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Social Democracy in my youth
What I knew of Social Democracy in my youth was exceedingly little and very inaccurate.
I was profoundly pleased that it should carry on the struggle for universal suffrage and the secret ballot. For even then my intelligence told me that this must help to weaken the Habsburg regime which I so hated. In the conviction that the Austrian Empire could never be preserved except by victimizing its Germans, but that even the price of a gradual Slavization of the German element by no means provided a guaranty of an empire really capable of survival, since the power of the Slavs to uphold the state must be estimated as exceedingly dubious, I welcomed every development which in my opinion would inevitably lead to the collapse of this impossible state which condemned ten million Germans to death. The more the linguistic Babel corroded and disorganized parliament, the closer drew the inevitable hour of the disintegration of this Babylonian Empire, and with it the hour of freedom for my German-Austrian people. Only in this way could the Anschluss with the old mother country be restored.
Consequently, this activity of the Social Democracy was not displeasing to me. And the fact that it strove to improve the living conditions of the worker, as, in my innocence, I was still stupid enough to believe, likewise seemed to speak rather for it than against it. What most repelled me was its hostile attitude toward the struggle for the preservation of Germanism, its disgraceful courting of the Slavic 'comrade,' who accepted this declaration of love in so far as it was bound up with practical concessions, but otherwise maintained a lofty and arrogant reserve, thus giving the obtrusive beggars their deserved reward.
Thus, at the age of seventeen the word 'Marxism' was as yet little known to me, while ' Social Democracy ' and socialism seemed to me identical concepts. Here again it required the fist of Fate to open my eyes to this unprecedented betrayal of the peoples.
Up to that time I had known the Social Democratic party only as an onlooker at a few mass demonstrations, without possessing even the slightest insight into the mentality of its adherents or the nature of its doctrine; but now, at one stroke, I came into contact with the products of its education and 'philosophy.' And in a few months I obtained what might otherwise have required decades: an understanding of a pestilential whore,l cloaking herself as social virtue and brotherly love, from which I hope humanity will rid this Earth with the greatest dispatch, since otherwise the Earth might well become rid of humanity.
My first encounter with the Social Democrats occurred during my employment as a building worker.
From the very beginning it was none too pleasant. My clothing was still more or less in order, my speech cultivated, and my manner reserved. I was still so busy with my own destiny that I could not concern myself much with the people around me. I looked for work only to avoid starvation, only to obtain an opportunity of continuing my education, though ever so slowly. Perhaps I would not have concerned myself at all with my new environment if on the third or fourth day an event had not taken place which forced me at once to take a position. I was asked to join the organization.
My knowledge of trade-union organization was at that time practically non-existent. I could not have proved that its existence was either beneficial or harmful. When I was told that I had to join, I refused. The reason I gave was that I did not understand the matter, but that I would not let myself be forced into anything. Perhaps my first reason accounts for my not being thrown out at once. They may perhaps have hoped to convert me or break down my resistance in a few days. In any event, they had made a big mistake. At the end of two weeks I could no longer have joined, even if I had wanted to. In these two weeks I came to know the men around me more closely, and no power in the world could have moved me to join an organization whose members had meanwhile come to appear to me in so unfavorable a light.
During the first days I was irritable.
At noon some of the workers went to the near-by taverns while others remained at the building site and ate a lunch which, as a rule was quite wretched. These were the married men whose wives brought them their noon day soup in pathetic bowls. Toward the end of the week their number always increased, why I did not understand until later. On these occasions politics was discussed.
I drank my bottle of milk and ate my piece of bread somewhere off to one side, and cautiously studied my new associates or reflected on my miserable lot. Nevertheless, I heard more than enough; and often it seemed to me that they purposely moved closer to me, perhaps in order to make me take a position. In any case, what I heard was of such a nature as to infuriate me in the extreme. These men rejected everything: the nation as an invention of the ' capitalistic ' (how often was I forced to hear this single word!) classes; the fatherland as an instrument of the bourgeoisie for the exploitation of the working class; the authority of law as a means for oppressing the proletariat; the school as an institution for breeding slaves and slaveholders; religion as a means for stultifying the people and making them easier to exploit; morality as a symptom of stupid, sheeplike patience, etc. There was absolutely nothing which was not drawn through the mud of a terrifying depths
At first I tried to keep silent. But at length it became impossible. I began to take a position and to oppose them. But I was forced to recognize that this was utterly hopeless until I possessed certain definite knowledge of the controversial points. And so I began to examine the sources from which they drew this supposed wisdom. I studied book after book, pamphlet after pamphlet.
From then on our discussions at work were often very heated. I argued back, from day to day better informed than my antagonists concerning their own knowledge, until one day they made use of the weapon which most readily conquers reason: terror and violence. A few of the spokesmen on the opposing side forced me either to leave the building at once or be thrown off the scaffolding. Since I was alone and resistance seemed hopeless, I preferred, richer by one experience, to follow the former counsel.
I went away filled with disgust, but at the same time so agitated that it would have been utterly impossible for me to turn my back on the whole business. No, after the first surge of indignation, my stubbornness regained the upper hand. I was determined to go to work on another building in spite of my experience. In this decision I was reinforced by Poverty which, a few weeks later, after I had spent what little I had saved from my wages. enfolded me in her heartless arms. I had to go back whether I wanted to or not. The same old story began anew and ended very much the same as the first time.
I wrestled with my innermost soul: are these people human, worthy to belong to a great nation?
A painful question; for if it is answered in the affirmative, the struggle for my nationality really ceases to be worth the hardships and sacrifices which the best of us have to make for the sake of such scum; and if it is answered in the negative, our nation is pitifully poor in human beings.
On such days of reflection and cogitation, I pondered with anxious concern on the masses of those no longer belonging to their people and saw them swelling to the proportions of a menacing army.
With what changed feeling I now gazed at the endless columns of a mass demonstration of Viennese workers that took place one day as they marched past four abreast! For neatly two hours I stood there watching with bated breath the gigantic human dragon slowly winding by. In oppressed anxiety, I finally left the place and sauntered homeward. In a tobacco shop on the way I saw the Arbeiter-Zeitung, the central organ of the old Austrian Social Democracy. It was available in a cheap people's cafe, to which I often went to read newspapers; but up to that time I had not been able to bring myself to spend more than two minutes on the miserable sheet, whose whole tone affected me like moral vitriol. Depressed by the demonstration, I was driven on by an inner voice to buy the sheet and read it carefully. That evening I did so, fighting down the fury that rose up in me from time to time at this concentrated solution of lies.
More than any theoretical literature, my daily reading of the Social Democratic press enabled me to study the inner nature of these thought-processes.
For what a difference between the glittering phrases about freedom, beauty, and dignity in the theoretical literature, the delusive welter of words seemingly expressing the most profound and laborious wisdom, the loathsome humanitarian morality - all this written with the incredible gall that comes with prophetic certainty-and the brutal daily press, shunning no villainy, employing every means of slander, lying with a virtuosity that would bend iron beams, all in the name of this gospel of a new humanity. The one is addressed to the simpletons of the middle, not to mention the upper, educated, 'classes,' the other to the masses.
For me immersion in the literature and press of this doctrine and organization meant finding my way back to my own people.
What had seemed to me an unbridgable gulf became the source of a greater love than ever before.
Only a fool can behold the work of this villainous poisoner and still condemn the victim. The more independent I made myself in the next few years the clearer grew my perspective, hence my insight into the inner causes of the Social Democratic successes. I now understood the significance of the brutal demand that I read only Red papers, attend only Red meetings, read only Red books, etc. With plastic clarity I saw before my eyes the inevitable result of this doctrine of intolerance.
The psyche of the great masses is not receptive to anything that is half-hearted and weak.
Like the woman, whose psychic state is determined less by grounds of abstract reason than by an indefinable emotional longing for a force which will complement her nature, and who, consequently, would rather bow to a strong man than dominate a weakling, likewise the masses love a commander more than a petitioner and feel inwardly more satisfied by a doctrine, tolerating no other beside itself, than by the granting of liberalistic freedom with which, as a rule, they can do little, and are prone to feel that they have been abandoned. They are equally unaware of their shameless spiritual terrorization and the hideous abuse of their human freedom, for they absolutely fail to suspect the inner insanity of the whole doctrine. All they see is the ruthless force and brutality of its calculated manifestations, to which they always submit in the end.
If Social Democracy is opposed by a doctrine of greater truth, but equal brutality of methods, the latter will conquer, though this may require the bitterest struggle.
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