Into the Darkness : An Uncensored Report from Inside the Third Reich at War
by Lothrop Stoddard
Chapter 21: The Totalitarian State
We have just surveyed the Party. in the light of what we there saw, we can now more intelligently examine its relation to the State. Furthermore, we may observe the relations of both State and Party to certain aspects of German life not previously discussed, such as Law, Crime, Finance, Business, and Religion.
Before so doing, however, I will venture a few words of caution. Much of what I am about to say is so strange and so repellent to our mode of thought that the reader will very likely find himself in a sort of Alice in Wonderland realm of ideas, wherein almost everything seems upside down from his point of view. He will therefore be tempted to dismiss the whole business as either hypocritical camouflage or arrant nonsense.
That, however, would be a shortsighted attitude.
After months of intensive study and innumerable conversations with representative Nazis, high and low in the Party scale, I am convinced that the “Old Guard,” at any rate, are for the most part, fanatical zealots. If the Nazi thesis were a dialectic screen hiding mere lust for power and self, it would never have converted so large a portion of the traditionally honest, idealistic German people. If the Nazi leaders were just a band of cynical adventurers, with tongue in cheek and wholly “on the make,” it would be far easier to deal with them. Yet, whatever may be their aims, they are quite unscrupulous in their methods. Hitler has proclaimed, times without number, that the end justifies the means, and his disciples consistently follow that frank gospel. The Nazis are thorough going propagandists the cleverest I have ever come up against. They have evolved a propaganda system which is all pervasive, and at its head stands Dr. Goebbels, generally recognized as the greatest master of the subtle art that our epoch has produced. Nazi spokesmen will paint verbal pictures for you which may sound alluring. When I listened to them, I kept firmly in the back of my mind the thought that I must take nothing for granted. I knew in advance that the speakers would not hesitate to overstress or suppress, and that the upshot might be something which, though literally true, would be a partial and distorted one.
However, just because they do not hesitate to present matters in propagandist fashion, we should not jump to the conclusion that there is nothing solid behind the presentation. There is clever intelligence in the Party, and lots of painstaking thought has been devoted to elaborating its program and perfecting the ideas upon which the program is based. National Socialism is not a mere farrago of nonsense; somehow it hangs together provided you accept its premises. That’s the trouble with most argumentation. People ignore or slide over premises and then wrangle bitterly over conclusions.
With this little caveat, or admonition, let us proceed.
Nazi political theory stems from an intimate union of four distinct elements, each of which is conceived by them in a special (and, to us, highly unfamiliar) sense. They are: Folk, State, Party, and Leader. We have already mentioned two of these basic factors: the Gemeinschaft, the organic unity of a people founded on community of blood; and the Fuehrerprinzip, the principle of Supreme Leadership, incarnated in Adolf Hitler.
In Nazi eyes, the Gemeinschaft concept is best expressed by the word Volksgemeinschaft; literally, Folk Community. Note the difference between this and our idea of a nation. To us, a nation means the sum total of all persons now living in the territory of a sovereign State who owe allegiance to it. The Nazi Folk or People differs from the traditional nation both in time and in space. Having a racial basis, its living members are links in a vital chain which includes both the dead and the unborn. Furthermore, all its blood brothers are organically members, even though they live far from the political center of the Folk. Thus, persons of German blood throughout the world are presumed to have a sort of mystic tie with the Third Reich, no matter what their technical citizenship. On the other hand, resident Jews are not, and cannot become, full fledged Reich citizens. They are merely Reich subjects.
As for the Party, it is officially deemed as;
“the incorporation of the German conception of the State and is indissolubly bound up with the State.“
But note also this:
“The Party does not owe its position to the State; it exists in its own right. Actually the present State existed ideally in the Party before it was established in fact.“
Lastly, the Party is itself incarnated and sublimated in the person of its supreme Fuehrer.
To Americans, these are, of course, strange concepts. To show the extent to which Nazi thinking differs from ours, take the title I have given this Chapter. To my mind, The Totalitarian State is the best way to characterize for American readers a regime which controls, commands, and directs everybody and everything within its supreme authority. But Nazis don’t like the term, and Dr. Erich Schinnerer, a specialist on Nazi jurisprudence, registers his objection as follows:
“The relation between People and State shows how false it is to characterize the National Socialist State as a totalitarian State. A State which itself works for an end and is not an end in itself cannot in any sense be called a totalitarian State, in which the center of gravity has been shifted to the disadvantage of the individual. In such case the defenseless individual is confronted by an all powerful State. But the National Socialist State exists to serve the People and therefore each member. Each German is a member of the whole and therewith called upon to cooperate in the life of the State. The term, totality, properly applies to the National Socialist Weltanschauung, which is embodied in the whole people and activates every branch of national existence.“
How are we going to reconcile such assertions with self evident facts? As I see the matter, it is just one more instance of what I have repeatedly pointed out in these pages: the wide discrepancy between theory and practice in the Third Reich. And the reason for that is clear. National Socialism is a revolution which is still in the emergency stage. Even though this emergency may have been largely self made, it nevertheless exists. Unless conditions become easier, we may expect a continued regime of practical martial law, with most of the fine theories put away in mothballs.
Anyhow, the Third Reich is a completely coordinated and utterly unified State, wherein every trace of the old Federalism which existed under the Empire and persisted in modified form under the Weimar Republic has been swept away. The Federal States have been abolished. In their place are Gauen, or provinces, which designedly cut across State lines with the avowed intention of making the inhabitants forget their historic local attachments. That was what the French revolutionists did when they abolished the provinces of royal France and cut the country up into Departments. This was done so arbitrarily that the French Departments have never developed much vitality. The Nazis claim that they have avoided this mistake by laying out each Province as a logical region based on a combination of history, geography, economics, culture, and common sense.
Dr. Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior, is responsible for the transformation of Germany’s internal administrative setup which has taken place under the Nazi regime. Dr. Frick is much older than his colleagues, though he does not look his 63 years with his lithe, spare body, and alert attitude. Furthermore, he has behind him a long career in the Government service dating back to the Empire. The administrative remolding of Germany is thus in experienced hands. His motto is that of all Nazis: One Folk, One Reich, One Fuehrer! The logical application of the basic principles just discussed is perhaps most evident in the field of jurisprudence, especially on its criminal side. All legal differences between different parts of Germany were promptly abolished and a uniform procedure established. Far more important was the change in the spirit and character of the law itself.
That profound change is well explained by its author, Dr. Franz Guertner, Minister of Justice, who says:
“National Socialism looks upon the community of the nation as an organization which has its own rights and duties, and whose interests come before those of the individual. When we speak of the nation, we do not confine ourselves to the generation to which we happen to belong, but extend that term so as to comprise the sum total of the generations which have preceded us and those that will come after us. This view has found expression in the National Socialist doctrine: Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz, The Common Weal before individual advantage. It dominates National Socialist policy, and its natural corollary is that the rights of the individual must be subordinated to those of the community. The protection enjoyed by individuals is not based on the assumption that their particular rights are sacrosanct and inviolable, but rather on the fact that all of them are regarded as valuable members of the national community, and therefore deserve protection. … National Socialist ideas on justice thus differ fundamentally from those which prevailed under the preceding regime.“
Some Nazi ideas of justice do, indeed, seem to “differ fundamentally,” not only from those in Germany under the Weimar Republic but from those today in force elsewhere. In the world at large, the accepted idea is that legal codes have two basic functions: to regulate human relations and to protect the individual citizen against arbitrary official action. The first is embodied in civil and criminal law, the second in bills of rights. Both of these Nazi jurisprudence throws into the discard. Any act deemed deserving of punishment may be dealt with under the “unwritten law,” described as “the healthy sense of justice of the German people.” The penalty is meted out “by analogy” with those in the existing code. The aim is to replace the former concept: “No punishment except through law,” with the novel dictum: “No crime without its punishment.” Also, punishment may be retroactive. This has been especially common in political cases, where persons have been condemned by Nazi courts for acts done under the Weimar Republic which were not then illegal. Likewise, the definition of treason has been greatly expanded, and such cases are dealt with by the dread “People’s Tribunal,” whose proceedings are secret and whose judgments are usually the death penalty. In the Third Reich, political offenses are deemed the greatest crimes, and are dealt with most severely. No safeguards exist in such cases for the individual citizen. The Nazi concept that the collectivity must at all costs be safeguarded here attains its logical conclusion.
In the sphere of ordinary criminal law, Nazi justice, however severe, has undoubtedly got noteworthy results. Under the Weimar Republic, crime was widespread. Old American residents of Berlin have told me about the conditions which then prevailed. Burglaries, holdups, and petty thieving were common. The poorer quarters of Berlin were unsafe for well dressed pedestrians at night.
Today, Berlin is one of the safest cities in the world for even the most prosperous appearing person. The general blackout makes no difference. I remember how Dr. Froelich laughed when I asked him about this.
“You bet our streets are safe,” he said. “And I’ll tell you why. Any holdup or robbery during the blackout hours is punished with death. The case comes before a special court, and two hours after a verdict of guilty, the offender’s head is off on the guillotine!“
Scanning the papers for local items during my residence in Berlin, I found that statement was no exaggeration. During my entire stay, I caught only a few instances of holdup cases, mostly bag snatchings at subway entrances by young hoodlums who were caught in every instance save one. Holdup cases seem to be given a fair trial, judging by a case I read about which concerned a drunken man who accosted passersby and ordered them to hand over their money. The first “victim” laughingly pushed the wavering inebriate aside, thinking it a bad joke. The second person accosted, a woman, screamed, and brought a policeman promptly to the scene. At the trial, a specialist on alcoholism reported that the culprit was too drunk to realize what he was doing. So he got off with a prison sentence instead of losing his head.
One reason why there is so little wartime crime is that, the very first day war broke out, the Government started a general round up of all persons with noteworthy criminal records, who were thereupon removed from circulation in concentration camps for the duration of the war. This was merely an extension of the indeterminate detention of habitual offenders which Himmler referred to when I interviewed him. The Nazis see no reason why society should be plagued by persons who have demonstrated their chronic inability to avoid committing offenses. And they stay in concentration camps for life, unless the camp authorities are convinced that they are reformed. The Nazis are robust pragmatists.
Nazi achievements in finance and industry are generally regarded as deep, dark mysteries abroad. To me, the answer is very simple: An absolute dictatorship over an industrious, resourceful people. That is the basis of everything that has happened. Let’s see how it has worked out in detail.
First, how did they get the money for a colossal rearmament program, coupled with other expenditures on an equally lavish scale? Easy enough. “Money,” in the sense of a national currency as distinguished from actual gold and silver, is anything a Government says it is so long as the people will accept it as such. The Nazi Government said the Reichsmark was the sole legal tender, and the policeman on the corner stood ready to enforce that decree in every case. There was no alternative, because no German could legally export his marks and turn them into foreign currencies; neither could he hoard dollars or pounds sterling, because whatever foreign currency he held must be promptly turned into the treasury in exchange for marks at the official rate. Anyone trying to dodge those rules flirted with the death penalty.
The only way the rules could have been nullified would have been a general popular refusal to accept the official tokens in ordinary transactions. That would have spelled rebellion; and this in turn could have occurred only through a general breakdown of confidence, not merely in the value of the currency but also in the whole Nazi regime.
An important factor which has predisposed Germans to retain confidence in the Reichsmark is their general monetary attitude. The terrible inflation of 1923 which reduced the value of the old mark to zero, destroyed in German minds faith in money. Henceforth they regarded the currency as a token of value what economists term “the right of action” whereby desirable property of all kinds can be obtained.
Of all this the Nazi rulers were well aware. They knew that the one thing which would immediately shake public confidence would be to start the printing presses and turn out a flood of money, thereby precipitating a currency inflation similar to that of 1923, which remained a horror in German minds.
The Nazis foresaw another danger as soon as their huge spending program got fairly under way. This was a credit inflation. If the economic law of supply and demand were allowed free play, prices would go sky high, and the Reichsmark’s purchasing power would drastically decline. So they clamped on a complete price system. In previous Chapters we saw how wages, salaries, goods, and materials are kept in line, and how everybody knows in advance just about how much they will take in and pay out. So money and prices were both kept stable in relation to each other.
How did the Nazis actually finance their ambitious projects with neither currency nor price inflation? They did it in a number of ways. Fluid capital was regimented and either invested according to orders or diverted into Government loans. Profits were skimmed off by drastic taxation. Above all, consumption was kept down and living standards were lowered by what I have called a process of reverse inflation. I have described the way Germans can find fewer and fewer desirable things to buy with their money except life’s bare necessities.
The upshot has been that the German people have themselves financed astounding expenditures by literally taking it out of their own hides. But a heavy price has naturally had to be paid, and this price has become rapidly heavier, especially in the last two years. By 1938, evidence accumulated that the furious pace of Nazi Wehrwirtschaft (really War Economy) was running into the economic law of diminishing returns and was likewise entailing serious physical and psychological over strain in every class of society. We saw this in our surveys of the peasantry, the industrial workers, women, and youth. We can observe the same symptoms when we view another important figure, the business man.
How the Nazis regard business and have fitted it into their co-ordinated scheme is authoritatively set forth by Dr. Wilhelm Bauer, one of the head officials in this field. He says:
“The basis for all Government intervention in business in Germany is to be found in the National Socialist conception of the relation between business and the State. According to our theory, business is subordinated to the State. Formerly, it was believed that the fate of the State and of the nation lay in business, for it was said that business was of such great importance and so powerful that it controlled the State and determined State policies. In the National Socialist State the relation between business and State is just the contrary. Today the State or State policy controls or rules business. …
This means that the State is not concerned with economic conditions as long as they do not conflict with the welfare of the nation. The principle of private initiative has been maintained. However, where it seems necessary to bring business into line with the welfare of the nation, the State will not hesitate to intervene and direct business into the desired channels. In Germany, contrary to the usual belief, we have no ‘planned economy,’ but rather a ‘directed’ economy if I may use such an expression.“
A “directed economy” seems to me a good phrase which well describes the way things have gone with business in the Third Reich. Unlike Communists, Nazis are not obsessed by dogma; neither are they enamored of logic. Their aim is maximum efficiency for their cause, and they will not hesitate to do seemingly inconsistent things if they think this best calculated to get what they are after. They have no theoretical objection to private business, and they realize it will not function without profits. But only such business as benefits the State by being privately run is allowed to remain in private hands. As for dividends, they are limited to about 6 per cent. Taxation plus price controls make it hard for any business to pay more than that. However, when a business does manage to jump those hurdles, excess profits are either siphoned off into Government loans or reinvested as officialdom directs. Meanwhile the average business man is so regimented and so increasingly enmeshed in minute regulations and general red tape that he feels himself virtually a cog in a machine. This trend has been greatly accentuated since the beginning of the war. Like everyone else, the business man is “in the army now.” Business men obviously do not like either their present status or the economic trend, which moves towards an ever increasing degree of socialization. But they feel helpless and are cagey in expressing themselves. None of those I talked to would say very much. Here is a sort of composite report on those conversations:
“German business, though closely controlled, still gives room for private initiative and profit making. Controlled capitalism best expresses what now exists in the Third Reich. That, however, probably represents an advanced stage of a trend which is world wide, since orthodox capitalism seems everywhere in rapid decline. One good feature in Germany is that class antagonism has been greatly reduced; employers and workers both have their rights, and are kept up to their respective duties and responsibilities. The war is especially deplorable from the business aspect. If long continued, it must involve a rapid sinking of living standards which will entail the gravest economic consequences. However, a total collapse of the economic structure is unlikely, because in Germany today everything is closely coordinated. The outlook for private business is thus not bright.“
It is a noteworthy fact that I sensed much more latent discontent in business circles than I did among workers and peasants. Fritz Thyssen’s flight from the Reich and his open breach with the Nazi regime may be symptomatic of what other big business leaders inwardly feel.
However, I think it unlikely that they will follow Thyssen’s example. Most business men presumably share the belief, so general in Germany today, that defeat in this war would spell the subjugation and ruin of their country. Furthermore, they believe that defeat would be followed by either Communism or chaos; and from both eventualities they have everything to lose. The impasse between the Government and the church is inherently the most serious in German life today. It cuts very deep, involving as it does a clash between two sharply contrasted ideals. It far transcends ordinary policies. Among extremists in both camps it arouses intense emotion and provokes attitudes which seemingly cannot be reconciled.
Unfortunately I have little to say on this important subject, because I had neither the time nor the opportunity to investigate it properly. To be sure, I have read background literature, but to attempt a discussion of the problem on that alone would not fall within the purpose of this book.
There are, however, a few highlights on the struggle between the Government and the church which I should like to mention. To begin with, like other aspects of the Third Reich, little of the struggle appears on the surface. The churches are open and are well filled, with no overt hindrance on attendance or services. The official attitude is that succinctly expressed by Herr Himmler in the interview he accorded me:
“We never interfere with matters of religious dogma.“
Indeed, when you try to discuss the religious question with Nazis, they are apt to wave it aside as an annoying issue precipitated by a few incomprehensible fanatics. The average Nazi seems to be neither anti-religious nor anticlerical; he thinks that the Church has its place in his scheme of things. But, like everything else, it should fit into the coordinated pattern of the Third Reich. Whoever dissents from or opposes that must be broken! That explains the intense anger of most Nazis toward Pastor Niemoeller. He took direct issue with the whole Nazi regime, including the Fuehrer himself; and when at first he was lightly dealt with, he became still more vehement instead of falling silent. The cup of his offending ran over when he received widespread support from bitter opponents of the Third Reich in many foreign lands.
That’s as far as you get with Nazis on the Church question. And non Nazis don’t usually like to discuss the subject. If they are not religious persons, it annoys them almost as much as it does members of the Party. If they have strong religious convictions, it is for them a topic both personally painful and possibly risky to discuss with a stranger.