Background to Nazism

The Paris Peace Conference (1919) and its treatment of Germany.

The Weimar Republic (1918-33)

After the war was over, a republican government was established in Germany with a constitution drawn up at Weimar, Germany, hence its name.  This republican government, however, was shaky from the very start. The right wing charged the Social Democratic Party, which was the majority in the Weimar government, with losing the war, the left wing charged it as social fascists.  To many Germans, it was simply not a very effective government.

The French occupation and hyperinflation.

1923, the French occupation of the Ruhr Valley, because they could not get sufficient reparations from Germany, decided to extract reparations in the form of coal. Passive resistance from German workers led to downfall of German economy.  This prepared the way for a popular acceptance of Hitler's behavior when he tried to storm the democratic government in Munich.

Exchange rate between US dollar and Deutsch mark:

$1=4.6M (early 1923)

$1=800 million M (Nov.1923)

$1=4 trillion M (later)

The rise of Nazism

The rise of Hitler (1889-1945)

Hitlerís alliance with the right wing in the Weimar Republic

Joining the German Workersí Party (1919), and reorganizing it into the National Socialist Workersí Party (NAZI) in 1920.

In 1923, Hitler and war hero Ludendorff marched on the Munich government and was put in prison. He became an instant hero and wrote "My Struggle" in prison.

Hitlerís goals of expansion

Hitler capitalized on the German sense of grievance over WWI settlement against Germany, and projected an "autarchy," a self-autonomous country that did not have anything to do with the West, which comprised eastern Europe including Poland and Russia.

Hitlerís vision for the Nazi state

Anti-Semitism

Hitlerís racism was both real and strategically placed. His anti-Semitism was closely related to his identification of the Jew as the embodiment of the modern. Also, he gave a racial explanation of the Jew.

Hitlerís racism did not prevent him from forming an alliance with the Japanese to jointly attack the USSR. He called the Japanese the "honorary Aryans."

While Hitler was conservative in outlook, he also used his conservatism strategically, knowing that many Germans after the Great Depression of 1929 shared with him nostalgia for a "golden past."  He appealed to their anger over German surrender in 1918 and their belief that it was the modern society that brought about the degeneration of the German state.  

Joining the right wing belief that Germany was "stabbed in the back" by socialists in 1918, Hitler opposed both domestic and international socialism (USSR); he also condemned Jews for being responsible for everything modern, as well as for causing socialism in Germany and internationally.

Hitler as a propagandist

Hitler was an amazing propagandist, which to a great extent explained his hold on the German population.  He said that it was important to limit the number of enemies to make them believable for the masses: "When the vacillating masses see themselves fighting against too many enemies, objectivity at once sets in and raises the question whether really all the others are wrong and only oneís own people or oneís own movement is right."

"All propaganda has to appeal to the peopleÖ.The larger the mass of men to be reached, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be set."

"The receptive capacity of the great masses is very restricted, its understanding smallÖ, its forgetfulness is greatÖ.[A]ll effective propaganda must restrict itself to very few points and impress these by slogansÖ."

Hitlerís Racism

Hitler's racism was based on his own interpretation of the nature of the Germans, which he described as "noble" through a borrowed word Aryan. The word Aryan comes from Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, and denoted the white tribe that invaded India 3,500 years ago. In Sanskrit Aryan also meant "noble," as in character, as well as social class.  Hitler's use of the word was obviously borrowed from Houston Steward Chamberlain, a naturalized German citizen who used to be an English subject, whose country colonized India.

"Purity of the German blood": Hitler's description of the Germans as a race was inaccurate from an archaeological and biological point of view.  The ancient word "Germania" was first used not to refer to a unified people, but territories outside of the Roman Empire in Europe inhabited by foreign tribes.  This was a mistake however, committed first by Chamberlain.  

What was superior about the German race: to Hitler, the superiority of the Aryan race lay in their "herd-like" group identity and dedication to following a leader, versus individualism, a new idea Hitler hated.  It was this "herd-like" quality that would enable the Germans to act as one and conquer new territories.

Comparison of 19th century Racism and Hitlerís Racism

Hitlerís talk of the Aryan raceís leadership of civilization in guiding the non-Aryan natives, in comparison with Kiplingís "White Manís Burden."  In both cases one sees condescension to the non-white races.  In Hitler's case, however, the process of the white race's conquest of the rest of the world was perceived more as a life/death struggle to survive for the white race.  Their defeat of the other races and greater conquest of the world would prove their superiority hence their adaptation to the social environment.

Conclusion

Like Mussolini, Hitler was a totalitarian ruler, and more so.  On the other hand, Hitler also tried to appeal to the German masses.  He was a superior propagandist, and had a whole system of philosophy of how to indoctrinate the masses, which he recorded in Mein Kempf. His own conservative outlook shaped his views against big departments, stock markets, and his nostalgia for the Germany in its grand old days--before 1890, when Germany was still quite rural and did not have as many of the institutions and problems which came with industrialization.  On the other hand, he also used conservatism to his advantage: he  was very self-conscious of what he was doing--he knew after the Great Depression hit home, many Germans longed for stability, the "good old days," and someone to blame for all their misfortune.  His conservatism did not prevent him from making full use of modern technology in weaponry and penetration of society by his regime through automobiles, telecommunications, weapons, etc.  His racism was one of his means to appeal to broad masses who felt humiliated by Germany's treatment at the Paris Peace Conference and frustration over their economy in the 1930s: by appealing to their pride through some supposed intrinsic quality they possessed.  The Jewish connection to big businesses and socialist movements, including international socialism--Marx, Trotsky (Lenin's contemporary and later Stalin's right hand man), and historical persecution of them by Christians who blamed them for killing Christ, among others, made them the easy target in Hitler's definition of who did not belong in Germany.  Hitler's racism also made use of a version of Darwinism to justify territorial expansion: Darwin's argument for adaptation to the environment,  was used by Hitler to argue for territorial expansion of the Germans which would prove they adapted well to their environment, hence they were the superior race.  The term national socialism (Nazism) that characterized Hitler's regime signified the use of nationalism and socialistic policies (aid to the unemployed, punishment of big businesses, support to small businesses, etc.), although Hitler, like Mussolini, both resorted to the backing of big capitalists for their money.  And like in Mussolini's Italy, the supporters of Hitler cut across class lines and formed a wide spectrum of society, which showed Hitler's success in manipulating mass politics.