Letter to the Editors from the May 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard
Clifford Slapper’s account of the rise of Nazism in Germany in your March issue is true — up to a point. He says: “Fifty years ago, Hitler and the Nazis came to power with the support of more than ten million workers”. Is he saying that over ten million wage-workers voted for the Nazi Party? And was the "election" of 5 March, 1933, a genuinely free election anyway? First, a few statistics (figures in millions):
Between 1923 and 1933, the votes for the Social Democrats and Communists remained fairly constant; in the March, 1933 election the Communists receiving nearly 5 million votes and the Social Democrats 7.1 million votes, despite the SA terror mainly directed against the Social Democrats. No one has ever denied that the vast mass of wage-workers consistently voted for these two parties from 1924 until Hitler crushed all opposition.
So, who voted the Nazis into power? In the main, it was the petit-bourgeoisie (a much larger group than in Britain), the peasants (also a group which did not exist in Britain), the lumpen-proletariat or semi-unemployable who, even before the advent of mass unemployment in 1932-33, numbered about 1.5 million and. lastly, the capitalist class itself. In the main, these groups — together with some “white collar" workers — tended to move away from the traditional capitalist “right-wing” parties to the Nazis who, as Slapper correctly points out, used the Jews and others as scapegoats — and made even more promises than the "left-wing” reformist parties, such as the Communists and Social Democrats
There are, of course, no socialist histories of "the birth of Nazism”; but readers might find the two following books of some interest: Der Fuehrer — Hitler's Rise to Power, by Konrad Heidcn (Gollancz, 1944); and Hammer or Anvil, by Evelyn Anderson (Gollancz. 1945 and Oriole Editions/Journeyman Press, 1973).
Peter E. Newell
The article in question stated that over ten million workers gave their electoral support to Hitler and the Nazis. This refers to people who did not possess substantial productive resources and who therefore had to work for others in order to survive. Their problems of insecurity and poverty applied regardless of whether they were paid by wage, salary or commission, and irrespective of the colour of their collars. According to the German census of 1925 (as interpreted by Lenz in “Proletarian Policies", Internationaler Arbeiterverlag, 1931) nearly 41 million of the total German population of 62.4 million were industrial workers, agricultural wage-labourers or lower paid "white collar" workers, including their families and the unemployed. It is clearly incorrect therefore that, as Peter Newell claims, the "vast mass” of wage-workers consistently voted for the Communist and Social Democratic Parties, when those parties only polled 13 million votes between them at their peak.
In March 1933, the Nazis and their allies, the Nationalists, polled between them over 20 million votes, an absolute majority (51.9 per cent) of the votes cast. Peter Newell attributes this support to the petit-bourgeoisie, the peasants, the “semi-unemployable" and the capitalists themselves. But according to the census figures referred to above, there were only 2 million capitalists, and about 9 million small farmers and peasants, many of whom were in the process of being transformed into agricultural labourers. The petit-bourgeoisie or small property holders were also a dying breed as their savings were eaten into by inflation. It is true that much of the Nazis’ support came from the white-collar workers, shopkeepers, students and professionals who formed the remaining 10 million of the population; but the frustration which drove them towards the Nazis was that of the dispossessed, of workers who felt they had some stake in capitalism but who were compelled to accept their economically dependent and impoverished position.
It has been our intention to stress that fascism, like the capitalist system of which it is one form, is not some kind of conspiracy forced on the workers from "above" by a minority of capitalists. Domination and inequality depend upon acquiescence and acceptance by the majority. It is on this basis that socialists seek to persuade a majority of our fellow workers to establish a system of society based on common ownership and democratic control. It is a common but dangerous myth on the Left that Nazism was not supported by workers; it is historically incorrect and implies a disdain for the democratic process of persuasion and voting. The German Communist Party, with 5 million votes in 1933, shared with the Nazis not only its nationalist campaign against foreign debt repayments, but also an anti-democratic contempt for the idea of a majority of workers deciding consciously to end capitalism. Their support for minority armed insurrection and street-fighting, like the modern claim that the workers didn’t really support fascism, begs the question why, in the words of Wilhelm Reich, “It was precisely the wretched masses who helped to put fascism, extreme political reaction, into power” (The Mass Psychology of Fascism). The short answer is that as long as workers are persuaded, contrary to our experience, that we should continue to support a system based on our exploitation, there will be no safeguard against a recurrence of the more brutal aspects of class rule.