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Thursday, 4 November 2010

Curzio Malaparte: The Technique of Coup d'Etat, 1931


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Adolf Hitler
: photo by Heinrich Hoffmann, 1927 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

What would induce Hitler to give up his dangerous opportunism? Is he waiting for Parliament to get the National-Socialist revolution under its control? He is afraid of being outlawed. Hitler, a poor imitation of Mussolini, is not posing as a Sulla, a Caesar, a Cromwell, a Bonaparte or a Lenin when he claims to be the liberator of the Fatherland; but he poses as a defender of the law, a restorer of national tradition, and servant of the State. One should always beware of a dictator’s patriotism. The future of this sort of civic hero does not lend any brilliance to his revolutionary past. As Giolitti would say, “Hitler is a man with a great future behind him.” He has lost so many opportunities. He could have overthrown the State numberless times had he known how to take advantage of favorable circumstances. In spite of his eloquence, his electoral successes, his insurrectional army, in spite of the undeniable prestige of his name, and the legends which have been woven about him as an agitator, a man who sways crowds, a violent and unscrupulous conspirator; in spite of the passions he inspires in those who surround him and of his dangerous sway over the imagination and the spirit of adventure in German youth, Hitler is only a would-be leader. In Moscow I heard a Bolshevik, who was one of the most active instruments of Trotsky’s revolutionary tactics during the coup d’état of October 1917, pass this singular judgment upon Hitler: “He has all Kerenski’s good and bad qualities and like Kerenski, he too is only a woman.”

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Adolf Hitler: photographer unknown, 1937 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

Hitler’s intelligence is in point of fact profoundly feminine: his mind, his ambitions, even his will are not in the least virile. He is a weak man who takes shelter in violence, so that he may conceal his lack of energy, his unexpected failings, his morbid egoism, and his clumsy pride. A quality common to nearly all dictators and one which is characteristic of their manner of judging men in relation to events, is their jealousy. Dictatorship is not only a form of government, it is also the most complete form of jealousy in all its aspects: political, moral and intellectual. Like all dictators, Hitler is guided much more by his passions than by his mind. His attitude towards his oldest partisans, the shock-troops who followed him from the very beginning, who stood by him in adversity, who shared his humiliation, dangers and imprisonment, who have been his glory and his power, can only be explained by jealousy. This will astonish only those who are unaware of the true nature of dictators, i.e., their violent and timid psychology. Hitler is jealous of those who have helped him to become one of the foremost figures in German political life. He is afraid of their pride, their energy, and their fighting spirit—that fearless, disinterested enthusiasm which turns Hitler’s shock-troops into a dangerous weapon of power. He exercises all his brutality to humble their pride, to crush their freedom of will, to obscure their individual merits and to transform his partisans into flunkeys stripped of all dignity. Like all dictators, Hitler loves only those whom he can despise. His ambition is to be able one day to debase and humble the whole German nation and to reduce it to a state of servitude, in the name of German liberty, glory and power.

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Adolf Hitler: photographer unknown, 1938 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

There is something confused, equivocal, something morbidly sexual in Hitler’s opportunist tactics, in his aversion from revolutionary violence, and in his hatred of every form of individual freedom and dignity. In the history of nations, at moments of great misfortune, after wars, invasions, or famines, there is always one man who rises above the masses and enforces his will, his ambition and his bitterness; who “wreaks a woman-like revenge” upon the whole people, for all the freedom, power and happiness that has been lost. In the history of European countries it is Germany’s turn now: Hitler is the dictator, the “woman” Germany deserves. The feminine side of him explains Hitler’s success, his domination of the crowd and the enthusiasm he rouses in the youth of Germany. In the eyes of the common people Hitler is untainted, ascetic, a mystical interpreter of action, a kind of saint. It is not as a Catiline that he wins approval. “No story of a woman is coupled with his name,” say his biographers. One ought rather to say of dictators, in general, that no story of a man is coupled with their name.

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Benito Mussolini with Adolf Hitler: photographer unknown, 25 October 1936

In every dictator’s life there are moments which reveal the cloudy, unhealthy and sexual depths of his power; these are the crises which reveal the wholly feminine side of his character. In the relations between a leader and his followers these crises most frequently take the form of revolts. When he is menaced with domination by those he once humiliated and enslaved, the dictator defends himself with flaming energy against the rebellion of his partisans: it is the woman in him that defends herself. Cromwell, Lenin and Mussolini have all known these moments. Cromwell did not hesitate to use fire and the sword to crush the revolt of the “levellers,” who stood for a kind of Seventeenth Century Communism in England. Lenin had no pity for the mutinous sailors at Kronstadt, Mussolini was harsh with the Florentine Black Shirts whose revolt lasted a year, up to the eve of the coup d’état. It is surprising that Hitler has not yet had to face widespread sedition among his shock-troops. The partial mutinies which have sprung up all over Germany in the ranks of Hitler’s battle squadrons are perhaps only the first symptoms of an inevitable clash. Opportunism in the course of a revolution is a crime that entails its own punishment. Unhappy the dictator who heads a revolutionary army but shrinks from the responsibility of a coup d’état. He may, thanks to tricks and compromise, be able to seize power by legal means, but dictatorships which arise out of a compromise are only semi-dictatorships. They do not last. It is revolutionary violence which legitimizes a dictatorship: the coup d’état itself is its soundest foundation. It is perhaps Hitler’s plan to arrive at power by parliamentary compromise. All he can do, if he wants to forestall a revolt among his fighting squads, is to distract their attention from the capture of the State, and rivet their revolutionary zeal not on internal politics but on foreign affairs. Has not the problem of the eastern frontiers been, for some time, the main theme of Hitler’s eloquence? It is significant that Germany’s future may depend on a parliamentary compromise rather than on a coup d’état. A dictator who will not dare to seize power by revolutionary action never could intimidate Western Europe, which is ready to defend its freedom whatever the cost.


Parade of SA troops past Hitler, Nuremberg: photographer unknown, September 1935 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

Curzio Malaparte: Hitler: A Would-Be Dictator (excerpt), from The Technique of Coup d'Etat (La tecnica della colpo di Stato), 1931 (translated by Sylvia Saunders, 1932)


TC said...

There is also a chapter on Mussolini in this book, and it does not go easier on Mussolini than this chapter does on Hitler. It is therefore hardly a matter of surprise that shortly after the publication of the book, Malaparte began a period of six years in prison and internal exile.

Malaparte, who was a journalist, had lately returned from assignment in Germany. In this chapter from his book he presents a fascinating class-analysis of Hitler's rise to power, including some information he had picked up from German officers, who seem to have been rather surprisingly open about their leader. (With Malaparte one cannot ever quite tell where the actual candor and the fictional candor leave off or begin.)

"The extremists of his party are not wrong in judging Hitler as a false rebel, an opportunist, a “man-of-law” who thinks he can make a revolution with speeches, military parades and parliamentary threats and blackmail. Since his brilliant political victory when about a hundred members of his party were elected to the Reichstag, an opposition has developed in the very core of the party which rejects Hitler’s opportunist tactics, and is more and more definitely in favor of active insurrection as a solution to the problem of conquering the State. Hitler is accused of being insufficiently courageous to face the consequences of revolutionary tactics and of being afraid of revolution. A captain of shock-troops told me in Berlin that Hitler was a Julius Caesar who could not swim, and stood on the shores of a Rubicon that was too deep to ford."

In any case, should there be curiosity as to what happened next in Malaparte's survey-from-within of the events at dark cores of European dictatorships and totalitarian empires, some of that story can found, in his words, in the following:

Curzio Malaparte: An Aeolian Greyhound

Curzio Malaparte: A Rose from the Executioner

Curzio Malaparte: Dis, the Infernal City

Curzio Malaparte: Girls in the Wheatfields, Romania, 1941

Curzio Malaparte: High Tide: Ukraine, 1942

Curzio Malaparte: Naked Men

Curzio Malaparte: The Smell of Scorched Iron: Ukraine, Summer 1941

ACravan said...

I have been living with this for days (carrying it around and rereading sections whenever I can) and will continue to do so. Malaparte's writing and point of view (I hesitate to say conclusions; the prose seems to speed along too quickly to come to that kind of resting place) is fascinating and gripping. Mostly what I keep noticing (and this ties in in some way, I suppose, with Malaparte's gender and sexual references) is how Hitler resembles a high-fashion model in all of the photos. I'm not sure what that means, but the fashion model's talent is mysterious and unfakeable.

TC said...

And Europe, unfortunately, became his runway.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you remember the amazing Ramones song "Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World"?

TC said...

Oh, my.

TC said...

Curtis, here is Chris Marker's comment (well, he's commenting on the post, not on the Ramones):

"Yes, a famous example of future's misreading by an otherwise sharp mind... In the book, he adds an 8-page postface to bring some nuances: yes, Hitler may be a threat, but M is confident the German society is strong enough to resist it. Amusing also to compare with Kaputt's chapter 4 ('GOD SHAVE THE KING') where in Cracow the Gestapo chief reminds him he wrote that Hitler was a woman--or so he says, for like Chateaubriand and Malraux, this great writer was also a great liar."

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I really need to read Kaputt and Malaparte's other books in their entirety. If I could just clear some (mental and physical) space. Thank you for posting the Ramones footage. Caroline's second job was working in the publicity department of ABC Records in New York, which distributed Sire Records, and she worked very closely with the Ramones on their first three albums. At that point ABC/Sire was the only US label willing to sign punk rock acts and the Ramones were the first. Their material was very, very funny and their performances were intense, gripping and also funny. When it came time to prepare the first big trade advertisement for the band, the marketing department had the pleasure of being able to pull quotes exclusively from extremely partisan reviews -- pro and con. No one sat on the fence, which along with Danny Fields black and white band portrait, made for a memorable (actually, frameable) ad.

TC said...


Well, obviously you are married to a survivor.

And Danny... we used to see him now and then when he slouched out to Bolinas on R&R.

Elmo St. Rose said...

I suspect Malaparte would not have
lived so well
quite as long or have written
quite as much, had he been of the
German sphere rather than the
Italian sphere of the Axis.

60,000,000 to 100,000,000 people
died in WWII...the counting was
inconclusive in Russia and Asia

the "class analysis" failed to
account for his evil genius and
will and of course the madness
in some in human race that it

again I make the point that
the poets and philosophers and
the writers and artists did not
stop fell to the common
men who were soldiers

TC said...

Chaz, Malaparte rather adroitly managed to never quite be contained in any sphere other than his own.

In fact his name was Erich Maria Suckert, his father was German, his mother Tuscan. He was educated in Italy and fought in (decorated for valor) in the Italian army in WW I. He then became a journalist, and renounced his German name, in 1925 (he was 27) in favour of a self-invented moniker: "Malaparte"= "he of the bad place," a pun on Bonaparte.

After all his wars and perils he ended up becoming a Communist as he lay dying of lung cancer, and left his worldly goods to Chairman Mao.