How do you judge the present trend in Germany towards the possible eruption of a new nationalism, as evidenced by the NPD, and the electoral successes which that party has scored in several of the Länder? Do you really see in this a genuine, and acute, danger for our young Western democracy?footnote1

A genuine danger, yes; an acute one, perhaps not as yet. I remember a remark of Leon Trotsky’s: in 1919 or 1920 he said of the Weimar Republic that it would prove to be merely an interval between two dictatorships. One now wonders with real anxiety: is not this—I do not know whether I should say democracy—is not the West German parliamentary régime of the last seventeen or eighteen years too, merely an interval between two dictatorships, between two waves of nationalism? There are grounds for this anxiety. Probably the danger is not immediate; the situation may well be similar to that of the years 1927–8, when National Socialism still stood on the fringe of German political life, a marginal phenomenon. That could be the case today as well with the new nationalism. It was in 1929/30 that Nazism first thrust itself, with a sudden leap, into the foreground of German political life. However, it seems to me that a simple rebirth of National Socialism in Germany is unlikely. History never repeats itself in such uncomplicated ways. It is said that generals in every war tend to fight anew the battles of the previous war. Something similar happens in politics too: people imagine new dangers taking old forms. But the waves of nationalism, of reaction, of counter-revolution always assume new forms. In the years of the Weimar Republic, most people on the Left thought that democracy in Germany was threatened by a restoration of the Hohenzollerns and of the ancien régime. But Hitler’s party was republican, and even called itself ‘socialist’. The new wave of authoritarian reaction and of nationalism now appearing on the horizon will most probably differ in also many of its features from National Socialism. Naturally there will be a certain continuity, but it will not be a direct one.

But what do you see as the basis for a possible new wave of reaction?

A great deal depends on the stability of social relations and on the economic situation. Also the problem of the division of Germany remains unresolved; this is a great, open wound in the life of the nation, even if it is not at the present moment so painfully sensitive as it might be. Here are contained really dangerous possibilities.

Do you believe then that the NPD is a reservoir for this reactionary wave?

That I do not know. It is hard to say. To take up once again the analogy with the ’twenties: Nazism was crystallized and formed from various fermenting groups and competing ultra-nationalist sects. Whether a similar development lies ahead of the present nationalistic ferment necessarily remains uncertain. But the thought that the nationalistic insanity—the perennial tragedy of Germany—is once again spreading its shadow must cause us grave anxiety.

But is not the danger of a new nationalistic insanity, as you put it, really banished by our Nato links, and our Friendship Treaty with France? Or do you believe that all these. . . .