Henry Schnautz letter to the editor - 1937 June 9

In June 1937 Col. Bertram Rodda, a visiting lecturer from the Salvation Army, spoke in Evansville. The newspaper account contained some sensational quotes and it drew a heated response from Henry Schnautz.

From the Evansville Press June 9, 1937 page 7 -

Rodda said Hitler and Mussolini were "temporarily justified" by conditions that put them in power, and declared they have been a benefit to their countries.

In both nations, he said, domestic unrest forced the people to "turn to a strong man."

He stated that "Mussolini's domestic policies have saved Italy," and "that Hitler has saved Germany from ruin."

In hindsight, reading for example "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by William Shirer, the truth is that the Nazis took power by force and lies without ever winning an election. The impetus to power came more from the nazis than the clamor of the people.

Henry Schnautz was a Trotskyist. I do not have a written explanation from him why or when he became a Trotskyist. Presumably it was the position of someone who had read Marx, was in general agreement, but had no stomach for the insanity of 1930's Russia, and had also read and approved of some of Trotsky's voluminous writings. The conflict between Stalin and Trotsky, reduced to slogans, was Stalin "Socialism in one country", and Trotsky "permanent revolution" in all countries.

Why did people in America and elsewhere tend to look the other way from ruthless power and say Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini did what they had to do? That they made the trains run on time? That they "saved" the country? The depression was world-wide. 1937 was another down year. People in hard times sometimes want or are sympathetic to a "strong man".

Trotsky had no blind spot for Stalin or Hitler. He had advised as early as 1932 that Hitler should be prevented from taking power with force. In late 1938, Trotsky wrote a letter trying to raise funds from American Jews in which he said the coming world war would likely mean the physical extermination of the Jewish people in Europe. Trotsky knew the purges going on in Russia as they eliminated his allies, friends and family.

Henry in his letter deals briefly with Rodda's statements on Russia. Communism was tried and failed in Russia, says Rodda. Not tried so long as Stalin has been in charge, says Henry. Trotskyists referred to Stalin as the gravedigger of socialism. Communists of other countries, such as U.S., want world revolution, says Rodda. Henry points out that Stalin undermined revolution in Spain, that communists everywhere were advocating (perhaps though like a Trojan horse) People's Front alliances.

Something that has been lost somewhat in our modern world is how central was the concept of labor to the socialist of the 1930s. Labor was the proletariat, which was the socialist vocabulary for the masses. From that strata of society, according to Marxist theory, had to eventually come the inevitable, universal uprising that would throw off the inefficiency of capitalism. It was Quixotic as hell. The discussion of world events, policies, programs eventually always came down to the antagonism between labor and capital. Labor and capital both feel they are the host and the other the parasite. The Socialist view is that labor creates capital. That is their terminology. The Capitalist view is that labor has to be driven by imagination. Capital magnifies labor. Whatever the correct view, times have changed, unions represent a small minority of workers, but still capital and labor never quite got over the fight. If anything, labor is less able to negotiate and capital is more important than ever for production.

In an era where labor in large quantity was essential, Socialism, or something like it, was a predictable response to hard times, poverty and actual hunger. It was a call against central authoritarian control, the control of many by a few. I find Socialism to be an abstraction that is very hard to define, more of a definition of a problem than a solution. Socialists argue it is worker control of capital. In practice, power is always concentrated and decisions have to be made. Bad decisions by ignorant, avaricious or ruthless rulers beg for a better way. Labor is the democratic force and capital is the source of fascists unpopular power - in Henry's letter.

Power never retreats, Henry said. Societies should guard against permanent leaders. Leaders who take power by mobilizing violence and hate are never temporarily justified, however much their sympathizers claim. After their alleged economic miracle, Hitler and Mussolini led their people into utter desolation.