The Whites and Their Lies

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Review of 'The Russian Roots of Nazism', Michael Kellogg, Cambridge University Press £45

Michael Kellogg has set himself a major task - to show that the roots of German Nazism came from reactionary anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic émigrés from the Russian Revolution. In attempting to do so, the author tries to defend what he calls 'a middle position' between the extreme German exclusivist position of Daniel Goldhagen (Hitler's Willing Executioners), who argued that the Germans were murderously anti-Semitic by nature and nurture, and the arguments of historians such as Ernst Nolte who claim that Nazism was primarily a reaction against Bolshevism.

In an enthusiastic attempt to justify what he believes to be a new position to explain Nazism, Kellogg traces links between the German far right and Russian white émigrés. These émigrés came to Germany primarily from the Ukraine (where over 100,000 Jews were killed in 1919 by the White armies - a number only equalled in ferocity by the Nazi genocide in the 1940s) after the Russian Revolution and the defeat of the anti-Bolshevik western-backed forces in the ensuing civil war. He further suggests that the Aufban (a conspiratorial German/White émigré association based in Munich, led by the National Socialist 'philosopher' Alfred Rosenberg) made a crucial ideological impact on Hitler; indeed, according to Kellogg, who gets carried away in these chapters, it was the crucial factor in Hitler's anti-Jewish and anti-Bolshevik position and led him to launch the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

While it is tempting to share Kellogg's apparent opposition to Goldhagen's thesis of the exclusively German nature of Nazism, it would be a mistake because Kellogg takes from Goldhagen the general idea that there was something specific about the Germans - in his argument their openness to the influence of these Russian émigrés.

Kellogg and Goldhagen and the whole German war guilt argument are fundamentally wrong and indeed dangerous for anti-fascists. If they are right and there was something specific about the Germans and influences on them, then we don't need to worry about our home grown BNP or the French NF or other fascist organisations as they are not German. I think it better to take Primo Levi's analysis of the Nazi Holocaust: 'It happened and it can happen again; it happened in Germany but it can happen anywhere.' Kellogg ignores completely the economic crisis affecting Europe (indeed the world) in the 1920s and the needs of German capital, which became increasingly keen to sponsor Nazism as a bulwark against a combative working class. To explain the ideas of Nazism without this is to examine ideas outside their social context. It makes it impossible to explain why anti-Semitism played a larger or smaller role depending on the circumstances.

Donny Gluckstein, analysing the propaganda of the Nazis in his The Nazis, Capitalism and the Working Class, estimates that over 90 percent of their literature does not mention the Jews. The Nazi leadership understood that they were a scapegoat that could be used whenever but not all the time. They even went to extraordinary lengths to hide the true nature of the extermination camps, as opposed to shouting their genocide from the rooftops. If we don't understand this, how to explain the emigration (as opposed to extermination) policy that marked the Nazi regime until the invasion of the Soviet Union? It is instructive to note that the mass murder of Jews and other 'subhumans' really only started with this invasion in 1941; more Jews died in the first week of this than in the previous eight years of Nazi rule in central Europe. These issues (among many others) are ignored by Kellogg who is at pains to see a grand plan hatched by Hitler, his henchmen and Russian émigrés.

I was terribly disappointed by this book. This period in history is still ripe for further analysis of the social forces that formed and backed Nazism but it needs serious analysis, not the development of quick fix sensationalist theories without a social context.