Foreign Affairs magazine: “The Frankfurt School at War: The Marxists Who Explained the Nazis to Washington”

The Frankfurt School at War:
The Marxists Who Explained the Nazis to Washington
William E. Scheuerman

July/August 2013

Foreign Affairs: The Frankfurt School at War by William E. Scheuerman

The word “espionage” is written with Cyrillic letters on a typewriter. (Wolfgang Rattay / Courtesy Reuters)


Secret Reports on Nazi Germany: The Frankfurt School Contribution to the War Effort. by FRANZ NEUMANN, HERBERT MARCUSE, and OTTO KIRCHHEIMER. edited by RAFFAELE LAUDANI. Princeton University Press, 2013, 704 pp. $45.00.

War makes for strange bedfellows. Among the oddest pairings that World War II produced was the bringing together of William “Wild Bill” Donovan, head of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) — a precursor to the CIA — and a group of German Jewish Marxists he hired to help the United States understand the Nazis.

Donovan was a decorated veteran of World War I and a Wall Street lawyer linked to the Republican Party. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt tapped him to create the United States’ first dedicated nonmilitary intelligence organization. At that time, many in the foreign policy establishment saw intelligence and espionage as somewhat undignified, even unimportant. So Donovan cast a wide net, recruiting not only diplomats and professional spies but also film directors, mobsters, scholars, athletes, and journalists.

Even in that diverse group, Franz Neumann stood out. Neumann, a Marxist lawyer and political scientist, had fled Germany when the Nazis came to power in 1933. He arrived in the United States a few years later, where he was hailed as an expert on Nazi Germany after the 1942 publication of his book Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, which depicted Nazism as a combination of pathological, monopolistic capitalism and brutal totalitarianism. Neumann’s work brought him to the attention of Donovan, who was eager to mobilize relevant expertise regardless of its bearer’s political views.

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Secret Reports on Nazi Germany by Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse & Otto Kirchheimer
[F]ascinating. . . . [T]his new volume . . . conveniently collects a substantial chunk of the original documents penned by Neumann and his research team.”–William E. Scheuerman, Foreign Affairs 
 
“[A] fascinating collection. . . . The history of wartime intelligence is a developing field, and this material is a welcome addition.”–Library Journal
Secret Reports on Nazi Germany
Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse & Otto Kirchheimer
Edited by Raffaele Laudani
With a foreword by Raymond Geuss

During the Second World War, three prominent members of the Frankfurt School–Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse, and Otto Kirchheimer–worked as intelligence analysts for the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime forerunner of the CIA. This book brings together their most important intelligence reports on Nazi Germany, most of them published here for the first time.

These reports provide a fresh perspective on Hitler’s regime and the Second World War, and a fascinating window on Frankfurt School critical theory. They develop a detailed analysis of Nazism as a social and economic system and the role of anti-Semitism in Nazism, as well as a coherent plan for the reconstruction of postwar Germany as a democratic political system with a socialist economy. These reports played a significant role in the development of postwar Allied policy, including denazification and the preparation of the Nuremberg Trials. They also reveal how wartime intelligence analysis shaped the intellectual agendas of these three important German-Jewish scholars who fled Nazi persecution prior to the war.

Secret Reports on Nazi Germany features a foreword by Raymond Geuss as well as a comprehensive general introduction by Raffaele Laudani that puts these writings in historical and intellectual context.

Franz Neumann (1900-1954) was a labor lawyer and political activist in Germany before the Nazi period, and was a professor of political science at Columbia University after his work in the OSS and at the Nuremberg Trials. Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) was a philosopher who made important contributions to the Frankfurt School critical theory of society. He taught at Brandeis and San Diego universities after his work in the OSS. Otto Kirchheimer (1905-1965) worked for the OSS until 1952. Later he was professor of political science at the New School for Social Research and Columbia. Raffaele Laudani is assistant professor of the history of political thought at the University of Bologna.