Commonly known as "Nazis", just as the Weimar era German Socialists were known as "Sozis". Originally a worker's movement, after Adolf Hitler joined the Party and became a speaker, the political and social program of the National Socialists became more and more directed towards redressing the "crime" of the "stab in the back" at the highest levels of government that was legendarily blamed for handing Germany supine to the Allied Powers at the end of the First World War. This unfortunately also involved much more than this fantasy. The status and role of German Jews was inextricably woven into the conspiracy theory. One could go on and on. Anyway, after an abortive putsch, some relaxing and well-tended prison time for Hitler, the Party developed a massive public relations campaign. This involved, amongst other multi-media activities, Hitler flying from city to city in the space of a day. (This was called "Hilter Over Germany".) After winning a few seats in the Reichstag, the National Socialists entered into coalitions and eventually reached the point where Hitler was invited to become Chancellor of the Republic. Which ended the Republic. I would say, "the rest is history", but it was much worse than any other period of history.

National Socialism, a subset of fascism, is a political philosophy that is most notorious for having been the party ideology of Adolf Hitler's Nazis. National socialism combined an appeal to workers and the middle classes, radical anti-capitalism (in its movement stage) together with political opportunism, anti-Marxist agitation and violence, and fierce ethnic nationalism, anti-Semitism and racism. Upon achieving state power, the doctrine of National Socialism has proven to be genocidal, totalitarian, and imperialist. National Socialism claims to resolve the contradictions between capital and labor, often through a "third way".

source: Soundtracks to the White Revolution: White Supremacist Assaults on Youth Music Subcultures, edited by Devin Burghart

The citations in this writeup are presently referring to a course packet from Grinnell College. I will replace them with more useful references soon; in the meantime, please message me if you want a full reference.

With his rise to power, Adolf Hitler drew on the extant forces of Nationalism, forged in the French occupation of Germany in the early 1800s, and of Socialism, refined through the numerous upheavals of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Joined in the climate of international economic depression and German defeat and with the strong will of a uniquely driven demagogue, a newly powerful machine was born. Couched in Bismarck’s unilateralism, Nazism disregarded normal measures for complete domination, a domination somehow accepted peaceably.

Early indications of nationalist doctrine and its causes are seen in the writings of Johann Gottfried Herder at the close of the eighteenth century. His history of the world (1784-91) concluded with a section detailing his conclusions on the roles of languages, races, nations, and peoples in the development of humanity, noting in particular lingual distinctions between “active peoples” and “cultivated peoples” and indicting unsuccessful peoples for “not exercising the right that God gave them with the divine gift of reason” and overthrowing despotism (8A, 136). While Herder does make some statements that seem terribly inflammatory today, he is also very optimistic about the potential for improvement, encouraging the Jews to assimilate and “contribute to the good of the state” (138) and calling for historians to look with a mind that “must free itself from all presuppositions. . .and judge dispassionately” (135). His attempts to promote concern for racial identity had particular resonance in the context of Germany’s status at the time, a fragmented region split among various large and small states and intermingling with Frankish and Slavic peoples in some areas. The notes to value diversity might easily be co-opted to hold up a particular race as superior; even Herder falls into this trap by setting up dichotomies of the weak nations enduring with “patient indolence” under despots and the strong nations working to “energetic improvement” (136). Worse yet, he indulges in the same judgment that he had previously decried by classifying Africans as “close to the ape” (136).

While it is impossible to say whether Herder’s positions are the cause or the symptom of strong racial identity in Germany, by the time of Napoleon’s conquest and subsequent French occupation, resistance writers had adopted the position of self-determination for the German nation, not the liberation of the Prussian state. Characteristic, perhaps, of a people shamed by submission to foreign invaders, pamphlets by Ernst Moritz Arndt in January 1813, shortly after Napoleon’s defeat in Russia, call for a rally of the people to the Fatherland. Arndt alternately holds up the exemplary nationalism of the Russian people and invokes a glorious German past, in Frederick the Great, in an attempt, it seems, to unify the German people in embarrassment and indignant revolt against the French. Quite naturally, he demonizes the occupation: “hatred of the foreign, hatred of the French, of their trinkets, their vanity, their lechery, their language. . .must unify all Germans. . .must allow German bravery, German liberty, German discipline, German honor and justice. . .” (4Db, 147). The dichotomy here is unmistakably encouraging a battle of races, not of states.

While the foundations for nationalism are certainly apparent in the works of Herder and Arndt, it was not until the rise of Bismarck in the latter half of the nineteenth century that nationalism came into its own as a basis for political power. Otto von Bismarck, Prime Minister under Kaiser William I and later the first Chancellor, used his great personal power to implement nationalist policies of military expansion and Kulturkampf – a purge of the enemies of the Reich. Shortly after his September 1862 appointment, Bismarck addressed the House of Representatives, criticizing parliamentary government by saying, “The great issues of the day are not decided through speeches and majority resolutions. . .but through blood and iron” (6Gb, 209). While this comment provoked strong resistance from the left, by 1866 he had gained enough support to split the Progressive Party with the formation of the National Liberal Party. The new party formed as many representatives broke ranks to support Bismarck’s Indemnity Bill, granting the Kaiser and Minister authority to spend 154 million Taler without parliamentary oversight. With the emergence of National Liberalism, it is apparent that there had developed a cult of personality, exhibited in Bismarck’s call for the Bill’s passage, “Even though it has often been said, ‘What the sword has won, the pen has lost,’ I have complete confidence that we will never hear it said, ‘What the sword and pen have won, has been destroyed by this rostrum!’” (6Gc, 213). By directly challenging the right of the House of Representatives to oppose him, Bismarck counts on and receives abnormally complete trust.

The competition between peoples from Herder and Arndt appeared again in the policy of Kulturkampf – “Culture Struggle” – in 1872. Responding to the 1871 formation of the Catholic Center Party, Bismarck mocks claims by the Church to proportional representation by “confession” and concludes that the minorities will have to be satisfied with the majority and the protections it offers, to wit:

But we cannot concede the claim by religious authorities to the permanent exercise of a part of state power, and insofar as they possess a part thereof, we are compelled in the interests of peace to reduce that part. . . (6Ia, 219)

When an anarchist expelled from the Social Democratic Party made an attempt on the Kaiser’s life in 1878, Bismarck had the premise to mount another campaign for further centralized power, enacting the Anti-Socialist Law, which denounced the Socialist movements for anti-democratic demagogy and placed limitations on their organization. His justification called for German countrymen to resist the violent Russian Socialists and to look to the strongly Germanic Kaiser (6Ib, 222). Again, Bismarck personally took responsibility, vouching for the conditions of the worker and taking steps for top-down amelioration.

Altogether, Bismarck’s time as Prime Minister and Chancellor served to focus the preceding tendencies to nationalism and infuse them with his own powerful personality to create a political platform of central control and authority. The success of Bismarck certainly enabled the subsequent rise of National Socialism, in which the ascendancy of race founded a personal dynamo for German nationalism, drawing authority from the similar actions of Bismarck and Frederick. While Nazism needed the prior example of Bismarck for widespread acceptance, its doctrine and draw was more complex.

Nazism as a theoretical creation drew, as Hitler described in Mein Kampf, those in favor of improving social conditions, but opposed to the apparent disregard of the Social Democrats and Communists for the German Nation. Hitler’s own experience with Social Democrats was terribly negative, “they rejected everything: the nation…the Fatherland. . .the authority of the law. . .schools. . .religion. . .morality. . .There was absolutely nothing that did not get dragged through the muck” (12G, 410).

Significantly, before attributing the problems of the SPD to the Jews, Hitler’s argument parallels Bismarck’s complaints that the SPD uses demagogy to undermine the state. While the Nazi party drew socialists wary of Marxism’s and Communism’s rampant internationalism, the theoretical body of Nazism was no more than Hitler’s personal beliefs; party theoretician Alfred Rosenberg had no influence on policy, and Gregor Strasser’s resistance to Hitler’s direction was thoroughly rejected and ultimately quashed.

It seems likely that a party along the lines of the National Socialist party would have formed as the natural product of a line of nationalist thought and Bismarck’s absolutist policy, but the primary draw of Nazism, the personality cult of Hitler, allowed it to rise to success. Certainly, Hitler’s personal prowess was no product of a longtime evolution, but rather a driven man who managed to succeed by pushing scapegoats and nationalism, both appealing to the defeated.

Why was there so little resistance to Nazi rule in Germany 1933-39?

In identifying causes for the lack of resistance to the Nazi party after it came to power it is necessary to consider what forms such resistance could take, and as such explain what limitations there were to the possible sources of this resistance. When examining resistance in the Nazi state, it is useful to focus on the overt acts of dissent which were most noticeably absent- such as organised conspiracies to topple the regime or activities such as strikes. Whilst it should be recognised that everyday concerns and grumbles could be seen as resistance to the Nazi party or its policies, they do not present a challenge1 to Nazi rule and thus only active resistance will be considered here.

When examining the reasons for a lack of organised resistance post-1933 there are essentially three elements that can be considered: the weaknesses of the initial base for opposition; the measures taken by the Party to neutralise potential sources of opposition; and general enthusiasm for the Nazis.

Obviously for there to be resistance to Nazi rule there had to be groups that held alternative views. Before the Nazis came to power the groups most resistant to Nazi ideology were Catholics and the working class due to the strength of their own ideological beliefs. Thus with other sections of society largely supportive of Hitler’s coming to power, it is amongst these groups that you would expect organised, well-defined resistance to emerge. However, each group was restricted in its capacity to effectively counter the Nazi party.

Resistance from the working class arose mainly from socialist parties. However, these were not able to present a united front, as rivalry between the SPD and KPD was considerable - the KPD seeing the SPD as untrustworthy due to their involvement in the coalition government that has suppressed the spartacist movement; whereas the SPD considered the KPD too extreme or simply pawns of Moscow. Although the KPD had seen an increase in support pre-1933, this was more than counteracted by the decline in SPD votes in this period. Thus the left wing parties were ill prepared compared to the ruthlessly efficient Nazi party. Once trade unions were dismantled in 1933 and replaced with the Nazi-centric DAF - and the upper echelons of the KPD and SPD were either taken into protective custody or fled to exile - the organisational powers of each collapsed. As a result most resistance once the Nazi’s had come to power revolved around keeping the parties alive in some form - the circulation of literature or intelligence-gathering operations - but certainly nothing like a mass movement to overthrow the Nazis- they simply didn’t have the strength.

The Catholic Church, given its international organisation and resultant independence from the state, could be expected to generate a more effective source of resistance. However, the concerns of the church were essentially that it was able to preserve its own structures rather than having a wider concern for German society. Thus they were willing to accept a withdrawal from political activism provided that the Nazis didn’t encroach upon religious concerns. The concordat effectively removes the Catholic Church as a source of organised political resistance, and it can be seen that dissent was only voiced when the Nazis were seen as going too far as regards influence in church- such as the attempted replacement of crucifixes with pictures of Hitler in catholic schools.

As a result it can be seen that the most promising sources of resistance before the Nazis came to power were not able to capitalise on this after 1933. It is however necessary to identify the measures by which the Nazis sought to prevent new bases of opposition from emerging.

The popular image of Nazi rule is of a highly repressive state which used terror as its main tool in suppressing resistance, through an all-powerful police network. Although such an image within Germany would have benefited the Nazis, in reality terrorising the public was not the only approach. More positive methods were taken to try and kindle enthusiasm for Hitler’s rule or at the least to de-politicise the people to the extent that they were no longer concerned.

The influence of terror should be recognised, as despite the low numbers of Gestapo officers, the general public itself became their source of intelligence. With the nazification of all elements of life - at home, at work or at social events - there was always the possibility that whoever you were talking to could be an informer, and thus fear of the Gestapo could explain a reluctance to speak out in dissent. The police state thus gained an aura of omniscience that minimised resistance as would-be dissenters felt it safer to avoid drawing attention to themselves and instead retreated as much as possible from involvement in the Nazi state.

By integrating Nazism into all aspects of life, Hitler hoped that the party would be seen more as a part of life than a distinctly political entity. Thus whilst the absorption of trade unions through the DAF or the replacement of youth movements with the Hitler Youth might be viewed negatively, projects such as KdF - strength through joy - sought to improve the lives of ordinary Germans and as such neutralise their resistance to other Nazi policies. The offers of foreign holidays, the "peoples’ car" and the "peoples’ radio" - all previously luxury items available only to the very rich - were genuinely successful in making the Nazi party more acceptable to those who might otherwise have resisted a purely repressive state in which they perceived themselves as worse off.

Finally, it should be recognised that amongst large sections of society there was enthusiasm for Nazi rule - although sometimes initially motivated by negative support due to disillusionment with the Weimar republic or fear of the influence of left wing political parties - the economic recovery and creation of full employment helped to reinforce Nazi popularity.

In conclusion therefore, it can be seen that the most likely sources of resistance to the Nazis- the political left and the Catholic Church - lacked the organisation required or were more concerned with protecting their own interests to risk direct confrontation with Nazi rule. Furthermore, the establishment of an effective police state and the infiltration of all aspects of life by Nazi ideology, along with attempts to de-politicise the masses, meant that once these sources of resistance had been crushed no new ones would emerge to fill the gaps. Finally, the genuine enthusiasm held by the majority for Hitler meant that resistance to Nazi rule was inevitably restricted in scope in the period 1933-39.


1 In general; eliserh points out that after the Nuremberg laws were passed, which essentially placed the Jewish population in a state of outlawry, there were enough shows of sympathy to Jews that the regime had to introduce severe criminal penalties for such things as offering one's seat on the tube to a Jewish person, etc. It's hard to say exactly how much of that was going on, but it had to have reached a certain level for the central government to have become concerned with it.

Written 03/ii/2002 as part of my A-level studies; I was reminded of this by Kyudosha's recently C!ed writeup in memetic engineering so I dug it out my archives. Apologies for the incredibly long sentences I was clearly fond of back then, and let me know if you find factual errors!

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