The Origin and Growth of Nazism pt.3
Like a thunderbolt, the world slump struck German economy amidships towards the end of 1929. The capitalist magnates of New York, London and Paris who had financed Germany’s industrial comeback, hastily called in whatever part of their loans they could lay their hands on. Thus the German crisis assumed even more disastrous proportions than that of other countries. Her industry had rehabilitated itself on foreign credit and when this credit vanished, the bottom fell out from Germany’s reservoir of production.
This crisis of “overproduction” is an inevitably recurring feature of capitalism. It is “overproduction” indeed, over-production of the surplus value accumulated by its capitalist owners and which they cannot use or dispose of profitably. But for the workers it means unemployment and reduced standards of living. For the German masses the post-war years had been a continuous ordeal of extraordinary strain. The new republic had never settled down politically because the economic background was seldom stable enough (in the capitalist sense of “stability”) to allow for the mental adjustment necessary. When, therefore, the government of Bruening (Right Wing Catholic) was defeated in the Reichstag in July, 1930, the electorate went to the polling booths on September 14, 1930, in an atmosphere of a world crisis which appeared to them as the consummation of years of distress and bewilderment. From this election the Nazis emerged as a mass party. They secured 6,400,000 votes and 107 seats in the Reichstag – eight times the number polled by them in 1928. The percentage of total voters who actually voted jumped from 50 per cent to 73 per cent: nearly four million new voters had entered the lists. It is estimated that most of these, probably three million, hitherto non-political elements, went to the Nazis. Thus the party of “National Socialism” is revealed as a product of the world crisis – a party of wild despair and wild hopes.
The Nazis owed this unparalleled success to the fact that in the eyes of many their policy and make-up promised a complete break with the past. The fanatical fervour of the “Brownshirts,” their demagogy and displays, did not appear out-of-place under the circumstances. It reflected the neurosis of the modern troubled world. Compared to them, the parties of the republic, particularly the Social Democrats, were compromised with the “old order” and completely lacking in “dynamic.” The German Communist Party, under the circumstances prevailing a possible rival to the Nazis, secured 3 ½ million votes. They, too, competed for the votes of those who wanted a break with the “old system” (in fact, large blocks of votes repeatedly fluctuated backwards and forwards between the Nazis and the Communists), but their past inconsistency and support of Social Democracy lowered their standing as a political party. And their ties with Moscow limited their appeal as a Russophile organisation. German industrialists and big business owners now turned in increasing numbers to Hitler’s party as a means of helping them to give Germany what they were pleased to call “political stability.” They themselves, as “Nationalist” and “Conservative” parties, had dismally failed to secure any backing of consequence among the people. In the September elections they had even lost a good deal of their previous support to the Nazis. In the “National Socialist” movement they saw an organisation that could compete for “mass appeal” with the Social Democratic and Communist parties whilst at the same time providing a check to the political and economic threats of the disgruntled workers.
The union between the Nazis and a large section of the German capitalist class was publicly sealed by the parliamentary co-operation of Hitler’s party with the “nationalist” bloc led by Huegenberg, the leading business magnate. This does not mean, however, that the two parties had merged or that the capitalists of Germany were willing to commit their fate into the hands of the Nazi leaders. Nor would it be correct to assume that the Nazis from then onwards became the puppets of the German capitalists. There was in fact a great deal of distrust between the two groups. The Nazi movement was at no time comparable to the orthodox political parties which capitalism had hitherto thrown up. They were not a “class” party in the sense that the Conservative Party in Britain is the party of present-day British capitalism. Their membership and supporters held views as varied as the colours of the well known chameleon. The Race-mythology which attempted to concoct a special philosophy of its own, was merely one wing, and not the whole, of the Nazi movement. Its spokesmen is Alfred Rosenberg (this is definitely a Jewish name). The mass-appeal of the Nazis certainly does not rest on the race-myth. The S.A. (Storm-troops) led by Captain Ernst Roehm was largely composed of unemployed as wells as those dregs of society which Marx called very descriptively the “Lumpenproletariat.” It was this body that carried the terror against the Jews and other opponents of the Nazis. Numerically the most powerful section of this political hybrid was the “radical” wing led by Gregor Strasser. Strasser later attempted to detach this wing from the party and come to terms with trade union and Social Democratic elements. He, like Roehm, was later murdered by his former “comrades” in the “blood-purge” of June, 1934.
This political incoherency is the real explanation of the “Leader-cult.” The more backward and confused politically a people are, the stronger is the gravitation toward absolute personal leadership as a unifying force. Conversely, to the extent that the masses become politically enlightened, the need for “leadership” disappears.
These differences, as well as the appetites for power of individual Nazi politicians, caused serious conflicts within the movement. But the momentum of the crisis, plus the powerful financial backing from the capitalists, boosted the Nazi Party from strength to strength. In July, 1932, the Nazis polled nearly fourteen million votes, and thus became the strongest single party in the country. To illustrate the unscrupulous lengths to which these political adventurers relied on the credulity of the German electorate (or a large part of it), the following items from their “Immediate Economic Programme,” published at this election, can be quoted:
“Four hundred thousand houses for single families to be built within a year!”
“To increase the annual yield from German agriculture by two milliard marks,” a fantastic notion.
And, of course, these “revolutionary economists” proposed to abolish the gold standard!
What was the reaction of the so-called “working class” parties to this mortal challenge to all the principles and traditions which the workers since the time of Marx and Engels have built up by their historic struggles? Now, after the event, accusation and counter-accusation are hurled at each other by the parties involved. The worker who has no knowledge of the recorded events is confused. The facts, however, condemn both the Communist Party of Germany and the Social Democrats as equally guilty. The Communists who still claim that they proposed a “United Front” would have defeated the Nazis are, as usual, lying. They had no intention of combining forces with the Social Democrats against Hitler. On the contrary, their avowed purpose was to destroy the German equivalent of the Labour Party by every means, fair or foul. So intense was their hostility that they supported the plebiscite on August 9, 1931 organised by Huegenberg’s reactionary “Stahlhelm” and the Nazi Party, to turn out of office the Social Democratic Government of Prussia. As late as May, 1934, after more than a year of Nazi tyranny, Palme Dutt, the well-known Fascism and Social Revolution:
“It would be more correct to say of Social Democracy and Fascism: their aims are the same (the saving of capitalism from the working class revolution); they differ only in their methods.” (Page 155.)
It was a year later, in 1935, when the Russian Government had reason to fear the threat of war from Nazi Germany, that the Communists obediently turned themselves inside out again and clamoured for “Unity against Fascism.”
And yet no argument can be shown to prove that a combination of Social Democracy and “Communism” would have stayed the Nazi onslaught against the Weimer Republic. This Republic had virtually ceased to exist when Bruening became Chancellor in the spring of 1930. Bruening governed the country by emergency decrees which were authorised by Hindenburg (President of the Republic since 1925). Hindenburg, the Monarchist General, who had not a good word for the republic, but who nevertheless had taken the oath of loyalty to the Weimer Constitution. Bruening’s emergency decrees violated the constitution, but the only party in the Reichstag, who genuinely upheld the principles of Weimer, the Social Democrats, shrank from challenging Bruening and the popular figure of the President who was behind him. They feared that the defeat of Bruening would mean the triumph of Hitler. It was the age-old reformist illusion of compromise; the suicidal tactic of the “lesser evil.” In pursuit of this self-destructive policy the Social Democratic Party of Germany first linked itself with the Junker Generals, then with the catholic Centrists, and lastly again with the militarist Junker, Hindenberg. These alignments sapped the German Labour movement of most of its strength, destroyed the hopes and enthusiasm of its working class supporters, and finally handed the sorry remains to the Nazis for the death blow. How many more tragic lessons must the workers learn before they abandon once and for all the folly of the lesser evil?
By the end of 1932, the world crisis was at its climax. The markets of the world, glutted by the fertility of modern wage labour, became additionally restricted from the high tariff walls erected by the frightened governments. The Ottawa Agreement barred the way to the raw materials of the British Empire. The capitalist class of Germany were confronted with problems involving their very existence. One half of their industry was at a standstill (the unemployed numbered six and seven millions). Their attempts to impose a semi-military rule on the country through Hindenberg, Von Papen, and general Schleicher, had broken down owing to the hostility of the Reichstag. Germany, although its peculiar development and abnormal condition had, for the time being, brought the democratic forces to failure and disaster, was yet too highly developed to be governed by a regime which did not grow out of a mass political organisation in the country. The Nazis, although they suffered a set-back at the election following their triumph in July, 1932 (they only polled 11,730,000, and thus lost two million votes within a few months, i.e. on November 6, 1932), were the only hope of consolidating German capitalism. Consequently, an agreement was reached between Von Papen (the confidant of Hindenburg) and Hitler, and by it Hitler was installed as Chancellor by Hindenburg in January, 1933. Immediate preparations were made for a further election in order to present the new government to the country as a “national” government so as to strengthen the popular support. The elections, held March 5, 1933, gave the Chancellor, with the backing of the President, attracted millions of additional Nazi votes. Seventeen million votes were cast for them at this election. The seats in the Reichstag were divided as follows:-
Huegenberg’s Nationalists ……….…..52
88 per cent of the total electorate voted.
Thus the Nazis together with the nationalists, with whom they were in coalition, held a clear majority. The question arises: To what extent were these figures representative of national opinion freely expressed?
The Reichstag Fire (February 25, 1933) had been blamed on the Communists, and this party was certainly at a grave disadvantage. Nevertheless, the party lost only 19 seats compared with the previous election (November 6, 1932) and a mere eight seats compared with the elections previous to that (July 31, 1932). The Social Democrats lost only one seat.
This proves not only that the votes cast were, in the main, representing popular opinion (although it must be remembered the facilities for propaganda were almost wholly monopolised by the Nazis and their Nationalist allies), but more important still, despite the fact that Hitler was chancellor and his Brownshirt thugs roamed the streets at will, a considerable section of the German people, mostly the industrial working class, were yet determined enough to declare their opposition to the new regime, and the new rulers were not able to prevent them from doing so. Only later, when the government had managed to pass a special measure through the Reichstag, did they abolish the old constitution and establish the dictatorship of the “Third Reich.”
It is admittedly an impossible task to assess here comprehensively the import of events to which tomes have already been dedicated, and of which some aspects remain obscure. The main conclusions from the foregoing analysis are stated herewith:
Political democracy was born in Germany under most unpromising circumstances and against an unfavourable historical background. Its birth was not the result of a struggle by the workers nor the desire or need of the German capitalist class. It was thrown to the nation by the defeat of 1918 and the temporary impotence of ruling class elements.
Nevertheless, the power of the constitution was such that only a mass movement could break it. The Nazi Party was able to rally those sections of the masses who were most backward politically and who had not yet shed their dependence on absolutism. Their success was contributed to by the weak and compromising character of German Social Democracy which attempted to combine the role of working class reformist party with the guardianship of capitalist interests. The Communists drew a large section of the working class into opposition to the democratic method and so the elements whose co-operation was essential to ensure a popular basis for the Republic, were split from the beginning.
The militarist class or junkers who had been the real power behind the absolutist throne up till November, 1918, were seriously weakened by the army’s defeat. The re-arming of Germany placed them once again into a key position in German politics. This time, however, they were dependent on mass-parties for their link-up with the people; this was provided in the first period by Social Democracy and other Republican parties. The world crisis in 1930-33 barred the world market and access to raw materials to the capitalist class of Germany (most of whom are industrialists). This determined the capitalist and militarist elements to embark on a policy of territorial annexation involving war. The Nazi Party then appeared as a means of ending the violent political fluctuations and preparing the country materially and psychologically for the coming conflict. The Nazis, therefore, could never have formed a stable regime of any permanency. Their rule was bound to involve a series of climacterics leading to war. They were in the last analysis a party of crisis and war.
Finally, the Nazis owed their triumph directly to the world economic crisis. Thus the periodical crises of capitalism now emerge as a powerful force for the shaping of political mass opinion. In this particular instance the circumstances combined to give the spoils to a party of reaction. But the future may well atone for this setback. With the fuller experience of workers everywhere, the crises to come -“planners” notwithstanding – should provide an immense stimulus to the world movement for Socialism.