On the slopes of Buckeberg, southwest of Hannover, in the Germany of the mid-1930s up to half-a-million peasants used to gather at festivals to celebrate their newly-brought material prosperity and social elevation, while elsewhere in Europe agricultural depression and contempt for the “yokel” prevailed.
The German contrast resulted from the central importance given in National Socialist ideology to the value in interaction of blood and soil: the relationship of man in his distinctions of kinship and race to the earth with its divisions of region and country, and the soil from which he springs by way of the food on which he depends and to which he ultimately returns in the cycle of life.
A prominent contributor to Germany’s agrarian revival was Walther Darré, later to be maligned and arraigned by the victorious Allies as a “Nazi Criminal,” and today to be deceitfully hailed by Britain’s Strasserites as “one of Hitler’s most feared and hated enemies” in a reference of theirs to a new biography by Anna Bramwell which is unusually fair for someone who is not a National Socialist.
Bom in Argentina, Darré spent a year at a school in England after moving to ancestral Germany, and in the last country took up agricultural training after service in World War I, becoming a state agricultural representative. He entered Nordic racialist circles early on by way of becoming acquainted with the seminal writings of Hans Gunther in 1923. The fusion in him of agricultural and racial idealism inspired between 1925 and 1930, two books and 56 articles upholding the peasantry as the racial custodians of the good life, and the very life-source of a nation. Industrialisation, the capitalism which is its motive force, the urban proliferation which is its concomitant, the Christianity which accommodated it: this in all its consequences had become for Darré the ultimate enemy, responsible for the decline of the peasantry and thus the alienation and degeneration of the nation.
Therefore not only had measures to be taken to improve the economic position of the peasantry by protecting it against the ravages of world capitalism, but a new governing class, a hereditary nobility, had to be drawn from the revivified men of mother earth, leading to the creation of a peasant state in which the nation became identical with the peasantry.
Darré, although early immersed in such revolutionary ideas, was no “alter Kampfer” or old fighter in the party which emerged to champion radical racialism more than any other before or after. He did not join the NSDAP until 1930 when he was offered a post within it, which as his biographer points out, conveys the impression that he came to National Socialism not as a committed believer but as one seeking to make use of its political apparatus for the advancement of his own personal views.
Heading the successful infiltration of the peasant’s unions at the time when Hitler’s rise to power required the acquisition of rural support, Darré on the attainment of power in 1933 was rewarded by appointment as Minister of Food and Agriculture, and also National Peasant Leader.
Effective reforms followed quickly as in so many other fields of National Socialist activity. Within the year came the Hereditary Farm Law, whereby only farmers of German or similar stock who could prove descent back to 1800 could inherit the protected farms, and the establishment of an agricultural marketing corporation which cut out the burdensome middleman, fixing prices, controlling quality and later laying down quotas.
A back-to-the-land program was brought in which established new and viable peasant settlements. By such means so successful was the drive to procure greater productivity from a comprehensively stimulated peasantry that by 1938 Germany had reached 81% self-sufficiency in food.
By then, however, Darré’s standing was in decline, and by 1942 he was replaced by his second-in-command, Herbert Backe.
In 1945 he surrendered to the victors and the Americans subsequently put him on trial, finding him guilty in 1949 of atrocities and offenses against civilian populations on account of his involvement in the compulsory purchase of Jewish-owned farmland at decreed instead of market valuations; and the expropriation of Polish and Jewish farmers in Poland in the course of resettling Germans in areas formerly German.
He was also convicted of plunder and spoliation in occupied territories because of his involvement in wartime agricultural policy in Poland; and of being a member of an organisation which had been branded as criminal, namely the National Leadership Corps of the Third Reich, by virtue of having been a minister. Sentenced to seven years for all this wickedness, he was freed on appeal in 1950, and died three years later of liver failure.
Defects of a Visionary
Darré’s eclipsing defect was that of tunnel vision. As his biographer puts it: “At root, Darré was a one issue man. . .” The focus of his attention was constricted to what in resultant detachment was seen to be convincingly essential, but which pursued in detachment from realities of context constituted a mistake. “He sees at once aims which could only be reached in a century or in decades.” While it is the distinguishing quality of the visionary to see far ahead, it is also the common downfall of the same to be so intent on doing so as not to perceive obstacles in his path over which he proceeds to stumble. At a time when the infant National Socialist State was confronted on all sides by enemies intent on its destruction, Darré was in fact going so far as to advocate the de-industrialisation of Germany, leaving the cities to decay in favour of a reconstructed countryside. It was precisely such proclivity to impracticality which understandably brought about his progressive relegation as a dreamer.
Göring, in his capacity as head of the Four Year Plan for economic development, certainly came to take this view of him when, in wartime, Darré agitated for the immediate conversion of German agriculture to organic practices, meaning the total exclusion of artificial fertilisers, causing the former to remonstrate that such a drastic transformation would at least initially reduce the market deliveries it was his concern to keep up, and should therefore be left till after the war. He had similar cause for objection when Darré’s plans for immediate peasant settlement in occupied Poland clashed with Göring’s requirements for food production there.
Wider Insight Wanting
Darré, in the blindness accompanying his attenuated outlook, never perceived and never understood the full picture of factors at work in the contemporary situation, and thus looked upon such as the incorporation of Czechoslovakia and the move against Russia as aberrations of imperialism by Hitler, and thus a collusion with forces inimical to the development of his peasant state, failing to recognise them as impositions of necessity in the continental conflict of ideas and interests.
For him the mass importation of foreign agricultural labourers appeared not as a temporary necessity in a life or death struggle for National Socialist Germany, but as a gross betrayal of the German peasants. As Anna Bramwell sums it up: “The whole dimension of the ‘National Interest’ seemed to escape him . ..”
Himmler he came to regard as a prime instrument of Hitler’s deviation into imperialism at the expense of true racialism, a complaint which his biographer seconds by way of citing cooption to membership of the SS as a departure from its principle of racial selection, a criticism which perhaps overlooks the extent to which this minor practice could be a recognition of the fact of achievement as a demonstration of racial quality.
She adds to this the contention that: “Certainly the SS elite eventually became pan-European, losing even its national as well as its racial character,” a reference to the Waffen-SS (distinct from the general SS) which by 1944 had certainly become massively composed of non-German formations, but this for the great majority of them precisely because of a racial bond, clearly European if not specifically Nordic, and a belief in a creed reflecting it, transcended the divisions of nationality.
Even with the very few formations which were not of European stock, the highly selective recruitment may well be said to have been aimed at what amounted to a racial elite from among the non-European peoples concerned.
The Indispensable One
With the Strasserites seeking to exploit Darré and his dissatisfactions to discount and denigrate Hitler – and this despite the fact that Darré despised Otto Strasser as an “incipient Bolshevik” (Bramwell) – it is well to record and to remember that, without Hitler it is at least doubtful that National Socialism would ever have gained power.
Darré, along with his tunnel vision, also suffered from problems of personality, namely a tender vanity, a lack of tack, an unsociable disposition, and an increasing tendency to melancholic hypersensitivity which led to entries in his diary between 1942 and 1944 being so vituperative as to induce his wife to destroy that whole section after his death in order to protect his reputation.
It is thus easy to appreciate why his subordinate, Herbert Backe, a man of proven administrative efficiency who put the wider concern of national politics above any particular ambition, and who was a steadfast admirer of Hitler’s leadership, companionable and straightforward, came to be preferred and to replace him.
Nevertheless, recognition of Darré’s distinct flaws should not cause us to disregard or diminish the great amount that was justifiable in his message, and which merits our most careful consideration today, even more so than in his time because the situation has that much worsened.
At the core of his thinking lay the invincible and eternal verity that the true welfare of a country requires the maintenance of a thriving native breed rooted in the soil.
After the war and right up to his death, Darré continued to write on themes at least subsidiary to this such as the menace of soil erosion and the cumulative dangers of artificial fertilisers, as he had done in earlier days, and by virtue of which he stands out as a leading pioneer of ecological protection long preceding the “Green” movement of today.
[This article first appeared in National Review (number 46, 1987). It later featured in National Socialism: Vanguard of the Future (Selected Writings of Colin Jordan)]