Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review: The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion

In Our Time:  The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion by Clement Leibovitz and Alvin Finkel

The basic premise of this book is that the Western powers, particularly Neville Chamberlain in England, did not simply “appease” Hitler. They were actively trying to create an alliance with him, even after the outbreak of war, and thus let him do as he please in Eastern Europe. The authors argue that hysteria about communism and antipathy toward the Soviet Union shaped foreign policy agendas, in which the Western powers attempted to provoke a German invasion of the Soviet Union, ideally leading to the downfall of the communist nation. The authors further contend that Western elites had favorable views of fascism and dictatorial regimes, such as the Nazis, and had no qualms about supporting or making agreements with them.

Now, on the whole, the book was quite repetitive. And the authors had a clear bias: they were quite sympathetic, on the whole, to Churchill and other “non-appeaser” conservatives, to liberal political parties and, of course, social movements. They championed the idea of “democracy,” and did not seem in the slightest adverse to war. The bottom line for them was that the Western powers should have used force and begun to rearm immediately in order to prevent German expansion.

I think their distinction between “democracy” and “fascism” obscured more than it clarified. In fact, my previous argument about democracy and dictatorships applies here as well. I also do not agree with their attitudes toward military action (being a pacificist). I have argued before that violence is systemic. It is generally considered a moral/ethical conundrum whether violence is justified to prevent further potential violence. However, if the source of violence lies, ultimately, in the system itself, then I would say the answer to any kind of violence is not more violence, but rather the dismantling of the entire system. Hitler would have been powerless if not for the capitalist interests which sought investment opportunities in Germany’s rearmament, if not for the nationalist ideology that comes part and parcel with the modern system of nation-states, and if not for the racist tendencies embedded in both.

While I do think this book “tows the line” in many respects, I also think there is something useful to be gleaned from it. The evidence provided by the authors counters the common view that the modern era of capitalism and neocolonialism began post WW2. In fact, this book shows certain trends already taking root prior to the war: for example, the neo-colonial strategy of trying to indirectly intervene in other countrys' affairs; or, as the authors point out, the capitalist penchant for undermining popular movements and supporting dictators, all under the contradictory cover of “democracy.” It seems, in fact, that all WW2 did was transfer hegemony from Britain to the U.S.

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