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How important was the fear of socialism in explaining the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany between 1919 and 1933?

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Introduction

How important was the fear of socialism in explaining the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany between 1919 and 1933? By the end of 1918 it was clear that the axis powers had lost the Great War. The German people were demoralised and hungry. The nationalistic fervour with which they had greeted the start of the war had gradually evaporated - replaced by a desire for (fair) peace with the Allies. Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had led his people into the debacle, was forced to abdicate. A Republic was declared on the 9th of November and an armistice shortly followed. A democratic constitution was signed in the city of Weimar, which leant its name to the new republic. The nationalist and bourgeois elements in Germany, some still hankering after the return of the Empire under the Kaiser, critically supported the new SPD (Socialist) led Government. They, and majority of the German people, wanted the guarantee of a fair and reasonable peace with the Allies. The government also gave an assurance that the revolution would go no further i.e. that it would not take a revolutionary socialist character. The Russian Revolution of October 1917 had sent shockwaves through the European ruling class. All over Europe, the barbarism of the 'Great War' had radicalised society. ...read more.

Middle

The Treaty of Versailles was not the outcome they had hoped for. As discussed previously, it contained clauses that many Germans deemed intolerable. Support for the government, and by extension the whole system of Weimar democracy, was undermined. In the first election after the Treaty had been signed, parties who supported the Republic lost votes and the parties who opposed it gained votes. The goal of almost all democratic German politicians, most effectively Stresemann, was to ameliorate Versailles. For authoritarian nationalist elements, such as the DNVP and later the Nazis, Versailles and reparation payments were untenable and only its repudiation and the destruction of the republic which fostered it would do. The Treaty itself was harsh - but no more so than the Brest-Litovsk treaty which the Imperial government had offered Soviet Russia. Also, there is no doubt that the German politicians who signed the treaty would have had reservations but what exactly where their options? Signing the treaty or face an occupation of Germany by the allies? Still, this message did not get through to most Germans. The Nazis would obtain support from the patriotic protestant middle class for their opposition to Versailles, as well as Veterans and soldiers - many of who lost their jobs because of restrictions on the size of the German army. ...read more.

Conclusion

Most Nazi support came from the middle classes who had been ravaged by the economic collapse in 1924. They also won some support from farmers and people in the rural areas. Hitler, like any arch demagogue, could fit his rhetoric to the audience. In Berlin he would talk of his disdain for "exploitative capitalism", when talking to his industrialist backers his "anti-Communism" would come to the fore. In reality, Hitler had no social or economic plans. His only real goal was complete personal authority. Any propaganda issued was a means to this end. To conclude, "fear of socialism" did produce some support for the Nazi movement, particularly in the "elites" of German society. Most Nazi support however, came from their ability to capitalize on the weaknesses of Weimar democracy, such as its association with the Treaty of Versailles. The Great Depression gave the Nazis the opportunity to offer themselves as the solution to the terrible unemployment and poverty it caused. The cult of the individual around Hitler, coupled with Nazi nationalism and anti-Semitism made them appealing to sections of the German population who had grown weary of the Republic and desired a new "strong man" to lead Germany. What is clear is that the collapse of Weimar democracy and its replacement with a Nazi totalitarian state was a disaster for all Europe, no more so than Germany itself. ...read more.

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