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The 'Spectre' of Genocide

The following is a lengthy excerpt on socialism and racism from George Watson's "The Lost Literature of Socialism" (The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge, pp. 77-80). It's well worth a complete read.

"But it was the issue of race, above all, that for a half a century has prevented National Socialism from being seen as socialist. The assumption that socialism was never racist can now be seen as a misunderstanding.

The proletariat may have no fatherland, as Lenin said. But there were still, in Marx's view, races that would have to be exterminated. That is a view he published in January-February 1849 in an article by Engels called 'The Hungarian Struggle' in Marx's journal the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, and the point was recalled by socialists down to the rise of Hitler. It is now becoming possible to believe that Auschwitz was socialist-inspired. The Marxist theory of history required and demanded genocide for reasons implicit in its claim that feudalism, which in advanced nations was already giving place to capitalism, must in its turn be superseded by socialism. Entire races would be left behind afer a workers' revolution, feudal remnants in a socialist age; and since they could not advance two steps at a time, they would have to be killed. They were racial trash, as Engels called them, and fit only for the dung-heap of history.

That brutal view, which a generation later was to be fortified by the new pseudo-science of eugenics, was by the last years of the century a familiar part of the socialist tradition, though it is understandable that since the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945 socialists have been eager to forget it. In 1902 H.G. Wells concluded his Anticipations with a programme of socialist genocide, and Franz Mehring, a German Marxist who in 1902 had edited the Engles article of 1849, echoed the point with qualified approval in his life of Marx of 1918. In the United States, meanhwhile, Jack London (1876-1916), the Californian socialist whose writings would one day fascinate the young Orwell and Lenin on his deathbed, had independently arrived at a similar conclusion, combining revolutionary socialism with white-supremacist views in what a recent reviewer has called 'a strange mixture'. It would not have seemed strange, however, at the turn of the century. Jack London believed in Darwin as well as in Marx, and Darwinian theories of evolution, he held, demanded the triumph of the fittest proletariat on earth, which of course was white. 'The lesser breeds cannot endure', he wrote defiantly in a letter of 17 April 1899. 'I cannot but hail as unavoidable the Black and the Brown going down before the White.' This is socialist imperialism at its most full-blooded; and as the S.S. Oregon returned to San Francisco from the war with Spain, when the US annexed the Philippines and Cuba, London hailed it rapturously on behalf of the Hearst press in the San Francisco Examiner of 14 June 1901:

Up, up she swept, grandly on the breast of the flood tide, this huge gun platform, this floating fort, this colossus,
praising her great guns as 'teeth which have tasted' and recording 'the hot blood' that rushed at the sight back through centuries of mere civilisation to a darker and more potent age, 'things primordial and naked'. Tomorrow the lion may lie down with the lamb. 'But today it were well that we look to our Oregons and see that they be many and efficient'. That was written within months of H.G. Wells's appeal for socialist genocide in Anticipations, and doubtless in ignorance of it.

Ethnic cleansing was orthodox socialism for a century and more. 'By the same right with which France has taken Flanders', Engles wrote in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung of 10 September 1848, as well as Alsace-Lorraine, and will soon take Belgium, 'by that same right Germany takes Schleswig: with the right of civilisation against barbarism, of progress against stability'. That, as he believed, was the supreme right, 'worth more than all treaties, for it is the right of historical development'. Havelock Ellis saw it as part of the essential socialist quest for white racial purity. Capitalism believes in mere quantity, both in terms of goods and in terms of people; socialism, by contrast, in quality: 'the question of breed, the produciton of fine individuals, the elevation of the ideal of quality in human production over that of mere quantity' -- a noble ideal in itself, and also 'the only method by which socialism can be enabled to continue on its present path'. That is from Ellis's Task of Social Hygiene of 1913, which unites Marx's early vision of inevitable class conflict with eugenic theory and the coming triumph of the white races.

Sidney and Beatrice Webb echoed the point in the same year in the New Statesman. If the higher race, as they call the whites, were to lose their world predominance through a falling birth rate, there would be a cataclysm in which they would be replaced by a 'new social order developed by one or other of the coloured races, the negro, the Kaffir or the Chinese'. That prospect made the Webbs ultra-imperialists:

It would be idle to pretend that anything like effective self-government, even as regards strictly local affairs, can be introduced for many generations to come -- in some cases, conceivably never (2 August 1913)
So the socialist intelligentsia of the western world entered the first world war publicly committed to racial purity and white domination, and no less committed to violence. On 16th December 1939, after the partition of Poland by Hitler and Stalin, Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury, defended what Stalin had done, though not on the grounds Stalin had offered. He should, the Dean wrote in the New Statesman, have simply said: 'We are trustees for the world's first Socialist State.' It was a word that justified, by then, any action whatever. Since there is no morality but class morality, G.D.H. Cole wrote in the same journal after the war, 'it was therefore justifiable and necessary for the proletariat to use any method, and to take any action, that would help it towards victory over its class-enemies'.

Socialism offered a blank cheque to violence, and its license to kill included genocide. In 1933, in a preface to On the Rocks, for example, Bernard Shaw publicly welcomed the exterminatory principle which, to his profound satisfaction, the Soviet Union had already adopted. Socialists could now take pride in a state that had at last found the courage to act, though some still felt that such action should be kept a secret. In 1932 Beatrice Webb remarked at a tea-party what 'very bad state management' it had been to allow a party of British visitors in the Ukraine to see cattle-trucks full of starving 'enemies of the state' at a local station. The account is predictive, nearly ten years before the Nazis began their own mass deportations at the height of their second world war. 'Ridiculous to let you see them', said Beatrice Webb, already an eminent admirer of the Soviet system. 'The English are always so sentimental', adding with assurance: 'You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.' The story was recorded years later by her niece, Konradin Hobhouse, in a letter to the Manchester Guardian in February 1958, and it makes plain that some socialists knew of the Soviet exterminations as early as 1932 and accepted, even welcomed them as an essential part of a socialist programme. Such ideas were not limited to dictatorships. A few years later, in 1935, a Social Democratic government in Sweden began an eugenic programme for compulsorily sterilising gypsies, the backward and the unfit, and continued it till after the second world war.

The claim that Hitler cannot really have been a socialist because he advocated and practised genocide suggests a monumental failure, then, in the historical memory. Only socialists in that age advocated or practised genocide, at least in Europe, and from the first years of his political career he was proudly aware of the fact. Addressing his own party, the NSDAP, in Munich in August 1920, he pledged his faith in socialist racialism:

If we are socialists, then we must definitely be anti-semites -- and the opposite, in that case, is Materialism and Mammonism, which we seek to oppose.
There was loud applause, and the young Hitler went on promptly to accept the challenge of answering how one could be both a socialist and an anti-semite: 'How, as a socialist, can you not be an anti-semite?'
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