It is a natural inclination of human beings to try to pin the responsibility for a catastrophe upon some one who may appear to have been responsible. The natural inclination is to indict somebody and thus to find some relief from the pain and disappointment caused by the catastrophe.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the tragic collapse of German democracy and with it of the German Social Democracy, its chief bulwark, has provoked a welter of wild resentment against those who are seemingly responsible for this collapse, especially in the light of surrender without battle of all their positions.
Such resentment has proven to be quite useless. For we Social-Democrats are too honest to pounce upon the first person upon whom we can lay hands and slaughter as a scapegoat. We leave such conduct to the National Socialists. They know only too well the art of finding scapegoats for every catastrophe.
Was the Social Democracy the only party that collapsed without offering any resistance at the decisive moment in the early months of 1933? Did not the Communists, the pristine-pure revolutionists, free of any vestige of “reformism,” present the same picture? And what about the Centrists at the other extreme? For years they had fought against Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, until they had forced him to capitulate. Today they bow before Hitler without the slightest sign of active opposition. Nor should we forget the German Nationalists, so militant and warlike, who controlled the army and the powerful Stalhelm, the war veterans’ organization. They too permitted themselves to be hurled into oblivion without any attempt of serious resistance.
When seen from this broad, objective angle, the problem of the German Social Democracy becomes the problem of the German people. All its component classes and elements have for the moment lost the capacity for resistance against its oppressors. As regards the Hitlerites themselves, on the other hand, we can say what Tacitus said of the aristocrats of the Roman Empire: ruere in servitium. They rushed gladly into slavery. They demanded to become slaves of the “Leader.”
Are we to conclude, therefore, that all elements of the German people have lost the capacity to assert their right to freedom? Are all Germans so cowardly, so unwilling to make sacrifices for a common cause? And yet, it was the same German people who in the war had asserted themselves with immense heroism against overwhelming odds! Whence, then, the seeming fear and cowardice of all classes and parties in Germany?
Such a general development cannot be attributed to the false tactics of any single party or to the mistakes of individual leaders. On the contrary, the conduct of individual leaders is determined largely by the sentiments of the people as a whole. It would be erroneous, however, to regard the sentiments of the moment as reflecting the natural make-up and character of the people. They are merely the consequence of the special circumstances which have brought about this profound degradation of the entire nation.
The prelude to this degradation was the war and the particular part played therein by the German people. The exhaustion into which the German people fell as a result of the war and post-war developments supplied the soil for counter-revolution.
Such exhaustion of large sections of the population has always served as the basis for counter-revolution. At the beginning of every revolution we find joyous expectation and stormy enthusiasm on the part of the broad masses, inspired by the belief and conviction that the end of their sufferings is near. In the course of its development every revolution leads, however, to conflicts between the various component parts of the revolutionary elements, of the classes and parties who brought about the overthrow of the old regime. To this internecine strife of the revolutionists are added struggles with the representatives of the old regime, who sooner or later begin to develop a new resistance. In the meanwhile, the advantages of the new regime cannot make themselves felt immediately. The revolution thus brings not the peaceful enjoyment of its conquests but ever new conflicts and the necessity of new efforts. The revolution thereupon appears to have failed to fulfill its promise. To be sure, it represents great strides forward, but it fails, nevertheless, to satisfy many revolutionists, and it devours, as it proceeds, its own best and most devoted children. Weariness and disappointment overcome many elements of the people in place of enthusiastic confidence. The democratic republic appears to be useless. Such was the general opinion of the workers of Paris after 1794 as well as after June, 1848. Amidst such sentiments the counter-revolution raised its head.
This was the case in the great French Revolution, as well as in 1848; and now we find a repetition of it after the revolution of 1918. The last mentioned revolution is not characterized by any particularly rapid advance of the counter-revolution On the contrary, the revolution of 1918 is distinguished from previous revolutions by the length of time required by the counter-revolution to assert itself victoriously.
The revolution of 1789 found its termination in 1794 The counter-revolution began immediately with the fall of Robespierre, i.e. five years after the outbreak of the revolution. The revolution of 1848 was suppressed within one year. The democratic republic in Germany maintained itself, however, for fifteen years, from 1918 to 1933. It held firm for ten years, until the outbreak of the world economic crisis, despite the fact that from the very beginning it had much greater difficulties to contend with than did the French Revolution.
The causes of the collapse of the German Republic may be summarized as follows:
The great French Revolution came under conditions of peace. The humiliation and exhaustion of military defeat did not rest upon the French people. They were able to devote all their fighting strength to the Revolution. The German Revolution of 1918 came at the end of a war which had brought the German people to a condition of unprecedented exhaustion.
Added to this was another important factor. The French Revolution soon found itself at war with the monarchs of Europe, whom it finally vanquished. However internationalist we may be in our sentiments, we are compelled to admit that the national enthusiasm of a people who repels the attacks of foreign adversaries constitutes a tremendous propelling force. A revolution is greatly strengthened when it combines revolutionary with national enthusiasm. This was a factor that proved of great help to the Bolsheviks in 1920, who drew new power from the war with Poland. It strengthened greatly the French Revolution after 1792. Of course, in the end democracy is the loser under such an awakening of the warlike spirit, even when the revolutionists emerge as the victors.
In contrast to the French Revolution of 1789, the German Revolution of 1918 sprang from the horrible misery of the war. In addition, it was compelled to accept a most humiliating and crushing peace. The monarchy unleashed and lost the war, but the monarchists deserted before the conclusion of peace. The ignominious and ruinous peace treaty of Versailles was the consequence of the policy of Kaiserist Germany. But the signing of the inevitable peace treaty the monarchists left to the republicans.
In the eyes of those politically illiterate masses who prefer to look for scapegoats rather than for the causes of events, the Social Democrats appeared to be most responsible for the peace treaty.
The force of national sentiment which had so strengthened the revolutionary elan of the first French republic had the opposite effect on the fate of the first German republic. The democratic victor states did everything they could through the conditions of peace which they had imposed upon the German Reich to rouse the national feeling of the German people against the republic which had been compelled to accept those conditions. Nor did the victor states permit the German people to return to a state of calm. This was done through the imposition of insane reparations payments, which, in turn, provoked the inflation and Ruhr occupation, both equally ruinous in their political and economic effects. The consequence was a repetition of the situation created by the war. A German reactionary cabinet permitted itself to be drawn into the Ruhr conflict, unleashed the inflation, thereby bringing Germany to the abyss, and deserted at the decisive moment, leaving it to the Socialists to clean up the mess piled up by Messrs. Cuno and his confreres.
Hardly had the worst consequences of reparations been overcome and the reparations themselves eliminated, than the world crisis made its appearance, affecting all countries, but none so severely as Germany. This was the decisive factor in Hitler’s victory.
In this connection, and as confirmation of our point of view, it is important to keep in mind the political effects of the economic crisis in many other countries, where it led to the overthrow of existing political regimes, whether democratic or dictatorial. It brought about the collapse of the Labor Government in England, the Republican administration in the United States, the dictatorial regimes in Spain and several Latin-American countries, and more recently of the Machado government in Cuba.
In July, 1932, only a minority of the 20,000,000 wage earners in Germany were fully employed; 7½ million were without jobs and 5 million were on part-time work.
No less eloquent are the statistics of the trade unions, Showing unemployment of only 8.6 per cent among the organized workers in 1928, the last year before the crisis, as compared with 46.1 per cent in March, 1933! In 1928, part-time workers comprised only 5.7 per cent. In March, 1933, the figure was 23.4 per cent. (In February it was 24.1 per cent.) Fully employed in the critical month of March were only 30 per cent of the organized workers!
It is not necessary to emphasize how deadening the effect of such a situation must be upon the power and fighting spirit of the workers. But the crippling of the masses cripples also the leaders. At the recent international Socialist conference in Paris some delegates took the position that it would have been better to have died on the barricades than to have permitted ourselves to be slaughtered. This is, no doubt, true. It must be remembered, however, that those fighting on barricades are confronted with the necessity not only of showing courage themselves but of rousing the courage of those behind them. Those who feel that the masses are animated by a sense of power and bold revolutionary daring will naturally develop an initiative quite different from that of leaders who perceive that they who stand behind them are a thin, hesitating line who have already admitted defeat, before they could possibly reach the barricade. Whether a general assumes the offensive or maintains a defensive position, whether he seeks to give battle or to avoid it, depends much less upon his own physical courage than upon the condition of the troops under his command.
Add to the situation the split between the Social Democrats and Communists, which, in the final analysis, was also a consequence of the World War, and assumed particularly large dimensions in Germany, and we are compelled to admit that in no other country have the workers since the war, and to a large extent as a consequence of the war, been subjected to so much suffering. Nowhere have the workers been compelled to pass through so many struggles, economic, social and political, nowhere have the workers faced such a corroding ordeal as the workers of the German Republic. I do not believe that the Social Democracy of any other country would have behaved differently under similar circumstances. The energy generated by the German Social Democracy during the period of 1918-1933 has not been fully appreciated abroad for the simple reason that conditions in Germany expressed themselves only occasionally in explosive form, as during the Kapp putsch, whereas the general situation was one of a prolonged, stubborn contest for power, without dramatic sensations, and failed, therefore, to find proper appraisal.
When one considers the circumstances under which the German Republic came into being and the persistent sapping of the strength of its best defenders, the German workers, who had already reached a high point of exhaustion as the Kaisereich collapsed and the revolution began in November 1918, there need be little wonder of the triumph of the counter revolution, as it triumphed finally after 1789 and 1848. The remarkable thing is that this triumph came only after 15 years of struggle.
It may be argued that even if this be true, there still remains the fact that the Social Democracy had pursued a mistaken policy and thus opened the door to the calamity.
It is quite true that “the policy of the lesser evil” of supporting Hindenburg for the presidency against Hitler and tolerating the quasi-dictatorial government of Bruening as the last available bulwark against Nazism, did not avert the ultimate greater evil and that it proved a failure.
In the situation which developed under the historic circumstances outlined above there were but two roads open for the Social-Democrats – the road of either the lesser evil or that of the Communists, which would have led inevitably to the greater evil. The Social Democratic policy at least made possible the averting for a time of the greater evil, the Hitler dictatorship. Had the Socialists followed the policy of the Communists, the Socialists themselves would have put Hitler in the saddle.
Many German Socialists now declare calmly they had made a mistake in supporting the policy of the lesser evil. They have no reason, however, to don sackcloth and ashes – certainly not until it is demonstrated that any other policy could have averted the Hitler dictatorship. Should they have made a revolution? He who demands this does not know that revolutions are possible only under certain circumstances, above all only under conditions of an upward activist surge of the masses. Had a revolution appeared to have the slightest chance of success, the Communists would have surely tried to make one. Unfortunately, the masses can succumb to such a state of paralysis as to render even the most optimistic hopeless and incapable of action.
But am I not preaching a policy of hopelessness? Not at all. On the contrary, it would be much more discouraging to admit that the Social Democracy could have been victorious in the duel with Hitler if its leadership had been better and bolder. Are we to assume that all the important leaders of the Social Democracy were either cowards or idiots? And what should we think of the workers of a democratically organized party which kept such incompetents for fifteen years at the helm of its organization and gave them blind obedience? What can we expect of such workers in the future?
Quite different is the impression created by emphasis of the fact that the German Social Democracy succumbed to the counter-revolution only after 15 years of most stubborn resistance, in the course of which it was called upon to fight an overwhelming combination of enemies, ranging from the Communists to the People’s Party, the German Nationalists and the National Socialists. The causes of the defeat of the German proletariat must be sought not in any defects peculiar to it as a “race” but in the cumulative effect of unfavorable and ultimately annihilating difficulties arising from a special combination of historical circumstances. These circumstances brought about the victory of the Hitlerites.
In pointing out the injustice of condemning the German Social Democrats for their failure to put up a forcible resistance against Hitler, I again wish to emphasize that the condemnation of the Social Democracy on this point would have to apply with equal force to the German Communist Party, whose voting strength was greater than that of any Communist Party in other countries.
At times this party was almost as strong as the Social Democratic Party. (In November 1932 the Communists had almost six million votes, while the Social Democrats rolled up slightly over seven million.) In view of such tremendous mass support it is useless to look for individuals to put the blame on; one must search for deeper causes. How did it happen that thirteen million proletarians permitted themselves to be disfranchised without offering violent resistance?
This attitude of the workers appears all the more strange when one contrasts it with the fighting spirit they displayed in a previous attempt to impose a dictatorship upon the German nation, namely the Kapp putsch of 1920. The occupation of Berlin by counter-revolutionary troops was answered with a general strike of such sweep and power that in a few days the counter-revolutionary uprising was crushed.
Quite different was the conduct of the same parties and even the same leaders in 1933. This fact alone suggests we must look for the cause of the difference in conduct then and now not in personalities but in the dissimilarity of circumstances.
This dissimilarity is not difficult to establish. Those who took part in the Kapp rebellion of 1920 soon came to realize that they were an unsupported, isolated group in the nation. They wanted to bring back to power the very same class that had brought bloody war and terrible defeat upon the German people. In 1920 this fact had not yet been forgotten, hence the united will to fight back, which found its most powerful expression in the great general strike.
The Communists at that time felt so strong that they attempted to organize armed uprisings in the Ruhr and Vogt regions, which of course quickly came to naught. The social Democracy on the other hand could truthfully claim that in its effort to ward off dictatorship it had the support of the great majority of the German people.
The present situation is quite different. The Hitlerites came to the fore not as the result of a coup by a few regiments, but by steadily winning the favor of the masses. A mere handful before 1928 they very suddenly developed such vote-gathering powers that already in June of 1932 they became the strongest party, with 230 mandates. And their rise continued unabated, as the elections of March 5, 1933, Showed, resulting in almost half of the entire vote being cast for the National Socialists alone, and more than half for the National Socialists and their political allies combined.
This points to a profound change in the frame of mind of the people generally. And such a change is bound to affect all parties; no party can escape its influence unless the party is only a small sect whose power does not spring from the large masses.
Revolutionary parties are strong and often successful when they oppose a government that is universally hated. On the other hand, its sharpest weapons, such as barricades or the general strike, are useless when a party finds itself opposed not only by the power of the government but by the majority of the population. In such cases, if it undertakes a decisive struggle in spite of conditions it merely demonstrates a lack of understanding of the political situation.
Victories scored by counter-revolutionists during a period of civil strife signify not the beginning but the conclusion of a counter-revolutionary process. These victories are accounted for by the change of attitude of the broad masses of the people who have lost faith in the revolution or have even turned against it because they have been disappointed or believe their interests to have been endangered by it. Thus in 1848 many of the bourgeois, petty-bourgeois and peasant elements in Germany and France, who during the months of February and March were revolutionists, later turned counter-revolutionist. It was this change of heart that encouraged the reactionary elements, who in February and March had been in hiding or had fled from the revolution, to appeal to arms once more.
At first glance it may seem as though the work of “one lieutenant and ten men” was sufficient in July 1932 to destroy the entire German Social Democracy. In reality, however, it was the irresistible advance of National Socialist ideas and sentiments among the masses of the people that rendered ineffective the fighting spirit of the class-conscious proletariat, both Communist and Social Democratic.
Whence came that irresistibility? Did it come from the superiority of the National Socialist program, the higher moral concepts and intelligence of its champions, the greater courage and spirit of self-sacrifice of their followers? In all of these things the “Marxists” leave the National Socialists far behind.
Whoever wishes to learn the reason for the irresistible upsurge of National Socialist sentiment need only observe the date when it began in Germany. Before the advent of the economic crisis the National Socialists were an insignificant group. In the Reichstag elections of 1928 they won only 12 seats. Two years later, however, they succeeded in increasing the number of their mandates almost tenfold, the number of seats captured jumping from 12 to 107. It was precisely these two years that saw the beginning of the world crisis. And this crisis everywhere brought revolutionary developments in its train. Revolutionary not in the sense that they favored the success of the Socialist-revolutionary parties, but in the sense that they rendered desperate the existence of large masses of people who blamed the governments or political parties in power for the misery brought about by the crisis and believed that they could save themselves by overthrowing those governments and parties. He who promised to bring about the overthrow most speedily and successfully was the right man for those masses, the man through whom they hoped to achieve their salvation, no matter what his program. The manner of reasoning of the rank and file of the population, wholly without political or economic experience and stirred to political action only by the war and its consequences, was militaristic, not economic. They thought that in order to secure the things they were most anxious to have all that was needed was the right kind of will and the necessary power to enforce it. The despairing masses completely disregarded the truth that there are economic laws without an understanding of which it is utterly impossible to plan measures for economic rehabilitation, just as they overlooked the fact that the crisis was international in character and, therefore, demanded international remedies.
These masses were striving not for knowledge but for power; power not for themselves – for they are fickle and have no faith in themselves – but for some individual leader of whom they could expect the most, that is to say the most successful championing of their personal interests.
In Anglo-Saxon countries like England or America the franchise law operates so that small political parties have no chance to assert themselves and political struggles are always transformed into a contest between two major political parties, so that the party that happens to be in power is held responsible for the economic situation existing. The party in office thus gets more than its share of praise in times of prosperity, but on the other hand is mercilessly condemned in times of depression.
This was responsible for the grave defeat of the British Labor Party in the elections of 1931, that party having had the misfortune of being at the helm of the government at that time. Compared with its record of the two years preceding it lost two million votes; the Conservatives on the other hand gained more than three million ballots. In consequence of the peculiar working of the franchise under which even a plurality assures victory, the losses or gains in mandates were even more striking. The Labor Party representation in Parliament was reduced from 288 to 50, while that of the Conservatives rose from 260 to 554. It was a veritable revolution brought about by the crisis, but not in the sense in which Socialists use, the term.
The same thing happened in the United States. In 1928 the Republican party was in power and the country happened to enjoy economic prosperity. The latter was regarded as the accomplishment of the Republican administration and therefore led to the election of Hoover, the Republican candidate, to the Presidency. But before any one realized it the United States too was in the grip of the crisis (1929) and that spelled the doom of the Republican party and its President. In the next presidential elections Roosevelt, a Democrat, proved victorious with a vote of 23 million over Hoover, who received only 16 million votes. Here, too, there was a revolution which, however, was not the outgrowth of a higher social conception but was rooted merely in the expectation that since the party in power failed to maintain the country’s prosperity the new administration would show a better record.
In the countries of continental Europe the prevailing voting system is that of proportional representation. It assures greater justice in the apportionment of mandates to each political party on the basis of its vote, but also facilitates the formation of small parties and thus encourages party splits. To this must be added the circumstance that in the countries which suffered defeat in the war there was a considerable growth of the proletarian parties, none of which succeeded in gaining a majority either of the votes of the people or in Parliament. Yet all of them grew strong enough to refuse to hand over their political influence and power to their opponents.
Coalitions with the most democratic of the bourgeois parties became necessary in order to save the German Republic and its hard won social acquisitions. On the other hand, as r result of the economic breakdown caused by the war and its consequences, and the insane peace treaty, circumstances favoring the formation of a purely Socialist government would have made its task difficult because of the lack of the support of a Socialist majority. Conditions became utterly unbearable with the setting in of the crisis, which sharpened the social contradictions to such an extent that it was impossible for the Socialists to remain in the government any longer. In March, 1930, the cabinet of Hermann Mueller resigned. Its place was taken by the Bruening cabinet.
The Socialist ministers without a Socialist majority naturally could not terminate the crisis. Those who expected the Socialists to do that should have at least granted them the necessary power by providing them with a parliamentary majority. To be sure, even then socialization measures would have merely mitigated but would not have entirely overcome the crisis. This could not be done by one country alone. There were, however, certain manifestations of the crisis that could have been avoided, manifestations from which by the adoption of proper policies based upon the understanding of economic laws the nation could have been spared. The ruling classes nowadays proceed upon the opposite principle: they aggravate those avoidable manifestations in that in every land they seek to shift the burden of the crisis to some other class and above all to the working class.
This could have been prevented by a Social Democratic government supported by a Social Democratic majority, and the masses of the people thereby saved a tremendous lot of suffering. But under the division of power then existing among the parties and classes in Germany the Social Democrats were not even in a position to beat off successfully the attack of the possessing classes upon the proletariat. The purely bourgeois cabinets made the evil even worse.
Large numbers of people, especially among the middle classes and including a great many workers, saw and felt the misery of the times very keenly. They rebelled against it. But in their ignorance they failed to see that the root of the calamity lay in the powerlessness of the Social Democracy, that it was necessary to help it achieve power. They lost faith in all the major political parties who took part in the parliamentary struggle and who sought to assert themselves in parliament and through parliament. They looked for the cause of the misery not in the balance of power of the political parties, not in the unfitness of the bourgeois parties, not in the lack of power of the Social Democracy, but in the parliamentary system itself. They were vexed with the image of political and social relationships as reflected in parliament. And they thought they could improve the image by breaking the mirror.
The crisis, which in England happened to strike the Labor Party and in America the Republican Party because at that time both were steering the ship of state, was utilized in some of the constitutionally governed countries of continental Europe in attacking parliament itself. Since parliaments exist, since in them the political life of the countries is concentrated, they must be blamed for all evils and their destruction made a prerequisite to something better But what shall be put in their place? The idea of a hereditary monarchy has become so obsolete that it finds but few adherents nowadays. Not a hereditary ruler, but a man from the ranks of the people shall bring the desired salvation.
Thus the idea of “democratic” dictatorship becomes more and more enticing to many unemployed, dispossessed and despairing elements.
There were in Germany three anti-parliamentary parties: the Communists, the German Nationalists and the National Socialists. Of these three parties the National Socialist Party at the time the crisis set in was the weakest. In 1928, as already stated, it had but 12 seats in the Reichstag, the Communists had 54 and the German Nationalists 73. Since then the Communists had grown rather slowly, while the German Nationalists had lost rapidly. The latter had been unable to compete with the National Socialists, who for the most part drew their support from the same elements of the population. The superiority of the National Socialists arose partly from the fact that although both the German Nationalists and the Communists were theoretically anti-parliamentary they had in practice associated themselves very closely with the parliamentary struggle in Germany, which contradictory conduct could not be laid at the door of the National Socialists, inasmuch as prior to 1930 they were numerically very weak in the Reichstag.
All the other parties, whether in the government or in the opposition, had become, in a parliamentary sense, worn out with time. This could not be said of the National Socialist party. It had all the lustre and allurement of newness. The National Socialist party was young and for that reason appeared to many superficial observers also handsome.
And as soon as the circumstances described above began to exert their influence there was added a new factor: success. Here, too, the old adage may be quoted: “Nothing succeeds like success.”
In order that the masses may believe in the dictator he must be successful. He must dispense power and must be believed to be capable of heroic deeds. The Communists, too, advocated a dictatorship, they too promised the starving masses heaps of gold. But their rise in Germany never assumed such proportions as to make one hope for immediate practical results. And the starving wanted bread immediately. They would not and could not wait. The German Nationalists, on the other hand, were not only sworn enemies of the workers to begin with, but by the time of the crisis had lost much of their ground. From the days of the Constitutional Assembly in Weimar up to 1924 they had been making steady progress. In 1924 they had 111 seats in the Reichstag. Then they began to lose. In 1928 their representation was reduced to 73. With the elections of 1’)30 their retrogression continued, the number of their mandates dropping to 41, while that of the National Socialists jumped from 12 to 107. It then became clear as to whom was to be given the confidence of those masses who expected their salvation to come from above, who distrusted “Marxism,” the proletarian class struggle, in other words their own power.
To the superiority of the National Socialists over the German Nationalists, which is based on the fact that in comparison with the latter the National Socialists represented a new and, parliamentarily speaking, unspent party, there was now joined the magic of success, the faith in their own power.
This is what made the National Socialists irresistible – not their program, for they have not as yet shown any ability to work out a consistent program.
Yet it was precisely this inability that helped them, as long as they were counted among the opposition parties. It forced them to draw their plans for the future in the vaguest outline, permitting them to make the most contradictory promises, pledging everything to everybody, to capitalists as well as to workers.
And what they now say about the future is quite in keeping with the conceptions prevailing among elements from which they draw their principal support, elements who are perishing in misery or are languishing in want and still are critical of the proletarian class struggle or shrink from it in fear. They are the peasants, the small shopkeepers and craftsmen as well as clerks and wage earners who have lost courage, and also those of the intellectuals to whom science (and it may be added also art) is not a means to intellectual advancement but merely a means of earning their bread and butter. Their “socialism” is of no consequence to industrial capital. Of this capital they say nothing. They are only anxious to destroy the “slavery of money interest,” and fail to distinguish between usury and credit. They rant against the department stores and the Jews, not against the functions performed by them. They storm against the competition of the Jews not only in commerce but in science and art. They likewise want to eliminate the competition of woman. Her activities are to be limited to the home.
The above outlined program is not particularly distinguished for originality. Fifty years ago this was the program of the anti-semites. The Democrat Kronawetter called it “the socialism of the fools of Vienna.” It corresponds to the intellectual level of philistines of all classes. Yet now the political situation favors its putting into effect so completely that the glib imbecilities which are uttered about all the things that have been achieved in the course of more than a century of social progress carry the day against better judgment. At the moment National Socialism enjoys its greatest propagandistic power. All the more so as ever since the war militaristic thought has proved victor over economic thought. To be sure, a farseeing warrior gives proper recognition to economic factors as well. But the soldier of limited abilities thoroughly believes in the omnipotence of force. The war and its consequences have done much to instill this child-like belief in large groups of people. And now the coarsest ignorance of the philistine is encouraged to provide guidance for the organization of the state and society without further study but merely on the basis of the philistine’s immediate needs.
These then are the factors responsible for the enormous propagandistic strength which National Socialism displays in Germany today. The most recent of these is the world crisis under conditions created for the German people by the world war and the treaty of peace. To this must be added the crippling of parliament, at a time when purposeful and vigorous intervention in economic life was most urgent, by a deadlock of parties and classes; the obsolescence of all the old parties; the disillusionment not only of the workers but of the lower middle class groups and intellectuals; the belief in the omnipotence of force, and the ignorance of a large portion of the population, especially the youth, with respect to social and economic matters, an ignorance brought about largely by the war and cultivated since.
These are the circumstances from which the belief in a dictatorship as the way out took its growth. The fact that the National Socialists have been spared the disadvantage of revealing their parliamentary inefficiency, as well as their limited intellectual outlook, an outlook which appealed to the ignorant masses, and their success in elections resulting therefrom, prepared the ground for that intellectual “Brown Shirt” pestilence from which we now suffer.
At the moment this is being written the rapidly growing popularity of National Socialism owes its existence essentially to the factors indicated above. But they explain only one aspect of its nature. There is another that is just as important. It originated not in the World War but in the treaty of peace signed at Versailles. This treaty compelled the German State to disband its armed forces and to reduce its standing army to the small body of troops represented by the Reichswehr. This might have been made the starting point of a general disarmament movement and hence the beginning of an economic revival in Europe. But the treaties made in 1919 brought a peace dictated not by reason but by force. A higher statesmanship would have called together a world congress at which all the powers, whether victor or defeated, belligerent or neutral, would have met on terms of equality to deliberate on new world policies made necessary or desirable by the outcome of the war, these deliberations to be later ratified by popular vote in the respective countries.
This would have been a great and sublime move; it would have brought enduring and happy peace to the entire world and would have made possible a general disarmament. The latter would have relieved the governments of great burdens removed economic obstacles and stimulated a rapid economic upturn throughout the world.
But the victors, blinded by war passions, limited by national selfishness, and guided by cowardice and demagogy, acted differently, sacrificing better judgment to the shortsighted immediate interests of ruling groups.
Under these circumstances national rivalries have continued, the armament race has not abated, and the world has achieved no peace. And least of all has peace been achieved by the German nation, so hard hit by the treaty of peace, especially its reparation clauses.
As a result, the enforced disarmament of Germany has had none of those beneficial effects which would have accrued from it had it formed part of a reasonable peace policy of the nations. It has indeed saved Germany from a worse fate, since without it the nation might have utterly collapsed under the staggering burden of reparations. But it created a new source of trouble in Germany.
It brought about the discharge of many army officers and privates unwilling to bow to the dictates of peace and find a place for themselves in civil life. These rebellious elements attempted again and again to organize themselves into illegal armed bands, the movement being greatly encouraged by the unsettled conditions in Eastern Prussia and adjoining regions, and later also by the occupation of the Ruhr.
These elements sought also to assert themselves politically. The most varied groups of extreme nationalistic persuasion came under their leadership. Ultimately they all united and since 1925 have been under the command of Hitler. From their ranks came the officers, the commanders, the instructors and the most active elements of the National Socialist Party, the rigidly disciplined storm divisions (S.A.) who form a separate army in the state. In a military sense they were no match for the Reichswehr and the state police. But they became a power as soon as they became aware of the Support of the masses of the population and a large Part of the government machinery. Even where the government officially frowned upon them, functionaries, judges and others took kindly to them. Numbering at first but a few thousand, they infected the ever growing multitudes of youths who flocked to the ranks of National Socialism with their enthusiasm or rather false enthusiasm for violence and coarseness and brutality toward any one who refused to do their bidding. On the other hand, they infected these multitudes with the mercenary spirit of readiness to sell oneself to any one who will pay the price.
In olden days, too, mercenary troops dismissed after the conclusion of a war often became a burdensome nuisance and a source of oppression to the peaceful population. The best known example of that we have in the so-called “Armagnacs.” The war between France and England which began in 1339 and lasted for more than a century was conducted by both sides with the aid of feudal levies and hired troops recruited from many lands and who in the course of the contest became more and more unmanageable. When the war was approaching its end and the victory of the French became assured, the king dismissed the mercenaries. But they refused to leave the country and made themselves at home in the most dissolute and cruel manner. They were named “Armagnacs,” for their leader, Count of Armagnac. In South Germany the name was corrupted into “Arme Gecks,” meaning “poor fops.” But in France a more appropriate name was chosen for them: “Fleecers.” They behaved in their homeland even worse than they did as disciplined troops in the enemy country.
One is reminded of these “fleecers” when one observes the doings of the bands of Hitler’s hirelings. Where the government not only does not restrain them but often supports them they destroy without pity everything that displeases them, and crush even the slightest manifestation of disapproval more ruthlessly than is done by the most thoroughgoing despotism. Conditions under Bismarck’s discriminatory law of 1878 were for us Socialists heaven compared with the present raging of the brown-shirted bands.
We can see thus that Hitlerism is a complex phenomenon One source of its power is the economic crisis. Due to this crisis, parliament, which could not terminate it, became unpopular among the middle classes now living in want, and also among unschooled, unorganized workers – the very same parliament which the capitalists hate because it offers too dangerous a tool for the Socialists to use against capital. To all these people the most acceptable thing is the reverse of parliament, namely, dictatorship.
And to that was added the rise of numerous bands, born of the peace of Versailles, who have entered into the service of the dictatorship, have become its chief instrument of power, and have left their impress upon the methods employed in maintaining that dictatorship.
If combined with the above two factors we have yet a third, namely, the possession of government authority, we get as a result a political and social power which no single party can effectively resist.
Last updated on 20.1.2004