Friday, January 27, 2017

Learning About Fascism: Part I

In the current political climate, it seemed like a good time to compile some history about how fascism grew in Germany and how it was torn apart. 

For now, we start with German history - knowing how Germany got to fascism is key.

First of all, Germany didn't really exist until 1871 - it had been a series of loosely related nations, but was united after the Franco-Prussian War by Emperor William I and Otto von Bismarck. As a newly united country, politicians were ready to modernize Germany and become a respected nation. It began acquiring colonies in Africa and Asia, since that was the thing to do in the 1800s. They even began practicing genocide in the early 1900s in one of their colonies when faced with an uprising! 

Basically, from 1871-1914, Germany's focus was becoming an industrialized, modern nation that was well respected by the other major nations.

Then WWI came and the new nation showed just how much work it still had to do. Coordination was lacking, supplies were lacking, it generally went poorly for Germany as 1918 approached. This lead to a revolution in November 1918. Germany was declared a republic and Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated and left the country. Germany had multiple political parties and at the end of the revolution, the Social Democratic Party, or SDP, held the majority in the Reichstag as the Weimar Republic began its reign.

These Socialists were the ones who signed the Treaty of Versailles. Germany had zero say in the negotiations of the treaty and were threatened with the continuation of war if the treaty was not signed exactly as it was presented. The terms of this treaty:
  • Germany would accept total responsibility for the war.
  • Germany gave up large portions of its land, some of which had been acquired in the war and some which had been part of Germany before the war. This included Czechoslovakia, Moresnet, Saar, and parts of Poland.
  • Germany forfeited all colonies to the League of Nations and some of the Allied Nations.
  • Germany was forced to demobilize much of its military and the Rhineland was to be demilitarized entirely.  
  • Germany had to pay 20 billion francs in reparations to cover occupation costs.
There were a few other things and details to it, but this is the gist of it. Years later, the Allied Powers behind this would admit the measures were too harsh.

Many Germans were unhappy with the Treaty and the SDP for allowing it to be signed. The idea that Germany was entirely at fault for the war stung and the SDP had voted for the war to happen, only to turn around and sign such a harmful treaty? It didn't go over well.

Additionally, Germany was suffering in post-war conditions. The lack of colonies, as well as the loss of some of their lands, made it difficult for Germany to get raw supplies. Demobilization had caused a loss of jobs among soldiers, police, and weapons makers. The reparations combined with debt from the war to cause massive inflation. Imports were limited and expensive and the lack of raw supplies made it hard to export anything. Germany's most productive areas, which had a great deal of mines and factories, were occupied by Allied nations, and many people opted to strike as a form of resistance; unfortunately for the German government, they paid benefits for those on strike, further harming the economy. 

In response to this crisis, extremists parties began popping up. More extreme socialism grew, as did communist and fascist parties, inspired by the Russian Revolution.  One of those parties was the DAP, which became the NSDAP - the National Socialist German Workers' Party; it was not at all socialist and we know it as the Nazi Party. 

The DAP started in 1919 and grew out of military culture; in the Germany military in WWI, there had been a great deal of camaraderie and pride, with many soldiers returning feeling united. The Freikorps movement was racist, nationalist, and xenophobic, on top of still clinging to military culture; after the war, many continued to roam Germany, putting down Communist uprisings. The whole party grew as an alternative to Communism for the working class. 

Adolf Hitler came to the party in mid-1919 after being assigned to monitor the party by the military. But he became drawn in by the nationalism, the anti-capitalism, the anti-Communism, the unity, and obviously, the anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism was rampant...everywhere. Because it always has been. In 1920, the DAP became the NSDAP to have a broader appeal and Hitler made the infamous flag to represent them. His public speaking skills made him the public face of the party, his speeches growing large crowds.

By 1923, the party had created a fair sized following and attempted the Munich- or Beer Hall - Putsch; an attempted coup from November 8-9.  Two thousand or so marched on Munich, ending with 16 Nazis dead and many injured, including Hitler. Hitler was then arrested and charged with treason and he was delighted by the situation. The party got front page headlines, his trial gave him a public platform to discuss his platform, and he learned the benefit of gaining power through legitimate means, rather than through force. Even the time he spent in hail - just nine months - was a bonus, for it allowed him time to write Mein Kampf. 

However, the Nazi Party was banned after this attempted coup and Germany entered a Golden Era from the end of 1923-1929. There was a culture boom, politics and the economy stabilized, and Germany became a permanent member of the League of Nations; progression ruled the country. Meanwhile, after his release from prison at the end of 1924, Hitler quietly began rebuilding the Nazi Party. He agreed to only seek power democratically and accepted a ban on public speaking, which was finally lifted in 1927. The party became more open, accepting women and having a legal section and a civilian section. More leaders were appointed to help the party grow outside of Bavaria/Munich. 

Then in 1929, the Great Depression hits world wide. Germany may have even had it worse than America because Germany was still reliant on loans from American banks and institutions. The major parties of the time - the SDP and the Communist parties - couldn't agree on how to fix the economy, so no progress was made. Come the election of September 1930, the Nazi Party took 18.3% of the votes, the equivalent of 107 seats, making it the second largest party in the Reichstag behind the SDP. Hitler and his cronies used radio and airplanes to campaign and it turned out to be effective. 

Paul von Hindenburg had been elected president in 1925, serving a seven year term. He largely acted as sort of a constitutional monarch - he refrained from getting into party squabbles. He had also been retired and only ran for president under pressure. The solution was to appoint Heinrich Bruning as a sort of Chancellor. Bruning, a Centrist, had no majority to work with in the Reichstag, so he attempted to work separately from the Reichstag, with little success. Often they worked in opposition together while things for the average German continued to get worse.

In 1932, Hitler was officially able to be declared a German citizen - having denounced his Austrian citizenship seven years earlier - and therefore, he was eligible to run for office. He ran against Hindenburg, who was 84 and in questionable health. Hindenburg was again pressured to run, this time because many believed he was the only person who could defeat Hitler, a goal Hindenburg badly wanted. The race was still close, with Hindenburg only being declared the winner after a run-off election. And in July of that year, the Nazi party continue to grow, getting 37.4% of the Reichstag vote, easily making it the largest party present. Combined with the Communists, the right-government had 52% of the Reichstag and both refused to support the current heads of state. (The Communists continued to see the Socialists as their biggest enemy and vise-versa.)

In November of 1932, another election was called for and this time, while the right still held 50% of the Reichstag, the Nazi party dropped to 33.1%; the Great Depression was letting up, so support was shrinking. The Nazis had to act quickly.

Franz von Papen and Alfred Hugenberg had reached high levels of government and, after the November 1932 election, they urged President Hindenburg - with the help of industrialists and businessmen - to appoint Hitler as the chancellor. He was sworn in on January 30, 1933, alongside Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior, and Hermann Goring, Minister of the Interior for Prussia; these two other appointments gave Hitler control of most of Germany's police force.

The Reichstag, meanwhile, was still locked in a stalemate. Hitler called for new elections in early March, 1933. Miraculously, the Reichstag was set on fire on February 27, 1933. A Dutch communist was blamed and arrested for the fire and most historians agree that he did set the fire, but many still argue it could have been a frame job or he could've been hired to do it by the Nazi Party. Why? Because on February 28, 1933, President Hindenburg okayed Hitler's desire for the Reichstag Fire Decree - a decree that suspended basic rights and the need for trial before being imprisoned. Over 4,000 Communists were arrested and the Communist Party was suppressed from action. Meanwhile, the Nazi Party worked hard to push anti-Communist propaganda. Come election day on March 6, the Nazi Party won 43.9% of the vote; still not an absolute majority.

On March 21, the Reichstag held an Opening Ceremony in a church in Potsdam. There, Hitler proposed the Enabling Act passed, giving Hitler's cabinet the right to enact laws without Reichstag approval for the next four years; to ensure the law passed, all 81 Communist deputies and several Socialists were kept from the meeting. On March 23, the Reichstag met again at the Kroll Opera House to vote on the measure. After Hitler verbally promised to the leader of the Center Party that President Hindenburg would still have veto power, the Center Party backed the Act and it passed with only the SDP voting against it.

The dictatorship began.

The SDP was banned, with many members being arrested or sent to concentration camps. Jewish people who had not served in WWI were removed from civil positions. Trade unions, and eventually all other political parties were banned. The party was overrun with requests for memberships and had to suspend applications on May 1. Hitler's SA - a precursor to the SS - was purged on the Night of the Long Nights, with leaders being killed from June 30 to July 2 of 1934.

On August 1, 1934, Hitler learned that President Hindenburg was on his deathbed. He rushed the Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich through his cabinet, which merged the position of Chancellor and President into one upon Hindenburg's death. When Hindenburg officially died on August 2, Hitler was now the Chancellor and President and nobody could stop him.

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