Thursday, 10 November 2016

2016 = 1933?

The new German Chancellor addresses a crowd in January 1933

In the run up to November I kept stumbling upon antsy Democrats trying to drum up support, though weirdly this tailed off the closer we got to the 8th of November. One popular tactic was to remind everyone about a little nation called Germany and the year of our lord Nineteen Hundred and Thirty Three. Basically comparing the United States Presidential elections of 2016 to the German Federal elections of 1933. The message being only a united vote can stop Fascism.

This argument has been used in the UK in the early to mid 2000's when the BNP vote was on the rise and they got a few council seats too.

The Election of 1933

This argument is simply false, the rise of Nazism in Germany really had little to do with the elections of 1933. At best NSDAP's vote share help cement an already established government. The elections were held on the 5th of March 1933 and here's the results.


Votes % Seats +/–
National Socialist German Workers Party 17,277,180 43.91 288 +92
Social Democratic Party of Germany 7,181,629 18.25 120 –1
Communist Party of Germany 4,848,058 12.32 81 –19
Centre Party 4,424,905 11.25 73 +3
Black-White-Red Struggle Front (DNVP)[a] 3,136,760 7.97 52 +1
Bavarian People's Party 1,073,552 2.73 19 –1
German People's Party 432,312 1.10 2 –9
Christian Social People's Service 383,999 0.98 4 –1
German State Party 334,242 0.85 5 +3
German Farmers' Party 114,048 0.29 2 –1
Agricultural League 83,839 0.21 1 –1
German-Hanoverian Party 47,743 0.12 0 –1
Socialist Struggle Community 3,954 0.01 0 New
Workers' and Farmers' Struggle Community 1,110 0.00 0 0
Invalid/blank votes 311,698
Total 39,655,029 100 647 +63
Registered voters/turnout 44,685,764 88.74

So yes the Nazi's did very well staying the largest party and increasing their vote share. However as you can see they didn't get an outright majority and the second and third parties the Social Democrats (SPD) and Communists (KPD) were in vehement opposition. But really it didn't matter much either way, since Hitler had already been Chancellor since the 30th of January that year, and already begun co-opting the German state machinery by staffing it with Nazi members and sympathisers, and had already launched a campaign of terror and repression throughout the nation against his enemies.

Ernst Thalmann the leader of the KPD was already under arrest as were around 4,000 senior party members including the Reichstag members. The Reichstag Fire Decree passed six days before the election had effectively made the party virtually illegal, and Hitler's large army of SA storm troopers (Over two million members by 1932) had been hard at work with the assistance of the German police the elections were no barrier to the Nazi regime.

In addition to direct collaboration from some police forces, Hitler had appointed 50,000 SA members as "Hilfspolizei" ("Auxiliary Police") officers who worked with regular police.
In Prussia Herman Goring had become Interior Minister giving the Nazi party direct control over the largest police force in the country and he wasted no time turning the territory into a police state smashing all public opposition to the Nazi party.

 In keeping with the purpose and aim of the decree the additional measures … will be directed against the Communists in the first instance, but then also against those who co-operate with the Communists and who support or encourage their criminal aims… I would point out that any necessary measures against members or establishments of other than Communist, anarchist or Social Democratic parties can only be justified by the decree … if they serve to help the defense against such Communist activities in the widest sense.
Within the next two weeks (so before, during and after the March 33 elections) the Nazi party moved to replace the interior ministers of the other German states with party members and Prussian style repression was quickly repeated throughout the nation. The main target was the KPD but as Goring made clear in his instructions to the Prussian police the entire German labour movement was also a target.

And of course all newspapers supporting the KPD and its "allies" like the SPD Vorwärts or the pro Trotsky Permanente Revolution newspapers were banned.

The Enabling Act

The focus of some who raise the spectre of 33 isn't the election itself but on the vote for the Enabling Act amendment to the Weimar Constitution. The act helpfully made much of what Hitler wanted to do legal, and therefore further consolidation of his power. Though it should be kept in mind that Hitler was a man in charge of a party that embarked on an armed uprising in 1928, and had carried assault, murder and intimidation on a national scale for years, so clearly legalism wasn't a deal breaker for him and his mates.

But Hitler did consider the passage of the act important enough to negotiate with others, so let's assume defeat in the hall would have been a concrete blow to the Nazi's. How likely was such and even with a united SPD/KPD opposition slate?

Hitler needed a super majority or two thirds of the new Reichstag, and as we've seen from the vote table above, they didn't get that many seats. But here's the problem, the Nazi's were not alone. NSDAP had entered into a coalition with Conservative DNVP giving it roughly 51% of the seats. It then entered into agreements with all the other parties in Reichstag including the fourth largest Catholic Centre party to get the votes needed to pass the act. So could a united Left part block this coaliton?

The answer is no, assuming like the Nazi's did that a vote for the SPD would go to the KPD or vice versa if one of the parties wasn't on the ballot and the two parties vote share's would be combined totally in this united front, (kinda unlikely given the two parties history of hostility) their vote and seat share would have been less one third at around 30%. Of course that's assuming all these elected members would have been allowed in. In reality no KPD members were allowed there to vote, they were busy fleeing or being arrested. The only party that opposed the act was the SPD and not all of their 120 members voted against it either, the vote was 444 in favour and 94 (all SPD members)  against. The over 26 members were in the chamber because they were also being targeted by the Nazi's for repression.

And to refer briefly to 2016, this hypothetical argument is the one thing that 2016 and 1933 have in common. There was a de facto united front against Donald Trump even numbers of Republicans broke ranks to side with the Democrats who had the support of the CPUSA. And it still didn't matter, this united electoral front failed miserably.  And in 1936 the Popular Front slate in Spain successfully defeated the right wing parties in the elections and all that happened was that the right wing launched a coup attempt and when that failed resorted to launching a full scale civil war.

So if we were to travel to another dimension where the only difference was in Weimar Germany the SPD and KPD formed an electoral coalition nothing much would've changed. If anything it would've been worse as both parties would have been repressed far more quickly and the vote on the Enabling Act would have been 444 in favour versus 0 against. But lets again for the sake of argument assume that somehow the Enabling Act was defeated, why would this mean the defeat of Hitler? It mess his plans up that's true but he survived the humiliation of the crushing defeat of his Putsch in Munich when the Party was practically non existent. In 1933 he was already Chancellor and also in charge of the German police force and was using it and his private army to destroy his enemies. Why would he stop doing this, is it not more logical to assume that in order to ensure his party remains in power that the repression against his enemies would increase?

The Nazi party didn't come to power due to lefty infighting, it came to power because the German state preferred Fascist thugs to the possibility of  socialism. The Nazi's didn't get to make their seizure of power constitutional because the German worker had to choose between two parties, but because all other major political factions in Germany preferred militaristic nationalism to pro Moscow Commissars and lefty reformers. And that all feared the power of the German working class which for better or worse was represented by these two organisations, at least in the state and federal legislatures.

The real lesson to be taken away from 1933 is that voting is not an effective weapon to fight Fascism. In pre Fascist Italy, Mussolini only four seats in the parliament before and yet he managed to seize power too. The same thing occurred in Spain, the Popular Front won the elections and yet by 1939 the Fascists were in power.

The Lesson that Should be Learned from 1933

There is however an important lesson to be learned from the rise of the Nazi party and its fellow travellers, and that is what actually is an effective way to fight Fascism. The Nazi's didn't officially ban the KPD from standing in the March 1933 elections, instead it focused on attacking its physical structure. It didn't view KPD as an electoral threat but a physical one, and indeed street fighting between the KPD and the Nazi's was a cause for concern for the Nazi party. In addition to the KPD and SPD the Nazi's were quick to target groups that didn't even stand in the elections. The Freie Arbeiter Union (FAUD) an Anarcho-syndicalist union that had already gone underground in 1932 was also targeted for repression with its leading members imprisoned or driven out of the country by the Gestapo. The FAUD believed the best way to stop the Nazi's was to mobilise a general strike, a tactic which did succeed in defeating the Right wing Kapp Putsch in 1920.

Up to the rise to power of the
Nazis, the worker Franz Bungert
was a leading member of the
Duisberg FAUD. Without even
the pretence of a trial, he was
interned in the concentration
camp of Boegermoor in 1933. After a year he was freed but was put under perma-
nent surveillance. His successor was Julius Nolden, a metalworker then unemployed
and treasurer of the Labour Exchange for th
e Rhineland. He was also arrested by the
Gestapo, who suspected that his activity in a Society for the Right to Cremation(!) hid
illegal relations with other members of the FAUD.

In addition Hitler also moved to smash the German Trade Union movement. By May 2nd Trade Unions ceased to exist in Germany. 

Hitler proclaimed May Day, 1933, as a national holiday and arranged to celebrate it as it had never been celebrated before. Trade union leaders were flown to Berlin from all parts of Germany. Joseph Goebbels staged the greatest mass demonstration Germany had ever seen. Hitler told the workers' delegates: "You will see how untrue and unjust is the statement that the revolution is directed against the German workers." Later that day Hitler told a meeting of more than 100,000 workers that "reestablishing social peace in the world of labour" would soon begin. (19)
The next day, Hitler ordered the Sturm Abteilung (SA) to destroy the trade union movement. Their headquarters throughout the country were occupied, union funds confiscated, the unions dissolved and the leaders arrested. Large numbers were sent to concentration camps. Within a few days 169 different trade unions were under Nazi control. (20)

 Again the emphasis of the Nazi's was to attack and disrupt and destroy the enemies physical organisations. The main concern of Fascist movements is their opponents ideological opposition and physical abilities. The FAUD was small and weak by 1933 and it was still hunted down and destroyed by the Nazi state. The Trade Unions were broken up because they represented a potential obstacle to Hitler's restructuring of the German state and economy.

And this wasn't a quirk of the Nazi's either, over in Italy in the 20's similar events were happening.

  It was from this moment onwards that the state moved on the offensive and Mussolini’s ‘revolutionary action’ squads were supplied with enough arms to take to the streets.
Until the formation of the AdP, the fascists had things mostly their own way. Starting off with an attack on the town hall in Bologna, the fascist squads swept through the countryside like a scythe, undertaking ‘punitive expeditions’ against the ‘red’ villages. Following their success there, they began attacking the cities. Labour unions, the offices of co-operatives and leftist papers were destroyed in Trieste, Modena, and Florence within the first few months of 1921. As Rossi writes, they had “an immense advantage over the labour movement in its facilities for transportation and concentration…The fascists are generally without ties…they can live anywhere…The workers, on the contrary, are bound to their homes…This system gives the enemy every advantage: that of the offensive over the defensive, and that of mobile warfare over a war of position.”**

 It is in physical confrontation and mobilisation by the labour movement that the key to the defeat of Fascism lies. A general strike brought down Kapp's nationalist putsch in 1920. The arming of the Spanish working class delayed the rise of Fascism for three years, and in Italy the only effective opposition to Mussolini's mobilisation of the Black shirts was the Arditi del Popolo. And the isolation and rejection of the AdP in favour of electoral schemes was the leading cause of the victory of the Fascists in Italy.

However, just as the AdP was building up the momentum on the streets, they were betrayed by the PSI who were more interested in signing a pact of non-aggression with the fascists; this at a time when the fascists were at their most vulnerable. Socialist militants were forced by their leadership to withdraw from the AdP, while the CGL union ordered its members to leave the organisation.
One union leader, Matteotti, confirmed the sell out in the union paper Battaglia Sindicale: “Stay at home: do not respond to provocations. Even silence, even cowardice, are sometimes heroic.”
The communists went one step further by forming their own pure ‘class conscious’ squadrons thus decimating the movement further. According to Gramsci, “the tactic…corresponded to the need to prevent the party membership being controlled by a leadership that was not the party leadership”. Quite soon, only 50 sections of 6,000 members remained, supported both by the anarcho-syndicalist Unione Sindicale Italiana (USI) and the anarchist Unione Anarchica Italiana (UAI).
A number of these sections went into action again in September in Piombino when the fascists, who had burned down the offices of the PSI (the same organisation that had sold them out a month before), were intercepted by an anarchist patrol and forced to flee. Piombino was soon to become the nerve centre of the defence against fascism, defending itself a further fascist onslaught in April 1922, before finally succumbing after one and a half days of fierce fighting, when the fascists, aided by the Royal Guard, were able to capture the offices of the USI.
In July 1922, the reformist general strike to defend ‘civil liberties and the constitution’ marked the final disaster for the labour movement, as the work stoppages were not, and could not be, accompanied by aggressive direct action. The fascists simply ran public services with scabs and made themselves masters of the streets. With the strike’s collapse, the fascists mustered their forces to deal with the last remaining outposts of resistance, one of which, Livorno, succumbed to a force of 2,000 squadristi.
If 2016 in the US of A has any connection to Germany 1933 or Italy 1922 etc Its  as yet another example of the futility of ballots in opposing reactionary movements. Fascists  and their fellow travellers are dangerous people, and we owe those who have already fallen fighting them to stop repeating the mistakes of the past.

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