Editorial from the February 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard
This “Brave New Year” of 1960 has opened sinisterly. Outbreaks of slogan daubing and swastika painting have occurred in many parts of Germany and there have been similar incidents in a number of other countries, including Britain. People have been reminded, rudely and violently, of something they had almost forgotten—those terrible days of the thirties when the shadow of Nazism first fell upon the world. The photograph on our front page is a vivid reminder of those times and of the way in which the German working-class took its first steps along the road that was to end in conflagration and ruin.
For some strange reason these outbreaks appear to have come as a surprise to many people. They have been shocked to see again something they thought was finished for ever. It is hard to understand why, unless it was from a deeply hidden fear of having their thoughts again disturbed by the horrors of the past.
Did they really think that the people of Germany could change their thinking overnight? That after twelve years of being conditioned to hating Jews, to being the only true “Aryan Supermen,” to belonging to the “Master Race,” they could each and every one turn into an apostle of brotherly love and racial tolerance? Or did they really believe the notion trotted out to them in wartime that the ideology of Nazism would disappear with the defeat of Germany? If so, they must be incredibly naive.
And if they really thought this, how explain the similar outbreaks that have occurred in something like twenty other countries, at almost the same time? What about the incidents in this country itself? The real facts are that the virus of anti-Semitism is to be found wherever there are Jews. Given the right conditions, this virus will come into life, grow, and flourish—unless the working-class decide otherwise.
As to the incidents themselves, what importance are we to attach to them? Are they the work of some lunatic tinge, or of a few die-hard Nazis and fascists still lingering on from the past, or are they evidence of more serious forces at work in Germany and elsewhere? Can they perhaps be dismissed as a petty example of imitative hysteria brought on by the widespread coverage they have received from the newspapers, radio, and T.V.? Concentrated publicity, especially on a subject that lends itself to sensationalism, can often set up a chain-reaction, the effects of which can be particularly strong upon the young and the mentally ill. The Guardian of 14th January, for example, mentioned the case of the individual who went round Woolwich at night inviting people to “join the English Reich party.” Even more absurd was the further instance they quoted of the schoolboy in Western Germany who confessed he had painted his swastikas because “my village hasn’t been in the news at all.”
On the other hand, serious and apparently reliable sources have spoken of new Nazi organisations with memberships running into tens of thousands, and of periodicals and pamphlets with circulations of the same order.
Which of these is the truer reflection of the actual state of affairs? Should we, in short, be heartened or should we be alarmed?
We suggest that there is no reason for the moment to be one or the other. First, because we have not yet enough sound evidence to form a judgment. It is still difficult to establish, through the haze of newspaper and other publicity. just what the real facts are. Second, because not enough time has gone by as yet for the incidents to be seen in their proper perspective. The whole thing may die down as quickly as it arose. On the other hand, it may only be a prelude to more serious events.
For the moment, therefore, we prefer to reserve judgment on the incidents themselves and their significance. What we do want to state, or rather re-state, because it is not something that we suddenly think up for occasions such as these, is the fundamental Socialist position on anti-Semitism and on all other forms of “race" prejudice.
This position is that “race” prejudice today is bound up with the capitalist system. That like a virus it dies away or flourishes according to the state of health of that system. That if capitalism is passing through one of its more “prosperous” periods the virus will tend to lie dormant. But that if capitalism is in crisis, as it was in Germany in the early thirties with its terrible unemployment and all the misery and other evils that stemmed from it, then the virus is capable of coming into swift and virulent life.
The only means whereby the working-class can be sure of immunity from racial intolerance is through an understanding of the forces at work in capitalism. This means Socialist understanding. It means the realisation that the conflicts, the crises, the frustrations, the miseries, the threats of war, and all the other evils of capitalism, are fertile ground for the workers to find a convenient scapegoat in the Jews, West Indians, Irish, or any other minority that happens to be at hand. It means the realisation that such race prejudice can be part and parcel of nationalism, dictatorship, and the drift to war. It means, finally, the realisation that race prejudice is useful in taking their minds off the real cause of their troubles—the capitalist system itself.
It cannot be said too often. The working-class fall for the myth of “race” at their peril.