some “objective” measure, such as shareholder value, also proves difficult.

If “star salaries” can’t be explained by contribution to the productive enterprise, high managerial compensation would appear to be what economists call “rent” — essentially, profit extraction. Managers could quite simply have their “hands in the till,” or be facilitated in their ability to extract rent through bargaining power and market power (including a manager’s ability to bring to the table things that cannot easily be replaced or commoditized, like personal connections, or to make it costly for any potential replacement to take over). Piketty concludes that the rent element is probably high, with high pay for supermanagers an institutional practice shaped by social norms.

In our view there is another way to understand the rise of the supermanager in terms of value (though in a rather unconventional sense) produced for the firm. The supermanager is neoliberalism’s governance mechanism, a way to negotiate and smooth over differences between sectors of power in society, just as the supermanager avant la lettre did so in Nazi Germany.

Supermanagerial Governance
Supermanagers provide a very specific kind of governance needed in very specific kinds of regimes. The supermanager and their seemingly outsized share of national income is not merely a phenomenon of our own neoliberal era, from the Reagan/Thatcher “revolutions” to the Clinton/Blair era. It was a conspicuous feature of Nazi Germany (and although the data is thinner, it would seem 1920–’30s fascism in general). The most plausible explanation for this compensation draws not from any particularly radical theory of value, nor from moralistic parables about corruption, nor from fairy tales about superheroic capacities. The most plausible explanation is that supermanagers are paid for governance where the state has been redeployed elsewhere or, even, effectively dissolved.

One could think of this as a peculiar kind of rent extraction for the ability to shift seamlessly at the boundaries of these sectors — from one board, to another, from a corporation, to a foundation, to a university, to government, to a think tank and back again. One could think of this in a rather perverse way as real marginal added value, compensation for the difficult work of governance without a Rechtsstaat — without a rational, sovereign state, or with a receding or redistributed one. Seen in this light, the ability to provide political backing through connections is a highly remunerated component of this type of governance. What we think of today as the “revolving doors” between corporate offices, consultancies, government regulatory agencies, think tanks, media, etc. were part of everyday economic, political, and social life in Nazi Germany. The heightened and more powerful form of interlocking directorates commonly observed in advanced capitalist economies were, for the Nazis, highly formalized as powerful supervisory boards and chambers between sectors and firms. Firms who were heavily invested in the party before the Nazi takeover (only about one-seventh of total firms but, taking into account the size of firms, over half of the total German stock market) saw immediate gains of six to eight percent by mid-1933 already. Comparable levels of remuneration for direct political connection are found only in developing and advanced neoliberal states.

The parallel between the Nazi “revolution” in the 1930s and the neoliberal “revolution” in the 1980s and ’90s goes much further. The Nazis were also pioneers in what was then the uncharted economic waters of “privatization.” In the face of the Great Depression, states across the world — including the Social Democratic led Weimar Republic — nationalized key industries and, in some cases, like Germany, nearly the entirety of the financial sector. The Nazis — despite early propaganda indicating otherwise — were the unique exception.  Not only did they avoid further nationalization but they innovated a process so idiosyncratic at the time that it required coining a German neologism: Reprivatisierung.

Quickly transferred into English as “reprivatization,” the phenomenon and its potentially salutary effects were observed by such notable organs of liberal economic thought as The Economist and mainstream outlets like Time magazine. Before Margaret Thatcher began the privatization of council housing and long before welfare reform was a twinkle in Bill Clinton’s eye, the Nazis were turning heavy industries, nearly the entirety of the financial and banking sector, and even some social services over to private hands and to new, innovative public/private hybrids. Even before this process was “enhanced” by “Aryanizing” previously Jewish held property, rates of privatization were as high the European average would become some 70 years later when neoliberal reforms began on the continent.

The resulting market concentration, the decrease of small businesses and the growth of monopolies and cartels in Nazi Germany are well documented. It’s no surprise that supermanagerial governance would go hand in hand with the consolidation of large industrial and financial interests, as the value it provides is enhanced when sectors and market power are concentrated. This is another interesting parallel between the Nazi era and our own. Today we find that antitrust and intellectual property laws have favored the concentration of market power in a handful of companies in key sectors such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, media and entertainment, not to mention the financial sector. And we find that unsurprisingly, today’s supermanagers thrive, in particular, in large, profitable firms. A recent study finds that during the period 1978–2012, a large share (two thirds) of wage earnings inequality was driven not just by the deepening of pay differentials (between those at the very top and the rest of workers) throughout all firms, but also by the emergence of higher-paying large, profitable firms.

The parallels don’t end with political and economic power but stretch, horrifyingly, into the everyday. As Kirchheimer wrote of the Nazi-era police force in a report for the OSS in 1945:

The general “task” presumed to have been given to the police in the Nazi state — that of safeguarding the state and regime against any disturbance — implies the supremacy of any of its actions (whether in the form of decree, directive, internal instruction, or pure action) over any existing law […] Thus, the police becomes “a function whose activities are determined solely through what is politically necessary […] This means that the police as such can do whatever it deems necessary, without being restrained by legal authorities.

Just as it was for fascists, neoliberals depend on the arbitrary power of the police, only to be checked, if ever, by post-facto political considerations. Far from cowering in fear of cartoon Hitler in the 1930s and ’40s or for that matter in the face of the Constitution today, police are deeply empowered, with almost no enforceable judicial or legislative check on power. This is the necessary “on the ground” counterpart — learned well from colonization abroad — to supermanagerial control of the endlessly complex, newly “marketized” governance apparati, public-private initiatives, and the labyrinthine overlapping jurisdictions between sectors in the neoliberal state.”

– Ajay Singh Chaudhary & Raphaële Chappe, “The Supermanagerial Reich,LA Review of Books. November 7, 2016.

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