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Ernst Bloch, "Hitler’s Force" (April 1924)

Shortly after the sentencing in Adolf Hitler’s trial in Munich, Marxist philosopher and publisher Ernst Bloch attempted to explain Hitler’s popularity and appeal in the independent weekly Das Tage-Buch. He cautioned against underestimating Hitler and National Socialism on account of their low-brow rhetoric. Bloch recognized that National Socialism was particularly attractive to youth, and he regarded this situation as potentially dangerous.

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[The following note precedes Bloch’s text in Das Tage-Buch: “In this article, the author of The Spirit of Utopia and Thomas Müntzer assigns the problem of the Hitler movement to a higher social category. It need not be mentioned here that this objective study has been undertaken in an intellectual sphere not frequented by völkisch Germans.”]

Hitler’s Force

At first we coldly ignored it. Shrugged our shoulders at the malicious pack that crawled forth. At the red posters with the driveling sentences, but the knuckledusters behind them. That which roughly stepped to our bedside early in the morning to demand our papers, stuck itself up as a party here. Jews are forbidden to enter the hall.

All this was able to sink back again. It was still too alien and had not penetrated deep enough, the old Munich was still alive. The animosity towards the war had matured earliest here; for a long time foreign beauty had been brought into the cityscape and flourished with it, became acclimatized. The grim recollection of 1919, of Eisner’s death and the entry of the White Guard could fade and the brutality withdraw into its shell, as if it had never been. The successful Kapp putsch and the banishment of the socialist ministers admittedly indicated ruffled air again. But even this could still be understood as the reaction of a peasant province, a peasant city against very clumsy Communist dilettantisms. To Hitler this act seemed like a swan song; the further the soviet republic was left behind purely in temporal terms, the more certainly Bavaria seemed to assume its old aspect again.

Instead, as we know, the province became increasingly embittered. The peasants, the urban peasants, still exist here as a rabble: primitive, open to suggestion, dangerous, unpredictable. The same people who had blackened the streets at Eisner’s funeral in countless processions hounded the leaders of yesterday to their death. From one day to the next the flag shops exchanged the soviet star for the swastika; from one day to the next the people’s court, created by Eisner, put Leviné up against the wall. The faithless rabble which all rulers have despised and used vacillated here, and it not merely vacillated, but certainly the hunting of animals and human beings proved to be its most characteristic nature. These were not only impoverished petite bourgeoisie, who grab at now this and now that means of assistance, nor were these an organized proletariat, not even a relatively organizable lumpenproletariat that could be kept up to scratch, but definitely mere riffraff, the vindictive, crucifying creatures of all ages. They were dazzled by the sham, by students in regalia, by the magic of processions, parades, and ringing spectacle; but Bavaria does not paint votive pictures any more. And the beaters are as ambiguous, unambiguous as the rabble, often even more contemptible than the latter. Baptized Hungarian Jews became spies for Hitler, bribed “democrats” from the stock of Balkan journalists filled the ranks. The genuine Thersites and Vansens did not want to be left out, gave the rabble its homogeneous head.

Nevertheless, he who no longer knows what to do knows nothing as yet of the whole. The case lies deeper, disgust and wit are now no longer the correct response alone. For separate from the hideous gawpers and accomplices, new youth glows at the core, a very vigorous generation. Seventeen-year-olds are burning to respond to Hitler. Beery students of old, dreary, reveling in the happiness of the crease in their trousers, are no longer recognizable, their hearts are pounding. The old student fraternity member is arising again, Schill’s officers reborn, they find their brother in Schlageter, heroic associations with all the signs of irrational conspiracy are gathering under a secret light. Hitler, their leader, did not deserve the indulgence of his judges and this farcical trial, but even with the wit of Berlin lawyers there is no getting at him, and even Ludendorff, this brutally limited masculine symbol, does not live on the same level with him. Hitler the tribune is undoubtedly a highly suggestive type, unfortunately a great deal more vehement than the genuine revolutionaries who incited Germany in 1918. He gave the exhausted ideology of the fatherland an almost mysterious fire and has made a new aggressive sect, the germ of a strongly religious army, into a troop with a myth. Nor is the lasting power of Hitler’s program explained by the fact that liberation from Jews, the stock market, the feudal tenancy of international capital, and the international Marxism hostile to the fatherland, is promised here along with similar, confused music for the ears of the undiscriminating petite bourgeoisie. But if the economy here moves to the periphery and the state ethos to the center, the music of the old unbourgeois discipline thereby rings out again at the same time, the secularized ethics of the chivalric orders.

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