? Essay, Research Paper
Why, by 1934, had the Nazis benefited more than the Communists from the shortcomings of the Weimar Republic?Adolf Hitler, head of the NSDAP, became Chancellor of Germany on the 30th January 1933. Following the ?legal revolution? of the following months and President Hindenburg?s death on the 2nd August 1934, Hitler made himself F?hrer and Reichskanzler. The Nazi revolution was complete and Germany was subject to a dictatorship of the extreme political right.
As Ian Kershaw explains, the Weimar Republic was failing: “the survival chances of Weimar democracy might be regarded as fairly poor by the end of 1929, very low by the end of 1930, remote by the middle of 1931 and as good as zero by Spring 1932.” In a period of Depression and when unity and firm government was essential, M?ller?s Grand Coalition broke up in March 1930. Logically, there were several political alternatives other than Hitler and the Nazis.
There could have been a return to parliamentary Party politics. There were some signs to show that democracy may have been revived. During the continuous utilisation of Article 48 to govern, the Reichstag gave their vote of no confidence in challenging the executive use of it. Also, a section of the public appeared to still support the Republic; the Centre Party and SPD continued to have steady support until 1932. However, it seems that any chances of democracy were ruled out. The political Parties were still inclined to pursue their own political interests when a united, broad and moderate front was needed. Two moderate Parties even defected to Hitler after the offensive from the right and Hindenburg made little effort to restore the influence of the Reichstag.
Alternatively, Germany could have become a presidential dictatorship backed by the army as von Schleicher or von Papen would have preferred. In order to do this, the authoritarian regime would have had to adapt slightly from what it was in 1932. The long-term use of Article 48, the emergency decree, would have been impractical and impossible. Perhaps the conservative elites were looking to Hitler for a new identity as they couldn?t return to the days of the Second Reich as well as thinking they could control his power. A military regime would have meant that there was no dominance from the extreme right or left of politics. Judging by the situation of Germany at that time, it was quite possible that this may have resulted in civil war.
So why was it the Nazis who came to power when there were so many other right-wing political Parties? Obviously, other V?lkisch Parties did not have Hitler, who emerged as a great orator and charismatic leader. The NSDAP had also adopted the use of modern propaganda techniques, had effective communication methods and a well organised structure of Party apparatus. Their violent exploitation of scapegoats, such as the Jews, appealed to the disillusioned and discontented public who were looking for extreme policies to bring Germany out of economic Depression.
This adds another argument. The German Communists, representing the extreme left of politics, had a substantial increase of support in the polls but why did the vote lurch so strongly to the extreme right as opposed to the left? The electoral breakthrough of the Nazis acted a significant reason why Hitler gained the Chancellorship and eventually absolute power. There are many factors that need to be considered when attempting to identify why the Communists were not as successful as the Nazis.
Firstly, it is important to divide the Left and Right into two different forces. There were several v?lkisch Parties who worked for similar means, but major divisions in the Left. Where the NSDAP were given a ?helping hand? by the DVNP, the KPD were constantly in competition with Parties from their side of the spectrum! The Communists caused the decline of the SPD, even calling them “social fascists” in 1929. In contrast, the NSDAP practically dismantled the liberal Parties!
The KPD was a well established Parties who?s popularity peaked in the 1920s. This was well before the Nazis became a widely acknowledged Party, who only achieved weighty gains in the election of May 1928. This was the period of the Great Depression, and also when extreme Parties started to pull votes. However, at this time, the Communists were the fourth biggest Party in the Reichstag and the NSDAP received less than three per cent of the franchise. By September 1930, the NSDAP were the second largest Party in the Reichstag, falling behind only the SPD. The Communists never developed as a mass Party like the Nazis and Hitler became especially worried about the KPD, recognising the Party as a huge source of opposition. The thoughts of William Carr confirm this: “(in September 1930) two out of every five Germans voted for Parties bitterly opposed to the principles on which the Republic rested.” This shows that two out of every five voters opted for the extreme Left or Right of politics. Hitler aimed to convert voters of the Left to voters of the Right.
The social and economic factors of the late 1920s and early 1930s should have, in theory, acted as an advantage for the KPD. The crisis of Depression could have suggested that capitalism was fundamentally threatened and that Germany could have experienced the revolution that eluded it in 1919. The Communists were confident that chaos would radicalise the working-class and pull votes, the little-known Nazis saw it as a God-sent opportunity to steal the limelight. The support that the Communists gained in the 1920s, in the form of strikes, demonstrations and votes, was more to do with ?knife and fork? issues than a genuine desire for political change. Hitler most definitely made the most of the situation and changed strategy to fit the changing conditions of the country. He noted early on, after the Munich Putsch, that the NSDAP would not gain power using coercion policies. Soon after time in prison to gather his thoughts, his strategy changed to one of ?legality?. The Communists expected things to happen in Germany like the way the Bolshevik Revolution occurred in Russia in 1917. They also changed to legal means but had no method of delivering the rest of the strategy. They looked to Moscow too much for advice, but in Germany the proletariat did not unite to overthrow the Government as in Russia. Therefore, they were following a ?plan? that had worked in a country completely different to their own!
Although Communism was well founded, it did not really have a solid reputation. The general feeling regarding Communism was fear. An English newspaper, The New Statesman, reported on the 27th September 1930 that “young voters (in Germany) find the Communists too sectarian and Russian.” The Nation, an American newspaper in 1936, later published that Communism was “Russian”, “cruel”, “unindividual” and “anti-nationalist.” This may show why the Nazis attracted so many new voters, both young and old. The Marxist historian Franz Newman argues that Hitler got into power due to support from German industrialists, bankers and middle-class bourgeoisie who feared and exaggerated the threat of Communism. The NSDAP were a new Party, people did not know what to expect of them and looked to Hitler?s promises. Generally, the KPD were seen as more potentially dangerous than the NSDAP and many measures were put against them, both in Germany and abroard. The USA and UK invested in Germany?s relative prosperity during the 1920s, principally for the reason they did not want the country to fall to Communism following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The Bolsheviks were internationally feared and Russia perceived as a ?backward? country. When von Papen took over the Prussian government from the Communists in 1932, he avoided calling a General Strike in fear of it benefiting the Communists. Although there was considerable evidence, such as a confession, to link the Communists to the Reichstag Fire of 1934, there was special effort made to accuse them. Following this, they were eliminated from the next election which resulted in the Nazis gaining their long-awaited majority in Government.
The people in power, the conservative elite, did not side with the KPD, but with Hitler. In 1932, one German Communist wrote that Nazis were “protected by the state” and that the “police pay no attention to (violent) events and avoid confrontation with the Nazis.” Despite the possible bias, there is evidence to support this: in the early 1920s there were 376 political murders. Of these, only 22 were committed by the Left, the rest by the Right. Only ten of the murderers were brought to trial and sentenced to death, these were all from the Left whereas a Right-wing murderer would receive, on average, a four month prison sentence and a two Mark fine! Even the army had a strong bias to the Right. Typically, the Reichswehr comprised of soldiers who were former Freikorps members and had a particular Right-wing preference. This was highlighted in the Kapp Putsch of 1920 when the army refused to ?put down? the revolt claiming, “Reichswehr does not fire on Reichswehr.” Although the soldiers disliked the SA, they disliked the Red Front even more!
The paramilitary wings of the Parties played a significant part in the battle for power between the KPD and the NSDAP. In 1924, on Hitler?s release from prison, the Red Front were the stronger force of the two. Hitler recognised the importance of the fighting stating, “we will have to teach Marxism that Socialism is master of the streets.” A vital element of his ?legality? policy was that, in economic chaos, the unruly SA took on groups of Communists to stir up popular discontent. When the SA became out of favour with the army, and therefore the powerful conservative elites, Hitler won support by destroying the SA in the “Night of the Long Knives” and adding another paramilitary wing, the SS.
Finally, the KPD had no one like Hitler. Hitler was a charismatic, inspirational figure who many people viewed as an idol: the basis of the “Hitler Myth.” The KPD looked to Stalin for their inspiration and strategy, but in Germany, Stalin symbolised the communism that the public feared. Stalin looked to govern his own country and his policies were aimed for Russia, not the distant Germany. In hindsight, it would probably have suited Stalin to have Hitler in power as Stalin?s foreign policy was based around causing conflict between western capitalist states!
In conclusion, the Communists had many faults within their Party. Initially, they were off to a bad start with the tides set against them due to the international hatred of Communism and then increased this with their unrelenting desire to mirror Russian politics in Germany. Although their faithful voters remained steady and were unlikely to defect to another political alliance, they failed in attracting new voters with a commitment to Communism. As aforementioned, they remained distant and had no character like Hitler to relate to the public as a whole.
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