The Conquest of the Masses
Nazi Propaganda. By Z. A. B. Zeman. (0.U.P./Wiener Library, 35s.)
POWER has been ,construed in the past in, eco- nomic and military terms. The French Revolution introduced a third category: public opinion. Bismarck and Cavour knew how to handle propa- ganda, but it was not till the First World War that the manipulation of mass opinion under totalitarian circumstances became really effective. In Britain there was the information centre at Crewe House, and this had• its equivalent in most of the belligerent States. Even small coun- tries, in particular Czechoslovakia under Benes and Masaryk, learnt to manipulate the new weapon. Propaganda has always been with us, but in this century the novelty has lain in its popular character and in the scientific aids at its dis- posal. The great totalitarian movements have been surprisingly unabashed in their handlings here. Whereas Britain had a Ministry of 'In- formation,' the Communists never concealed the importance they attached to 'agitprop.' And 'promi' was soon promoted to departmental status in National Socialist Germany. The machinations of Crossman, Delmer, Lockhart, Steed and Wells were conducted unobtrusively; Goebbels was far more transparent.
Indeed, propaganda was part of the essence of National Socialism. Hitler, in Mein Kampf, had written with searing contempt on the gulli- bility of the masses . . . 'propaganda and again Propaganda. That way lies victory.' This was in 1925. Goebbels, a few days after his appoint- ment in March, 1933, likened the masses and their connection with the Political leadership to a keyboard under the fingers of a great pianist. 'The bigger the lie,' Hitler confided to his readers, 'the more successful the outcome.' Theirs was a new demagogy. A great demagogue of the nineteenth century, Daniel O'Connell, said that repetition of the most obvious kind never failed to achieve its purpose. But such men, even at their most vulgar, never professed complete in- difference to the truth of what they were ad- vocating. The Nazi and Marxist leaders were Machiavellian a l'outrance—the ends, whatever they happened to be, justified all the means.
Zeman is the first to attempt to analyse the details and methods of Goebbels's activities. The 'promi' had won Berlin before the Machtither- nahme in his Gauleiter role. He was the best educated of the party leaders, the only one with a university degree. Hitler himself spent many hours a day drafting slogans, designing uniforms and badges and composing headlines for the Party newspapers before the ranks really swelled. As Hitler's authority grew, Goebbels took over the main burden of Nazi publicity. He intro- duced the Fiihrer cult and the whole parapher- nalia of Party demonstrations. No one can deny that both Goebbels and Hitler worked very hard. Yet the success of the publicity machine was more obvious in Germany than outside it. The People were mastered not only by propaganda, but by the glamour and terror of visible power. Enormous sums of money were spent on spread- ing the image abroad. There is little evidence that anything significant was achieved here. Italy Was not won over to the Axis by 'promi.' The fall of France is not to be explained by the out- Pourings of the Reichsrundfunk or the venality of French journalists.
As Zeman points out, two constant themes ran through Nazi propaganda : anti-Semitism and anii=Communism. The identification of Hitler With this dual policy undoubtedly gained him some foreign allies, but 'similar results could
have been achieved with far greater economy. Within the Reich the little-known company direc- tor Max Amann (Hitler had once been his bat- man) monopolised the press. Napoleon described the press as the eighth great power. Goebbels dubbed radio- the ninth. He had the wit to see how dull the Nazified press had become. Every- thing could be made palatable as well as useful through the medium of broadcasting. In English society the `little doctor' might well have been a super Carleton Greene. Some of the middle class remained sceptical, but the workers were wholly taken in.
Hitler addressed the press personally in 1938, asking them to inculcate enthusiasm for war. The journalists did their best, but there was little response. The enthusiasm only came after the military victories of 1940-41. Here the radio, as with the party congresses at Nuremberg, helped a lot. Special announcements, fanfares and marching songs kept the fever up. After 1941 it was poor Allied propaganda, mistaken Allied diplomacy and fear of Bolshevik invasion that Goebbels played on with such effect.
Some of Zeman's chapters are excellent, such as those dealing with the conquest of the masses before 1933, party agencies abroad and foreign broadcasting, though his handling of the latter is somewhat unsteady. Austria and Britain re- ceive special consideration. France and Italy are ignored. Why is there no mention of Conwell- Evans or the Ribbentrop circle and high society in London from 1936 to 1938? Or of de Brinon and Abetz in France during the same period? It seems that his book is based almost entirely on sources available in the Wiener Library. There is far more material which could have been used.
This study raises the old question of just how far propaganda pays. Public relations are now the fashion all over the world. Once publicity is recognised to be propaganda, its stock falls rapidly. There are now immense vested interests in this type of activity, as in television advertis- ing. How can the returns be checked? Goebbels, for example, wasted much energy and money on foreign propaganda, but was he any less suc- cessful that his rivals in France, Britain and the US? The great issues of peace and war are not determined by those who manipulate mass opinion or by those who purvey 'information.'