Ernst Nolte: the revisionist or the prophet?

Aug. 18, 2016, aged 93, passed away Ernst Nolte (1923-2016), one of the greatest historians of contemporaneity, German scholar of the right-wing regimes, philosopher, owner of the Konrad Adenauer Prize for literature, disciple of Martin Heidegger and participant of numerous discussions about the historical memory and responsibility of Germans in the Second World War, largely provoked by his own works.

A “scandalous classic of European historiography,” Ernst Nolte gained fame, above all, as the author of the “theory of fascism” developed in his first major work on “fascism in its epoch” - “Three Faces of Fascism: Action Française - Italian Fascism - National Socialism” (1963). Armed with a method of phenomenological history, this scholar, having refused to reduce right-wing and left-wing political regimes to a common “totalitarian” denominator, yet has managed to unite the aforementioned three divergent phenomena under the problematic concept of fascism. On the other hand, the choice of the generalizing term was not that disputable given that Nolte summarized main currents, even traditions, of interpreting fascism starting with the oldest socialistic one. The latter emerged before German National Socialism took shape and remained one of the most influential. Thus Italian fascism for the first time has become an umbrella concept for all succeeding right-wing movements in the interpretations of the opponents.

Both Italian Fascism and German National Socialism Nolte considered only the possibility of the accomplished doctrines. However, as opposed to the left-wing “economic” account of fascism (betrayal of the socialist revolution and an alliance with the big capital) or its reduction to “anti-Marxism,” Nolte shows that its forms share definite social philosophy and spring from the denial of the “ideas of 1789” (the French Revolution), that is unlimited implementation of the ideological triad “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” It is “Action Française” of Charles Maurras which, according to Nolte, summarized all the counterrevolutionary doctrines and created a basis for further right-wing revolts against the ongoing course of history. Hence the German historian described the underlying feature of fascism as “revolutionary reaction,” quite similarly to Armin Mohler’s notion of Conservative Revolution. Famous Nolte’s expression, which discloses the “transpolitical” character of fascism, is “resistance to transcendence,” meaning the modern technical and economic unification of the world accompanied by the unlimited emancipation. Finally, Nolte defines fascism as the gravest crisis of the liberal society which arose on a wave of emancipation and took advantage of the latter only in order to subject this society to the radical denial.

Ernst Nolte’s thesis about the reactive and secondary character of National Socialism with regard to Bolshevism, Auschwitz as compared to the Gulag and non-uniqueness of National Socialist crimes against the background of the civil war in Russia, collectivization and red terror, which earned him fame of the “controversial historian” and has not been fully accepted neither by German, nor Soviet historians, was first stated in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 6, 1986) and elaborated in his another major work of the eloquent title “The European Civil War, 1917-1945. National Socialism and Bolshevism” (1987). Nolte’s article “The Past That Will Not Pass: A Speech That Could Be Written but Not Delivered” (“The Past That Does Not Want To Pass”) attracted wide public attention and has become the subject of the “historians dispute” (Historikerstreit). The main opponent of Ernst Nolte was Jürgen Habermas, the successor of Karl Jaspers, Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt in their assessment of the “German guilt” (Jaspers’ “Schuldfrage”).

“It is a notable shortcoming that the literature about National Socialism does not know or does not want to admit to what degree all the deeds—with the sole exception of the technical process of gassing—that the National Socialists later committed had already been described in the voluminous literature of the 1920s: mass deportations and executions, torture, death camps, the extermination of entire groups using strictly objective selection criteria, and public demands for the annihilation of millions of guiltless people who were thought to be "enemies.”

It is likely that many of these reports were exaggerated. It is certain that the “White terror” also committed terrible deeds, even though its program contained no analogy to the “extermination of the bourgeoisie.” Nonetheless, the following question must seem permissible, even unavoidable: Did the National Socialists or Hitler perhaps commit an “Asiatic” deed merely because they and their ilk considered themselves to be potential victims of an “Asiatic” deed? Was the Gulag Archipelago not primary to Auschwitz? Was the Bolshevik murder of an entire class not the logical and factual prius of the “racial murder” of National Socialism? Cannot Hitler’s most secret deeds be explained by the fact that he had not forgotten the rat cage? Did Auschwitz in its root causes not originate in a past that would not pass?“ argues Nolte.

It comes as no surprise that Nolte’s pointing at the crimes of Bolshevism was immediately neutralized as the rehabilition of National Socialism and isolation of Germany from the civilized West. Considering the "constitutional” patriotism the only kind of patriotism that does not alienate the Germans from the West, Habermas criticized Nolte’s attempts to restore the collective German identity using as an excuse the myths of “preventive war” and the mission to protect Europe from the Bolshevik invasion that was bestowed upon Germany due to its central geographical position, both of which may be traced back to Michael Stürmer, the adviser to Helmut Kohl, and were shared by scholars like Andreas Hillgruber, Klaus Hildebrand and Franz Oppenheimer. Nolte, who in the 60-s had been close to the left-oriented and anti-militaristic “Group 47” and whose car was burnt by left-wing extremists in 1988, in turn, noted the irony of transformation that befell the protest movement of Marxism that turned into the university conformism in the person of his political opponents under the guise of historians.

Eastern Europe, Ukraine in particular, both at the levels of historical science at universities and political trends determined by popular consciousness, would hardly be offended by Nolte’s “equation.” Unwillingness to celebrate May 9 as “the victory of Kolyma over Buchenwald” is an example of frequent reasoning by a regular Ukrainian citizen, as well as public persons of the national scale. In the country which lost from 7 to 10 million people as a result of forced by Bolsheviks famine, Holodomor, nobody considers such parallels “historical revisionism suitable for neo-Nazis.” The fact that many Westerners heard little or nothing about Holodomor is much more scandalous for Ukrainians than Nolte’s assumptions in the eyes of anti-scientific guards of political correctness. 

It’s no wonder that after the Maidan revolution aimed against Putin’s neo-Soviet threat, the Communist party of Ukraine was finally banned, which caused outrage not only in neo-Bolshevik Russia but also in many Western European countries that definitely took the same side in the Historikerstreit. One could fairly wonder, isn’t it the reason why the revolution has become possible in Ukraine?.. A rhetorical question to those seeing everywhere the American hand and not noticing a neo-Bolshevik rope around their necks.

Today, in the postmodern world shaped by the victors in WW2, Cultural Marxists in the West and neo-Bolsheviks in the East, with right-populist Putin “understanders” in between, the world in which Russia freely unleashed the war on “fascist” Ukraine, it’s clear as never before: real changes require the genuine Reconquista in historical studies, as well as not only German but all-European cultural memory. The scientific truth, no matter how “positivistic” and “irresponsible” it may seem at a glance, should be the only purpose of historiography dealing with the political regimes and mass movements of the XXth century. May Ernst Nolte’s works and spirit be our guide in this challenging cause!

If one looks with critical eyes at the picture of bolshevism provided by Lenin’s pamphlet, the following main points may be recognized as characteristics of bolshevism:

1. Bolshevism is a nationalistic doctrine. Originally and essentially conceived to solve a national problem, it was later elevated to a theory and practice of international scope and to a general doctrine. Its nationalistic character comes to light also in its position on the struggle for national independence of suppressed nations.

2. Bolshevism is an authoritarian system. The peak of the social pyramid is the most important and determining point. Authority is realized in the all-powerful person. In the leader myth the bourgeois personality ideal celebrates its highest triumphs.

3. Organizationally, Bolshevism is highly centralistic. The central committee has responsibility for all initiative, leadership, instruction, commands. As in the bourgeois state, the leading members of the organization play the role of the bourgeoisie; the sole role of the workers is to obey orders.

4. Bolshevism represents a militant power policy. Exclusively interested in political power, it is no different from the forms of rule in the traditional bourgeois sense. Even in the organization proper there is no self-determination by the members. The army serves the party as the great example of organization.

5. Bolshevism is dictatorship. Working with brute force and terroristic measures, it directs all its functions toward the suppression of all non-bolshevik institutions and opinions. Its “dictatorship of the proletariat” is the dictatorship of a bureaucracy or a single person.

6. Bolshevism is a mechanistic method. It aspires to the automatic co-ordination, the technically secured conformity, and the most efficient totalitarianism as a goal of social order. The centralistically “planned” economy consciously confuses technical-organizational problems with socio-economic questions.

7. The social structure of Bolshevism is of a bourgeois nature. It does not abolish the wage system and refuses proletarian self-determination over the products of labour. It remains therewith fundamentally within the class frame of the bourgeois social order. Capitalism is perpetuated.

8. Bolshevism is a revolutionary element only in the frame of the bourgeois revolution. Unable to realize the soviet system, it is thereby unable to transform essentially the structure of bourgeois society and its economy. It establishes not socialism but state capitalism.

9. Bolshevism is not a bridge leading eventually into the socialist society. Without the soviet system, without the total radical revolution of men and things, it cannot fulfil the most essential of all socialistic demands, which is to end the capitalist human-self-alienation. It represents the last stage of bourgeois society and not the first step towards a new society.

—  Otto Ruhle
  • gamergater:we won't let you feminists CENSOR our art
  • gamergater:*refers to this process using the term "cultural marxism" which is a term descended from the term "cultural bolshevism" used by the nazis to denote art that they destroyed*

Preobrazhensky: If you have a care for your digestion, my advice is: avoid the subjects of Bolshevism and medicine at the dinner-table. And whatever you do, don’t read the Soviet newspapers before dinner.

Bormenthal: Hm … but there aren’t any other papers.

Preobrazhensky: That’s what I mean, don’t read newspapers.

Reactionary epochs like ours not only disintegrate and weaken the working class and isolate its vanguard but also lower the general ideological level of the movement and throw political thinking back to stages long since passed through. In these conditions the task of the vanguard is, above all, not to let itself be carried along by the backward flow: it must swim against the current.
—  Leon Trotsky, Stalinism and Bolshevism (1937)