A History of the German Republic, Arthur Rosenberg 1936


The following sketch of developments in Germany from 1930 to the present day has been written specially for the English edition of this book. Its purpose is to give the English public an outline of events from the point at which the last chapter of the more detailed study ends. Its purpose is to set forth the main facts in as few words as possible. Obviously no exhaustive criticism can be made of events during the dictatorship of Brüning, Papen, Schleicher and Hitler, events which were at times of a highly complicated nature.

In 1931-32 Brüning’s government stood in the shadow of the economic crisis which was becoming increasingly serious. Brüning sought vainly to deal with the situation by the issue of numerous emergency decrees. He was primarily carrying out the wishes of the great capitalists and the great landowners. With these measures he combined a radical policy of deflation and economy. Life had been made hard enough for the masses of the people by the very fact of the crisis, and it was made increasingly harder by the mistakes of the Brüning government. Grown desperate the masses became more and more disgusted with Brüning’s methods. By 1932 the number of unemployed in Germany had risen to six millions. To these must be added millions of middle-class men and women who were ruined. The masses lost all confidence in the Conservative government. Since the SPD deputies in the Reichstag supported the government, that party was partly blamed for Brüning’s actions. Nor did the KPD increase in popularity. In the summer of 1931 the German banking system came literally to a standstill under the intolerable pressure of the crisis. The banks suddenly found themselves unable to make further payments. The ‘collapse of capitalism’, to which reference had so often been made in Socialist and Communist literature as to a vague future possibility, suddenly became a fact. The temper of the people was such that any social revolutionary movement that had made a determined effort could have achieved power. Neither the SPD nor the KPD, however, seized the opportunity. Nor did the National Socialists make any move. Hence the capitalists were given sufficient time to put their system more or less into working order again.

Since the Marxist parties took no advantage of the situation, the mass of the dissatisfied populace went over to National Socialism. As is shown by the election figures, the number of Hitler’s followers was more than doubled between 1930 and 1932. Armed attacks by the National Socialist storm-troops upon their political opponents increased. At times the Communists attempted reprisals. Thus Germany drifted gradually into a state of civil war. The Brüning government was utterly incapable of preserving internal peace.

By way of diverting attention from economic and other internal difficulties, Brüning sought to pursue a nationalist foreign policy. He surprised the world by proclaiming a customs union between Germany and Austria as a preliminary to the complete fusion of the two states. Austria, however, was obliged by pressure from France and Italy to cancel its assent to the customs union. Brüning’s action nevertheless destroyed the result of Stresemann’s efforts towards Germany’s friendly cooperation with other powers at a time when German economic life had greater need than ever of assistance from abroad. Brüning never realised that the advancing economic crisis of itself made further payment of reparations by Germany impossible. He set himself the task of delivering Germany from reparations, although the crisis was itself performing the act of liberation only too thoroughly. Brüning wished to show foreign countries as clearly as possible Germany’s poverty and incapacity to pay. This motive also formed the basis of his fateful policy of saving and economy, which, however, was altogether useless and superfluous.

The majority of German capitalists and landowners had originally supported the Conservative experiment; not from any personal liking for Brüning, but because they believed that the Conservative method would best serve their interests. As, however, the masses not only of the working classes, but also of the middle classes turned against Brüning, and as the economic and political situation of Germany grew increasingly worse, more and more of the great capitalists and landowners declared themselves in favour of his opponents – Hitler and Hugenberg. By the end of 1931 Conservatism as a political movement was dead, and the time was obviously approaching when Hindenburg and the Reichswehr would drop Brüning and come to terms with Hugenberg and Hitler.

Brüning now made a desperate effort to save his own cause. At the beginning of 1932 Hindenburg’s term of office as President was due to expire. Brüning opened a campaign for his re-election in the hope that if Hindenburg were re-elected, he would continue to favour the Conservatives. Hugenberg and Hitler had no objection in principle to Hindenburg as Reich President. But they did not wish to receive him at Brüning’s hand. Hence the National Socialists as well as the Nationalists opposed the re-election of Hindenburg. At Brüning’s instance a number of prominent Conservatives put the proposal for the re-election of Hindenburg before the public. The Social Democrats and the Centre determined also to support Hindenburg on this occasion, as the ‘lesser evil’.

The remarkable election of 1932 did in fact end in the victory of Hindenburg over the rival candidates of the Nationalists, the National Socialists and the Communists. Hindenburg, however, had not entered into the electoral battle in any sense as the candidate of the democratic republic. He had indeed permitted the Social Democrats and the Centre to vote for him, but he had promised them nothing. Hindenburg had shown the rival leaders of the right-wing parties that he could still win in spite of them. But after his election he was no less than before a supporter of military dictatorship and of the anti-democratic counter-revolution. Nor had Hindenburg assumed any moral obligation to defend Chancellor Brüning and his views for an unlimited time. Hindenburg and the Reichswehr generals had as free a hand politically after the election as before. Brüning had once again counted his chickens before they were hatched. The first important act of the new President was to dismiss Brüning. Groener, the Reichswehr Minister, who had become too deeply involved with the Conservatives, was also dismissed.

The Reichstag had had no say in all these changes, for the real political system under which Germany had been living since 1930 was a presidential dictatorship. As Chancellor, Hindenburg appointed Herr von Papen, a Conservative Catholic who was closely associated with the industrialist and land-owning classes. Papen had formerly been a Centre deputy in the Reichstag, but had always pursued an extreme Conservative policy on Hugenberg’s lines within his own party. In becoming Reichswehr Minister in the Papen Cabinet, General von Schleicher at length attained the goal of his ambitions for which he had been working for many years. All the members of the new Cabinet were of the same political opinion as Hugenberg. It was to be expected that the Papen government would also obtain the support of the National Socialists and in one way or another assure itself of the cooperation of Hitler. Thus matters seemed to be taking their logical political course. Since the republicans and Socialists were not yet ready to take action and the Conservatives had shot their political bolt, Hugenberg and Hitler were certain to achieve power.

Papen showed that he was preparing to take a different course from that followed by the cautious Brüning. With the aid of a presidential decree Papen dismissed the Socialist-republican government of Prussia. By threatening them with the Reichswehr, the Prussian Ministers were induced to retire. Neither the working classes nor the Prussian police made the least resistance to this arbitrary action. Papen then assumed the government of Prussia in addition to that of the Reich, and a systematic purge of the Prussian administration of all republican or even socialistically-minded officials took place.

Papen had dissolved the Reichstag immediately upon assuming office. When the new elections took place in July 1932, the National Socialists polled nearly fourteen million of the thirty-seven million votes. The question now was what part this immense party would play in the government of the country. In August unexpected difficulties presented themselves. The National Socialist Party owed its enormous increase to the influx of workers, unemployed, despairing peasants and middle-class people. The millions of radical adherents at first forced the party towards the left. They wanted a new Germany and a new organisation of German society. The left wing of the party strove desperately against its simply drifting into the train of the capitalist and feudal reactionaries. Hence Hitler refused to serve under Papen, and demanded the post of Chancellor for himself.

The extraordinary increase in and the radical tendency of the National Socialist Party, however, filled the capitalists and the generals with suspicion. Hindenburg therefore refused to appoint Hitler to the Chancellorship. The left wing of the National Socialists, which for the time being was the most influential section of the party, sought as a retaliatory measure to form a coalition with the Centre. Papen took up the challenge energetically. He dissolved the newly-elected Reichstag to prevent the formation of an opposition majority composed of the National Socialists and the Centre. He declared Germany to be in a state of emergency, appointed extraordinary courts for political offences, and threatened to punish acts of political violence with death. The result was staggering. The civil war which had been afflicting Germany for years came to a sudden end, and all was quiet. It was clear that the capitalist class in alliance with the Reichswehr, and using the state machinery, could always dispose of the National Socialists. The masses of camp-followers who had during the past year joined the National Socialists began to waver as soon as they saw that Hitler was not invincible. At the Reichstag elections in November 1932 the National Socialist Party lost two million votes.

The unexpected conflict between the government and the National Socialists opened up fresh prospects to the republicans and Socialists. At the beginning of November there was a general strike of transport workers in Berlin. The traffic of the great city was at a standstill. If the SPD and the KPD had taken joint command of the situation and had extended the strike to a general political strike against Papen’s dictatorial government, there would have been considerable possibilities of success. For the National Socialists were already obliged to support the transport strike in Berlin in conjunction with the KPD. If the working class had taken united action against Papen, the left wing of the National Socialists would have been swept along in the movement, the right wing isolated, and the Fascist danger wholly averted.

The leaders of the socialist independent trade unions, however, had lost all their effective force under the pressure of the development of affairs in Germany. The trade unions and the SPD refused their support for the Berlin strike, and it collapsed. It was the last blow aimed by the proletariat against the ruling capitalist dictatorship. It is curious to note how class-fronts and party-fronts intersected. Since then events have taken their course unchecked.

At first Papen was victorious on every count. Nevertheless the general situation towards the end of 1932 was not pleasant for the German capitalists and generals. Nine-tenths of the Reichstag were hostile to the Papen government. The four great mass movements, the SPD, KPD, Centre and National Socialist Party, were in opposition. If this situation continued there was some danger that the Centre and the National Socialists would grow more and more radical, and that in the end a gigantic united National Bolshevist front would be formed against the ruling system. At this moment Papen had the additional misfortune to lose his most potent support – the army. General von Schleicher, the Reichswehr Minister, was the type of political officer who had developed in the atmosphere of semi-obscurity and intrigue that encompassed the republican military policy. He had for years been in the van of those fighting for the Conservative counter-revolution, and it was not long since he had assisted materially in the formation of the Papen government. However, the only things that really mattered to Schleicher were the interests of the army and of the corps of officers. Apart from these he was just as ready to turn left as right.

Schleicher suddenly declared himself to be opposed to Papen’s methods and evolved a programme of social pacification under military leadership. Papen was dismissed, and Hindenburg appointed Schleicher to the chancellorship. Thus, about the turn of the year 1932-33, there occurred a curious political entr'acte. Schleicher appeared in the role of ‘Socialist General’, and entered into relations with the Christian trade unions, the left National Socialists and even with the Social Democrats. Schleicher’s aim appeared to be a sort of labour government under the direction of the generals. It was an utterly fantastic idea; for the Reichswehr officers were hardly prepared to follow Schleicher on this path, and the working classes felt a very natural distrust of their future uniformed allies. Meanwhile, Schleicher roused furious hatred in the ranks of the great capitalists and landowners by these plans. They feared that he would deprive them of all they had won politically since 1930.

In revenge, Schleicher made sensational disclosures about the Osthilfe scandal, about the squandering of government money for the benefit of the bankrupt landowners in eastern Germany. The landowners and capitalists determined to act quickly. The situation was only to be saved if the counter-revolutionaries could once again show a united front, if Papen and Hugenberg became reconciled with Hitler. After the serious setbacks that National Socialism had suffered during the past six months, its pretensions had been considerably modified. Hence a compromise was reached. Hindenburg, who disapproved strongly of Schleicher’s campaign against the Prussian landowners, dismissed him. Schleicher is said to have played with the idea of a military coup d'état – of eliminating Hitler, Papen and Hindenburg, and with the support of the labour organisations assuming the dictatorship himself. But Schleicher, a second and lesser Wallenstein, could not take the decisive step either. He retired quietly into private life. Schleicher’s fall, however, by no means implied the defeat of the Reichswehr as a whole. The generals merely dissociated themselves from the plans of their venturesome colleague.

On 30 January 1933 the new coalition government of the parties of the right assumed office. Though Hitler had been made Chancellor, only two other members of the Cabinet were National Socialists. The majority in the government was Nationalist. Hugenberg became Minister for Economy; Papen, Commissar for Prussia; General von Blomberg, Reichswehr Minister. The balance of power within the coalition appeared to be wholly on the side of the Nationalists. The fact that Hitler had at last become Chancellor nevertheless gave the National Socialist mass movement a tremendous upward impetus. At the Reichstag elections, which took place in March, the National Socialists obtained seventeen million votes. They and the Nationalists together constituted a majority in the Reichstag. The government induced the President and the Reichstag to grant them authority to issue decrees having the force of law. The dictatorship had thereby given itself a new legal form.

The National Socialist mass movement soon proved to be beyond the power of the Nationalist Ministers to control. Unchecked by the police, the SA indulged in acts of terrorism throughout Germany. Communists, Social Democrats and the Centre were everywhere ousted from public life. A violent persecution of the Jews began, and by the summer the National Socialist Party felt itself to be in such a strong position that it could do away with all the other parties and the trade unions. The Nationalist Party was among those suppressed. The National Socialists thenceforward ruled alone in Germany. The Reichswehr had remained untouched by all these occurrences. It was still the same state within a state that it had been in the Weimar Republic. Similarly, the private property of great capitalists and landowners was untouched, while the administrative and judicial machinery was only very slightly tampered with.

From the summer of 1933 onwards the decisive question became whether or not the National Socialists would follow up their political victory by the social reconstruction of Germany. The left wing of the party, and the terrorist masses of the SA, wished to carry the revolution further. Hitler, on the other hand, declared in the sense of the right wing of the party that the ‘Revolution’ was at an end with the political transformation of Germany. The SA and its leader, Röhm, came to be more and more hostile to the official policy of the party. Röhm’s attempts to plant SA men in the Reichswehr failed. It appears that the SA leaders were planning a coup d'état in 1934 for the purpose of eliminating the right wing of the party. It also appears that Röhm entered into relations with Gregor Strasser, the leader of the left-wing National Socialists, and with Schleicher’s friends. But Hitler and the right wing of the party forestalled them.

On 30 June 1934, the headquarters of the SA in Munich, Berlin, etc, were occupied by the Reichswehr and the state police. Röhm and hundreds of other SA leaders were arrested and shot. On the same occasion Strasser, Schleicher and a number of other opponents of the ruling faction were killed. This massacre broke the power of the SA and of the left and radical elements of the National Socialist Party in general. The SA was completely disarmed and numerically greatly decreased. Since then the shock troops have had no political significance; the legitimate authorities are the sole executaries of power; and the alliance between the ruling right wing of the party and the Reichswehr and the great capitalists has been consolidated. Shortly afterwards, President von Hindenburg died. Since the army was now wholly on Hitler’s side, a peaceful political reconstruction was carried out. The offices of President and Chancellor of the Reich were united, and Hitler has since then filled both offices simultaneously under the title of ‘Leader and Chancellor’.

The economic policy of National Socialism has favoured capitalist ownership. The decisive influence in all economic questions has been that of Dr Schacht, the President of the Reichsbank, who was also given the post of Reich Minister for Economy. National Socialist labour laws confer great power over his workers upon the employer as ‘leader’ of a concern. The trade unions have all been dissolved and their place taken by the German Labour Front which, however, is mainly concerned with cultural matters, sport, travel, etc, and not so much with the economic interests of the workers. By means of large state contracts for building, armaments, etc, the National Socialist government was able to animate the internal labour market and considerably to reduce the number of unemployed. These undertakings were financed by a sort of credit-inflation effected by the issue of large quantities of Treasury bonds. At the same time, however, German foreign trade took a very unfavourable turn. The reserves of gold and securities in the Reichsbank have been almost exhausted, and the provision of raw materials for German industry grows more and more difficult.

Industrialists, financiers and landowners are the only persons who gain any advantage from the new order in Germany. Agriculture especially is encouraged in every possible way. On the other hand, the standard of life of the workers in general and of the urban middle classes remains depressed. The policy of the National Socialist government has since 30 June 1934 roughly corresponded with the political hopes and wishes of the historic German counter-revolution. Germany is now ruled by a large united block composed of the former right parties led by Hitler and supported by the Reichswehr, the civil service, the great capitalists, agriculturists and the Racist intellectuals and students. This governing block, firmly consolidated by the organisation of a totalitarian state, is undoubtedly a formidable power, especially since the working classes have been utterly crushed and disintegrated. In the long-run, however, it is improbable that a government which eliminates entirely the influence of the masses will be able to maintain itself.

The cultural results which were bound to follow on the victory of the counter-revolution of 1930 have become increasingly plain since 1933. The ruling tendency ruthlessly took command of all spheres of cultural life. Literature, art and science, the press and education have all been centralised, and every divergent opinion has been suppressed. The Jews have been excluded from all public offices and from all participation in public life, and their economic position has grown increasingly difficult. Thousands of Jews and other opponents of the reigning system have been obliged to leave Germany.

The foreign policy of Hitler’s government brought about an unexpected understanding between Germany and Poland, whereby Germany withdrew all claims to a revision of her eastern frontiers. At the same time, Hitler tried to come to an understanding with France. In this, however, he did not succeed, because after 1933 Germany had exchanged her policy of secret rearmament for a public parade of it. The Hitler government wished to gain some ‘national’ success, and since it had no desire to wage war, it used the fact of German rearmament for propaganda purposes among the German people. This did not, of course, make any difference to the facts, but it broke up the disarmament conference, forced Germany to leave the League of Nations, and made the French more and more nervous. The anti-Bolshevik tendency of the Hitler government also roused the hostility of Soviet Russia. Fascist Italy had originally been very well-disposed towards National Socialism. But when after Hitler’s victory the Austrian Nazis also assumed the offensive, and there seemed to be a chance of an amalgamation of Germany and Austria, the German-Italian friendship broke down. At the time of writing (in the spring of 1935), Germany is completely isolated, and its international position is more unfavourable than at any time since 1919. This in its turn reacts upon Germany’s economic position, since Germany can neither obtain foreign credits nor increase its exports.