Lefebvre on Hitler

As I’ve previously mentioned, there is a new Italian translation of Henri Lefebvre’s early book Hitler au pouvoir, les enseignements de cinq années de fascisme en Allemagne, Paris: Bureau d’Éditions, 1938. Though I don’t read Italian, I got hold of a copy and it has jogged my memory for the reading I made of the French original about 10 years ago. I’ve looked back at the few notes I made then, and what I wrote about this in my book on Lefebvre.

We know from various comments that Lefebvre visited Germany a few times in the 1930s, both before and after Hitler came to power. These visits helped to inform the analysis in Le nationalisme contre le nations; the book co-written with Norbert Guterman,  La conscience mystifiée; and it was partly to rescue Nietzsche from the fascist appropriation that Lefebvre wrote a book on him in 1939. Lefebvre also wrote articles in the early 1930s on fascism in France and Italy and planned a project on irrationalism in France – there is a draft manuscript in the Guterman archives. As I wrote in Understanding Henri Lefebvre (or here):

Lefebvre likens the German embrace of mythical roots to a potential Celtic fanaticism, promoting the ‘spiritual’ goal of wearing white robes and cutting mistletoe from oak trees. “his madness is exactly that of the fascists”.[i] Fascism might appear to be a national movement, but it is effectively international – without being internationalist. The national interest is surrendered to the interests of international monopoly capitalism, and fascist propaganda is designed to fetishise the nation and create a myth, a mystification. The ‘national revolution’ of fascism “is no more national than revolutionary”.[ii] Whilst it mobilises the workers, it is really in the interests of the middle classes; people who join the armed forces cease to be peasants or workers but become political soldiers; the youth of the country are utilised for similar aims; women are reduced to biological functionaries. Though it claims to support the nation, it actually dissolves the social and spiritual community.[iii] (p. 71)

[i]         Le nationalisme contre les nations, p. 157; see La conscience mystifiée, p. 89; Key Writings, p. 227.

[ii]         Le nationalisme contre les nations, p. 149.

[iii]        Le nationalisme contre les nations, p. 158

Hitler au pouvoir provides a reading of Hitler’s economic policy, suggesting that “national socialist state had worked for four years exclusively for the benefit of big capital” (Hitler au pouvoir, p. 72), and that its pretend socialism and calls to the national community were ruses to get this to happen. In a sense, then, this book anticipates the idea of the state mode of production Lefebvre would later discuss at length in De l’Etat. Lefebvre’s book also provides a reading of Mein Kampf.

The book is largely of historical interest, and with so much of Lefebvre’s work still unavailable in English this is hardly a priority for translation. But it does help to explain some of his later preoccupations. I’m glad to have a copy of it, even though not in French. The French is very hard to come by, and I’ve never seen a copy for sale. The Italian translator, Cristiano Casalini, has kindly offered to send me a photocopy. I may post some more comments when I have that to hand.

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1 Response to Lefebvre on Hitler

  1. Marcos Melo says:

    Dear professor Elden,

    I am a Brazilian researcher that is studying the interwar period of Lefebvre´s intellectual production.

    I have a deep interest in this book but, unfortunately, incapable of finding the original French text. I am thinking about buying this Italian translation – although I don´t speak Italian as well -, but I am not sure if the costs are worthwhile (as the total would be around 60 euros!).

    In your comment on the book, you mentioned that you would be able to get a copy of the original text from the Italian translator. I would like to know if that is the case and, if so, if you could share it.

    Thanks for your attention

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