Ideological friends or foes?

Socialism in September 1939: Stalin vs. Hitler

The catastrophe that befell the Soviet Union during the Second World War is typically associated with June 22, 1941, when the Third Reich invaded the USSR. In actuality, there were two such catastrophes, so what happened on June 22 was the direct result of the first one that had been obscured by the fanfare of Stalin and Zhdanov’s ideological machine and passed nearly unnoticed.

UPSIDE-DOWN WORLD

In September 1939 Soviet society experienced a tremendous shock after a series of events: the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, end of anti-Nazi propaganda, launch of a propaganda campaign against the Western democracies, the Red Army’s advancement into Poland, large-scale friendly contacts between the German and the Soviet military, including joint combat operations against the Polish army.

The world was turned upside down, with Moscow newspapers publishing unabridged texts of speeches by Hitler, Goebbels, and Goering and Moscow Radio broadcasting them. Add to this information about National Socialist Germany where the workers were living far better than in any rotten bourgeois democracy, the cultural summits reached by the Third Reich’s people’s intelligentsia, the well-trained and equipped Wehrmacht, its victories in the sky, on the ground, and at sea over the cowards wearing the uniforms of Western democracies (the abovementioned contacts with Wehrmacht men proved that this was not idle talk, that the German army was indeed well-organized, and that its command took far better care of its men), and so on and so forth. Like I said, it was a social shock.

This shock came not from tens of millions of people suddenly familiarizing themselves with the ideas of the Nazi leadership that were totally alien to the world’s “most humane socialist state,” but from the fact that the Bolsheviks and the Nazis turned out to be ideological brothers, perhaps even twins.

Below are statements made by Soviet Ukrainians in the fall of 1939, found in the archives of special services and party bodies by the noted historian Vladyslav Hrynevych.

“Well, this is some news! We thought that a war with Germany would break out shortly, we expected it, and then discovered that the situation was the exact opposite!”

“If they didn’t say on the radio that it was Hitler’s speech, one would have easily surmised it was delivered by a Communist. A very good speech, the way a real Communist would have made it. Judging by his latest speech, Hitler rates a [Soviet] Party membership card. He speaks like a Communist.”

“If the situation remains the same, Hitler will bere-educated. Under the circumstances one ought to expect Hitler to apply for Communist Party membership.”

“Germans are clever people. Goering said that the Bolsheviks are building Communism, and we, National Socialism, and the two are almost the same thing.”

“Hitler now appears to have the world’s strongest army. He is another Napoleon.”

“Under Hitler, things appear to be better organized than here; his army is well fed and dressed, so his men are eager to take the field and win victories. We are fed and dressed worse here, and so they make us fight at gunpoint.”

From the current standpoint it follows that these whispered comments overheard by Stalin’s secret police have quite a few valid points. It is true that socialism reigned in the Third Reich and that it was far more humane than its counterpart under Stalin — except that it was meant only for the Aryans, something some of Ukrainians failed to realize under Stalin’s regime. (The same was true of the people in Galicia and Volhynia, hence some of their political illusions.)

WAS HITLER A SOCIALIST?

I realize that some of my readers will be shocked to read about Nazi Germany’s socialism the same way their parents and grandparents were shocked 70 years ago. How could this be possible? Graduates of Soviet institutions of higher learning were taught that “fascism” is a terrorist dictatorship on the part of the most reactionary imperialistic forced, which is not protected by any laws that provided for the dominance of the monopolistic bourgeoisie. Even now the Ukrainian and Russian leftist parties insist that “fascism is the worst enemy of socialism.” Some journalists and politicians in Ukraine attach the label “fascist” to their opponents who harbor national democratic and even liberal views.

On this reasoning, “Nazi” is another designation for the sworn enemy of the principles of social justice, human rights for the working masses, and solidarity among the hired laborers. One ought to recall, however, that Adolf Hitler’s party was “National Socialist” and “Labor.” This designation was not coincidental.

When the Nazis came to power in early 1933, Germany was gripped by a deep-reaching social and economic crisis, with 25 million jobless adults. For 40 percent of the families welfare was the main source of income. This crisis was exacerbated by constant conflicts between labor and capital, which manifested themselves as strikes, lockouts, and large-scale public unrest. In the mid-1930s the unemployment rate had dropped to several percent, and it was almost zero in 1938. No more strikes or lockouts, and the hired labor’s living standard was among Europe’s highest. In addition, workers and their families were now active participants in a number of social and cultural-educational programs.

Was it not the best model of socialism? In many respects it was easily identifiable with that in the Soviet Union, simply because a single model of socialism does not exist. Instead, there are general principles, including the maximum possible amount of social justice and equality, government control over production, fair distribution of the products of social work, and a system of social protection. In fact, Marx and Engels wrote that there are numerous varieties of petty bourgeois, bourgeois, and even feudal socialism. They singled out what they called German Socialism, although in the mid-19th century it was a utopian rather than even theoretical notion.

Life in Germany at the time was marked by a variety of things are events: red banners, the official pomp of May 1 as a nationwide holiday, socialist competition among factory workers to win the prestigious title “exemplary national-socialist enterprise,” awards personally given by the Fuhrer, the harvest home feast in the countryside, workers’ militia squads in cities, “people’s courts of honor,” housing co-op associations for workers, large-scale amateur art projects, and celebrations held for labor veterans. Not coincidentally, the head of the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront — DAF) Robert Ley, who assumed office after German trade unions were disbanded, addressed a meeting of activists of his organization in Magdeburg (1937) with the following words: “I will make every effort to turn our factories into temples of labor; I will try to make our workers the most respected people in Germany… One shouldn’t describe our social measures as idle talk; they are all manifestations of top-notch entrepreneurship. A businessman who doesn’t understand this is not as a manager or a German.”

Those measures were versatile indeed. Thus, in order to combat inflation, German authorities “froze” salaries and prices for basic consumer goods in 1933. On Dec. 5, 1933, the government reversed its policy and decreed that salaries under 183 reichsmarks were tax-exempt. At the time an average salary was 170 reichsmarks, so most Germans essentially a pay rise.

However, there is more to the living standard than just the salary. In 1934 the “Beauty of labor” program was launched, aimed at making every production process and cultural education more esthetic for the working masses. Apart from making the working conditions more comfortable, it envisaged to provide all production facilities with canteens where the workers could buy their meals at reasonable prices. There were practically no such canteens before Hitler came to power. Under this program, DAF workers also took care of the workers’ hygiene, equipping the production facilities with washrooms and shower booths, monitoring the quality and cost of foodstuffs supplied to them, as well as their living conditions — specifically when the workers had to spend a long time away from home. Free-of-charge public swimming pools and playgrounds were built on the premises of these production facilities.

Here are some statistics regarding the program: working conditions were considerably improved at 12,000 industrial enterprises in 1935, with the local entrepreneurs paying 100 million reichsmarks. In 1936, tens of thousands of canteens, restrooms, pools, and playgrounds were built at 70,000 enterprises, with the total costs reaching a billion reichsmarks.

The project “Good lighting in the workplace means good work” was implemented in 1935, followed by the projects “Clean workers at clean enterprises,” “Clean air in the workplace,” “Hot meals at work.” Are these to be regarded as trifles? German workers, citizens of a country that had lost the First World War and had had a hard time getting over its crisis, did not think so.

During this period the DAF used the money it had accumulated to support its members financially when on sick leave, jobless, or suffering from an industrial accident. Funds were also channeled into maternity, childhood, and professional hazard relief programs.

German workers were also entitled to paid leaves — there were practically none before the Nazis came to power. In early 1933 an industrial worker had a minimum leave of three days (not counting red-letter days and weekends). Toward the end of that year it was six days (seven days for younger workers). The difference appears to be small, but became palpable soon after it was addressed by the organization with the exotic name “Strength through Joy” (Kraft durch Freude — KdF).

Robert Ley spoke at its founding congress and said the workers had to have adequate rest and recreation when on leave and on the weekends. Ley added that physical inactivity on such occasions led to criminal trends, a feeling of emptiness and worthlessness, and that this was “very dangerous for the state.” In order to instill in the workers a sense of happiness and gratitude toward the party, he went on to say that it was necessary to grant the working masses access to all those cultural benefits the bourgeoisies had previously enjoyed. In order to facilitate the people’s physical and cultural wellbeing, it was necessary to provide better opportunities for mass sports and organize tourist trips. Tourism had to strengthen people’s love for their Fatherland, its nature, and landscapes. Ley stressed that he expected from the KdF a great deal of help in forming “a new community, new society of this National Socialist State.”

(To be continued in the following issue)