23 AUGUST 1963, Page 9

A Democracy Destroyed


By CONSTANTINE FITZGIBBON CERTAIN dates are ominous and magical, not because of themselves but because of the date that follows, France 1788, Europe 1913, Russia 1916.... Germany 1932 is perhaps such a date in one sense, in that it was the last year of Germany's first democracy, the last full year when the left-wing and liberal papers were pub- lished, the last year when the Berlin and Munich art galleries might exhibit what they wished, when the theatres could stage what plays they chose, when Germans were free to vote for the political party of their fancy.

But it was also more than a 'last' year. It was a year of intense political activity, both above and below board, in the course of which demo- cracy's grave was dug, with deliberation by some, with frivolous nonchalance by others, and in any case against the repeatedly expressed will of the majority of the German people. Between March and November there were five general elections in Germany.

The first two of these were for the Presidency. On March 13 Hindenburg just failed to secure the absolute majority which would have meant his re-election, and a second election, in which a relative majority would suffice, had therefore to be held four weeks later. These elections were noteworthy for, a number of reasons. One was the immense propaganda effort mounted by Dr. Goebbels for the Nazis. The equivalent of some £50,000 of our money was spent in one week be- fore the first election. Hitler addressed a long series of mass meetings, some of them attended, it is estimated, by as many as 100,000 people, and his principal lieutenants were no less busy. (Goebbels addressed twenty-eight mass meetings in twenty days.) Technological novelties, such as films and gramophone records, were used for the first time. In the second election Hitler covered Germany by aeroplane, descending from the skies to make several speeches a day in which, with a violence excelling even his past efforts, he attacked the Marxists, the Liberals, the capi- talists, even Hindenburg himself, but above all the 'System' and the Jews. This was the first time that the whole Nazi propaganda apparatus really went into action, and it was very impressive. In the final election, a straight fight between Hinden- burg and Hitler, the Nazi polled 36.7 per cent of the votes cast, or precisely twice the percentage his party had had in the last general election, eighteen months before.

There was also an intensification of the usual street brawls and murders, principally punch-ups and shootings between Nazis and Communists, which had now become a regular feature of Ger- man political life. The Daily Express noted, on March 13: 'On the whole the election weekend has been remarkably quiet. The police made 800 arrests.'

The British press adopted a more or less neutral attitude. The Morning Post for March 12 said, accurately enough : 'Hitler represents an emotional revolt, fanned by present economic discontents, against the whole course of German post-war history, both at home and abroad. Such a revolt is, perhaps, intelligible, and not in itself unhealthy . . .' but went on to deplore Nazi nihilism. The Daily Mail, which in those days was pro-German perhaps principally because it was anti-French, was generally benevolent : 'Whatever the final result of the election, the world has no wish but to see Germany restored to a sound footing.' And a Low cartoon in the Evening Standard, of a boxing ring with a cap- tion 'Granpa Hindy versus Bearcat Hitler,' showed Hindenburg spanking a child with a slipper, watched by the world's statesmen with varying expressions. The British press showed considerable interest in the statement by the. former Crown Prince that he intended to vote for Hitler in the second election. The Times ob- served sagely that this new Nazi recruit was hardly likely to be welcome to the radical wing of the party, and might indeed prove more of an embarrassment than an asset. The popular press, on the other hand, ever keen on stories about royalty, speculated unrealistically about the pos- sibility of a Nazi-sponsored Hohenzollern restor- ation.

Legality or Putsch?

Two weeks after the second presidential elec- tion there came the election for the Prussian Diet (forty out of sixty-five million Germans then lived in Prussia) as well as for several other state diets. These almost amounted to a general elec- tion since close on four-fifths of the German electorate might vote and most of them did. As was to be expected the Nazi vote remained static, at 36 per cent, but this was enough to give them a majority, but not of course an absolute majority, in Prussia : that state continued to be run, not very effectively, by a minority govern- ment of Social Democrats. Meanwhile an event had occurred which had all the appearance of a severe blow to the Nazi movement.

Hitler had long ago, and publicly, espoused 'legality' as his method of achieving absolute power. That is to say he would either become Chancellor because his party won a majority in the Reichstag, or because the President had appointed him, or through a coalition govern- ment in which he would be the dominant force. His Storm Troopers, he repeated constantly, were not a revolutionary but a counter-revolu- tionary force, to prevent a Communist putsch. (The Communists' own street fighters, the Red Front, had been officially forbidden since 1929 and no longer marched about in uniform, but were still active, particularly in Berlin and the north.) However, there were many Nazis, and especially among Roehm's SA, who had never reconciled themselves entirely to this policy of legality, even though—or perhaps specifically because-- it had paid Hitler a considerable divi- dend in winning him the support of sections of the respectable middle class and of industry. (Goebbels's ballyhoo cost a lot of money.) Those 61ementS of the SA wanted a revolution, now. They cooked up a plan, of which Hitler was probably aware without being its instigator, to seize power in Berlin on the day of the first presidential election in the event of Hitler win- ning. This was, as usual, `to forestall a Com- munist putsch,' but the plans were in fact far more elaborate than just that. Berlin was ringed with street fighters, and other SA units were standing by in readiness to seize key points within the city. The operation never took place, but the plans fell into the hands of the Prussian police. The Prussian Government thereupon demanded of the Reich Government that it disband the SA and the SS as it had disbanded the Red Front Fighters three years before. Were this not done the Prussian Social Democrat Government would itself take the necessary measures to en- sure security within its state boundaries. Bruning and his loyal Defence Minister, General Groener, agreed, and the Nazi para-military organisations were forbidden to appear in uniform—but not effectively disbanded—immediately after the second election, on April 14.

The British press approved of this act of firm- ness, and the Daily Telegraph wrote on the fol- lowing day: 'A remarkable explanation of the case with which Herr Hitler's army was sup- pressed is given by Herr Thaelmann, the Com- munist candidate for the Presidency. He stated at -a meeting last night that Herr Hitler himself arranged the disbanding of his legions with General Groener in order to rid himself of a Frankenstein monster which had got out of his control, and to open the path for a coalition with the Centre Party in the new Prussian Parliament.' This was, of course, almost pure nonsense, and part of the Communists' attempt to discredit the democratic parties by linking them with the Nazis. But the Daily Telegraph was not reading the signals very clearly at this time. It regarded the second presidential election as 'a crushing reverse for Hitler, which might well prove irretrievable.'

Three Courses

There were, in fact, three possible courses of action open to the Nazi leaders, and each had its adherents. Some of the Storm Troopers would have chosen direct action, but Hitler had no illusions concerning the military value of his thugs' if they should ever tangle with the Ger- man Army. Nor could there be any doubt that either General Groener or the Commander-in- Chief, General Hammerstein, would immedi- ately crush a revolution : and their troops would certainly obey their orders. Gregor Strasser, then one of Hitler's principal advisers, went to the other extreme and did indeed advocate some sort of temporary alliance,' within the Prussian Diet, with the Catholic Centre Party. This might have be'en just possible in the prevailing atmosphere of deals and coalitions, but would have involved a watering-down, a taming, of Nazi violence which did not interest Hitler and would in any case probably have split his movement. Hitler wanted all or nothing. For the moment he was prepared to accept nothing, ready to wait while others did his work for him.

They were obliging enough, and so for the next few months the spotlight is briefly moved from Adolf Hitler to the two gravediggers of the Weimar Republic, Papen and Schleicher, funda- mentally insignificant and indeed almost ludi- crous figures, the one with his shaven head and his tightly fitting uniform, the other beneath his silk hat smiling shiftily, less than Yorick and little more than the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of this horrid tragedy. Their motive was oppor- tunism, their method intrigue, and their failure total. Nevertheless for a few months they seemed important figures upon the stage of Germany's, and Europe's, tragedy.

Schleicher the Intriguer The word Schleicher in German means 'creeper' and by extension 'intriguer,' and the general lived up to his unattractive name. That sort of behaviour marks the politicians in a de- , caying society, for in 'a robust one such persons do not achieve the leadership of great parties. It will, eventually, infect some of the soldiers too, and Schleicher was at least as much a poli- tician, in a decayed society, as he was a soldier.

His official job was, roughly, to represent the army's interests in the sphere of high politics and he therefore had the right of access to the Presi- dent, essential in a period of presidential, as opposed to. Reichstag-supported, governments. This job, important at any time, was doubly so in 1932 when the army provided the only sure defence of the State against its internal enemies. Generals Groener and Hammerstein were pre- pared to defend that State.

Schleicher had subtler plans. He wished to con- vert Roehm's 400,000 storm troopers into a sort of militia which would thus be under the ultimate control of the 100,000-man army—that is to say within his own political control—and not under that of the Nazi Party. (Roehm cherished similar plans, but with another objective: to swamp the army with Nazis and then himself take eventual command of this new force.) There thus came about a temporary alliance between Schleicher and the Nazis, directed against Brilning and Groener. The Nazis demonstrated violently against the sick Defence Minister when he tried to justify his banning of their 'uniforms in the Reichstag, and Schleicher was active against his old friend and protector behind the scenes. On May 13 Groener resigned. Schleicher then set his sights on bigger game, and persuaded the President that BrUning no longer enjoyed the confidence of the army. On May 30 Hindenburg asked Bruning to resign, the first time that a President of Germany had dismissed his Chan- cellor. Finally Schleicher proposed to the Presi- dent that he appoint Papen Chancellor, as a man who enjoyed the confidence both• of the army and of the political right. Hitler gave a vague promise to support a Papen government in the Reichstag, and so, on June 2, Papen was ap- pointed to the office once held by Bismarck.

In return for his vague promise of support Hitler demanded the repeal of the ban on Nazi uniforms, the dissolution of the Reichstag, and new elections. This was agreed.

Papen obliged. His Cabinet, which the British press described as The Cabinet of Barons' con- tained a number of titled figures, but these were not the old governing class of Bismarck's time so much as the representatives of Western Ger- many industry. It was here that Papen found what support he had, among the hard-faced men who had done well out of the inflation and rather less well out of the depression and who planned to do extremely well out of a nationalist revival. Most of them did. On June 6 The Times wrote, a propos the dissolution of the Reichstag: 'With its disappearance power passes for the first time entirely to the men of the Right. Few people would care to predict when, or whether, German Republicans will again guide Germany's fortunes.'

Papen issued a manifesto which fulminated against the partial Welfare State that previous republican governments had created, containing phrases that were soon to become all too fam- iliar: 'cultural Bolshevism' and 'the dry-rot of Marxist-atheist thought.' The Daily Telegraph on June 6 said that this manifesto 'awakens memories of the sort of utterance with which Wilhelm II was wont from time to time to con- vulse pre-war German politics.' It would seem that in the British press as a whole the worst German ghost that could then be conjured up was Wilhelm II.

Papen was not content with words alone. Fol- lowing the reappearance in the streets of uni- formed SA and SS men, fighting had become a commonplace once again. There was a riot in Altona, near Hamburg, on June 18 in which fifteen people were killed and 285 wounded. Party parades were at last banned on the follow- ing day. And on the grounds' that the Social Democrat minority government of Prussia was unable to preserve public order—Papen blamed the rioting on the Marxists alone—he removed that government by force on July 20 and ap- pointed himself dictator of Prussia. He was able to produce flimsy legal justification. But what was perhaps even more significant than this near-breach of the Constitution was the reaction of the Social Democrat Party and of the trade unions. These, Germany's greatest working- class organisations, debated whether or not to call a general strike, as they had done when the Republic was in danger in 1920. They decided against it. Hitler must have noted that little serious opposition was to be expected from that quarter. A precedent, of aggression on the one hand and surrender on the other, had been established.

What the Papers Said The Morning Post, in a leading article on July 21, said: 'It is difficult to resist the con- clusion that Herr von Papen's government is primarily responsible for the emergency which Herr von Papen has now appointed himself to remedy. . . . For at least two years the Consti-' tution has been a dead letter in all but name. Even Dr. Briining, the champion of the Repub- lican order, had ruled for many months with scant regard either for Parliament or for Con- stitutional precedent. . . Dictatorship is in the air, to say the least; what is mainly lacking is a competent Dictator. . . . The quickest road to peace and order would probably be the advance of Hitler to the helm. . .

The Daily Worker of the same date foresaw Fascism at once, and blamed the Social Demo- crats: 'Hindenburg is putting Hitler in, and the Social Democrat leaders are still sabotaging the united front of the workers. . .

And The Times, a few days later, said : 'It is not by any means certain that a liberal parliamentary constitution is the system that suits Germany best.'

The Daily Express, on August 1, adopted a line in its first leader that was to recur for many years to come. Under the head 'THRICE BLESSED BRITAIN' it wrote: 'Yesterday the people of Germany went to the polls. . . . This morning the German people will rise from their sleepless beds wondering fearfully what new horrors the day will bring upon them. . . . What is going on in Britain? . . . This morning hundreds of thousands are packing up to spend their Bank Holiday secure in the knowledge that while they are away their homes will be pro- tected and that their jobs will be safe for them when they return.'* To judge by the papers I have read, nobody in this country seems to have believed that a Nazi dictatorship might be a threat to Europe and even to Britain herself. French fears were largely discounted as hysterical. Even Elizabeth Wiskemann, in the excellent articles she was then writing about Germany for the New States- man and Nation, hardly warned her readers.

The Reichstag election of July 31, 1932, gave the Nazis doubled representation : 230 seats secured by close on 14,000,000 votes or 37.3 per cent of the electorate. This vastly increased support came from the smaller middle-class parties, which almost disappeared, from the Nationalists, and above all from the young people now voting for the first time. The Communists gained twelve seats. The two great democratic parties, the Socialists and the Catholic Centre, remained' marginally static. This, incidentally, was the largest vote Hitler was ever to obtain in a free election. It was still a long way from the absolute majority he had hoped for, and after four elections in as many months the Nazi Party had exhausted its financial reserves. The British ambassador in Berlin also believed that * There were at that time some two million Britons without a job to return to: on the other hand, eight years were still to elapse before their homes were to be destroyed by Nazi bombs. they had no further political reserves on which to fall back.

The problem was thus again posed, and in more acute form than in April, whether the Nazis should therefore attempt direct action, or perhaps enter a Papen government—for the President remained faithful to his gentleman- rider. Papen was looking for support from almost any quarter, as he had now even less hope than before of ever obtaining a Reichstag majority. His supporters amounted to between thirty-seven and forty-four among a total of 608 deputies.

The problem was indeed acute. The SA were getting out of hand. Throughout the first week of August there was bomb-throwing and shooting every day, in many cities. Finally, on August 9, the Papen Government ordered the death penalty for manslaughter resulting from political clashes. The Nazis protested loudly, and on that same day five Nazis kicked a Communist to death, in his home, before his mother's eyes. This, one incident among many, became of symbolic im- portance—the Potempa- murder. The five Nazis were arrested, to face trial on August 22.

Hitler's Terms It was in these inauspicious circumstances that, on August 13, Papen and Schleicher conferred with Hitler with a view to his joining their gov- ernment. In preliminary conversations with Schleicher eight days before—that is to say before the new decree and before the Potempa murder— Hitler had stated his terms: the Chancellorship and control of Prussia as well as of the Reich and Prussian police services. Furthermore by the 13th Hitler had reneged on his qualified promise to support the Papen government and was attacking it with his usual violence. Papen And Schleicher, however, were aware, as was Hitler, that the excesses of .the Storm Troopers were losing him his 'respectable' support, and they believed characteristically that they could now do a deal. (As the Manchester Guardian put it three days later: 'With the fall of Dr. Bruning and the exodus of Dr. Braun, the Prussian premier, all the common decencies seem to have gone out of German high politics.') This Hitler refused, sticking to his original demands which he amplified by saying that he wanted the powers that had been Mtissolini's in 1922, Papen and Schleicher not unnaturally turned this offer down, and went ahead with their plans to govern by presidential decree. They planned to steal the Nazi thunder by aggressive anti- Marxism at home and almost equally aggressive nationalism abroad, and had begun by walking out of the Disarmament Conference on which so much hope was placed by liberals everywhere.

It was beginning to look as if none of the three alternative routes to power open to Hitler would materialise, neither revolution, nor Con- stitutional acceptance, nor the side door of coalition. There, was a definite feeling among those in the know, both in Germany and abroad, that perhaps the Nazi Party had shot its bolt. This feeling was not shared by Adolf Hitler.t t Nor, apparently, was it shared by the Daily Worker, which, as early as August 11, had an- nounced beneath banner headlines that Hitler had been appointed Chancellor on the previous day, with Schleicher as War Minister. As usual it blamed the Social Dernocrats for this unfortunate, and mature, re, occurrence.