Subject: Between the Hammer and the Anvil, Corporate Resistance to Democratic Socialist Movements Contesting Labor Exploitation and the Imperialist War Economy.
11 June 2016
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
The young Polish author and poet Tadeusw Borozski (1922-1951) was 23 years old when he was released from Dachau in 1945, at the end of the War.
He had been an art history student in Warsaw University. The son of Christian parents, he was captured by the German SS in a trap when he went looking for his girlfriend who had visited an apartment where members of the Polish resistance met. He spent three years in Auschwitz and Dachau, between 1943 and 1945, entering Auschwitz just weeks after Germans decided to stop sending "Aryans" to the gas chambers. He set as his post-war goal, should he survive, “to tell the truth about mankind to those who do not know it.”(p.175)
Borozski did survive the concentration camp experience --for a few years anyway-- and he wrote a series of almost anecdotal short stories describing his experiences during his nearly three years of imprisonment in the Nazi concentration camps. His book, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, was published posthumously by Philip Roth in 1959, eight years after he had committed suicide in Warsaw, at the age of 29. Like Varlam Shalamov’s terse but eloquent descriptions of the Russian Gulag slave labor camps in Kolyma Tails, Boroaski’s stories offer readers stark descriptions of the causes and effects of human behavior, after people have been reduced to living in less than human conditions, and when they no longer have access to the normal range of human emotions. This book is by no means a binary account of human/non-human behavior; instead Borozsky is able to uncover the hypocrisy, the treachery, the banal acceptance of deception, betrayal and of collaborating daily with one’s oppressors. In one of the final essays in this book, he looks back on the three years of his “European over-education” :
The four of us became involved in a heated discussion with the poet, his silent wife and his mistress (the philologist), by maintaining that in this war morality, national solidarity, patriotism and the ideals of freedom, justice and human dignity had all slid off man like a rotten rag. We said that there is no crime that a man will not commit in order to save himself. And, having saved himself, he will commit crimes for increasingly trivial reasons; he will commit them first out of duty, then from habit, and finally –for pleasure.
We told them with much relish all about our difficult, patient, concentration-camp existence which had taught us that the whole world is really like a concentration camp; the weak work for the strong, and if they have no strength or will to work –then let them steal, or let them die.
‘The world is ruled by neither justice nor morality; crime is not punished nor virtue rewarded, one is forgotten as quickly as the other. The world is ruled by power and power is obtained with money. To work is senseless, because money cannot be obtained through work but through exploitation of others. And if we cannot exploit as much as we wish, at least let us work as little as we can. Moral duty? We believe neither in the morality of man, nor in the morality of systems. In German cities the store windows are filled with books and religious objects, but the smoke from the crematoria still hovers above the forests . . . . (p.168)
‘Europe will be lost. We are living here day after day, separated only by a fragile dyke from the deluge rising around us; when it breaks through it will tear away man’s freedom like a suit of clothing. But who knows what the man who will chose to defend himself may be capable of. The fire in the crematorium has been extinguished, but the smoke has not yet settled. I would not like to have our bodies used as kindling. Nor would I want to light the fires. I want to live, that is all.(p.169)
The young author had lived among men and women of all ages --including captured politicos, and arrested criminals, and various ethnic groups who had been hunted by the corporate state authorities across Europe. Submitting to this new corporatist culture inside Nazi concentration camps --with their own special hierarchies, which crystallized among the inmates in their desperate quests for individual survival-- had a dehumanizing effect on all the inmates and collaborators. This is the cruel subject of Borozsky’s illustrative stories in This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, and the lessons to be learned are contemporary.
In the 9 items below, CEIMSA readers will recognize the concentration camp behavior which colors our lives today, where corporate culture is promoting the tunnel vision of “rational choice” theory that focuses on “each person for him/herself” with such narrow aims for rewards that might keep us alive at least a little longer, but little more than that . . . . This is the familiar modus vivendi in today’s neoliberal society, with its technically controlled consumerism, which no longer simply anticipates our desires, but actually manufactures them for profitable commercial exploitation, in the fictitious name of individual “freedom” and personal fulfillment. “When the going gets tough; the tough go shopping!” reads one California bumper sticker from the 1980s.
Professor of American Studies
University of Grenoble-3
Director of Research
University of Paris-Nanterre
Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements
The University of California-San Diego
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