The Political System in Nazi Germany

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Nazi Political System

Following their assumption of power in January 1933 and victory in the march election the following year-The Nazi's set about changing the nature of government in Germany. A key part of this change was the Enabling Act which allowed the Chancellor to rule without the Reichstag - for a period of 4 years. 

Decision making in Third Reich-Made individually rather than collectively, The Nazi party was a movement which was oftern paralysed by dissensions and mutual distrust. Nazi Leaders-more intent on building up their own power than on developing a consensus for future action. Most agree that the Third Reich was A Chaotic System Of Rival And Overlapping Areas Of Responsibility.

Individual Consideration-Not Collective Government 

  • Proposal submitted by individual ministers,
  • Head of Chancellery distributes a draft of proposal to other ministers individually for comments,
  • Head of Chancellery gives new version of proposal to Hitler,
  • The proposal becomes law after it is signed by Hitler and passed as a decree,
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The development Of Nazi Policy

Hitler did not play a prominent part in day-to-day government. Peterson has described Hitler as 'A remote umpire handing down decisions from high' - when subordinates could not agree amongst themselves. Hitler hated paper work and delegated as much as possible. Usually prefered to let events take their course rather than intervene. 

Development of Nazi Policy came from 'The Fuhrer's Will'. This was Hitlers overall vision and guidelines for action by the Nazi Party. Vision and Guidelines included: 

  • National Revival
  • All-powerfull state
  • Volksgemeinschaft
  • Destruction of internal enemies 
  • Removal of Jews
  • Expansionism
  • Crusade against Bolshevism 
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The development Of Nazi Policy

The key to power for Nazi officials was access to Hitler-Both to get his approval and, crucially, to show others that they had the ear of the Fuhrer. The Fuhrer's will was interpreted by ambitious individuals struggling for power and anticipating Hitler's wishes. Nazi policy was developed by these ambitious individuals who competed with other individuals to be seen to be implementing Hitler's wishes and thus the Fuhrer's will. Nazi government developed into institutional Social Darwinism - Where the most ambitious and those who were most seccessful in being seen to implement Hitler's wishes benefited. 

Hitler as Dictator: 

  • Hitler is the key activator,
  • Policy reflects Hitler's overall vision,
  • No effective opposition to his will, 
  • Hitler is the Mobiliser, Legitimator or policies, but does not specifically initiate many policies, 
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The Hitler Myth

Hitler built up a peculiar form of charismatic leadership, sustained by a powerful 'Hitler Myth' which was helped by successful policies and a powerful propaganda machine. Due to this image of Hitler which was portrayed, he gained a powerful position in the Third Reich. 

Hitler was protrayed as someone who:

  • Personified the nation and stood aloof from selfish intrests, 
  • Understood the German people,
  • Was the architect of Germany's economic miracle,
  • Was the representive of popular justice,
  • Defended Germany against its enemies: Jews, Bolsheviks, Corrupt SA, Extremists, 
  • Was responsible for all the major successes of government, 
  • Was the re-builder of Germany's strengths,
  • Was a mighty bulwark against the nation's enemies, 
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How was the Nazi Political System Organised?

The Nazi state incorporated traditional state and government institutions as well as developing party institutions. The following deals with how key power structures were dealt with by the Nazi's. 

The Reichstag: Under the Enabling Act the Reichstag had granted legislative powers to Hitler, and only seven more laws were passed by the Reichstag. Every 4 years it renewed the Enabling Act. In November, a Nazi list of candidates was approved in a virtual plebicite. This was one of a series of such votes designed to show the popularity of the regime. The Reichstag rarely met, and when it did it was mainly used as propaganda to applaud the speeches of Nazi Leaders.  

Cabinet: Like the Reichstag, the cabinet was retained but increasingly lost its purpose. Initially it only contained three Nazi's, but this was gradually increased. 1930s rarely met, but in 1933 the cabinet met 72 times, in 1937 it only met 7 times and did not meet at all in 1939. Hitler did not believe in an orderly system of governement-decisions tended to be made on an individual basis-depending on who had access to the Fuhrer. During the 1930s the decision making process became more and more chaotic. 

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How was the Nazi Political System Organised? x2

Reich Chancellery: -Central administrative body. Its role was greatly expanded following the Enabling Act as most laws were drawn up by its officials. It was responsible for coordinating the responses of departments of new legislation. The chanellery dealt with the vast increase in paperwork, such as letters written to Hitler, and issued government decrees. Lammers the new Head of the Chancellery had a major impact on the flow of information to and from Hitler, and thus on policies. 

Civil Service: Most civil servants traditionally had been conservative and anti-parliamentary-welcomed presidential governments from 1930 and were committed to serving the state. Transferred fairly happily to the Third Reich, and remained throughout the regime. Fewer than 5% were purged as a result of the Law for the Restoration of Professional Civil Service in 1933. The civil service gradually became more Nazi, partly as Nazis were appointed, but mainly as existing bureaucrats joined the party. This became compulsory in 1939 as did the wearing of uniforms. By the late 1930s, the civil service was losing its infulence as increasing use was made of special agencies which bypassed the ministries and their civil servants. 

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How was the Nazi Political System Organised? x3

Local Government: Despite Hitler's promise not to abolish elected state governments (in the Lander), they were taken over by centrally appointed officials. State governments became agents of the central government. Real power was exercised by the Reich governor, a post oftern held by the local Gauleiter. 

Law Courts and the Legal System: Franz Gurtner, the non-Nazi Justice Minister from 1933 to 1941, supported an authoritarian state, but one that still operated on a system of law. He wanted to keep the police and the judiciary seperate. Most lawyers and judges thought that working with the regime was the best way of maintaining their position and controlling the more extreme features of the regime. 

Nazi ideas did penetrate the system. Gurtner was unable to prevent ordinary courts losing power to the SS and Gestapo. The established courts still remained, but they adapted to the new system. Some judges defied the government's wishes in their verdicts, so they were increasingly bypassed with the new People's Court and Special Court created in March 1933. Lawyers were coordinated in the German Lawyer's Front. All judges were expected to interpret all laws according to Nazi values. 

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How was the Nazi Political System Organised? x4

The Foreign Office: Was one branch of the state which during the 1930's remained largely untouched. Bruning's Foreign Minister Konstantin Von Neurath remained until 1938. Foreign policy, was increasingly conducted outside the foreign ministry by individual Nazis. In 1938, changes did take place with Nazi Joachim Von Ribbentrop replacing Neurath as Foreign Minister. Officials more sympathetic to the Nazi party were promoted. 

The Army: Hitler treated the Army very warily - following The Night Of The Long Knives (June 1934) they took an oath of loyalty to him. Hitler realised if they felt threatened - potential to pose a potential danger to the regime. Hitler left its structure largely unchanged until 1938-although did increase in size. The Army generally cooperated, since most of the generals shared Hitler's anti-Bolshevism, anti-Liberalism, stong nationalism and a desire to restore Germany's military might. Military leaders issued internal decrees adjusting to Nazism, for example: revising the army's training guidelines to reflect a Nazi approach. 

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The Nature Of Nazi Totalitarianism

Totalitarianism as a political concept implies that all aspects of life within a state are under the control of either an individual or political group/party. While it is very common to describe Nazi Germany as a Totalitarian state, Clearly the Nazi party and Hitler had control over enormous areas of people's lives. 

Areas of public life that the Nazi party had total control over:

  • All political parties other than the Nazi party had been banned,
  • The press was censored,
  • Meetings were restricted, 
  • Free trade unions were banned,
  • Strikes were illegal,
  • School syllabuses were brought under state control,
  • The civil service was purged of Jews and political opponents,
  • Art and Culture was under strict state control,
  • The party launched an economic policy designed to make Germany self sufficient. State economic controls were introduced. 
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The Nature Of Nazi Totalitarianism x2

Which areas of German life remained outside Nazi control? 

  • In general big business did continue to operate with a considerable measure of independence-bound increasingly to the regime by government contracts.
  • Although there were attempts to coordinate the Churches-measure of success was not total.
  • The social structure remained largely intact. Social classes continued to exist and the pre-war elite remained, if not in power, they certainly continued in existence.
  • The private ownership of land and business was allowed, unless the owners were Jewish. Aryan ownership was perfecly acceptable. 

Nazi state exerted considerable control over the lives of the people. In some ways the Nazi party had to compete-rather aggressively-with other institutions and organisations. The state did infulence people's lives very considerably, and it must be said that the use of fear and terror by the SS and Gestapo did create a considerable level of acquiescence among the population. The state operated a ruthless security system. Russian Orthodox Christianity was persecuted-The state was secular. Economic control over the state was total. 

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