Posts Tagged ‘Krupps’

Noakes and Pridham on the Middle Class Precursors of Nazism

March 13, 2019

As well as discussing and documenting the history of Nazism, Jeremy Noakes and Geoffrey Pridham in their book Nazism 1919-1945: 1: The Rise to Power 1919-1934 (Exeter: University of Exeter 1983) also discuss the precursors of the Nazis from the late 19th century to the time of the First World War.

They state that radical nationalism first arose amongst the German middle class, who resented their political exclusion by the aristocracy and who felt that the dominance of the aristocracy had weakened Germany through alienating the German working class. This radical right was organized outside parliament in Leagues, such as the Pan-Germans. These middle class radicals rejected the liberal attitudes of patriotism, tolerance and humanity of their fathers, especially when it came to ‘enemies of the Reich’. Noakes and Pridham write

This ‘new Right’ – like its French counterpart – developed outside the political parties in pressure group-type organisations known as ‘leagues’ – the Pan-German League, the Navy League, etc. Its ideology reflected the ideas and political aspirations of the middle-class generation which had grown up in the immediate aftermath of German unification and came to maturity in the 1890s and 1900s. These men had discarded the remnants of the enlightened 1848 Liberalism of their fathers and grandfathers. According to Heinrich Class, who became chairman of the Pan-German League, three ideals had characterized the liberalism of his father’s generation: ‘patriotism, tolerance, humanity’. However, ‘we youngsters had moved on: we were nationalist pure and simple. We wanted nothing to do with tolerance if it sheltered the enemies of the Volk and the state. Humanity in the sense of that liberal idea we spurned, for our Volk was bound to come off worse.’ For men like Class the fortunes of the new German state had acquired paramount importance: their own self-esteem came to be bound up with the prestige of the new Reich.

The populist flavour of this new nationalism derived from their sense of exclusion from the traditional Prusso-German establishment. As successful businessmen, professionals and bureaucrats who had benefited from the rapid economic development following unification, they resented the patronizing attitudes of the traditional elites who tended to regard them as parvenus. Moreover, they felt that the elitist nature of the political establishment weakened Germany by alienating the masses, encouraging the growth of class spirit and dividing the nation. In their view, this fragmentation of the nation was also encouraged by the existing political system of parliamentary and party government. This, it was felt, simply reinforced the divisions between Germans and led to the sacrifice of national interests for the benefit of sectional advantage. They rejected the idea central to liberal democracy that the national interest could only emerge out of the free interplay of differing interests and groups. Instead, they proclaimed a mythical concept of the Volk – an equivalent to the pays reel of pre-1914 French nationalism – as the real source of legitimacy and claimed that current political institutions (the Reichstag, parties etc.) were distorting the true expression of national will. In their view, the key to uniting the nation was the indoctrination of an ideology of extreme nationalism: above all, the goal of imperial expansion would rally and united the nation. (pp.4-5).

They also state that these volkisch nationalists believed that Germany was under threat by the ‘golden international’ of high finance and western liberalism, controlled by the Jews, the ‘black international’ of Roman Catholicism and the ‘red international’ of socialism. Thus there was a foreign threat behind their domestic opponents the left Liberals, Catholic Centre Party and the Social Democrats, and so considered these parties guilty of treason. (p.5). The radical right became increasingly influential in the years before the outbreak of the First World War as a reaction to the rise of the German socialist party, the Social Democrats, which became the largest single party in the Reichstag in the 1912 election. The government appeared too willing to compromise with the moderate left, and so the traditional German Conservatives began to join forces with the radicals. (p.5).

They state, however, that it was during the War that this new Right really gained influence through demands for a victorious peace’ that would give Germany foreign colonies and stave off further demands for increasing democracy in Germany. This saw new political parties founded by the industrialists to obtain this goal. They write

It was, however, during the course of the First World War that this new Right seized the initiative. The main focus of their efforts was a campaign to commit the Government to a so-called Siegfrieden in which Germany would use her expected victory to demand large-scale territorial annexations in both East and West in the form of overseas colonies. This was regarded as vital not simply in order to re-establish Germany as a world power, but also as a means of diverting pressure for democratic reform at home. As the pressure for a compromise peace and for constitutional reform increased after 1916, the Right responded with even more vigorous agitation. The main emphasis of this campaign was on trying to reach a mass audience. On 24 September 1917, in a direct response to the Reichstag peace Resolution of 17 July, a new party was founded – the Fatherland Party. Financed by heavy industry, and organized by the Pan-German League and similar bodies, its aim was to mobilise mass support for a Siegfrieden and to resist moves towards parliamentary democracy. The party soon acquired over a million members, mainly among the middle class.

The Pan-Germans were, however, particularly anxious to reach the working class. Already, in the summer of 1917, a ‘Free Committee for a German Workers’ Peace’ had been established in Bremen by the leader of a ‘yellow’ i.e. pro-employer workers’ association in the Krupp dockyards, which carried out imperialist propaganda supported by the army authorities. Among its 290,000 members was a skilled worker in the railway workshops in Munich named Anton Drexler, who established a Munich branch of the organization on 7 March 1918 and who soon was to become a co-founder of the Nazi party. (pp.5-6, my emphasis).

They go on to say that this party was originally very limited, with only forty members, and so the Pan-Germans were forced to try more effective propaganda themes, such as outright anti-Semitism. (p.6).

It’s thus very clear from this that Nazism definitely was not a genuinely socialist party. It has its origins in the radical, anti-parliamentary nationalism of the late 19th and early 20th century middle class. Its immediate parent organization was a fake worker’s movement set up by Germany industry and supported by the army. This contradicts the allegation by modern Conservatives, like the Republicans in America and the Tories over here, that the Nazis were a socialist party.

However, the ‘Free Committee for a Workers’ Peace’ does sound like something founded by the Tories, when they were declaring themselves to be the true party for working people two years ago. Or the creation of Tony Blair, when he was still in charge of the Labour party, and determined to reject any real socialism and ignore the wishes of genuine Labour members and supporters in order to gain funding from industry and votes from the middle classes, who would otherwise vote Tory. And who very definitely supported imperialist wars, although they were camouflaged behind rhetoric about freeing Iraq and giving its people democracy.