Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 13, 2009


Filed under: Fascism,Film — louisproyect @ 5:20 pm

While by no means a masterpiece, I can recommend “Valkyrie”, a conventional Hollywood treatment of the General’s plot to kill Hitler. This is now the fourth movie that I have seen about the German resistance to Hitler. White Rose and Sophie Scholl, two German films about the underground student movement against Hitler, are outstanding.  So is Restless Conscience, a documentary about the General’s plot that would be a good companion piece to “Valkyrie” and which unfortunately is not yet available from Netflix. If you have more than the routine interest in the topic, as I do, you might want to buy Restless Conscience from Amazon.com. It is $36 but well worth the money.

Since “Valkyrie” starred Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who planted the bomb intended to kill Hitler, I expected the movie to be something like the latest installment in Mission Impossible with von Stauffenberg up to all sorts of deeds of derring-do.

To my surprise, the movie is a sober, understated straightforward account of the failed plot with a minimum of melodrama. There is even little in the way of personal interaction between von Stauffenberg and his wife Nina, played by Carice van Houten. One of the great things about Restless Conscience was its interview with Nina von Stauffenberg who died at the age of 92 not long after the movie was made.

Co-written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, the script makes a point of steering clear of trying to characterize Claus von Stauffenberg’s motives—something that they admit having trouble figuring out. Unlike the students or Christian activists involved in the struggle against Hitler, he is probably somebody who would have been more than happy to see WWII fought on the same basis as WWI. He only turned against Hitler when it became obvious that the ambitions of the 3rd Reich would lead to the complete ruin of the nation. It is also possible, although more difficult to make a case for, that he was appalled by the treatment of Jews and Russians. Giving the Nazi officers the benefit of a doubt, we can accept the premise that the aristocratic elements of the German bourgeoisie were never quite happy with a psychopath like Hitler in power, especially when he could not deliver the goods.

In one key scene, after Tom Cruise is arresting various loyalists to Hitler, he shouts out words to the effect that the plotters were restoring Hitler’s Germany to its former glory. It was not clear whether these words were intended to divide the loyalists or as an expression of von Stauffenberg’s true beliefs.

The movie was dogged by controversy from the moment that Tom Cruise was named to play von Stauffenberg. Apparently Scientology is much less popular in Germany than it is in Hollywood. Initially Germany banned the film crew from using German military facilities as a backdrop for various scenes.

While the movie can best be described as workmanlike—almost plodding in its adherence to strict chronological detailing of the conspiracy—it compels your attention strictly through its subject matter. For those who reject the Goldhagen thesis that the German nation, to a person, was demonically committed to Hitler’s insane project, the movie is a reminder that men and women of good will existed, just as they have existed in nearly 8 years of the “war on terror”.

“Valkyrie” is available from Netflix and well worth watching.


NY Times, July 16, 2009

High-Born Prussians Who Defied Their Origin


BERLIN — Monday is the anniversary of the July 20, 1944, plot to kill Hitler, and services will be held here, as they are every year, where the conspirators were executed. Among those remembered, Count Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg may not ring many bells these days outside Germany, or even inside it. Others came to be famously associated with the plot. But as the German historian Hans Mommsen wrote, “Schulenburg was the inner driving force of the conspiracy.”

Schulenburg’s sister, Countess Elisabeth von der Schulenburg — Tisa, as she was called — was an artist. They constituted an extraordinary pairing.

The Schulenburgs were a very old, very high Prussian clan, staunchly Nazi, and as such a reminder of the complexity of families, not least German ones, aristocratic or otherwise. Their story is a cautionary tale about judging history, or a people, any people, in black and white.

Tisa’s sculptures and drawings can bring to mind the work of Käthe Kollwitz or Otto Dix. Pictures she drew about the Holocaust are among the first by a German. Charismatic, liberated, uncompromising and fearless, she thrived before and after the war in the circles of Henry Moore and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht and Oskar Kokoschka. A convert to socialism as a very young woman, she found a calling teaching art among the coal miners in Britain, to which she moved in 1933 with her first husband, Fritz Hess, who, to her family’s horror, was a Jew.

Read full article


  1. As someone who has been a “Plot to Kill Hitler” buff, I also liked this movie, even though it was hard to picture Tom Cruise as a German, Stauffenberg was not your run-of-the-mill reactionary who only only got upset with Hitler when it was obvious that Germany was losing the war. From what I have read about him, he was truly aghast at was being done to the Jews and attempted to sabotage some of it when he was on the Eastern Front. He was also an advocate of broadening the basis of the conspiracy by including Social Democrats like Julius Leber in the post-Hitler government and was accused by die-in-the wool junker types of even being a “communist!” Indeed, Ruth Fischer, in her book on Stalin and German Communism, suggests that Stauffenberg was pushing for an “Eastern Orientation,” as opposed to the pro-US/UK tilt of most of the older conspirators. There is a West German movie, “Jackboot Mutiney,” made by Pabst in the 1950s, that also deals with this subject. It’s out in VHS, but not DVD, as far as I know. Have you ever seen it? If so, I’d be interested in your take on it.

    Comment by MN Roy — July 13, 2009 @ 8:50 pm

  2. There’s also Operation Walküre (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066694/), which doesn’t appear to be available in any format but was on free to air here a few months ago. I thought it was going to be a documentary and watched it the night before I went to see Valkyrie. It starts with von Stauffenberg in Africa and depicts how he was injured and ended up on the Eastern Front in the first place. I thought the relationship with his wife was more nuanced than in the Cruise version, although I couldn’t speculate about how realistically it was portrayed in either.

    Comment by ernie — July 14, 2009 @ 3:43 am

  3. I agree; I had low expectations going in and was pleasantly surprised. I suppose when you’ve got the same writer/director team that did The Usual Suspects, it’s impossible to screw up all that much.

    Comment by Steve — July 14, 2009 @ 6:38 am

  4. ‘While by no means a masterpiece, I can recommend “Valkyrie”, a conventional Hollywood treatment of the General’s plot to kill Hitler. This is now the fourth movie that I have seen about the German resistance to Hitler’

    while there is not one film on the palestinian resistance to israel….interesting..

    Comment by brian — July 14, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

  5. Brian, you are a fucking stupid-head. All you had to do was search my blog and find references to these reviews of anti-Zionist movies:





    And that’s not to speak of at least the same number of articles that are written from an anti-Zionist standpoint. Of course, since you are not a very intelligent writer, there is always the possibility that your statement “there is not one film on the palestinian resistance to israel” is a reference not to my blog but in general. You are of course wrong on that score as well if that was your point.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 14, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

  6. I found the accents distracting. It took away from the story.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — July 15, 2009 @ 6:00 am

  7. keep your language clean, louis,i was referring to mainstream hollywood. Ive not seen any pro-palestinian mavies at the multiplex….have u?

    Comment by brian — July 15, 2009 @ 7:25 am

  8. from one of your links:
    ‘ anti-Zionist Israeli jazz musician Gilad Atzmon’

    i know of atzmon and he’d view your blog a bit like i do…He too views Ahmadinejad favourably.

    ‘Israeli Gilad Atzmon writes:

    Once again I find myself saluting Iranian President Ahmadinejad, in full support of his words.
    No one could do better bringing to light European racial discriminatory sentiments.


    None of the films you list are mainstream…most are docos…strange you miss Pilgers 2 docos on palestine.

    Comment by brian — July 15, 2009 @ 7:32 am

  9. ‘Valkyrie’ is another of the films that have been appearing in the last decade or so which quietly rehabilitate Nazism. ‘The Pianist’, ‘Downfall’, and several others have taken us down this road. “Hitler was a lunatic,” the narrative goes, “but there were other Nazis who weren’t so bad.”

    Von Stauffenberg was a reactionary nationalist and racist who welcomed Hitler’s rise to power and supported Hitler’s programme of occupying Germany’s neighbours. His plot against Hitler was motivated not by nice democratic ideals, but the belief that the war had more chance of being successful if someone else ran it. The idea that we are being asked to sympathise with such a Nazi “hero” is quite disturbing.

    It is interesting how the stepping up of racism, and the resulting growth of the extreme right, leads to a shift in culture.

    In Germany, the dramas about acts of resistance to Hitler serve to make nationalism more acceptable by asserting a narrative separate from Nazism. The courage of figures like Sophie Scholl is undeniable, but it’s no accident that they are suddenly so popular in a section of contemporary German culture.

    Comment by Eugene Hirschfeld — July 15, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

  10. i>”Hitler was a lunatic,” the narrative goes, “but there were other Nazis who weren’t so bad.”

    I’ve heard many variations on this theme (Hitler was a repressed gay man, a vegan too-taller–an excuse also proffered in , etc., etc.) that serve to exculpate the simple Volk. I came away with the impression from yet another recent documentary on the affair that Stauffenberg and some of his ablest colleagues thought of themselves as “doomed” men and enacted the bombing mainly to earn future brownie points for Germany after the war was over. Of course, the Federal Republic has been adroitly milking this vein of “resistance” (a word that’s more applicable to what happened in occupied states) even as a rehabilitated Germany normalizes to centuries old European norms of directing ultra-violence at lesser breeds of the South (those of the East having successfully “worked their way toward whiteness” as David Roediger put it–whiteness being a purely “political alliance”, and not a marker of skin pigmentation). Of course, it’s a wider phenomenon than just the Nazis as apologists for the British Empire and France’s civilizing mission have also stepped out of the woodwork since 9/11 as they try to make respectable again “commonplaces of 19th-century European culture”

    A few years ago I visited the German Resistance Museum in Berlin. Although the lower floor that housed memorabilia of Germans who stood against the Nazi regime had significant floor traffic (almost exclusively comprised of Germans as all the descriptions were in German only and the place was off the beaten path of most foreign tourists), yet the upper floor that had an exhibit on life in occupied Poland during the war was almost entirely deserted. Guess Germans found more to empathize with even the “armchair resistance” of their own society than the breed of resistance carried out 40 miles away in another country whose capital was pounded by 600mm mortars when an uprising broke out.

    Comment by sk — July 16, 2009 @ 3:19 am

  11. Oops, first sentence of last posting should read:

    I’ve heard many variations on this theme (Hitler was a repressed gay man, a vegan tee-totaller–an excuse also proffered in Der Untergang, etc., etc.) that serve to exculpate the simple Volk.

    Comment by sk — July 16, 2009 @ 3:24 am

  12. Two books on the German Resistance that might be of interest:

    Alan Merson “Communist Resistance in Nazi Germany” Focuses on KPD and really good/detailed. Not much on Valkyrie though.

    Peter Hoffman “History of the German Resistance 1933-45” Focuses on other resistance groups to Hitler. There is a lot on Staffenburg here.

    Comment by Victor — July 16, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

  13. During WWII, Ernest Mandel did time in a number of Nazi prison camps as a member of the Belgian Trotskyist underground. He was able to escape by talking working class politics to the German guards, who were probably old Social Democratic workers, and then found refuge in the home of another German working class militant. To the end of his life, Mandel always had total disdain for those who condemned whole peoples for the crimes of “their” ruling classes and governments. And rightly so.

    As if the German workers weren’t the first victims of the Hitler regime…why else would the German ruling class have resorted to putting the Nazis in power in the first place? It was only after the left and the labor movement were destroyed that the Nazis could move against the Jews.

    While Stauffenberg and the other military conspirators were, without a doubt, heroic individuals who were willing to put their lives on the line, hardly an “armchair resistance,” the German left resisted the fascists throughout their tenure in power, even it was in the shadows. And Hitler was well aware of it and afraid of it as he was constantly haunted by memories of 1918, when the German workers and soldiers has risen up and “turned their guns around.” Hence the need to keep the workers and the left down and at the same time make sure most Germans had had enough to eat (at the expense of the occupied countries, of course).

    So before before writing off the German people as a whole, check the facts and figures and see how many Germans were in concentration camps or executed for political “crimes,” (i.e., “treason”), especially working class Germans who were either Commies, Social Democrats and/or trade unionists.

    Comment by MN Roy — July 16, 2009 @ 8:02 pm

  14. Thanks Louis for the recommendation of Sophie Scholl, The Last Days! After reading your reviews I immediately went to Netflix and found that it was on their streaming list. A very powerful film. I am putting Valkrie on my list as well. I probably would have skipped it if it wasn’t for your positive review. You are my prime source for films I should see. Rarely am I disappointed.

    And since issues of transgendered folk have come up on your blog recently, if you haven’t already, let me recommend the film Southern Comfort. Very interesting.

    Comment by Sheldon — July 17, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

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