IIIRE decision taken by the German people last Sun- -1- day that Field-Marshal von Hindenburg should be President of the Reich for another term of seven years, or such part of it as he is able to serve, is less important in itself than as an index to the probable results Of the Prussian elections on April 24th. From the Presidential' election figures both moderates and Hitlerites can draw conclusions that may give them satisfaction. The Communists cannot. They lost heavily, and their dis- comfiture is to be measured not merely by the absolute reduction of their vote, but by its fall even in relation to the diminished total east. Of that diminished total President Hindenburg secured well over fifty per cent., thus achieving that absolute majority which he so narrowly missed a month earlier, and falling short by a little over 600,000 of the twenty millions which his supporters had set as the goal of their ambitions. But while the President's vote was increased by just over 700,000 as compared with the first ballot, Herr Hitler could show an advance of over 2,000,000, the increase in the total poll being rather more than a million.
No analysis of election figures can ever lead to any- thing more than broad conclusions. In this case the broad conclusions are fairly clear. Two of the candidates who took the field at the first ballot, Col. Dilsterberg, the Nationalist, and a Herr Winter, who was not taken seriously, were not presenting themselves last Sunday. The Nationalist vote on the second ballot was no doubt divided, but most of it must have gone, as was expected, to Herr Hitler. Herr Winter's few votes may have gone anywhere. On the other hand, the million electors who voted on the first ballot and not on the second must be assumed to have been almost wholly supporters of the President or the Communist candidate. The Hitlerites strained every effort to secure a maximum vote, and there can be little doubt, in view of their two million increase, that they did secure it. The 25 per cent. of the electorate who abstained can have included very few of Herr Hitler's supporters. That is very much what was expected. The President's election being everywhere regarded as certain, his supporters felt them- selves absolved from going to much inconvenience to vote for him. For like reasons Communists could feel they had done their duty at the first ballot and need not exert themselves unduly in a hopeless cause. Some pretty clearly transferred to Hitler. Under those con- ditions the rise in the Hitler vote need not disturb Dr. Bruning and the Government coalition overmuch.
The elections of a week hence must cause them much more concern. Prussia, to quote once more the in evitable platitude, is the key of the Reich. It contains over 38 millions out of a total Reich population of 621 millions. Its territory extends from the Rhineland and the French frontier in the west to East Prussia and the Polish and Lithuanian frontiers in the east. It includes Berlin, it includes the Ruhr and Essen, it includes Silesia and part of what once was Saxony. Within that area, and not only in Berlin, but in half a dozen more of the greatest cities in Germany, the Prussian Government is responsible for the maintenance of law and order. The Prussian Minister of the Interior controls the police, and that function gives his position normally a political importance greater even than that of the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Reich, though the present holder of that office, General Groener, being at the same time Minister of Defence, can exercise unusual powers through his command of the Reichsivehr.
The Prussian election will be a very different matter
from the Presidential election in one respect, and the difference will be all to Herr Hitler's advantage. Last Sunday he had to contend with a national concentration of opposition, and he was beaten. Herr Braun and Herr Severing are opponents of another calibre. They repre- sent, moreover, not a unified party government but a coalition, and each of the integral parts of the coalition will present itself separately before the electorate. The proportional representation system in force in Prussia lends itself to the formation of diverse groups. That the Hitlerites will form the largest group in the new Diet is virtually certain. That they will command a clear majority of scats is unlikely. The important question is how the Nationalists under Herr Hugenberg may fare, and pre- cisely what their relations with Herr Hitler's followers may be. Even if a Hitler-Hugenberg combination did find itself in a position to form a government, the alliance would in all likelihood be uneasy while it lasted and not destined to last very long.
But even a short term of Nazi government in Prussia might make Dr. Brilning's position in the Reich unten- able, for the electoral verdict that put Hitler in power would be a verdict in condemnation of Brining. More- over, opportunities of a clash between the national governmeni and the greatest of the provincial govern- ments would be numerous, and the position of the Bruning coalition is too precarious already for it to be equal to withstanding any further strain. It is by no means certain even what the attitude of Dr. Brilning's own Centre Party towards a new coalition in Prussia would be. If it declined to continue its co-operation with the Social Democrats the field would be left free for Herr Hitler, for there is no possibility of the Socialists forming a government unsupported.
It would have been profitless to carry these hypothetical speculations so far if nothing but an ordinary Prussian election were in question. But the vote of April 24th will have not merely national but international reactions. France goes to her quadrennial polls a week later, on May 1st (with a second ballot on the 8th) and Prussia's decision will directly affect France's. If Hitlerism triumphs the Right in France will gain, for French Nationalism is easily stimulated, and the Hitler programme of repudia- tion of the Treaty of Versailles is the best electoral asset M. Tardieu commands. If, on the other hand, the Prussian moderates hold their position, M. Herriot and M. Leon Blum will be able to claim that there are men in office in Germany who can respond in the right spirit to a policy of conciliation. The prospect of getting repara- tions and disarmament settled on a basis of reason will then be sensibly increased. The odds are in one respect greatly in Hitler's favour. A country where six million people are out of employment and there is a vast mass of misery and discontent for any foe of the existing order to exploit, a country where hundreds of thousands of university graduates can find no employment but political agitation, is a country where the doctrine preached by Herr Hitler makes an almost irresistible appeal. It is the doctrine to-day of a politician in opposition. What the doctrine of the same politician in office would be no one knows. But the responsibilities of office have sobered wild politicians before to-day. The real danger which a Hitlerite victory would involve lies not so much in the party's intoxication as in its -incompetence, for there are no signs that it has at its command men capable of administering Prussia. But the occasion might conceiv- ably produce the man, even though it were not Adolf Hitler,