Voices Of Resistance Past: Ilya Ehrenburg

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(This column is cross-posted from my old blog Channeling Durrati). Columns posted from there will be found under the “Spanish Civil War” category.)

Ilya Ehrenburg

Now here’s a guy who could lay down some serious smack against the fascists. Some thought, perhaps, too serious. He is a controversial figure for his propaganda writings from Moscow during WWII when he exhorted soldiers of the Red Army to kill Nazi invaders in the strongest terms possible. Perhaps he did go too far as the Red Army desecrated Hitler’s fatherland encouraging the raping of German women as well. But then, they were wearing clothing and jewelry sacked from his country. Whatever your feelings about that there is no doubt that no one of his generation countered Hitler’s propaganda more forcefully. He reported on the Spanish War for several Russian Newspapers, drinking with Papa Hemmingway in Barcelona. A few words from the master:

“Unappeasable dark spite ignites the heart of fascism. This is the spite of the Ruhr magnates who in the twenties of this century became frightened of the morning dawn, of the maturity of nations, and of the idea of justice. This is the spite of Krupp, of Voegler, of the owners of Fiat and of Schneider who have called in a band of adventurers and unscrupulous killers for assistance. This is the spite of the Prussian barons, of the Andalusian earls, the Rumanian boyars and the Hungarian counts, the untalented and feeble-minded epigones of a once splendid world who look upon countries as hunting grounds with hounds, and at the peasants who collect acorns on the lord’s land as game. This is the spite of the little, ignorant, petty bourgeois, who is revolted by the complexity of culture, by the boldness of thought, and by progress. This is the spite of failures, of provincial Caesars, backwoods Napoleons who are thirsting to enter history, even if by the back door. This is the spite of the renegades who strive to defile everything that they once loved. This is the spite of old age, soullessness, and death.
The Italian fascists, coming out onto the stage, dressing themselves up in black shirts, have established the cult of the she wolf and have adopted from the wolf pack the “Alala”. The Spanish Falangists have introduced the ritual of “betrothal and death”, carrying their banners to cemeteries, holding processions with naked hunchbacks, God’s fools, and gravediggers – processions resembling the nightmarish visions of Goya. The French Cagoulards put on blind capes taken from the Middle Ages born out of plague epidemics. The German SS men wear skull and crossbones on their sleeves. Goering has revived the executioner in a frock coat with an axe. Himmler has transferred into his torture chambers the torture instruments kept in the Nuremberg Museum. Even the Fascist window-dressing bears witness to black, desperate spite.
Fascism is a monumental attempt to halt the course of history. It has resurrected certain rituals and delusions of the Middle Ages, but the peoples of the Middle Ages did not live only by these rituals and delusions; within them there burned a genuine faith; they created wonderful cathedrals, remarkable epic poems; with their labor, their ecstacy, even with their ignorance they prepared for the age of the Renaissance. The Fascists must not be compared with the peoples of the Middle Ages. They live in a different epoch. They attempted to abandon the concept of time; this explains their sterility. Of course Italy’s grapes still continued to yield wine even under Mussolini; of course Germany’s factories continued to function even under Hitler. But the Fascists did not create anything. They only mobilized contemporary technology for the struggle against the spirit of the time. They turned all achievements of civilization towards destruction.
Italy was justly considered the land of the arts. Fascism did not give birth to any artists; Fascism killed artists. Can the Italian people be proud of the conquest of Ethiopia, which was subsequently lost, proud of the use of mustard gas against unarmed herdsmen, proud of the destruction of Malaga, of the shootings in Greece and the gallows in the Ukraine? Did the spirit of Da Vinci, Dante, Petrarch, Leopardi, Garibaldi express itself in these crimes? When reading the illiterate and dull books of Rosenberg , the articles of Goebbles and Streicher, can we find therein a shadow of German genius, the lucidity of Goethe, the complexity of Hengel, the love of freedom of the romantics? The destruction of hundreds of cities, Europe turned into a desert – such is the creative activity of Fascism. Countries cleared of people and the human head cleared of thought – this is Hitler’s ideal.
It is not surprising that Fascism is attracting the dregs of humanity, people with a slovenly biography, sadists, mental freaks, traitors. The untalented painter Hitler, the untalented novelist Goebbles, the untalented dramatist Mussolini – is it not striking that at the head of Fascists States there are people who dreamed of artistic laurels and were denounced as mountebanks? Fascism attracts all renegades. Judas hanged himself out of sorrow. The Fascist Judases prefer to hang others. Mussolini appeased his spite by the killing of two former comrades – socialists. In France Hitler found two followers, two apostates – Laval and Doriot. Sexual perversion and, in the first place, sadism have become a stronghold of Fascism. The morphine addict Goering, the lecher Goebbles, the sadist Himmler,”Doctor” Ley, the specialist in seducing those underage, degenerates about whose whereabouts directors of prisons and hospitals should be arguing, found themselves in ministerial positions.”

There is more, it was a long rant, but you get the idea…

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