Some of the historical events are so dark that historians wish that they never occurred. Arguably, the rise of fascism is one of such incidents and periods in German history. The era was not only dark in the sense that it led to genocidal results, but also triggered the Second World War as well as the racial hate between the Germans and the Jews. Despite the discomfort induced with exploring the rise and dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, discussing the causes and effects of fascism in Nazi Germany informs people on how to prevent or address such conditions or similar situations. The Coming of the Third Reich is a detailed account of the Nazis (Evans 1). The volume explores the political, social and economic activities of the Germans during the rise and rule of Adolf Hitler. The Nazis formed a totalitarian, fascist state. In contrast to dictatorial regimes, totalitarian ones establish complete socio-cultural and political control over the citizens. Additionally, fascist governments are often led by charismatic leaders (Evans 19). In discussing the reasons behind the deeply rooted fascist ideology in Germany, it is important to have an understanding of fascism and a background of events that culminated in its rise. World War I and the Great Depression devastated the country economically. In fact, it made many Germans question the efficiency of the existing political system paving the way for fascism and, eventually, World War II. This paper explores why fascism was deeply rooted in Germany in the 1930s and discusses the events linked to the Imperial (1870-1918) and the pre-depression Weimar eras which preceded the rise of Adolph Hitler.
The Imperial Autocracy (1871-1919)
Discussion of fascism tends to focus on National Socialism and its key personalities. The origins of the destructive and dynamic force promoting militaristic, autocratic, nationalistic and anti-Semitic ideologies can be traced back to the nineteenth century. The social foundations of Nazism or fascism are rooted in the ideology of Imperial Germany (1870-1918). Communism was molded after the unification of the country in 1870. Chronologically, the imperial autocracy (1871-1919), the negative impacts of World War I, the weaknesses of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and the excess of the Hitler governance (1933-1945) paved the way for fascism. The imperial autocracy led to formation of opposing political fronts aimed at fighting for democracy. National Socialism (Nazism) emerged as a unique German form of fascism. The key preconditions of its arisal are tied to the aftermath of the country’s defeat in the World War I, territorial losses, economic hardships in the 1920s, and inability of the Weimar Republic to maintain confidence of the electorates. National Socialism shared many traits with fascism in terms of its ideology concerning democracy, communism and nationalism. However, Nazism was distinct in its promotion of anti-Semitism and racism. These two tenets were widely disseminated after the unification of Germany (Evans 39). In fact, the dreams of German greatness and superiority were articulated by Kaiser Wilhelm II. He expressed his disdain for non-Aryans, democracy and civil rights (Evans 18). The “gospel of hate” against the Jews was firstly proclaimed in 1889 following the dismissal of a Puritan head teacher who had stolen money to make ends meet (Evans 22). Ironically, the blame for his misfortunes was laid on the Jews. These facts highlight that Nazism or fascism began even before World War I.
The Aftermath of World War I and the Pre-Great Depression (1919-1929)
After the First World War, European countries faced numerous economic challenges. The problems varied from state to state. Most nations funded World War I using loans which had to be repaid after its ending. Germany’s economy faltered after the war, and the government had difficulties keeping it on the track. Economic problems were worsened with the Occupation of the Ruhr be France and Belgium in 1923 (Evans 105). Germany was forced to respond and the best it could do was to encourage workers to boycott work and strike. In the meantime, the country printed more money as a measure of settling French debts. The immediate impact was hyperinflation. In result, inflation exploded and the prices of products went out of control Evans 103). Fortunately, the situation stabilized and Germany recuperated between 1924 and 1929 following the introduction of the Dawes Plan. On October 29, 1929 (Black Tuesday), the New York Stock Exchange Market (NYSE) crashed leading to the Great Depression (Evans 234). The collapse was caused with the fact that there was overproduction in the agricultural and commercial sectors while Americans were buying (consuming) less. As of consequence, most US investors withdrew from European markets, including Germany and England. Additionally, the market for European goods dropped in the United States. Most European countries were economically devastated. Germany suffered the most because it was relying on the US investments and loans to keep afloat after its hyperinflation. With the collapse of the American economy, European countries, including Austria, France, Russia, Germany and England, were destabilized.
World War I left Germany with a weak economy which could only be stabilized with the US support (Evans 110). American industrialists and investors sustained the country’s economy by offering it loans and technological expertise. The German situation was worsened when it lost the US markets for its locally produced goods. Further, German producers lost the local market as citizen adapted to the circumstances by making use of fundamental necessities. Unemployment became a national disaster because it made most people feel worthless and depressed (Evans 102). These sentiments and feelings were exploited by government right-wings that promised the nation economic development and growth. The National Socialist Party thrived on the notion that democrats and liberals could not stabilize the county or control the economic problems that were at hand. Germans began to place their faith in fascism, which created a stronger government.
Fascism was first adopted in Italy by Mussolini’s government. Its fundamental political traits included nationalism and racism (Nazism), supreme leader and one-party rule. Similarly to Benito Mussolini in Italy, Adolf Hitler rose to power basing on the promise that the Nazi leadership would create an efficient, militaristic and organized government that would promote German pride. Mussolini built a strong administration around his authority and banned any criticism of his policy. In addition, he employed violence against key opponents of the Italian parliament. Adolf Hitler watched Benito Mussolini’s rise to power keenly, and employed most of his strategies in Germany (Evans 185). The National Socialist Party championed for the termination of the Treaty of Versailles (Evans 95), as well as fought against communism. Notably, fascism is different from communism in the sense that fascist believed that each socio-economic class had its position. Communists, in their turn, fought for a classless society. That is to say, communism unified the existing classes. The other outstanding difference is that communists were internationalist while fascist were nationalist.
The Weaknesses of the Weimar Republic and the Rise of the Nazis (1919-1933)
During the 1920s, Germany placed a lot of effort in securing peace. In 1930s, the government focused on domestic problems, creating a room for fascism to thrive. The Weimar Republic governed the country since the end of the World War I until Adolf Hitler officially became the Chancellor of Germany. Fascism came to shape because the former government did not gain support of the majority of citizens (Evans 78). Adolf Hitler and other war veterans blamed the Republic for German’s defeat in WWI. Additionally, it was accused of hyperinflation and other resultant problems such as suffering and starvation. In fact, a fraction of the country’s population opposed the democracy that meant economic hardships (Evans 77). This is evident from the fact that the democratic candidate for German Presidency Wilhelm Marx was beaten by a former World War I general Paul von Hindenburg. The latter won the elections based on the notion that he was the right candidate for an authoritarian government. A year before the depression, extremist parties ranging from Nazis to communist emerged. The Nazi Party was formed by nationalistic war veterans after WWI in 1919. It aimed at providing security and social wellbeing of the Aryans (German race). Additionally, the party was anti-Semitic and opposed Marxists and the leaders of the Weimar Republic. Economically, it had nationalized and socialized structures.
Soon after joining the Nazi Party, Hitler discovered that he was an excellent public speakers and organizer. These traits secured him party chairmanship in 1921. Hitler’s acceptance was also attributed to the fact that he fought on the Western Front in World War I. Furthermore, he was a strong believer in purity and superiority of the German race. Given that he was involved in the formation of the Nazi Party, it was easy for him to evolve it into a vehicle for his socio-political opinions to propel his fascist dogma. The doctrines of the party made fascism popular among rural Protestants who wanted the Nazi government to restore German greatness. The ideology was also accepted by lower middle class that consisted of farmers and small shop owners who feared communism and were hit hard with both hyperinflation and the Great Depression. Interestingly, the middle class propelled fascism, too, in the sense that its representatives believed that Nazis would take care of the poor by redistributing wealth from wealthy Jews. The ideology thrived as well due to the formation of the military wing of the party, the Stormtroopers (SA), who fought communists and other leftist groups. With the formation of Gestapo or the SS, which became one of the most feared secret police units during Hitler’s reign, fascism was accepted by many Germans in the fear of conviction or persecution. Hitler also argued that Germany needed more space to expand industrially, residentially and agriculturally which could only be achieved through a strong fascist government or occupation of the Jews’ property. He publicly blamed the Jews and other non-Aryans for the German woes. Hitler believed that military greatness could be achieved through a stable and militaristic society that was central to fascism. Moreover, he believed that democracy would give ethnic minorities and non-Germans too much power.
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This paper explored the reasons and conditions behind the rise of fascism in Germany and Hitler’s accession to power. The rise of totalitarian and fascist regimes in Europe was largely caused with the Great Depression. Together with hyperinflation it forced Germans to seek radical solutions to their political and economic problems. When Adolf Hitler joined the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, he gained support and took control over the whole nation because he was not only a good organizer, but also a great speaker. Hitler and fascism became popular in Germany partly because the Nazi government addressed the economic hardships brought with the Great Depression through massive projects, including infrastructure development and military production of airplanes and tanks. In that context, unemployment reduced and people’s lives were improved. In addition, the Nazis mastered the use of radio and print media to raise support for their ideas. Fascism became deeply rooted in Germany because Hitler consolidated power by imprisoning political dissenters and communists.