by Robin Browne
National monuments ignore the economic reasons behind slavery and the Holocaust.
On Wednesday, May 17, the Government of Canada unveiled the winning design for the Monument to the Victims of Communism. The monument will be built in downtown Ottawa once private groups raise enough money that the government has pledged to match up to $1.5 million. Arif Virani, parliamentary secretary to Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, made the announcement at the Canadian Museum of History.
About 200 metres from where the monument will be, work is almost complete on The National Holocaust Monument across the street from the Canadian War Museum. The Government of Canada is working with private organizations to build the $7.4 million monument.
The Communism monument has been steeped in controversy – but not about whether it should be built. The heated debate is about where it should be built. The only article I could find questioning the idea of the monument itself, was a Jan. 30, 2105 Globe and Mail article by Roy McGregor. In it, McGregor says, “Only a fool would deny that millions have been the tragic victims of communism, but that number pales, surely, in comparison with the victims of capitalism.” And those, I would argue, include victims of the Holocaust.
The problem with the Holocaust monument, at least as described on its website, is that it ignores the economic reasons behind the Holocaust and instead implies that Hitler was just a crazy guy who hated all Jews just for their “Jewishness”. This is similar to the way slave owners are often portrayed as just mean white folks who hated black people because they were black. Both these characterizations gloss over the fact that the main reason Hitler and slave owners hated what they did is because it benefitted them economically to do so. Capitalism played key roles in both the Holocaust and slavery.
If Hitler was just a sadistic psycho, how did he get so many Germans to come along for the insane ride? A quick read of the website theholocaustexplained.org, run by the London Jewish Cultural Centre, explains the economic reasons for the Holocaust including the major role of one uniquely capitalist creation: the stock market.
Before World War 1, Germany had the second strongest economy in the world after the U.S. However, after losing the war, Germany’s economy was in tatters and the Allies responded by making Germany pay huge reparations. When Germany could no longer pay in 1921, France and Belgium invaded and took goods and raw material.
No money? No problem!
Despite this, Germany rebuilt its economy from 1924 to 1929 with the help of U.S. loans that the Americans could give because their economy was booming. The problem was why it was booming…
According to economicshelp.org, during the 1920s, American bankers loaned lots of cash to people to invest in the stock market and to companies to expand. And the bankers weren’t the only ones giving people huge amounts of credit. The people running the stock market did it too, by letting people buy stocks “on the margin”. Instead of having to use their hard-earned, borrowed money to pay for the whole stock, people could just put 10 or 20 per cent down – and pay the rest when their stock went up and they sold it. This worked great – while prices went up. And they did go up – way up – resulting in soaring stock prices and lots of paper millionaires.
Now, I’m not an economist, and I’ll bet most of you aren’t either, but I think we all can see that loaning money like this was a very bad idea. And sure enough, it was.
Part of the reason the American economy was booming were technological innovations that greatly increased production. That, combined with all those companies expanding using borrowed money, meant that production increased way faster than demand. By the late 1920s too many companies had too much stuff that too many people didn’t want to buy. When the companies started posting unexpectedly bad results, people panicked and starting selling their stocks. Prices starting falling. People panicked more – and the rest is poorly understood history.
America calls in its debts – really fast
After the stock market crash, America suddenly wanted Germany to pay back all the money the U.S. had lent them – and gave Germany just 90 days to do it. Germany couldn’t pay so, just like in America, businesses failed and unemployment skyrocketed. By 1932 it’s estimated that German unemployment affected over 20 million people – about a third of the German population.
So things were really bad in Germany and that made it the perfect time for someone to come along and tell people who to blame. Hitler said blame the Jews – and some other folks.
Groups on the left, right and centre were all fighting about what to do about Germany’s problems. Under Germany’s electoral system, parties had to work together to get into power. In 1932, the moderate parties joined forces with others to keep out the group they saw as the biggest threat. They turned to the Nazis to keep the Communists out – and Adolph Hitler became Chancellor. The rest is more poorly understood history that often presents Jews as being the only victims of the Holocaust – and being targets only because they were Jewish (they were targeted because they were Jewish, but that wasn’t the only reason). What is rarely mentioned is the complete list of other groups Hitler also hated, including Communists. He believed communism was a huge threat to Germany and should be destroyed. (He also thought that communism was a Jewish invention and that was another reason why he hated the Jews.) On January 30, 1933, one day after becoming Chancellor of Germany, Hitler called for new elections to be held on March 5,1933. However, rather than the usual events of a democratic election, the Nazis embarked on a campaign of violence and terror against Communists and other Nazi opponents.
That brief history lesson, suggests the federal government should be putting our tax money into somewhat different monuments. They should build the National Holocaust Monument and, right next to it, one really big Monument to the Victims of Capitalism with the following suggested sections: Jews and other victims during the Holocaust (including Communists, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Roma (gypsies), Jehovah Witnesses and black Germans), enslaved Africans, pretty much all Indigenous people everywhere and way too many others to mention.
Once that’s done, let people argue over where to build the much smaller Monument to the Victims of Communism.
About the writer
Robin Browne is an African-Canadian communications professional and father of two boys. He lives in Ottawa.