Eighty years later, could the Nazis have been stopped?

Very interesting talk hosted by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) found here.

A rough summary of this particular Trotskyist analysis might be the following:

Since the central target of the Nazi brownshirts was the post-Versailles labour movement (in the SDP and the trade unions), the rise of German fascism was clearly a response to capitalist crisis. This was nurtured in the late 1920s by the Great Depression (mass employment etc), but also by lingering anti-Semitism (emphasised once again by defeat in 1918) which was the attempt to rationalise the economic crisis by the Right and its corporate interests.

Throughout the period, even as late as 1932, the combined weight of the SDP and the Communist Party vastly outweighed the Nazi vote. But they were too divided; the Communist Party, influenced by Stalinist attacks on moderate socialism, frequently allied itself with the Nazis. So when Hitler came to power in 1933 there was no resistance. The labour militias were not called to arms, like they had against Kapp’s coup of 1920. If the Nazis could have been stopped then it would have required speedy unity among the socialists.

It’s in posts like this where I see just how inferior my knowledge of Nazi Germany is. What do people think of this? Could the Nazis have been stopped? Marxist analyses are notorious for their crude juxtapositions between classes, but here it’s worryingly blatant: the vast majority of those who voted National Socialist were working-class themselves. Had they been deluded into thinking capitalism was the way forward by big business? Possibly, but that’s a little condescending.

In Britain it took the Labour Party half a century to win a general election outright; and, despite the labour groups being by far the greatest part of British society, it never won a majority of the popular vote. Likewise, the assumption that German workers only voted by economic strategy is to miss their cultural motivations. The Nazis weren’t just the representatives of business; to a large degree they reflected considerable cultural antagonisms to those like Jews, and the old nationalism that the Great War had so badly hurt.

It’s interesting. I need to read more. Your own views would be greatly appreciated.


12 Comments on “Eighty years later, could the Nazis have been stopped?”

  1. Good God the Teapubs are Nazis.

  2. I suspect that in 1933 or 1934, stopping the Nazis would have required something like an alliance between the socialist parties and the military. Since the mostly urban socialists and the Junker military class were deeply mistrustful of each other, such an alliance seems hard to envision.

    the assumption that German workers only voted by economic strategy is to miss their cultural motivations.

    I think that assumption mainly misses the simmering resentment by many (not all, but many) Germans, of all economic classes, toward the Versailles Treaty, and especially the “lost lands” that had been taken from Germany and given to Poland, France, Czechoslovakia, etc.

    Maybe, maybe, if the socialist parties had made it a point to work with their fellow socialists in France and Britain to work toward a revision of the Versailles terms, then the German socialists could have made common cause with the German aristocrats, the military class, and other elements that would support the Nazis because of nationalist ambitions. This is speculation, though.

    • Mark says:

      I definitely agree, thanks. Nationalism was such a powerful concept that it appears almost superficial; a broad, generic unifying force that cries out for deep-seeded economic explanations. But in reality it isn’t necessary. Perhaps when it comes to drawing lessons from history it’s easier to ask why something did happen, rather than why something else did not. It does, though, raise questions about what we might have tried to do in the same position. But of course we could never have been formed the way we are now. Ah, so confusing.

  3. JOnKEnna says:

    I agree with Patrick Allen Foster. The seeds of the Nazi rise and the Second World War are in the treatment of the defeated by the victors at the end of the Great War. Similarly, the treatment of the defeated at the end of the Great War sprang from the horrors experienced during the course of that war. Action… reaction… ebb… flow… That’s not to justify any of the diabolical war crimes committed during wars, of course, but it may go some way to explaining them.

    • Mark says:

      Yeah I completely agree that. The trouble was that in 1919 the big three weren’t so interested in practical results; or perhaps they were, but only to please their electorates. Lots of nationalist icons competing for their own interests. Determinism only gets us so far though…

    • It goes some way to explaining what happened, but probably not all the way. We might wonder, for example, why Nazism originated in Germany and not in Austria, even though the victors at the end of the Great War arguably treated Austria more harshly than Germany (e.g., Austria lost more territory).

      Last year I read Paris 1919, by Margaret MacMillan, about the negotiations at the peace conference following World War I. One thing that comes through very clearly in MacMillan’s text is that the defeated Germans were placing a lot of hope in Wilson’s 14 Points. Maybe, if the final peace treaty had resembled the 14 Points more closely, it would have lessened the sting of the treaty, which would have meant (perhaps) less smouldering resentment upon which the Nazis could build.

      Offered fwiw. As always, counterfactual history is really hard. I could be off base here.

      • Mark says:

        I might be tempted to read that book (given how thinly I’ve thus far studied the period). But I can imagine that the rejection of Wilson’s points might in itself have been viewed as a rejection of the equality of nations, with obvious implications for nationalism. Hmm.

        When we look back, though, there were so many developments in Weimar Germany that it does become incredibly difficult to identify long-term causes – not least because of the inherently irrational nature of Nazism. Perhaps there’s something in that. How irrational responses resulted from disordered events – making its defeat therefore more complicated than would at first appear.

      • there were so many developments in Weimar Germany that it does become incredibly difficult to identify long-term causes

        Agreed. Most definitely.

  4. maryrite says:

    What is interesting to me is whether Nazism would have got anywhere without Hitler and his uncanny ability to make speeches which won over crowds.Some say he was schizophrenic though usually people suffering badly like that are unable to act much as they struggle with their pain.
    I have a Jewish neighbour who says it could never happen here but I think it could.People like a strong leader and Hitler sorted out the economy.built roads etc.And people are frightened of speaking out.
    Probably too the existence of the technology made possible mass killing and so on.And even more so now.Rioting is already a possibility..then police strong arm tactics….

  5. Nazism, same as fascism and other authoritarian movements (falangists in Spain, for example) were by deffinition for separating church and state, were republicans, and aiming to gather all the productive capacities of the country in a single direction, and for them, contrary than for communism, private property was not a negative thing. For movements based on supremacy of the best performers, there must be a price for the one who does the best effort and being on top is the price.

    I haven’t studied in detail how it worked for Italy and Germany, but at least here in Spain, the theoretical basis of our own “falangismo” was set by J.A. Primo de Rivera (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Antonio_Primo_de_Rivera). My grandfather’s brother was in this side of the political cocktail that exploded in Spain in 1936, and I remember he used to tell me how they were not on the side of church, land owners and liberal-capitalists… for them, all the actors, from the worker (producer) to the owner (manager), should have been told what to do and how and in which conditions, in order to avoid social dissent, and to make the nation go forward in peace and prosperity, and bla bla bla…. then he usually started talking abt the war, etc… My grandfather had no political ideas at the time (he was barely 17) and fought “forcedly volunteer” for the republican side. His brother escaped and switched sides, fighting for Franco.

    After the Civil War, my grandpa was not compensated for the hand he lost in combat in Brunete, and luckily escaped inprisonment in a concentration camp. His bro received a medal on Military Merits and some good contacts that he used to save my grandfather’s ass.

    After the war, when he noticed how Franco had gathered Falange, church, traditionalists, monarchists and capitalists and mixed it all together, he rejected the whole concept, and felt betrayed by the little dictator. But it was late for them to change that, and at mid 50’s their influence on the regime was nothing but merely esthetic.

    Franco modelled the remains of Falange at his taste, and since then, they were sided with the ultra-conservative right handies, the capital and the church… exactly what people like my old uncle tried to avoid.

    His ideas about liberal capitalism were smthg as Jose Antonio himself stated:

    “While the current terrible economic crisis is ruining or on the way to ruining the medium producers [“producer” is a euphemism for “worker”], and the working masses suffer the nightmare of unemployment like never before, the amount of profits obtained by the beneficiaries of the present order, the magnates of the banking system, is extremely high.
    Hence the urgent task of the producers is this: To destroy the liberal system, putting an end to political cliques and to the sharks of the banking establishment.” .

    … sounds quite familiar, and left-handy don’t you think? 🙂

  6. George Carty says:

    Weren’t peasant farmers driven by land hunger one of the most important Nazi constituencies?

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