Working-Class-Power

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Working class power

film-and-form replied to your post: So much of the confusion surrounding the dynamics…

I agree with a lot of this, but I think the comparison of western leftism with fascism is too much. I think you can talk about the many reactionary ideas the western left still holds on to without this drastic comparison.

I don’t think it’s too far at all. I recommend reading the book Hitler’s Beneficiaries by Götz Aly. He does a great job of challenging the popular myth that fascism, and Nazism in particular, was about punishing workers in general or dismantling working class power in general. Fascism was certainly about dismantling the power of populations the fascists considered to be “undesirable.” But in the case of the Nazis, repression was not in general directed against people the Nazis considered to be ethnically German. There was of course a period of relatively widespread repression following the Nazis’ rise to power. But when the war started, repression of Germans quickly ceased. Ultimately, the number of Germans the Nazis imprisoned or killed was minuscule in comparison to, say, East Germany after the war, as Aly points out. More fundamentally, the Nazis made great pains to ensure that the German working class benefited from the war effort, of course at the expense of Jews, peoples the Nazis occupied, and other “undesirables,” which is the focus of Aly’s book.

To continue the focus on feminism from the last post, i’ll just discuss one of the ways this manifested: how many women benefited from Nazism.

Wives of German soldiers during the war were paid for their domestic work. This was virtually unprecedented and it meant that many German women did not have to be saddled with the “double burden” of working at home and in a factory. Of course, this payment for domestic work was effectively given on the condition that women stay within the traditional feminine role, but wives of German soldiers saw their living standards and leisure time increase as a result. The pay that soldiers’ wives received for domestic work was also in addition to any pay soldiers sent home, and in addition to wealth looted from Jews and occupied peoples that families received.

On that last point, the Nazis robbed exorbitant amounts of wealth from Jews and redistributed a significant amount of it to families, including poor families. Moreover, German soldiers were encouraged to spend money in occupied territories, and customs checks were practically eliminated for goods sent from occupied territories back to German families. The Nazis also deliberately manipulated currency exchange rates so that German soldiers would be able to purchase a disproportionate amount of goods in occupied territories (there was apparently a concern to make robbery appear legitimate, although this did not stop the Nazis from straight-up robbing huge amounts of gold from occupied territories). The extent of wealth transfer from occupied territories to German families was enormous. In occupied Holland for example, German soldiers were given what would today be the equivalent of $12,000 a month (!!!) just to spend on Dutch goods. The copious amounts of goods purchased, for which the German soldiers effectively had not fully paid, were largely sent back to German families. [As an aside, Aly found in his research that German women readily recounted the immense wealth they received from their husbands during the war, but German men who had served in the military, without exception, vehemently denied their looting!]

All of this meant that many German women, including working class women, saw their level of affluence increase tremendously during WWII as a result of Nazi policies, and they even attained a degree of emancipation from the dominance of their husbands. Of course, these benefits were at the severe expense of Jews, occupied peoples, and other “undesirables.”

The point here is this: a legitimate criticism that can be made of demands like “wages for house work” is that, well… Hitler would have agreed. Hitler would have agreed on a couple of conditions. First, that wages for house work be a demand made on a nationalist basis, and secondly, that wages for house work be paid for out of value extracted from “undesirables.” As it happens, most of the First World left confines itself to demands on a strictly nationalist basis, seeking gains for First World workers without much thought of any connection to Third World workers. Moreover, if wages for housework were given out in imperialist countries, so long as these countries remained imperialist the domestic wages would most certainly be paid out of surplus value extracted from Third World workers. Thus “wages for housework” is a demand that can be very easily co-opted by fascists.

Fascists seek to cultivate harmony between classes in imperialist countries in order to strengthen the nation. They have no difficulty making significant concessions to imperialist-country working classes therefore, and in fact they often go out of their way to do just this. Thus the line between leftists demands effectively made on a nationalist basis in imperialist countries (i.e. without concern for the connection to Third World labor) and fascist ones is blurry. And support for one can easily transform into support for the other as has been demonstrated historically. As the Nazis were rising to power in Germany there was significant flocking from the KPD to the Nazi party. If leftists in the First World today don’t rid themselves of chauvinistic practices i can see the same thing happening here. That’s why i say there’s not a tremendous difference between First Worldist leftism, which abjectly denies that the privileges of First World workers are founded in Third World exploitation, and fascism.

Technology and Socialist Strategy

Technophobia, Paul Heideman claims, does injustice to the legacy of socialist thinking on technology and to technology’s emancipatory potential. How can this legacy guide today’s struggle to rebuild working-class power?

Readings

Location and Time

  • 108 Morris St, meeting room around corner
  • 6:30 PM, August 12