I've been digging through a Nazi propaganda archive hosted by Calvin University, a Christian university in Michigan, and came across a 1932 essay from Nazi propagandist Fritz Oerter titled "Our Speakers in the Anti-Marxist Battle," published in their agitprop journal "Our Will and Way."https://research.calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/wilweg03.htm
It's an interesting historical document, and I also believe there might be things we can learn from it, because the Nazis were trying to figure out Marxists' strengths and weaknesses at the time with the goal of winning over workers and recruiting ex-Marxists into their ranks. So it's like an enemy document about how they would target us in the battle of rhetoric and public attention. There are some things in the essay that I think are worth pondering.
The article begins by mentioning that the Nazis had gone as far as they could winning over members of the "'middle class' reactionary front" and that they risked wearing them out in terms of attendance at public rallies and so on, and the party wanted to expand beyond their middle class / petit-bourgeoisie base and recruit workers, which posed many challenges.
>Those citizens whom we could interest in our world view through marches and mass meetings, the sensible members of the middle class, have been reached. The “middle class” reactionary front has been ground down — despite their election “victory” of 6 November. Nationalist circles are the ones that increasingly visited our mass meetings, that saw our marches with growing enthusiasm, and remain today about 95% of the attendees at our meetings, although they have long since been won over to National Socialism.
Next, Oerter claims the party had won over a "large number of former Marxists" and that the Social Democrats in particular "are fighting desperately for their survival … Still, Marxist propaganda, and especially its press, regularly succeeds in leading people who have seen the light back into error, and bringing them back under the control of Marxist party leaders."
The Nazis viewed Marxism as founded in and nurtured within liberalism, which afforded it some protection, while also challenging liberalism with the strength of being a younger movement challenging an older movement.
>Liberalism was not able to resist Marxism. The liberal parties and ideologies could only fight defensively against a worldview with greater strength and clarity of purpose. Even the Marxist worker who long doubted and sought for something better eventually had to conclude that Marxism is the only worldview that can bring a new and better society and economic order. Who can hold it against him that he rejected the forces that denied him equality and a share in the results of his labor? The German worker absorbed Marxism in his parents’ home, and was surrounded by people who thought the same in the workplace. In what remained of his sound understanding, he knew that there was a flaw somewhere in the worldview. He realized that there was a catch somewhere to the lovely teachings of “expropriating the expropriators,” of “the equality of everyone with a human face,” of “international brotherhood,” of “international solidarity,” but he did not know where, and there was no one to show him the contradictions, the weak points, in the thinking of Karl Marx and his followers.
Then the essay goes into the usual stuff about how Marxism and socialists are everything to blame for what's wrong with Germany, but admits that trying to fight it requires some understanding of it. Also, they felt that attacking Marxist leaders (Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc.) wasn't so successful, because while that might cause a Marxist's conviction to rattle a bit, it didn't really change a Marxist worldview.
Therefore, the Nazis aimed to present Marxist aims as utopian (sounds familiar?), erroneous, and "lead in the wrong direction." They also wanted to train their members to be able to speak and debate, and they were having trouble "holding their own against opponents," and Nazi Party functionaries were not preparing their members for the task very well because they treated them "as if they were a bit stupid." A general lack of knowledge about Marxism was a problem for these counter-propagandists who "are like army officers who have good soldiers, but do not know how strong the enemy is or where he is located."
Plus, they were thinking about optics, and were concerned with how they dressed for public meetings, and trying to find the right balance between being too sloppy and too elegant:
>It is nonsense to think that a popular style of speaking (which often turns out to be vulgar) is enough to win sympathy for the speaker in a meeting of workers. The opposite! The Marxist worker can tell what is genuine and what is artificial. When he sees that a speaker has taken on a “popular” style of speaking, or that he wears a shirt without a collar, or rolled up sleeves or other things like that, he becomes reserved and critical. Obviously a workers’ meeting is not a university auditorium. The speech must be simple and clear. But coarse language and shabby clothing generally harm the overall impression, just as do an elevated, lecturing style and elegant dress. There is too much of this going on, in part due to a lack of through training that is replaced by outward appearances.
So, they seemed to believe (if I'm reading this right) that one of their problems is that they were *too* focused on optics, trying to present an appearance over substance and feels over reals. So they were dressing down *too* much, which came across as fake, or they wanted to appear respectable, so they overdressed. "Unnecessary exaggeration is also harmful," Oerter writes. Hyperbole, in other words, and prematurely declaring victory. Oerter mentions a Nazi speaker making an exaggerated prediction of Nazi Party electoral success in the Nov. 6, 1932 elections, when the Nazi Party actually lost seats, which they felt was damaging to their reputation.
Another problem involved speakers misleading people about the subjects of public talks, and mixing up discussions about worldviews with discussions about current events. A Nazi speaker would hold an event titled "Marxism or German workers" and then discuss stuff in the news, which didn't failed to win anyone over to Nazism. That reminds me of some of our dear friends from 4chan who have a confused worldview and prefer to mostly talk about random bullshit in the news. The Nazis also liked to send out "former Marxists" give speeches, and Oerter describes states that Marxists know "that Soviet Russia is not a land of milk and honey," but just repeating that over and over again doesn't really matter to believing Marxists – we've heard it all before. It doesn't really shake the worldview to learn that the USSR is not a utopia.
>[The wavering Marxist] did not come to listen to a former Marxist speaker to hear these things again. He wants to hear something different. He wants to know why this former Marxist left the red flag and now fights for the swastika. He is a seeker. He has lost faith in Marx and his doctrines. His world is threatening to collapse, and he wants a new and better worldview. The former Marxist who found a new worldview in National Socialism should help his former party members to make a final break with Marxism. He should make it easier to for them to become National Socialists. The Marxist worker wants to hear why the speaker today opposes which he once honestly fought for, perhaps for more than a generation. He wants to know why the speaker chose National Socialism, and how it is superior to Marxist thinking.
>… [wavering Marxists] want a plausible justification and good reasons for doing what they instinctively feel. For decades the materialist worldview was pumped into them. They learned to evaluate everything from a materialistic and rational perspective. As convinced Marxists, they were ruled by cold, clear reason, not by feelings. Mind and stomach, not heart and soul, were the driving forces behind events. In their heart and soul, many of these former Marxist workers are already National Socialists; only their materialism keeps them from breaking with the false gods of the past.
So, what can we learn from all this? How do we use these observations to strengthen on our own movement and improve where we might be lacking? How can we resist far-right techniques in the future when they reorganize themselves? Please add observations of your own. Here's what I think:
(1) Media is really important. The Nazis really didn't like the socialist press and saw this as one of our major strengths. Naturally, one of the first things they did when taking power was to smash our printing presses. Today, there are new forms of media and I think we should avail ourselves to it as much as possible.
(2) Nazi speakers liked to blab about current events but were weak in terms of ideology / worldview. This is no surprise, but I think it's evident in a lot of right-wing media today. See: Tim Pool. One of the most effective reactionary speakers in North America in recent years in terms of worldview has been Jordan Peterson, but he floundered in a highly public debate with Slavoj Zizek and has had health problems.
(3) To be able to win people over to a Marxist worldview requires a solid understanding of Marx and Engels. Therefore: read.
(4) Don't get caught up on defending leaders so much or dead historical figures. I think the Chinese formulation of "70% correct, 30% incorrect" is useful here. Right wingers attacking Marxist leaders and historical figures is what they really shouldn't be doing.
(5) Don't stress optics too much but don't discount it. I think this Nazi essayist was basically correct that you shouldn't look sloppy but you shouldn't overdress. The Nazis saw problems with their own members both dressing down too much and appearing too professorial.
(6) The Nazis saw themselves in a "battle for the soul." Feels over reals. It's an irrational worldview. But they recognized that many Marxists had doubts in their convictions, would waver, and the Nazis were right there waiting to provide a plausibly-enough-sounding justification for weak Marxists to break with the ideology for their own.
By the way, I think Xi Jinping recognizes a similar vulnerability and believes in the importance of stressing a strong belief in socialism, which smacks to some Marxists as a kind of subjectivist idealism, but is he wrong about that? He said: "Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? An important reason was that their ideals and convictions wavered … In the end nobody was a real man, nobody came out to resist … Facts have repeatedly proved that the most dangerous moment is when one wavers or begins to show doubt in one's ideals and convictions." One article on this states that Xi's sense of mission marks a difference between him and his predecessors, whom Zhao Ziyang (a former general secretary) described as "lacking ideals, lacking historical responsibility, and lacking vision."