February 3, 2017

1932. The Nazi Party Campaigns Ahead of the German Federal Election

The National Socialists Campaign for a "Third Reich"
Illustration by A. Paul Weber for the 1932 pamphlet "Hitler: ein deutsches Verhängnis" ("Hitler: A German Fate")
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in Italy and Germany prior to World War II. In 1932, Dr. Emil Lengyel wrote in The New York Times about Hitler and the Nazi Party's campaign platform ahead of the Reichstag federal election, arguing that the party had softened its extremist positions. Like other articles in the late 1920s and early 1930s, it shows how observers and political opponents underestimated the dangers posed by the Nazi movement.

From The New York Times, July 10, 1932:
The Slogans That Drew Germans High and Low are Tempered by The Prospect of a Mandate From the Voters of the Reich
As the new German elections approach there is a growing possibility that the Hitlerites may win control of the Reichstag. The following article points out that the nearer the Nazis come to the time for assuming responsibility for the government the less alarming are their attitudes: the once "unalterable" program is undergoing many changes through new interpretations.
Another electoral battle impends in Germany. This time the issue will be Hitlerism. The result of the election will show whether the Reich will continue under a constitutional government or openly join the dictatorships. A few years ago Hitler's followers were known as a small group of extremist zealots. Two years ago Hitler surprised the world by rolling up 6,000,000 votes. At the recent Presidential elections, although his opponent was Germany's national idol, President von Hindenburg, Hitler more than doubled his vote of 1930. Prussia, since the war the stronghold of republicanism, gave his Nazis (the National Socialists) the largest number of votes among all her political parties. Lately three other German States either went Nazi or polled unprecedentedly heavy votes for the Hitlerite cause.

Political opponents admit that after the next elections the National Socialists may represent the largest political party in the German Federal Legislature. Then again it becomes a pertinent question: What is the magic with which Hitler and his adherents have bewitched millions of Germans? How could they defy precedent and tradition by jumping to the fore in Germany's political life? In other words, what is Hitlerism?

The most popular definition of Hitlerism among the Nazis describes it as "the political expression of the spiritual yearnings of a great epoch." The movement is a protest against making a machine of man; it is an agency with which to create an ideal State of pure-blooded Germans.

The State Desired

But what is this ideal State to be like, this National Socialist "Third Reich"? It is prefigured as a State which may hope to see the resurrection of glories that departed from the Holy Roman Empire of the Hohenstaufens and from the Second Empire, the sad epilogue of which is now being enacted in Doorn. The Third Empire is visioned as the glamorous abode of pure-blooded Germans from whom all contaminating foreign admixture has been expelled. In this land there will be no difference between employer and employee, but all will live happily under the protection of the swastika, the National Socialist emblem. It will be a realm of strong authority in which a dictator will reign supreme—the fountain-head of all power and wisdom.

The three main parts of the Hitlerite program deal with the racial, economic and political aspects of Germany reborn. The superman of Nietzche's dreams is to give National Socialist Germany a racial unity. Members of the "inferior" races must be excluded. As a leader of the Hitlerites has declared, anti-Semitism is the spiritual background of the entire movement. Hitlerism assumes that the worst afflictions of the post-war period originated in non-Germanic blood. A strong sense of racial exclusiveness must take the place of the lack of race consciousness.

A New Attitude Required

On the basis of such racial unity the new economic structure of the Nazis will be reared. Germany must acquire an entirely new mentality. The advantages of capitalism must be combined with certain advantages of socialism. Most Nazi leaders maintain that unorganized capitalism has been discredited and is falling apart under the weight of its own derelictions. Socialism, on the other hand, has been guilty of stirring up economic clashes among the various classes. Out of the cross-breeding of the two social orders a third one will be born: Hitlerism.

Although capital will be maintained, its alleged abuses and excesses will be eliminated. This will be done by emulating Mahatma Gandhi—60,000,000 Germans girding their loins with hand-woven cloth. Complete economic independence is the aim, known as "autarkie," than which no Greek word is more popular among faithful Nazis. The capitalist world has been found wanting; it is deemed to have engaged in relentless efforts to thwart the work of reawakened Germany. The Third Reich will, therefore, endeavor to cut adrift. Imports will be restricted to a bare minimum. Nazi Germany will laugh at the resultant anger in other producing countries. She will not be afraid of retaliation, for, when self-sufficient, she will have no need of exports.

In their parliamentary practice the Nazis have proved that their bite is not so bad as their bark. Out of their voluminous economic program they have succeeded so far in carrying into effect only the project which forbids merchants to keep their stores open on Christmas Eve.

Inventors of Hitlerism

Toward their neighbors the Nazis will be impelled to assume a more tolerant attitude. Their baiting of France is no longer so virulent; attacks on other nations, too, will have to cease. Even now the more willing statesmanlike Nazis are willing to admit that the proposed alliance with Mussolini for the formation of a Fascist bloc will remain a chimera.

Although Hitlerism is supposed to involve a dictatorship, it is evident that the future program of the party will depend to a large degree on the contradictory forces of which it is composed.

Hitler takes credit for giving Germany a new ideal and a new hope. His critics point out that he has merely seized an opportunity, like an unscrupulous politician. It is added that every phase of the German movement has been evolved not by Hitler but by others. For the Nazi economic program Gustav Feder must bear the blame and praise. For the racial items—its most outstanding part in the eyes of many followers and foes—Alfred Rosenberg, the vociferous editor of the Völkischer Beobachter, has to answer. The very name of the party is not new, a National Social party having been in existence near the end of the last century.

What Hitler effected, in the words of his critics, was the popularization, even vulgarization, of the findings of his assistants. He calls himself the "drummer," the man with the strong voice, whose lack of modesty and of inhibitions had made him a stirring leader in a time muddled by complexes.

The movement of which Hitler is the leader is composed of princes as well as of beggars, and of all the intermediary social classes. The Hohenzollerns are represented with the former Kaiser's three sons, to one of whom, Prince August Wilhelm, popularly known as "Auwi," is attributed to the saying: "Where a Hitler marches a Hohenzollern need not fear to tread." The former German Crown Prince himself came out openly for the Nazis before the elections in Prussia.

The large number of princes in the party, representing several former ruling houses in the Reich, has given rise to the belief that Hitler is working toward a monarchistic restoration. The Nazi point of view is that "a good monarchy is better than a bad republic, while a good republic is better than a bad monarchy."

It has long been surmised that the dividing line between Nazis and Communists is not as sharp as their deadly hatred would indicate. After the Prussian elections a Communist paper reported that many followers of Moscow's faith had thrown their Bolshevist allegiance to the winds and voted for the party of Adolf Hitler. The numerous known conversions from communism to fascism and, less frequently, vice versa, have amply demonstrated the connection between the two movements.

In its international purposes the movement is a revolt against the Versailles treaty. It represents a belated reaction of the nationalist Reich against the Allied propaganda in the war, and the post-war campaign of the more intransigent part of French public opinion. It is the counsel of the Nazi policy of despair that the fetters imposed upon Germany must be cast away; her humiliation calls for a drastic remedy.

Germany must repudiate her obligations under the reparation settlements because the payment of this "tribute" is tantamount to the admission of her guilt. The slicing off of Teutonic territory aggravated the humiliation. The Hitlerite party program lays claim to all those of German blood whether they live in Austria or Poland, Czechoslovakia or Transylvania. Extremists even demand that at the forthcoming elections voting rights shall be given to the true Germans living in the United States.

Twelve years ago the party adopted a program of twenty-five articles which were declared unalterable. Contrary to this declaration, Hitlerism has undergone constant changes; on almost every important question the program has been radically altered. This lack of consistency may be due to a large extent to the discordant views among the leaders and in the rank and file.

Hitler is one of the leaders who insist on the nationalistic part of the program. The vitriolic leader of the party in Berlin, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, and those sympathizing with his views, underline the socialistic side of the party's work. The super-militaristic Junker sometimes sits next to the German kin of the Russian Bolsheviki at the council table of the National Socialists.

A Mellowing Viewpoint

It is beyond doubt that, as the party is moving toward power, the sharp edges of many of its views are becoming blunt. Even though Adolf Hitler refused to submit to cross-examination the other day on the ground that the lawyer of his opponent was a Jew his speeches no longer bristle with pointed references to the anti-Semitic cause. He lately went so far in his repudiation of racial exclusiveness as to assert in a public statement that "against honest Jews we have nothing to say."

In no part of the program is the modification of the Nazi point of view so pronounced as in the economic field. The party program provides for expropriation of trusts as well as of cartels, and opposes profit-sharing by employees of large concerns. Hitler has repudiated this part of the program by contending that it referred only to those concerns that failed to operate in the interest of the public weal.

Another section of the party program provides for the nationalization of large landed estates without compensation to their owners. Hitler has interpreted this provision to mean that compensation would be paid in any event and that only the land of companies engaged in speculation would be expropriated.

The same orientation toward conservatism may be observed in the changes of the Nazis' political program. The attack upon the parliamentary system has resolved itself into an effort to capture Parliament. "While we are at present revolutionaries," George Strasser, one of the National Socialist leaders, said the other day, "before we have taken over power we will prove ourselves conservers of the State in the best sense."

Whittling Down the Program

In foreign policy the same tendency toward moderation is becoming evident, although the official attitude toward reparations is unchanged. At the beginning, Hitlerism saw its foremost outside enemy in the French. Since, however, Hitler has come within sight of the seat of the might he has veered from his original course and in an exchange of letters with Gustave Hervé, the French nationalist, he made the statement that "Germany's cooperation with the French should not be impossible."

Indications are numerous that the repeal and modification of party intentions will be continued. When the time of reckless promises is past and the time of fulfillment draws near, the Nazis will advocate a strong militaristic State, but for defensive purposes only. They realize that their country is hopelessly outdistanced in the race for armaments. Their economic program will be whittled down to that popular panacea of the Hitlerite soap-box orator: the rejuvenation of the small trades at the expense of the mammoth stores.

Yet, the backbone of Hitlerism is a class which exists only in memory: the former German middle class. These millions of erstwhile white-collar workers and pensioners had shied away from the Socialists. Then came Hitler, with the assurance that in his party the middle class could retain its old-fashioned dignity. The middle class responded with enthusiasm to the Hitlerite attempts to organize it in the manner of the Socialists, without need of subscribing to the Marxian creed.

Fascinates the Women

Women have been among the strongest pillars of Hitlerism from its very inception. It was with the financial means furnished by a woman that Hitler was able to extend the scope of his work to untapped territories through the acquisition of his first party paper. At Nazi meetings the proportion of women in attendance is surprisingly large. Hitler has a fascination for Germany's weaker sex which it will be the task of the psychologist to analyze. This interest is all the more unexpected because the Nazis want to deprive women of their voting right and want to send them back to their kitchen work.

The influence of Hitlerism on German youth may be dealt with briefly. In recent months the Nazi tidal wave has all but engulfed the German universities. Liberalism has lost its last stand in the schools of higher learning. Through the schools national socialism penetrates homes which otherwise would be immune to it, and now the great battle of fathers and sons is on in many families where the parent refuses to yield to the new thought, while the son has become its missionary.

Hitler's role is full of contradictions and paradoxes. While he is a non-Nordic type, he has become the apostle of Teutonic superiority. An untutored Austrian, he has been elected by millions to teach the Germans, a nation of philosophers, what the new life is. A carpenter in his youth, he has made a bid for the place of Prince Bismarck.

About twelve years ago he met six men in the cellar of a beer hall, and he became the seventh member of an obscure political group. Today he leads millions. For his hearers, facing the worst, his crude eloquence exercises a sway which only a hypnotical power can explain. On the platform he can be just as inciting as he is unimpressive in a less formal pose. From America, which he despises, he has learned certain high-pressure advertising methods which had never been applied in Germany.

His enormously inflated ego gives him a self-assurance which serves him in good stead when he has to beat down opposition to his magnetism and his authority. Ordinary methods of gauging a political personality cannot be applied to him. He must be measured in terms of the mental phenomena which have produced great leaders and misleaders, men of genius and men whose only genius consists of making others believe that they are great. As a phenomenon of a distracted age, looking for salvation in all directions, Hitler deserves attention.