Review: The Unfathomable Ascent-How Hitler Came to Power-by Peter Ross Range- Little, Brown and Company (August 11, 2020) 464 pages.

“Hitler pounded out Mein Kampf ” with two fingers on his little typewriter.”[1]

“If twelve or fifteen thousand Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas . . . the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain.”

—Adolf Hitler,  Mein Kampf

“Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him to remain unknown to him. Otherwise, it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence, he imagines false or apparent motives.” [2]

“When a state turns fascist, it does not only mean that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance with the patterns set by Mussolini – the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role – but it means, primarily and above all, that the workers’ organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism”.

Leon Trotsky, What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat[3]

When researching for this review, my first thought was did we need another biography of Hitler?. At the last count, it was estimated that there were nearly twenty thousand biographies, but this book changed my mind. Ross Range’s political biography is an extremely well researched and thought-provoking political analysis of how Hitler came to power.

I want to say that I have been following Ross Range’s work for decades and that this was my area of expertise, but I would be lying. I was drawn to this book by the extremely interesting and important interview with Ross Range by David North on behalf of the World Socialist Website[4]. Significantly, Mr Range agreed to the interview, although he does not share the political views of the World Socialist Website, it is a sign that broad layers of the middle class and, for that matter, the working class are starting to seek answers to today’s problems through learning the lessons of the past.

It has not always been the case that the I.C.F.I. (International Committee of the Fourth International) has promoted, let alone sell, books of this sort on their media platforms. In the past, if a book was important for the development of the movement, it was discussed internally. In my own experience, I can remember one important book being discussed, and that was by Eric Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism.[5] I think this is an important change. The Marxist critique of the 1619 project is a hugely important event, and the collaboration with leading historians of the American revolution and the promotion of their books on Mehring Books[6] is extremely important and groundbreaking.

It is eighty-eight years since Hitler came to power. It would seem the purpose of  Ross Range’s book is to learn the lessons of that period to prevent it from happening again.

President Paul von Hindenburg gave Hitler power. During his twelve years as German chancellor, as Peter Swartz eloquently points out, “the Hitler regime committed crimes never previously witnessed by mankind. It smashed the organized labour movement, subjected the country to a totalitarian dictatorship, destroyed Europe in an unprovoked war of aggression, and murdered millions of Jews, Roma and other minorities. January 30, 1933, was a historic turning point. Before then, barbarism and antisemitism had been considered traits of economic and cultural backwardness. In 1933, however, the elite of a country that was highly developed both economically and culturally handed over power to a barbaric anti-Semite whose party relied on the dregs of society.[7]

While predominantly a political biography of Hitler and the rise of German fascism, Ross Range does not shy away from showing the terrible economic crisis that paved the way for Hitler to come to power. As Peter Schwarz again points out, “The source of this crisis lay in the irresolvable contradictions of German and international capitalism. The consequences of World War I and the onset of the global economic crisis in 1929 had ruined broad layers of the working class and middle class. German society was deeply divided; democracy existed only in name. The Weimar Republic survived based on emergency decrees and presidential cabinets as it headed towards a social explosion”.[8]

This book is a very rare breed in that it contains a masterful political analysis of the rise of Hitlerite Fascism. It has an almost novel-like pace which is the hallmark of good narrative-driven historiography. His book is meticulously researched. Ross Range has deep mined and ransacked many German archives, and many of his sources have been translated into English from the German originals, probably for the first time.

Many things separate Ross Range’s work from other historiographies. He does not believe that Hitler’s antisemitism was fully developed during his pre-war Vienna period. In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler said he was stimulated in his hatred of Jews because they were walking around Vienna, saying they were “an apparition in a black caftan and black hair locks”.It is true that Hitler early on had a murderous hatred of Jews.

But as Konrad Heiden points out, Hitler “hated the whole great sphere of human existence which is devoted to the regular transference of energy into product; and he hated the men who had let themselves be caught and crushed in this process of production. All his life, the workers were for him a picture of horror, a dismal gruesome mass, everything which he later said from the speaker’s platform to flatter the manual worker was pure lies”.[9]

As David North points out in one of his earlier works, “Herein lies the key to an understanding of Hitler’s demonic obsession with the Jews. In Mein Kampf, Hitler explained how his conversion to antisemitism flowed from his encounters with the labour movement. It was among the workers that Hitler first came into contact with Jews. He then discovered, to his amazement, that many Jews played prominent roles in the labour movement. “The great light dawned on him,” wrote Heiden. “Suddenly, the ‘Jewish question’ became clear. … The labour movement did not repel him because it was led by Jews; the Jews repelled him because they led the labour movement. One thing is certain, Heiden concluded, “It was not Rothschild, the capitalist, but Karl Marx, the Socialist, who kindled Adolf Hitler’s antisemitism.”[10]

In his book 1924, Range quotes historian Othmar Plochinger stating that Hitler only started using antisemitism as a political weapon in Munich. Plochinger believes Hitler’s antisemitism was “the winning horse in the existing political environment.”8

Ross Range does not appear to subscribe to the “great man of history” genre and does not inflate Hitler’s intelligence. However, he does make the point that Hitler learnt from his mistakes. According to Ronald Bleier”, Hitler’s flexibility “was due to a realistic self-appraisal of his extraordinary political, administrative, and rhetorical abilities and his clear understanding of the turbulent politics in which he operated”.

Ross Range shows in the book that everything was not plain sailing for the Nazi leader, and on many occasions, he could have been defeated, and his political career ended.

In a Time Magazine article, he elaborates, “Adolf Hitler did not have to come to power. Indeed, during his 13-year quest for leadership of Germany, he almost failed many times. In the end, however, his astonishing success showed how demagoguery could overcome potentially career-ending challenges—and profoundly change history. A determined strongman, not taken seriously by the elites but enabled by a core of passionate supporters, could bend events his way just as his country went into free-fall. Hitler’s seemingly improbable ascent is an object lesson in the volatility of history.[11]

This is an extremely valuable book, and I highly recommend it. Ross Range proves that Hitler ascent to power was entirely fathomable. It is, however, not without faults. Ross Range says next to nothing on the betrayals of the worker’s movement by Social Democracy and Stalinism. Hindenburg gave political power to a homicidal maniac to save German capitalism from revolution. The monstrous betrayals carried out by Stalinism, and Social democracy paved the way for Hitler to come to power without a single shot being fired.

As David north pointed out in the interview, Ross Range cannot write such a book, but it is down to the Fourth International to write such a book. This new work has to draw heavily on the political writings of the great Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky, whose writings are still prescient for today’s political situation. One such book that does that is Why are they Back.

Speaking of the danger of a fascist movement today in Germany, Christoph Vandreier said, “The fascists are not a mass movement but are a hated minority. However, the ruling elite is once again promoting fascism and right-wing ideology in order to suppress opposition to its militarism and worsening social inequality. That is why an independent movement of the working class is the only way to fight this danger.”

The working class must learn the lessons of this history. As the writer, Bertolt Brecht warned, “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”[12]

Notes

1. Peter Ross Range, 1924: The Year That Made Hitler (New York: Little, Brown, 2016), p. 224-225.2 Range, 224-225.

2. Why Are They Back? Historical Falsification, Political Conspiracy and the Return of Fascism in Germany, Christoph Vandreier-Mehring Books.

3. The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (Merit S.) Hardcover – December 1 1970

About the Author

Peter Ross Range is a world-renowned journalist and author of numerous books. In addition to The Unfathomable Ascent: How Hitler Came to Power (Little, Brown and Company, 2020), he is the author of 1924: The Year That Made Hitler (‎Little, Brown and Company, 2016).


[1] Despair and Triumph in Hitler’s First Miracle Year: A Review-Essay on Peter Ross Range’s 1924-by Ronald Bleier-http://desip.igc.org/Bleier-Range-Review.html

[2] Frederick Engels in the The Jewish Question, Abram Leon, The Jewish Question, Pathfinder Press, pp. 234-35

[3] https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1932-ger/next01.htm

[4] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/12/08/unfa-d08.html

[5] Nations and Nationalism Since 1780, Second Edition: Programme, Myth, Reality (Canto Classics) Paperback – 29 Mar. 2012

[6] https://mehringbooks.co.uk/ 

[7] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/02/pers-f02.html

[8] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/02/pers-f02.html

[9] Konrad Heiden, Der Fuehrer, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1944), p. 58.

[10] The Myth of “Ordinary Germans”: A Review of Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners-https://www.wsws.org/en/special/library/russian-revolution-unfinished-twentieth-century/15.html#fn15

[11] https://time.com/5884522/hitler-ascent-lesson/

[12] Referring to Arturo Ui (representing Adolf Hitler), in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941)

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