The "Green Wing" of the Nazi Party and its Historical Antecedents
By: Peter Staudenmaier
Source: Staudenmaier, Peter. "Fascist Ecology: The 'Green Wing' of the Nazi Party and its Historical Antecedents". In Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience, edited by Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier. San Francisco and Edinburgh: AK Press, 1995.
About the Author: American social ecologist, writer, and activist, Peter Staudenmaier is on the faculty of the Institute for Social Ecology, an educational organization dedicated to studying the interrelation of environmental, economic, social, and political issues. It is based in Plainfield, Vermont. Staudenmaier lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and works at a collectively run co-op bookstore. He is also involved with a network of housing cooperatives providing democratically controlled, resident-owned housing. Internationally, Staudenmaier works with grassroots development organizations in Nicaragua and with the German Greens, a radical left ecological group.
The following is an excerpt from Staudenmaier's essay on the apparently pro-environmental policies of the German Nazi Party during the 1930s and 1940s. It is an attempt by a democratic leftist, an obvious opponent of Nazism, to understand how environmental ideas and policies generally accepted as humane and benevolent—much like many of the ideas and policies of twenty-first-century environmentalists and champions of nature—could coexist with and be a part of a philosophy devoted to military conquests and racial genocide.
In his analysis, Staudenmaier traces how nationalism, love of nature, and anti-rationalist romanticism converged historically in German thought to the detriment of ideas about human dignity and freedom. He examines how the breakdown of traditional communities and community functions—caused by the industrial revolution—spurred a back-to-the-land "folk" movement that preached a mystical connection between the German people and the land.
Those who shaped this movement, Staudenmaier explains, spread the doctrine of the existence of a bond between "blood" and "soil." Rather than analyzing the social, industrial and economic conditions, Staudenmaier argues, adherents of the "folk" movement blamed the problems arising from industrial production and national unification on a traditional object of hatred, "the Jews." They accused Jews of being rootless, because they lived in cities, and therefore out of touch with the soil; of being cosmopolitan; and of spreading "modern" beliefs rather than honoring tradition. The disseminators of anti-Jewish propaganda neglected to take into account that European Jews did not live on the land because they were forbidden to own land in Europe and were frequently driven out of one country or another. Not only were Jews said to be guilty socially, moreover, but inherently—because their blood, it was argued, was not "German blood." The Nazis continued to spread both these arguments, based on a bogus environmentalism, to justify the extermination of the Jews.
Germany is not only the birthplace of the science of ecology and the site of Green politics' rise to prominence, it has also been home to a peculiar synthesis of naturalism and nationalism forged under the influence of the Romantic tradition's anti-Enlightenment irrationalism…. On the Care and Conservation of Forests, written at the dawn of industrialization in Central Europe, rails against short-sighted exploitation of woodlands and soil, condemning deforestation and its economic causes. At times [Ernst Moritz Ardnt] wrote in terms strikingly similar to those of contemporary biocentrism: "When one sees nature in a necessary connectedness and interrelationship, then all things are equally important—shrub, worm, plant, human, stone, nothing first or last, but all one single unity."
Arndt's environmentalism, however, was inextricably bound up with virulently xenophobic nationalism. His eloquent and prescient appeals for ecological sensitivity were couched always in terms of the well-being of the German soil and the German people, and his repeated lunatic polemics against miscegenation, demands for teutonic racial purity, and epithets against the French, Slavs, and Jews marked every aspect of his thought. At the very outset of the nineteenth century the deadly connection between love of land and militant racist nationalism was firmly set in place….
These latter two fixations matured in the second half of the nineteenth century in the context of the völkisch movement, a powerful cultural disposition and social tendency which united ethnocentric populism with nature mysticism…. In the face of the very real dislocations brought on by the triumph of industrial capitalism and national unification, völkisch thinkers preached a return to the land, to the simplicity and wholeness of a life attuned to nature's purity…. [The völkisch movement] pointedly refused to locate the sources of alienation, rootlessness and environmental destruction in social structures, laying the blame instead to rationalism, cosmopolitanism, and urban civilization. The stand-in for all of these was the age-old object of peasant hatred and middle-class resentment: the Jews….
"The unity of blood and soil must be restored," proclaimed Richard Walther Darré in 1930. This infamous phrase denoted a quasi-mystical connection between "blood" (the race or Volk) and "soil" (the land and the natural environment) specific to Germanic peoples and absent, for example, among Celts and Slavs. For the enthusiasts of Blut und Boden, the Jews especially were a rootless, wandering people, incapable of any true relationship with the land. German blood, in other words, engendered an exclusive claim to the sacred German soil. While the term "blood and soil" had been circulating in völkisch circles since at least the Wilhelmine era, it was Darré who first popularized it as a slogan and then enshrined it as a guiding principle of Nazi thought. Harking back to Arndt and Riehl, he envisioned a thorough-going ruralization of Germany and Europe, predicated on a revitalized yeoman peasantry, in order to ensure racial health and ecological sustainability.
Darré was one of the party's chief "race theorists" and was also instrumental in galvanizing peasant support for the Nazis during the critical period of the early 1930s. From 1933 until 1942, he held the posts of Reich Peasant Leader and Minister of Agriculture. This was no minor fiefdom; the agriculture ministry had the fourth largest budget of all the myriad Nazi ministries even well into the war. From this position Darré was able to lend vital support to various ecologically oriented initiatives. He played an essential part in unifying the nebulous proto-environmentalist tendencies in National Socialism.
It was Darré who gave the ill-defined anti-civilization, anti-liberal, anti-modern, and latent anti-urban sentiments of the Nazi elite a foundation in the agrarian mystique. And it seems as if Darré had an immense influence on the ideology of National Socialism, as if he was able to articulate significantly more clearly than before the values system of an agrarian society contained in Nazi ideology and—above all—to legitimate this agrarian model and give Nazi policy a goal that was clearly oriented toward a far-reaching re-agrarianization.
This goal was not only quite consonant with imperialist expansion in the name of Lebensraum, it was in fact one of its primary justifications, even motivations. In language replete with the biologistic metaphors of organicism, Darré declared: "The concept of Blood and Soil gives us the moral right to take back as much land in the East as is necessary to establish a harmony between the body of our Volk and the geopolitical space."
Aside from providing green camouflage for the colonization of Eastern Europe, Darré worked to install environmentally sensitive principles as the very basis of the Third Reich's agricultural policy. Even in its most productivist phases, these precepts remained emblematic of Nazi doctrine. When the "Battle for Production" (a scheme to boost the productivity of the agricultural sector) was proclaimed at the second Reich Farmers Congress in 1934, the very first point in the program read "Keep the soil healthy!" But Darré's most important innovation was the introduction on a large scale of organic farming methods, significantly labeled "lebensgesetzliche Landbauweise," or farming according to the laws of life. The term points up yet again the natural order ideology which underlies so much reactionary ecological thought….
The campaign to institutionalize organic farming encompassed tens of thousands of smallholdings and estates across Germany. It met with considerable resistance from other members of the Nazi hierarchy, above all Backe and Göring. But Darré, with the help of Hess and others, was able to sustain the policy until his forced resignation in 1942 (an event which had little to do with his environmentalist leanings). And these efforts in no sense represented merely Darré's personal predilections; as the standard history of German agricultural policy points out, Hitler and Himmler "were in complete sympathy with these ideas." Still, it was largely Darré's influence in the Nazi apparatus which yielded, in practice, a level of government support for ecologically sound farming methods and land use planning unmatched by any state before or since.
For these reasons Darré has sometimes been regarded as a forerunner of the contemporary Green movement. His biographer [Anna Bramwell], in fact, once referred to him as the "father of the Greens." Her book Blood and Soil, undoubtedly the best single source on Darré in either German or English, consistently downplays the virulently fascist elements in his thinking, portraying him instead as a misguided agrarian radical. This grave error in judgement indicates the powerfully disorienting pull of an "ecological" aura. Darré's published writings alone, dating back to the early 1920s, are enough to indict him as a rabidly racist and jingoist ideologue particularly prone to a vulgar and hateful antisemitism (he spoke of Jews, revealingly, as "weeds"). His decade-long tenure as a loyal servant and, moreover, architect of the Nazi state demonstrates his dedication to Hitler's deranged cause. One account even claims that it was Darré who convinced Hitler and Himmler of the necessity of exterminating the Jews and Slavs. The ecological aspects of his thought cannot, in sum, be separated from their thoroughly Nazi framework. Far from embodying the "redeeming" facets of National Socialism, Darré represents the baleful specter of ecofascism in power.
The Nazi Blood and Soil movement is not just a historical curiosity. Searching the internet will quickly reveal a number of contemporary Green Nazi groups, overtly extolling both Nazism and environmentalism. Scanning the newspapers will also inevitably bring news of genocide and ethnic conflict occurring daily somewhere on the globe. Perhaps most troubling intellectually about the Blood and Soil movement is that many people who are dedicated to environmentalism and to a humane, democratic, peaceful, and equalitarian social philosophy will recognize in Nazi environmental policies sentiments seemingly in harmony with their own. This is disturbing in itself and additionally so because opponents of environmentalism sometimes cite Nazi antecedents in arguing against environmentalism.
Staudenmaier's essay is important, then, not just as an analysis of a historical phenomenon, but because thinking about the Nazi Blood and Soil movement brings together a number of complicated issues—even though racism and genocide, in themselves, are not complicated issues—which affect us in the ongoing present. Many environmental issues, like the importance for a group of people to have a sense of spiritual connection to actual land or to each other, or the conflict between science and alternative practices, or the conflict between thought and emotion, or between rationalism and mysticism, or between physical and intellectual labor, or between nature and culture, are at stake.
In his attempt to deal with the problem of "ecofascism," Staudenmaier advocates maintaining an analytic disposition, that is, an approach that examines a belief, a program, or a philosophy by taking it apart in order to scrutinize the conditions which created it, the nature of its various elements, and the ends those elements point to. This is a method for approaching, rather than for resolving, perplexing problems. Underlying this approach is an understanding that there are no "final solutions" but, rather, ongoing efforts to effect the best possible results given the complexity of nature, the environment, and mankind.
Perhaps the best lesson that can be derived from the Nazi Blood and Soil movement is that we must approach any idea, no matter how seductive it appears, with intellectual caution and rigor, guarding against the kind of mystical emotionalism and reckless enthusiasm that blind us to each person's humanity. A bit of wisdom from the mid-twentieth century French writer Albert Camus may be worth remembering: the obligation to value human life itself transcends any set of ideas or ideals.
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