Racial Attitudes

One of the main theses of philosopher Hannah Arendt’s book The Origins of Totalitarianism sought to explain the essence of the fascist form of totalitarianism as ultimately contained in European antisemitism. And before moving on, anti semitism itself is another word in our society that has been abused and overused in a ‘boy who cried wolf’ manner.  For the sake of clarity, anti semitism here will simply refer to a kind of racial prejudice toward jewish people, in the same way people might have prejudice towards any other ethnic group.  The basic premise of Arendt’s thesis doesn’t really hold up too well out the gate since in Italy, hostility towards Jews wasn’t a major or essential aspect of Fascist doctrine as expressed by Mussolini, nor was it a policy priority and policies targeting Jews only came into force in 1938, long after the fascists had taken power and when they were aligning more formally with their stronger German neighbour.  Moreover, prior to the Nazis taking power, their election campaigns had toned down the anti semitic rhetoric, which they of course ramped up significantly once they had monopoly control of the state. This is a fairly common election trick where a political party will downplay the most potentially scandalous or controversial elements of their platform in order to maximize the amount of votes and then once in power, implement what they intended the whole time.

The Nazis also never received an absolute majority in a free and fair election, although they did receive just over a third of the vote in 1932, with the Social Democrats and Communists coming 2nd and 3rd respectively. In 1933, they obtained over 40% of the vote but still not a clear majority even after the social democratic and communist parties had been severely repressed already in early 1933. But after the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave Hitler, then already Chancellor, dictatorial authority  the Nazi party were able to fully capture the state and begin their project. When it comes to the anti jewish component of their rule, they introduced the Nuremberg Laws in 1934, which created the legal basis for race laws and created systemic discrimination and exclusion against the entirety of the jewish population in Germany with very few exceptions.

One element of these laws was to forbid marital relations between Jews and ethnic Germans, and most famously, Jews were required to wear yellow star badges on their clothes that allowed one to identify them as jews at a glance. It is also common to hear many stories of how people who had jewish neighbours and generally got along with them started to purposefully stay away from them once Nazi rule began in earnest. To what extent this was motivated by internalizing anti jewish attitudes promoted by the state  or whether  it was fear of the state and social pressure can be difficult to ascertain.

Anti jewish sentiment of course is nothing new and in Europe it has often taken the form of ‘Christian antisemitism’ which is essentially treating Jews as a suspicious Other based on their lack of converting to Christianity and the perception of them as ‘Christ killers’. A good example of this expression is when the Spanish reconquered their land towards the end of the 15th century in which Jews were either expelled or allowed to stay on the condition that they converted to Christianity. So the general anti jewish attitudes, apart from those who were aggrieved at moneylenders acting in a predatory manner, can be briefly described as largely sectarian in nature.

What was different about the anti jewish attitudes of the Nazis compared to others who held unfavourable attitudes,was the biological racism component that utilized older or newly developed scientific theories to justify their attitudes, or created their own “scientific” theories that were more ideologically driven. Regarding jews in particular, the biological ‘anti semitism’ fundamentally creates a situation where jews are seen as fundamentally irredeemable, whereas other anti jewish attitudes allowed jews redemption and integration, either through genuine religious conversation or modification of behaviour considered to be hostile by critics.

This version of the ‘biological racism’ worldview placed different ethnic groups in fixed, rigid hierarchies with ‘aryans’ at the top and ‘non aryans’ as ‘subhuman’. In Europe, for the Nazis, groups deemed subhuman were slavs and jews. At the top of the Aryan pile were Nordics (Germans, Dutch, English, Danes, Swedes,etc) as the ‘purest’ of the Aryans, whilst most other European groups like Greeks, French, Italians, Spaniards, etc. were still considered sufficiently Aryan but not as pure as the Nordic categories. Groups like sub-saharan Africans or Native Americans were also considered to be subhuman. Curiously, groups like the Chinese or Japanese, while not considered Aryan, were not considered subhuman. Things like this create a counter intuitive situation and lack of internal consistency, since on one hand Asian groups like the Chinese or Japanese are praised sincerely,  but at the same time incorrectly view Slavic peoples as ‘asiatic’ and therefore ‘subhuman’. 

Additionally, the Nazi worldview created some more unexpected attitudes, such as the acceptance of Muslims in the ranks of the SS and the praise of the ‘warrior’ nature of this faith as opposed to the ‘meek’ and Jewish-originated Christianity, despite the fact that Islam itself is part of the Abrahamic line of religions, the same as Judaism and Christianity in all their forms; Muslims believe that the teachings of their prophet Muhammed was effectively the definitive and final version of this religious genealogy. Things become even more odd when pseudohistory such as Alfred Rosenberg’s  Myth of the 20th Century (which according to some recordings of private conversations, Hitler and Goebbels thought was trash and didn’t want to be considered a canonical part of Nazi worldview) as well as the ‘esoteric Nazism’ of SS leader Heinrich Himmler, whose obsessions with the occult are infamous. His racial worldview resembled more being under the ‘spell of personalization’ (as Adorno would say about Goebbels) , mysticism and superstition rather than any kind of actual science. 

 Hitler’s anti jewish attitudes, as he describes it in Mein Kampf came largely from his own experiences debating jewish members of social democratic parties when he became politically engaged. He had also been a believer in the ‘stab in the back’ myth which often had versions which blamed sabotage by jews at the homefront for Germany’s loss in the First World War. Nazi racism went further than most others in the Hitler government’s well known propaganda hate campaign that targeted mainly jews and slavs to dehumanize them, often representing jews as a kind of vermin, like rats and cockroaches. You might ask what is the purpose of the image of rats and cockroaches? This question can start to be answered by another question: what do you do with rats and cockroaches? The answer is that ordinarily, you kill them without really thinking about it because they create a hygiene problem in the home. This is exactly the kind of attitude such a campaign, and those like it, want to develop in society against the target group which can incite pogrom type events, such as the infamous ‘Night of the Broken Glass’ in 1938.

Furthermore, when there is a saturation of this sort of propaganda promoted all throughout a society and with little to no access to alternative views, it creates an environment where these attitudes start to become dominant and radicalized where they otherwise might not have been. These sorts of campaigns work on two levels, a maximalist and a minimalist level. The maximalist level aims to convince people to become true believers and active, enthusiastic participants in the social project of the regime and bolster the mass support necessary for it.  The minimal level is when it is enough that the campaign, combined with a repressive state apparatus, makes people passive toward cruelty shown toward the target groups even if they’re not truly convinced of the narratives they are being fed. It has often been described as creating a sense of fear and atomization, especially with the presence of an extensive surveillance state. Moreover, such campaigns create intense social pressure that compels people to go along with authority, even if they dislike it, in the interests of their own personal safety, social standing or work opportunities. This kind of process can qualify as an example of what Chomsky referred to as ‘manufacturing consent’. 

Tip Box
For fascism as a social or psychological phenomenon, there have been many works such as ‘The Mass Psychology of Fascism’ by Wilhelm Reich or ‘The Authoritarian Personality’ that attempt to use psychoanalysis to explain the ‘fascist mentality’ and what is occurring psychically among ‘fascist masses’ and what traits might make one susceptible to ‘fascist propaganda’. Some of these are highly contentious however, such as methodology used in The Authoritarian Personality study or the claims about sexual repression and the role of the family in Reich’s work.  For more on the topic of mass psychology in general and fascism I highly recommend reading the essay Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda by Theodor Adorno. During or after reading this text, consider to what extent this might help explain a current political movement.

As you may have noticed before in previous lessons, at least in the case of National Socialism, it is very difficult to compartmentalize the racial attitudes from everything else, it is part of everything. An example of this from more contemporary ‘national socialist’ type ideologues comes from Andrei Biletsky, a major figure of the Ukrainian Azov group, as described in the media outlet Grayzone:

“ A subsequent Biletsky manifesto entitled “Language and Race – Primary Issues” expanded on the “social-nationalist” concept: “Ukrainian social-nationalism considers the Ukrainian Nation to be a blood-racial community… Race is everything for nation-building – Race is the basis on which the superstructure grows in the form of national culture, which again comes from the racial nature of the people, and not from language, religion, economy, etc.”

As for the Russian-speaking population of Eastern Ukraine, Biletsky wrote, “The issue of total Ukrainization in the future social nationalist state will be resolved within 3-6 months with the help of a tough and balanced state policy” (Rubinstein, 2023).

As we can see, based on this statement, for national socialists in the present as well as in the past, everything rests upon this racialized understanding of the world.  For the likes of Azov, their version of the racial worldview has led them to consider Russian people as subhuman and therefore supportive of repressive policy measures against them, as well as this providing license to kill and torture. Of course, groups like Azov have a confused racial worldview since it’s been empirically proven that there is no meaningful, if any, genetic differences between Ukrainians and Russians. In the case of German Nazis in the 30s and 40s, they didn’t have the benefit of scientific advancements such as the mapping of the human genome, in order to test the ‘scientific’ basis for the race ideology and it is unclear to what extent such things would make a lot of difference to the Nazi version of a racial worldview, or how much political and ideological independence scientists would have, especially were their findings to contradict in whole or in part the party line. 

But the racial or even generically nationalist worldview is not used solely in the arena of managing difference, racial discrimination and a hierarchical classification of race, but even workplace relations. Recall the ‘fuhrerprinzip’ discussed earlier in this module. If the ‘fuhrer’ as an individual is identified as being tantamount to the ‘democratic will’ of the nation,being the primal-father (in a Freudian sense), then to ‘serve the race’ means unquestioned obedience to the fuhrer. Moreover, the class collaboration of bourgeois, workers and peasants described earlier only really becomes possible as a psychological phenomena through libidinal bonds of the group that share the same personalized ‘love object’ (ie; the fuhrer). This, plus the opinions expressed by Feder and Ley also show that the ‘nation’ is represented in miniature on the factory floor, where the boss is the ‘fuhrer’ of that enterprise.