Essay, Research Paper
What was the basis of Nazi Power?
The circumstances that contributed to the phenomenal rise of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism in Germany in the period 1924-1941 from relative obscurity to a frenetic Volksbewegung is an issue of some debate. However it is most likely that the culmination of a multiplicity of interrelated factors created an environment in which an entire nation was swept away by the tide of Nazism. Germany s cultural heritage provided fertile soil for the roots of Nazism, its ideological image mobilising the support of a heterogeneous socio-economic strata, in a country crippled by the depression. In addition, Weimar s weak foundations, opposed by core social institutions and riddled with the inherent weakness of its constitution and political parties, fostered a climate in which Hitler s unique form of blood-and-soil nationalism thrived. This, coupled with a favourable turn of events for the Nazis and Hitler, culminated in his election as Chancellor in 1933. The rapid implementation of Gleichschaltung soon followed, enabling Hitler to cement his position as the dictator of a totalitarian state, and the creation and consolidation of Nazi power was complete.
In the period 1924 to 1933, voter support for the Nazi party increased from 3.5% of the total vote, to 43.9%, making the ultra-conservative NSDAP the largest party in the Reichstag, This rapid rise in voter support indicates an important characteristic of the Nazi party as a social movement. Contrary to the conclusions of historians such as Theodore Geiger, who postulated that the voter support for the NSDAP derived from a homogenous base of lower-middle class support, statistical analysis of Reichstag elections indicates that the Nazis were socially heterogeneous, a genuine volkspartei. The reasons behind the popular support of this as a right-wing, anti-liberalist movement are debatable, however it is most probable that the willingness of the NSDAP to shift position on policy issues, allowed them to mobilise the disaffection of millions of Germans from all classes and political backgrounds. The myriad promises made by Hitler and the success of the propagandistic activities engaged in by the Nazi party and its organisations in the deteriorating climate of the Weimar Republic, radicalised the support of all socio-economic stratums, particularly the lower bourgeoisie, making the Nazi s a true Volkswebegung; a socially variegated popular mass movement.
On a whole, Nazi voters, were those who in some way were disenchanted with the Republic and the Nazi s became an extremist protest vote as the only non-Marxist alternative for strong government. It is estimated that 60% of the Nazis vote derived from the middle to upper class, a phenomenon that can be explained by examination of the cultural and social heritage of Germany, particularly the second Reich of Bismarck. The dislocations of the Austro-Prussian hegemony of Germany and the Bismarckian Wars consequent to the upheavals of the 1849 liberalist revolution provide an interesting perspective on German nationalism. The distinct parallels that can be drawn between the rise of Bismarck and that of Hitler, reveal the intrinsic tradition of the success vis-a-vis acceptance of authoritarianism in German government and leadership. The nationalist swellings subsequent to the Austro-Prussian War and the Franco-Prussian war reflect the deep-rooted sentiments of not only the dominant Junkerdom of Prussia, but also the bourgeoisie in their enthusiastic support of the strong authoritarian government who was able to unify Germany, albeit under Prussian control.
Supplementing this clear current of absolutism, perceived to be integral to Germany s direction, is the mainstream academic thought of the 18th and 19th century, seen in the contributions of Trietschke, Hegel, Frantz, Ranke and Nietzsche amongst others, whose writings extol the virtues of Nationalism, encompassing inherent traits of anti-Semitism, anti-democratic/liberal and universal pan-Germanism in the German peoples. It is from these currents of German Nationalism that Hitler s National Socialism derived, deeply manifested in German cultural history, but while it is important to note that Nazism was a logical evolution in Germany s political development, it was by no means an inevitable outcome of German history. However the evolved and deep-seated tradition of Nationalism through out Germanic history was a vital factor in the Nazi Party s rise to power.
The arousal of this manifestation of German Nationalism as a platform for the Nazi power-grab began subsequent to the defeat of Germany in WWI and the upheavals of the postwar period associated with armistice negotiations and the severity of the Versailles Treaty. In his book, German National Socialism, the structuralist historian, Martin Broszat draws attention to the feverish atmosphere of exalted nationalism that permeated Germany (Broszat, 1984). It was this stirring of German character that led to a sudden growth in anti-Semitic, v lkisch clubs (out of which the German Workers Party originated) that came into being in the first years of Weimar. It was the instability of the Weimar Republic in its fourteen years of being that further fostered the climate in which political frustration and economic suffering became the factors which dictated the advent of a social reaction. Such a reaction as the appeal for more ardent and intensive nationalism is highly compatible with German historiography, and in the period of general depression in Germany, the most extreme form of nationalistic appeal was that of Hitler and his Nazi s.
Nowhere was this reaction more pronounced than that which occurred within the ranks of the lower-middle class, whose rapidly diminishing status in Weimar Germany made them highly perceptible to the Nazis ideological image. They felt overshadowed by the upper bourgeoisie s domination of politics and threatened by the rising power of the working-class through trade unions and the Majority Socialist (SPD) government. The agrarian and petit bourgeoisie, disenchanted with Republic and the fast pace of industrialisation, particularly in Germany, of the 20th century joined and voted for the Nazi Party as an anti-modernist, anti-liberal protest party. The psychological impoverishment of the lower-middle class precipitated emotional insecurities, thus fertilising the ground for various movements of mass protest through which the lower-middle might revenge themselves. (Laswell, 1933)
As mentioned previously, the heterogeneous nature of the Nazi support base attracted not only the down-trodden bourgeoisie but a large proportion of the upper-middle and upper class. The upper-middle became discontented in their support of firstly the SPD under M ller s fractured Grand Coalition then the minority government by presidential decree of the Centre Party under Chancellor Br ning as the economic down-spiral began and political instability rocked the Reichstag. This disenchantment of moderate liberalism led to a polarisation of political support to the right, towards parties such as the DNVP, but mainly the NSDAP. As a result, support for the moderate parties of the Centre/Left collapsed as the radicalisation of the upper classes swung behind the Hitler Movement .
Although statistical analysis of Nazi voter support shows a relative immunity to Nazism by predominantly Catholic regions and also the highly-industrialised areas, long considered to be the bastion of support for the Left by the urban proletariat, it is interesting to note that in the elections of 1933, almost 40% of Nazi support came from the working class, translating as one in three working-class voters supporting the Hitler Movement. The reasons behind this transition, where two and a half million communist and socialist voters changed their support to the Nazis, are varied but it is likely that the working-class support of Marxist parties in Weimar did not fulfil hopes of a social revolution or at least, improvement in workers conditions in Germany after the fall of the unpopular Hohenzollern monarchy of the Wilhelmian period. Thus a vote for the Nazis was a protest against the generally poor leadership provided by the SPD, KPD and socialist trade unions and their failure to defend and promote the Weimar Republic (H. Winkler). This is evident from the SPD s policy of toleration towards the Bruning Govt s deflationary strategy, and the consequent drop in SPD electoral support from 12.3million votes in 1928 to 3.2million votes in Nov. 1933. In addition to this, spiraling unemployment and a declining economy, with the memory of hyper-inflation only four years gone, the Nazi s promise of economic rejuvenation was a new approach to the problems of Weimar when other parties had none. The dream of a strong unified Germany naturally attracted the support of blue-collar to this utopian solution.
It is for these primary reasons that Nazis support increased from holding 12 seats in the Reichstag to 288 seats in only five years, which has given cause for historians such as Jurgen Falter to justifiably term the Nazi Movement as a Sammlungsbewegung des Protests: a popular party of protest. While it is apparent that this radicalised electorate flocked to the support of Nazism, the elements of the NSDAP that appealed to the ideological available stratum of crisis-ridden people (I. Kershaw) are much more indistinct, and once again, the cultural heritage of Germany is a vital component of Nazi support. As outlined under the 25 point programme of the Nazi Party, the basic elements of Nazi ideology consisted of concepts of Volksgemeinschaft, Kampf, Fuhrerprinzip and Lebensraum and it was upon this platform of ultra-nationalist ideology that many Nazi members and voters were attracted to. Notional concepts of Lebensraum and anti-Semitism are highly recurrent within German history, the conquests of Frederick the Great and the Bismarckian Wars reflects this inherent quest for living space , reinforced by German foreign policy from 1870 onwards.
However this ideology, even in Weimar Germany was not original and parties such as the DNVP held similar programs, but in the case of the Nazis it was their image, rather than ideology which provided them with broad electoral support. This theory on the predominance of the Nazis image is also held by leading historian, Ian Kershaw who concluded that it was not the ideological content of the Nazi s propaganda but its style in projecting a political image that made the Nazi party so widely accepted. The skilful manipulation of the NSDAP s image through propaganda set it apart from the conventional bourgeoisie politics in the economic crisis of 1929 onwards, in that its mobilisation of commonly accepted values in society, rather than its focus being that of a single-interest party, helped to draw mass, cross-class support. The Nazi propaganda machine achieved the creation of the image of a flamboyant, dynamic and dedicated youthful party of force with emphasis upon the indomitable personality of Adolf Hitler as Germany s F hrer and his fanatical speeches of political fervour in flamboyant mass rallies. The para-military wing of the Nazi party, the S.A, formed an important part of this propaganda campaign with distribution of leaflets and its own militaristic image that embodied Nazi philosophy. Values such as toughness, dedication, discipline, obedience, fighting for a cause, all predominantly masculine traditional values were personified by the S.A and because these represented commonly accepted values and traditions within Germany, cross-class support was achievable.
Once again, this reinforcement of nationalism came in a period of severe instability in all spheres of Weimar Germany, but while this provided a necessary ingredient for Hitlerism , the structure of the Weimar Republic in itself, poorly built upon weak democratic foundations, allowed a resurgence of German authoritarianism. The forcible creation of the Weimar Republic under President Wilson s negotiation demands, laid democracy over a society conditioned to authoritarian government and as a result core social institutions such as education, the Judiciary, the Civil Service and most importantly, the Army were opposed to Weimar. This undermined the foundations of the new-born democracy and continued the imperialist nationalism of the Wilhelmine period. Schools continued to teach nationalist attitudes to students, the civil service obstructed the implementation of government policy and the judiciary still held imperialist ideas and values. The fact that society had not undergone radical social change and the will for strong authoritarian government was still present, an environment thus existed where a nationalist regime could take root. The independence of the army consequent to the Ebert-Groener Pact, was a factor which allowed the Reichswehr to influence, under the direction of General Kurt von Schleicher, the election and disposition of Chancellors Bruning and von Papen by withdrawing army support. Ultimately, this led to Schleicher s personal decision to support Hitler s election as Chancellor, had it not been for the role of the Army in destabilising the Reichstag, Hitler s election as Chancellor could have been deferred and the improval of economic conditions possibly making the Nazist movement impotent.
Compounding this quintessential weakness of social opposition was the inherent flaws in the Weimar Constitution that created the division in the Reichstag and ultimately assisting the Nazi s ascent to power. Firstly, Article 48 empowered the President to suspend fundamental constitutional rights in times of unspecified emergency and the ability to dismiss or appoint governments, creating an inbalance in governmental power with inadequate constraint powers given to the Reichstag, a criticism that undermined the very democratic nature of Weimar. General Paul von Hindenburg s election as Chancellor in 1925, who was sympathetic to right-wing notions of strong government, was influenced by various right-wing individuals leading to the dismissals of Bruning, von Papen and Schleicher, hence vesting the entire Republic within one man, who eventually appointed Hitler as chancellor.
The use of proportional representation in Reichstag elections as specified under article 20 of the constitution is widely thought to have been the primary contributing factor to the political division and disunity within the Reichstag. This voting allowed the proliferation of splinter parties and the pre-dominance of special-interest parties within the parliament, making coalitions difficult to create and maintain, which was vital for stable government. As a consequence of this parliamentary division, situations such as the rift between the SPD and KPD over the suppression of the Spartacist revolution of 1919, prevented an effective combined left-wing resistance of the Nazi party. The anti-republican nature of many of these parties and their considerable influence within the Reichstag from proportional representation was reflected in opposition such as the Harzburg Front. The front against the Young Plan of 1929, was organised by media giant, Alfred Hugenberg, president of the DNVP, in collaboration with the National Socialists. The Nazis took advantage of the national media exposure afforded to this opposition and as a result allowed them to make the step from a provincial Bavarian party to an accepted right-wing force in national politics, this elevation transforming Hitler into a national political figure, associating with power at influential levels.
The interaction of these factors culminated in Hitler s appointment as chancellor in 1933, which began the rapid implementation of Gleichschaltung; the Nazi policy of synchronisation , to dismantle the democratic apparatus of the Republic and to establish a totalitarian state as the Third Reich. This policy of the co-ordination of Nazi power was implemented in three stages; the increase and centralisation of power, the elimination of all rival areas of political power and finally, influence then control over the elements of force. The catalyst for this was the Reichstag building fire, blamed on communist Marinus der Lubbe, however some evidence exists that suggests it was a Nazi plot organised by G ring and the S.A. It was this event that gave cause for Hitler to request for an emergency presidential decree suspending civil liberties, for the protection of the people and the state . Hindenburg signed it and armed with this decree, the Nazis arrested numerous communist and socialist leaders and prominent anti-Nazis, taking control of state radio and churning forth conspiracies of communist revolution and treason and destroying the presses of the leading liberal newspapers. Despite this wave of anti-Marxism, the Nazis only managed to scrape a bare majority coalition with the Nationals in the last elections of the Weimar Republic, but with these numbers, the Law for the removal of the distress of the German people and state was laid before the Reichstag. Otherwise known as the Enabling Act, this allowed the Nazis full legislative and budgetary powers, legalising the process of Gleichschaltung. The decisive support of the Centre Party for the bill resulted in a vote of 441-94, the Reichstag effectively giving Hitler and the Nazis the power of dictatorship for four years.
Soon after, the Law for the Reconstruction of the state was implemented, abolishing all of the eighteen states rights, with new Reich governors, responsible to Hitler appointed in each state, centralising power in Germany for the first time in its history. This centering of power upon Hitler was completed with the Law relevant to the Head of State of the German Reich with Hitler appointing himself F hrer of Germany. While this power centralisation was ongoing, the second brutal stage of eliminating rival political power was in progress, firstly by outlawing the Communist party, declaring the Socialist parties subversive and all other powers dissolved voluntarily or by force. This was legalised by the Law against the establishment of new parties whereby the NSDAP was the only legal party in Germany. Remaining socialist elements were crushed along with the trade unions, trade union leaders all arrested and the Labour Front created in its place. This held no real political function apart from the taxation of the working classes, effectively neutralising the Labour movement as all traces of Marxism were destroyed.
As previously discussed, the social elements that had undermined the Weimar Republic, were quickly nazified as schools, the judiciary, the civil service and the media were brought under control.
Schools were subject to racial laws for teachers and later, students, with banning and burning of all un-German books under the censorship of curriculum, based upon Nazi indoctrination and the compulsory Hitler Youth . The judiciary was Nazified with the etsablishment of the Sondergericht, the Special court dealing with political crimes and treason, further entrenched by Hitler s power to dismiss criminal proceedings and the S.S punishing criminals thought to be treated lightly . With these integral social elements under strict Nazi control, any counter-revolution under the regime was effectively neutralised.
Finally the last stage of the Nazification of Germany, consisting of influence then control over the elements of force, or namely the Army and Police, consolidated power in Germany, indelibly under the iron fist of Nazism. Along with Hitler s appointment as Chancellor, Hermann Goring became Minister of the Interior and under his direction, large segments of the Police force were replaced with Nazi Storm Troopers, later extending to all Police being German Aryans with the Gestapo or the Secret Police being established to consolidate this power. The purge of the S.A, known as the Night of the Long Knives eliminated the rapidly growing threat of Ernst Rohm and his unruly Storm Troopers. Disenchanted with the abandonment of socialist elements of Nazi policy, Hitler saw the S.A as a threat to central Nazi power, culminating in the murder of prominent S.A leaders and anti-Nazis within and without the ranks of the S.A. This won him the support of the Reichswehr, assisting him in his bid to combine the offices of Chancellor and President and as part of this the entire Army swore a loyalty oath to Hitler as F hrer of the German State. As part of the Four-Year Plan, the frenetic rearmament of the Reichswehr began to dissolve the influence of the Officer Corps, the conservative element of the army as the ranks of the army swelled and new officers indoctrinated by Nazism, gained rapid promotion. This allowed Hitler to re-organise the Army; sub-ordinated under the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces to Nazi control, allowing a co-ordinated force to prepared for the assault on Eastern Europe. The last barriers to Nazi absolute power had been removed, and the Gleichschaltung policy completed, the Nazis were ready to lead Germany into war.
The intricacies and complexity of the primary and secondary factors which formed the basis of Nazi power are a contentious issue, but the compatibility of the ideological image of the German Worker s National Socialist Party with the cultural history of Germany in times of crisis is a primary contribution to the rise of the Nazi s. While this is apparent, it is important to note that Nazism was not an inevitable historical outcome, but the unique climate of the Weimar Germany in its economic, political and social instability was a vital element in propagating an environment which precipitated the advent of a social reaction such as extreme nationalism. With the establishment of heterogeneous support from the radicalised electorate, the Nazi policy of Gleichschaltung was highly effective in cementing power in a way that the democracy of Weimar Republic did not, the total centralisation of power in Germany, consolidating Nazi power to totalitarianism.
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N.B- Every effort has been made to acknowledge authorship, however in some cases the nature of the source does not permit full acknowledgment.