The appeal of Nazism and communism

Nazis' and KPD's electoral support up to June 1932

  • The Nazis and communists gained electoral support in the Depression but the Nazis were more successful in broadening their appeal.
  • Before 1929, the Nazis' core support was from the Mittelstand. Their support from this group increased but they also made gains in the broader middle class and farmers. They exploited farmers' discontent by promising higher prices and protection against imports. They attracted support from the middle class as they were worried about a communist revolution and were disillusioned with middle-class parties e.g. the DVP and DNVP.
  • Hitler stood against Hindenburg and Thalmann of the KPD in the 1932 presidential election. In the first ballot, HIndenburg fell short of the 50% needed for outright victory, triggering a second ballot. Hitler rented an aeroplane and flew around Germany, presenting himself as a national saviour. In the second ballot, Hindenburg won with 53% of the vote, but Hitler received nearly 37% of the vote and in some rural areas, HItler recieved more votes than HIndenburg.
  • The working-class made up nearly half the electorate so their votes were crucial. Most working-class voters had supported the SPD or KPD and this continued in the early 1930s elections. The KPD made gains at the expense of the SPD but their support was largely confined to large cities. The Nazis managed to attract some working-class voters - in the 1930 election, 27% of Nazi voters were manual labourers. 
  • Over the three elections from September 1930 to July 1932, the Nazis more than doubled their electoral support. The communists made gains but struggled to appeal to voters beyond their traditional core.
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The appeal of Nazism

As the economic crisis deepened, society became more polarised and the political system failed to provide governments which could deal with this situation. The Nazis projected an image of decisiveness and energy, offering the prospect of change. Their appeal was based on several factors:

  • Nazi ideology
  • The importance of Hitler to Nazi success
  • The role of anti-Semitism in Nazi electoral success
  • The role of propaganda in Nazi electoral success
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Nazi ideology

They put forward a wide-ranging but loose collection of ideas. They first put forward their ideology in their 25 Point Programme of 1920 which still officially stated their aims in 1933 even though Hitler didn't agree with many of its policies. Hitler changed his policies depending on his audience. 

The power of the will - Hitler presented himself and the Nazis as a force for change. Nazi propaganda claimed that Hitler personified power, strength and a determination to succeed. 

Struggle and war - Struggle, violence and war were at the root of Nazi thinking and actions. Hitler scientifically justified his view that struggle and conflict between races was part of the natural order of things. War would reconstruct German society and create a new Reich through war and the subjugation of other races. So, Nazi propaganda glorified military virtues of courage, loyalty and self-sacrifice.

A racial community - The idea of a Volksgemeinschaft was a key element of Nazi ideology in which only Aryans could be citizens, all others would be treated as subjects. There would be no social classes and all Germans would have an equal chance to move up. All would work for the good of the nation. They wanted a cultural and social revolution in Germany and to create a 'new man' and a 'new woman' who would be aware of the importance of race, work unselfishly for the common good and be willing to follow Nazi leadership.

 

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Nazi ideology

A national socialism - In the 25 Point Programme, many of the policies were economically radical and similar to the communists' and socialists' policies e.g. they wanted to nationalise large companies. But, Hitler never fully committed to these aims and changed his policies depending on his audience. Hitler used 'socialism' loosely (which might appeal to the working-class) and saw socialism and the Volksgemeinschaft as the same. 

The Fuhrerprinzip - Hitler wanted to destory the Weimar Republic as he saw its parliamentary democracy as weak, ineffective and alien to Germany's traditions of an authoritarian government. He believed this democracy encouraged the growth of communism. 

Aggressive nationalism - As a nationalist, Hitler wanted to reverse the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, to establish a 'Greater German Reich' and to secure for Germany its Lebensraum. This was an aggressive form of nationalism as Hitler wanted to expand the Reich's territory which would involve a war.

Anti-Semitism - Nazi propaganda presented Jews as greedy, cunning and having only selfish motives. They were described as having no state of their own and working through a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to establish dominance over other races. They were seen as responsible for Germany's World War defeat, the Treaty of Versailes and Germany's decline as a great power.

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The importance of Hitler to Nazi success

  • Hitler's political skills and qualities were very important to the Nazi party.
  • Many Germans saw him as possessing great charisma and being very good at delivering speeches - his speeches often went on for hours and included a lot of repetition, but he had a hypnotic effect. 
  • He knew how to play on people's emotions and fears and to convince them he had the answers.
  • He tailored his message to his audience.
  • His mass appeal was vital to the electoral success of the Nazis.
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The role of anti-Semitism in Nazi electoral succes

  • Many shopkeepers and small business owners were receptive to the idea that their problems were caused by 'Jewish capitalism'. People who had kept their anti-Semitism quiet were now willing to express it. But, many ordinary Germans didn't agree with the Nazis' anti-Semitism, though they were so preoccupied with their immediate economic issues that they heard what they wanted to hear - they focused on the Nazis' promises to provide food and work. Many people voted Nazi in 1932 in spite of Nazis' anti-Semitism, not because of it.
  • Nazi ideology often changed according to the circumstances e.g. when Hitler delivered a speech to 650 businessmen, he never mentioned Jews, whereas in many other meetings, the Nazis were openly hostile towards Jews. 
  • To widen the support for Nazism, they emphasised issues they had previously neglected e.g. unemployment, resulting in most Nazi propaganda in 1932 having little or nothing to do with anti-Semitism.
  • It is very difficult to judge the political appeal of anti-Semitism; millions of people voted for the NSDAP who had never done so before and it is likely that only a small minority of these had anti-Semitism as their main motive or were influenced by it in any way. 
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The role of propaganda in Nazi electoral success

  • Very skilled in propaganda techniques and this played an important part in their success in winning votes. 
  • Hitler understood the importance of propaganda and Joseph Goebells was a master of propaganda.
  • The Nazis had their own newspapers, published posters and leaflets, put on film shows and staged rallies. These marches and rallies with their banners and songs made a statement about the Nazis' strength.
  • Nazi propaganda targeted different groups and changed the Nazi message to particular target audiences. Mostly, they focused on the simple message that Weimar democracy was responsible for economic depression, natiional humiliation and internal divisions - in its place, they offered a vague but powerful vision of a prosperous and united Germany. 
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The appeal of communism

  • Gained 2 million votes in the Reichstag elections from 1928 to July 1932. Its membership increased from 117,000 in 1929 to 360,000 in 1932. So it was a significant and growing force in German political life.
  • In the 1920s, the KPD had concentrated on building a presence in factories and workshops, whereas after 1929 the party had to focus more on the unemployed - it set up 'committees of the unemployed', did hunger marches and protested against benefit cuts. It tried with some success to take over the 'wild cliques' of working class young men into campaigns against the police. 
  • The Red-Front Fighters' League engaged in frequent street battles with the SA and the police; these tactics had some success as some areas of some cities effectively fell under communist control.
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Policies and ideology

  • Had a revolutionary communist ideology - wanted an end to cuts in unemployment benefits and wages, wanted to legalise abortion, to have close cooperation with the USSR, end military spending and establish a workers' state.
  • Its ultimate aim was to overthrow the Weimar Republic (even though it participated in elections) - they saw the Depression as the final nail in capitalism's coffin which would inevitably lead to a workers' revolution. Therefore, its priority was to replace the SPD as the leading party on the left - labelled the SPD as 'social-fascists'. 
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Strengths

  • Communist propaganda helped attract membership - there were appeals to the unemployed; images of capitalists being smashed by hammers being weilded by workers; some posters emphasised the KPD's links with the USSR; much of its propaganda attacked the SPD as a tool for capitalists. It projected an image which would appeal to its followers and those whose situation had become desperate due to the depression. 
  • Due to its growing membership, the KPD was considerably successful in attracting votes and support at a street and neighbourhood level. 
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Weaknesses

Never came close to launching a successful revolution:

  • Its membership turnover was high - more than 50% of its new members in 1932 left within a few months to be replaced by new recruits.
  • Failed to attract support outside the main industrial areas; had limited appeal among women.
  • Continually short of money - many of its members were unemployed.
  • Concentrated too much on attacking the SPD so did not see the serious threat posed by the Nazi Party - this divided anti-Nazi forces.
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