Who Were The Fascists: Social Roots of European Fascism; Edited by Stein Ugelvik Larsen, Bernt Hagtvet, and Jan Petter Myklebust; Distributed by Columbia University Press; New York.
Richard F. Hamilton: Who Voted for Hitler?; Princeton University Press; Princeton, NJ.
Who Were The Fascists consists of more than 800 pages of papers (replete with notes) which formed the basis of a conference held in Bergen, Norway in June 1974. The papers appear to cover an impressively broad area of observation: observations on mass societies, spiritual breakdown, societal conditions, varieties of fascism in Austria, Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, southern and western Europe, and Scandinavia. But reading them is like dining in a restaurant in which the various dishes listed on the menu all turn out to be spaghetti. The spaghetti in this instance is served with a Marxist sauce, in which the rise of fascism and nazism and its cousins is traced to a lower-middle-class revolt. This unanimity of assumption reduces what at first appears to be an impressively broad academic conference into the academic equivalent of a cult faith meeting.
The absence of specificity in these papers regarding the targets (later the victims) of the nazis betrays the contributors’ difficulty in confronting reality, which is reflected in the persistence of their class assumptions. The entire Marxist assumption of the universality of class conflict and class interest was, in fact, demolished by Karl Wittfogel in his classic Oriental Despotism. In this impressive work, later simplified by Igor Shafarevich in The Socialist Phenomenon, Wittfogel pointed out that ancient societies in Egypt, China, Peru, and other regions where agricultural systems were maintained by huge irrigation networks did not have classes: merely a despot and masses. Classes emerged with the Greeks. And Marx, being educated at a time when Germany (like Britain) was in passionate thrall to misreadings of ancient Greece, took the highly specialized and indi vidualized West as the pattern of all humanity.
Richard F. Hamilton, on the other hand, has written an interesting and absorbing hook Who Voted for Hitler? is grounded in an examination of the voting records of a number of significant German regions. (Thai this has not already been done is only one of the surprises in Hamilton’s book.) The overall voting record is, of course, well-known. The nazis received a minus cule 2.6 percent of the German vote in 1928, and were considered an unimportant splinter party. In 1930 they jumped to 18.3 percent. And in July 1932, the Nazis reached 37.3 percent of the vote—and were the largest single party in the body politic of Germany. Despite this, Hindenburg named Von Papen as Chancellor. Von Papen, however, needed votes in the Reichstag. Despite and electio held in November 1932 in which the Nazis lost 2 million votes, a Von Papen-engineered coalition resulted in Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor. And in March 1933, a final election was held in which the nazis, then in control of the police and the radio, received 43.9 percent. By that time, Hitler was firmly in power.
By examining the voting records in depth, Dr. Hamilton provides a convincing explanation of the nazi ascendance. In 1928 the nazis shifted their major effort from the cities to the countryside. These regions, relatively uncanvassed, proved susceptible to their rhetoric. Entire villages and towns swung from the conservative parties to the nazis. But the swing was not across the board, and did not occur in all rural districts. The districts that went for the nazis were mainly Protestant; Catholic districts remained loyal to the Catholic Zentrum Party. Furthermore, the votes thus influenced were not restricted to lower-middle-class citizens. Tey included large as well as small landowners. In a number of small Protestant cities, towns, and villages, these large and small landowners were led in voting by both aristocrats and upper-middle-class leaders. Dr. Hamilton’s evidence indicates that, far from inciting a lower-middle-class rebellion, the nazis captured the silk-stocking vote, and not the working class, the unemployed, the lumpen proletariat, or the bulk of the lower middle class. Hamilton, however, is careful to make clear that some members of all these groups did vote for the nazis. He devotes a considerable effort to proving that mass parties contain at least some elements of every class.
The nazis were energetic and innovative campaigners. They had true—and militant—believers; they had many skillful speakers; they worked year-round. They operated like a franchise, sending suggestions and guides but actually relying upon local leaders, fund-raisers, and vote-getters. An important element in the nazis’ rise was the decision of Alfred Hugenberg, head of the Conservative Party and a press magnate, to work cooperatively with them. This meant that nazi leaders such as Hitler, Göring, Goebbels, et al., had their speeches and appearances respectfully covered in Hugenberg’s news papers. This had the effect of making the nazis appear respectable from 1928 to 1932.
Many persons who voted for the nazis switched from conservative parties. The major reason for this, according to Hamilton, is that these parties stressed nationalism and opposition to the Versailles Treaty, harbored strands of anti-Semitism, and, in a number of fundamental respects, had programs that were similar to those of the nazis but which were less effectively presented.
In terms of general press coverage, Hamilton points out, most respectable Germans didn’t read Julius Streicher’s scandalous paper, but they did read the conservative press. That press spent much of its time portraying the communist menace in lurid terms, to such an extent that many Germans, by 1932, expected a recurrence of the communist revolutionary efforts of the immediate post-World War I period. The nazis were depicted as fighters against communists.
Hamilton has also made some other interesting observations about the German political situation in the early 1930’s. Rising unemployment (due largely to a cutback in American investments) resulted in declining government revenues. The prevailing economic theory upon which Chancellor Bruning relied was one that involved curtailing social expenditures and raising taxes in order to balance the national budget. The Marxist parties (communists and Social Democrats) in the Reichstag would not agree to a cut in social services, and the conservatives would not agree to an increase in taxes. The result was governmental paralysis and an intensified atmosphere of crisis in 1932. Dr. Hamilton does not discuss the economic situation in Germany in detail, perhaps because it is outside his chosen area—election returns and how they were achieved. But it is worth noting that by 1932 the German government had intervened in the private sector to a marked degree. A major development in that intervention was the nationalization of the banks. This marked the final stage in economic control by the government—before Hitler.
Another factor assisting the nazis was the persistent revolutionary rhetoric of the communists and the continuous sight of the unemployed on the streets. In reality, the communists were less numerous than has been assumed: their core membership was only 120,000 in 1928, when their votes amounted to 4.5 million. A major communist error was in claiming to be a revolutionary rather than an electoral party. But a greater error was their decision in 1928 to attack the Social Democrats. This split the left, and opened the way for the minority nazis.
In February 1933, after Hitler’s accession, the mayor of Altona, Max Brauer, asked the chairman of the Reichstag’s communist faction, Ernst Torgler, to unite with his Social Democrats against the nazis. Torgler replied: “It doesn’t enter our heads. The Nazis must take power. Then in four weeks the whole working class will be united under the leadership of the Communist Party.” A few days later Brauer spoke to the Soviet ambassador, who repeated the same party line. On February 27, 1933, Hitler outlawed the German Communist Party.
Of course, the communists and Social Democrats were not the only ones who misunderstood the nature of the nazi peril. Business groups, too, have come under fire, mostly from Marxists who charge that fascism is “the final stage of capitalism.” Dr. Hamilton makes it clear that, while some big businessmen did help Hitler (notably Fritz Thyssen and Alfred Hugenberg), until he became politically dominant the majority of German industrialists had spread their money fuirly widely, as a sort of insurance. Their interest in politics was minimal. The majority of businessmen found operating their enterprises a full-time task, and left politics to politicians. Once Hitler was in power, these businessmen learned that the world had changed. Summoned before Hitler, Göring and Dr. Schacht, they coughed up three million marks at a single meeting—and from then on, danced to the nazi tune.
So did all of Germany. The nazis obtained power according to the forms of Weimar, which is to say, democratically. They then proceeded to eradicate democracy. They maintained the facade of capitalism in the sense of disparate in comes and titular ownership, but the freedom of business was leeched as thoroughly as political freedom. Business groups and associations were eliminated and a governmentally controlled “common front” was created for management, just as unions were wiped out and replaced by a labor “front.” Germany shifted to a wartime economy with a command government, and by 1935 resistance was useless. Dr. Hamilton describes the result as Caesarism: rule by force over all citizens, including the former ruling class.
Why has this rise been so persistently misrepresented? The German people voted for a man who delivered what he did not promise; they have since been credited with voting for what they received. Hamilton’s belief is that this angry and resentful explanation was provided by the refugees from Weimar. Of course, the explanations were Marx. ist: most of them were Social Democrats. Their party, which had ruled (though always in coalitions), may have been forced to make compromises in its years at the top, but it had retained its Marxist rhetoric (and reasoning). The very accomplishments in which it took the most pride—compulsory arbitration, an expensive unemployment-insurance program, and other welfare steps—had helped lead the German government into crisis. Notes Dr. Hamilton:
In the constant stream of mutual praise and self-congratulation issued by the scholars themselves and by their devoted followers, some questions are steadfastly avoided. It is a rare occasion when one hears of criticisms such as those offered by Henry Pachter, himself an intellectual and a refugee of Hitler’s Germany, who declared that ‘we were a generation of first class mediocrities. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the myth of the Weimar intellectual was created by us refugees who needed so much to identify with one element, one memory or assumption of the paradise which is so suddenly turned into hell.’
In selecting this quote, and in marshaling his evidence, Dr. Hamilton has done well. Intellectuals, he observed, are apt to be members of a self-segregating community with distinctive patterns of speech, dress, and thought. Such individuals lose contact with those outside their enclave; they sometimes cease to regard or even to be aware of the ordinary facts of life that motivate the average person. In such intellectual circles, certain assumptions acquire permanence. The Communist Manifesto of 1848 contains a tirade against “small tradespeople, shopkeepers and retired tradesmen.” Later, the same document castigates “the dangerous class, the social scum (lumpenproletariat), that passively rotting mass whose…conditions of life prepare it…for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.” Dr. Hamilton calls this sort of reasoning scapegoating. And in conclusion he again cites Pachter, who said: “The great discovery…was that the dividing line is not between Left and Right but between decent people and political gangsters, between tolerant people and totalitarians.”
To demolish a myth is a difficult but worthwhile task. Richard Hamilton has exposed as nonsense most of the 48 papers in Who Were the Fascists. He has also enlarged our understanding not only of what happened in Germany, but of the perils of democracy as well.