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Secret of the Goebbels diaries

Exclusive: Sharon Clarke reveals how the row about the Goebbels diaries will end up making the European right look more respectable, and the left look more ridiculous

All the fuss about the publication of Josef Goebbels' diaries in the Sunday Times has been misdirected. Attention has focused on the involvement of right-wing historian David Irving, who calls himself a 'mild fascist' and denies that the Holocaust took place. People have worried about whether Irving is translating the diaries correctly - as if the Murdoch press needs any help from him to distort the truth.

Irving is a pathetic figure of no consequence who has been babbling away about his crank theories for years. The significant thing about the debate surrounding the Goebbels diaries is not what he says or does. It is the fact that Irving's school of historical revisionism, which has previously been exiled to the academic fringe, is now being incorporated more into mainstream discussion.

'Amateur Nazi'

Some prominent historians have been at pains to point out that, while they disagree with Irving's political views, he is really only an 'amateur Nazi' (interesting concept, that) and a fine historian of facts. The tone of this discussion reveals a lot about the way in which the wind is blowing in historical debate today. Which is why it is possible to say with some confidence that, whatever the Goebbels diaries do or don't say, the affair will eventually end up making the record of the European right look a little better.

It is not worth concentrating too much on the actual content of the Goebbels diaries. They seem unlikely to reveal anything much that is very new or interesting. Irving's major 'revelation' from the first extracts was that, contrary to his own prior opinion, Adolf Hitler did in fact know about the plans for an anti-Jewish pogrom on Kristallnacht in 1938. This is about as shocking as saying that Margaret Thatcher knew about the Falklands War.

The important thing is not the content of the Goebbels diaries themselves, but the wider political context in which the debate is taking place. A key theme of intellectual discussion in Europe today is the attempt to revise the history of the Second World War. The aim is to rehabilitate the right, which was badly discredited by its association with fascism.

Fascism and communism

Few historians or other experts are prepared to go so far as Irving in trying to present Nazism as normal. Instead, the fashion is to try to relativise the fascist experience: depicting Nazism as an over-zealous response to the dire threat which communism posed to the West, and shifting more of the blame for the horrors of the twentieth century on to the Soviet Union.

This revisionist trend is strongest in Germany and in France (where the right wants to rehabilitate the pro-Nazi Vichy regime). In Britain, it is offset slightly by the establishment's fondness for going on about evil Nazis in order to stoke up anti-German sentiment. Yet here too the same drift of opinion is evident. Even the Sunday Times television adverts for the Goebbels extracts began with pictures of a toppling statue of Lenin, not Hitler, and a voice-over about the diaries being hidden in the heart of the old Soviet empire, immediately making the revisionists' favourite link between fascism and communism.

More than academic

The revision of the history of the Second World War is more than an academic matter. It has very practical consequences. Take the example of the pro-Nazi Ustashe regime in Croatia, which sent Serbs, Jews and Gypsies to death camps during the Second World War. A lot of effort has recently been put into rewriting history, so as to present this gang of war criminals as anti-Soviet resistance fighters. This has played its part in legitimising German and Western support for Croatia in the Yugoslav conflict.

The worst thing is that the old left, while screaming about an idiot like David Irving, has gone along with much of this more mainstream school of revisionism. Leading radical intellectuals may not have embraced the Ustashe; but they have accepted the basic framework of Croatian nationalist history, and backed Croatia against the Serbs. As a result, left wingers have been wasting their time standing on the pavement outside Irving's home, while the Western powers have been making war plans for the Balkans.

Even worse is the way in which the left has seized upon the Goebbels diaries affair to raise new demands for David Irving's work to be censored, and for his books to be banned from the shops. This is the height of stupidity.

Calling for censorship in a capitalist society can only work to the benefit of the ruling elite. Censorship of 'unacceptable' or 'extreme' political views is already on the increase in Britain. The real targets of this campaign are the left, Irish republicans, black groups, gay publications, etc. But the authorities are happy to use demands for the suppression of fringe far-right views to legitimise wider repression.

What's offensive?

Tower Hamlets council in east London was applauded by some on the left for winning a case against the British National Party for flyposting during the general election. Nobody seems to have noticed that this case is one of the first successes in a national crackdown by councils on all flyposting. And in the very week that left wingers were calling for more censorship to protect the public from Irving's 'offensive' views, the police tried to stop some Living Marxism supporters from selling the July issue of the magazine - on the grounds that it was 'offensive' to the public. The state will decide what is offensive and should be censored on the basis of protecting its own authority, not public sensibilities.

Let's forget about Irving and his boring Goebbels diaries, and get on with exposing the way in which the Western authorities are revising the past in order to justify their crimes in the present.

Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 46, August 1992

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