Saturday, 23 November 2013

Why the Nazis Came to Power

Although this piece does not specifically address the personal appeal of Hitler, that factor cannot be minimized as this picture clearly shows

Careful readers of  That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) will note that a few passages of the following is in that text but most of it did not survive the editorial cuts, in part for reasons of space and part because it was peripheral to the overarching thesis of the book.

Contrary to the later official version, fate did not inexorably choose Hitler as Chancellor on January 30. The economic turmoil from the Depression and the shrewd marketing of their program were assets that they exploited. But the weaknesses of the Social Democratic Party and the policy directives from Moscow also made it possible for Hitler to have his rendezvous with destiny. Circumstances largely contributed to increase the National Socialists’ support from a low two-percent in the 1928 election. A fall in agricultural prices that brought poverty and distress to the countryside followed by the Wall Street crash that necessitated Americans calling in their loans which had facilitated reparations payments aggravated an already difficult problem. Their economy having precariously depended upon those loans and being the leading European economy, Germany suffered more severely from the Depression than any country in the world. In 1931 when it appeared that the nation had hit rock bottom, five major banks collapsed and 20,000 businesses failed. Six million were unemployed. Into this morass of abject distress and hopelessness, the Nazis offered order, discipline and the personality of Adolf Hitler. A fringe political party galvanized public support achieving thirty seven percent of the voted in the July 1932 election, making them the largest single party in the Reichstag. True, the Communist Party support had grown substantially, particularly among working class voters, but its atheistic foreign creed anchored in intensifying class conflict in a county that was reeling in divisiveness generated visceral hatred from farmers and the middle class. But their tactics also alienated large numbers of its natural constituency so that the Nazi party became the chief beneficiary.

Ernst Thalmamm leader of the KPD Party (the Communists) in 1927 Berlin
Although both extremist political parties sought recruits among the same inner city neighborhoods, used similar rhetoric and resorted to intimidation and violence, the differences between them significantly tilted support in favour of the paramilitary Brownshirts. Because industrial workers had suffered acute hardships, the German Communist party initially secured a significant vote as the party of the unemployed. Its anti-capitalist rhetoric terrified almost everyone else with a vested interest in the system, so large numbers supported the Nazis in reaction to the increased Communist vote. Moreover, the source of their financial and planning strategies, the Bolshevik threat, alienated them further. Whereas the brawling of the SA toughs was homegrown, the operations in the forgery of documents and in the conduct of espionage, sabotage and terrorism carried out by the Communists originated in the training received at the Moscow Military Academy. The Soviets supplied their German Communist Party with money while paramilitary gangs received guns and explosives. In the late 1920s when Stalin conducted his internal purge against Bukharin, he likewise silenced and removed independent voices in the Comintern, the Communist International, and in the German Communist party to ensure both organizations remained subservient to Moscow and his brand of politics. Within a few years, these individuals incurred the opprobrium of “class enemies” and were dispatched accordingly by Stalin’s agents. With electoral support increasing in Germany as a result of unemployment, Stalin believed that a Soviet revolution was imminent, so he ordered, regardless of the politics on the ground, mass demonstrations and strikes, maneuvers injurious to the Communist cause in a time of substantial unemployment, sabotage and terrorism. The Communist method of assassination directed against the police until at least the end of 1931, something the SA deliberately and shrewdly avoided, was counterproductive because Communist attacks against the representatives of order terrified the middle class public and pushed them more to the Right. Furthermore, a political party that had its roots and direction from abroad was offensive to a working people who valued patriotism and were unabashedly nationalist. 
Erich Mielke

Lest anyone be deluded into thinking that the Communists might have provided a more humane alternative to the Nazis, one only need review the career of Erich Mielke. As an accomplice in the murder of two police officers, Mielke fled to the Soviet Union where he received leadership training so that he could work for the Soviet secret police. In 1945, he returned to Germany to help establish the security police force in the Soviet sector. By 1957, he headed the Ministry of State Security otherwise known as Stasi until the collapse of the GDR in 1989. Modeled on the KGB, Stasi was endowed with resources for surveillance, harassment and criminal investigation that far exceeded that of the Gestapo. By 1989, the GDR had a population of 17 million and the Stasi employed over 102,000 agents that included informers, an all-seeing Orwellian presence that bred fear and mutual suspicion whereby, like Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty Four, it pressured individuals to betrayed loved ones.   

Besides specific tactics, the internationalism of Marxism imperiled the viability of a German Communist party because initiatives were dictated not by conditions on the ground but according to the whims and directives of Stalin. Although Communists were eager to wage street fights against the SA Brownshirts, they grievously underestimated the Nazis as a lethal enemy, and instead, on orders from Moscow, focused their ideological fire on the socialists as “social fascists.” Stalin’s hatred of social democracy prohibited any possibility of a meaningful alliance between the communists and socialists. In the largest and most powerful state of Prussia, under orders from Stalin, local communists cooperated with the Nazis in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy the “social fascists.” According to biographer Robert Tucker (Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above 1928-1941, W. W. Norton, 1992), Stalin was not particularly fearful of the ideology of anti-Bolshevism, anti-racism and certainly not anti-Semitism. Indeed, he preferred the possibility of a National Socialist state to the Weimar Republic because the foreign policy of the former would embroil it in tension possibly even a war with the West, a prospect that would allow him to build his brand of socialism without any interference. Few on the Communist left grasped the psychological appeal of Nazism that paid attention to drives like aggression and domination, and, because their own ideology was grounded in the cerebral dialectics of Marxism and class conflict, they were ill prepared to deal with the power of irrationality. They could not comprehend that the ideal of equality could be rejected in favour of embracing a closed hierarchical community in which only racially certified Germans with a healthy pedigree could be included. Interestingly, the one critic from the far left that perceived this danger was the exiled Leon Trotsky. He astutely and presciently warned that the Nazis posed the real threat and their success would be catastrophic for a German revolution. His insight into Hitler’s intentions as outlined in Mein Kampf is evident when he wrote that a Nazi regime “signified an inevitable war against the Soviet Union” and “extermination of the conquered ‘inferior' peoples."
As the psychic double of Hitler, Stalin was incapable of perceiving the danger of a regime that bore strong similarities with his own. He must share some of the responsibility for the debacle of his Party whose members, particularly among the leadership, ended up in concentration camps or murdered after Hitler came to power. Interestingly, thousands of rank-and-file members without any difficulty joined the National Socialists constituting a third of the total membership demonstrating despite their ostensible hatred for each other an easy fluidity between them. Furthermore, by labeling as “social fascists,” even the conservative nationalists of 1930-32, the Communists communicated the message that their real enemy was not the Nazis but all the flabby democrats.

For his part although Hitler associated Bolshevism with Jewish power and there is no reason to doubt his abiding hatred of it, he acquired a grudging respect for the Soviet Union’s murderous dictator in the thirties. True he understood the value of exploiting the fear of Bolshevism as an impending Armageddon for the purpose of increasing popular support when his movement was in its nascent stage. Part of the continuing appeal of anti-Semitism was his unerring ability to exploit the fears of Soviet Communism. Later when the notorious exhibition, “The Eternal Jew,” travelled across Germany in 1937, a preview was reviewed under the heading: “Domination of the Jews is Domination by Bolshevism.” At the same time, he privately expressed his admiration for Stalin, who commanded his “unconditional respect,” in part because some of the notable victims of his show trials were Jews, but also, because he recognized that in his Soviet counterpart, he found his psychic double, his “kindred soul.” Even during his war of extermination against “Judaic-Bolshevism,” he could barely disguise his admiration for the “exceptional” Stalin, the “half beast, half giant”’ whose indifference to his people“they can rot for all he cares”mirrored his own feelings about the German people.  Recognizing his psychic double likely helped to fuel his own megalomania: convinced that he was the “strong man” propelled by destiny to lead, or more precisely, embody Germany.

Leadership meant among other things directing a movement that was more socially, if not ethnically,
Hitler and Goering among the SA in 1928
inclusive and offering a vague though compelling economic program. More than any other right wing group, the Nazis welcomed participants from all social classes, especially workers. Indeed, the paramilitary SA was largely recruited from among the poor and the unemployed, who, in addition to marching and brawling with Communist paramilitaries, were regularly fed at Nazi pubs. Furthermore, a cadre of National Socialist speakers travelled around the countryside to discuss knowledgeably local bread-and-butter issues at local halls, taverns and market squares. Like the Communists, the Nazis appealed to the dignity of the common man, but they combined it with entrepreneurship and avoided offending middle class sensibilities with talk of the redistribution of wealth and a revolution, a prospect that for many translated into socialist slavery. This strategy did not prevent them from exploiting working class resentments of the wealth and power of the business classes, but they claimed the enemy was not financiers and bankers, but their misery was the result of an international conspiracy comprised of Jewish financiers and bankers. Above all, they repudiated the narrow class interests that had characterized the old established parties with the message that local problems could be best solved by liberating the entire nation from republican misrule. With their mass rallies and paraphernalia of drum rolls, music and songs, banners, flags, uniforms and greeting rituals, the Nazis created an atmosphere of hope for speakers to imagine a future prosperous and unified Germany in which every true German regardless of economic status had a place of honour. Even many of who did vote for the communists, mostly unemployed, did it more out of an expression of anger than ideology so that as soft support, their volatile votes easily slipped over to the Nazi party that offered radical solutions. Before 1933, the socialist component of National Socialism was as important as the better known nationalist ingredient with influential individuals such as Gregor Strasser emphasizing the need for work with dignity. Particularly appealing was the Nazi demand for a vigorous economic nationalism that involved a combination of spending incentives in public works programs to the repatriation of foreign labour, especially Polish agricultural workers and compulsory labour service for unemployed youth. Above all, they were most successful at undercutting the Communists by calling for a unifying, national classless community.

Social Democrats are taken to an early concentration camp
Unlike the extremist Communist and Nazi parties, the socialists’ popularity slipped badly from the being the single largest Party before the war to being tainted by their association with an unpopular Social Democratic government who severely cracked down on the uprisings of late 1918 and 1919. The stench of treachery continued to cling to them as followers of their natural constituency remembered that their leaders had betrayed them by recruiting the Freikorps to brutally murder working class people “while attempting to escape,” a technique replicated by the Nazis with ruthless abandon. The socialists had also been part of a system that had been powerless to staunch the hemorrhaging caused by the Depression and unable to provide desperately needed relief to the unemployed. Indeed, they were responsible for the split in the labour movement ensuring that the older loyal members retained their jobs and benefits while the younger members lost their positions, and subsequently flocked to the Communist Party. Despite its revolutionary pedigree, the Social Democratic Party appeared unimaginative and sapped of political will, just another pillar of the establishment. They were unable to translate their humane social values into a compelling vision that could captivate their natural constituency. The socialists, who might have responded to the belated request from the communists in early 1933 to form an alliance against Hitler, refused because they distrusted the communists leadership controlled from Moscow, resented being labeled social fascists and did not want “a deformed socialism that creates a mass prison.” At the same time, the Social Democratic Party underestimated the danger posed by the Nazis. At worse, they imagined the mild persecution that socialists experienced under Bismarck. But the Party that represented the only real threat to National Socialism, the conservative Nationalist Party was the most blinkered and its political leaders the most responsible for allowing Hitler to come to power.

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