The bad comrade by Theodor Adorno


Our new set of Radical Thinkers have just been released and to celebrate the new edition of Theodor Adorno's Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life we're publishing an excerpt from this beloved collection every day.

The bad comrade. 1 - In a real sense, I ought to be able to deduce Fascism from the memories of my childhood. As a conqueror dis­patches envoys to the remotest provinces, Fascism had sent its advance guard there long before it marched in: my schoolfellows. If the bourgeois class has from time immemorial nurtured the dream of a brutal national community, of oppression of all by all; children already equipped with Christian names like Horst and Jurgen and surnames like Bergenroth, Bojunga and Eckhardt en­acted the dream before the adults were historically ripe for its realization. I felt with such excessive clarity the force of the horror towards which they were straining, that all subsequent happiness seemed revocable, borrowed. The outbreak of the Third Reich did, it is true, surprise my political judgement, but not my unconscious fear. So closely had all the motifs of permanent catastrophe brushed me, so deeply were the warning signs of the German awakening burned into me, that I recognized them all in the features of Hitler's dictatorship: and it often seemed to my foolish terror as if the total State had been invented expressly against me, to inflict on me after all those things from which, in my childhood, its primeval form, I had been temporarily dispensed. The five patriots who set upon a single schoolfellow, thrashed him and, when he complained to the teacher, defamed him a traitor to the class - are they not the same as those who tortured prisoners to refute claims by foreigners that prisoners were tortured? They whose hallooing knew no end when the top boy blundered - did they not stand grinning and sheepish round the Jewish detainee, poking fun at his maladroit attempt to hang himself? They who could not put together a correct sentence but found all of mine too long - did they not abolish German literature and replace it by their 'writ' [Schrifttum]? Some covered their chests with mysterious insignia and wanted, far from the sea, to become naval officers when the navy had long ceased to exist: they proclaimed themselves detachment and unit leaders, legitimists of the illegitimate. The crabbed intelligent ones who had as little success in class as the gifted amateur constructor without connec­tions had under liberalism; who therefore, to please their parents, busied themselves with fret-saw work or even, for their own plea­ sure, spun out intricate designs in coloured inks at their drawing boards on long afternoons, helped the Third Reich to its cruel efficiency, and are being cheated once again. Those, however, who were always truculently at loggerheads with the teachers, inter­rupting the lessons, nevertheless sat down, from the day, indeed the very hour of their matriculation, with the same teachers, at the same table and the same beer, in male confederacy, vassals by vocation, rebels who, crashing their fists on the table, already sig­nalled their worship for their masters. They needed only to misspromotion to the next class to overtake those who had left their class, and take revenge on them. Now that they, officials and re­cruits, have stepped visibly out of my dream and dispossessed me of my past life and my language, I no longer need to dream of them. In Fascism the nightmare of childhood has come true.

I . Der hose Kamerad: allusion to the song Der gute Kamerad (The Good Comrade) popularized by the nazis.


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