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Susan Green

In Reply to a Labor Action Reader —

The German Workers Are Not Guilty

(7 May 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 19, 7 May 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We want to explain to our Detroit reader, W.P., that the rapid pace of world news is responsible for the delay in taking up his letter of March 10th in which he goes to bat against Labor Action writer Joe Leonard.

In the issue of March 5th, Joe Leonard wrote an article on the German people, the gist of which is that the brutal Nazi rulers are not the whole German people and that the American workers must make this distinction between oppressor and oppressed. Otherwise, the imperialist schemes of the Big Three will be assisted.

W.P., our Detroit reader contends that this distinction should not be made. He says that all the Germans – with the exception of children under ten – are alike. And W.P. tries to prove this fallacious point of view.

In the first place, he makes the statement that before September 1939, only five to ten per cent of the German people could be called innocent, the rest supporting the Hitler program. One who knows the history of Nazism has a right to question such an assertion. It is well established that the Nazi movement was based on a section of the impoverished German middle class, supported, instigated and brutalized by the German industrial rulers and their Hitlerite henchmen. The rest of the population was actually set upon by the Hitler hordes. The working class was terrorized, their organizations and press destroyed, their leaders and militant rank-and-filers killed and jailed. The Jews were killed, tortured, put in concentration camps. Christians who were too persistent in proclaiming the doctrines of Christianity, soon wound up in concentration camps. Honest intellectuals, scientists and professional people received the same treatment. Can it be that mass layers of the German people constituted only five or ten per cent of the population? Surely they were not exterminated, imprisoned and intimidated into silence by Hitler as a mark of appreciation for supporting him!

Who Were The Enthusiasts?

And if ninety to ninety-five per cent of the population supported him, why was it necessary for Hitler to station his Gestapo in every hamlet and on every city street, to plant his spies in every apartment house, to build machine gun implacements at strategic street corners? Are these the actions of a leader who has popular support?

Again, our Detroit reader is impressed by the demonstrations staged at Hitler’s public appearances in his heyday; the applause and the yelling, he considers signs of popular acclaim. But these demonstrations were made to order. Workers were taken out of their factories, conducted to the demonstrations and commanded to show enthusiasm. The crowd was peppered with Gestapo spies to see that the people did not maintain their normal sullen silence. Nazi claques and yelling squads were planted to raise a racket. These demonstrations were as spontaneous as the lifting of the arms by a person ordered to do so at the point of a gun.

Our reader indulges in other fallacies. He believes that Hitler’s successful military blitz was possible only because the majority in the army and on the home front “were with Hitler.” A discussion of the German army is, however, a subject for another discussion. There is involved the whole question of Allied preparation for war when the conflict broke out. That Hitler’s mass army – with the exception of an SS minority and, youthful fanatics – was a slave army, is partly proven by the way in which it has fallen apart, sustained neither by exhortations, threats nor a belief in Hitler. In Munich, the birthplace and citadel of Nazism, German soldiers are, at this writing, fighting like revolting slaves against Hitler’s Gestapo and Elite Guard.

As to the home front during the blitz, even then – when there was no crack in the bright armor of Hitler’s successes – there was plenty of mass hostility. Writing of those days, Curt Riess and other writers reported many instances of clever sabotage by factory workers; of fraternization, between German workers and the, foreign workers they were ordered, to shun; of giving succor to the persecuted Jews; of trying to keep alive, in an unorganized way, the remnants of union solidarity.

As Hitler’s successes melted like winter’s snow, naturally the home front became bolder in its resentment, and Nazi punishment was? meted out to fit the “crime.” Nazi prisons, accommodate thousands upon thousands of “offenders.” American reporters speaking with German prisoners in captured German towns, have learned that the offenses range from repeating anti-Hitler jokes and listening to the foreign radio, to more serious “crimes.” German soil holds the bodies of thousands of Germans murdered by the Nazis for demanding more food, staging peace demonstrations, or for just acting suspiciously.

In stating that only German children under ten should get our sympathy, our Detroit reader condemns the whole German youth. While it is bitterly true that the Nazi machine pumped its poisonous propaganda mainly into the youth, by no means all the young people succumbed. Right along there have been reports of organized student resistance to Hitler and of an underground students’ movement. There is good evidence that the fall of the Ludendorff bridge at Remagen to American soldiers was made possible by the work of the German student members of the underground at the University of Bonn. As to the feelings of individual young people, there is a story of a German girl of twenty who ran out of her farmhouse to help wounded Americans in the thick of a battle. How many such incidents must take place that are not reported!

Our Detroit reader also tells of his experience with German farmers in Canada where he worked, and how these Germans looked down on him because he is “a lousy American of Polish descent.” To go by such personal experiences in judging a whole people, is very narrow and gets us nowhere. W.P. had a bad experience with a “boss.” It only proves that the capitalist spirit even affects small people who hire others to work for them. It has nothing whatever to do with racial or national traits. On the other hand, the long array of details cited above about the German people as a whole under the Hitler regime definitely shows that they abhor Hitler and Nazism as much as the common people everywhere hate dictatorship and slavery.

Nothing written above should be interpreted by our readers as minimizing the unprecedented horrors’ practised by the Nazi regime. And it goes without saying that to carry out its extensive program of human torture and extermination, the Nazi leaders chose the lowest and most brutal elements of the population, the sadists and criminals, and trained them for the jobs of heartless guards and mechanical executioners.

Defend All Labor

We of Labor Action and the Workers Party are as much appalled and angered at these authenticated atrocities as are all decent people. We understand also how easy it is to condemn all the German people for the acts of the brutish regime, and especially how natural it is for Poles and Jews to feel that way. But what we want above all and at all times, is to get at the reasons for social phenomenon so as to be able to remove the causes that produce evils.Would it be correct to say that all the English people are brutes because the British imperialist army periodically slaughters, in cold blood, masses of Indian people wanting only bread and liberty? When such organizations in America as the Klu Klux Klan brought terror, death and devastation to poor Negroes and blacklisted whites in the interest of southern bourbons and northern capitalists, could the whole American people be branded as cold-blooded murderers?

The acts of the Nazi regime are of the same kind, but of greater quantity – to conform with the grander schemes of the German ruling class and with a ruthlessness born of a desperate hid for its imperialist life.

The hope for humanity lies in the fact that there is a difference between the common people of all lands and their rulers. The difference is as broad and basic as a battle front – the front of the class war. On the one side belong alike the British and Indian workers and common people, the Negro and white American masses, the German workers and common people, and the working masses of all countries; on the other, belong the British imperialists, the southern bourbons and northern capitalists of America, the German industrial magnates and their Nazi party and the exploiting rulers of every land.

To exclude the German masses from their proper class alignment is merely to defer the day when the workers of the world will unite to end ruling class atrocities once and for all. This is what Joe Leonard pointed out in his article. This is the truth which our Detroit reader and all workers must learn.

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