Tsirk (1936), Soviets Avoid “Backwardness”

The film Tsirk (1936), though a skillfully crafted story, was without a doubt a propaganda vehicle for the Soviet Union.  The main character Mary appears to be an escapee of an apparently backwards society where she was chased out by an angry mob for having an interracial child. In order to escape from the mob, she jumped on a train where she met what appeared to be a circus actor who took her under his wing. They perform while traveling though the main focus is the Soviet Union.  While in the Soviet Union, specifically Moscow, Mary developed feelings for a young Soviet army man and refused to leave Moscow with the original man who saved her.  Mary’s “savior” tried to blackmail her into leaving by threatening to expose the child she had given birth too. Enlisting the help of a fellow circus actress, the woman chosen to replace Mary once she left, she avoids leaving Moscow on the train with her original “savior” and stays to perform the Soviet attempt at reaching the stratosphere.  Unfortunately her “savior” comes back to the circus and reveals to the massive crowd in attendance her interracial child. Rather than shun Mary, the crowd accepts her for who she is and mocks her “savior” for being racist.

Many instances of propaganda appeared throughout the film, however the strongest two that I saw were the industrial progress of the Soviets and surpassed backwardness. The culmination of the film arrived with the closing act, deemed the Soviet attempt at the stratosphere, which showcased the industrial capabilities of the Soviet Union. Using soviet technology and planning, they succeeded in reaching the stratosphere.  Besides the industrial strength of the Soviet Union, their progressive nature also appeared after Mary’s past was revealed. The soviets showed acceptance for Mary and her child and denounced the racist mindset of Mary’s “savior”.  This criticism of racism showed the Soviet’s great “forwardness”. However, we also know that there was a sizable anti-semitic movement in the country. The acceptance of other races, cultures, and ethnicities does not seem applicable to the Soviet Union at this time.

“Circus” and the Portrayal of Racism in the West

“Circus” is an exciting, dramatic movie from the 1930s. The main character, an American named Marion Dixon, escapes from America (specifically the South) during the era of Jim Crow laws, as she gave birth to a black child. Working in a circus in the Soviet Union, she conceals the knowledge of her child from almost everyone. In one of the final scenes of the movie, her manager (a German), storms into the ring with her child, attempting to disgrace her. His plan backfires, though, as the Soviet people welcome the baby with open arms, declaring that they love all children, no matter what their skin color.

Without a doubt, the director intended for the film to be propagandistic. Though it’s certainly possible to laugh at the scene where the child is being passed about (for trying not to be racist, and failing by modern standards), more interesting is the critique on the Western world. The movie criticizes the backwardness of America and Europe. The man who attempts to disgrace the American dancer/circus performer (who escaped her own country due to persecution) is a foreigner, from the Western world. The characters who appear progressive throughout this movie are Soviet people. The foreigners, on the other hand, either come from a nation which is portrayed as not being progressive, or are bigoted themselves.
The hypocrisy in the scene, though, comes from a Soviet minority which is not included. Though the Soviet Union championed itself as a progressive country, anti-Semitic sentiment still existed throughout. Despite Jewish people living in the Soviet Union, they are noticeably absent from the scene. They appear to be one of the ethnicities or groups which cannot be brought into the fold, raising the question of how progressive the Soviet Union actually was.

The Race or the State

Many often link Fascism and Nazism together and even believe that Nazism is a form of Fascism. However, that is completely not the case. Both ideologies although developed during the same time period with similar motives have their very own definition. Nazism derived as the ideology of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Worker’s Party), most commonly known as the Nazi Party. Meanwhile, Fascism came about Benito Mussolini’s new political movement to bring Italy back on its feet through authoritarian rule. As stated in the beginning of “Benito Mussolini: What is Fascism, 1932,” the word fascism came from the word fasces, which is the symbol of bound sticks that were used as a totem of power in ancient Rome. The image of the fasces conveys power and jurisdiction, living up to the authoritarian and strict regime that dominated Italy with the influence of Fascist ideals.

Although Fascism and Nazism are two different ideologies, they share the same origins, and as a result, share similar positions. Both Italy and Germany came out as losers of the Great War. Germany suffered with the many restrictions and reparations that were placed on them as a result of Article 231 in the Treaty of Versailles. Italy, on the other hand, was on the winning side, but suffered significant a loss since they did not receive the land that they were promised when they joined the war. As a result, both nations suffered economically, politically and socially, as well with public humiliation. Nazism and Fascism in an effort to bring Germany and Italy back on its feet respectively as powerful nations once again after suffering such great losses after the First World War. Therefore, it makes sense why there are so many similarities between both ideologies. In Benito Mussolini’s “What is Fascism, 1932,” he states that “the nineteenth century was the century of Socialism, of Liberalism, and of Democracy, it does not necessarily follow that the twentieth century must also be a century of Socialism, Liberalism and Democracy: political doctrines pass, but humanity remains, and it may rather be expected that this will be a century of authority…a century of Fascism. For if the nineteenth century was a century of individualism it may be expected that this will be the century of collectivism and hence the century of the State….” This excerpt shows the shift that was made in the twentieth century as a result of the perceived failure of Socialism, Liberalism and Democracy following the Great War and the Great Depression. Therefore, Fascism and Nazism were similar in the sense that both ideologies sought to replace individualism with collectivism. Another one of the striking similarities between Fascism and Nazism is the need for expansion. In both ideologies, expansion was the key to a prosperous nation. Lastly, extreme nationalism was another similarity between both ideologies. However, although both Fascism and Nazism shared these similarities, both are approached differently with different motives.

One of the key components of Nazism was the idea of Lebensraum. Lebensraum is directly translated as “living space.” It was the idea that territorial expansion was needed in order to gain living space for all people of the superior races. In the process of doing so, in Nazism it was believed to be a law of nature for the people of superior races to displace people of inferior races, especially if the people of the superior race were facing overpopulation in their given territories. Generally, the expansionist position of the Nazis was completely motivated by race. “The 25 Points 1920: An Early Nazi Program” repeatedly reiterated the importance for living space for all “members of the race” and place a special emphasis on clarifying who makes up the Aryan race and who does not, blatantly singling out the Jewish population. With this came the sense of extreme nationalism; Nazis believed in a greater Germany for all Germans (members of the race) and the need to collectively lead the nation to its supposed greatness. In Mussolini’s “What is Fascism, 1932” he states in regards to expansionism and nationalism that, “…For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence. Peoples which are rising, or rising again after a period of decadence, are always imperialist; and renunciation is a sign of decay and of death. Fascism is the doctrine best adapted to represent the tendencies and the aspirations of a people, like the people of Italy, who are rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude.” In this excerpt, Mussolini refers to the great defeats that Italy has suffered from in the past and makes the point that that can no longer happen again. Mussolini’s main concern is the state, and in order for Italy to rise as the most powerful power in the world, it must act with aggression and authority. With that being said, he goes on describing the need to mobilize the Italian masses in order to bring the state back on its feet. He even goes as far as personifying the state by stating, “the Fascist state is wide awake and has a will of its own.” Clearly, Mussolini creates a national character in order to help convince the Italian masses to help the state get to its supposed greatness.

Is multi-kulti dead?

3 Main Points:
1. Germany is experiencing a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, and public figures such as Thilo Sarrazin have argued that “with the country’s population shrinking overall, immigrants and the underclass are having too many children, well-educated native Germans too few. Biologically, culturally and professionally Germany is dumbing down.” This is alarmingly reminiscent of the political climate in Nazi Germany.
2. Many Germans have expressed that they are in favor of sharply restricting Muslim religious practice, and think that the country has been overrun by foreigners. In addition to the sentiment of the general public, many politicians have bandwagonned onto this idea and stressed that Germany is not an immigrant land and does not need more Arabic or Turkish immigrants.
3. Initially, Germany expected its large immigrant population to work for a time and then leave and return to their original countries. This has not been the case, and the German government has begun to promote a national integration plan, “which mandates German language courses and seeks to shepherd immigrants into employment.” The program emphasizes that integration is a two way street, and immigrants may be forced to choose between their actual identity and a German one.

2 Questions:
1. How is it possible that Germans are experiencing and expressing this type of racist and xenophobic sentiment again, less than a century after the Holocaust?
2. What are the consequences for Germany from the international community should these sentiments and policies continue?

1 Observation:
“Multi-kulti” is actually an Islamophobic racial slur, and its usage here is rather strange.

Eugenics in Europe

Eugenics, the science of improving a countries human stock through specific breeding, had a significant impact on interwar Europe. Stone and Auslander both give their interpretations of how eugenics affected Europe. Stone discusses how, contrary to popular belief, eugenics in Britain was not exclusively targeted towards class, but how it was inadvertently also about race. Auslander explains how eugenics in interwar Europe manifests itself in the citizens aesthetic lifestyle choices, which reflects the sense of the countries nationalist philosophies.

The reality behind the eugenics movement and Britain was not that it primarily focused on class, but focused on race as well. Similar to Nazi Germany, there were also revered, racist British eugenicists. For example, Rentoul, a famous British eugenicist, saw blacks as sexual beasts that shouldn’t breed with whites. “The negro is seldom content with sexual intercourse with a white woman, but culminates his sexual furor by killing the woman, sometimes taking out her womb and eating it”. (Stone, 96) This popularized racist though process led to British sterilization laws. The main issue with claiming that the movement was solely about class, was that there was too much overlap between the lower class, which consisted of a lot of immigrants, and race.  Although many saw these eugenics views as extreme, they still had an impact on the eugenics movement. After World War II, and the newfound widespread disdain for the extreme German eugenics movement, Britain claimed that their eugenics was class oriented, and they did this to disassociate with Nazi Germany.

Auslander describes the lifestyle choices and aesthetic tastes that the French, German’s, and Jew’s had in the interwar era when the national sense of belonging came from different ideologies. For example, Auslander gives us the idea that “…in Germany…citizens are understood to be born rather than made…”. (Auslander, 110) The foundation for German citizenship came from genetics, while French citizens were “French” through cultural adaptation. This reflects the national ideology of eugenics in the time period. Germany was more exclusive in the national sense, even if you were born in Germany but had non-German parents, you were not considered German. In France, however, anyone could be considered “French” as long as you spoke French, and engaged in the proper French activities.

Eugenics had a considerable influence on nationalist ideologies, a sense of belonging, and racism during the inter-war era in Europe. When confronted with the topic of racial exclusion in Europe during this era, almost all will point directly towards Nazi Germany. While it is true that Nazi Germany was the most extreme with their execution of eugenics philosophies, they were widespread throughout Europe at the time.