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Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Female Politicians and Leadership 101

Rosa Luxemburg was the co-founder of the German Communist Party. By pretty much any standard, she rates pretty high on the all time list of radical female politicians.

When I started this post in was taking a brief break from a 3-day Thanksgiving weekend drinking binge.  The night before, I cracked open a quart of Wild Turkey 101 and consumed nearly the whole bottle before passing out.  When I awoke the next morning, I went downstairs, fixed a pot of coffee, went to the living room, logged on and started writing this post.  I got as far as writing the caption before discovering that there was enough bourbon left over for a shot the size of a tall drinking glass (about 12 oz.).  I poured out the eye opener and enjoyed the old-school version of Red Bull and vodka, that is black coffee with straight-up high proof bourbon served on the side as a chaser.

Needless to say, the rest of the day was spent sitting around the house in my underwear drinking straight hard liquor.  That is not to say I didn't do other things.  I had my sister in law and her boyfriend over my house for a while.  And of course, I watched TV.  Part of the day was spent watching Godfather II.  After that I put on a copy of Triumph of the Will that I lifted off the Internet.  This a Nazi propaganda film that was presented as an account of the 1934 Party congress at Nuremberg.  The version that I copied had English subtitles, but came in some strange format that would not play on my DVD player, so I had to play around with it on the computer to put it into a format that would work on the DVD machine.  In the process the English subtitles got clipped out, and I was left with the original German version.

Not that knowledge of German is required to appreciate the film.  Fortunately, the movie is basically shots of parades, military exercises, scenes from the encampment for the military attendees, as well as speeches from Hitler and others.   During most of the movie there is a soundtrack of Nazi patriotic music.  The speech scenes are usually short, and still interesting to look at even though you can't understand what is being said.

The purpose of the movie was to acquaint the public with the Nazi Party and its leadership and philosophy and to get people behind the movement.  The camp scenes showed military life as something that is fun, with rally participants having fun while preparing the site for the rally.  They got to engage in horseplay, enjoy clean air, hard work and feel camaraderie.  The civilian audience cheered for their fuhrer and his soldiers.  They seemed to enjoy the event and support the movement.  Of course, the film audience was supposed to walk away with similar feelings about supporting the party and serving the Fatherland.

When shown to contemporary American audiences the film produces a somewhat different effect.  While I could not help but get caught up in the excitement of the rally and get stirred by the patriotic music, the impression I got was not entirely positive.  In fact, you have to wonder what the German people were really thinking.  Kind of like, with all of this military imagery, didn't they know Hitler was preparing their country for war?

In the beginning of the movie there are a series of storyboards that show the timeline of recent events in relation to the rally.  One of them said that the first world war ended just 16 years before the rally.  At the time there were lots of veterans living in Germany raising families.  They knew that the military was not all fun and games.  They knew war was hell.  Yet they lined up by the thousands to join the SA and put their kids in the Hitler Youth so they too could get in on the "fun".

So that's one part of the picture.  You get to see the silly Germans getting to cheerfully board the Titanic for a one way trip to oblivion.  But wait a minute.  Nazi Germany was not your garden variety dictatorship.  They wanted to make Aryan Germans the masters of the world and subjugate "inferior" races like the Slavs and kill off "culture-destroying degenerate races" like the Jews, Negros and Gypsies.  Hitler in Mien Kampf said that the Jews and blacks must be exterminated.  What part of "exterminate" didn't these people understand.  Somebody had to notice that the Nazis were totally nuts.

Here, I'm sure the sound track of the speeches would help underscore the point of what the Nazis were up to, but I don't know German so I didn't get to see what it was all about.  I'm sure the subtitles would help, but my experience is that things are often left out of subtitles or added to them.  Considering that the copy I had was translated by the US State Dept., the subtitles would have been biased toward the US point of view.  Not that I don't trust our government (ha-ha!), but we should give the Nazis the benefit of the doubt (equally ha-ha!).

Well, after you cut through the alphabet of words and the babble of languages you are still left with the imagery, and there are two scenes in the film that are bound to creep out just about anybody.  The first one is the part where Hitler addresses a contingent of the German youth labor service.  The labor service was made up of unemployed youth that were conscripted into an organization similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps, except that participants also worked on urban projects like construction of the Autobahn and received a full dose of Nazi indoctrination.  In the scene, the unit of youths is dressed in military uniforms and performs drill maneuvers with shovels instead of rifles.  They chant in unison their praise for Hitler.  The chants sound robotic and creepy.  It's clear Hitler wants to turn his followers into good little robots.

The next part is the Hitler Youth scene.  How cute is it to see the little elementary school kids marching in uniform and singing the Hitler youth song.  They even got the little boy beating on the drum lifting his arms above his shoulders as he enthusiastically swings the sticks.  Translation:  Little kids aren't immune from this crap.  They need to be brainwashed too.  Far from being cute as originally intended to be seen, it looks sick to us.

And what does this have to do with Rosa Luxemburg.  Not much, except that a Freikorps officer murdered her during the aborted Communist revolution of January 1919.  Rosa is the "Communist that we all love", meaning that her actions were generally a positive force for democracy and the allied cause in the first world war.

Many Americans equate Communism with Nazism.  We see Communist countries as militarized places that brainwash their people to follow the party line.  And of course anyone who steps out of line winds up in Siberia or gets a bullet in the head.

We owe our impressions of Communism to the actions of Josef Stalin and his proteges who used their philosophical system to run their countries like gangsters.  These places were not so much about Communism as they were about staying in power and grabbing everything that was not nailed down.

The bad thing about Communism is that in practice it tends to turn out badly.  However, theoretical Communism, of types other than the Leninist variety, is not about a one-party state or dictatorial control.  At its heart is the economic system of Socialism which assumes all people are created equally and should share equally and hold all productive assets in common.  Rosa Luxemburg has a famous quote which says that freedom is always the freedom of the dissenter (in German " 'Freiheit ist immer die Freiheit des Andersdenkenden").  In other words, she is a believer in 1st Amendment freedoms and multi-party politics.  Of course, she didn't believe in private business ownership, but that's what Communism is about.

I don't pretend to know much about the nuances of socialist theory.  I'm a man of action, and am not really into debating things like what Marx really meant by "dictatorship of the proletariat" and stuff like that.  I understand there are lots of sites like this on the web.  Personally, I believe the business of America is business and that private enterprise is a necessary part of the American scene and is not going to go away any time soon.  We need regulation to keep things from getting out of hand.  On these things, I'm like Roosevelt or Truman or the Social Democratic parties of Europe.

So who was Rosa Luxemberg and what did she do that was so memorable.  She was a Polish Jew who married a German and became a German citizen and became active in German left wing politics in the late 19th century.  She worked as a professor teaching political economy and got to meet Lenin at the 2nd International.  By that time she already disagreed with his more extremist views.

During World War I, she and Karl Liebknecht broke from most of the socialist movement in Germany which supported the war effort.  Together, the two of them published anti-war leaflets and built an underground anti-war movement in Germany.  Her ideas caught on with the general public.  By 1918, much of German industry was under the sway of soldiers and workers councils - similar organizations existed in Russia at the time of the 1917 revolution.  In Russia, these councils were known as "Soviets", though the Germans did not refer to them as such. 

Strikes and protests organized by the German soviets throughout 1918, brought industrial production within Germany to a halt.  This caused General Lundendorf to withdraw his support for the Kaiser and led to the Kaiser's advication and the end of the war.  Basically, the Communists were at least as responsible for bringing the war to an end by their actions within Germany as the efforts of the British and American forces on the western front.  Since the leadership of the German Communist movement was Jewish, this led credence to the Nazi argument that Germany lost the war because it was "stabbed in the back" by Jews and Communists.  The Nazis said Allied victories in France in 1918 did not cause Germany to collapse.

My feeling is that Liebknecht and Luxemburg could only lead through moral suasion.  They did not force the German people to follow.  Rather, ordinary Germans had enough with the war and the Kaiser's brutality and turned the Communists as an alternative.  The man on the street had enough and that is what brought the government down.  In other words, Luxemburg and Liebknecht  were patriots, not villains.

After the dust settled, a government was formed under the Social Democrats.  The Communists chose not to participate in the Reichstag.  In January 1919, Karl Liebknecht  called for a revolution and ordered his followers to occupy government offices.  Initially Luxemberg opposed this, but finally gave the revolution her support.  Both Liebknict ant Luxemberg were quickly arrested by army reservists (freikorps).  Shortly thereafter she was bashed in the head with a rifle, shot and her body was thrown into a canal.  A few months later it surfaced.  It was turned over to the Communist party which gave her an elaborate funeral.

During the postwar period, several monuments named for her were erected for her in East Germany.  After reunification, the monuments still remain and are still named after her.  The Federal Republic considers her a patriot.  The Communists participate it the political process in modern Germany and regularly draw about 10 percent of the vote in national elections.

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