Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The roots of fascism: imperialism

I've been reading through Richard Seymour's recent book The Liberal Defence of Murder, which I strongly recommend. Here's one passage from his book that jumped out at me that should provide some food for thought, and which I think provides some continuity with some of the material that I have either written or referenced in the past:
...imperialism and fascism ... are in fact contiguous. The models for Nazi barbarism had been supplied not only by the bureaucratic institutions of European modernity - the workhouse, the prison, the barracks, the abbatoir - but also crucially by European imperialism. Enzo Traverso explains: 'The notion of "living space" was not a Nazi invention. It was simply the German version of a commonplace of European culture at the time of imperialism.' It 'stemmed from a vision of the extra-European worlds as a space to be colonised by biologically superior groups.' Similarly, the ideological justification for racial extermination had been prepared by European Social Darwinism, and the process had been practised in various ways in Tasmania, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. L. Frank Baum, for example, reporting on the Indian Wars, had written:
The whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians...better that they should die than live like teh miserable wretches that they are.
As Claudia Koonz points out, when the Nazis wanted to annul the legal protections of assimilated citizens, they appealed to analogies with American policy, hoping the Nazi racial codes would soon be as widely accepted as 'US immigration quotas, antimiscegenation laws, involuntary sterilisation programmes in twenty-eight states, and segregation in the Jim Crow south'. Adolf Hitler was himself full of admiration for Europe's colonial model - particularly the British role in India, which they had governed 'very well'. The Nazi Drang nach Osten was to repeat Britain's imperial successes:
It should be possible for us to control this region to the East with two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand men plus a cadre of good administrators. Let's learn from the English, who with two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand men in all, including fifty thousand soldiers, govern four-hundred-million Indians.
Or again: 'What India was for England, the territories of Russia will be for us.' It was for him, as for the British, a matter of Aryan supremacy. He wrote in Mein Kampf,
The Aryan races - often in absurdly small numbers - overthrow alien nations, and favoured by the numbers of people of lower grade, who are at their disposal to aid them, they proceed to develop, according to the special conditions for life in the acquired territories - fertility, climate, etc., the qualities of intellect and organisation which are dormant in them.
National Socialism also shared important characteristics with Germany's own colonial past:
both called for a racial order based on racial reproduction as the foundation of the state; both sought, at least in part, to replace the classic nation-state with a racial state; both implied the dissolution of the bourgeois family through the complete subordination of sexuality to racial purity; and both entailed an expansionist drive to reproduce this racial order elsewhere.
And of course, both involved genocide (in 1904, openly referred to as 'annihilation') in the pursuit of the race war. This connection was intuited by Hannah Arendt, who detected the basis for modern 'totalitarianism' in nineteenth century imperialism. (pp. 64-65)
Seymour goes on to briefly note that this particular nuance in Arendt's writing is often entirely ignored by those who've subsequently cited her work on totalitarianism.

Here's something I wrote back in late 2007 that seems relevant to what Seymour has written:
I'm just enough of a history buff to find this of interest - old Adolph Hitler had something of a love-hate thing going on with the US. Although initially prone to badmouth the US (for example see Mein Kampf), but the time of Zweites Buch, he'd become quite the fan of American pioneering of eugenics practices such as forced sterilization and US immigration law (which by the 1920s was pretty draconian). Of course that wasn't all. See Why Hitler Loved America:
In Hitler's view, the US had become a major power by 'ethnic cleansing' of the native inhabitants: he saw clearly that the US itself, which poses as a nation state, is in fact an Empire. It's just that the anninhilation of the indigenous inhabitants was so complete that we don't see the US as an Empire.

As Finkelstein has pointed out, Hitler's 'push for the East' was explicitly inspired by the American setttlers 'push for the West'. As Adam Tooze reveals in his superb Wages of Destruction, it's true that Hitler compared the Russians to Indians, but it's ALSO true that he compared them to AMERICAN Indians. As the Indians had been pushed off their lands and herded off to reservations, so the Russians (and Poles) would be herded off to super-concentration camps: i.e. neo-reservations, where, Hitler hoped, their numbers would be 'thinned' to the extent that Germans could easily rule them while using them as cheap labour.
Hat tip to Inteligentaindigena Indigenismo Novajoservo. Scroll down and you'll find out that Hitler used to refer to the Russians as "redskins."

And even if in Mein Kampf, Hitler comes off as sour toward the US, he still found plenty to inspire him - including none other than Teddy Roosevelt. At least one passage in Mein Kampf reads like an abridged version of Roosevelt's The Winning of the West, Volume One. I guess if you were an aspiring fascist dictator during the 1920s, what with ethnic cleansing, eugenics, reservations, etc., what was there not to love about the US?
There are clearly some common threads in the imperialist inclinations and actions under Hitler's Germany, England's colonization of India, and of course America's Manifest Destiny. We can see these same threads in action when looking at more recent colonization and ethnic cleansing programs - a few of which I tried to highlight last year.

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