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Germany (1933) and the United States (2006)


John Simkin
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I don't actually believe that America is on the verge of fascism but there are similarities to the situation in Germany in 1933.

Although Adolf Hitler had the support of certain sections of the German population he never gained an elected majority. The best the NSDAP could do in a election was 37.3 per cent of the vote they gained in July 1932. When Hitler became chancellor in January 1933, the Nazis only had a third of the seats in the Reichstag.

Soon after Adolf Hitler became chancellor he announced new elections. Hermann Goering called a meeting of important industrialists where he told them that the 1933 General Election could be the last in Germany for a very long time. Goering added that the NSDAP would need a considerable amount of of money to ensure victory. Those present responded by donating 3 million Reichmarks. As Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary after the meeting: "Radio and press are at our disposal. Even money is not lacking this time."

Behind the scenes Goering, who was minister of the interior in Hitler's government, was busily sacking senior police officers and replacing them with Nazi supporters. These men were later to become known as the Gestapo. Goering also recruited 50,000 members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) to work as police auxiliaries.

Hermann Goering then raided the headquarters of the Communist Party (KPD) in Berlin and claimed that he had uncovered a plot to overthrow the government. Leaders of the KPD were arrested but no evidence was ever produced to support Goering's accusations. He also announced he had discovered a communist plot to poison German milk supplies.

Just before the election was due to take place someone set fire to the Reichstag. A young man from the Netherlands, Marianus van der Lubbe, was arrested and eventually executed for the crime. As a teenager Lubbe had been a communist and Goering used this information to claim that the Reichstag Fire was part of a KPD plot to overthrow the government.

Hitler gave orders that all leaders of the German Communist Party should "be hanged that very night." Paul von Hindenburg vetoed this decision but did agree that Hitler should take "dictatorial powers". KPD candidates in the election were arrested and Hermann Goering announced that the Nazi Party planned "to exterminate" German communists.

Thousands of members of the Social Democrat Party and Communist Party were arrested and sent to recently opened to concentration camp. They were called this because they "concentrated" the enemy into a restricted area. Hitler named these camps after those used by the British during the Boer War.

Left-wing election meetings were broken up by the Sturm Abteilung (SA) and several candidates were murdered. Newspapers that supported these political parties were closed down during the 1933 General Election.

Although it was extremely difficult for the opposition parties to campaign properly, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party still failed to win an overall victory in the election on 5th March, 1933. The NSDAP received 43.9% of the vote and only 288 seats out of the available 647. The increase in the Nazi vote had mainly come from the Catholic rural areas who feared the possibility of an atheistic Communist government.

Result of the General Election in Germany in 1933:

Communist Party (KPD) 81

Social Democratic Party (SDP) 120

Catholic Centre Party (BVP) 93

Nationalist Party (DNVP) 52

Nazi Party (NSDAP) 288

Other Parties 23

After the election Hitler proposed an Enabling Bill that would give him dictatorial powers. Such an act needed three-quarters of the members of the Reichstag to vote in its favour.

Most members of the Communist Party, were in concentration camps, in hiding, or had left the country (an estimated 60,000 people left Germany during the first few weeks after the election). This was also true of most of the leaders of the other left-wing party, Social Democrat Party (SDP). However, Hitler still needed the support of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP) to pass this legislation. Hitler therefore offered the BVP a deal: vote for the bill and the Nazi government would guarantee the rights of the Catholic Church. The BVP agreed and the Enabling Bill was passed.

Hitler was now dictator of Germany. His first move was to take over the trade unions. Its leaders were sent to concentration camps and the organization was put under the control of the Nazi Party. The trade union movement now became known as the Labour Front.

Soon afterwards the Communist Party and the Social Democrat Party were banned. Party activists still in the country were arrested. A month later Hitler announced that the Catholic Centre Party, the Nationalist Party and all other political parties other than the NSDAP were illegal, and by the end of 1933 over 150,000 political prisoners were in concentration camps. Hitler was aware that people have a great fear of the unknown, and if prisoners were released, they were warned that if they told anyone of their experiences they would be sent back to the camp.

It was not only left-wing politicians and trade union activists who were sent to concentration camp. The Gestapo also began arresting beggars, prostitutes, homosexuals, alcoholics and anyone who was incapable of working. Although some inmates were tortured, the only people killed during this period were prisoners who tried to escape and those classed as "incurably insane".

9/11 could be compared with the Reichstag Fire. The treatment of Communists and Socialists in Germany with the way Muslim fundamentalists are being dealt with in CIA’s prisons. In other words, the SS Concentration Camps with the CIA’s Guantanamo Bay. The decision by the Senate to give President Bush extra power to detain and try prisoners in the so-called war on terror could be compared to Hitler’s Enabling Bill.

Not that Bush will ban other political parties that resist him. Unlike Hitler he does not need to do this. The Republican and Democratic parties seem keen not to challenge Bush. Maybe the major difference between the two countries is that in 1933 Germany was still a representative democracy. I am not sure you can say this about the USA in 2006.

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