Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Banner Image

UE: POL 110-HA: Democracy in Troubled Times

Practical Instruction in Civic Discourse

The Takeaway - What You Need to Know

Communism -- Marx, Lenin & Stalin


http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-FjYsvyHbqdU/TpZ-e_ihgHI/AAAAAAAAInw/9kql53hiZ9k/s1600/karl-marx.jpg      Karl Marx & The Communist Manifesto

In November 1847, the London-based League of the Just commissioned Marx and Engels to write a manifesto for publication. Engels wrote the first draft: a policy-wonk's account of the contemporary industrial situation. Marx rewrote it, transforming Engels's policy paper into a powerful piece of political propaganda.

The Communist Manifesto begins with a paranoid shiver:

A spectre is haunting Europe-the spectre of Communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radical and German police spies.

Having hooked his audience, Marx explains that the fundamental problem with what he dismisses as “utopian socialists” is that they assume social change can be imposed on a society by well-intentioned members of the upper classes. He then provides in quick succession:

  • His new theory that history is a succession of class struggles between exploited and exploiters
  • An analysis of contemporary European society
  • A program for revolutionary action that bears a striking resemblance to that of Babeuf

At the end of 40 impassioned yet logical pages, Marx leaves his reader with the famous call to action:

“The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of all lands, unite!”

The final version was published in London in February 1848-just before the outbreak of revolutions began in France. Several hundred copies were distributed to League members, but the organization never bothered to put it on sale. By 1872, the Manifesto was translated into Russian and French and issued in three editions in the United States and 12 in Germany. Such was the origin of the Manifesto.

However much that state of things may have altered during the last twenty-five years, the general principles laid down in the Manifesto are, on the whole, as correct today as ever. Here and there, some detail might be improved.

The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and, for that reason, no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II. That passage would, in many respects, be very differently worded today. In view of the gigantic strides of Modern Industry since 1848, and of the accompanying improved and extended organization of the working class, in view of the practical experience gained, first in the February Revolution, and then, still more, in the Paris Commune, where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months, this programme has in some details been antiquated.

One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that "the working class cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes." Further, it is self-evident that the criticism of socialist literature is deficient in relation to the present time, because it comes down only to 1847; also that the remarks on the relation of the Communists to the various opposition parties (Section IV), although, in principle still correct, yet in practice are antiquated, because the political situation has been entirely changed, and the progress of history has swept from off the earth the greater portion of the political parties there enumerated.

But then, the Manifesto has become a historical document which we have no longer any right to alter. A subsequent edition may perhaps appear with an introduction bridging the gap from 1847 to the present day; but this reprint was too unexpected to leave us time for that.

 

The Philosophy of Historical Materialism

According to Marx, the only correct interpretation of history is an economic one. Historical materialism is the idea that a society's economic structure — whether it be feudalism, capitalism, or Communism — determines the nature of its cultural and social structure. So historical materialism leads to a kind of economic determinism.

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness,” he wrote.

Those who control the means of production control the culture, including all moral and religious ideas. It is the capitalists who own the means of production or control the mode of production and thereby control the ideas of humankind. Imagine a capitalist who runs or directs a publishing company. This person is in a position to control the ideas to which people are exposed and hence to influence and direct social and cultural developments. To use another example, the class in power can tolerate the speech and protests of members of the lower classes or they can choose to ignore them.

 

Vladimir Lenin and the Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution was the most important revolution of the 20th century, and was one of the most important revolutions in the history of the world.  I would place it as the third most important revolution after the American and French Revolutions. Like the American Revolution, and most other revolutions, the Russian Revolution was a revolution against economic oppression. In addition to this, the Russian Revolution started out as a revolution for democracy.  So, if the Russian Revolution started out being for democracy then what happened?

Russia came into the 20th century as an extremely oppressed country that was ruled by the Czars. Russia was a feudal dictatorship. The people of Russia were horribly oppressed, poor, starving, cold, and without any real direction or hope.  Essentially, Russia had never undergone the liberal revolutions that took place in Europe (starting with the French Revolution), which had established liberal democracy and capitalism there.  Russia remained as one of the last vestiges of Medieval European society.

Through acts of “terrorism” and rebellion a small group of revolutionaries overthrew the Czars. Then Russia went into a stage of anarchy and turmoil, out of which the Bolshevik Party of Lenin emerged as the dominant political force.

Lenin and many of the Bolsheviks were not in Russia at the time of the Revolution. Some of them were from Russia originally but had left, while some were not from Russia at all.  They were all Marxists and socialist revolutionaries that had been living in Europe studying science, economics, sociology, history, etc., from a Marxist perspective. 

The Bolsheviks did not cause the overthrow of the Russian government; they came in after the overthrow with the plan of putting Marxist revolutionary theory to practice.  Their plan from the beginning was to develop Russia in such a way as to spread social revolution throughout Europe and eventually the world. 

The biggest political opponents of the Bolsheviks in Russia, aside from the Czars, were the Mensheviks and Social Democrats, both Marxist groups who also supported Socialism, but were less militant.  What is important to understand about the Russian Revolution is that some of the biggest opponents to the Bolsheviks were other Communists.  The "brand" of Communism that was promoted by the Bolsheviks was by no means representative of all Communist ideology.   Bolshevik ideology was the least tolerant and most revolutionary form of Marxist ideology.

The Bolsheviks overthrew the remaining powers of the dictatorship in the October Revolution and began reforms by creating “Soviets”. Soviets were legislative assemblies of publicly elected officials that were to administer the activities of Workers, Peasants, and Soldiers.

In addition to launching an attack on private property they did something else that upset countries around the world, and that was to make public all of the secret information that was contained in the Russian government files. They exposed all of the secret treaties that the Russian Czars had made with various countries as well as other information that the Russian government had acquired through its own intelligence operations. They did this because they felt that humanity should progress through honesty and they wanted to expose the corruption of other capitalists countries as well as of the old Russian regime.

These actions only added to the international opposition to the situation in Russia.  After World War I was over 21 countries from all over the world, including America, began supporting a counter-revolution in Russia in an attempt to stop the Bolshevik revolution. At this time Russia entered a stage of Civil War between the Reds and the Whites.

The Red Army was headed the by Leon Trotsky of the Bolsheviks and the White Army was headed by the Czars and was supported by the international community. This conflict led to an increasing degree of stress on the Reds and caused the Reds to become more dictatorial and militant as a defensive measure. The path that they took during the Civil War was known as "War Communism. "

In 1918 American President Woodrow Wilson sent 12,000 American troops to Russia to fight on the side of the Czars against the Red Army.  Interestingly, the American forces in Russia suffered more attacks and problems from the White Army than from the Red Army.  The American commanders in the field reported that the Czarist reign of terror was far more horrific and disturbing that the actions of the Reds.  The American forces also discovered that the vast majority of Russians sympathized with the Bolsheviks and supported the revolution.  In the end, the American troops were brought home without any fanfare, and the ordeal was considered one of the most ill-conceived interventions in American history up to that time.  Major General Graves, who lead the expedition, was accused of being a "Red sympathizer" and was generally disgraced after the event.  

Two distinct views emerged from the Russian revolutionaries.  One was that Russia was incapable of undergoing a socialist revolution and that according to Marxist theory Russia would first have to establish a capitalist system to develop its economy.  During the time that Russia was developing its capitalist economy it was intended that socialist revolutionaries should attempt to promote socialist revolution in developed countries, particularly in developed Europe such as France and Germany, and America as well, which would all be supported by the Russia government.

The opposing view to this was that a socialist state should be forced upon Russia and that Russia should lead the world by example in the matter of socialism. Joseph Stalin was a major supporter of this idea of "national socialism", which was contrary to the views of many of the Bolsheviks, including Lenin and Trotsky, two of the major figures in the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Marxist theory of socialism stated that socialism would not be possible to support in a single country, but that socialism required a global revolution so that all countries could work together through the use of shared resources and shared labor in order to provide enough goods to satisfy the demands of all people. The revolutionaries were genuine in their desire to attempt to bring about this condition, which is why they made certain that Russia was to have a strong policy against imperialism. They felt that in order for a true social revolution to take place it would have to be won through education of the people not through the force of war.

In 1921 the Soviet Congress voted to institute a "New Economic Policy", known as the NEP.  Lenin was highly influential in the development of the NEP, which was largely a concession to capitalists and property owners.  The NEP allowed for the development of a free-market system and privatized production.  

 

Joseph Stalin Usurps Power

As Lenin’s health declined, Joseph Stalin, operating as General Secretary, took increasing control over the party, and at that time the democratic and open nature of the Russian system began to slip away. Stalin began removing his political opponents from the soviets and took on an authoritarian position.  Lenin tried to get the cooperation of Leon Trotsky to oppose Stalin but it was too late, Stalin had already consolidated too much power.  Prior to his death in 1924, Lenin not only warned against the leadership of Stalin, but he also urged that the Soviet system become more open and democratic.

By 1930 the NEP was officially ended, and forced collectivization began.  Under Stalin's leadership rapid industrialization took place.  Although Stalin's rule was harsh, the industrialization that took place during the 1930s shocked the world and the living conditions of most Russians did improve.

In 1934, at the 17th Soviet Congress, there was a vote against Stalin's leadership.   At the congressional sessions members voted for who they wanted to head the party by voting against who they did not want.   Stalin received the most votes against him.   However, Stalin had the loyalty of those who were counting the ballots and Stalin had the ballots against him destroyed.   It was Sergei Kirov who actually won the election.  Stalin then proceeded to have Kirov and most of the other 1300 members of the 17th congress (who were all Communists) murdered.    

After Stalin took power most of the Marxist revolutionaries were either imprisoned in Siberia, executed, exiled, or they fled the country. Many of the socialist revolutionaries that fled Russia when Stalin took power traveled to other countries and organized Communist political parties in an effort to spread social revolution. Stalin eventually had Leon Trotsky assassinated while Trotsky was in hiding in Mexico.

Germany Tried Democracy

http://libcom.org/files/imagecache/teaser/images/library/reichstag_33.jpg

Burning of the German Reichstag (Parliament house) 1933

The Weimar Republic - Germany Between the Wars

The years 1924-9 in Weimar Germany present one of the most tantalising 'might have beens' in history. In this period the Republic prospered economically, politically and in its foreign policy, and it is tempting to conclude that but for the intervention of the Great Depression of the 1930s Germany would have developed into a stable parliamentary democracy, and the horrors of Hitler might have been avoided. However a closer examination of the situation reveals otherwise, as this student believes:

The Weimar Republic was seen to be in a period of stability between 1924 and 1929. It was not only Germans that noticed that this was a high point for the Weimar Republic. William Shirer, an American journalist writes 'A wonderful ferment was working in Germany. Life seemed more free, more modern, more exciting than in any place I had ever seen'. Indeed it did seem as if the German economy was beginning to heal itself. Political recovery and apparent success in foreign affairs strengthened the belief that the Weimar Republic and Germany were becoming stable at last. However, as the Weimar Republic disintegrated almost as soon as the world depression fell, this so-called stability has been questioned. In comparison to the years before and after, this period was stable. Nevertheless, historians now agree that both political and economic recovery in Germany, and healthier foreign affairs, were all built on 'unstable foundations'. It is even thought that conditions were so bad by 1929 that the Weimar Republic may have soon collapsed without the onset of world depression.

Whilst the last sentence of this introduction perhaps overstates the situation, it probably is the case that Weimar Germany would have faced severe economic and political difficulties even without the world depression.

Economic stability?

The link between the health of the Republic and its economy is striking. It is no surprise that the Republic faced its most serious difficulties in times of economic hardship. There is an ongoing debate amongst economic historians concerning the strength of the economy in 1929, and lack of space precludes a detailed discussion here, but nevertheless the student is able to draw some general conclusions:

The stabilisation of German currency and the introduction of the Dawes plan in 1924 brought economic growth and affluence. The plan rescheduled German reparations according to her capacity to pay them. She was also granted a large American loan, and the plan also led to the evacuation of the Ruhr by French troops. Germany seemed to make a remarkable economic recovery in this period. In 1928 Gilbert Parker, an American financier reported: 'German business conditions appear to have righted themselves on a relatively high level of activity'. With regards to industry, Germany experienced boom conditions in this period. Iron, steel, coal the heavy industries managed to equal and sometimes even exceed export and out-put levels of 1913. This occurred through greater efficiency and improved technology, which brought about higher levels of productivity. This economic progress in Germany also led to increased wages. A social welfare scheme was introduced including pensions and sick benefits, which gave support to the feeling that the economy was recovering and the Republic was becoming more stable.

However, this recovery was not as real as it seems to be at face value. In 1926 production declined, and Germany's balance of trade was in the red. Unemployment was never below 1.3 million and was especially bad in the agricultural sectors. Unfortunately world conditions did not favour Germany, who depended on her exports, at a time when world trade was not high. However the most important factor in German stability was that Germany's economic well-being was dependent on and vulnerable to 'the investment whims of foreign capital'. The German government wanted to balance the budget, they wanted to boost the economy and they took on large social welfare schemes. Of course there was also the question of reparations payments. Therefore she was forced to rely on international loans generally from America. So, the 'recovery' of Germany's economy was only 'a false image of prosperity' (Layton). Her economy could not possibly be stable when it was tied so tightly to external forces beyond her control.

The high cost of Germany's social welfare programme, declining exports (as a percentage of GDP), lack of internal investment, reparations payments and rising unemployment were merely concealed by the high levels of borrowing from abroad. Whilst it would be unfair to say that Germany's economy would have collapsed anyway, even without the world depression Germany was facing an economic crisis by 1929.

Political stability?

The Weimar Republic's greatest weakness throughout its history was its failure to establish lasting political stability. From the disastrous association with Versailles, the 'stab in the back' and the 'November Criminals' at its creation, to the turmoil of its last years, the period 1924-9 stands out as a time when a stable political system seemed to be developing. However, not only was this stability unable to resist the effects of depression in the 1930s, its very existence was something of an illusion, as this student points out:

There not only seemed to be an economic recovery between 1924 and 1929 but it also seemed as if some form of political recovery was underway. The election results of this period gave people grounds to believe the long term survival of Weimar was a strong possibility. There was a notable decline of support for the extremist right and left wing parties. In comparison the parties sympathetic to the Republic gained seats, as in the case of the Social Democrats who held the majority 153 seats. Carr, however, rightly calls this an 'illusion'. He says 'Superficial prosperity and the growing international stature of the republic served to mask a state of chronic political weakness'. There was no progress made in the parliamentary and political system: the coalition governments did not enhance the credit of party politics in Germany, where the foundations of democracy were insecure. Their disagreements over trivialities such as the issue of the national flag or the creation of denominational schools only showed that 'there was no effective consolidation nor any significant sign of political maturation in particular the main democratic parties had still not recognised the vital necessity of working together in a spirit of compromise' (Layton).

The political system was undoubtedly weak in 1929. It had failed to establish itself in the hearts of the people, and this failure was not the fault of the constitution, as is often claimed, but of the politicians: they failed to capitalise on the opportunities offered by economic prosperity to establish democratic values strong enough to resist future crises. America suffered comparably to Germany in the depression of the Thirties, but its political system was never under threat. Germany's political system in contrast succumbed quickly even before the advent of Hitler, democracy was effectively dead with the appointment of Brüning's presidential government in 1930.

Foreign Policy

It is in the field of foreign policy that Weimar seemed to make the most progress in this period, yet even here the work of Stresemann, often hailed as the man who could have saved Weimar, had drawbacks:

Stresemann's main aim was to bring about a revision of the Treaty of Versailles. The Dawes Plan of 1924 and the Locarno Treaties of 1925 were seen to be diplomatic successes for Stresemann, who 'achieved a great deal... at very little cost' (Layton). Germany joined the League of Nations and the Kellog-Briand Pact was subscribed to. Pacts and Treaties such as these, including the Treaty of Berlin with Russia and reduced reparations in the Young Plan, led Germany to believe she was no longer the 'ogre' of Europe. However Layton aptly states 'His achievement was indeed considerable though by 1929 his policy had not lasted long enough or gone far enough to establish a momentum that could survive the very different circumstances of the 1930s'.

The problem with Stresemann's policy of revision was that by 1929 it had seemed to reach a dead end, and he himself was disappointed by its limits. There was a growing feeling inside Germany that a more dynamic approach was required. Certainly one of Hitler's most powerful attractions was his promise to overthrow the Versailles Treaty, and he won genuine popularity for his moves in this direction in the 1930s.

Conclusion

It should be obvious by now that the most that can be claimed for the Weimar Republic by 1929 is 'relative stability' in neither economic, political or foreign affairs had sufficient progress been made to enable the republic to withstand the coming storm:

By 1929 neither the economy nor the political system were stable. Prosperity in Germany was based on large international loans, and the economy was facing severe internal structural problems. There was no sign of political maturation by 1929. The parties had not learned to work together for the good of the country. In 1929 with the death of Stresemann came the end of stability in foreign affairs. Therefore by 1929 the Weimar Republic was not stable.

The importance of this conclusion should be obvious to those studying the rise of Hitler: the Great Depression cannot take all the blame.

Fascism - Mussolini, Hitler & Franco

The Munich Putsch

The Bavarian government defied the Weimar Republic, accusing it of being too far left. Hitler endorsed the fall of the Weimar Republic, and declared at a public rally on October 30, 1923 that he was prepared to march on Berlin to rid the government of the Communists and the Jews.

On November 8, 1923, Hitler held a rally at a Munich beer hall and proclaimed a revolution. The following day, he led 2,000 armed "brown-shirts" in an attempt to take over the Bavarian government. The small Nazi Party first won national attention in the Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923, when the Ruhr crisis and the great inflation were at their height. Hitler and his Nazis joined with General Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) and his conservative nationalist followers in an attempt to seize power in Munich. (The plot got its name because it was planned in one of Munich's beer halls.) Once they had taken Munich, Hitler and Ludendorff planned to use the Bavarian capital as a base of operations against the republican government in Berlin. The support that Hitler and Ludendorff expected to receive from some conservative Bavarian politicians failed to materialize, however, and the police easily suppressed the revolt.

Following the collapse of the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler and Ludendorff were tried for treason. In recognition of his services to Germany during the war, Ludendorff was acquitted. The conservative judges allowed Hitler to use his trial as a propaganda forum for his ideas. Hitler was convicted but sentenced to a term of only five years imprisonment at Landsberg where he would remain only 8 months. During his stay, Hitler put together the first part of his book Mein Kampf.


Hitler's Mein Kampf

Hitler served only eight months of his five-year term. While in prison, he wrote the first volume of Mein Kampf (2ed part was written in 1927-1927). It was partly an autobiographical book (although filled with glorified inaccuracies, self-serving half-truths and outright revisionism) which also detailed his views on the future of the German people. There were several targets of the vicious diatribes in the book, such as democrats, Communists, and internationalists. But he reserved the brunt of his vituperation for the Jews, whom he portrayed as responsible for all of the problems and evils of the world, particularly democracy, Communism, and internationalism, as well as Germany's defeat in the War. Jews were the German nation's true enemy, he wrote. They had no culture of their own, he asserted, but perverted existing cultures such as Germany's with their parasitism. As such, they were not a race, but an anti-race:

"[The Jews'] ultimate goal is the denaturalization, the promiscuous bastardization of other peoples, the lowering of the racial level of the highest peoples as well as the domination of his racial mishmash through the extirpation of the volkish intelligentsia and its replacement by the members of his own people," he wrote. On the contrary, the German people were of the highest racial purity and those destined to be the master race according to Hitler. To maintain that purity, it was necessary to avoid intermarriage with subhuman races such as Jews and Slavs.... Germany could stop the Jews from conquering the world only by eliminating them. By doing so, Germany could also find Lebensraum, living space, without which the superior German culture would decay. This living space, Hitler continued, would come from conquering Russia (which was under the control of Jewish Marxists, he believed) and the Slavic countries. This empire would be launched after democracy was eliminated and a "Führer" called upon to rebuild the German Reich."

A second volume of Mein Kampf was published in 1927. It included a history of the Nazi party to that time and its program, as well as a primer on how to obtain and retain political power, how to use propaganda and terrorism, and how to build a political organization. While Mein Kampf was crudely written and filled with embarrassing tangents and ramblings, it struck a responsive chord among its target and those Germans who believed it was their destiny to dominate Europe. The book sold over five million copies by the start of World War II.

Hitler's Rise to Power

Once released from prison, Hitler decided to seize power constitutionally rather than by force of arms. Using demagogic oratory, Hitler spoke to scores of mass audiences, calling for the German people to resist the yoke of Jews and Communists, and to create a new empire which would rule the world for 1,000 years.

Seeking Electoral Success: 1924-1929

In 1924, Hitler promptly reestablished the NSDAP in Munich. The party was organized according to the Führer principle: it was headed by the Führer, his deputy, and the national leadership with the Reichsleiter heading nation wide departments of the party. The regional political organization descended from the provincial level (Gau), to the county (Kreis), local district (Ortsgruppe), and cell (Zell) to the local bloc (Block). Party organizations, in part para-military, such as the SA (Brownshirt storm troopers), SS (Blackshirt storm troopers), HJ (Hitler Youth), and the BdM (League of German Girls), which were also organized according to the Führerprinciple, were closely linked to the party, as were the affiliated associations (DAF (German Workers' Front), NSV (National Socialist People's Welfare), and the professional organizations of physicians, teachers, lawyers, civil servants, etc.).

Rise to Power: 1930-1933

The Nazis gradually devised an electoral strategy to win northern farmers and white collar voters in small towns, which produced a landslide electoral victory in September 1930 (jump from roughly 3% to 18% of the votes cast) due to the depression. Refused a chance to form a cabinet, and unwilling to share in a coalition regime, the Nazis joined the Communists in violence and disorder between 1931 and 1933. In 1932, Hitler ran for President and won 30% of the vote, forcing the eventual victor, Paul von Hindenburg, into a runoff election. After a bigger landslide in July 1932 (44%), their vote declined and their movement weakened (Hitler lost the presidential election to WWI veteran Paul von Hindenburg in April; elections of November 1932 roughly 42%), so Hitler decided to enter a coalition government as chancellor in January 1933.

Upon the death of Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler was the consensus successor. With an improving economy, Hitler claimed credit and consolidated his position as a dictator, having succeeded in eliminating challenges from other political parties and government institutions. The German industrial machine was built up in preparation for war. In November 1937, he was comfortable enough to call his top military aides together at the "Führer Conference," when he outlined his plans for a war of aggression in Europe. Those who objected to the plan were dismissed.

Nazi Supporters

The Nazis won their support primarily from the lower middle class and the peasantry. These voters were strongly nationalistic in their political views and feared that the depression would deprive them of their standard of living. In religion, most of the Nazis' supporters were Protestants. German Catholics remained firm in their support of the Catholic Center Party.

Most of Germany's industrial workers continued to vote for the Social Democrats, which remained the largest party, with 143 seats in the Reichstag. However, many disgruntled industrial workers voted for the Communists, who elected 77 Reichstag deputies in place of the 54 elected in 1928.

There is little evidence to support the view that Hitler received substantial financial support from big business. The conservative upper classes generally regarded Hitler as an uneducated demagogue and gutter politician.

<http://www2.dsu.nodak.edu/users/dmeier/Holocaust/hitler.html> (1008/13)

Terminating Democracy

Nazi domestic policy can be broken into three phases beginning with 1933-34. During these years, Hitler consolidated his authority through the destruction of all other political parties, "coordination" of all aspects of German life, and the liquidation of dissent among Nazis and conservatives. After taking office as chancellor, Hitler quickly out maneuvered Papen and the conservative nationalists.

The Reichstag Fire, February 1933

A new Reichstag election was scheduled for early March 1933. Only a few days before the election, on February 27, the Reichstag building was partially destroyed by fire. The Nazis may well have set the blaze, but they blamed the Communists, charging that the Communists were plotting to seize power. Hitler convinced Hindenburg to take strong action against the supposed Communist threat, and the president suspended freedom of speech and the press and other civil liberties.

March 1933 Election

The Nazis stepped up their harassment of their political opponents, and the March 5 election was held in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Polling 44 percent of the votes, the Nazis won 288 seats in the Reichstag. With the support of their conservative nationalist allies, who held 52 seats, the Nazis controlled a majority of the 647 member Reichstag. The Nazi majority was even more substantial, since none of the 81 Communist deputies were allowed to take their seats.

The Enabling Act, March 1933

On March 23, 1933, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave dictatorial authority to Hitler's cabinet for four years. Armed with full powers, Hitler moved to eliminate all possible centers of opposition. His policy is known as Gleichschaltung, which translates literally as coordination. In this context, however, it meant more precisely subordination, that is, subordinating all independent institutions to the authority of Hitler and the Nazi Party.

It was the Enabling Act of March 23, 1933, which in a legal way conferred dictatorial powers on Adolf Hitler. Only 94 Social Democratic votes were cast against it. The date for its abrogation (see Article 5) was never kept. Indeed, the Enabling Act is the last measure which the Reichstag passed under the republican and democratic Constitution of the Republic. It spelled its end and the beginning of National Socialist dictatorship.

Article 1. Laws of the Reich can also be promulgated by the Reich government apart from the method prescribed by the Constitution.

Article 2. Laws decided upon by the government of the Reich can depart from the Constitution of the Reich, in so far as they do not touch the existence as such, of such institutions as the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the Reichspresident remain untouched....

Article 4. Treaties of the Reich with foreign powers which have reference to matters concerning the laws of the Reich, do not need the consent of the bodies which had part in the making of such laws, as long as this present law is valid.

Article 5. This law is in force on the day of its promulgation. It is abrogated on April 1, 1937; it is further abrogated if the present government of the Reich is replaced by another.

Consolidation of Nazi Power

In April 1933, the government abolished self-government in the German states by appointing governors responsible to the central government in Berlin. The states lost even more power in January 1934 when the Reichsrat, the upper house of the parliament, was abolished. The Reichsrat had represented the states.

In May 1933, the Nazis ordered the abolition of the independent labor unions. Both strikes and lockouts were prohibited, and a system of compulsory arbitration of labor-management disputes was established. All workers were compelled to join the German Labor Front, an agency of the Nazi Party, which was designed primarily to promote labor discipline rather than the interests of the workers.

During the spring of 1933, the Nazis moved to eliminate opposition political parties. In July, the Nazi Party became the only legal party.

Almost a year later, on June 30, 1934, Hitler carried out a purge that took the lives of a number of dissident Nazi leaders and other opponents. The exact number of victims has never been determined, although it probably exceeded one hundred. Ernst Röhm, the SA leader, was among these victims. The influence of the SA now declined, while that of Himmler's SS, which provided the executioners for the purge, increased. Himmler also controlled the Gestapo, the secret police created by the Nazis.

Following the death of President Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, Hitler abolished the office of president and assumed the president's powers. The members of the armed forces were now required to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler. This oath represented an important step in the establishment of Hitler's control over Germany's armed forces.

<http://www2.dsu.nodak.edu/users/dmeier/Holocaust/hitler.html> (1008/13)

Big Ideas, Essential Questions, and Higher Order Thinking

Class Debate

  • Why did so many people support the Nazis?
  • Why did communism fail?

VIDEO RESOURCES - Communism & Fascism