Author: Wen Shi
Translator: Zhi shi
Corruption exists not only in an authoritarian society ruled by dictators but also in a democratic system. As Frank Bajoll says in his book Corruption and Anti-corruption of Nazi Germany：A power holder makes trade-offs when faced with the temptation If he gains a great deal without being punished, then the likelihood that he will be corrupt is high. Conversely, he is reluctant to take the risk if it will put him in jail or lost his position and reputation, or even his life. Therefore, corruption is not a matter of individual morality; the system determines it. A system with timely penalties will reduce corruption and enhance prevention. But some systems use corruption precisely as bait to kidnap the entire bureaucracy, and even the general public, into a system of greed and plunder to secure the ruler’s power.
In the book, Bajoll demonstrates that the corruption of Germany does not only result from one-party dictatorship but also an essential means by which Hitler exercised his authority. The system of “patronage and benefactors” that Hitler consciously created to systematise corruption is equally applicable to all totalitarian systems. All totalitarian systems, regardless of the ideology they ostensibly promote, depend heavily on corruption for their establishment and maintenance.
The rise of the Nazi party in the 1930s was mainly a result of exploiting the shortcomings of the democratic institutions of the Weimar Republic. On the one hand, the Nazis used nothing more than a campaign of corruption among Weimar Republic officials, which, although not always tenable in all cases, was effective in fomenting popular discontent. This discontent grew as the economic situation worsened. There are parallels between this and the CCP attacks on the Kuomintang of China before 1949. On the other hand, the Nazis boasted high profile of their innocence. Especially in the Nazi hierarchy, there was a constant effort to maintain a false image of “impartiality and nobility”. Himmler even promoted the massacre of Jews as an act of “unadulterated self-interest” carried out in the interests of the nation. In reality, however, although the Reich prosecutors never ceased to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials, large and small, corruption was a persistent and growing problem that the Nazis could not escape.
From Hitler himself down to the Reich and the local officials in the occupied territories, all had their own “petty cash”, including cash, real estate, and scarce goods. The sources were complex, ranging from political contributions, to extorted “donations”, to foreclosed Jewish businesses, to the personal belongings of murdered Jews. Although the government had decreed that accounts should be kept and embezzlement prohibited, in practice, confusion was widespread. There was no way to investigate corruption. Hitler liked to enlist senior officials with large sums of cash and valuables as gifts or rewards in return for their loyalty. In his court coterie, personal feelings and personal loyalty were seen as particularly important. This required him to have vast sums of money of unknown origin in his hands, ready to be thrown away in exchange for the loyalty of his subordinates.
Some of the generals involved in the assassination of Hitler in 1944 had received rewards from him. That infuriated Hitler to the extreme. The Reich’s power was not based on an effective legal system, but on the so-called “personal charisma” of the “Führer” in the Nazi Party. Hitler was well aware of its fragility. How could he ensure that his power would not be challenged or subverted if his enlisting tactics failed? This made it impossible for Hitler to take the issue of corruption seriously. The most corrupt of the Reich hierarchy was Göring, the Marshal’s extravagance was well known at the time, but he was not censured or prosecuted by Hitler.
The top was followed by the bottom. From the top of the Nazi Empire’s pyramid to the layers of officials below, all used this technique to form cliques. Small groups formed increasingly solid communities of interest and took every opportunity to expand their coffers and pockets.
And whenever corruption is pursued by the anti-corruption agencies, the “party” steps in. Like the CCP, the Nazi Party was above the government system and absolutely untouchable. Thus, only the Party can decide whether an official can be investigated. But the “party” is nothing more than a group of people in power. Behind every official are large and small interest groups, and it is only when the official is abandoned in a factional battle, or when it is necessary to sacrifice the rook to protect the king, that his corrupt behaviour may be punished. But the chances of this are not high and are highly contingent.
The erosion of a system by corruption can have many pernicious consequences. The most obvious was the inability to ensure the sound functioning of the state’s financial system. But because the Empire continued to plunder the Jews on a massive scale, it was only when defeat was imminent that the economic situation became increasingly dire. Secondly, it led to reverse elimination. Genuinely talented bureaucrats who were not absorbed into the interest groups had no opportunity to make use of their talents. But the greedy, corrupt, thieving and even rogue criminals were able to bribe their way to prosperity. Bajoll’s investigation showed that the Nazi system was not as efficient as people thought it was and that some of the insoluble problems in the Reich were masked by public opinion propaganda. Goebbels’ methods were so successful that there are still some deep-rooted misconceptions after the fall of the Reich. It also shows that a country that relies on the packaging of a propaganda ministry is inevitably “gilded exterior, shabby and ruined on the inside”
The subjects of the Nazi Reich were fully aware of the corruption of their officials. But like many of the people of Communist China, they believed that this was an isolated act of the lower-ranking officials and that the Supreme Leader must have been unaware of it. In their minds, Hitler lived a simple life and was a fair man. This is the same as the worship of Mao Zedong and others back then. To this day, some people in the Chinese Communist Party still miss the Cultural Revolution. They believe that there were no corrupt officials and no widespread corruption during Mao’s time and that the leader himself was a model of honesty and love for the people. This is an inevitable result of the monopoly of information and the constant reinforcement of the cult of the individual. After the founding of the CCP, the state tried to maintain the “clean” image of the top leadership. For example, it was publicised how many times Mao’s old pyjamas had been mended, but not a word was said about the tons of grain used to make wine for the supreme leader at a time of widespread famine. Rather than fading decades later, this brainwashing propagandas were used more effectively by the second and third generations of the Red regime’s leaders. As with the Nazi Reich, significantly few ordinary people in the Communist Chinese state thus associate corruption with a totalitarian system.
Besides, the corruption of Nazi Germany inevitably permeated all levels of society. Rather than questioning the origins of Göring’s mansion, some people felt it was something to boast about, a sign of the Reich’s strength. Göring, in turn, exploited this mentality by showing off his wealth to emphasise his unassailable authority in the Reich hierarchy. Rather than being punished, the unscrupulous acquisition of wealth became the object of universal envy. From the extortion of Jewish merchants and the violent looting of Jewish shops to the outright appropriation of the personal belongings of concentration camp inmates, this became a huge incentive for the mass persecution of Jews, with many participants. Similarly, the CCP keeps a large number of stabilisation forces, cultivates minions who can be used for their benefit, and deliberately does not limit their power so that they can do whatever they want and embezzle the property of the victims.
Even the most ordinary people in the Reich were able to acquire luxuries they had not previously thought of at very low prices from auctions of Jewish belongings. Even in Reich-occupied Poland, Latvia and other places, the lowest peasants were free to take the property of their slaughtered Jewish neighbours. This is why when the Allies were winning, many people panicked, fearing that Germany would have to return the property they had taken after the defeat. Like this, some of its populace has involved in Nazi crimes and became beneficiaries, and they cannot get away with it.
Like the CCP, Nazi Germany constantly advocated the fight against corruption, but we all knew that in the end, it was just a case of “swatting the flies and letting the tigers go”. Some of the unlucky ones were brought to justice, either as a result of factionalism or for show. In such a system, the fight against corruption is bound to get worse.
No matter which system you build, totalitarian or democratic, the instinct for greed exists among all humans. The difference is that a totalitarian system takes advantage of human weaknesses to maintain its rule, and corruption becomes a useful tool for doing so. On the other hand, a democratic, legalistic society, recognises that human nature is evil and strives to improve the legal system to restrain human greed, to reduce the proliferation of evil and the harm to society as a whole at a minimal cost.
(The content of this article represents the views of the author only)