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Fascist Ecology in Context

Excerpt from
Eco­fas­cism: Lessons from the Ger­man Expe­ri­ence
by Janet Biehl and Peter Stau­den­maier
1995, AK Press
ISBN 1–873176 73 2

pp 24–25

Fas­cist Ecol­o­gy in Con­text

To make this dis­may­ing and dis­com­fort­ing analy­sis more palat­able, it is tempt­ing to draw pre­cise­ly the wrong con­clu­sion — name­ly, that even the most rep­re­hen­si­ble polit­i­cal under­tak­ings some­times pro­duce laud­able results. But the real les­son here is just the oppo­site: Even the most laud­able of caus­es can be per­vert­ed and instru­men­tal­ized in the ser­vice of crim­i­nal sav­agery. The “green wing” of the NSDAP was not a group of inno­cents, con­fused and manip­u­lat­ed ide­al­ists, or reform­ers from with­in; they were con­scious pro­mot­ers and execu­tors of a vile pro­gram explic­it­ly ded­i­cat­ed to inhu­man racist vio­lence, mas­sive polit­i­cal repres­sion and world­wide mil­i­tary dom­i­na­tion. Their ‘eco­log­i­cal’ involve­ments, far from off­set­ting these fun­da­men­tal com­mit­ments, deep­ened and rad­i­cal­ized them. In the end, their con­fig­u­ra­tion of envi­ron­men­tal pol­i­tics was direct­ly and sub­stan­tial­ly respon­si­ble for orga­nized mass mur­der.

No aspect of the Nazi project can be prop­er­ly under­stood with­out exam­in­ing its impli­ca­tion in the holo­caust. Here, too, eco­log­i­cal argu­ments played a cru­cial­ly malev­o­lent role. Not only did the “green wing” refur­bish the san­guine anti­semitism of tra­di­tion­al reac­tionary ecol­o­gy; it cat­alyzed a whole new out­burst of lurid racist fan­tasies of organ­ic invi­o­la­bil­i­ty and polit­i­cal revenge. The con­flu­ence of anti-human­ist dog­ma with a fetishiza­tion of nat­ur­al ‘puri­ty’ pro­vid­ed not mere­ly a ratio­nale but an incen­tive for the Third Reich’s most heinous crimes. Its insid­i­ous appeal unleashed mur­der­ous ener­gies pre­vi­ous­ly untapped. Final­ly, the dis­place­ment of any social analy­sis of envi­ron­men­tal destruc­tion in favor of mys­ti­cal ecol­o­gy served as an inte­gral com­po­nent in the prepa­ra­tion of the final solu­tion:

To explain the destruc­tion of the coun­try­side and envi­ron­men­tal dam­age, with­out ques­tion­ing the Ger­man peo­ple’s bond to nature, could only be done by not analysing envi­ron­men­tal dam­age in a soci­etal con­text and by refus­ing to under­stand them as an expres­sion of con­flict­ing social inter­ests. Had this been done, it would have led to crit­i­cism of Nation­al Social­ism itself since that­was notim­mune to such forces. One solu­tion was to asso­ciate such envi­ron­men­tal prob­lems with the destruc­tive influ­ence of oth­er races. Nation­al Social­ism could then be seen to strive for the elim­i­na­tion of oth­er races in order to allow the Ger­man peo­ple’s innate under­stand­ing and feel­ing of nature to assert itself, hence secur­ing a har­mon­ic life close to nature for the future.64

This is the true lega­cy of eco­fas­cism in pow­er: “geno­cide devel­oped into a neces­si­ty under the cloak of envi­ron­ment protection.“65

* * *

The expe­ri­ence of the“green wing” of Ger­man fas­cism is a sober­ing reminder of the polit­i­cal volatil­i­ty of ecol­o­gy. It cer­tain­ly does not indi­cate any inher­ent or inevitable con­nec­tion between eco­log­i­cal issues and right-wing pol­i­tics; along­side the reac­tionary tra­di­tion sur­veyed here, there has always been an equal­ly vital her­itage of left-lib­er­tar­i­an ecol­o­gy, in Ger­many as elsewhere.66 But cer­tain pat­terns can be dis­cerned: “While con­cerns about prob­lems posed by humankind’s increas­ing mas­tery over nature have increas­ing­ly been shared by ever larg­er groups ofpeo­ple embrac­ing a pletho­ra of ide­olo­gies, the most con­sis­tent ‘pro-nat­ur­al order’ response found polit­i­cal embod­i­ment on the rad­i­cal right. “67 This is the com­mon thread which unites mere­ly con­ser­v­a­tive or even sup­pos­ed­ly apo­lit­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions of envi­ron­men­tal­ism with the straight­for­ward­ly fas­cist vari­ety.

The his­tor­i­cal record does, to be sure, belie the vac­u­ous claim that “those who want to reform soci­ety accord­ing to nature are nei­ther left nor right but eco­log­i­cal­ly minded.“68 Envi­ron­men­tal themes can be mobi­lized from the left or from the right, indeed they require an explic­it social con­text if they are to have any polit­i­cal valence what­so­ev­er. “Ecol­o­gy” alone does not pre­scribe a pol­i­tics; itmust­be inter­pret­ed, medi­at­ed through some the­o­ry of soci­ety in order to acquire polit­i­cal mean­ing. Fail­ure to heed this medi­at­ed inter­re­la­tion­ship between the social and the eco­log­i­cal is the hall­mark of reac­tionary ecol­o­gy.


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