Le Prolétaire – Polemic against “Auschwitz or the Great Alibi”: The Crusaders of Democratic Antifascism in the Assault of Marxism

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Although with much less strength than last spring, the polemic against Holocaust deniers and the “ultra-left” continues sporadically; and our article “Auschwitz or the Great Alibi” (published in a brochure) is regularly cited as the founding text of an alleged rapprochement with the nostalgics of fascism. We can mention the music-cultural review “Les Inrockuptibles” which publishes in its n° 99 (9-15 April) a review of a book devoted to the antisemitic writer Céline – a work we do not know -, where the authors are indignant that Nazism is described as having had the function of “bringing the German people into line“, its success explained by “the massive commitment of the financial and industrial powers” at its side and the “antisemitic persecutions of Vichy” analysed as “a hunt for the poor“. “We find especially in this explanation of the world according to the only ‘logic of Capital’” – they write to definitively demolish the work in question – “the same economic determinism that presided over the texts that served as the foundations for Holocaust denial theories in the 1960s and 1970s (such as the Bordigist brochure Auschwitz or the Great Alibi)“! For our authors, such an accusation is undoubtedly one from which we cannot recover…

A more elaborate attempt to dismantle our positions can be found in a recent book, on which we find it interesting to focus because on the one hand it brings together the main people responsible for launching the campaign to denounce the “ultra-left” and our current in particular; and on the other hand it includes all the shared premises of the democratic criticism of Marxism. Its criticism therefore makes it possible to irrefutably characterise this campaign and its participants. It is a collective work, which has been in print for many months, and has been published by Editions Golias (the editions of “Golias, the tender and squeaky catho magazine“!): “Negationists, the ragpickers of history“. In particular, it includes an article by Alain Bihr entitled: “The Misadventures of Revolutionary Sectarianism“, which aims to develop the arguments of the ‘96 campaign by writing the history of “revisionism” and “negationism”. Of course, the attacks against our article have a good place in it.

It would indeed be one of the “founding texts of this ultra-left” deviation which “represents the clearest attempt to account for the Nazi exterminationist enterprise in the terms of the Marxist vulgate practiced by the ultra-left. It only makes the absurdity of such an approach all the more obvious“. Bihr cites our analysis of German antisemitism in the inter-war period as a phenomenon of fundamentally petty bourgeois nature, resulting from the tremendous economic pressure on these segments of the population that made them stand up against Jewish competitors. And he exclaimed: “Objections abound against this economist explanation, up to the absurdity of Nazi exterminationism and including from a Marxist (! – Editor’s note) point of view“. So what are these objections?

After noting that the class nature of the Nazi regime is “not reducible to a simple panic movement of the petty bourgeoisie” – we have never said such a thing, but, as a good ideologue, Bihr confuses our analysis of antisemitism with an analysis of the Nazi regime – he doctrinally states that antisemitism must have existed before, otherwise why else would the petty bourgeoisie have “chosen” to turn against the Jews rather than against, for example, hairdressers[1]?

No one has ever denied that antisemitism has existed before, and Marxist analyses abound, on the contrary, which have explained the petty-bourgeois nature of this antisemitism. But what needs to be explained is why this antisemitism, a marginal phenomenon (many historians believe that antisemitism was if not more widespread, at least more violent in France than in Germany at the end of the last century and at the beginning of this century), has become a mass phenomenon in Weimar Germany, which is suffering from an unprecedented economic crisis. Historical materialism establishes the link between these two facts and shows how the petty bourgeois who were terrorised by the prospect of the bankruptcy of their businesses, but unable by nature to understand and fight a system of production to which they belong, turned “naturally” against the most visible competitors, the most immediately identifiable as a distinct group, and against whom there was already a tradition of hostility that attributed all the evils of capitalism to them. Idealism, on the other hand, finds it scandalous that this deterministic link is established: according to its conception, all events have their source in the struggle of ideas and in consciousness, and it is terribly reductionist and economist to assume that such trivial facts as the precipitous ruin of hundreds of thousands of people, the inexorable impoverishment of millions of others, could have had the slightest consequence on their state of mind!

Bihr thinks he has found an unstoppable argument in the face of such a crude reductionism: “If it had only been a question of destroying part of the petty and middle bourgeoisie as such [to relieve the rest of these layers of competition – Editor] a simple expropriation would have sufficed: to socially destroy a possessing class, it is not necessary to physically destroy its members, it is sufficient to deprive it of its means of production“. But it was no one other than Bihr himself who replied to Bihr: “It was by such expropriation that the Nazis began [and let us add that this was the Nazi Party’s programme – Editor’s note], encouraging Jews (at least those who still could) to leave Germany; and from this point of view their task was largely accomplished by 1938“!

Our incoherent critic does not admit defeat; after having reduced his own initial arguments to pieces, he writes that “Precisely [the Nazis] were not going to stop there, which can in no way be explained by any immediate requirement [?] of the social contradictions created by the process of capital accumulation“. And to make matters worse, he cites the case of Jews in Central and Eastern Europe who were “certainly not” part of the petty and middle bourgeoisie, and other fascist regimes (such as Italian) who were not particularly antisemitic: “antisemitism and fascism did not coincide and did not necessarily go hand in hand“. So:

In short, no matter where we turn, we discover the exterminationist and antisemitic specificity of Nazi politics, which the analysis developed by the ultra-left is unable to account for and which, at the same time, it constantly tends to conceal or deny.” (…) “In the end, the Nazi genocidal enterprise is simply irreducible to Marxist economism and Hegelian hyper-rationalism [sic! – Editor’s note] usually used as a theoretical model for the ultra-left“.

Bihr belongs to the idealistic school, for whom it is ideas that lead the world, any attempt to explain social phenomena in material terms being obviously rejected. It is therefore Nazi ideology which, for an idealist, explains everything that happened, both the massacre of the Jews and the Second World War. An American historian, Daniel Goldhagen, has even just published a best-seller (“Hitler’s Voluntary Executioners“) which states that it is the entire German population, with a few exceptions, who participated or voluntarily became accomplices in the massacre of Jews, because of particular characteristics of German culture! We can judge the seriousness of this academic who claims to want to “revise” the history of Germany, by the way he hides the fact that the population of this country was divided (as elsewhere) into antagonistic classes that engaged in gigantic and bloody battles and that it was only after the collapse of the proletariat, the only class that remained practically free of antisemitism because of its classist traditions of struggle, and the crushing victory of the Nazi counter-revolution that the anti-Jewish measures were able to flourish.

Marxism has demonstrated, as we recalled in this article, that it is on the contrary social relations that determine ideological movements. This does not mean, as our opponents pretend to believe, that we claim that a state’s policy is determined at all times by immediate social requirements or by direct economic rationality; on the contrary, there are many mediations and the final result of the clashes of interests that tend to shape this policy may be quite different from what those who are its actors expected. None of the Nazis had initially imagined the “final solution”, as evidenced by the fact that the leaders of the Third Reich first tried to get rid of the Jews by other means, by sending them away.

The Co-Responsibility of Western Democracies

It might seem odd that our opponents, so quick to denounce our analyses, say absolutely nothing about what is the other central argument of our brochure, namely the co-responsibility of Western democracies in the massacre of Jews. Yet this is a serious difficulty to be solved for those who want to know no other cause of the massacres than “the specificity of Nazi ideology“! We wrote in our brochure: “During this whole period up to the eve of the war, the Nazis’ policy towards Jews can be summed up in two words: Juden Raus! Jews, out! Out! Every effort was made to encourage the emigration of Jews. But if the Nazis only wanted to get rid of the Jews they didn’t know what to do with, if the Jews on their side only wanted to get out of Germany, no one else would let them in“. Thus, in December ‘38, the French Foreign Minister Bonnet informed his German colleague that France was very interested in the Jewish question in Germany. When Ribbentrop asked him what France’s interest might be, Bonnet replied that the French government no longer wanted to receive Jews from Germany and asked if the German government could not prevent this migration; in addition, the French government already wanted to expel 10,000 Jews. Ribbentrop replied that everyone wanted to get rid of the Jews, but the difficulty was that no country wanted to welcome them. Hitler then ironically had the luxury of pitying the Jews whom the democratic world was letting down[2]!

“only a tiny fraction had been able to leave [continues our brochure], The greater part remained, unfortunately for them and unfortunately for the Nazis. Suspended in mid-air as it were.

The imperialist war was to aggravate the situation both qualitatively and quantitatively. Quantitatively, because German capital, obliged to reduce the petite-bourgeoisie so as to concentrate European capital in its hands, had extended the liquidation of Jews to the whole of central Europe. Antisemitism had proved its worth; it need only continue. It found an echo, moreover, in the indigenous antisemitism of central Europe, which was more complex, being an unpleasant mixture of feudal and petite-bourgeois antisemitism which we won’t go into here.

At the same time the situation was aggravated qualitatively. Conditions of life were made harder by the war and the Jewish reserves fell; they were condemned to die of starvation before long.

In “normal” times, when it only affects a few, capitalism can leave those people rejected from the production process to perish alone. But in the middle of a war, when it involved millions, this was impossible. Such “disorder” would have paralysed it. It was therefore necessary for capitalism to organise their death.”

Our brochure then explains that German capitalism did not easily decide to murder outright, not out of humanitarian scruples, but because it was not profitable. It tried to exploit its victims as much as possible, in particular by using them as slave labour in the camps, etc. It also tried to sell them to Westerners (we recall in particular the Joel Brand case that in the midst of the war the Nazis had commissioned to negotiate the emigration of a million Jews). But Western capitalisms – supposedly at war to free the victims of Nazism and restore freedom – did not care at all about the fate of a million people and turned a deaf ear.

Auschwitz or the Great Alibi” was written in 1960; since then there has been increasing evidence that the “democratic” imperialists were fully aware of the massacres committed by the Nazis and that they let them do so, even though they had the opportunity to prevent them. At the end of last year, British archival documents, made public in the United States after 50 years, revealed that the English services knew by June ‘41 (and had transmitted to their American colleagues at an undetermined date) that German forces were carrying out deportations and massacres of Jews (and others)[3], but that they never spoke publicly about it. According to an American professor, the English were silent because “in London they had no intention of starting a dispute with Hitler on the Jewish question. England was still convinced that it was possible to deal with the Führer. And a shocking truth such as that of the mass massacres would have changed the situation[4].

Jewish relief organisations provided the allies with detailed information on deportations, railways and other means of communication used, the locations of concentration camps, their organisation, the German troops assigned to them, etc. Jewish resistance organisations urged the Allies to bomb the railways leading to Auschwitz; but while they gathered thousands of bombers for deadly raids on cities without any military objective, they could never find a single one to block convoys taking the deported to Auschwitz[5]!

In a book published in 1984 entitled “The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941–1945[6], an American historian, David S. Wyman, demonstrated on the basis of official documents that American forces in Europe could have intervened as early as 1942 to save a large proportion of Jews and non-Jews in the German camps, but that they never had any intention of doing so. Wyman writes in the foreword to his book:

In short, these are the discoveries that I consider to be the most significant:

  1. The US State Department and the British Foreign Office had no intention of saving a large number of European Jews. On the contrary, they lived continuously in fear of seeing Germany and other Axis countries handing over tens of thousands of Jews to the Allies. Any such exodus would have pushed the Allied powers towards solutions – the opening of Palestine by the British and the reception of a greater number of Jewish refugees by the United States – that they refused to consider. Consequently, their policy was to prevent possible rescues and to moderate (sic!) public pressure for government action.

[According to the usual legal standards, it is therefore not only the crime of non-assistance to a person in danger, but also the crime of at least passive complicity that must then be charged against the United States – and Great Britain – Editor’s note]

  1. It was in November 1942 that the officially authenticated news of the systematic extermination of Jews by the Nazis was made public in the United States [we have seen above that the British and probably American secret services had known about it for more than a year]. Regarding these massacres, President Roosevelt took no action for 14 months and ended up acting only because of political pressures he could not escape and because the government’s rescue actions were on the verge of causing a nasty scandal.
  2. The War Refugee Agency that the President then set up to save Jews and other victims of Nazism received only limited powers, almost no help from Roosevelt, his ministers and the administration, and totally inadequate public funding. (…).
  3. Due to the administrative procedures applied by the State Department, only 21,000 refugees were admitted to the United States during the three and a half years that America was at war with Germany. This represented ten percent of the number of those who could have been legally welcomed under the immigration quotas applicable during this period.
  4. Strong public pressure would have led to a much stronger and earlier government commitment to the rescue. A number of factors hindered the development of such pressures. These include feelings of antisemitism and hostility to immigration that were as widespread in American society at the time as they were firmly represented in Congress; incapacity (sic!) of the media to publicise the news of the Holocaust, even as news agencies and other sources of information made most of the information available to them; the near silence of the Christian churches and almost all their leaders; the indifference of the vast majority of political and intellectual figures; and the fact that the President did not think it appropriate to speak clearly on this issue”.

This Wyman is a democrat who believes that his very democratic country is governed by the popular will; but by listing above he reveals without realising it that this “popular will” is organised by forces, companies or institutions belonging to the ruling class; yet, these, undoubtedly unanimously involved in the war mobilisation of the popular masses, were mostly indifferent to the rescue of the victims: this is because this indifference expressed the fundamental indifference of the American bourgeoisie towards the victims of Nazism, against whom it raised the flag of freedom and democracy. This indifference was evident even after the end of the hostilities, towards the tens of thousands of surviving “displaced persons” as we reported in our brochure. Even as the accounts of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps filled the columns of the world press, a significant number of Jews remained interned in the same concentration camps where they had been led by the Germans, under the control of the same guards and in deplorable living and hygiene conditions (the last camp was not closed until 1957!), nobody wanted them[7]. The war was indeed an imperialist war, not a war of liberation, and world capitalism had no place for these millions of people, not because they were Jewish, but because they had been rejected from the production process, because they were useless to production (“Auschwitz…”). QED.

In point 6, Wyman – who, incidentally, claims to be a pro-Zionist Christian – criticises the American Jewish organisations which wasted their energies in competition with each other and which, like the other bourgeois institutions in the country, did not give priority to saving the victims of the Nazis! His book states that, for example, Zionists were much more interested in using massacres to justify their claim to a Jewish state in Palestine than in actually saving Jews. This is in line with the Zionists’ pre-war contacts with the Nazi regime to organise Jewish emigration to Palestine that would have benefited the regime, with immigrants pledging to buy German commodities[8].

In point 7, Wyman writes about Auschwitz:

“In 1944, the U.S. Department of War rejected several calls for the bombing of the Auschwitz gas chambers and railroads there on the pretext that such actions would divert air assets essential to the continuation of decisive operations elsewhere. However, during the same period when these calls were rejected, many massive air raids were carried out by the Americans within an 80 km radius around Auschwitz. On two occasions, large formations of American heavy bombers attacked industrial targets that were part of the Auschwitz complex itself, less than 8 km from the gas chambers.”

In his last point, Wyman writes that the United States’ conduct has, however, been better than that of its allies such as Britain and Russia. The conclusion he draws from his damning work for the Allies is the justification for a Zionist state.

Auschwitz, Great Alibi for anti-Marxism?

The conclusion we draw from this is the confirmation of what we wrote 37 years ago and which makes the anti-fascist democrats so enraged. Yes, Auschwitz is well used as a gigantic and scandalous alibi by the Western Democracies who let the crime happen. It is global capitalism that is responsible for the massacres of the world war, including the massacre of Jews, Gypsies and others, and the deportations of peoples that shaped the post-war European – and non-European – configuration. All those who put forward the horrors of Auschwitz to prove the specific, unique and irreducible nature of Nazi barbarism have no other purpose than to defend capitalism, democratic and humanitarian, of the current states.

Even Alain Bihr, such an indisputable fighter against the Front National and such a fussy denouncer of all compromises – true or false – with fascism? Especially Alain Bihr! If he is indeed ranting against our “deeply degenerated Marxism” because we conceive “democracy (like fascism) as simple, interchangeable masks and instruments of bourgeois domination[9], a conception that we did not invent but which was of the classical, revolutionary communist movement before its degeneration, it is against Marxism as such that he is fighting: “More fundamentally, the inability of ultra-left ideology to account for the Nazi drive for extermination may have revealed some shortcomings of Marxism in general, including the inadequacy of its theory of politics as well as its traditional blindness to the ‘Jewish question’ and antisemitism, and thus the inadequacy of its theory of religion. Without prejudging the ability of a Marxism freed from its economic straitjacket to meet the theoretical challenge that Auschwitz continues to pose to us, etc.[10]. What would such a Marxism be, devoid of its references to the economy, and recognised as ineffective in the political and ideological (religious) question, if not a platform for adaptation to dominant ideas, whether political, religious or ideological? And indeed Bihr laments the “generalised disbelief which makes all transcendental ideals, superior values, even taboos, whether moral, political or even religious, gradually lose their credibility, consistency and psychological structuring power (…)” (Amen!), of a “kind of generalised relativism, on the moral, political, but also logical and gnosiological level: (…) there are no longer any criteria to clearly distinguish between truth and falsehood, reality and illusion, good and evil“, and finally that, “particularly among individuals who are destabilised in their socio-economic situation, suffering from the process of marginalisation which has constantly spread or been threatened by it, this symbolic lack of order can contribute to a reactive withdrawal, to the formation of an attitude of resentment, the psychological basis for any adherence to extreme right-wing ideas and movements” (or how, behind the unbearable psychological jargon, to fall into the economism that one denounces in others!). What Bihr describes there, with unfortunately a lot of exaggeration, is a weakening of the dominant ideology reflecting the worsening of social contradictions that can only delight revolutionaries while it frightens conformists and conservatives of all kinds. It is enlightening that Bihr sees in the phenomenon of proletarianisation (without using the term that too reminds us of Marxism) a danger because it causes an attitude of resentment. Resentment towards whom and what, if not towards this capitalist social and political system, towards those who are its masters and towards those who make themselves its ideologues and defenders? If Bihr obviously agrees with his friends among those who feel threatened by this resentment, he is lying when he says that this resentment leads to the extreme right. Undoubtedly, the extreme right has the function of capturing the resentment of the petty-bourgeois layers and even of certain proletarian fractions previously intoxicated by chauvinism and contempt for the most oppressed masses and it is in this sense that it is a precious force for the bourgeoisie even when it is not used as an anti-proletarian shock force; but fundamentally this “resentment” is at the root of the awakening of the proletarian struggle, which is the only real danger for capitalism and its political superstructure (parliamentary democracy).

It is therefore now easy to understand why neither Bihr nor anyone else mentions our denunciation of allied imperialism; it would be very difficult for them to praise the absolute merits of democracy, an antithesis of fascism as good is of evil, if they had to confess that the democracies knowingly let Nazism commit the crime that forms its irreducible specificity! And since they cannot oppose anything to the facts, while it is easier to argue ad infinitum against an analysis and materialistic explanation of events (this is precisely the job of bourgeois ideologues), they have no other solution than silence. Hostile to Marxism, respectful of the dominant ideology with its morals and taboos, worried about the dangers that individuals “destabilised in their socio-professional situation and marginalised” pose to today’s society, the anti-fascist democrat Bihr is therefore indeed a pro-capitalist, and his colleagues on the hunt for the ultra-left with him.

Epilogue

At this point, perhaps some readers will find our demonstration a little too literary to be totally convincing. After all, it is less what people say or write than what they do. However, in addition to being a sociologist and writing sociology books, collaborating from time to time in “Monde Diplomatique” or campaigning for “Ras l’Front”, Bihr publishes a political bulletin, with a more or less libertarian tendency, “Contre le courant[11]“, which gives a practical translation of the general theoretical orientations that we have just mentioned.

“Contre le courant”, which follows the mainstream[12], is an anti-fascist democrat group; it is therefore logical that they are a follower of the Front Républicain, a formula that would see all parties, right or left, that are attached to the established order, except the FN, come together. He thus called for voting for a bourgeois to “block” an extreme bourgeois, meaning one from the Front National. The logic of their positions took them even further; since it is normal according to this logic to support a democratic bourgeois against a less democratic one, “C.l.c.” decided that they had to support, during the Gulf War, the troops of the US-led coalition to reinstall the Kuwaiti emir on his throne! “C.l.c.” joined the imperialist coalition because they believed and made it look like the Americans were going to drive Saddam Hussein out of his throne and install democracy in Iraq; and they argued that the situation would be better in Iraq for the revolutionaries (hum!) when democracy would prevail there. Again, as in the Second World War, and countless wars that have since been fought, democratic ideologues have presented this imperialist war as the struggle of good against evil, democracy against fascism (Hussein was described by Western propaganda as a new Hitler). And “C.l.c.”-Bihr had joined his voice to this war concert…

This is where democratic anti-fascism always leads and will always lead: to become accomplices or dupes of the ruling class and capitalism.

Source: Le Prolétaire, No. 440, April-May-June-1997

[1] It is easy to answer that removing hairdressers would not have improved the situation of grocers, doctors and any other category of the petty bourgeoisie, while the closure of grocery stores and other Jewish shops, the prohibition of Jews from practising medicine, etc., brought immediate relief to these layers. If we are talking about doctors, it is because it was the profession with the highest proportion of Nazi party members.

[2] See Raul Hilberg “La destruction des Juifs d’Europe”, Ed. Fayard, p. 340.

[3] These massacres were first and foremost the work of the Einsatzgruppen, the “deployment groups”, who made their first appearance in Czechoslovakia, openly described as being occupied in “purging the liberated territories of Marxist traitors and other enemies of the state“. In the conquered territories they were in charge of liquidating the militants of proletarian and opposition organisations and they were also for a time in charge of liquidating the Jews. cf. Karl Dietrich Bracher, “Hitler and the German dictatorship”, Ed. Complexe, p. 472 and R. Hilberg, op. cit., pp. 236 and following.

[4] See Richard Breitman’s interview in “L’Expresso”, 28/11/96.

[5] See R. Hilberg, op. cit., p. 733.

[6] French version: “L’Abandon des Juifs. Les Américains et la solution finale”, Ed Flammarion, 1987.

[7] See “Camps for Jewish displaced persons in Germany (1945-1957)”, in “Twentieth Century” No. 54 (April-June 1997).

[8] There were in fact divisions within the Zionist movement. Traditional organisations and especially their leaders were opposed to emigration to Palestine that would not have been approved by Britain, while the Mossad had agreed with the Nazi authorities to organise this “illegal” emigration. On the German side the divisions were no less pronounced; while the SS organised this emigration to Palestine, the Foreign Affairs and Hitler himself were reluctant not to upset the English and preferred various “legal” emigration projects. cf. Yehuda Bauer, “Juifs à vendre?” Ed. Liana Levi, 1996. It should be noted that this Israeli professor claims that the emigration of Jews was the primary objective of the Nazi regime until the autumn of 1941 and that it was only when this emigration became impossible that the regime turned to their massacre. But even then, as the war was raging, a reversal would have been possible, he wrote, recounting the attempts, which came up against a refusal by the Allies, of the SS, to get rid of Jews by having them emigrate in exchange for this or that counterpart. To bitterly close the corresponding chapter of his book, he uses practically the same words as our brochure: “In short, even if Himmler [the head of the SS and the organiser of the final solution] was ready to ‘sell’ under certain conditions, there were no buyers“.

[9] See letter of 15/9/97 to Editions Programme (in response to a protest by us against the publication of an article attacking, among other things, our brochure).

[10] See “The Misadventures of Revolutionary Sectarianism”.

[11] English: Against the current.

[12] Punning on the name of the bulletin.

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