In his book, Fascism, Richard Griffiths discusses how this word is an over-used term in its modern sense, specifically discussing how it relates to the ideas of: “authoritarianism, to ‘control freakery’” and how it can also “imply violence, extremism or racism; or the term can be applied to the political Right in general.” Griffiths adds that these and a “wide range of other attributes, however, made up ‘fascism’.” (Griffiths 1) Following World War One, the rise of fascism intensified in Germany, specifically, due to their nationalistic pride. When Hitler rose to be chairman of the Nazi party in 1921, Germany was angry at its pride being knocked and its losses; they demanded to regain their nationalist pride. Hitler appeared as a young politician who quickly rose through the ranks due to his charisma and ability to captivate crowds with his speeches. Before Hitler’s power over them, the party were known as the German National Socialism party but their title became the ‘Nazis’ because of the emphasis on this sound at the start of the German word for ‘national.’ (Payne 147) This implies Hitler’s influence within the party; their increase in fascist attitude as a result of his leadership. However, the question was whether the Nazi’s could succeed in assuming leadership of Germany at all and in truth, their success was precarious: “While conventional historians generally explain the rise and success of the Nazi Party by 1933 in terms of the combination of diverse social, economic and political factors…” (Madden & Mühlberger 288). The implication of this being that there was the slimmest of opportunities which Hitler and the Nazi party took full advantage of. Two central arguments that concern themselves with Hitler’s rise to power belong to two sets of theorists: the intentionalists and the structuralists. Intentionalists put a lot of weight on Hitler’s personal impact on German politics whereas structuralists focus more on the idea stated above: Hitler and the Nazi party taking advantage of a slightly extraordinary set of circumstances in Germany. Hitler’s role within proceedings is the subject of this essay with a view to exploring his prevalent he was and whether German fascism could have succeeded without him.
Adolf Hitler was adored and spoiled by his Mother and encouraged by his Father to work for the Austrian government (Haugen 18). He was brought up to believe that he was wonderful and could do anything he liked: like all good parents would, except Hitler took this to absolute extremes and his belief that the German Aryan race were superior drove him to lead Germany into an extreme Right, fascist era of politics and of course, to war. In 1933, Hitler was appointed as German Chancellor and President, after winning 88% of the votes. Hitler once said “How lucky it is for rulers that men cannot think” (Whitehead 37) but clearly the German voters were aware of his policies when they voted for him: “Nazi literature, including statements of the Nazi plans for the future, had papered the country for a decade before Hitler came to power.” (Whitehead 37) This fact implies that Hitler’s role in the rise of fascism was fairly minimal. Structuralists state that Hitler’s role was simply as a charismatic figurehead who helped to sway public opinion of the party with his incredible speeches. The fact that the German public would have been made aware of Nazi policies for years before Hitler’s control of the party, suggests that the rise of Fascism was owing to a number of broader factors – such as the economic, political and social status of Germany, following the First World War. This is compounded by the fact that Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf sold over two-hundred thousand copies during 1925 and 1932: the book served as Hitler’s “blueprint for totalitarianism” (Whitehead 37) and its popularity demonstrates the public demand for radical thought and action. It would seem that Hitler simply enabled Germany to take their first major step towards fascism, rather than creating the idea himself. To structuralists, Hitler was merely the poster boy (albeit an evil, driven, tenacious one) for fascism in Germany, rather than its founding father.
On the flip side of this, intentionalists argue that Hitler orchestrated the rise of fascism in Germany and the mass murder of the Jewish race. Their argument focuses on the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitic attitude was in existence long before he came to power (Mein Kampf is littered with examples of this (Williamson 234)), and that Hitler “systematically moved to implement [his definite ideas] once in power” (Nicosia & Niewyk 72). It is fair to argue that Hitler’s fascist notions were fuelled by his hatred of the Jews and demonstrated by their genocide. In 1935, Hitler pushed for the Nuremberg Laws which pertain to only three, short clauses. The most relevant of which was: “Only a German subject of German or related blood who proves by his attitude that he is willing and fit to serve faithfully the German nation and reich is a citizen.” (Warburg 81) These laws basically meant that there were “subjects without political rights and citizens without political rights” (Warburg 81) meaning that the Jewish people, along with the other ‘enemies’ of Germany (the Slavs, for example) were classed as being ‘subjects’ and had their political rights removed in their entirety. This meant that Jews were no long allowed to vote, and therefore they lost control of their own ability to alter the path of Germany’s fascism. Intentionalists argue that Hitler orchestrated this so as to maintain his control of Germany, implement his anti-Semitic opinions. This feeling of control (or rather, the lack thereof) was intensified by Hitler’s Enabling Act of 1933. The official line was that it would be an act that would be for “removing the distress of the people and the Reich” (The History Place) although in reality, any distress was being caused by the Nazi party themselves in a bid to secure the need for such a law. The effect of this law was to confirm Hitler’s role as dictator of Germany. Intentionalists view this as an orchestrated mission which aimed to further remove the public’s political rights and ensure that Hitler’s status as dictator was vindicated in the eyes of the German public. Arguably, the Nazis pushed and pushed until they had absolute control and this is, in effect, the bottom line of the intentionalist argument. Hitler and the Nazi party also carried out a series of political executions, known as ‘The Night of the Long Knives’. These executions removed the threat of various political groups who opposed Hitler’s regime and their street-based violence threatened to affect his popularity and his grip on power (Harvey 27).
It is important, when discussing why fascism rose in popularity within Germany, to consider the various social, economic and political factors which also contributed to the atrophy of German democracy. In terms of the political factors, fascism first became prominent in Germany, in 1919 as a disorganised series of political parties. After the official groupings on the National Fascist Party (PNF) in 1921 and the National Socialist Worker Party (NSDAP) in 1925, the movement really gained a foothold and a following. (De Grand, p 10) Following World War One, there was a lot of public German unrest because the war had ended with an armistice that was declared on allied territory, which made Germany appear to lose face; they hadn’t even needed to be invaded properly to admit defeat. This resulted in the German public morale being at an all-time low. When Hitler came along, he represented a brighter, prosperous Germany of the future and the public leapt at the chance to improve their social and political standing. This was all compounded by Germany slumping into economic depression following the First World War. As a direct result of the war, Germany was in a “state of emergency” due to inflation and the demobilization of the economy (Bessel 91). The economic strife felt acutely by the German public also led to a lot of people feeling unhappy and Hitler and the Nazi party presented them with an alternative, brighter future with a more prosperous economy.
The two opposing views of Hitler’s role in the rise of German fascism both demonstrate one, central fact: Hitler did not decrease the speed of its rise in popularity. His speeches and charisma were enrapturing to the jaded German public and he posed as a very real opportunity for Germany to return to its former glory (both financially and politically). As with so many things in life, Hitler was in the right place at the right time and seized his opportunity, although intentionalists would oppose this idea: the German public were immensely dissatisfied following World War One; their anger grew into a demand for a higher status; Hitler was there and provided them with that chance. Structuralists would argue that the various factors allowed for Hitler and the Nazis to ‘fall into place’ with the German political scene of the time, whereas intentionalists argue that Hitler’s hatred for the Jewish people was what determined him to become President of Germany in a bid to exterminate their race. Ultimately, Hitler’s role in the rise of German fascism was a valid one which enabled Hitler to meet his own ends whilst satiating the German public’s demand for a higher political status. The facts are clear that the rise of fascism in Germany was due to a wide range of factors, and Hitler was one of those.
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