Friday, November 30, 2012

The "Left" Nazis

Goebbels described Berlin as "the reddest city in Europe besides Moscow." Together, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) captured 52.2 percent of the vote in the 1925 municipal elections. It could only boast a few hundred Nazi party members. In a report written in October 1926, a party official wrote of the "complete breakdown of the Berlin organization," which he described as a self-destructive, confused group that was almost beyond repair. Some 39,000 Berliners, or 1.6 percent of the city's entire population, voted for Hitler's party in the May 1928 election to the Reichstag.

On Feb. 11, 1927, the Nazi Party at the Pharussäle, a meeting hall often used by the KPD for its mass rallies, Goebbels  gave a speech on the subject of "The Collapse of the Bourgeois Class State." This provoked the communists. The  meeting turned into a violent brawl between the two groups. Beer glasses, chairs and tables flew through the hall, and severely injured people were left lying covered with blood on the floor. Despite the injuries, it was a triumph for Goebbels, whose thugs beat up about 200 communists and drove them from the hall.

 Availing himself of the services of the uniformed Sturmabteilung ("Assault Division"), or SA, whose members were known as the "brownshirts." Goebbels used the hatred of younger people for the older elites, and the rage of Berlin's working-class in the east-end of the city against its wealthier west-end districts. For the Nazi Party, the brownshirts -- who included the unemployed, the underemployed, apprentices and high-school students -- were "political soldiers." In Goebbel's view, their task was the "conquest of the street." These primarily young men were supposed to reconcile and embody two previously hostile world-views: nationalism, which Goebbels believed had to be "reshaped in a revolutionary way," and a "true socialism" free of Marxism. Goebbels assigned the Jews the scapegoat role. Goebbels viewed the Jews as simultaneously embodying capitalism, communism, the press and the police. His simplistic slogan "The Jews are to blame!" proved to be a slow-acting poison. Goebbels chose Bernhard Weiss, the Jewish deputy chief of the city's police force, as a target of his anti-Semitic agitation. Goebbels nicknamed him "Isidore" and, after Weiss sued Goebbels for libel and won, he called him "Weiss, whom one isn't allowed to call Isidore." Goebbels derided Weiss's police officers as "Bernhardiner" ("St. Bernard dogs") and "Weiss guardsmen."

Young party members sang satirical songs about "Isidore" and wore "Isidore" masks -- and they often had the laughs on their side. Indeed, the Nazis used coarse humor as a sharp weapon in their struggle with the Weimar Republic. "We scoffed at an entire system and brought it down with resounding laughter," Gunter d'Alquen, the young editor-in-chief of Das Schwarze Korps (The Black Corps) wrote in 1937. Goebbels believed that "horseplay is necessary." At a showing of a film adaptation("All Quiet on the Western Front" members of the SA released white mice into the audience. Screaming women caused the film to be interrupted while SA men and Goebbels roared with laughter. He justified his strategy of provocation by saying that the Nazis could be accused of many things, but certainly not of being dull. Street battles and brawls at political meetings forged a sense of unity and camaraderie among party members in Berlin. It was only on Mayday 1927 that Hitler spoke to them for the first time.

 Five days after Hitler's speech, the police banned the Nazi Party in Berlin. But that didn't stop its ascent. Goebbels had read the memoirs of August Bebel, a Marxist politician and co-founder of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany, and had learned a lesson from the Social Democrats' struggle against Bismarck's anti-socialist laws. The Nazis established seemingly harmless groups, such as bowling, savings and swimming clubs. Using the motto "Not dead, despite the ban," Goebbels established the newspaper Der Angriff (The Attack) in July 1927, initially as a weekly. The subheading, "For the Oppressed -- Against the Exploiters," targeted working-class readers.  The strategy of the Berlin branch of the Nazi Party was to serve as an extra-parliamentary opposition, forming cells on the street and in businesses, using the communist approach as a model. In 1929, the Nazis captured 5.8 percent of the vote for city council, securing 13 seats in the city's parliament.

What changed in  October 1929, was that the stock market in New York crashed. Mass unemployment rose sharply, increasing the potential for urban unrest. Berlin's Nazis waged a political war on two fronts. One front was against the Social Democrats and the established parties running the city and the country. The other was against the communists, whose ranks swelled when people uprooted by the crisis were driven into their arms. To differentiate itself from other right wing parties in Der Angriff, Goebbels polemicized against the "black, white and red fat cats," referencing the colors of the flag of the German Empire favored by many right-wing nationalists. "You say 'fatherland,'" he wrote accusatorily, "but what you're talking about are percentages."
Goebbels saw workers disappointed by the stolid SPD as a target group. He called the SPD "Germany's most shameless party" and held it responsible for "poverty, hunger, fat cats and thin workers." The Social Democrats, Goebbels said in August 1930, were "no longer the protagonists of a true, purposeful socialism," but instead had become the "lackeys and beneficiaries of market capitalism." In fact, with its corruptible politicians, the SPD made things easier for the Nazis in Berlin.

The Communist Party of Germany (KPD), headed in Berlin by Walter Ulbricht had its strongholds in Berlin's blue-collar neighborhoods, like Friedrichshain and Wedding, and it had a powerful paramilitary organization in the Roter Frontkämpferbund (Alliance of Red Front-Fighters). Goebbels was familiar with the communists' weak points, namely, the often out-of-touch language of their officials and the control Soviet leaders exerted over them. In Der Angriff, Goebbels wrote that the KPD, as a "Russian foreign legion on German soil" created "with Russian money and German human resources," was alienating many members of the proletariat.

To hope to succeed in Berlin's "red" neighborhoods the Nazis had to speak a language understood there. In a flyer distributed in September 1931 to unemployed workers waiting at a government agency in Berlin, Goebbels wrote that the party was turning to "workers without work and without hope, exposed to the most horrible form of desperation," and he promised "to destroy the system of capitalism and replace it with a new, socialist order." In their appeal "to all of the unemployed," the Nazis cleverly called into question the strength of the leftist parties, the SPD and the KPD. Goebbels courted the proletarians by treating them like cheated brides, addressing them as "you who have been left forsaken by your seducers." The Nazis adhered to the third of the "Ten Commandments for National Socialists" penned by Goebbels: "Every national comrade, even the poorest, is part of Germany. Love him as you love yourself."

Horst Wessel saw himself as a socialist who had been shaken by the "great social impoverishment and servitude of the working classes in all professions." Next to Goebbels, there was no one who spoke more often than Wessel for the Nazi Party in greater Berlin. Wessel sought to establish contact with proletarians in dark back courtyards and noisy taverns, on street corners and at unemployment offices. He soon became a hated by the KPD.  On Jan. 14, 1930 he was shot and mortally wounded  by Albrecht Höhler. Wessel became their martyr. Communists attacked the funeral procession and tried to seize the coffin. Before the funeral, they had painted the words "A final Heil Hitler to the pimp Horst Wessel!" on the wall of the cemetery. In retaliation Communists Party members increasingly became the victims of armed SA members. In one version of their song, "We March Through Greater Berlin," they sang "The red front, break them to pieces.",  the words were changed to "beat them to a pulp."  SA "storm bars" -- which grew fivefold, to 107, between 1928 and 1931 -- SA members in their brown uniforms sang the anthem Wessel had supposedly written.

By Sept 1930, a crowd of more than 100,000 people turned up outside the Sportpalast, trying to gain get in for a rally attended by Hitler. Four days later, the Nazi Party became the second-strongest party in the country, capturing 18.3 percent of the vote. In Berlin, where it became the third most powerful party after the KPD and the SPD, it garnered 396,000 votes, or more than 10 times as many as it had just two years earlier. The Nazis had broken the KPD's monopoly as the only protest party among Berlin's working classes. Now even the communists, who had initially hoped to fight off the Nazis with fists, brass knuckles and revolvers (their motto was: "Beat the fascists wherever you encounter them!"), were now courting Hitler's followers. In an appeal by the district office for Berlin-Brandenburg in November 1931, the KPD praised the "National Socialist workers" and "proletarian supporters of the Nazi Party," calling them "honest fighters against the system of hunger."  In early November 1932, the National Socialist Factory Cell Organization, together with the KPD's Revolutionary Union Opposition, organized a strike against wage cuts at the Berlin Transport Authority. Nazis and communists picketed alongside each other and joined forces to beat up strike breakers.

 The KPD official newspaper Der Parteiarbeiter (The Party Worker) complained that new comrades in KPD were not finding "the spirit of camaraderie that is needed to be able to cooperate with friends." Instead of the KPD's rigid ideological fare, the SA homes offered hot soup and solidarity. In 1932, there were 15,000 SA members in Berlin. During the Christmas holidays, unemployed party members were invited to the homes of the members who still had work in what Goebbels called the "socialism of action." The concept gradually took hold in "red" Wedding, where the number of party members grew from 18 to 250 between 1928 and 1930. In a district where the majority voted communist, the Hitler Youth held "public discussion evenings" with titles such as "The Swastika or the Soviet Star." Workers who had lived in the Soviet Union were popular guests at Nazi agitation evenings. They gave vivid accounts of the miserable lives of workers and the reign of terror of the secret police.

In 1932, when the ranks of the unemployed throughout the Reich swelled to more than 6 million, and to 600,000 in Berlin alone, the Nazi Party achieved its breakthrough to become a major party, counting 40,000 members in its regional organization. In March 1932, the party mobilized about 80,000 people for a rally. On April 4, some 200,000 people congregated at a square to cheer Hitler. The general student body elections in Berlin had demonstrated that university students were also anxious to support Hitler. The Nazis captured 3,794 of the 5,801 votes cast, or almost two-thirds. The Hitler wave had even reached children, who entered the German Youth, a subdivision of the Hitler Youth for younger boys, and the League of German Girls - "Grandma, you must vote for Hitler!"
Goebbels promised the "right to work" and "a socialist Germany that gives bread to its children once again." This awakened the hopes of the 31.3 percent of Berlin voters who voted for the Nazi Party in the last Reichstag election of March 1933.

When Goebbels became a member of the Reichstag, he did so with the challenging words: "We have nothing to do with the parliament. We reject it from within." Only those who paid close attention to what Goebbels was saying could divine where the journey was about to go under Nazi leadership.

Adapted from here

No comments: