March 16th, 2011

Fascism in Michigan and the Weimar Republic

Provoked by bizarre and anti-democratic events in Michigan — Rachel Maddow (must see) with help from Amy Goodman seems to broken this story nationwide — I’ve been laboring thru William Sheridan Allen’s The Nazi Seizure of Power (1965), a conglomeration of newspaper reports, interviews and other local info that paints the rise of the Nazi party in a single German town, Northeim, during the Weimar Republic’s last years and Hitler’s first two. 1930-35.

The Social Democrats in coalition with the Catholic Center party were the ruling block of the republic and its last defenders as the global depression took root and undermined confidence.

Even so, in Northeim Nazi candidates attracted only a hundred some votes in 1930. But escalated to many thousands and 62% of votes cast by autumn 1932.

Why? It seems, in a nutshell, that the depressed life of the postwar decade left the generation of relatively educated Middle-classers then coming of age resentful of the political power of the Social Democrats — the party of less educated laborers.

Would-be Yuppies, expecting and expected to do better than their comfortable parents, in despair in hard times about getting ahead, are abruptly inspired with hope by a romantic (re German national spirit) vision of violently breaking the status quo left behind by the failed war and now preyed upon by international capital.

And yet the great enemy, as the political battle that put Hitler in power develops, is the party of the lower working class. Destroy that class’s only potent institution (the Soc Dem Party) and … and somehow things would begin to improve.

This of course resembles the new patriotic war of Tea Party governors and legislators on what’s left of America’s unions.

That Germany’s democracy itself would go as the Nazis (or the Communists, who also gathered more votes as things got worse) came to power seems to have been understood by the educated young adults who put Hitler in power.

Apparently their despair was such that it just didn’t seem important. Gilded Age cultural history re the glories of Wilhemine Germany, combined with the republic’s poor economic performance — as it tried to pick up the pieces of King Willie’s failed world war — just left Weimar with no love, it seems.

The Nazi Seizure also makes use of the voting records, which clearly show newly registered voters inspired by and flocking to the Nazi candidates in the early 30s.

This picture syncs perfectly with Albert Speer’s own extended account of how and why he joined the party in his first memoir: Inside the Third Reich.

In both books the generation gap is rather clear. Speer’s party membership was something his successful father never approved, even at the wild height of Albert’s own success. Once, Speer writes, his father agreed to attend an event with Hitler & co — but there refused to make conversation, and to shake the Fuehrer’s hand, and quickly departed.

( Speer’s mother, on the other hand, DID join the Nazi party — in secret, without telling her husband or her son, until she discovered that the latter had also secretly joined.)

Speer’s family had been wealthy during his childhood, but the hyperinflation of the early postwar years forced them to sell off the heirloom family factory and leave their high social place in the city for cheap country living.

Like his father and grandfather Albert took to architecture. But his new single-shingle practice was going nowhere as the Depression took root, and he had to get ahead before he’d be permitted to marry his sweetheart.

He begins teaching on the side, 25 years old circa 1931, and his students are the ones who persuade him to attend local Nazi meetings. Then he sees Hitler speak and immediately signs up, and years later struggles to say why, saying mostly, repeatedly, that Hitler inspired hope when no one and nothing else did.

Viewing it from our distance, it all seems so immature, and blind to the actual causes of distress — Industrialism and high finance badly out of whack in the wake of the first war. It seems the ill-advised reaction of youth — unbridled, gone off half cocked — to a bad time.

The patience of the parents if effective would have better served both Nation and society. Let alone Europe.

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  1. ed says:

    The same sort of youthful impatience was essential to the Russian revolution, where “commissars” in their early 20s presided over marketplace trials and executions of their elders …

    Ah well.

    March 16th, 2011 at 11:14 pm

  2. ed says:

    It all brings to mind Michael Heneke’s recent potent film, THE WHITE RIBBON

    March 16th, 2011 at 11:14 pm

  3. ed says:

    The interviews from Northeim also bear out the apparent fact that the local Nazis shined with the energy and optimism of youth. This was the attraction that encouraged people to lay aside their misgivings about certain matters of doctrine, and the use made by Nazis of the violent S.A. brownshirts.

    The incremental growth of violence in politics after the war is clear in the book. Early on a fight between a handful of Socialists and S.A. resulting in a broken nose is BIG NEWS — a local scandal — in a society and town where peace and order are paramount. Yet by the early 30s the S.A. is tolerated by the army (still under Weimar).

    The rumbling between the Commies and the hired goons of the affluent seems to have been transformative, there in the early postwar, such that by 1932 the populace was resigned if not accustomed to political violence.

    March 16th, 2011 at 11:48 pm

  4. ed says:

    One older businessman, looking back in the early 60s, says there were “decent” Nazis in the early 30s and “gutter” Nazis, and that the gutter types won out.

    It’s also noteworthy that the town’s first Nazi member and the party’s leading light thru out this period (thru 1935) was the proprietor of the best bookstore — an older man everyone is said to have respected and enjoyed talking with, regardless of political affiliation.

    His store is said by Allen to have been “the intellectual center” of the town.

    Ah well.

    March 16th, 2011 at 11:48 pm

  5. ed says:

    follow up to michigan stuff

    March 17th, 2011 at 12:06 am

  6. ed says:

    more michigan — michael moore

    March 17th, 2011 at 12:08 am

  7. ed says:

    Aha, Gehlen did publish a memoir

    March 21st, 2011 at 1:23 pm

  8. ed says:

    “Basically, I exploited the phenomenon of the technician’s often blind devotion to his task. Because of what seems to be the moral neutrality of technology, these people were without any scruples about their activities. The more technical the world imposed on us by the war, the more dangerous was this indifference of the technician to the direct consequences of his anonymous activities.”


    April 2nd, 2011 at 11:07 am

  9. Ilidas says:

    A fascinating and worthy historical analogy.

    April 19th, 2011 at 4:42 pm

  10. ed says:

    The dollar is breaking its long-term support. In part on catcalls from revered long-term investors (Buffet, Bill Gross) acting and advising flight from the Buck.

    and: Reports of gas at $5 a gallon in upstate new york.

    The Weimar experience is perhaps no longer a dream deferred.

    April 22nd, 2011 at 11:10 am

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