Secret Reports on Nazi Germany by Neumann, Marcuse and Kircheimer: Possible patterns of German collapse

What do you get when you put three neo-Marxists from the Frankfurt School in the US's Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA? Some of the best analysis of Nazi Germany ever written, says John Bew.

Secret Reports on Nazi Germany:
the Frankfurt School Contribution to
the War Effort
Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse
and Otto Kirchheimer
Princeton University Press, 704pp, £30.95
 
Question: what do you get if you take three neo-Marxist intellectuals from the Frankfurt School and put them in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the US’s wartime intelligence agency and the forerunner of the CIA? Answer: some of the most brilliant analysis of Nazi Germany ever written and a valuable lesson in postwar planning.
 
Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse and Otto Kirchheimer – leading figures in the creation of Marxist “critical theory” and, in Marcuse’s case, a “rock star” of the 1960s radical left – were Jewish émigrés who fled Germany for the US in the 1930s. Between 1942 and 1944, the three friends were headhunted from posts in American universities by General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the leader of the OSS, and reunited in the service of the US government. The reports they prepared on Nazi Germany, first declassified in the mid-1970s, have now been collated and published for the first time, edited by the Italian academic Raffaele Laudani. Together they form a rich and multilayered collection of political essays that will be of enduring interest to students of military intelligence, Marxism, Nazi Germany and the Allied effort in the Second World War.
 
The Frankfurt group was housed in the central European section of the research and analysis branch of the OSS – a huge and eclectic organisation with a staff of more than 1,200. United in the successful prosecution of the war effort, it was perhaps the world’s greatest ever think tank and contained in its ranks some of the foremost intellectuals of 20th-century America – historians, economists and social scientists from across the political spectrum such as Felix Gilbert, Walt Rostow and Arthur Schlesinger.
 
In a foreword to the book, the Cambridge philosopher Raymond Geuss suggests that such “toleration of intellectual deviancy”, in which the ideas of Marxism could be harnessed in the defeat of fascism, stands in contrast to the “politics of myopic intellectual conformism” of the Anglo-American world in the 21st century. One might add that war produced a generation of academics willing to get their hands dirty and adjust their tradecraft in order to serve a greater cause.
 
Although they would allow themselves the occasional philosophical digression in the smoke-filled rooms of the OSS – partly, it seems, out of mischief – they did not shirk from adopting the crisp, terse and direct prose required for intelligence reports, in which anything resembling “Proust, Joyce or Gertrude Stein” was strictly forbidden.
 
The three scholars were set to work at just the moment the Allies began to smell victory, following costly German defeats in Stalingrad and Tunisia between February and May 1943. Most of their work aimed to predict “possible patterns of German collapse” which would allow the Allies to hasten Hitler’s defeat and plan for the invasion – with the Russians and the threat of communism looming in American minds. As émigrés, Neumann, Marcuse and Kirchheimer offered an acute understanding of the enemy’s political culture – precisely the type of analysis that might have served a purpose at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
 
The use of class analysis throughout also added a hard edge that stands in contrast to the pieties and posturing sometimes associated with the modern left. Although there was a moral core to their anti-Nazism, they addressed politics in a profoundly functional and dispassionate way. Their view of anti- Semitism, for instance, was remarkably unemotional, if not necessarily convincing. They saw it as a “spearhead” of a system of Nazi terror in which Jews were targeted as “guinea pigs in testing a method of repression” – a cynical political tool, rather than a hatred that came from the belly of German society. Though all three have been criticised for failing to grasp the exceptional nature of anti-Semitism, Neumann played an important role in creating the legal architecture that helped tackle the question of the Holocaust at the Nuremberg Trials.
 
In a similar way, their criticism of the Allied bombing of Germany was based not on humanitarian objections but a conviction that it was counterproductive. “Manifold as the effects of the air raids on the German population may be, they have one common characteristic,” Neumann wrote in June 1944: “they tend to absorb all political issues into personal issues, on the national as well as the individual level.” In other words, they made Germans concerned only about their immediate survival rather than the interests of their class, or the need to topple their government.
 
In an early and powerful interjection into a debate that has raged among historians ever since, the Frankfurt group rejected the notion that either “Prussian militarism” or the “Teutonic urge for domination”, which Churchill spoke of, could explain the rise of Hitler. Rather, they saw the roots of Nazism not in the acquiescence or encouragement of the Prussian Junker classes (the landed nobility) but in a series of “pacts” between the “industrial bourgeoisie” and the regime. Nazism, built on a cult of technocratic efficiency and embodied in the rise of men such as the architect Albert Speer, was uniquely modern.
 
John Bew is reader in history and foreign policy at King’s College London

 

The German-born philosopher and radical theorist Herbert Marcuse in 1968. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images.

John Bew is a New Statesman contributing writer. His most recent book, Realpolitik: A History, is published by Oxford University Press.

This article first appeared in the 19 August 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Why aren’t young people working

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump