Rotten to the Core?
How America’s Political Decay Accelerated During the Trump Era
A PEOPLE has disappeared. Almost every German whose name the world knew as a master of government or business in the Republic of the past fourteen years is gone. There are exceptions; but the waves are swiftly cutting the sand from beneath them, and day by day, one by one, these last specimens of another age, another folk, topple over into the Nazi sea. So completely has the Republic been wiped out that the Nazis find it difficult to believe that it ever existed, at any rate as more than a bad dream from which they were awakened by the sound of their own shouts of command, their own marching feet. To them it signifies nothing that this or that compatriot shouldered more than his share of the load in the long uphill struggle to establish Germany's prestige and means of existence in the black years after the military collapse, or that his German nationalism and patriotic devotion were, according to the lights of that day, beyond question. The measure of his right to any sort of present consideration is first of all whether or not he was a Nazi. If he was not, he is wiped out, usually even though he might now wish to swallow his past and accept Adolf Hitler's leadership.
Not merely is he wiped out, but the memory of him is wiped out. It is pretended that he never was. His name is not mentioned, even in scorn. If one asks about him, a vague answer is given: "Oh yes—but is he still alive? Maybe he is abroad. Or is he in a nursing home?" This does not merely apply to Jews and Communists, fled or imprisoned or detained "for their own protection" in barbed-wire concentration camps. It applies to men like Otto Braun, leader of the great Social Democratic Party, perennial Premier of Prussia, the strong man of whom Germans used to say: "When Hindenburg dies, we have him." Ill and broken, he escaped to Switzerland the day before the election. It applies to the series of Chancellors furnished by the once-powerful Center Party, traditional provider of Chancellors; Dr. Brüning alone has managed to keep a few slender lines of communication with the present, but at a sacrifice of reputation among such of his friends as are not thorough expedientists. The generals who were talked about as embryo dictators—von Seeckt, Groener, even the powerful von Schleicher—are no more heard of or seen. It is said that when General von Schleicher leaves the confines of his country place at Glienicke two of the Sturm Abteilung (generally referred to as the S.A.) attend him. Stresemann is not merely dead, but has been dead as long as the last Pharaoh. The men who ruled Germany in these fourteen years have been swept away, out of sight, out of mind, out (according to the program of Dr. Goebbels, propagandist-in-chief) of history. Hindenburg himself is a legend, a fable. His picture is on the walls of the coffee houses, for he played his rôle for the Nazis; their need for him is finished, and to all intents and purposes he is also.
The Stahlhelm, the organization of front-line veterans, credited with having saved the country from anarchy and communism in several post-war crises, but feared by the Nazis as a possible rival to their S.A., has been broken and subjected. Its second in command, Colonel Düsterberg, a few short months ago candidate for President of the Reich, but with Jewish blood in his veins, was turned out in a manner which was no less humiliating because President Hindenburg wrote him a letter of condolence. The other Stahlhelm leader, Herr Seldte, followed with the announcement that he had gone over to the Nazis and had put the organization at Hitler's orders. The rank and file, disciplined ex-soldiers, who looked upon the S.A. as a rabble of mercenaries and looters, were left gasping. They had not been ready to shoot when they had the chance; the chance is theirs no longer.
The Reichswehr, on which General von Schleicher counted and which as recently as last December could and would have supported him in a determined move to establish authority in the name of the flickering Republic, now stands glumly aside. Its barracks are the sole government buildings to fly only the black-white-red flag of the Reich; over all the others (except the President's residence, which has a special flag) floats the Nazi swastika. But despite this last symbol of independence, the Reichswehr knows its day for action has slipped by. All that its leaders can do is wait (as the Royal Italian Army has waited without result) to see whether there will ever come a moment of chaos when they might step in to reëstablish the state they were enlisted to serve. It is a forlorn hope.
One by one continue to fall the last possible citadels of defense against uncontradicted Nazi dictatorship.
Federal Germany is gone. The Gleichschaltung law disposes of the prerogatives of the separate States, and Nazi leaders have been named Statthalter, with power from Berlin to dismiss State governments should they not prove fully amenable. Eminent Lutheran and Reformist theologians are hastily forming a new and unified Reichskirche to meet the fear of the Nazis that opposition or weakness might develop in the former 28 autonomous churches in the various States, and to simplify their drive against religious organizations which are not two parts blood and iron and only one part milk of human kindness. The Socialist trade unions, already dead as a political power and presumably resigned to the abolition of the strike as a weapon in wage bargaining, were finally seized outright on May 2, the day after the celebration of the "Festival of National Labor." Their buildings were occupied by storm troops, their officers were jailed, and their funds were appropriated to the new Nazi union which is now organizing all labor as an instrument of party will. They had hoped to be allowed to continue their social insurance and banking activities for their 3,500,000 members, preserving at least their identity after fifty years of activity in German life. The answer was the raid, and the simultaneous Nazi proclamation attacking the union leaders as "Red criminals" and announcing to German labor that "Adolf Hitler is your friend, Adolf Hitler is fighting for your freedom, Adolf Hitler will give you bread!" The smaller Catholic and other trade unions promptly "submitted themselves unconditionally and without reserve," and the agricultural organizations and coöperatives followed suit. Freemasonry has been abolished; the Grand Lodge of Prussia has abjured its origins, dissolved its ties with other Masonic lodges, and is now the exclusively Aryan "German Christian Order of Friendship."
The judiciary has been weeded over with minute care, and as a result many judges (beginning with Dr. Tigges, President of the Supreme Court of Prussia) have either resigned or been dismissed. Henceforth, says a circular of the Prussian Ministry of Justice, judges will be tested for their patriotism and social principles and will be put through periods of service in military camps to school them in "martial sports." In Nazi eyes the conception of abstract justice is outworn. The essential justice is that which serves the higher ends of the state.
Even the great Nationalist Party, co-partner with the Nazis in the March election which followed the fall of von Schleicher, and supported by all the clans of Junkers, monarchists, landed proprietors, former army officers and officials, is left hanging in the air, its toes barely touching the ground, slowly strangling in the noose of its own devising. When on the night of January 30 von Papen persuaded Hitler to join him in making the election, he thought that he had prepared the way for his own conservative forces to swallow up the Nazis. But it was the reverse which happened. Since the elections, the strength of the Nationalist Party has been sapped in every direction. Most strikingly, perhaps, has this been true in the Junker stronghold of East Prussia, where on one excuse or another (the latest Nazi method is simply to say that an unregenerate official has been recreant to his trust, but without preferring specific charges) the key men of the Nationalist Party organization have been removed from controlling places in the government and banks and agricultural organizations. Throughout the Reich, chambers of commerce and other public organizations in which Nationalist elements were strong are being "assimilated," while private associations and even important industrial organizations are experiencing the novelty of having Nazi commissars appear at board meetings, announce the expulsion of Jewish, "liberal" or otherwise undesirable members, and constitute new boards amenable to party orders.
In answer to this smashing of his strongholds, and in effect replying to frequent prophecies that he would have to resign, Dr. Hugenberg, Chairman of the Nationalist Party and Minister of Industry in the present government, began at the end of April to issue appeals, sometimes plaintive, sometimes threatening, calling on everyone to remember that he and his non-Nazi colleagues were in the cabinet by agreement with Hitler and that the Enabling Act which had put the power in Hitler's hands for four years was conditioned upon that agreement. But, in the cabinet or out, Hugenberg and his friends are condemned to becoming more and more helpless. Some non-Nazis may manage to cling to their posts for a time by adopting Nazi ways.[i] But they will be few. The smile is on the face of the bigger, more ruthless and cleverer tiger.
These new rulers of this new people have also a new vocabulary. In literature and art, in the professions and even in sport, new specifications replace taste and skill and experience. It is hard for a foreigner to learn this language. A work of art or a performance of any sort is not good unless the creator is an Aryan, preferably Teutonic to the last drop of his blood (if such a being exists), preferably a Nazi, and in any case not a liberal or a Jew. Music, the theatre, the cinema, all have been bent to Nazi propaganda aims. The universities are being "cleansed." Eminent professors who are of Jewish descent or who are known to entertain liberal ideas, as well as their colleagues who show regret at their fate or who are suspected of believing in academic freedom, are dismissed either by the government or more often simply by orders of the student committees.[ii] Meanwhile their books are removed from the university and public libraries and suffer the same fate in the bookshops which is now being meted out to the works of a long list of writers headed by Thomas Mann—namely, confiscation and burning, sometimes officially, sometimes by Nazi groups who cannot be held accountable for their actions with the police or in any court or in any department of the official government.[iii] The press has also been "assimilated," unfriendly or lukewarm or liberal or pacifist or "internationalist" or Jewish proprietors, editors and correspondents have been expelled, and Nazi commissars put at the side of the writers who remain. Attention is centered almost exclusively upon news of the revolution—texts of proclamations, speeches of leaders, accounts of mass meetings and celebrations. Everything is reported in a feverish tempo, with what seems to a foreigner no sense of proportion, with scant reference to the facts of history, and with little notice of world opinion except to abuse or jeer at it.
How has it been possible thus to clip short all ties with the past—with the Kaiser's Germany as well as with the Republic? Because the young people who dominate the Third Reich care absolutely nothing at all about history before the beginnings of the Nazi movement in Munich in 1919. They live exclusively in the present, except for a little private history which they have created for themselves, consisting (apart from embellished and purified records of Nazi growth) of the glorification of certain martyrs to the cause of German awakening—for example, Horst Wessel, a Nazi labor organizer murdered by communist rivals, and Schlageter, a young German patriot of uncertain antecedents who was executed in May 1923 after conviction by a French court-martial on charges of espionage and sabotage in the Ruhr. The rest is for them the history of the Aztecs or the Trojans. They haven't the remotest interest in the politics or program of old Imperial Germany, or in the origins of the World War, or in the military victory of the Allies, or even in the Treaty of Versailles. Those are causes; they care only about consequences. What they do know about is the 1918 "stab in the back" by the communists (or was it socialists or republicans?—the labels are practically interchangeable); the weakness and treachery of the men who came to power by "giving away" parts of the fatherland to Germany's enemies; the failure of these same republicans to throw off more rapidly the servitudes which they had tamely accepted on Germany's behalf; the sufferings and indignities undergone by the German masses while Jewish bankers trafficked in currencies and Jewish businessmen profiteered. Against the materialism of Marx they set the self-sacrifice of Schlageter. It does not count that the old German Jews were among the most thoroughly respectable, industrious and patriotic of German citizens, that they fought in the Kaiser's armies, gave lives and fortunes for their country. It does not matter that out of Germany's post-war population of some 65,000,000 only 600,000 were Jews—less than one percent. Marx was a Jew. He curses the whole race, and even the families into which they have married, to such an extent that super-racist circles talk of sterilizing all women in Germany who are unable to bear exclusively Teutonic offspring and of forbidding Jewish men to have intercourse with Teutonic women under pain of capital punishment.[iv]
The movement may hark back in some of its aspects to the Middle Ages, and in others to the régime of Wilhelm II, but plainly in its essence it is not reactionary. It is a revolt against the men, methods and aims of the past fourteen years. It is not a return to any old Germany as such. It is a twentieth century revolution, as radical in its implications and potentialities as the Russian Revolution, but in the Prussian manner.
It is very Prussian because the people have had the desire, the will, to subordinate themselves to leaders with imperious voices and gestures, to obey them even when violence was involved, and individually to merge themselves in the totalitätstat. They felt Germany ready once again to command in the world; and because they were conscious of being part of a superior force they did not individually mind being commanded. Marching, singing, smashing windows, delighted to be in uniform though usually too young to have known the war first-hand, others of them never having had a chance of steady employment since they left the army, immunized from any knowledge of all but the most recent past, without sense of proportion about the events of the present, protected from all disturbing opinion, foreign or domestic, the Nazi rank and file have swept along, accepting the symbols and slogans and ideology which all the instruments of modern mechanized propaganda have blared out at them, forgetting everything else in the exaltation of accepting their new lot. Democracy to them had become tedious, intolerable. Without allowing ourselves to be drawn into too theoretical an analysis of this collective movement, we none the less can perceive in it a strong undercurrent of the twentieth century, to some phases of which the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset has drawn attention. These young Nazis are proud to be ignorant, proud to despise the skill and attainments of the specialist. Like young Soviet workers a few years ago in Russia, they also are proud to be free of the burdens of possessions, proud to be hungry. Particles of the mass which is to rule the world, they are compelled forward by some cosmic urge which their leaders as well as their enemies say frankly no foreigner can possibly understand, much less—alas!—explain.
The mentality of the Nazi leaders is mainly an intensification of the instincts and feelings of the Nazi masses. Among them, as among those whom they lead, are elements of idealism, of romanticism, of enthusiasm, of naïveté. We find here, too, the same elements seeking adventure, power, revenge and profit at the expense of competitors and rivals. One suspects as one reads the calculated statements of certain Nazi chiefs that there also must be an element of sadism, the counterpart of what in the mob is bloodthirstiness. And of course there is in all classes and groups the reaction against what the chief financial adviser of the party characterized to the writer as "wild capitalism"—speculation, the cycle of giddy profits and fearful drops, corruption, the power of money and banks. Further, what in the bands roaming the streets often is merely intolerance and bull pride of ignorance has its parallel among the intellectual leaders (who, incidentally, are not many) in an impulse to abjure reason and cool classicism, to fly from Apollo. The impulse needs no special description here, because in many countries there have been manifestations of dissatisfaction with science and with classical rules, in art as well as in social politics.
Of a remaining characteristic noted in the talk of Nazi leaders somewhat more must be said, however dangerous the ground it offers for exaggeration and error—the characteristic, namely, of twentieth century Teutonic mysticism, what might be called Wotan second-hand. The current manifestation seems to stem from Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who preached race conflict and the invincibility of the blonde Teuton hero. But the German super-man was defeated in the war. Obviously here is a contradiction. Either he is not a super-man, or there is an alibi. The alibi is furnished by the Jew, the traitor within the gates. Let him be extirpated, along with the soft liberals who helped him betray Germany, and behold! the Nibelungen hero will once again know how to cope with his enemies. If we take with Chamberlain's racial teachings the contempt for democracy which exudes from Spengler, carrying as it does the suggestion to exploit the masses as a means to power, we have two principal keys to Nazi mental processes. The second conception has enabled Nazi leaders to sweep rivals aside and to bind the masses—for already they are bound, though they do not yet know it, as securely as are the masses in Soviet Russia—to the chariot of self-appointed dictatorship, helpless any more to find the instruments or arms to free themselves, helpless even to cry out. The first conception will enable them, they hope, to build up a pure and whole Teutonism, ready to move invincibly forward on its appointed mission throughout the world.
Given these origins, is there cause for surprise in the fact that the foreign policy of the Nazis was at the start a very primitive thing indeed? On the day they came to power there were few of them from top to bottom who had ever seen a foreign land, and probably there was not one whose conception of what the world is like corresponded to reality. Striding back and forth across platforms or cooped up with microphones, forever preaching in hoarse voices or planning the strategy of violent party warfare, they had had no time to turn their eyes across the frontiers long enough to see more than lowering masses of enemy troops, clouds of aeroplanes on the horizon. Wishes and words were their facts, force their measure of success. It was not to be expected that when suddenly the responsibility for directing the foreign policy of a great nation fell on their shoulders they would adopt a less impatient or less brash method than that which had just brought them success at home.
The method became apparent in the statements of German representatives at the Disarmament Conference in April and early in May, and in the statements of Chancellor Hitler and other Nazi notables, both public and private, during the same period. Thus, in a conversation with the writer on April 27, Chancellor Hitler said that the Allies would have been more honest had they denied Germany even the 100,000 soldiers allowed by the Versailles Treaty, for they were useless as protection and simply gave Germany's neighbors an excuse to call her chauvinistic; that to allot her so inadequate a number was obviously a "swindle;" that equality of armaments was a sine qua non of his policy; and that he doubted whether progressive disarmament of offensive weapons by Germany's neighbors, and her own progressive rearmament, pari passu, with forts and other means of defense, could possibly close the gap quickly enough to satisfy German needs. The plain implications in this line of argument were given substance by Foreign Minister von Neurath on May 11, when he announced Germany's intention, regardless of the results of the Disarmament Conference, to create a military and naval air force, to arm with big guns, and to increase her man-power. Vice-Chancellor von Papen's belligerent speech at Münster two days later seemed designed to strengthen the determination of the German public to be satisfied with no other course.
But on May 11, the same day that Baron von Neurath published his interpretation of Hitler's intentions, the British Secretary of State for War, Lord Hailsham, gave expression in the House of Lords to the world's rising fear that Germany would precipitate another armaments race while the Disarmament Conference was still sitting at Geneva, and to England's determination to prevent that result. In deliberate tones he pronounced the word "sanctions." The German press had brushed aside as "French propaganda" the warning given Germany by Sir Austen Chamberlain in his speech of April 13, and the plain implications of the Rosenberg incidents during the second week in May. But this was a different matter. Moreover, Signor Mussolini, who had been not a little shocked by the universal outcry against his ally, now sent strong admonitions to him, giving notice that Italian sympathies could not be stretched to the point of engaging in a struggle against the united forces of England and France. At the same time he intimated that the Nazi persecution of the Jews had misrepresented Fascist doctrine and had been a tactical error: "You put all the Jews of the world against you," he told Hitler, "and you put against you the Christians also!" In this, Hitler's first important test in foreign affairs, he showed himself more supple than his critics expected. Seizing upon President Roosevelt's message to the world, he adroitly used it as a shield to cover his retreat. As this is being written, the world is waiting for evidence whether the speech to the Reichstag on May 17 was a manœuver or whether it represents a change of heart which will lead Germany to postpone rearming.
What do the Nazis want in addition to rearmament or equality of armaments? They want the Anschluss with Austria. They want the Corridor and Silesia back from Poland, and Danzig back from its truancy as a Free City. Less immediately, they want Northern Schleswig back from Denmark,[v] Memel back from Lithuania, Eupen and Malmedy back from Belgium, and the former German colonies back from the present possessors. It goes without saying that they count on receiving back the Saar after the 1935 plebiscite.[vi] Alsace is usually mentioned indirectly, as when the Nazi Premier of Bavaria on May 7 said that the Nazis would take an oath "never to rest or relax until the Rhine flows to the sea once more as Germany's river, not as Germany's frontier." If Nazi leaders think of the South Tyrol they say nothing about it—for the moment. As the Nazi textbooks proclaim the right and duty to use force to attain Nazi goals, and as the use of force to attain the very first of their territorial goals would entail war, and since France will necessarily be party to that war if she is not to wait passively to be dealt with singly later on, it cannot be claimed that a general European war is excluded from the Nazi program. Conscious that they are supermen, and having made sure that they will not again be stabbed in the back by pacifists and Jewish traitors, they do not doubt that when the time comes they could win such a war. It is not necessary, then, to speak definitely about Alsace or to breathe the words "South Tyrol." These will fall into Germany's lap by the logic of events and the law of gravity.
About the cancellation of the so-called war guilt clause in the Versailles Treaty the Nazis seem to care much less than did von Papen. He wanted that concession as a trophy to bring back from Lausanne, along with the end of reparations. The Nazis have so many real scalps hanging on their belt that at the moment they feel no need of trophies of sentimental value.
The annexation of Austria has figured first among territorial aims of the Nazis because until recently they thought it the goal most easily attained, as well as because of Austria's proximity to the home base in Bavaria and because of Hitler's Austrian origin. The situation in Austria has been so tense, the strife between the Christian Socialists and the Social Democrats so bitter, that the Nazis well might have considered that a sudden putsch would soon be feasible. And indeed in the first weeks after Hitler's victory the Nazi forces in Austria grew steadily. The Pan-German party of course went over to the Nazis en masse, and they were followed by many adherents of Chancellor Dollfuss and by younger Social Democrats who accused their leaders of inaction and of stupidity in having actually created the situation which allowed Dollfuss (head of a minority party) to function without parliamentary restraint. But the most important recruits to the Nazi banner came from the Heimwehr, which in Styria accepted the Nazi program entirely and in the Tyrol in large part.
To meet the Nazi menace Chancellor Dollfuss had a choice of two courses—to out-do the Nazis in an anti-Marxist drive, the while drawing support from Fascist Italy (which is far from anxious to see a greater Germany on the Brenner and looking down at the blue waters of the Adriatic from above Trieste); or to make some sort of armistice with the Social Democrats. The aim of the Social Democrats has been to avoid both Anschluss and Hapsburg restoration; to arrange a neutralized status for Austria like Switzerland's; and to bring her into some sort of Danubian confederation where she might fulfill her traditional rôle as middleman between east and west. With the benevolent neutrality of the Social Democrats, and supported from without by the League, Dollfuss would have had a fair chance of waiting successfully for Austrian public opinion—notoriously variable—to become disillusioned by Nazi performances in Germany. In choosing the first course he probably made his task more difficult. The risk, evidently, is that he may not be strong enough to keep on waging a battle on two fronts at once, and that either he will eventually find himself swallowed up by the Nazis, or, to avoid that, will follow Italy's wishes and throw himself into the arms of the legitimists who want Otto in the Hofburg. If the first of these eventualities occurs—if, that is to say, Dollfuss ends up by having played von Papen—the Anschluss will be consummated whenever Hitler finds it convenient. If the second occurs, Italy's will be the principal success. She will have prevented the Anschluss; she will have prevented the formation of a Danubian confederation; she will have nullified the strength of the Little Entente by isolating Jugoslavia and by setting up a focus of attraction (Hapsburg and Catholic) for the Croats who are discontented with the rule of Belgrade. Before Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavia accepted such a development Europe would certainly have had, if not war, then a war scare of the first order.
Meanwhile, all the radio stations of Germany continue to blare out their nightly messages across the Austrian frontier; arms and money have gone over to aid the Nazi cause, especially in the Tyrol; and care is taken that in every Nazi demonstration in Germany a prominent rôle shall be allotted to the representatives of the movement in Austria. As Herr Rosenberg said recently: "The first stage of the great German revolution will only be finished when National Socialism has become the foundation of the thought of 80,000,000 Germans." The population of the Reich is 65,000,000; of Austria 6,500,000; the balance is to be made up, presumably, in Danzig, parts of the present territory of Poland, and other lands not yet redeemed. Dr. Frick, Nazi Minister of the Interior, raised the ante to 100,000,000 in a speech on May 9 when he noted that "a full third of all Germans now live outside the Reich," thus adding the necessary specifications to the statement made by Hitler a week or so earlier to the effect that "the revolution will only be complete when the entire German world is inwardly and outwardly formed anew."
The German radios carry the voices of Hitler, Goebbels and the others over the eastern frontiers of Germany as well; and they have had a particular effect in the Free City of Danzig. This city, almost exclusively German in population, was given independent status in order that it might serve as a port for Poland. From the first there were disputes between Poland and the city government. The Danzigers complained about unfair Polish competition, about Polish mismanagement of the railways, about Warsaw's alleged intention gradually to Polonize and absorb them. Poland complained of the obstacles put in the way of her merchants, bankers and shipping men who wished to establish themselves in Danzig. The continual wrangling, and the memory of the difficulties which she had encountered in importing arms through Danzig in July 1920 to carry on the war against Soviet Russia, led Poland in 1924 and 1925 to undertake the construction of an exclusively Polish port at Gdynia. The energy and success with which she pushed the undertaking were remarkable—so remarkable, in fact, that today the upstart port of Gdynia divides the sea-borne trade of Poland equally on a tonnage basis with her ancient rival, and takes an even larger share of the more profitable trade in non-bulk goods. As a result, Danzig is languishing, unemployment has reached about 40,000 out of a population of about 400,000, and there can no longer be any doubt in the minds of Danzigers that in their anxiety to monopolize the transit trade and show their resentment at Poland's highhanded ways they have over-reached the mark and now face gradual dry rot and in the end ruin. Their fate, they realize too late, is to be that of Riga, Libau, Fiume and other ports left without a hinterland to gaze out across stagnant seas.
For Danzig to rejoin East Prussia as the result of some desperate coup d'état which did not also bring the Polish Corridor and Gdynia within the German frontiers would merely hasten the eventual disaster, for all that Danzig could expect in those circumstances would be to divide with Königsberg the meagre local trade of East Prussia. The Nazi program of "Back to the Reich" offered, then, not a practical solution to the dilemma, but a development which appealed to the town's aroused German sentiment and feeling of desperation. The writer was in Danzig for a few days during the campaign which preceded the May 28 elections. Nazi flags were flying everywhere, motor cars were dashing about carrying brown-shirted couriers, and, in order to keep within the letter of the law forbidding political meetings, sports assemblies or concerts were being held daily, at which, after the necessary legal preliminaries of calisthenic exhibitions or patriotic music, the radio was tuned in on Berlin. The result of this intensive propaganda was that the Nazis swept the field, securing the right to organize the Diet and set up the city administration. In Nazi hands, the leader of the Danzig Nazis[vii] told the writer, Danzig will be "safe for Germany," ready to be reincorporated in the Reich when and if Hitler gives the sign. In other words, here as in Austria, Hitler aims to secure the mastery, arouse or calm the populace as suits his plans, vex or pacify his foreign enemies as other aspects of his foreign policy make it seem expedient, and bide his time until Poland can be dealt with resolutely, the Corridor wiped out, and (in his own words) "once again it is all Germany."
National Socialism will last in Germany, as the Soviet and Fascist dictatorships have lasted in Russia and Italy. So much can reasonably be said, even though its domestic program is still directed mainly toward a negative object—the extirpation of its enemies—and hence has not yet been tested for constructive statesmanship. Already, however, we can discern several possible sources of future weakness.
In the first place, the party has grown so rapidly, its final access to power was so sudden, that it is not homogeneous. The historical fact that divisions which occurred in the ranks of the Italian Fascists and the Russian Communists were overcome does not necessarily mean that similar divisions within the Nazi ranks will also be overcome. Among the seventeen millions who voted the Nazi ticket on March 5 must be many who already are uneasy over the new régime's treatment of its enemies and its violation of the old German standards of law and justice. The burning of the Reichstag enormously impressed the voters on the eve of going to the polls. But the proofs that it was done by communists (promised then for publication within a few days) were not forthcoming, and now some are asking themselves whether the whole communist menace was not a hoax. Up to the present time, however, individual waverings have been more than made up for by the general rush to the band-wagon.
More real at present than any likelihood of divisions in the Nazi masses is the possibility of divisions in the Nazi leadership. Two tendencies can already be distinguished. The conservative wing is represented by der Führer himself. Thus it was he who argued in the party councils against the Jewish boycott. But though he rejected the proposals of some of his colleagues for a protracted boycott he eventually was persuaded that a one-day boycott was indispensable as a means of letting off the accumulated hatred which Nazi propaganda machines had whipped up and to avoid "undisciplined" persecutions, plundering and very possibly a general pogrom. To say as much is to admit two important facts—that on this particular occasion the party masses were out of hand and had to be satisfied, regardless of consequences; and that there was a division of will among the leaders.[viii] Again, it is no secret that Dr. Schacht's influence in the régime consists in large part of the weight his views carry with Hitler personally. This may prove of importance in party councils when the difficult economic and financial decisions of the next few months come to be taken. Again, at a private meeting of party leaders held in Munich the last week in April, Hitler gave notice that the first task was internal consolidation, and that talk about winning back lost territories should be postponed until Germany's internal position had become stronger, until not mere argument but positive action could be the order of the day. But the whole psychology of the intimate circle of persons with whom he has worked in past years is contrary to moderation of this sort, even should the reasons for it be merely tactical.
Not exactly opposed to Hitler, for as yet no one dares to oppose him, but nevertheless suspected of pursuing more inflammatory and dangerous methods than his, are men like Captain Göring, head of the Prussian state government, Dr. Goebbels, head of the new propaganda ministry, some of the Bavarian ministers whose views have already been quoted, and the chiefs of the S.A. troops in various centers. The torrential but carefully phrased speech which Dr. Goebbels pronounced over the radio the evening before the boycott must be read to realize the extent of the man's will and ability subtly to incite to violence. There might well be a temptation for men like these to egg on the crowd, or to float with it should its demands grow more radical, even while pretending to accept the party decisions dictated by Hitler. After all, it is less a question of direction than of speed and intensity. Or they might elevate Hitler to the Presidency (or even, it is sometimes suggested, to some inaccessible religious height) and attempt to rule in his name. Or, should the program of the more moderate (i.e. less impatient) Nazis fail to fulfil popular expectations, the extremists might carry the party for a policy of immediate adventure and in one desperate stroke sweep away the whole underpinnings of European peace. To cross Hitler's will openly today is impossible; any disillusionment of the country about him personally would destroy the whole movement. But these are only the opening months of a long struggle to get and keep a monopoly of power. The possibilities of a division of wills later on in the very heart of the Nazi party are not to be excluded from an observer's calculations.
Among the economic effects of the Nazi accession to power have been a shrinking of the market for German goods in many parts of the world; a reluctance on the part of many people to travel by German boats, ship goods by German routes, patronize German films, or visit Germany as students or tourists; a retreat by foreign enterprises which were considering opening factories or branches in Germany, due to Nazi discrimination against concerns with foreign capital; a feeling of uncertainty and mistrust among domestic capitalists who might have started new enterprises; a general tendency of people to hoard money rather than spend it in such uncertain times; and to some extent an export of capital either because of the flight of Jews and others from the country or in preparation for such flight in the event that ways might later be found to cross the frontier.
Now these are all distressing developments in a country with some 6,000,000 men out of work, and which has managed to live in recent years because it had a favorable balance of trade. The trade figures for the two months following the election are now available. In March imports were valued at 362,000,000 gold marks, exports at 426,000,000 gold marks. In April imports had fallen to 321,000,000 gold marks, exports to 382,000,000 gold marks. Last year the figures were as follows: March, imports 364,000,000 gold marks, exports 516,000,000 gold marks; April, imports 427,000,000 gold marks, exports 472,000,000 gold marks. It will be noted that last year imports increased from March to April, a natural development (in a country which is a large importer of raw materials) in the spring of the year. This year, however, imports fell. The explanation undoubtedly is that in order to maintain a favorable balance of trade the Reichsbank had to restrict the import of raw materials. The result inevitably will be a subsequent further fall in exports. Dr. Schacht went to America in May in the hope of securing a loan to finance German exports. He failed. Germany's economy is obviously in a precarious situation.
Meanwhile, the position of the individual worker has not improved. Unemployment, so far as can be judged, has not decreased. The official figures show a fall in the number of unemployed from 6,000,958 in February, the last month before the Nazi victory, to 5,598,855 in March, representing an improvement from 33.0 to 30.7 in the percentage of workers who are without employment. It is doubtful whether this improvement is real. Part is seasonal, part is undoubtedly due to the transfer of numbers of men from the unemployed lists to service in the S.A., while part is probably due to the elimination from the lists of those receiving help of many persons suspected of entertaining "un-German" political theories. While the government was issuing figures showing a decline in unemployment, the Trade Unions reported an increase in the percentage of unemployed from 47.4 percent in February to 52.7 percent in March. On the whole, it seems likely that the unemployment situation is really worse than it was in the winter. It is hard to see how the Hitler government is going to pay off its supporters, redeem its promise to improve the situation of agriculture as against industry, and in general bring better times, except by trying socialization schemes which may prove risky in a time when political tension is so high.
Another cause for apprehension in Berlin is furnished by American moves toward inflation. Germany has been through the mill of uncontrolled inflation, and knows its bitter ending as well as its pleasant first stages. The Reichsbank under Dr. Schacht, like German opinion in general, certainly is strongly set against another inflation, even if the United States proposes to join England in offering her goods to the world at lower prices due to a devaluation of the dollar. But could Germany long resist if the greater part of the world took that road? And what would happen to her export trade if she did resist? Inflation is one of the things which no German government, not even a Nazi government, could feel sure of coming through unscathed. In the decisions to be taken in this connection may lurk another threat to Nazi popularity and power.
As yet only a few Nazi leaders have had time or felt it necessary to look ahead at all these hurdles. They will reach some of them rapidly in the period of "trial and error" upon which they are now entering. But for the moment the revolution is still in course and fevers are high. A whole people has been given an inoculation. To all practical purposes it has taken universally.
Another of the new democratic states of Europe has retreated before the wave of dictatorship. Must we conclude that Western democracy as known in England, France and the United States has suffered a defeat? The truth is that it has only lost the semblance of a victory it had never won. In the lands of the Hohenzollerns, the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs the soil was not yet ready for democracy. The old Germany, it is true, was a legal state. There was freedom of thought, a free press, confidence that one would secure justice if one kept within the law. But at the top was a stark force, militaristic and autocratic, which could command Germans to die, and which was ready to give the word when it thought its interests or prestige demanded.
The German Republic was a puny plant. Beneath the inch or so of top-soil in which its seeds were hastily placed were a dozen unyielding strata, packed down and solidified by tradition and usage. The servitudes of a punitive peace treaty, the galling preponderance of France and her allies in Europe, the economic distress following the defeat and the inflation, all these hindered its growth. The cultivators, from Ebert and Scheidemann through Stresemann and Brüning down at last to von Papen and von Schleicher, cared less and less about saving it. Nor did the well-intentioned campaign of the liberal press abroad to rectify the extreme appraisal which the world had formed about Germany's part in causing the war, a campaign in which they whitewashed the Imperial Government as uncritically as Lloyd George in an earlier incarnation had damned it, serve to make the task of sincere republican leaders any the more easy. But the final determining condition which caused the Republic's death was that it had no nourishment from below. As an eminent German said to the writer two or three years ago: "We made a republic; but there were no republicans."
The German people came to believe that their position was ignoble, intolerable, and could never be righted except by force. Even their best leaders (Stresemann included) were afraid of pointing out how much better their position in Europe was becoming year by year. They hardly noticed that the hated treaty was gradually being revised in a whole series of vital respects (evacuation of the Rhineland, ending of military control, entry into the League, virtual cancellation of reparations), that France, the traditional enemy, was becoming perceptibly more pacific, that she had already recognized the necessity for taking the next great step in treaty revision—the accord of equal rights—and that progressive disarmament would come next.
Von Papen and von Schleicher prepared to break sharply with the method of appeasement and revision by stages which Stresemann, a man as thoroughly German as either of them, had pursued with concrete evidences of success. Hitler, going to the people with an eloquence and abandon of which none of the others were capable, actually made the break. Looking back at the position of the German people after the war, taking account of their psychological make-up, and remembering that ten years, though it is a short time in the life of a nation seems long in the life of individuals, we now see that the break was one day almost bound to be made.
Will Hitler, having given the German spirit an opportunity to purge itself of part of its store of resentment and hate and envy, and having counted from his new vantage point of supreme power and responsibility the cost of a desperate policy of revenge, decide to try gradually to return to the methods of piecemeal revision which some of his predecessors pursued? If he does, will it be possible for France, all of whose wartime fears have been revived by the events of recent weeks, to return to a conciliatory course promptly enough for the (hypothetical) moderate elements in the Nazi party to retain control? It will not be easy for France to assume good faith in a Germany which has been talking and acting as Nazi Germany has, to make concessions to a Hitler which she said she was not yet ready to make to a Stresemann and a Brüning. And if she refuses to be led rapidly into accepting German offers of collaboration (presuming they are forthcoming), will the German masses, "awakened" indeed, allow Hitler to delay rearming, no matter what has happened at Geneva? Then, feeling themselves stronger, will they refrain from producing faits accomplis in Austria and Danzig and the Saar and wherever else local conditions play into their hands?
One other question-mark cannot be ignored. National Socialism poses as a mighty bulwark against Bolshevism. But it fights with the enemy's own methods—repression, fear, propaganda, isolation from world thought and world opinion. The whole control of the state, mechanical and spiritual, is in the hands of an unchallengeable directorate. One turn of the knob, and the radio would play a German version of the Red International as unanimously as it now plays the Nazi marching songs. One order, and the S.A. would become a Red Army. A transformation like this would not be the result of chance. Germany is not a country of improvisations. It would happen because Hitler, or his colleagues, or his successors, planned it to happen as a way out of imminent failure, to avert the anger of a people which had been promised bread and given a stone.
It is with fears and questions such as these in mind that we watch each day's events in Germany. Three months after the Nazi revolution we cannot pretend that as yet there is any real evidence to cause our fears to diminish, or that our questions can as yet be given any conclusive answer.
[i] Cf. Vice-Chancellor von Papen's speech at Münster on May 13, glorifying the Mediæval Teutonic love of death on the battlefield. "Mothers," he said, "must exhaust themselves to give life to children. Fathers must fight on the battle-field to secure the future for their sons." And he added that Germany had struck the word pacifism from its vocabulary.
[ii] So far the studenthoods have not been definitely given the right to dismiss professors; but they have terrorized the university administrations by their power to turn suspicion on anyone who opposes them, and as a result of their demonstrations, boycotts and proclamations have succeeded in forcing out even the Jewish or liberal professors for whom the government had proposed making exceptions because of service at the front.
[iii] Outside the Hochschule on Invalidenstrasse in Berlin, and on the doors of similar institutions throughout the Reich, is nailed the red proclamation of "Die Deutsche Studentenschaft" proclaiming the Jew as the enemy of German thought and culture; a Jew's book must not be printed in German characters, or if it is the title page must be inscribed "translated from the Hebrew." This follows the Nazi program announced in Munich in February 1920, where among other things was written: "No Jew . . . may be a member of the nation." It remains to be seen whether the policy will be made retroactive; the works of Heinrich Heine are said to be still on the shelves.
[iv] Speech of Julius Streicher, leader of the Nuremberg Nazis, chief organizer of the April 1 boycott, reported in the London Times of April 24. Similar ideas recur in Nazi speeches, and are being translated into action in a preliminary way by the "Race Offices" now being set up with the task of separating the population into two groups which may not inter-marry. The present article does not discuss Nazi "atrocities," nor the fate of the various categories of "un-German" emigrés, now estimated to total between 30,000 and 50,000.
[v] In the 1920 plebiscite about 75 percent of the inhabitants of Northern Schleswig voted for union with Denmark. The campaign for re-annexation of this territory has been led in German Schleswig by the Schleswigsche Zeitung and by the Nazi organization in Flensburg.
[vi] Nazi threats as to what will happen to the administrative and judicial officials who have been serving the Saar international governing commission have had so demoralizing an effect that the League commissioner has appealed to the Council (in an official communication made public at Geneva on May 23) to secure some sort of guarantees from the German Government.
[vii] An energetic young Bavarian named Foster, one of the "original seven" founders of the Nazi movement, whom Hitler despatched to Danzig about two years ago to organize the party there.
[viii] It is instructive to note in this connection that apparently Hitler has never felt it wise publicly to disown or deprecate any act of violence committed by or attributed to members of his party.