Letters: The Nazis and the Vote
I frequently disagree with your views and judgments, but I have always respected your paper for its truthfulness and honesty. I was sorry, therefore, to find a gross distortion of historic fact in the December issue. I am referring to the argument about the rise to power of the German Nazi party.
In your reply to a correspondent (p. 210) you say: “The facts of the Nazis’ rise to power are as follows”; and you then give the results, in votes and percentage figures, of the Reichstag elections held in March 1933, implying that these results accurately reflected political opinion. But Hitler had assumed power five weeks before polling day, and that the elections were shamelessly rigged by the ruling Nazi party.
The true facts are as follows. At the Weimar Republic’s last free elections in November, 1932, the Nazis obtained 33.1 per cent of the total poll, while the two left-wing parties, the Social Democrats and the Communists, received 37.3 per cent between them. On becoming Chancellor on the 30th January 1933 Hitler dissolved the Reichstag; new elections were to be held on 5th March. From the outset the Nazis blatantly abused their position to harass the opposition, and especially the Socialists and Communists, and to hamstring their electoral propaganda: their papers were suspended for one or two weeks, their election meetings broken up, their posters torn off the hoardings etc. Yet in spite of the terror it became plain, towards the end of February, that the Nazi-led Government coalition was most unlikely to get an overall majority in the elections. So the Reichstag building went up in flames on the 27th February. The Government immediately banned the entire press and all electoral publications of the two “Marxist” parties, prohibited all their meetings, and ordered the arrest of all Communist candidates The constitutional freedoms were suspended, and postal and telephone censorship was imposed throughout Germany. This was clearly meant to give voters the feeling that it would be pointless, and indeed dangerous, to cast an anti-Government vote.
But the Nazis still did not feel sure of their majority, and therefore resorted to massive electoral frauds; one of the results was that in some polling districts the official figure of votes cast exceeded the total number of voters on the electoral register—but there was no one to call the Nazis to account. Also, within a few weeks of polling day the Nazis kicked their conservative allies out of the Government and proclaimed the one-party state.
In the circumstances it is preposterous to assert, as you do. that the Nazis were elected by “the majority of the German people”. They achieved power by a combination of trickery, terror and coup d’état.
S. F. Kissin
One reason why the Socialist Standard ascertains facts as fully as possible is that we have to deal with muddled, self-contradictory arguments such as this. You say in effect that the Nazis did as they liked without needing majority support because they needed majority support to do as they liked.
You deny that the 51.9 per cent of votes cast for the Nazis and their supporters in 1933 “accurately reflected political opinion”, and explain that the Nazis’ tactics “were clearly meant” to give workers the feeling that to vote otherwise was pointless. That is a political opinion, isn’t it? You offer as “true fact” that the Nazis obtained 33.1 per cent in November 1932. How does that rate as an “accurate reflection of political opinion”; and what is this phrase supposed to mean? No doubt the other votes would have differed if the Social Democrats and Communists had not “clearly meant” to persuade the voters of something false. This line of argument leads nowhere.
But who is distorting historic fact and disregarding truthfulness and honesty? A few lines after challenging us in these terms you attempt a sleight-of-hand by moving quickly from “Hitler had assumed power” to “the ruling Nazi party”; and progress to references to “the Nazi-led Government coalition” and identification of the Nazis with “the Government”. As we said in the reply you criticize, the facts are as follows.
In July 1932 the Nazis won 37.4 per cent of the votes, but the Reichstag was at once dissolved by the chancellor, Papen, and new elections called for 6th November. In these, the Nazi vote fell to 33.1 per cent, and a coalition was proposed. Hitler secured the chancellorship for himself (“assumed power”) but the Nazi Party was obliged to accept considerably less than had been demanded in June. In the coalition cabinet they had only 3 out of 11 seats (Hitler, Frick and Goring). Your representation that they were the Government is not “historic fact”.
Hitler persuaded the cabinet to have new elections immediately. However, you leave out from your account of the hounding and harassment of the other parties one key fact. Goring, as Prussian minister for the interior, was in control of the Prussian police. They were placed under Nazi control, heavily reinforced by Nazi men, and forbidden to interfere with acts of intimidation by the SA (who had been banned not many months before). You say “the Nazis blatantly abused their position”. What they were doing, for good or ill, was wielding the partial political power the 1932 “free elections” gave them—for the purpose of gaining the full political power they needed.
The effectiveness of these tactics is a matter of opinion. If they were reinforced by “massive electoral frauds” then the Nazis’ real gain was only small; as we pointed out, they received 43.9 per cent and were still dependent for their majority on the Nationalists’ support. We are astonished that you appear to dismiss any other factor in the voting. In January 1933 there were 6,000,000 registered unemployed in Germany. The Nazis had an extensive reform programme including the provision of jobs and security, higher prices for farm products to help the peasants, and legislation to help the small business man squeezed by She big concerns and banks. We think you are “preposterous” in treating these matters as having no bearing. Incidentally, the New Statesman on 11th March 1933 added something else: it attributed the Nazis’ victory to giving the electorate banners, uniforms and parades, and said the Social Democrats should have done the same.
The case stated in our December issue was that any group seeking power requires the support of the majority. Your letter supplies only further demonstration of that fact, even where you finally assert that the! Nazis made it by “trickery, terror and coup d’état” Trickery is the sine qua non of capitalist politics; but the terror and so-called coups required the acquisition of political power first. Indeed, you protest far too much. If these devices are all that is needed, why were the Nazis so anxious to get the majority of which— as you say—they “did not feel sure”?
Joseph nearly met Bretheren
I notice that one correspondent says that the interest of the paper has been enhanced by the upsurge in correspondence, and as I flatter myself that it was a letter of mine that assisted in that process, perhaps I might be allowed a semi-amusing comment in connection with your admirable article on Joseph. It refers to the fact that Sir Sheath (as Private Eye calls him) is vice-chairman of the family firm of Bovis. What it does not mention is that the firm ran into dead trouble and was only just saved by a take-over (at a bargain price) by the giant P & O shipping group. At the shareholders’ meeting of the latter needed to approve the deal, there was a vociferous opposition and the proposal was carried by a whisker. Had it been defeated, the shares of Bovis would not have been worth the paper they were written on and Sir Keith would have been class 5 at a stroke! It is worth noting that under capitalism, even capitalists cannot be always secure and prosperous.
Socialists go to other meetings in order to put the Party’s case. Being a Socialist for forty-five years, I have experience of reformist organizations such as Women’s Liberation Movement.
When I look back throughout my political life after the first world war, many of the reformist organizations of those times are no longer in existence e.g. British Socialist Party, and Herald League. For instance the Independent Labour Party at one time had two hundred Members of Parliament, but today they are hardly known.
In recent years CND which had thousands of supporters at the start now hardly exists.
About three years ago I decided to go to a Women’s Liberation Movement meeting which I saw advertized. Socialists of all people do like to listen to other meetings. The meeting was well attended, and approximately eighty per cent. of the audience were women. The chairman was a woman and there were five women on the platform. The meeting, which consisted of reading manuscripts went on for one and half hours, when two women in the front asked the chairman if questions were allowed. I also asked but was interrupted and shouted down by so-called communists, IS, IMG and others. I eventually decided to leave, as they obviously realized any questions I might ask would be regarding Socialism.
So, Jeanne Conn at least you had your letter published. Could I or any other member of the SPGB get a letter published in any of these reformist journals?
In reply to Paul Bennett, Chinese “history” is being continually rewritten to accommodate the current ideological fashion. Comrade Bennett may well be right in thinking that the official date for the transition to “socialism” is now 1949.
As the Chinese language is almost devoid of grammar, it is well-nigh impossible to render a literal translation either way between Chinese and a Western language. The point is that from its inception in 1921, and for at least the next ten years, the Chinese Communist Party was under the direct supervision of the Comintern in Moscow. It was the Russians who named it the Chinese Communist Party, rather than the Communist Party of China, thus implying a subordinate rôle for it unique among all the other national parties affiliated to the Comintern. For all practical purposes, the CCP was only a junior branch of the CPSU. It was left to the Chinese to translate the name which the Russians gave them into their own language.
Comrade Bennett is correct to point out that provincial officials in Imperial China were thin on the ground, and it was quite impossible for public works to be managed centrally. However, some were: for instance, the 1,500 mile long Grand Canal and the Great Wall were both maintained and constantly renovated by the central government. In the provinces, a system of indirect pressure and influence prevailed. The aim of the central government was to extract as much revenue as possible; it was usually wise enough to see that a prosperous rural community would produce the greatest revenue.
Although all officials were subject to periodic government inspection, and sometimes to investigation by the independent Board of Censors, their reports are generally unreliable and often give statistics which are obviously copied from previous submissions. To raise the allotted taxation, the government official had to rely upon the co-operation of the local gentry, and it is quite right that most of the local public works were implemented by local planning and local labour. This indirect approach went right through stage by stage from governor to village headman. But the initiative to promote public works might come either from local pressure or pressure from higher up. What the government wanted was revenue, and this was centrally planned; the actual raising of this revenue was left to a variety of interests to work out under the influence of Confucian harmony.
Of course there were a great many small market towns serving groups of villages in the countryside. Here the peasant came to exchange, usually by barter, his produce for the tools and utensils made in the town by the small family hand-craft workshop. There were also armies of pedlars selling small stuffs from the towns in the villages. Also in the small towns were the pawnshops, where the peasant mortgaged his land to the usurer landowner, to pay his taxes whenever the harvest failed. It was in the small market towns that the vast bulk of internal exchange took place right up to the revolution. City life, affecting less than ten per cent of the population was quite different, and was approaching very unevenly from city to city, something akin to the West. But from very early times, large-scale industry always was a state monopoly until the arrival of the Western capitalist. Salt manufacture, an essential nutrient for a basically vegetarian population, was a state monopoly from before Han times, and iron manufacture was brought under state control during the Han dynasty; many of the silk weaving factories, porcelain kilns and paper works were brought under state supervision. The state did not operate these works directly; the usual practice was to rent them out to a merchant agency for a period of years. All these large-scale industries were concentrated in very well defined localities.
Letters from A. Cox, F. Ansell, D. Brooks, C. Joyce, A. Labeck, B. Mestel, E. Morley and R. Ramshaw held over through lack of space.