The potential limits to Hitler’s power were considerable. it must be remembered that Hitler was appointed as chancellor of the Weimar republic and as leader of a cross-party cabinet that included only three Nazis: Hitler as chancellor, Wilhelm frick as minister for the interior and hermann goring as minister without portfolio. the vice-chancellor was to be Franz von papen and other parties of the right were well represented. Hugenburg of the DNVP was put in charge of the Economics Ministry and Franz Seldte of the stalhelm was made minister of Labor.
The establishment that had brought Hitler to power held the reins of power and did not expect to lose control. the most powerful politician in Germany in 1933 was president Hindenburg, and Hitler had to work with a number of powerful establishment figures from the newly appointed vice-chancellor von papen to the soon to be president of the reichsbank and economics minister hjalmar Schacht. Behind von Hindenburg’s power was not just his prestige as president but the army, which, although still at the size set by the Versailles agreement, was highly influential. he new chancellor’s scope for action was also constrained by the power of institutions from the Reichstag to local government. the civil service, churches and press all stood as potential barriers to the nazification of the political system.
Hitler’s sworn ideological enemies on the left wielded considerable power through the trade unions. in many urban areas, such as Berlin, the Nazi vote in the general election in November 1932 was as low as 22. 5 per cent (as opposed to a national figure of 33. 1 per cent). ust as the Nazis had risen from obscurity to power on the back of considerable discontent with the political system’s inability to deal with Germany’s economic problems, so the Nazis now had to deliver (or at least be seen delivering). As with nearly all governments, Hitler’s regime would be primarily judged on the state of the economy. for many within Germany’s politically important middle class, the violence and thuggery of elements of the Nazi movement was of deep concern.
For the Hilarity regime to establish broad political consensus, it needed to be perceived to be legitimate. law-abiding and respectable. so the obstacles to the creation of a Nazi dictatorship were many, and, on first inspection, seemingly insurmountable. Even from within the Nazi movement, Hitler faced pressure from the SA and radicals to implement the Nazi revolution. Enduring obstacles Despite these significant obstacles, the Nazi regime had, to a considerable le extent, consolidated power by the end of 1933. There were a number of reasons: There were high levels of collaboration of individuals and institutions with the regime because there were aspects of that government that they recognised and supported.
This will be studied in greater detail in the next unit. The Nazis deployed propaganda effectively as a means of deceiving the political nation and beyond both of their real intentions and the significance of their actions. They managed to use terror and violence with efficient ruthlessness. The use of violence was balanced by the attempt by the attempt to ensure that the consolidation of power had the veneer of legality. the Nazi leaders were pragmatic ion their understanding that their revolution had to be achieved by legal means for it to be acceptable to the vast majority of the German population.
Those who believed that they had ‘tamed’ Hitler and his movement were to be proved very much mistaken. Although his ‘Appeal to the German People’ broadcast on 1st February was conservative in nature, the Sa began to wreak revenge on the enemies of National Socialism. A decree in Prussia (which had fallen under the jurisdiction of Reich Commissioner Goering) 21 days later resulted in the police being reinforced by ‘volunteers’, i. e. the SA. The widely perceived threat of a communist seizure of power is the crucial factor in explaining how the Nazis were able to quickly undermine the constitution of the Weimar Republic.
It also explains why so many non-Nazi groups were prepared to go along with the initial phase of Gleichschaltung (coordination). the national community promised by Hitler before and after becoming chancellor on 30th January 1933, the strength of the communist movement in Germany and its potential to challenge the Nazis was real. In the two elections of 1932, the Communist Party had seen its share of the vote increase from 14. 3 per cent in July to 16. 9 per cent in November. on the streets the red front fighter’s League matched the SA. The socialists were even stronger.
Their paramilitary wing, the Reichsbanner, dominated the streets in a number of towns and cities in Germany. In the election of November 1932 the socialist SPD party received 20. 4 per cent of the vote. In his speech to the nation from the Sports Palace in Berlin on 10 February 1933, Hitler made it very clear that it was his intention to destroy the ‘Marxist threat’ of both communism and socialism. Failure of the left The failure of the communists and the socialist movement to challenge Hitler’s chancellorship was due to their misreading of the situation. he communists believed that Hitler’s government would not last. their ideological beliefs led them to conclude that Hitler’s appointment as chancellor signified a crisis in the capitalist system that would inevitably lead to political and economic collapse and the victory of communism in Germany. therefore, they concluded, the best tactic was to do nothing and wait. This was despite clear provocations: The appointment of 50,000 SA, SS and Stalhelm (nationalist paramilitary0 members as auxiliary policeman on 22nd February led to a wave of violence against communists and socialists across Germany.
On 24 February the police raided and ransacked the head office of the KPD. Hermann Goring claimed that evidence was discovered during the raid that pointed to a communist conspiracy to seize power through force. The SPD leadership were unsure how to respond. to react violently would play into the hands of the Nazi leadership, which was clearly intent on undermining the ability of the socialists to function effectively as a political movement; the Nazis had already attempted to close down a number of socialist newspapers, and SA members frequently disrupted political meetings.
Equally damaging to the ability of the left to effectively oppose the Nazis was the split between the communist and socialist parties. Although many on the left argued for the creation of a ‘unity front’, there was no agreement on how this should be formed. Indeed, the hatred the communists had for the socialists was only matched by the hatred they had for the fascists. The Reichstag fire and its aftermath There is no doubt that Hitler believed his own propaganda that communists aimed to stage a takeover of power.
On the night of 27 February a young Dutchman, Marinus van der Lubbe, set fire to the Reichstag as a protest at the repression of the working class. Hitler and the Nazi leadership ignored the initial evidence that van der Lubbe had acted alone and concluded that the fire was the first act in the long awaited communist backlash. It gave the regime its opportunity to crush the communists and suspend a number of parts of the Weimar constitution. Most importantly, it gave the Nazis the opportunity to use legal means to begin the seizure of power.
Crucial to the seizure of power was the issuing of the emergency decree ‘For the Protection of People and State’ on 28 February. Interestingly, the decree was first suggested by Ludwig Grauert, who was an advisor to Goring and as much a nationalist as a Nazi. The rights of freedom of speech, a free press and freedom of assembly enshrined in the Weimar constitution were suspended, and the police were given powers to detain suspects indefinitely without reference to the courts. The important clause 2 of the decree allowed the cabinet to intervene in the government of the states (Lander) that, together, formed Germany.
This power was previously the prerogative of the President, and the clause marked a significant shift in power. Immediately Gobbels ensured that the Nazi propaganda machine portrayed the decree as a necessary step in the battle against communism, and, for that reason, it was widely welcomed. The decree is a very good example of how the Nazis were keen to ensure there was a legal front to their activities despite the fact that in reality the decree signalled the collapse of the rule of law.
Indeed, Hitler stated explicitly in a cabinet meeting on 28th February that the struggle against the communists ‘must not be made dependency on judicial considerations. ‘ in the coming months his words were adhered to as the decree was used to justify the arrest, imprisonment and often torture of thousands of political opponents. The leader of the KPD, Ernst Thalmann, was arrested on 3 March, and 25,000 political prisoners were in custody in Prussia alone by the end of April.
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