Nazi consolidation

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The Nazi regime in Germany implemented itself swiftly and effectively - the National Socialists had only three Nazis in a cabinet of twelve in January 1933, yet within two months Hitler had consolidated his political power by entirely legal means . With this, came the need for support from the German public. For a regime to 'consolidate' its power people could be too afraid to rebel against it, or they could be convinced of the value of the regime, or a combination of both. In the National Socialist era, the latter was used. In the period of 1933-1939, this was achieved by a number of methods, notably the use of propaganda, the various legislative and administrative changes, Hitler's personal charisma, the achievement of economic recovery and the 'reign of terror'. The extent to which each contributed to the consolidation of National Socialist regime is an issue that has remained in discussion, and is to be addressed in this essay. 

Although the relative importance of factors is in debate, it is certain that propaganda was one of the major causes of consolidation of power. As the historian Ian Kershaw emphasises, "It was plain from the beginning that the regime would attach a high priority to the steering of opinion ." However, the exact extent that propaganda affected the Nazi consolidation of power is extremely difficult to gauge, for a number of reasons. For instance, although the Nazi film 'Triumph of the Will' by Leni Riefenstahl may have been a success (and regarded as a brilliant achievement in today's film industry), there is no evidence to suggest that the film depicting Nazi strength affected a great deal of people. For instance, many Germans felt the film was too long and was extremely repetitive. In addition, market research was non-existent, and there were very few non-Gestapo polls to analyse the success of this enormous propaganda campaign, which was conducted primarily by one man. 

Joseph Goebbels, master propagandist of the Nazi regime was seen as man who represented the propaganda campaign. As he said himself on 25th March 1933 "The Ministry has the task of achieving a mobilisation of mind and spirit in Germany. " It was Goebbels that created the 'Hitler myth' - which portrayed an image of the Messiah-like figure and a man who was the saviour of Germany, in line with the publicising of the economy and so forth. In doing so, Goebbels, although he spoke of his contempt of it at the 1934 Party Congress, used the technique of 'total propaganda', through which the government controls not only the media, but also culture. Goebbels was intelligent enough to realise that without variation people would soon get tired of the same message. Therefore, Goebbels took control of the newspapers in a subtle way - the writing style of the newspapers did not change, but now all the newspapers promoted fascism. As Goebbels said himself; 'We don't want everyone to blow the same horn at all, but only want them to blow according to one plan... not everyone has the right to blow what he pleases.' 

As Goebbels was largely responsible for bringing Hitler to the centre of the political stage, he was rewarded on 13 March 1933, with the position of Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, which gave him total control of the communications media - which was the radio, press, publishing, cinema and the other arts. From this, a new generation of manipulation was brought forth. Once the takeover was complete, the propaganda ministry was split up into seven different departments - administration and organization, propaganda, radio, press, films, theatre, and adult education. 
Anyone, who produced, distributed, broadcasted, published, or sold any form of cinema, media, press, or literature had to first join one of the departments and then follow all rules of the department head. That person was usually Joseph Goebbels. Therefore, without a license to practise their businesses, all artists, writers, publishers, producers, or directors could not work or do any business in their field. Also along with these guidelines, came the prohibition of all Jewish newspapers, radio, and cinema. Certainly, due to the eradication of anti-Nazi publications and media in general, the public must have felt that the general mood of all the media was pro-Nazi. Therefore by disagreeing they would step out of the public mood, and the terror of not conforming due to the total propaganda they were subjected to contributed greatly to the consolidation of power in Nazi Germany. This terror was accentuated further by direct acts of rebellion against the old order, such as the book burning during the Spring of 1933 . 

Two of Goebbel's favourite mediums were cinema and the radio. Images of colossal gatherings and marches conveying a 'grand', 'powerful' Germany and newsreels of Hitler's addresses - although the newsreels often lapsed into the inaccurate, they were excellent for boosting morale and achieving confidence in the regime. Undoubtedly, Nazi propaganda films were increasingly popular and thus influential - in 1933, the number of moviegoers was 250 million; in 1942 it was 1,000 million . This was due to Goebbel's realisation that films should not be overly propagandistic, and must be entertaining. However, the ultimate goal was to influence people into Nazism without their knowing. The typical types of film that Goebbels considered appropriate vehicles for propaganda were the costume dramas that centred on the great Prussian leaders and other influential figures . There were also of course straightforward war films that contained relatively straight pro-German and pro-nationalistic messages, and other films that performed a slightly different propaganda function, such as 1936 Olympia or von Baky's 1943 film Münchhausen. While Olympia showed the world that Germany could put on a magnificent show for the Olympics, Münchhausen showed the world that the German film industry did not lag behind Hollywood in its use of special effects. The great achievements in film during this period conveyed to the public the sense that the Nazi regime was a regime of modern progress internationally, breaking new barriers in technology, furthering convincing the public that remaining with the party would be the only solution in order to progress. 

Probably Goebbels' greatest propaganda asset was the 'Volksempfänger' - the people's receiver. In 1933 4.5 million German households had broadcast access, and in 1940 16 million households were listening. This was to do with the availability of inexpensive radios: the VE (Volksempfänger) 3.31, selling at 76 Marks was available after the Nazi takeover. At 35 Marks, the DKE (Deutscher Kleinempfänger), later released was "the cheapest radio set in the world. " A factor of the success of radio was its personal nature. While the cinema was experienced with others, radio had the ability for the Nazi party to talk to people in their own homes, but they could also share it with the public due to the radio speakers in the street. The invasive nature of propaganda is made clear because political broadcasts were often made during working hours, and workers often had their work suspended in order to listen to Hitler . With such large audience figures in both cinema and radio, the Nazi message was overwhelming, and the fear of being ostracised ensured that opposition was small. Therefore, this section of propaganda can be seen as the most successful, as the personal nature of the radio and it's swift, easy permeation into the public domain ensured it was widely received. 

If historians generally agree about the impact of the radio, there is more debate over the usefulness of the press. Stephen J. Lee describes the press as 'problematic' as a propaganda tool, whilst Richard Gruberger places heavier emphasis on its power, citing Goebbel's opinion that it had a similar effect to the radio - "The reader should get the impression that the writer is in reality a speaker standing behind him. " However, both highlight the lack of imagination and creativity in the press under Nazi rule that was not so much the case with radio. Between 1933 and 1945 the number of state owned newspapers increased from 2.5% to a staggering 82% . Because of this, a bland style of writing consequently followed due to the amalgamation of the press and led to a decline in readership. Any increase in certain newspapers in reality could be blamed on compulsory subscriptions due to being members of the Nazi Party or the Hitler Youth. Overall, the press was never hugely successful in generating support for the party, or in the consolidation of power on a large scale, due to its oppressive censorship which led to a decline in popular interest. 

In addition, people's interest in art, literature and culture in general declined in interest under the Nazi regime. Although painters such as Kampf and Ziegler provided stereotypical images of the traditional Nazi 'ideal', emphasizing the importance of 'blood and soil' values, the work was of distressingly low quality. In addition, the music that was banned under the Nazis (for example, jazz and swing) was astonishingly resilient. Groups called the 'Jazz Youth' and 'Swing Youth' frequently organised illegal dances to celebrate their love of American music and popular culture. Although this would suggest quite a serious threat to the Nazis, (namely the dissent of youth), this was not the case. The historian Frank McDonough emphasises that "the Swing and Jazz clubs were more a natural youthful desire to have a good time rather than to offer political resistance to the regime." 

The quality of the new 'Nazi culture' that had been created is also an issue. SJ. Lee raises the interesting question that any negative reactions to Nazi propaganda were not due to the public disagreeing with the principle and ideologies that were being put forward, but feeling that "the vacuum produced by preventive censorship was filled with mediocrity." This would suggest that the 'Nazi culture' became less influential as the regime progressed. 

Therefore, although many aspects of propaganda were successful, its main downfall was apparent when censorship was used in order to implement the Nazi propaganda. Although radio and film were successful mediums in influencing the public, their structure was not altered vastly. The press, literature, the arts and music all came under heavy censorship, and their mediocre replacements were much less well received. However, the issue of to what extent propaganda consolidated Nazi power can only be assessed once other aspects of the Nazi regime have been analysed and their links with propaganda explained. 

A common opinion of Nazi Germany is that the only reason the regime remained in place was due to the 'fear factor'. Organisations such as the SS, and the control of the 'Block Leader ' frightened people to conform. Although this is true to an extent, this orthodox opinion has changed over recent years. The revisionist view is that the SS (and Gestapo) were much less well organised than once thought, as the historian Höhne writes "the SS world was a nonsensical affair, devoid of all logic " - it has recently been argued that it was the public that were striving to keep the regime in place. In addition, Ian Kershaw states that to suggest that Nazi power rested on the totalitarian regime is in fact, only a 'partial truth.' It was their voluntary participation that enabled the structure to function. However, the orthodox view still is valid, as the threat of terror still worked well because although it only affected a tiny minority it influenced a large majority in not speaking out over issues that did not affect them. However, although fear may have helped consolidate power, propaganda also played a part here. It was through the use of propaganda that the Nazis 'justified' their claims, such as the Reichstag fire and one of the most significant events, the Night of the Long Knives, on 30th June 1934. The Nazis decided to be open about the incident, and conveyed the message to the German nation that Röhm and the other leaders were dangerous and their actions were for the greater good of the German Reich. Here, propaganda played the vital role of preventing an uprising and convincing the people that because the Nazis were open about the event it had to be for the 'good of the nation.' 

This tactic was used once again with the 'legal' revolution that occurred between 1933-1934 that resulted in people having no choice but to conform to the Nazi regime. Following the introduction of the Enabling Act in March 1932 the states, the trade unions and the political parties were all brought into line, as a result of the 'Gleichschaltung' in Nazi Germany. On March 1933 Hitler closed down all the state parliaments, which resulted in the Nazi Party being the largest in the Reichstag. On 7th April Hitler appointed Nazi state governors to each state, but soon abolished state parliaments completely, in 1934. On 2nd May 1933 Nazis broke into trade unions offices and arrested thousands of union officials. The unions were then merged into the 'German Labour Front', which had a Nazi leader. Political parties suffered the same fate - on 10th May Nazis occupied the Social Democrat offices and confiscated its funds, and then did the same with the Communist party - with all their leaders arrested. 

This 'Gleichshaltung' culminated on the 14th July when a law was passed forbidding the creation of any other party - thus Germany became a one-party state. Therefore, propaganda still permeated the issue of fear, as it accentuated the fear of not conforming and reassured those within the German Reich that actions were justified. An example of where this was successfully achieved is illustrated in Elizabeth von Stahlenberg's diaries, which were written under the Nazi regime. 

However, because it was mainly this voluntary participation that enabled the regime to remain in place, the German people must have had good reason to endorse it. One large factor was the remarkable economic recovery that occurred under Nazi rule. Although John Maynard Keynes had not yet fully devised his economic method of 'deficit spending', it was with this method that the Nazis produced an economic upswing. However, the question of the actual success of the improvement of living conditions under the Nazis is debatable. Although the economic statistics may look impressive, the reality is somewhat different, and is highlighted by Stephen J. Lee. Unemployment was in rapid decline, signifying economic recovery - the figure stood at 4.8 million in 1933, dropping to a mere 0.1 million in 1939. In addition to this people became increasingly wealthier, according to the statistics. Germany's national income rose from 44 billion marks in 1933 to 80 billion in 1938. However, this was all not primarily down to the Nazis, although the regime would have certainly made it appear so. Lee highlights the cyclic nature of economic upswings and downswings, which, by striking (and unfortunate) coincidence, meant that Hitler came to power just as the economy was beginning to recover naturally anyway. The Nazis did artificially reduce unemployment, by the use of public work schemes such as the Autobahns and the Four Year Plan. But although this looked extremely impressive given the scale of unemployment under the Weimar Republic, in reality the workforce received an ever-declining proportion of the national income as wages. In 1933 wages amounted to 63% of the national income, while by 1939 they had steadily dropped each year to 57%, including a seven-hour extension on average working hours. However once again, propaganda also had a role in this factor, as the statistics depicting prosperity in the Reich were glorified by propaganda, and the more pessimistic information remained filed away and undisclosed. Therefore, the nation's concrete evidence that the country was prospering, which although was true to an extent, was further fabricated due to the services of propaganda. 

This is not to assume that the consolidation of power ran completely smoothly (which in turn suggests that their indoctrination and 'fearful' regime was not completely successful), although the transformation of the country was already a huge achievement. Although indoctrination in schools had been implemented since 1933, youth groups such as the 'Edelweiss Pirates ' were in existence until the collapse of the Nazi regime at the end of the Second World War. The revisionist historian Frank McDonough writes "The desire to express an individual cultural identity exhibited by these youth subcultures is further evidence that Nazism did not have the total grip on German society which its propaganda indicated." The White Rose, a group that appeared later during the Second World War, took a more radical stand against the Nazis. They bravely attempted to warn the German people of the horrors of Nazi tyranny, although they themselves did realise that it was highly unlikely for them to have popular backing for their actions. There was also Communist and industrial resistance to the regime - one estimate suggests that between 1933-35 there were around 36,000 people who were active within the underground resistance - quite a substantial number but a tiny minority compared to the full German population. Therefore, most dissenters of the regime who were active were minorities who were eradicated when the concentration camps were formed. And although several attempts were made on Hitler's life, there was no real threat of revolution during this period. This was presumably due to the lack of support from the majority of the German population, who were of course influenced by fascist propaganda. 

Propaganda as a tool of consolidating Nazi power did not only serve its purpose as a method of steering opinion towards the Nazi party, it also acted as a 'net,' by holding the whole regime together. It did this by permeating the whole system - the Nazis laid the foundations of the system with the legal revolution, the outlawing of any other opposition, and the creation of the SS and Gestapo. Propaganda further reassured people that the Nazi regime was on the right course and should be supported, and that some repression of freedom must be allowed for the greater good of the German nation. It ensured that the people accepted the changes and supported them - in short, it held the regime together and ensured that the Nazi system remained in place. 

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