FROM: Peukert, D. (1987) Inside Nazi Germany. Conformity, Opposition and Racism in Everyday Life, London: Batsford Ltd
[This is a remarkable work of scholarship on everyday life in Nazi Germany, exploring the tensions between the attempt by the Nazis to offer an all-embracing ideological theory of everyday life, and the inevitable tensions that arose with the changing complexities of actual experience.
The chapter of particular interest here is chapter 8 'Young people, mobilisation and refusal'. What this does is to examine the growth and maintenance of anti-Nazi youth cultures. There is some attempt to refer back to some of the early work of Stuart Hall and the British gramscians, but there is a remarkably clear illustration of how hegemony is supposed to work. Of course, Peukert is describing a totalitarian fascist society, and market societies are likely to be much more loosely organised].
Nazis had a well-developed youth policy, attempting to incorporate youth into organisations such as Hitler Youth, and then the Labour Service, and then the armed forces. They had also radically reformed curriculum and teaching in Nazi schools. However, inevitable contradictions emerged even between these different policies -- schools, and armed forces competed for membership with Hitler Youth, for example. Young people were sometimes able to play one organisation against another, since 'the ideological content of National Socialism remained much too vague to function as a self-sufficient educational objective. In practice young people selected from competing information sources' (145) [the evidence here is a series of memoirs of youth and school -- examples follow, pages 146--151]. They were even able to find sources to criticise the regime.
Membership of Hitler Youth was made compulsory in 1939, and it did offer elements that were attractive to young people, including elements of 'counter authority 'and generational struggle (151). Girls in particular were able to escape some of the obvious burdens of conventional female life [although Peukert implies that that was at the expense of becoming more like the classic masculine type]. Thus fascist ideology did 'have a modernising effect' (152). However, full bureaucratisation removed some of these appealing elements and increased discipline and surveillance. Eventually, by the late 1930s, many young people withdrew, and some 'developed into a massive opposition movement' (152). As compulsion and discipline grew, so did youth non-conformity.
Some disaffected youth developed 'spontaneous groups and gangs', in enough numbers to seriously worry the authorities in the 1940s. Some groups in particular emerged as particularly hostile to Hitler Youth:
(1) Edelweiss Pirates. This group emerged in the late 1930s in western Germany. There were small stylistic differences between specific groups, but they were united in their determination to enjoy evening meetings or weekend trips into the countryside, and also to oppose Hitler Youth patrols. Members tended to be boys of 17 and 18, some younger members who had just left school, and some old world war-wounded men [the classic semi detached youth of British sub cultural studies like Downes. Peukert notices that many members have a number of jobs, and often had dead fathers ]. [Gestapo files offer information about a small number of captured members -- Page 162]
Many of the facilities of Hitler Youth organisations had been destroyed in the war, and activities had tended to degenerate into 'mindless exercises in obedience' such as 'paramilitary drilling' (155). This led to some contempt, especially for young Hitler youth leaders, and to alternative social activities.
Locality was important, and members met in parks, bars or street corners. Boys and girls mixed. Weekend trips into the country offered chances for sexual experience, and just 'a carefree time' (156). The idea was to escape from the control of adults, from their 'education' and from constant surveillance. Hiking and walking in the countryside had also been a popular activity before the Nazi era, but this was now 'intensified and tour, political charge' (156).
Members would sometimes travel and help each other, despite bureaucratic restrictions. These informal networks and frequent meetings created 'clearly defined and distinctive identities', in clear opposition to Hitler Youth. Commercialised pop music was popular, but became politicised, especially with themes of adventure, 'boozing and love' (157). Traditional and commercial songs were adapted and reworded in some cases [examples on page 157 -- 159]. Main themes included adventure, escape, and the need to fight the Nazis. There are no echoes of socialist or communist songs, despite the fact that members were working class. The values of the group emphasised pleasure and joy of life, rather than abstract allegiances, and also 'the scorn for work, or more precisely the wage relationship' (159). Other actions were openly provocative, and included assaults, jeers and insults at Nazi dignitaries. Some members might have been involved in industrial sabotage . These activities were exciting and anti-authority, a way of getting back at bosses and maintaining self-esteem.
It is not simply that the members were delinquents or sub proletarians: rather they were 'self assured working-class young people' (163) nor did they cluster around a specific political objective. They did not withdraw into fantasy politics, but nor did they do much more than 'small, humdrum acts of provocation' (164). There were some elements of class struggle, at the level of different sorts of experience between the Pirates and the predominantly bourgeois Nazi organisations. This experience help them resist the simple notion of folk community .
Nazi authorities clearly saw them as a problem and demanded a crackdown, but conflicts continued to escalate, despite increasingly repressive measures, including public executions of 'ringleaders' in Cologne in 1944. Of course, German youth was needed and could not simply be exterminated, but the absence of actual ringleaders caused problems as did the general commitment to leisure and freedom. This led to some 'uncertainty'on the part of the authorities.
(2) 'Meuten'. This youth group also expresses both shared class experience and experiences specific to them as a new generation [the classic 'double articulation'of class and age beloved of gramscians]. Members also gathered for leisure in the evenings and weekends, and wandered in the countryside. However, members were also explicitly borrowing from Communist and Socialist traditions, which had long been strong in the areas from which they originated, such as the working-class districts of Leipzig. The language was also more politicised. However, this was not classic communist resistance.
(3) The swing movement. This was a much more upper-middle-class movement based around jazz or swing music. When this was banned by the Nazis, swing clubs appeared which became increasingly anti-Nazi. Themes from jazz, and English and American dance music, active dancing, long hair and casual dress were adopted as part of a way of life. Locations were no longer parks and street corners, but nightclubs and parental homes. There was an interest in sexuality, although Nazi reports might be exaggerated.
These values were interpreted as serious challenge to Nazi culture, despite the absence of actual politics, especially since they included admiration for the culture of the national enemy, and even the admittance of 'Jews and "half-Jews"' to membership. There was a strong reaction from Himmler himself. Fascism had long stressed the idea of manly suppression of soft tendencies, including sexual ones, leading to a notion of 'armour plated self discipline' [shades of Thewelheit here].
Taken together, these did offer a challenge to Nazi values, and were at least a serious irritant. This is because of the necessarily contradictory relation between everyday life and systems of authority [which leads to the useful work on hegemony]
(a) All human beings, in any social class or group, try to control symbolically their 'collective forms of existence' (169). They develop values, meanings and identities to manage the reality which confronts them. A stratified society produces different interwoven cultures.
(b) Hegemonic culture of the ruling classes attempts to penetrate and manage all other cultures, including 'assigning them their status and their spheres of application' (170). However, subordinate cultures can not be extinguished altogether, even in Nazi Germany. This is because capitalism continues to reproduce class cultures, despite powerful attempts to impose middle-class cultures inflected by Nazism.
(c) It is not surprising to find younger members of the working class also refusing to submit, and creating their own cultural forms in the search for meaning and expression. The particular forms created led to an inevitable opposition to Nazi culture, and a source of support -- [as is common with youth], they felt 'superior because they were having more fun, and... [able]... to prove themselves through resistance' (170).
The actual cultural forms were clearly borrowed from different cultural sources, united only by opposition to Nazism. In this way, young people were more openly oppositional: older people nearly withdrew into everyday culture. Youth culture was also innovative and spontaneous. It appealed particularly to the young who were about to enter the world of work and thus 'undergoing the critical class experience' (171). It also enabled the distinction to be drawn between the schoolboys of Hitler Youth.
The Edelweiss Pirates were anti-work and anti-bosses, a generational rejection of the tradition of skilled work and pride in labour. Hence there was some friction with the parental working-class culture. This was even more marked with members of middle-class swing groups, since the older middle-class generation were much more pro fascist. Similarly, swing culture required a certain level of education and cultural capital. There cultural rebellion may have coincided with a serious weakness in the bourgeois family in the Inter war period [shades of Adorno now on the weak ego structure of the authoritarian personality].
In terms of social and political significance, these movements at least showed that they could avoid National Socialism and its values, reacting with 'apathy and rejection... a borderline between passive and active insubordination' (173). The main arena for protest and resistance was leisure, despite all the attempts by the Nazis to colonise that arena as well. Youth movements show that the main Nazi ideological projects -- folk community in place of class struggle, and full ideological control of the people -- had failed, even among middle-class groups. Nazi ideology itself had created this opposition, since it did not attempt to relate to everyday life, but to impose a disciplined and bureaucratic society. This could not be 'a durable social design' (174).
[The notes to accompany this chapter are also fascinating. Peukert has been accused of exaggerating the influence of these youth movements, and I am in no position to judge the historical data that he cites. However, it is remarkable that youth movements do seem to have been involved in armed resistance and in substantial Gestapo repression]
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