“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Feb 7, 2005
The following article is a translation from the January 28th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Struggle), the newspaper of the French Trotskyist organization of the same name.
The sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp was marked in much of the media, from the newspapers to magazines to the television. "We must not forget," many proclaimed, so that such a horror can never again be repeated. And it is true, of course, that we must remember. But remember not just the abominable existence of such concentration camps or just the barbarism of the Nazis, but also the reasons that allowed such things to develop.
We are told that Hitler was more or less crazy and that the Nazi leaders were sadistic. But virtually none of those who make such commentaries today explain how and why such crazy and sadistic people found themselves in power in one of the most civilized countries of the world.
The truth is that well before Hitler came to power, the Nazi militias had considerable financial support from a part of the biggest German bosses – such as Krupp and Thyssen – who saw them as an instrument that could be used to attack the German working class. The Nazi militias had recruited thousands of small businessmen who were enraged by the economic crisis that followed the crash of 1929, as well as recruiting those who were at the bottom of the society. The bosses were never very concerned about the morality of the thugs they used.
Hitler came to power in a completely legal fashion. Not because a majority of Germans voted for him (the Nazi Party never had an absolute majority in free elections), but because the president of the German Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, named Hitler the head of the government. Then the right-wing parties gave their support to Hitler in order to carry out a policy to break the powerful organizations of the German working class.
The day after the Nazis came to power, they opened the first concentration camps where – like Pinochet did in Chile – they locked up thousands of militant workers, communists and socialists, unionists – all those who opposed them. Many then faced death either by a single blow or by being worn down into the ground. To operate these concentration camps, special units of the SS were created – in which the most brutal and sadistic types were used, those hungry for the power to appease their fantasies.
But at the time, none of this touched the Allies of the future. Fifteen years after the revolutionary crisis had shaken Europe and resulted in the birth of the Soviet Union, these Allies were not opposed to the Nazi regime that was breaking the organizations of the German working class. For them, Hitler was someone completely respectable. No one moved to oppose Hitler in the beginning. Even when Hitler sent his army to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938-39, calling in question the new division of the world that France and England had imposed on Germany following its defeat in World War I, these future Allies stood by and watched. They share a part of the responsibility for the birth of this regime, which carried out the massacre of millions of Jews who suffered the most horrible part of these crimes, even if they were not the only ones.
The Allies did not discover "anti-Hitlerism" until the German invasion of Poland demonstrated that the Nazis intended to keep expanding.
Something else must be remembered: the possessing class is ready to use the worst torture in order to maintain their privileges. Even if this Nazi regime collapsed in 1945, there are still the Pinochets, the Argentinean generals, the French butchers in Algeria, as well as the sinister methods of the U.S. military today in Iraq. All this reminds us that such barbarism is not just a thing of the past and that it can appear under many symbols other than the swastika.
This barbarism is the fruit of the capitalist system. And the risk of its repetition will disappear only when this system is removed.